Best album of the decade so far is… what? Hissing Fauna? Kid A? Feels? Don’t hold me to this in the future, but I’m going to throw out Apologies to the Queen Mary as a candidate. For an album that the band immediately regretted releasing, it’s pretty near flawless. From the anthem of Krug-ist ambiguity that is You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son to the Americana sincerity of Boeckner’s This Heart’s On Fire, the album does not drop the ball once.
“You’re being ridiculous”, I hear you legitimately say. Okay, hold on. Musical awakening was a slow process for me. No-one is born at 13 listening to Eno. It took me until the middle of my teenage years to accept REM, and they were the first band I ever got into that used clean guitars as anything other than a build-up to distorted guitars. And even with that “revelation”, it took me a long time to get beyond the Q Magazine canon.
The internet started making noise about Wolf Parade around 2004. An older friend included the six-song EP from that year on a data-DVD of music he thought I might not hate. While the likes of Clouddead or Tilly and the Wall took a few years to make an impact, Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts arrested me immediately. That song specifically. I listened to it over and over on the way to school. It became my most played song on the fledgling Audioscrobbler site. This feral man, speaking poetry over a darkened, muddy, organ-heavy backing. It all seemed to make sense.
When the album came out a few months later, I e-mailed their Yahoo address to gush. Arlen, the drummer, replied with a short note punctuated at the end with a smiley of some sort. “We are coming to play Dublin”. The fact that this man, from the far side of Canada, and seeming so shrouded in mystery and genius to me at that time, could reply – it knocked me over. I ordered a fake ID. Two, actually, in case one wasn’t enough (it wasn’t). And I got into Whelans, first time ever in a club at the age of 17, to see the drunken gods of Wolf Parade perform. It was phenomenal.
Things are different now. I don’t get as blindly impressed by music as I used to, which is a universal symptom of voracious consumption. I go to enough gigs that I have developed a dislike for large-venue shows because of the disconnect, but also because of the type of people who attend. I am, in short, a curmudgeonly and cantankerous grump. But Wolf Parade are back. And they’re Vicar Street sized now, apparently. So I get myself to a Ticketmaster.
Giveamanakick support. They are not acoustic metal, they tell us. Right. Let’s call them… stripped-down hardcore. They acquit themselves well, but it’s just a distraction. People are talking, or shouting conversation more accurately, and much as I try to pay attention, it’s tough.
Then Wolf Parade appear. Not like the men-apart that I saw in Whelans in 2005, but the Spencer Krug I saw stage-frighted and desperate for alcohol with Sunset Rubdown in Crawdaddy during exams, and the Dan Boeckner I saw, cocksure with sneaky-naggin vodka and orange in hand with Handsome Furs at Whelans. Sure, Arlen and Dante don’t have any new associations for me, but the absence of Hadji Bakara, Wolf Parade’s hyperliterate version of Bez, definitely helped make the experience seem slightly alien.
Until they started.
You Are A Runner. I don’t want to lapse into just recapping the set-list here, even though if you’re still reading you’re probably not a neutral. Spencer put one knee on his stool and adjusted his mic stand (he did this every time he began to sing for the entire gig, Asperger’s-style), and got to it. Maybe four songs in, he did the same again, but with the one-handed organ intro to Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts.
Spencer looked like he was about to get sick the whole time. Dan looked like he was about to fall over and have a fit. But they both look like that all the time, so it’s okay.
Songs off the new album came to life. It seemed to be especially Dan’s songs that got a lift from the live environment. Soldier’s Grin, the opener from At Mount Zoomer, was infused with energy. Language City was forgiven its awful lyrics (“Language city is a bad ol’ place…/Eyeballs float in space”) and made up for them with live brio.
The band seemed delighted with the size of the room and the traditionally over-enthusiastic Irish crowd. Dan in particular grinned at the end of every song, and even the fearful and moody Spencer managed a few “you guys are sweethearts”. But of course the true critic does not factor that sort of thing into the equation, especially the critic who sees Bruce Springsteen for the dull dad-rock man he is (me).
What made this gig the best since Animal Collective in secret at Whelans came after the epic set-closer Kissing The Beehive. If the longer songs off At Mount Zoomer began to lag a little, the encore was the perfect riposte. The Grey Estates was The Grey Estates, quintessentially Boeckner. But it was the final pair that blew the thing up.
Spencer Krug, whom I later drunkenly declared to be “my second favourite man” to whoever would listen, put his shoulder to the yoke. He put a knee on the stool. He adjusted the mic stand. He held down a C chord for a few seconds. I didn’t recognise it. Nobody did. It didn’t seem like the band recognised it either until Arlen began the individual snare hits that mark the beginning of I’ll Believe In Anything. Whether on Apologies To The Queen Mary or the first Sunset Rubdown album, it’s one of my favourite songs, and it took me into the moment like nothing in at least the past year. It was cathartic, ecstatic, chaotic and all other Greek words that describe unbridled brilliance.
This was followed, with what seemed like Sisyphean effort on the part of Spencer, by Fancy Claps. Guess what it was like. Okay, I’ll tell you. It was cathartic, ecstatic, chaotic and brilliant. “When I die, I’m leaving you my feet/When you die, you can stand up for me.” Sung, or yodelled or bellowed or howled or whatever Spencer does, with the conflicted conviction of one of the indie world’s few true geniuses.
It’s gigs like this that make me regret how positively I review other things, because it was on another level. It’s gigs like this that remind me what it was like when I heard things for the first time, or when I would commit myself blindly to bands. When they were mine, and I didn’t just listen to them but I owned them as well. I don’t know why I’m reminded of this, but I am:
Feed the gaping need of my sense, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honored with a new dress woven
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven
In keeping with the teetering tight-rope of legitimacy that this blog tip-toes constantly, I have taken this picture from the Flickr of HouseParade without asking. I hope the fact that we seem to have been near each other at the gig, and that it was a fantastic and communal experience, will stop him/her from pressing charges. Excellent picture, HouseParade!