Friday, May 9, 2008

Tokyo Police Club: A Lesson in Gig Selection

Back when I first heard about Canadian band Tokyo Police Club (probably well over a year ago now), I downloaded a few of the tracks off their EPs from music blogs, listened to them, was mildly interested and then left it at that. They were typical indie-pop with that bouncy backbeat and a bit of new wave cheek. Having listened to most of the songs off their Smith EP, I recall thinking the songs were rather short and similar. Then after listening to several songs off their A Lesson in Crime EP, I started confusing those tracks with the ones I heard earlier from the Smith EP. Besides the slower title track, I couldn't distinguish between the two EPs. When I heard their debut album, Elephant Shell, I confused its tracks with the tunes from their EPs. Needless to say, I probably shouldn't have gone to see them live. I don't know what exactly I was thinking - as if seeing them live would help the fact their songs all sounded the same to me. Nonetheless, I decided I would give them a shot (and kill one more evening in my generally eventless life) and attend their gig at the Garrick Centre in Winnipeg last night. As part of the tour in honour of the sixteenth anniversary of Exclaim magazine, TPC are making their way across Canada with varying opening acts.

The second I got into the line for the show I found myself irritated and for completely unreasonable, curmudgeonly reasons. The massive amount of teenagers and people who were technically adults, but still much younger than me, were annoying me with their attempts at indie hipsterdom. These things shouldn't anger me (these indie kids are at nearly every show I ever attend, whether in Winnipeg, Toronto or even Cardiff...they're practically a global phenomenon - I bet there are penguins somewhere in the antarctic wearing Converse sneakers and footless tights, bobbing their heads to a bouncy backbeat). Perhaps what was really irking me the most about this crowd, aside from the t-shirts paired with dinner jackets and the bizarre return of plaid flannel shirts, was the fact that all these kids appeared to adore Tokyo Police Club. Again, this should have been expected, concerts tend to be attended by fans of the band playing them. But somehow the fact this many young people turned out to see this particular band, which in my eyes was completely average, vexed me. It started to make me wonder whether the kids were there because they truly loved the band and found their music to be life-changing and original, or whether they wanted to believe that this band was truly unique because all the other cool kids thought so, too. And if it really was the former reason, there was no way I could ever understand these people. At any rate, I started feeling rather surly and self-righteous and turned up songs by The Sound on my iPod to block out the rumbling of excited chatter around me. I became an ancient 25-year-old.

Frankly, it's already a bad sign if I'm not compelled to take up my usual spot against the stage. Despite the unseemliness of being pressed against the stage at my age (though this problem will probably only get much, much worse as the years pass), I almost always plant myself firmly against the centre stage, arms resting on a monitor. I should also add that the fact I'm very short also contributes to this behaviour. This time I stood back a fair bit further than usual, well away from the pointy elbows of malnourished indie boys, though still close enough to have my hair ruffled by the bass vibrations emanating from the speaker stacks. As Tokyo Police Club took the stage, I hoped against hope that they would end up impressing me with their live presence.

They blazed through their set in less than an hour mostly because all their songs are about two minutes long - a feature I came to appreciate as I felt myself longing to leave the venue early. With a set that included In a Cave, Tessellate, The Baskervilles, Your English is Good, Listen to the Math, Nursery, Academy, Nature of the Experiment, Box, Citizens of Tomorrow, and Be Good, TPC failed to engage me - to be honest, every time they played a new song, I could swear they had already played it earlier, and that I was in some horrendous indie groundhog day. In their live context, the sameyness of their songs only became more prominent to me (the only reason I can recount the songs I do is because I mentally took note of a few lyrics off each song to compare with the actual tracks later and work out like a puzzle - a fantastic mental exercise, but not a good sign for their music). Singer/bassist, David Monks, whose voice reminds me a bit of Peter Perrett of The Only Ones, was animated, but uninteresting as a similar drumbeat intro started each song off. Graham Wright, the keyboardist, who provided the odd unhinged shouting chant, bent so low over his keyboard that I feared he would trap his nose between the keys until he snapped his head as far back as humanly possible with Snoopy-like tosses. But even that action became cliched for me - it felt like I had seen that before from countless unmemorable opening acts. The show became reminiscent (right down to the seizure-inducing strobe lights) of when I went to see another indie Canadian band, Hot Hot Heat, play a gig about three years ago. That time, too, I shouldn't have expected much, considering I was really only there to see The Futureheads in the support slot, but the complete disengagement I felt at that gig also came as a sad surprise. Their fans also went beserk for songs that had no effect on me whatsoever.

I can't bring myself to hate TPC because they are so genuine and grateful, bless, thanking the crowd at every moment and making the effort to keep mentioning their earlier Winnipeg gig at The Pyramid. The set was also punctuated by a dedication to someone named Jill just before Your English is Good (am I so crotchety that I even find this ungrammatical phrase annoying?) and the encouraged participation in the form of handclapping for Citizens of Tomorrow. So, TPC do get an A for their attempt to interact with the crowd. Their encore was appropriate in that it was short just like their set was - it consisted merely of Cheer It On, which I only really remember because they keep shouting their band name in it (not something I'm particularly fond of, but which is extremely helpful when you're like me and apparently need to utilize mnemonic devices where this band's songs are concerned). For most of the show, I found my eyes straying to the audience, including a boy with the exact same haircut as Monks, flailing like he had a particularly bad case of head lice, and a couple of indie hipster girls dancing by themselves, one of whom looked like she had walked straight out of a 1980's high school yearbook photo, oversized glasses, unfortunate haircut and all. Kudos to them for being so confident with themselves and for actually having sense enough to attend a concert they would actually like.

I had also hoped that the opening acts might make my attendance worthwhile, but to no avail. The two opening acts were Smoosh, a teen-sister duo from Seattle, and Attack in Black, a plaid-shirt-wearing four-piece from Ontario - I've largely forgotten both of them. I will give kudos to Smoosh in that they're doing something fairly ambitious for their age (and heaven knows I can't play keyboard and sing at the same time, nor can I write my own music, and I really had nothing going for me as a, I really don't have much of right to be harsh), and in time, they'll probably fit quite nicely into the indie scene. At the very least, they played a cover of Bloc Party's This Modern Love, which was admirable. Attack in Black sounded like a blend of country-rock and emo, a mixture I never really want to come across again.

All in all, the night was forgettable. Although, I'll probably remember just how forgettable it was if TPC tours this way again.

**NOTE** I'm not even joking when I say I initially forgot to include tracks to download for this post. Bloody hell.

Tessellate - Tokyo Police Club

Cheer It On - Tokyo Police Club

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