FOUR CORNERS IV with ABSOLUTELY FREE, ODONIS ODONIS, YOUNG MOTHER and TOWN SHIP at the United Steelworkers Hall, Friday, May 25. Rating: NNNN
It seems like such a simple concept.
Instead of one headliner and three openers, put four bands on stage at once. Except there is no stage, and instead each of the four bands sets up in a corner of the room and alternates a song or two at a time.
Until Corey Wells and Jordan Richie came up with the idea, Four Corners was uncharted territory, but the originally one-off idea carried into three shows in 2011. They brought it back for an encore last night, but unless they have a change of heart the fourth incarnation will likely be the last.
If that is indeed the case, Four Corners at least went out on a strong note.
The set-up, as straightforward as it seems, relies upon finding the right four Toronto bands, acts that are not only good, but aesthetically compatible. The show cycled four times through the room, so it was important that one or two bands didn't stand out as outliers.
Where early Four Corners shows mostly covered those criteria by sticking to local garage-punk bands (of which there are many), the fourth incarnation (and first of 2012) instead spotlighted the strange, druggy, drawn-out kraut-rock bands hiding in our midst: Absolutely Free, Odonis Odonis, Young Mother and Town Ship.
The prolonged groove of the genre don't initially seem well-fitted to the quick-rotate format of Four Corners, but despite kraut conventions (as outlined by German ‘70s essentials like Can and Neu!) none of the bands overstayed their welcome, and none resembled another enough to blend in.
Odonis Odonis classify themselves as "industrial surf-gaze" and each of those elements was in full display at the United Steelworkers Hall, the trio blending organic Dick Dale guitar with synthetic (but live played) guitars.
Young Mother, on the other hand, stuck entirely to live instrumentation, but augmented their chanted vocals, dynamic sax and insistent guitars with high-in-the-mix drums that entirely stole the show. They started as loose improvisationalists, but the band has found a solid, unique channel that should place their upcoming Telephone Explosion-released debut at the top of the anticipated-Torontonians album list.
Absolutely Free, the new incarnation of one-time local favourites DD/MM/YYYY, impressed by replacing their convulsive time signature-shifting spazz-punk with patient, structured prog-rock that still packed a good punch.
Town Ship were the only stylistic curveball, but their short, punchy garage punk was compelling enough to stand on its own, and considering both Wells and Richie played in the band (and organized the show), it was easy to overlook.
Each act blended well into each other, aided by coloured lights that guided centre-standing show-goers like moths to a flame. But the concert was as much a feat of logistics as it was performance. That every band sounded good from its corner of the room spoke well to the underappreciated sound guy, and that there was no downtime spoke to each individual band.
Once a complete clusterfuck, the grand finale - jammed on by every band in the room - sounded strangely natural.
An everyone-at-once cover of Sex Bomb by sludge-pioneers Flipper, somehow avoided the trap of dissonance. Each of the four outfits contributed its own distinct trademark - sax, noise scrape, shout, etc - and turned the song into a head-spinning testament to Four Corners as a viable format. A surprisingly organized group of partiers even formed a conga-line around the room, bringing each little piece into perspective.
Let's hope there's still life left in Four Corners.