Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mark Bragg, Rae Spoon, Wax Mannequin – November 13 at Zaphod's (Ottawa)

Mark Bragg
The exuberant east coaster got the night rolling with a taut set of honest collar rock. Near the start, it sounded like The Coral's debut minus the superfluous instrumentation, and finished with a dose of breakneck bluegrass. For back-to-basics bands, feeling is often most important, so this band's sheer tightness was a bonus – thanks in part to bassist Rajiv Thavanathan of Toronto's Oh No Forest Fires. "This band is smokin'," says Braggs, a St. John's native who's been performing for about 10 years, after the show. "I forgot how tourin' makes bands wicked tight."

With a brief explanation of each song's origin (concluding with "And that's what this song is about"), the fast-talkin' Newfoundlander made a novella out of the short set. I was surprised to learn this type of storytelling was a new component of his live show, "specifically learned from Rae and Wax," Braggs tells me, adding, "I've always been shitty at introducing songs." Apparently he's past this phase. With the new shtick forcing him to re-think the songs' meaning, Braggs is better able to communicate his dark fiction more directly with those before him.

Rae Spoon
Rae makes their unique status as a transgendered country singer known from the get-go, offering an engaging set of surprisingly electrified acoustic numbers with a side of basic Macbook beats. Think Hank Williams with a penchant for minimalist Postal Service. Drawing on experiences living in the Yukon, Halifax, and Berlin, Rae provided funny anecdotes – topics include dial-up internet; queer Country day; and the parallels between being a German cowboy and a trans Calgarian – between (and during) many of their folky, charming tunes.

Why the banter? "When I get on stage, people don't know how to perceive me," Rae tells me, explaining that the personal narrative woven throughout the show comes as a result of consistent touring over the past 10 years. Especially for country – which Rae even remarked as a genre relying heavily on stereotypes – theirs is a bold statement, though it doesn't outweigh the quality of the music. "Come on Forest Fire Burn the Disco Down" is still stuck i
n my head.

Wax Mannequin
After two solid openers, the punky old timer (brandishing both suspenders and an iPhone) ran through a set of fist-pumping Tom Waits in fine fashion, though some songs could be mistaken for CCR or Lou Reed covers. I think that's a compliment.

1 comment:

  1. The last song from Mark Bragg was really cool, kinda reminded me of psychobilly freakout by Reverend Horton Heat.