Okay so I’m ready to admit I’m a huge fucking fangirl (obviously Jen you have a concert review blog). But seriously, when I saw Real Love Winnipeg come out with this line up for their Thursday event at the Daughter, I jumped up and down in excitement like I did when I was an8-year-old.
Start: Odd Outfit. Winnipeg’s one (and possibly only?) jazz band that I see play my fav dingy bars. Psychedelic jazz. Used to be the sweet trumpet stylings of Jordan Hart (may he grind hard and earn paper in Alberta). A full, new yet jazzy sound that blends some of my favourite musicianship in the city with a whole different feel.
I’m a jazz fan. Since my brother was in jazz band with Hart at Sturgeon Creek, I developed a distinct ear for the rhythm and compositional freedom of jazz. The song structure in jazz tunes is a bit different than anything else. You get the spots for chorus and the hammered down stable foundations of a song. And you get the spots for mad improvisation and the solos that characterize some of the greater jazz artists. But within all that, you have a sense of jam, a feel of life in the music itself that carries through the musicians. Like they’re an outlet for something greater.
Odd Outfit fits this notion of jazz, with the jam, the solo, and the structural support, while also bringing in a radical amount of sound. They have a great keys player, who adds another dimension of gloss and texture to the mix.
Okay, so they’re a bunch of dudes. A bassist, a guitarist, a keys player, a trumpet player, and drummer. The bass carries a lot of their work. Karl’s a really strong musician and he gets the chance to shine through with some fat bass licks and by carrying the melody in a number of songs. I really appreciate this emphasis on the bass, which might actually just be a pulling back and tactful approach to the rest of the melody/alto/soprano/mid to higher tone instruments in the band. This is another aspect of jazz that’s really fun, too. A bassist like Karl can stand on his own and carry whole parts of the song and fucking rip it up during a solo. Karl started most of the songs, and you could sense his firm yet gentle leadership.
Then the drums, of course the drums come in line with the bass. With jazz especially, drums get to be particularly artful. It’s swung, and so each beat, and where that stick lands on each beat can really impact the trajectory of the tune. And Adrian, though I didn’t meet him, seem to have his shit together. He keeps the tunes moving along, kept the band together, and held down that especially groovy rhythm that Odd Outfit plays with.
Then we get the really fun parts. I already talked Graeme on keys, but I must mention that Odd Outfit plays with a lot of little sounds. Their music is very deliberate, very tactful. Each note resonates. Each little sound has an impact. And there’s space in the songs for that to happen, there’s the space in each song for a single note to bring it’s own colour and tone to the music. Graeme plays with this a lot, and he seems to really play the role of creating such an emotive atmosphere for the guitar and trumpet.
Okay. Guitar and trumpet. This is where Odd Outfit gets interesting, psychedelic and really rounds out their sound.
With such a solid base, Alex and the trumpet player Julian have a lot of room to play. And they play together. The trumpet sounds are very bright and textured, there’s a lot of tonguing going on and incredible air control to get this almost raspy tone out of the instrument. And on top of that is something electric, I think reverb? Someone help me, I’m just a drummer, is it reverb? Whatever it is, it adds a whole new dimension to the song. It adds the psychedelic to this jazz group. It creates a ton of atmosphere, and an incredible build in volume and tone, and sets up Alex to play sort of experimentally, lightly but with intention and exploratively through the sorts of sounds he can match the trumpet on.
Alex played on top of it all. Like, the whole song is there, the trumpet is the main melody, and then Alex comes in and takes little turns and different directions and just adds a new level of mood to each tune. His guitar tone has more grit and gut than the trumpet and keys. It’s got a hint of that “I smoked a whole pack last night without realizing” kind of tone. But he plays almost delicately sometimes, icing the delicious song-cake.
I’ll admit I’m a huge fan of Palm Trees, too, and they play this form of experimental music, and they also have Graeme and Alex in the band. Playing the same instruments. And I think that overlap goes to show either they’re really good musicians or I’m just a sucker for their style of music.
Final thought: I want your music on my iPod.
These guys are well-known. I’m pretty sure they won a Juno at some point. They play an overwhelming, busy and fucking rock and roll kind of prog. The level of musicianship is high. I played their tune Expo ’67 on a friend’s psychedelic rock podcast the other day. No one had heard them before. Everyone commented on the musicianship.
I’ve been to three Mahogany Frog shows in the past year and I remember them all starkly. First, at the Good Will this past spring. Second, at Real Love Summer Fest on the Friday night (not long after I set up my tent). And third, this Real Love Thursday at the Handsome Daughter. Every single time. Is. Killer.
The crowd loves these guys. They put on quite a show. They have quite a setup, too. While waiting to hear them play, I watched them set up like 5 keyboards, stack a bunch of amps, and just navigate the seemingly small space on the Daughter’s stage in prep for their show.
They play a form of prog that I haven’t found anywhere else. Real Love called it “hypercompositionalism” on the promo poster. To me, this says prog. And I love it. Mahogany Frog has the sort of musicianship to effectively orchestrate a huge range of sounds in layers with song and melody retaining focus. The complexity delights my brain. There’s so much going on! And they play so fucking loud at shows. This show I found especially loud, and possibly especially abrasive… I’m into the abrasive noises, the grr and chug of guitar and bass and amps.
I would go through and dissect their band like I did with Odd Outfit but I’m just not that smart. They write complex tunes. Their songs follow a story, progress in deliberate ways and speak to a broader narrative. I listen to their albums, and they’re the kind of band that you want to listen to the whole album. You need to listen to it through all the way for the whole effect. And they often play like most of an album at a show.
I can only imagine how intentional each sound is. Like, at this show, hearing all the noise, the tempo so high, the textures of every sound and the energy of everyone on stage, I can only imagine how they managed to plan this shit out and put it all together. And every time I see them, it’s got a bit of a different feel. But they still play my favourite tunes from their albums.
They have great dynamic control. Yeah they’re fucking loud. But occasionally they can bring it down. And they often bring it down to a weird spot, with just weird noises, different synth tones and light bass underneath to guide. Very psychedellic.
My favourite part of seeing them live is watching them switch instruments partway through songs. Both Mahogany Frog and Odd Outfit play through songs, from one to the next, without stopping and I have to listen closely to hear the change. Reminds me of listening to Pink Floyd as a kid and learning the sound of every track change. These guys will switch instruments partway through, keeping a synth loop going and then playing musical chairs on stage. Very respectable.
I gotta be straight with you guys — I want to review this concert, but all I can think to say is: it was loud, it was righteous, it was the complex delightful delicious musical artistry that I’ve come to always expect from Mahogany Frog.
I’m listening to On Blue as I write this and I’m just in wonder at the tones and intetionality that they write with. They have some really proggy tones, reminiscent of King Crimson and Pink Floyd and other 60’s stuff. Then they have some really gritty industrial tones, both in the synths and the guitar. Not sure what reminiscient of. But delightful to my ears. I love abrasive sounds. They take their time with music, too, exploring dynamics and exploring sounds and ugh I’m just rambling at this point.
Final thought: I am a fan and you should be too. Some of the most stimulating music I’ve ever listened to. Never heard a band quite like these guys.