Sunday, August 09, 2009

Karkwa - Metropolis, 8/7/2009

I have a fairly long history with Karkwa. As I mentioned in my last review of them, I first saw them in 2003 at Francofolies on an outdoor stage, promoting their first album. At the time they had a lot of crunchy, funky unison riffs and songs that shifted drastically from section to section. Over the past six years, they've moved towards a more atmospheric indie sound and become far more cohesive in their songwriting. Their 2008 album, Le volume du vent, is easily their best yet, and as always, they took it to another level live.

What struck me about Karkwa, even from that first show in 2003, is that it is a band of players that knows how to serve their songs. Louis-Jean Cormier has become a tremendously strong singer, and his guitar playing has always been solidly in a textural and colouristic rhythm-guitar sort of way. Keyboardist Francois Lafontaine is that rare player equally at home with pure chops and pure sound, unleashing a distorted Rhodes solo on "M'empecher de sortir" that would have done Craig Taborn proud, or playing layered and split parts "Le solstice." Stéphane Bergeron on drums, with a deep pounding snare, is complemented by Julien Sagot's percussion, and bassist Martin Lamontagne is with them in lockstep. Nothing fancy, but they get the job done in a powerful way.

Most of the tunes in their Metropolis set were from Volume du vent, with a couple from Les tremblements s'immobilisent. They've refined their sound and their show over the years, eschewing much of their odd-meter excursions or earlier funk. That said, there's still a great variety in the artistic path they've chosen, from the soaring directness of "Oublie pas" to the bursts of noise that punctuated a tune whose name escaped me. Metropolis was packed beyond anything I've ever seen in there - no room to move on the ground level and the balcony was stuffed two people deep all the way to the top.

Bassist and vocalist Marie-Pierre Arthur was the opening act and is yet another force to be reckoned with in the Montreal indie scene. The first time she appeared on my radar was as bassist and back-up singer for Ariane Moffatt, who aptly told the audience to watch out for Marie-Pierre. Sharing a sonic kinship with Karkwa, she delivered a solid set of her tunes, in a direct alto that sounded like a cross between Ariane and Liz Powell of Land of Talk. She also helmed a fantastic band, featuring Brad Barr and Olivier Langevin on guitars. Olivier and Marie-Pierre came out as guests throughout Karkwa's set, and Francois played one tune during Marie-Pierre's set. A truly impressive showing by the hometown crew.

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