The Wooden Birds @ Drake Underground

      . : : July 10th, 2011 : : .

I went to University in Ottawa, Ontario, which is sort of half-way between Toronto and Montreal, just north of butt fuck nowhere. Despite being the capital of our country, Ottawa doesn’t get many bands stopping through. I think it’s mostly because the town is primarily made up of politicians, the decrepit elderly, and over-stressed college kids.

Unfortunately, I fell into my own stereotype when American Analog Set announced that they would be taking an extended leave of absence after their tour for their last album, somewhat ironically titled Set Free. They were hitting up The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, and I really wanted to see them a second (and presumably last) time, but it was on the eve of a major final exam.

Could I study on the Greyhound? Could I make it back in time if I did? Why don’t any of my friends drive?! Why don’t I, for that matter?!

Regardless, I went the “responsible” route and skipped the show, much to my detriment. The band continued to celebrate its storied career by releasing tour videos, b-sides, and live recordings for free online, and I got my fix that way. One of the home demos, Hailey, quickly became one of my favourite AmAnSet songs. Too bad I’d never hear it live.

Or would I?

AmAnSet front-man Andrew Kenny announced a new band, The Wooden Birds, and a new album (Magnolia) to be released on my favourite record label, Barsuk Records. A couple of the track titles sounded familiar: Hometown Fantasy was another home demo recorded by Kenny for a fantastic split EP with Death Cab For Cutie‘s Ben Gibbard, and…Hailey!

The album version wasn’t drastically different from the original demo — the Wooden Birds have a very low-key, laid back and back-to-basics sound that focused more on melody and harmony than hooks. This re-recorded favourites, along with all-new original tunes such as Sugar and Seven Seventeen may be a bit of an acquired taste to those unfamiliar with Kenny’s body of work, but showed promise of an interesting live set.

Unfortunately, they never brought their live show to Canada. I had to settle for amateur video footage, most frequently filmed on shaky, crappy cell phone cameras, from the numerous shows the band was performing in the US on YouTube. Bah!

Cut forward a couple of years, and the band has a all-new disc of material. Tour dates start appearing on Facebook, MySpace, and all those other various hype sites, and although I’d given up hope, I took a cursory glance, anticipating another opportunity to curse under my breath.

Lo’-and-behold, not only was there a Canadian date, but it was at my all-time favourite venue, the Drake Underground. I gush about this marvelous venue at every given opportunity, so I will limit myself to repeating three key points: it has THE best sound in town, great sight lines, and an amazingly friendly and helpful staff. If I could buy them all ice cream cones, I would.

So, yeah. I was excited. As it turns out, my excitement was more than justified: as good as the band is in the studio, they are even better live! Andrew Kenny has gone on record that he never intended to just recite the recorded versions of the songs, but would prefer to take advantage of a full band and electric instrumentation. Advantage was taken!

The extended “metric weekend” set, at just about an hour long, and two or three songs longer than a “standard” Wooden Birds set, was virtually perfect from top to bottom. Kenny couldn’t hide his smile from the smallish but enthusiastic and attentive crowd. Leslie Sisson‘s soulful voice certainly broke many a gentleman’s heart. Matt Pond and Chris Hanson bounced energetically behind their guitars, and even Sean Haskins seemed to be having a blast behind the drum kit, even if his parts seemed like fairly basic shuffle fare.

All the right notes were hit, including a beautiful rendition of Secrets, with one glaring exception: Hailey, although loudly requested by a self-admitted stalker/fan of the same name, couldn’t be played because it hadn’t been rehearsed, nor played since the bands initial tour on their debut album. More on that later…

Live, the songs’ energy and individual personalities seem amplified drastically. On disc, the tracks seem to fit a sort-of motif that, if you’re not paying attention, can seem to bleed into each other. In person, however, they really come alive and shine. Even an elongated Wooden Birds set seemed too short!

The recording? Well, I done goofed. On the Edirol recorder, you push the Record button to engage the recording function, and then Record again to actually initiate recording. Well, in my needless concern-bordering-on-paranoia about the levels (which I recorded fairly loudly after last week’s too quiet Meaghan Smith / Ian Kelly sets), I forgot to check to see if I actually had pressed Record twice. I was incessantly checking to make sure the levels weren’t running too hot (they weren’t), but took fifteen or so minutes to notice it wasn’t taping. As such, the first four songs, including a great rendition of their latest disc’s title track, Two Matchsticks, weren’t taped. Trust me, no one is kicking me more than myself.

As always at the Drake, the remainder of the set that was recorded sounds absolutely pristine and is well-worth a listen to new fans, and a must-download for existing fans.

Now, back to Hailey…Andrew Kenny promised the fan that if she caught up with him after the show, he would perform Hailey for her in the lobby. I wasn’t sure he really meant it, but I thought I’d stick around just in case. The clock was ticking and the room was emptying, so I went over and had a quick chat with the gentleman, who is indulgent enough to talk amicably with all interested fans, but admitted he was too rusty to play the song, and wasn’t sure he remembered it, but he would try if Toronto-Hailey twisted his arm.

So I went on a mission to hunt her down. I found her and her companion in the upstairs lobby, so I introduced myself. Apparently, he had already regrettably begged off her request, promising to bring the song when the band returns (hopefully in the fall). I let them know another arm twist would do it, and agreed to playfully gang up on him.

To his credit, Kenny caved to our peer pressures and performed the song unmic’ed, in a corner of the venue, just for the three of us unselfconsciously, and with a smile on his face. It was a beautiful moment — a storybook ending to a perfect night. It was sung earnestly, beautifully, and without any of the resentment you might expect an artist to have if cornered after a show by a mob of fans demanding to hear their favourite song.

This solidified what I already knew of Kenny, having chatted with him for sometime after the aforementioned American. Analog Set show in 2003 — he is a kind, gracious and appreciative performer, and I hope he felt a little of that love in return.

xx. Folly Club
xx.Two Matchsticks
xx. Believe In Love
xx. Criminals Win
01. False Alarm [cut]
02. Baby Jeans
03. [banter]
04. Struck By Lightning
05. Seven Seventeen
06. Got It Bad
07. Secrets
08. Hometown Fantasy
09. [banter]
10. Sugar
11. [banter]
12. Long Time To Lose It
13. [banter]
14. To Pretty To Say Please
15. Warm To The Blade
16. Aaron & Maria [American Analog Set]
      > Somebody’s Baby [Jackson Brown]
xx. Hailey

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

Hometown Fantasy (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to The Wooden Birds, Heartbreak Hotel and the oh, so lovely Drake Underground for a phenomenal evening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.