Monday, September 14, 2009

LIVE REVIEW: Sunset Rubdown - Crawdaddy, Dublin. September 12th

(This review was originally written for the website

‘‘Good evening, we’re Sunset Rubdown. There’s no other bands tonight, so we’re going to do a long set.’’ Not long enough, as it turns out – such is the quality of the Montreal five-piece’s set. Sometime ‘side-project’ of Wolf Parade’s Spencer Krug, there’s every indication that the group are on the verge of a breakthrough that would see them dwarf their parent band; in many critics’ eyes, they already have, with this year’s superb Dragonslayer a worthy follow-up to 2007’s acclaimed, ambitious Random Spirit Lover.

Sunset Rubdown share traits with many of their Canadian peers: complex, interwoven instrumentation; climactic flourishes and unpredictable tempo changes; emotive vocals and hyper-literate lyrical imagery. It’s a busy sound and not one that’s easy to get right live, but the sound is utterly flawless in the packed Crawdaddy : each daring twist and dazzling turn thrown into perfectly sharp relief. The frantic ‘Idiot Heart’ is an early highlight, driven by a tense glockenspiel riff and climaxing in a furious instrumental crescendo and desperate vocal refrain. Not that there’s any sign of a let-up anywhere in the set: with songs like the rousing, anthemic ‘The Taming of the Hands That Came Back To Life’, swelling ballad ‘Silver Moons’ or the grandstanding atmospherics of ‘You Go On Ahead’, it’s a tour de force of dramatic, high-concept art-rock.

The band are unassuming throughout, good-naturedly ribbing the crowd about the Lisbon treaty and encouraging people to take a cigarette break if they feel the band are overstaying their welcome. However, even going as far as the bar is too much of a liability when the action on stage is so compelling: ‘Black Swan’ mixes thrilling stop-start dynamics with sustained guitar-shredding, while the opening notes of ‘The Mending of the Gown’ provoke loud screams of glee, even if its breathless, mile-a-minute mid-section doesn’t come across quite so well live. You know it’s been a great gig when you’re reduced to such minor quibbling, however: given the way Arcade Fire conquered the mainstream with a very similar, high-stakes sound, it’s not too far-fetched to posit that the next time Sunset Rubdown come back to town, it’ll be in a far bigger venue.

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