My cubical-mate Dave quite literally FREAKED when he heard that The Books were coming to Kitchener. "Whozzat?" I asked. "Who are the books?
He tried to explain a bit about what they did, and he sent me a couple of videos that I barely watched -- I like to see shows without knowing anything about the artists -- and I heard all sorts of things about how they rarely perform live any more, and this was their first show in years, etc. etc.
After so much hype, could The Books actually live up to the impression that I had in my mind?
Yes. And more.
They're funny and genuine. They have a hint of humbleness to them, but they are totally confident about what they do. Their beats and some of their backing instruments are pre-recorded as part of the videos they perform to, but on stage it's still the two of them: one singing and playing acoustic guitar or bass, the other playing a sort of modified cello. They're great musicians. They're personable. They rock.
But that's only half of The Books that we experienced tonight; the other half were the videos that accompanied every song.
The first few videos were a tad gimmicky, and reminded me of a slightly more irreverent Emergency Broadcast Network: video clips and samples combined and synced up to create a new and otherwise unintended meaning. It was good, but it still tasted a bit bland to me.
But then they played "Classy Penguin." This had nothing to do with EBN-style culture-jamming, it was "just" a collection of home movies from their own families, showing the performers themselves growing up and just plain being alive.
Think of it. We were watching two extremely talented young men playing the guitar and cello on stage, while above them we saw a skillfully-edited re-run of their lives to that point. We saw the influences that shaped them and the silly things they did as children. We saw their parents and houses and even got a bass solo from the guitarists' brother. THIS was a turning point for me. Before that I just LIKED The Books. After this I LOVED them.
They got a standing ovation and did two encores. Their second encore was hilarious: a video that one of the band members had made for his child, to help him learn the alphabet. But it was TERRIFYING, an obscure and bizarre acid trip where the letters spun and flipped and made you want to run away. It so much WANTED to do all the things that a Sesame Street-style vignette would do, but somehow it went all WRONG.
Afterwards we went to a party/happening/not-a-rave designed and curated by The Blue Dot. This time they'd shanghaied a large section of "The Tannery," a maze-like factory space complete with balcony, enclosed shaft-courtyard, a selection of DJs, and -- as expected from the Dotters -- something interesting happening in every nook and cranny.
Most impressively we saw a performance of Gordon Monahan's "Swinging Speaker." This was absolutely spectacular and dopplarriffic:
Since it was a sort of Open Ears "after party" I got a chance to chat with a lot of familiar faces. Unfortunately there's just no getting around the fact that such a big event requires a larger crowd than those Open Ears folks willing to stay up past their bedtimes, so when the bar closed and it turned into a not-a-rave, I reluctantly skeedaddled. Oh for a post-Open Ears booze buffet, in a calm venue, with enough attendees to make it financially worthwhile! I'll keep hoping.
So this was the end. I might get out to see some of the installations tomorrow, but otherwise my nights of live shows and no sleep are over until next time.
This was the best Open Ears festival I've seen so far. It had enough diversity and a high enough quality to make almost EVERYTHING worthwhile. Never once did I dread a show, and very rarely did I wish that a bomb would drop and put us out of our misery.
As much as I liked The Books, my favourite night was still the double-bill of David Lang's "Elevated" and the improvisational jazz of E.T.C. I have some seriously fond memories of that night and I don't think I went away unchanged.
Here's to whatever 2011 brings...!