Friday night was up in the air as far as plans. There was only one band I’d really planned to see, Gypsophilia, so I made sure to get to Rancho Relaxo early enough to ensure I didn’t miss anything. Climbing up the narrow flight of stairs to the restaurant’s upper floor I felt like I was waking into a time-shift. I immediately heard what was the cacophanous sound of a 7 piece sound check, and the venue itself was not as I’d usually seen it. Any time I’ve been to a show at Rancho, it’s been one of those sweaty, curse-the-ceiling-fan kind of gigs. This wasn’t the case. It was about quarter to 9, so I had time before their set to scope things out. What I saw was the crowd was much older than the typical Canadian Music Fest variety: there was more than one set of sons and daughters with mothers and fathers. And there was a coat hanger, not coat check, and there were tables and it was just surreal. Well, not surreal, just atypical. I waited for a friend to arrive and quickly spotted the band members sauntering about. To say they stood out wouldn’t have been a stretch: the trumpetist, who must have been at least 8 feet tall, was wearing a suit with matching pork-pie hat. The bassist came off as Matt Stone in costume: pinstripes, bowtie and moustache were all there. But the image fit the bill, something that took just a few notes to become clear once their set got started
Even if you haven’t heard Gypsophilia, and I reckon you haven’t, it’s not hard to gauge where they’re coming from. Their name is pretty straightforward when their sound surprisingly isn’t. Granted, you’ve got the traditional (I’m told) set up of three guitarists, and I’m sure all of them would chop a finger or two off to be a little closer to the one we call Django, but I learned they also had some untraditional twists in their line-up. Firstly there’s the over-sized trumpet player. I’m told horns aren’t typical of gypsy jazz. While the bassist was playing an upright, it was an electric upright; the sound wasn’t noticeably different, except perhaps when he started briefly swooping it with his bow, but purists can be easily offended. That being said, the stage at Rancho Relaxo is too small for even the average four piece: when you factor in that Gypsophilia are a 9 piece band, you can attribute using the slimmer bass purely for space purposes. That goes without saying, considering their use of electric keyboard instead of piano. And besides, anyone who heard Sageev Oore tickle the proverbial ivory would have giggled with excitement: a pretentious way of saying he was very, very good. The whole band was, in fact, and that’s really why they earned such a huge preamble.
That and their sound doesn’t take too long to describe. They split their set about 70/30 between mostly upbeat swinging numbers and a couple seductive, slower tracks. It’s guitar driven stuff, hence the three guitar arsenal, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary for guitarist Nick Wilkinson to slap and tap on his instrument, using it for more rhythmic, percussive purposes. Their sound was at times almost hasidic sounding, and as double bassist Adam Fine picked things up mid-way through their set I half expected my head to be clipped with the edge of a chair. All in all their set was a surprisingly tasteful blend of traditional gypsy jazz and contemporary vigour. While it did at times feel as though some of the band was just standing around (Gina Burgess on violin was the guiltiest here), the fact that they were able to rise above their kitschy name and supposed gimmick speaks volumes about their talent.
After Gypsophilia was done I headed out in the pissing rain and made my way to the Bovine Sex Club, arriving just in time to catch the end of Starring Janet Leigh’s set. There’s is a name I’d been hearing for years but their music isn’t something I ever actively sought out. What I heard was solid, if a little tepid. They had all the energy you’d want, swinging about on the Bovine’s tiny corner stage, but their music struck me as relatively by-the-numbers spazzy-deathcore. Sure, there was the occasional twist of clean-guitar, pseudo-jazzy intonations, but the bit I heard felt out of place and tacked on. The crowd dug it, though, and as far as audience goes the house was packed. If you haven’t been to the Bovine, basically imagine a narrow hall, with a bunch of ugly metal junk on the walls, random fences on the ceilings and bearded, tattooed 20-somethings standing around arguing over the best Slayer record.
Up next was Aeternam. I knew very little about them going in, only that they employed the same eastern guitar scales as made popular by Nile. And that was pretty much as true as could be, as they seemingly made it a point of delivering one of those eastern riffs about ten seconds into their first song. I quickly remarked, “oh, there it is” and proceeded to tune out for the rest of their set. Coming out of the once burgeoning but quickly stagnating Quebecois death metal scene, I was preparing to see the band under false pretences: I assumed, based almost exclusively on geography, that they would bring some technical veracity into the mix, which they didn’t. Instead it was relatively monotonous death metal; there was only one guitar solo, and it was an underwhelming finger-tapped escalating scale, and the keyboards, when audible, sounded out of place, cheap and incredibly awkward. It was like watching a stereotype, as the band’s guitarists–one of whom looked remarkably like a taller, younger Karl Sanders–spent countless minutes pouting and grimacing at nobody in particular while the singer growled about, I don’t know, sand and cats or whatever it is they write about. Sure, they were tight and they were heavy, but nothing stood out about their sound.
To finish off the night, I made the trek with some friends to see Callahan at the Hideout. I’d read the name in passing (well, in the CMF media book…) but really wasn’t planning on checking them out. It wasn’t my thing: screamy post-hardcore with some chugging and a dorky looking guy on keyboards providing clean vocals. They started early, which meant they finished early, but I was pleasantly surprised by what happened in between. Working with a new vocalist after allegedly only one rehearsal, the band was ripe with energy and intensity. The vocalist in particular was everywhere, swinging from the ceiling and shouting in the faces of a surprisingly dedicated gaggle of young fans. Their sound isn’t something I expect to hear in bars anymore; I’d call it dated, since it’s reminiscent of the boom of bands that came out of Alexisonfire’s early success, but then I’d only be dating myself, so instead I’ll simply state it was what it was: good live music, but not something I’ll ever go out of my way to hear again.