First, some facts, for those Philistines amongst you who may think there is not space in your record collection or on your iPod for the complete back catalogue of the Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band (not to mention everything else Efrim Menuck, Thierry Amar and Sophie Trudeau have chosen to grace us with over the years, like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, for instance).
They are a – nay, thee – best post-rock band to come out of Canada, or the world, ever. Except for Godspeed. Maybe. They make deliciously, reverberatingly beautiful, bass-drenched drones that lie somewhere between the tonal phasing of classical musician Steve Reich and the stoner sensibilities (and, in Menuck’s case, the hairstyles) of The Grateful Dead. They are art-rock to the core, an experience in which music is stripped of the limitations of easy listening and is instead used to paint canvases the air, giving it a physical presence that batters and bombards you, but by God, it feels like a kiss.
They are the Velvet Underground if the Velvet Underground had taken acid instead of heroine, Sister Ray re-imagined through hallucinogenics. Their albums have such irresistibly wonderful names as He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts Of Light Sometimes Grace The Corners Of Our Rooms… and Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward. Their most recent, the more conventionally titled 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons, counters this relative normality by bothering to name only four of its 16 tracks. All others are simply ‘Untitled’.
It is from this last, mostly nameless collection of tracks, that tonight’s set it drawn, along with two new, as yet unreleased songs. Not a bad feat, considering that they only manage seven tracks in their two-plus hours onstage, and two of those are for encores.
The seven piece band – consisting of the perfect mixture of chamber strings and rock instruments (double bass, violins, guitars, bass, drums, feedback, for anyone wondering) – start the ball rolling with the brand new Metal Bird, whose opening lyrics, “I made a metal bird/and I fed my metal bird/on the wings of another metal bird” set the scene for the evening. They continue to serve up most of the songs they did name on the new album, including the title track and 1,000,000 Died To Make This Sound, pausing only to make banter with the audience. New Jersey is like New Labour, they tell us, a town encircled by a pastel tie, and they rant about Pantera to an audience they know will appreciate their sentiments.
The music (if you can call it that, it seems so limiting, somehow), shakes the room to its foundations, rattles bones and will no doubt result in the audience going deaf earlier than those who stayed outside. But what a way to go. You breathe with them, imagining your heartbeat becoming one with the plucked strings of the double bass, the higher notes of the violins (if you can still hear them) scratching like nails on a chalkboard down your eardrums. You sink into it, completely, until all too soon it’s over.
They treat us to two encores – the first is BlindBlindBlind, from the new album, the second is an even newer song, There’s A Light. They apologise, needlessly, that tonight they have to do new songs. As if we care. It’s not as if they’re a band there’s even been a chance of singing along to and, at least, they promise to come back soon. We do hope it’s a promise they will stick to.