Dark Mean @ Horseshoe Tavern

    . : : June 24th, 2011 : : .

After three surprisingly good-to-great opening acts at the Horseshoe Tavern, it was finally time for the headliners. Hot on the heels of the release of their long-awaited debut LP (in fact, this was the official record release party!), the self-titled album by Dark Mean should have been the hero of the night.

I first discovered Dark Mean just a hair under a year ago at a free “local” showcase the Horseshoe runs on Monday evenings. Dark Mean was the first band of the night, playing just before Colleen Brown, the band that lured me out. I remember leaving that set a bit underwhelmed — put off by a poor mix in the venue and a sometimes thinly-veiled curbing of influences, I still somehow left the show with enough interest to do a bit more background reading on the band. Google led me to their BandCamp page, where the band allowed streaming each of the songs on both of their EPs.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for small bands to use new media to interest and entice new fans — and something as simple as easily accessible, streaming music can lure a new listen, get them on the hook and create a new long term fan. Only a handful of songs into the first EP, I was sold and purchased FLAC copies of both discs. The albums have stayed on frequent rotation on my computer and iPod ever since, so I was excited to see the band after a long year of putting the finishing touches on the aforementioned album.

But, again, I found myself leaving the venue a little underwhelmed.

I’ve thought of several excuses. The mix in the venue left me wanting again (dear Mr. Sound Guy: during a trumpet solo, it would be nice if the trumpet was mixed loud enough to be audible. I’ll also let you guess which instrument should be turned up in the mix during a song called “Happy Banjo“). The crowd was drunk and borderline disorderly (more so in performing various concert faux pas than violence). The band was on after two phenomenally brilliant acts, and another really quite good one.

The most difficult part of the set was frontman Mark Dean’s voice, which was a bit flat and uneven throughout the night. Hopefully, it’s merely rust, nerves, exhaustion, inebriation, or some combination of the above, but the band focused more on it’s quieter, slow burning numbers, which couldn’t help mask the weakness. Even Music Box, an originally up-beat and punchy song that was retooled as a slower, acoustic ditty for the album, was dialed back even further, and didn’t work — at least, not in this context.

So, it’s no surprise that the set’s real highlights were the fast, thumping Happy Banjo, the rhythmic stuttering of Smoke Lake, and the euphoric Lullaby, a performance that brought each of the band members to the forefront as a brilliant, almost campfire-esque sing-along. Main set closer Finland also showcased the boy-girl harmonies of Mark and the band’s criminally uncredited keyboardist, another under-utilized strength of the band (or, perhaps, weakness of the venue’s sound guy?).

Perhaps most disappointingly of all is the twenty-minute delay in each of the band’s set-times throughout that night that meant Dark Mean’s main set closed at 1:30am — dangerously close to the evening’s last scheduled subway train. As such, although the band was called out for encore, this reviewer / taper had to abandon ship in order to get home to Toronto’s far-east end (without a $60+ taxi fare).

Working most against Dark Mean, I guess, was heightened expectations. I really fell in love with their long laboured recorded output, plus they had the arduous and unenviable task of following show-stealing sets by both The Rest and Paper Lions. I haven’t given up on the band yet, though, and I’m looking forward to seeing them further on the upswing of their momentum. Hopefully in a different venue that can mix the band more appropriately. Oh, and at an earlier time. I know, I’m getting old.

As mentioned in the other reviews of the evenings performances, a (errr…) slight battery oversight meant that I had to record at a lower quality level than usual (16bit/44.1khz), so the resulting output is pretty flat-sounding. I had to move at least three times throughout the evening to get away from drunken scream-talkers (including one discussing how “adorable” one of the members is), so you might here changes in sound quality from time-to-time.

All-in-all, this is not a great place to start for potential new Dark Mean fans, but might be of interest to fans and followers of the band — especially those whom were there but were too annoying drunk to remember any of it.

01. [introduction]
02. Algonquin
03. Happy Banjo
04. [banter]
05. Music Box
06. China
07. [banter]
08. Smoke Lake
09. [banter]
10. Lullaby
11. [banter]
12. Finland

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

Smoke Lake (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to Dark Mean, Tacoma Hellfarm Tragedy, The Rest, Paper Lions, and The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern.

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