OHBIJOU with the ACORN and the PHONEMES at the Drake, September 1. Tickets: $6. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
In all the recent debate in print and in the blogiverse over the local musical community phenomenon known as Torontopia (see Exclaim, www.zoilus.com and www.chromewaves.net for background and nerdcore discussion), what's often overlooked by haters is that the chief characteristic defining Torontopia is a fundamental drive toward a collective euphoric experience.
Aesthetic and insular quibbles aside, the "Great!!!" part of the T.O. indie scene at its greatest is the sense that, as a music fan, you're participating in a massive, block-rocking party, and everyone's invited.
That celebratory spirit was unmistakable at Ohbijou's CD release show last Friday at the Drake. After you pushed through the crowd of overgroomed fashionistas queuing up for the Lounge and descended into a swarm of balloons ("100, no 99, since Leon [Taheny, who helped produce the band's disc] broke one," proudly announced Ohbijou bandleader Casey Mecija), you felt like you were entering a secret clubhouse of group hugs instead of handshakes.
The openers seemed genuinely touched to have been included. Phonemes' Magali Meagher marvelled at the balloons before beaming her way through her set. Vocally, it wasn't Meagher's strongest night. She has a punk rockish approach to phrasing the Phonemes' liltingly melodic tunes that adds engaging contrast when it works, but the constantly shifting dynamics require diligent attention on the part of the sound technician.
Despite a strong backing band (Singing Saw Shadow Show's Shayna Stevenson provided eerie effects for the trio's loose arrangements), Meagher's singing grew grating every time she leaned on a line for emphasis.
Ottawa crew the Acorn fared better. Peppering their set with heartfelt thank-yous to Ohbijou (and a nice anecdote about discovering the band at last year's Track & Field fest), low-key frontman Rolf Klausner led the Acorn through a captivating set of warm alt-countryish tunes bolstered by drummer Jeffrey Malecki. Klausner's a fine songwriter with a sweet, unassuming voice, but Malecki's virtuosic math rock rhythms elevate their folksy tunes to a new level of complexity.
By the time Ohbijou took the stage around midnight, security guards had wrestled the entry stamp away from an overzealous door person for fear of overcrowding. The turnout blew even Mecija away: without a surfeit of buzz, it's pretty rad to see music fans lining up all night for an intimate show by such an unassuming band.
Sadly, the wobbly sound also worked against Ohbijou, a multi-layered orch-pop ensemble whose songs depend on swooping dynamics and the ebb and flow of cellos, horns and flutes. Depending on where you were standing, they sounded either good or mired in a soup of too-dense bass.
But when you gave yourself over to the ex-Brantford band's genuine exhilaration, overlooked technical quibbles and let yourself fall into Mecija's unapologetically pretty ballads and dreamy harmonies, it was hard not to be filled with pure joy - which is what the best shows are supposed to do.