Telekinesis @ El Mocambo

. : : September 4th, 2010 : : .

After the last day in a long week of work, I called up a dear old friend I haven’t seen in many months to grab a drink at the Red Room before heading over to the El Mocambo to see a bunch of bands I’d never heard before.

A risky endeavor, I know. Especially since the El Mocambo is known for it’s inconsistent sound (usually the louder the band is, the worse the sound). But Telekinesis was in town opening for Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, and I’d been meaning to check them (him) out for some time.

Telekinesis is the brain child of Michael Lerner, who wrote, recorded and largely performed many of his songs by himself. That is, until Death Cab For Cutie guitarist and engineer extraordinaire Chris Walla approached Lerner and asked to record his album, Telekinesis!. Boasting friendship and supporters with many big name acts in the Seattle/Portland indie music scene, including members of Death Cab For Cutie, the Long Winters, David Bazan, Blood Brothers, etc., it was clear it would only be a matter of time before I had to see what the fuss was all about.

Unfortunately, the night started off with a bit of a disaster. While setting up the mics before local openers Whale Tooth, it became clear that only one of my two CSB microphones were working. I fiddled knobs, adjusted settings, unplugged and re-plugged connectors — nothing was working. So I decided to try and rely on the built-in microphones in the Edirol recorder. Unfortunately, the mics were too sensitive for the aural onslaught coming out of the El Mocambo stacks, and started to peak early and often. So I prematurely stopped recording with a sigh, and found another position in the room where the over-loud bass didn’t actually feel like getting punched repeatedly in the stomach.

It’s too bad the mics didn’t want to work — Whale Tooth has a good, entertaining set. The manic energy from front woman Elise LeGrow was contagious, and it was difficult to peel your eyes away from her. While Whale Tooth was tearing down their gear, I decided to give the mics another try. Without doing anything extra, they magically started working again. I scratched my head in confusion, but have learned it’s better to not look a gift horse in the mouth.

The first thing you will notice about Telekinesis, should you get a chance to see them perform live, is the unusual stage set-up. Although front-man Michael Lerner is a talented multi-instrumentalist, he considers himself first and foremost a drummer, and performs most of the set from behind his drum kit (an instrument usually reserved for the back of the stage) placed front and centre. Of course, he’s not the first to perform lead vocals from behind a drum kit, but it’s definitely not an experience you get every day — or even every year — so the spectacle was definitely engaging.

However, the wow-factor of the visual was off-set by the predictably disappointing auditory experience. The usually so-so sound at the El Mocambo was worsened by a failed attempt at the admittedly difficult mix. After all, how do you mic the vocals of a lead singer when he’s performing on drums without the thumps and crashes of his instruments bleeding through the vocal mix as well? The bass was warm and full sounding, and comes across well (if a bit loud) on the recording, and the guitar is clearly audible throughout – but those darned vocals just never seem to fall into the precious sweet spot. That is, until the solo acoustic songs in the middle of the set.

In my experience, the El Mocambo always seems to sound best when it’s just a singer-songwriter and an acoustic guitar. This night was no different, as the handful of songs Michael performs away from the drums sound the best. The first of these, a cover of Teenage Fanclub‘s, The Conception, was a set highlight.

That’s not to say it was difficult to enjoy the louder, more rambunctious set of the up-beat, poppy full-band tunes. The constant hooks and vocal harmonies kept most of the audience shaking their hips and tapping their toes throughout, and as the set wore on, dragged stragglers from the bar right up front with a smile on their faces. An uber-fan near the front must have really been givin’er, because Michael actually points her out and invokes a somewhat awkward dialogue with her while she gushes uncontrollably to him. To his credit, Michael’s response seemed bashfully modest, and earnestly appreciative. He even invites the diehard on stage to perform backing vocals and shakers on the set closer, Coast of Carolina — an endearing and memorable close to a great set marred only by the sub-par sound system.

The increasingly late hour and less than stellar sound made headlining act Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin a bit of a chore for my companion and I to stick around for, so we abandoned ship pretty early into their set. If there’s any demand for it, I may eventually post the first 25-30 minutes of their set, but my recording is assumedly very incomplete. On our way out, I grabbed the Telekinesis album on LP (with 5 bonus tracks!), and I can’t wait to give it a spin.

01. All Of A Sudden
02. Imaginary Friend
03. Great Lakes
04. [banter]
05. Palm of Your Hand > Please Ask For Help
06. Fifty Ways
07. The Concept [Teenage Fanclub]
08. [banter]
09. I Saw Lightning
10. [banter]
11. Rust
12. [banter]
13. Foreign Room
14. Look To The East
15. [banter]
16. Dirty Thing
17. [banter]
18. Tokyo
19. [banter]
20. Coast of Carolina

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The Concept [Teenage Fanclub] (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to Telekinesis for a marvelous set, Whale Tooth, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, and the staff at the El Mocambo.

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