Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Blow @ Horseshoe Tavern

As Khaela Maricich, better known as Portland Oregon’s The Blow, wandered unassumingly toward the microphone at Toronto’s filled-to-capacity Horseshoe Tavern, I had no idea that my frequently unchallenged notion of a live music performance would be put to the test.

The one-hour headlining sets generally fall into one of two categories: a band or artist rushing to squeeze in as much material as can be allowed, or struggling to stretch 40 minutes worth of material into 60, usually resulting in unnecessarily long guitar tuning intervals, extended bridges, and more often than not, hopeless audience banter. The Blow defied either of these pigeonholes, instead opting for an unparalleled blend of ad-hoc storytelling interwoven with songs from her 2006 release Paper Television. The songs, it seemed, acted merely as electro-dance versions of the stories which often were longer than the songs themselves. The first third of the set consisted of maybe eight minutes of music, the rest being filled entirely with monologue. And, while the talk was generally funny, charming, and entertaining, it left me wondering what exactly I had paid my $12 to see – a musician or a comedian.

But when Maricich did opt for a tune in favour of a story session, her genuine and soothing vocals over top of the pre-recorded beats recreated the charms of the band's breakthrough album effortlessly. Much like the album, the strongest live tracks included the album’s opener 'Pile of Gold', as well as the beautifully whimsical love song 'Parentheses', and non-album tracks 'Hey Boy' and her re-worked and charming cover of the Police’s 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', which served as her one-song encore.

Previous to last night, never had I ever considered the potential of a Beck Hansen/Ellen Degeneres lovechild (for obvious reasons). But Maricich juggled both of their defining characteristics with ease, and entirely by accident; Beck’s unorthodox merger of vocal harmony, hip hop rhythms, and train-of-thought lyrical rantings combined with dance moves so quirky the audience didn’t know whether to cower in sympathetic embarrassment or take notes so as to recreate them later in a bedroom mirror. The Degeneres influence was evident in between the songs themselves, where Maricich seemed just as comfortable engaging the crowd through conversational humour about love of both men and women, chasing love, falling out of love, jogging, and those dudes who drive around shouting out the window at girls they’ll never get with.

In the end, Maricich’s performance seemed to win over the majority of the crowd, demonstrated by the extended cheers of adoration throughout the set. Despite her dorky charm and obvious talent, it took all the power within my own self-control to deny my urge to be that guy who belts out: “Shut up and play a fucking song!” For the record, I didn’t. And neither did anyone else, though I’m sure we all were thinking it. I, like everyone else in the bar that night, just shut up and listened. But that doesn’t mean we’ll all be as accommodating (or as sober) next time around.

- bobby k.

The Blow, Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto
Sunday July 8, 2007

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