ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI at the Horseshoe, May 20. Tickets: $16-$18. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NN Rating: NN
There's a fine line between whimsical and just plain wonky, and Aussie octet Architecture in Helsinki have a band persona founded in teetering ever so precariously on the border separating the two.
On disc, their madcap multi-instrumental chirp, honk and flutter makes for an exhilarating listen. Sadly, their long-awaited live appearance at the Horseshoe Saturday careened right off the edge of kooky into crap.
Part of the problem was pragmatic. AIH's sound is as intricately detailed as it is schizoid, with trebly recorder hoots and twinkly chimes driving their genre-jumping kaleidoscopic pop. With so many components combining at any one time, the more delicate aspects - keyboardist Kellie Sutherland 's little-girl harmonies and synth arpeggios, in particular - help keep their songs from sounding like an overly dense mess.
Unfortunately, whether due to the logistical problems of running sound for a sprawling eight-member band or to things getting fucked post-sound-check, the Helsinkis started off in a swampy soup of bassy fuzz. Frontman Cameron Bird 's shouty vocals wavered in and out, occasionally rising above the bench-rattling hum, while his bandmates' choruses were all but lost in the sonic chaos.
Sound issues got sorted out, but not until several songs into the group's set. Even then, their breathless, high-decibel gallops through songs from their most recent In Case We Die disc lacked the orchestrated and thoughtfully arranged charm of their recorded versions, coming off more like a pre-talent-show rehearsal by a skronky high school band with a leader prone to silly Freddie Mercury impersonations. The only number that really clicked on a sonic level was effusive show-closer Maybe You Can Owe Me, which morphed into a funky extenda-jam.
Their more ramshackle, more heavily beat-based new material, on the other hand, had at least half the energized crowd doing little shaky-bum dances.
Energy-wise, it's nearly impossible to criticize Architecture, who clearly approach their live shows with pep-rally vigour. If only they could incorporate a bit more of the aesthetic care of their recorded output into performing without compromising their rah-rah-rah stance.