Azure Ray @ Horseshoe Tavern

. : : November 10th, 2010 : : .

Truth be told, I’m not much of an Azure Ray fan.

I’d given their albums a cursory listen, shrugged, and said to myself, “Well, that was what that was.” It’s not that I hadn’t enjoyed the songs, but nothing stayed with me for any real length of time and demanded me to revisit. They were easily digested and immediately forgotten, which is weird because I instantly fell in love with Maria Taylor, who makes up one-half of Azure Ray (alongside Orenda Fink). Same dreamy song-structures with southern country-fused influences, same haunting, reverb-drenched vocals, but the staying power? Simply wasn’t there.

Luckily, there had been a Maria Taylor drought in Toronto as of late, and I needed a fix. If Azure Ray’s tour, supporting their reunion album, Drawing Down The Moon, was the best I was going to get, I was going to have to make do. After all, it was a live show of Maria’s that ultimately won my admiration; maybe it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that Azure Ray could achieve the same ends?

Unfortunately, my wide-eyed optimism didn’t quite pay off.

Azure Ray’s set was, in a word, stationary. It was completely devoid of energy, and there was barely any movement, banter, or smiles. Although the front women’s voices were beautiful, and the interweaving guitar picking occasionally jaw-dropping, it looked downright uncomfortable being up on that stage, and the only one who appeared to be having the remotest iota of fun performing the songs was Heather McIntosh, the band’s touring cellist. In fact, the most entertaining moment of the night came not from the group of musicians on stage, but an unrestrained audience member who, a handful of songs in, took the opportunity presented by one of the many quiet moments between songs to loudly address the audience. He turned toward the crowd, and loudly suggested to anyone who wanted to carry on a conversation should move to the back of the room. After wiping the aghast expression off her face, Maria Taylor, in one of excruciatingly few examples of conversation, remarked that she was afraid he was yelling at HER for not talking enough between songs. He wasn’t, but, well… he should have. It was an uneasy quiet while the instruments were swapped out or re-tuned. And, sadly, the energy didn’t increase dramatically when the songs WERE being played. Granted, Azure Ray’s recorded music is as down-tempo as you can get and doesn’t exactly invite giddy bouncing, carefree dancing or otherwise outward displays of glee, but there wasn’t even weight shifting or slight foot shuffling — and if there were tapping feet, I didn’t see them. It actually felt awkward being in the audience.

It didn’t help that the sound guy had trouble getting a clear mix of vocals when more than one person at a time. The sound would get overly bassy and “booming” (for lack of a better adjective). Since the majority of Azure Ray songs feature both members singing in unison, even the songs I did like on the record, I couldn’t get into live. Songs I was less familiar with seemed flat and/or plodding, with few exceptions.

I know I wasn’t the only one who felt the performance and atmosphere was tepid. The Horseshoe Tavern never quite filled up, but even so: by the encore, there was MAYBE 50 people left in a room with a 350-person capacity. The people who stayed, from the conversation held after their set, seemed to mostly have enjoyed themselves. That’s including the one guy to my right who, seemingly between every song or two throughout the evening, turned towards his friend and remarked something like “That was one of my favourite songs,” “I was hoping they were going to play that,” or “That one was one of the best.” I, on the other hand, was in the boat with his companion who, not fully understanding the enthusiasm, responded carefully, “Yeah, they were OK… I guess.”

It pains me to write such a unabashedly negative review, especially since I’m such an ardent fan of Maria Taylor’s. However, I left the Horseshoe Tavern feeling completely unfulfilled, and deeply desiring a Maria Taylor solo show, which not only feature more variety in style and tempo, but also showcase significantly more personality than was on display this evening.

The recording itself turned out predictably quiet. Although the sound quality turned out quite well, the volume increase during the EQ process has left some noticeable hiss. Azure Ray fans will definitely want to give it a listen — my unfavourable review shouldn’t phase them nor give them any reason for hesitation, as I admit I went into the evening hoping for something more than what was fair to look for given the clear expectations set by the band’s recorded output, and this blog post is admittedly is a product of that dismal realization. New Azure Ray listeners? Maybe check out their MySpace first — and then do yourself a favour and check out Maria Taylor’s solo work.

01. [introduction]
02. Make Your Heart
03. Displaced
04. Signs In The Leaves
05. Don’t Leave My Mind
06. Larraine
07. [banter]
08. These White Lights Will Bend To Make Blue
09. Sleep
10. Safe and Sound
11. November
12. If You Fall
13. Raining In Athens
14. On and On Again
15. Hold On Love
16. [encore / banter]
17. The Drinks We Drank Last Night
18. Silver Sorrow

[info.txt // flac fingerprint ]
[ Request FLAC or MP3 Download ]

Raining In Athens (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to Azure Ray, Tim Fite, James Husband, and the Horseshoe Tavern.

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