Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Please Make Way and Pull to the Side of the Road: The Slow Return of Ambulance Ltd.

Unfortunately, more often than not, opening acts are forgettable for me. They were either very obviously chosen as tourmates because of their affiliation with the main act's record label without any consideration for compatible music styles, or they lacked the confidence and stage presence to hold their own against the main act to follow. Of course there have been some exceptions where I actually attended the gig for the support act rather than the main act, but in these cases, I obviously already knew and liked the support before going. Having said this, there has only been one time that I went to a show not knowing anything about the opening act and was then convinced by the end of their set that I wanted to buy their album and then actually followed through by buying the album within the week. This opening act was Ambulance Ltd, a shoegaze-indie-rock band out of New York and they were supporting The Killers gig in Winnipeg four years ago.

The gig was at the rather small (and precariously constructed) West End Cultural Centre because this was September 2004, the eye before the Killers media storm that would soon follow, ensuring that The Killers will never play a small stage in Winnipeg again. My friends and I were waiting impatiently for The Killers, not expecting much by way of an opening act. Ambulance Ltd., then came onstage in their unassuming indie attire and proceeded to blow us away. I still remember to this day the sound of Yoga Means Union flooding the small venue, the five-minute instrumental seemingly stretching to infinity in a refreshing wash of guitar arpeggios, that kept building and retreating and building and retreating like a tidal wave. Using an instrumental in an opening set can be dangerous in terms of losing the audience's attention, but it mesmerized me and I was riveted to the stage. Stay Where You Are was equally as memorable with its gentle riff and soaring melody. I can also clearly recall the catchy hook and sinister sound of Primitive (The Way I Treat You), which tipped the balance, convincing me to purchase Ambulance Ltd.'s debut album LP. Frontman, Marcus Congleton, has a hypnotic quality to his voice akin to Mew or The Radio Dept. with shades of Marc Bolan, and my oldest friend (not oldest as in age, but in how long we've been friends), Crista, still claims to this day that Congleton was the most beautiful man she's ever seen in real life. See my photo from the gig above and decide for yourself.

Needless to say, both Crista and I purchased copies of LP, and then waited for new releases. And waited. And finally lost track of Ambulance Ltd. Aside from a rumor of Congleton in talks with Sophia Coppolla about being in one of her films, I didn't really pick much up about them. Then, two years after I first purchased LP, Ambulance Ltd. released an EP entitled New English EP, which I found out about a fair time after the actual release. I liked what I heard, but it wasn't enough. Then I lost track of them again only to find out that everyone but Congleton has now left the band, that others have replaced them, and that their record label is currently in legal trouble, preventing any official new releases. For information about why the record label is in legal trouble read the NME story about it. Thankfully, all of this turmoil hasn't stopped the fans from being able to hear new material as Ambulance Ltd. continues to post the latest demos on their MySpace. And I've become a fan all over again. And once again, I wait.

Apparently, Congleton has worked on eighteen new tracks with the magnificent John Cale, and there are three new demos up on the Ambulance Ltd. MySpace. New demo Ivy reveals a funkier influence, but still mesmerizes me with vestiges of their earlier psychedelic melodies. In many ways, it feels like an interstellar journey in Parliament's spaceship. Upsetter shambles along to a lazier melody in a country-western vein, but with a an airier delivery, which makes me like it even without really have a predilection for the genre. And two thirds into the song, it also starts to sway and swagger in a funkier way. Ladyfingers slinks along to a subtle horn line and has a greater effect on me than anything Mark Ronson has done so far. Congleton's vocals slip and slide along in a fantastically soulful way while still preserving their signature dreamy quality.

Ambulance Ltd. Mk II did a short tour earlier this year in April and now have a show set up for the end of July at The Bowery Ballroom in New York. I really hope they get to release a new album soon and that they do a larger tour. Hopefully, they will still be willing to play Winnipeg after all these years. This time as a headliner.

Ambulance Ltd.'s MySpace:

Ivy (Demo) - Ambulance Ltd.

Upsetter (Demo) - Ambulance Ltd.

Primitive (The Way I Treat You) - Ambulance Ltd.

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