When I wrote about Slim Twig playing at the Hemlock a few weeks ago, I wanted to see the live show mostly out of curiosity. The new album Thank You For Stickin’ With Twig (on DFA) is a strange, alluring, and massively-sounding production that seemed impossible to recreate live. What I didn’t realize is just how rock n roll it would all be smashed onto the Hemlock’s postage-stamp stage last night — rock n roll all the way through.
Let me set that stage for you:
Immediately before them, as support, was LA-based Jack Name. It may have been exactly their intention – LA Magazine reports that “nonconformity is a central theme in Name’s work” — but I found this band an utter assault on the ears. Decent beats and hooks were drowned by poorly executed guitar wanderings awash in an ear-piercing distortion. The vocals were buried in a similar distortion and barely audible, almost like Name was singing into a drainage pipe from the top of a building while a car alarm and a fire truck passed. Planted on two sides of a card table, looking at each other and never at the audience, with not even a second to breathe between songs, the visual presentation was as difficult as the sound. I could only take a few of these songs without feeling angry, like I wanted to break something. I left after three.
This is the stage onto which Slim Twig and his band stepped, Slim himself almost hiding in the corner with his hollow-bodied Gibson up to his armpits and a trucker hat pulled low over his face. (He’d set guitarist Tony Price front and center in a black trench coat, luminous in the center-stage light.)
From the first notes, I knew this set would be different. This was rock n roll. Feet were tapping, shoulders swaying. The chaos in this sound was highly orchestrated and deliberate, and everything loose and smashy was also precisely placed. Every twist was twisted together, many melodies played in unison or close, nearly-discordant harmony. The effect of this type of musicality is that you feel like you’re on an adventure — being guided, not bullied — to higher rock consciousness. This is the kind of music Led Zepellin, Frank Zappa and vintage Black Sabbath made, and those influences were clear in this set.
After an opening instrumental and a couple of songs I recognized from the record, it occurred to me that sounds I’d labeled synthetic on first listen, were being replicated perfectly here with bass, drums, double guitar and some tight harmonies. This was particularly impressive on one of my favorite of the songs, “Fog of Sex (N.S.I.S.)” which started out mystical before falling into a deep tight groove. My favorite tune of the set turned out to be a cover of David Bowie‘s “Black Country Rock,” which drummer Simone TB whipped into an ever-rising frenzy on and on until the whole thing reached an epic sonic peak and quickly dissolved with a distorted echo. “Live In, Live On Your Era” gave up a few moments of CSNY or Fleet Foxes styled harmonies, though that song had more of a garage rock vibe overall. The Beatles kept poking out influentially here and there, indelibly.
Overall the set was solid, though I think the band could put a little more effort into engagement with the audience. Slim gave it a good try on the baseball banter, but San Francisco music kids tend to not overlap with sports much it seems. The Toronto who? Are doing what? The band heads south, east, then north for the long trip home to Toronto. Check out more tour dates here.
Photos by Jared Swanson
“Fog of Sex (N.S.I.S.)”