Ghostly International Concert
Lee's Palace, Toronto
July 21, 2004

Ghostly's riding an enviable wave these days with a star-studded roster that includes Matthew Dear, Twine, Dabrye, KILN, Dykehouse, and Solvent. Given the label's classy and eclectic character, it was reasonable, then, to expect much the same at the Toronto stop on its “2004AD Art and Artifice” tour but, on this particular night, Dykehouse, Solvent, Dabrye, and Matthew Dear presented sets that were stylistically varied though not all equally classy. The evening started wretchedly with a self-described karaoke set from Dykehouse, an embarrassing train wreck of a show. Against tinny backing tracks, he sang—or more accurately bellowed—and prowled the stage, beer bottle in one hand and mike in the other. Potentially effective covers like Ween's “Chocolate Town” were overshadowed by ill-judged song choices like “Fuck You Dry” and a stage presence that became increasingly obnoxious as the set wore on. It was hard to reconcile this charmless performer with the mind behind the great Midrange.

Thankfully Toronto-based Solvent (Jason Amm) erased any unpleasant memory of the opener with a tight performance of punchy, Suction-styled “robot music.” Following a bright instrumental overture (one of three new unreleased pieces), “For You” appeared, its throbbing bottom end an effective contrast to the vocoderized singing. The set was “musique non-stop” as one song segued seamlessly into the next, Amm hardly pausing to acknowledge the crowd during this premiere Solvent solo live set. Apples & Synthesizers instrumentals like “Operating Ease” and “Instructograph” alternated with “My Radio” and “Think Like Us,” the songs' chiming melodies deepened by robust beats; one track even incorporated Schaffel traces albeit filtered, naturally, through Solvent's inimitable style.

Dabrye (Tadd Mullinix) shifted the night's stylistic gears from buoyant synth-pop to lurching hip-hop. All tracks were instrumental, dominated by deep grimy bass lines and heavy, low-slung beats with tasty flavourings occasionally added to the mix. Warm chords and funk elements emphasized the soulful qualities of some pieces, whereas others were head-nodders bathed in vinyl crackle. Less songs than jams, Dabrye's powerful beats typically ended abruptly, leaving pauses between songs and thereby weakening the show's flow. “Uprock and Invigorate,” one of his collaborative tracks with Prefuse 73 from One Word Extinguisher, stood out during the strong set.

Matthew Dear occupied the headliner slot, no surprise given the attention granted Leave Luck To Heaven and Backstroke. His set should have impressed more but it was in some measure karaoke-like too, although of a credible sort completely unlike Dykehouse's. As Dear was tethered firmly to the tracks that accompanied his vocals, there was scant room for instrumental spontaneity and innovation. He sang on all songs, his lanky figure clinging to the mike stand throughout except for brief moments when he added an instrumental accent or two. His singing voice is palatable enough and its baritone timbre distinctive but its deadpan qualities limit its emotional expressiveness.

Assisted by Will Calcutt, Dear opened with the loping bass figures of Backstroke's “Tide.” Naturally the mini-album got the major push, with the smooth microhouse of “Grut Wall,” “Good Girl,” and “Huggy's Parade” showcased. Leave Luck To Heaven's “It's Over Now” and “Dog Days” were featured, too, the latter transformed into a spectral mix with the emphasis on its sparkling upper end. Unfortunately, in doing so the song sacrificed its funk potential, so what should have been the perfect opportunity to explode the energy level turned out to be more memorable for its unusual re-imagining. The closer “And In The Night” should have burned too (like the Latin-tinged stomper it is on disc), but it hardly did so, perhaps hampered by a muddy mix. In general, the performance remained earthbound as the constrictions of the vocal format prevented Dear from liberating himself from the backing tracks—a competent but not exhilarating performance. The dance floor should have been filled with sweating bodies; that it wasn't spoke to the constraints of the song-based format.

An imperfect evening, then, though never a less than interesting one. Certainly the cliché about hindsight holds true, but, even so, this label showcase would have impressed more had Dykehouse stayed home and if the spontaneity and unpredictability of instrumental tracks had offset Dear's delimiting vocal format. On the evidence of this night's outing, Ghostly's still a class act, just a modestly flawed one.

October 2004