Clues @ the Biltmore Cabaret, 5/30/09

Clues and Apollo Ghosts are responsible for two of my favourite records of 2009, so last night’s show at the Biltmore seemed like the perfect pairing. Unfortunately, however, poor promotion meant that the venue was only half full, a problem likely accentuated by the early start time (there was another show starting at 11).

Apollo Ghosts took the stage at 8:45, immediately kicking into high gear with “Little Yokohama.” The band’s energy was relentless, especially singer/guitarist Adrian Teacher, who thrashed around the stage and made Iggy Pop crazy-eyes at the audience; within the first two minutes he had already climbed onto the risers at the side of the stage to perform a guitar solo, crouching slightly so as not to bang his head on the low ceiling. In keeping with Teacher’s manic intensity, the set emphasized the band’s punk influence, eschewing quirky ballads in favour of Ramones-inspired stompers like “Land of the Morning Calm” and “Bad Apple.” The trio scarcely paused between songs, and this blistering pace meant that Apollo Ghosts were able to play almost half of Hastings Sunrise, as well as several cuts from their brand new EP Forgotten Triangle. Of the new songs, the standout was the set-closing “Palm of my Hand,” during which Teacher led the audience in a Congalaise Flea Dance, as well as performing a guitar solo while crowd surfing.

After the party atmosphere established by Apollo Ghosts, Clues’ brooding art rock was an anticlimax. The performance began with the creeped out drone of “Elope,” featuring frontman Alden Penner’s half-whispered vocals and bandmate Lisa Gamble on musical saw. The rest of the set emphasized Clues’ abrasive tendencies, with squalling feedback and thundering dual percussion; “Haarp” was an explosion of noisy crescendos and jagged guitar riffing, and even the bouncy “Perfect Fit” was overdriven and harsh.

The five members switched instruments on nearly every song, all joining in for shouted group refrains on “Ledmonton” and “Approach the Throne.” It was an impressive show, but the group’s stage presence was haughty and withdrawn; audience interaction was kept to a bare minimum, and Penner & co. seemed eager to leave the stage, wrapping up almost half an hour before the 11pm curfew. Perhaps it wouldn’t have seemed so off-putting if not for the contrast with the energy-filled Apollo Ghosts.
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