HILOTRONS at the Garrison, Saturday, February 9. Rating: NN
I realize we're barely into February, but the new Hilotrons album, At Least There's Commotion, is one of my favourites of the year so far. Ottawa-based singer/keyboardist Michael Dubue is a gifted, big-voiced singer who expertly blends new wave, pop and indie rock influences into mighty tunes that already sound like classics. On record, that is. The live version, it pains me to say, was utterly disappointing.
Accompanied by the Acorn's Adam Saikaley on knob-twisting duties and Wooden Stars' Julien Beillard on ambient guitar, Dubue, hidden at the back of the stage behind rows of keyboards and cables, proceeded to deconstruct the songs beyond all recognition. It was as if he'd cut a hole in the bottom of them and let their elements spill out and slip away. Keyboard noise, electric guitar blasts and electronic aural carnage replaced structure, melody and groove.
Occasionally Dubue played a song, or part of a song, straight - with just his nimble piano work and soulful powerhouse vocals filling (and stirring) the room. But then it was back to heads-down, on-the-spot experimentalism, which might've kept the musicians interested but left the small crowd disoriented and bored. And while his use of the Garrison's upright piano was sonically effective, it meant that he and his bandmates were set up at the very back of the stage, increasing the gulf between us and them.
Only a handful of us remained by the end. Skip the show, buy the album.