There are very few superstars playing instrumental music. Cut vocals out of the equation and the rock-star factor diminishes drastically.
If nothing else, Wednesday's gig by recently reunited, singer-free New York/Trenton trio Ui proved that instrumental music can be both faceless and mesmerizing. The fans shouting out requests for obscure Ui songs three tunes into the set confirmed both.
Augmenting their usual drum-and-two-basses set-up with occasional guitar and a suitcase full of electronic effects, Ui wisely dispensed with any attempts at chatting up the audience and let the music stand for itself. There wasn't a whole lot to look at onstage, and when they were trotted out, the standard lines about being thrilled to be back in Toronto seemed more awkward than usual.
No such problems with Ui's music. The band's downtime appears to have given some direction and focus to the trio's angular, unusual sound.
While bemused timekeeper Clem Waldmann tapped out the same drumbeat all night long, Sasha Frere-Jones and Wilbo Wright traded lurching bass lines, playing off each other one moment and trying to outmanoeuvre each other the next. Even with the tunes sounding more like brief interludes than complete songs, the effect was hypnotic.
Frere-Jones's Miami bass booms and loping hiphop interludes brought crucial texture to the mix. That air of sophistication aside, though, as the trio locked into groove after groove, it also became disturbingly clear that Ui were just a few guitar solos away from being a jam band.
Maybe the hippie dancers twirling away off to the side of the crowd shouldn't have come as a surprise. A spot on the HORDE tour awaits.