Paper Lions @ El Mocambo

. : : December 10th, 2011 : : .

After a month-long weekly residency gig in Toronto, the Paper Lions took to a cross-Canada tour that seemed to bring them to every major (and some minor) Canadian city EXCEPT Toronto. I guess it was kind of rude to expect another stop by, but it would have been nice to see them again.

Although they weren’t letting us in on the secret yet, the Paper Lions had a well-calculated reason for shipping Toronto for the weeks-long Rolling Oyster Revue tour. Namely, the Young Lions Music Club (no relation) that put on the aforementioned residency at Toronto’s The Supermarket would also be bringing them back to the iconic El Mocambo for a holiday special performance.

OK, all previous digressions were forgiven and forgotten.

The El Mo, as it’s affectionately known to locals, had all its halls decked, metaphorically speaking. The stage was lit by strings of Christmas lights, and a 10′ large inflatable Santa stood sentry against the wall, certainly making sure all concert-goers were being nice, lest they be added to the naughty list.

Although festive, the Santa was not what I’d call functional. In fact, Santa was situated in my usual taping spot, putting him on MY naughty list. For the two opening bands, I recorded a little further back — but the venue was quickly filling, and the back-of-the-room crowd was getting increasingly chatty. I opted to take my place in front of Santa, and prepared to tape as normal.

While I waited for the Paper Lions to take the stage, I let my eyes wander around a little. It was mere moments before the band started that I impulsive unwound the loop I made in my cables, unclipped the microphones from my collar, and quickly attached them to a string that was holding the inflatable Santa taut against the wall. Why, you ask? Well, because the string was several inches above my head (and thus, most other concert-goers as well, and above their chatter and applause, limiting crowd noise and clipping) and a bit more in direct line with the direction the sound waves would be traveling out of the speakers. Santa was back on my nice list.

The band stormed the stage, and jumped right into a fast-and-furious string of songs that came so quickly, they almost bled together into one long medley of hits. The Paper Lions are known for peppering their sets with unusual cover song choices, and this holiday special was no exception. After a handful of original staples, the band introduced CSYN‘s “Our House” as, although not a Christmas carol, “definitely a snow song.” A questionable assertion, but who was complaining?

The solid choice was punctuated by a blistering rendition of Stay Here For A While from their recent, excellent Trophies EP, and the newer Parents Talk. Actually, the only time the set even threatened to show signed of slowing down was when front-man John MacPhee took to the keyboard to start Traveling and, mid-verse, unexpectedly stopped and wordlessly left his post. Opting instead to play the song on acoustic guitar, the first verse was revisited before being interrupted a handful of more times while adjustments were made on-the-fly to the volume of the guitar through the stage monitors. Perhaps a quick sound-check would have allowed a smoother start, and allowed adjustments to the static-y tone provided by the guitar throughout the first half of the song until discarded for a standard electric for the second half of the song — an extended, jamming version debuted at the Supermarket residencies, but missed by my recording gear, in September.

The always show-stopping Don’t Touch That Dial enticed a hearty crowd sing-a-long before frequent show book-ending track Ghostwriter ended the holiday set proper. But the band didn’t bother waiting for an encore call — instead, they made the call to members of opening bands The Elwyns and The Love Machine, as well as ambassadors from Exclaim! magazine and the Young Lions Club onto the stage, packing every inch of it for a three song encore of a capella traditional Christmas carols.

Except for a bit of chatter the mics still managed to pick up a little later in the set (by this time, the fully stocked bar made sure the crowd was feeling especially “festive”), this is far and away the best sounding recording I’ve gotten out of the El Mocambo, and although the performance may not have been my favourite I’ve seen the Paper Lions play, it was damn, damn good.

01. Lost The War
02. Hands
03. I’m On Fire
04. Pull Me In
05. Sweat It Out
06. Our House [Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young]
07. Stay Here For A While
08. Parents Talk
09. Sandcastles
10. Traveling [abandoned]
11. Traveling
12. Don’t Touch That Dial
13. [banter]
14. Ghostwriter
15. [banter]
16. Silver Bells [trad’l]
17. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer [trad’l]
18. White Christmas [trad’l]

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Don’t Touch That Dial (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Seasons Greetings to Paper Lions, Young Lions Music Club, Exclaim Magazine, and the El Mocambo for one heck of a holiday party.

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