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Saturday, 27 February 2010
CR Avery, Nathanael Larochette, Musk Ox, Night Watch... and it's only Sunday morning!

It's been a pretty busy weekend so far. In part I suppose I can blame the newly warmed-up weather that means not only can I bike downtown, but I sorta want to.

Friday night I got to see CR Avery at the NAC Fourth Stage. The first time I ever saw CR Avery he was featuring at Capital Slam, and I knew then that I had never heard anything like this guy before. Or, actually, that's not quite true, I had, but not in that combination. He's like a bizarre, perfectly balanced alloy of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and Nick Cave. Oh, and he beatboxes like a god, occasionally through a harmonica into the mike. It has to be heard to be believed. This show also featured a backup group with three violins, a cello, and an electric guitar, and if he's fun onstage by himself, you really have to see him with a band. (This, in fact, is where the Nick Cave similarities surfaced for me - the way he moved onstage around and through the other musicians and the mike.) They were good, too - two violins tended to take the solo lines and had marvellously different voices - one raw fiddle, the other full-throated Gypsy.

Watch this video of CR doing his poem "The Birdcage" in Arizona. I just found it, and it's mesmerizing. He did that one Friday night too.  

I think what I really love about him is the originality. I've never heard anyone else do this before. His poems/lyrics are surreal and gripping. And I wish I knew, in poems like 'The Birdcage' or the one about the cat, how and when he decides to throw in that explosive beatbox. What's going on in his head, what's the process? It's startling and unintuitive: it's not like he uses it as a 'hook' or refrain, or even in the places you would expect. And it's just about perfect where it is. 

Anyway, this show was just off the hook. I haven't been as transported in a long time. And as an extra bonus, there was an opening set with pieces from Nathanael Larochette, Marcus Jameel, Festrell & Danielle Gregoire, PrufRock, Kevin Matthews and John Akpata. 


And then, there was Saturday night. I wish I had been able to make it to the Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament lauch, but somehow that didn't happen. I did, however, get to the Mercury Lounge for a show that Nathanael Larochette referred to, when I talked to him about it on Friday, as "the night I forget to take my schizophrenia drugs and just turn into three people." 

I know Nathanael as a spoken word poet. He hosts Capital Slam, which is where I met him back when he first started slamming (and I was sitting at the sidelines keeping score or time or something.) This show was billed as "One Man, Three Sets" - a set of poetry, followed by a set with Nathanael's neo-folk/classical group Musk Ox, followed by a set with his heavy metal band, The Night Watch.

I've heard Musk Ox before on the radio (they get some play on CBC) but I had only heard the general rumours that Nathanael was a heavy metal musician as well. And admittedly, the usual reaction to that is, "Nathanael? Really? But he's so... quiet." But then, sometimes the biggest metalheads don't really look like metalheads, right?

Musk Ox was Nathanael on classical guitar with a violin and a cello played by a guy in a metal shirt who (to be honest) looked like he had to be about eighteen. I'm never all that good at describing music, but their stuff was minor-keyed, trans-cultural sort of stuff. Nathanael kept using the phrase "epic journey" and I suppose that does fit. Rafael, the cello player, in particular blew me away. And there is something about an instrumental band where you can hear the players inhaling together before phrases. It was meditative, soundscapey stuff. Beautiful. Completely mellow, relaxed me enough that I was no longer as grumpy and shy as I had been going in (I had found a chair in the corner in the dark and, to be honest, avoided the eyes of people I recognized: I wasn't feeling much like being out, but had really wanted to see this particular show. By the time Musk Ox was done with me, I was feeling much, much better. 

And then Night Watch came out. In this group Nathanael plays electric guitar: there's also a drummer, who was absolutely hilarious to watch, and a guy who looked like he might be a third grade teacher, but who completely wailed on the electric violin. "Metal" is such a wide-ranging term that I didn't really know what to expect out of this group. But I was really impressed. They're tight, which is really important in any band, but which, given the speed you sometimes have to play, is pretty much crucial for a good metal band. And they're fun, and smart. They play with rhythms and time signatures, they mess around with quoting beats and lines from other styles of music. They had a song that threw in bossa nova beats, they had the requisite medieval song (ah, medieval metal!), they opened with a tune from the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack. The violinist improvises all of his solos on the spot - wow - and was versatile and fun. And the drummer was - delicate where he needed to be, jazzy almost, and clowned around with a set of windchimes and with the silences as much as he blistered it on the fast chunks. 

Plus, their last piece completely blew off the roof. Complex, epic, trading between quiet and loud, with chunks of machine-gunning speed and delicate beautiful lines in empty spaces. It was awesome. 

I do hope Nathanael does another one of these: part of what I enjoyed about it was getting to watch his versatility, but it was also fun to think that maybe someone had come for the metal and been surprised by the poetry, and vice versa. He said something about wanting to blow the stereotypes off poetry, folk, and metal, which I think he managed to do - all in one show. 

So, it's been a pretty good weekend so far! And a friend's got a spare ticket to a comedy show tonight, so I might actually go for the weekend trifecta. We'll see! 

Posted by Kathryn Hunt at 11:54 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 28 February 2010 11:46 AM EST
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