I’ve never been as much a fan of live music as I am of studio recordings. For starters, I’m a huge fan of production and of the ‘studio as instrument’ school of thought that Brian Eno subscribes to. When you play in the studio, you’re selling your music. When you play live, you’re selling yourself. How you look, how you move, how you banter, etc. But really, the problem for me is usually that playing live seems to encourage many musicians to wank their instruments pointlessly for extended periods of time.
Regular readers will likely know that I recently reviewed an album called The Great Upheaval by Halifax-based instrumental act Kuato. If you recall, I loved the bloody thing tremendously and stated that it should damn well be the benchmark for its genre. You’ll understand then that when I heard that Kuato was going to be making a stop here in Toronto during their latest tour, I knew I simply had to attend. One, because I love the band. Two, to see just how in the hell this was going to go down live.
Here’s the straight-up deal: Kuato was the closest thing to perfection I have ever witnessed live. The band played The Great Upheaval front to back, I believe, in its entirety (although I’m sure I recall them starting with “Groundwork”) and totally went and destroyed the album for me, in a good way. The first point I made against live music is shattered right there. For all of the studio production you could give a band like Kuato, the live performance at The Boat added further dimension to the compositions. All of those wonderful moments on the album where tingles rock the spine… my friggin brain felt like it was going to melt at those same parts during the live set.
As for the second point mentioned in the first paragraph, the band managed to eliminate the visual aspect of the show, whilst still maintaining a presence, albeit an artistic one. The lighting was such that the band was backlit and appeared mainly as silhouettes. While it was often difficult to see the individual members, one could clearly see the energy of the performance in spite of this. The lighting itself was great, with the band often being shown off in damn near the same colour scheme of the album itself. It was all flawlessly timed to coincide with pivotal moments in the music itself. In this way, it didn’t matter so much what the band looked like. Rather, it was how they played together and how they accentuated key parts in the compositions with subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, movements that augmented the music in the end. Radio chatter and clips of Cajun jazz played in between tunes as the band tuned and saw to their effects. There was little to no banter and it made the concert flow so much better and seem far more professional than any other live act I’ve ever seen outside the major label setting.
Closing in on the final statement from paragraph number one, Kuato have painstakingly crafted such wonderful compositions that, although there are three very capable guitarists, one bass player, and one drummer, are as far away from showboating as is humanly possible. The album is recreated live almost flawlessly, with each player adding to the whole in an equal manner, weaving together an intricate and complex performance that somehow manages not to talk down to or even lose its audience for one second. The tunes are all instrumental, but the band have done all the work of a vocalist by putting together such gripping and continually interesting compositions. There is no need for vocals in music that has been this perfectly designed to build up the tension and explode with gratuitous pay-off. Especially of note was the rousing performance of “Red Sand.”
As you can see, Kuato was anything but the status quo for live performance. The only flaw I can muster was the lack of the keyboard elements that is minutely present on the record, and that at the end of the night they stopped playing and eventually left the city, back in the direction of Nova Scotia. As mentioned above, I rarely enjoy live music to the extent that I probably should because it tends to degrade what has been set down in the studio, but here at last is a band that goes one step beyond the studio and immerses you in the awesome that is their sound. Not that you shouldn’t pick up a copy of the record, but there’s no doubt about it, Kuato is a band that simply must be experienced live.
RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.