Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dirty and Sweet: The Raveonettes in Toronto

This past Good Friday was indeed good with The Raveonettes' gig at The Opera House in Toronto. I've never had the privilege to see the Danish duo live before, and I'm very happy I got to witness them on stage. Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo filled the vaudeville stage with incredible swathes of sound and intricately crafted noise, the stagefloor littered with effects pedals. Their guitars chirped, chimed, buzzed and bounced throughout the relatively small venue, producing a hybrid of a 50's prom and a space age rave.

Image is just as intrinsic to The Raveonettes as the music - they are a fascinating combination of Europe and Americana. They come across like the aloof cool kids who somehow ended up presiding over a 50's prom in the future. Their symmetry on stage is perfect - Sune stands stage right and Sharin stands stage left, leaving a fairly large gap between them with the androgynous female drummer standing in the middle of the gap towards the back of the stage. And the drummer does stand - she bangs away at the drums like one would in an orchestra rather than sitting behind a traditional drumkit, all to a perfect visual effect. Seeing her sticks come down on the drums in such an obvious way, further emphasizes the classic Ronettes drumbeat that runs throughout most of their songs.

Sune and Sharin contrast but match at the same time - he is slight of build with dark hair while she towers above him on high heels and sports a platinum blonde pageboy haircut. He looks fragile in his Endless Summer t-shirt and skinny jeans, while she looks austere in her sequined black and silver dress. At the same time, they both have the same aloof look on their faces as they stare out over the audience with their kohl-lined eyes. No matter how fast and danceable their music gets, they stay nearly motionless behind their microphones as their hands move in a blur over their guitars. Sometimes this stance is broken as Sharin gently sways her head to the beat and Sune backs away, sliding his pointy shoes around the stage, as he performs a guitar solo. But they always come back to formation, a repressed tension filling the space between them and crackling along with their reverbing guitars. None of this distance makes them appear rude or arrogant - when they speak to the audience in between songs, they appear quite soft-spoken and gracious; instead, they seem to have an inherent, effortless coolness that makes you envy them because you know they're untouchable. You can't take your eyes off them in their mesmerizing detachment.

The Raveonettes' fusion of distortion and Spector-like walls of sound and drums makes them undeniably like The Jesus and Mary Chain, especially the Psychocandy period. Other obvious reference points are 60's girl groups like The Ronettes and the distortion of Sonic Youth; however, their light vocals meld into each other so gently that they sound like one androgynous, dreamy voice. It never ceases to amaze me that they can create as many songs as they do with the same sound, same chord progressions, same drumbeat patterns, but with distinctive melodies that constantly update their 50's and 60's simplicity with something intangibly original. Their songs have the magic to transport you back to an America of milkshake fantasy and arrested adolescence while creating an excitement and a spacey atmosphere that belongs to a future as imagined by the 1960's.

Blowing through a set that mainly consisted of songs under three minutes, they played many songs off their latest album Lust Lust Lust, opening with Hallucinations, and going on to play Dead Sound, Blush, Lust, Black Satin, You Want the Candy, and The Best Dies. Faster songs like Blush and You Want the Candy soared through the venue propelled by drums and sweet melodies, and Sharin's vocal on The Best Dies in tandem with Sune's lazy lullaby of guitar strumming were entrancing and hypnotic. Sune, staring into the middle distance and flickering his eyelids in an idiosyncratic blink, often strummed while holding the whammy bar as his hand moved up and down the frets with a careless ease. In breaks from vocals, he would hunch over his guitar and lurch in time with the downbeats. Sharin, seeming to be channeling the spirits of Debbie Harry, Nico, and Agnetha from Abba all at once, strummed her guitar with the same abandon and characteristic staccato strums Sune did. They would trade off melodies and effects, taking turns holding down all the strings with one hand while shredding furiously up and down with the other hand. In addition to newer material, they played songs from Pretty in Black, Chain Gang of Love, and their EP Whip It On, including That Great Love Sound, Let's Rave On, Noisy Summer, Love in a Trashcan, Attack of the Ghost Riders, and My Tornado. After the show, a bemused fan couldn't get over the fact that Sharin had actually knelt next to her effects pedals to readjust the calibre of her "noise." The pink and black colour motif that The Raveonettes often use is a perfect one to represent music that is both sweet like bubblegum and dark with dirty distortion, dissonant chords and Velvet Underground-like lyrics of decadence.

The climax of the show for me was the final song of the set proper: the first single off their latest album, Aly, Walk With Me. It's droning darkness and the chiming dissonant guitar chords paired with their nearly monotone vocals makes the song both beautiful and unsettling live. At the end of the song, Sune and Sharin both turned their backs on the audience and hunched over their guitars to make a blazing cacophony of white noise. Their encore was a tender performance of Love Can Destroy Everything followed by a rendition of Twilight, which finally saw Sune and Sharin close the physical gap between them by facing each other and creating a mirror image as their hands flew over their guitars.

I have to mention the opening band, Black Acid, just because they were so terrible. They looked like an identikit indie hipster singer backed by four homeless men. I've never seen a more disinterested band in my life. The singer, wearing red pointy shoes, skinny jeans and a dinner jacket over a t-shirt, was probably trying to seem cool by being indifferent to performing and to his audience, compulsively drinking beer as he walked around the stage in lieu of playing an instrument, but instead he just came off like a boring jackass. His voice was so low in the mix that I could only catch snatches of it - good thing since he sounded like a chipmunk caught in a combine. And the songs they played were so repetitive and endless, I was ready to claw my way out of my own skin. In all their efforts to be as cool as The Raveonettes, they just ended up being their antithesis. And proved that The Raveonettes know what they're doing.

All of my photos from this gig can be viewed via an album on my MySpace page.

Aly, Walk With Me - The Raveonettes

You Want the Candy - The Raveonettes

That Great Love Sound - The Raveonettes