My heart aches for bands that get booked to play Montreal during play-off hockey. This city loves music – we wouldn’t have the electric year-round calendar of local and visiting acts that we do if that weren’t the case. But our hearts are big and we’ve got a lot of love to give, so when the Canadiens go into double-overtime in Game 1 of the Tampa series, there is another – and a show originally scheduled for 9:30 PM will have to wait until after 11, win or lose. That’s just how Montreal is wired and how we love, and Cymbals Eat Guitars acquitted themselves very nicely.
After transforming Le Ritz from sports bar to concert venue and waiting for the last of the “just hockey” fans to clear the bar, opening act Thin Blue Line took the stage at 11:15. The local group played songs from their just-released EP, starting the half-hour set with sound collages of indecipherable speech to set a tone of mystery for the cinematic instrumental rock to come. Building on sound clips, bass grooves and arpeggiating guitars, Thin Blue Line successfully marry the post-rock patience, build-up and release of Mogwai with the momentum of Broken Social Scene’s more uptempo moments. It’s a tough sell for a band to pick up and play to an audience that just watched their hometown heroes lose after a tense showdown, but Thin Blue Line successfully helped the crowd grieve and move on.
It took until after 12 for Cymbals Eat Guitars to start their set, but the faithful showgoers who hung on in the already close-quarters venue were treated to an intimate performance by the Staten Island indie rockers. Kicking things off with the downbeat closing track to their new record LOSE, singer/guitarist Joe D’Agostino took the crowd into the other side of midnight with “2 Hip Soul”’ and its introduction of hushed vocals, ultimately building to a growling climax of crashing cymbals and downward basslines.
It’s been four years since the quartet last played Montreal in support of 2011’s Lenses Alien, and that record is largely unrepresented in last night’s setlist, which instead opted to foreground their latest and most self-assured release. Masters of loud-quiet-loud dynamics and unpredictable, mosaic-like song structures, Cymbals Eat Guitars re-emerged last summer with their most consistent and confident work to date. Building on the template of their 2009 debut Why There Are Mountains (showing up in the set with the urgent bounce of “Living North”), the band’s new tracks (standouts like “Jackson” and “Warning”) crackle with newfound maturity and guitar distortion.
Despite this growth, there is still no better thesis statement for Cymbals Eat Guitars than “…And The Hazy Sea”, the opening cut from their debut and the final song of their main set. Earlier in the evening, D’Agostino had congratulated the Habs fans in the crowd for their ability to “rally in the face of motherfuckin’ defeat”. With “…And The Hazy Sea”, a triumphant road-trip through a dreamy summer landscape, the band thanked the crowd for sticking around and gave them a hopeful anthem for the weeks to come. And as the rest of the group walked off to leave D’Agostino alone with a solo performance of the quiet and reflective “Child Bride”, Cymbals Eat Guitars also left audience members with the comfort that, even if things don’t work out for the best, there is still great value to be found in mistakes, struggle and growth. While this holds true for music, it also holds true for hockey – and in Montreal, we love it all.
Review – Dan Corber
Photos – Eva Blue