Black Dub

Black Dub’s self-titled album has remained under the radar of most music fans. I guess because it’s a new Daniel Lanois project, people assume it’ll be more of the same from the acclaimed singer-songwriter-producer—sure, it’s gonna be awesome, but I have Acadie already.

Stay with me, though; this project’s really different.

See?

The album’s a study in restraint; it maintains a laid-back groove, incredible subtle playing across the breadth of it, with those great vocals going from quiet introspection to wailing melancholy in a second. And the singer, Trixie, she’s got SOUL. Great record; no doubt, no doubt. But live, they’re a completely different animal. I wasn’t expecting that, and I was really happy to hear it.
Black Dub came out on the Opera House stage to strong applause. The stage was set up tightly, with the band pushed to the edge, amps and drums right against their backs, to the point they couldn’t move around easily. For about 90 minutes, Black Dub rewrote their own songs, with extended introductions and solos, improvised rhythms—Silverado, my favourite track on the album, sounds even better with military-style drums underneath it—and all of it was just mesmerizing. Here it is, pulled back and tense, in a similar performance.

The way they redid things really changed the feel; whereas, on the album, things are laid-back, understated and subtle, when played live, those same sounds came through as taut and restrained. The music was tense, and the music was INtense, gritty and real and angry, and… and..

I am SO sorry for the ‘INtense’ line. I can’t believe I wrote that.

Anyway, back to Black Dub. Awesome sound. They jammed out over one of my favourite records of the last year, and covered a fair amount of Lanois’ own impressive back catalog. I was struck, especially, by the echo layered around Lanois’ guitar. Every so often, he’ll hit a switch and run his guitar dry, and I would realize just how much atmosphere was on it. It helped fill the room, in a way you don’t normally hear, not even from a supergroup. One quick note, though: Brian Blade OWNS this band. You wouldn’t expect it—the incredibly talented, beautiful singer, or even Daniel Freakin’ Lanois are the odds-on favourites for the centerpiece of the group—but drummer Blade controls every song, every note, with a touch deft and subtle. He drives it where it needs driven and pulls it back where it needs space.  They were all almost unbelievably good performers. Brian Blade, though, was just genuinely unbelievable.

Next Morning Note: It’s come to my attention that other articles about this group have criticized the sound quality at the Opera House. Notwithstanding how difficult it must be to do sound in a room that’s essentially a tile-and-concrete box, I actually found the sound, from the balcony, to be almost perfect. Maybe a little more bass, but Jim Wilson isn’t a really in-your-face player anyway. Maybe because I saw the second show, they’d had time to figure out any issues, but literally the only problem I noticed the whole night was Trixie Whitley’s voice was a little rough.
But as long as she’s still got that soul, who cares?

This group was never designed to be played clean. The roughness and warmth of a packed room with no air conditioning, the sound cascading frantically from ceiling to floor to wall through concrete outside in a muted rumble, it’s all part of the experience. I actually felt that the sound at the Opera House the other night was some of the best mixing I’ve heard in Toronto yet. Music’s about so much more than being able to hear clearly; it’s performance art, and should be judged as such.

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