Hunting Season’s Open: Hands & Teeth @ The Horseshoe 1/17/12

With four members sharing a living space, it could be said that Toronto experimental pop band Hands & Teeth are always working. As drummer Adam Kolubinski puts it, the living situation is “sort of like a conduit for us to get [music] in front of each other faster than if we only had, you know, one day a week or two days a week” to practice.

Maybe that helps explain how, in a relatively short amount of time, Hands & Teeth have become one of Toronto’s most talked-about live acts. Their début EP, Enjoy Your Lifestyle, was released in late 2010 and on its buzz they booked high-profile gigs at both Canadian Music Week and North By Northeast. On Tuesday night at the Horseshoe, they released their highly anticipated follow-up, the full-length LP, Hunting Season.

Enjoy Your Lifestyle shoehorned an impressive amount of music into a scant 23 minutes, with interesting parts and pieces stacked up together into surprisingly cohesive songs. Hunting Season finds the band further exploring those same complex structures, but reaching further back beyond ’80s and ’90s alternative to dig out and explore whole sections of vintage surf, pop and dance music. These new ideas help to keep this LP its own creature, rather than just a longer version of their first release. The songs are denser, with more interesting rhythms and wider shifts between speed and mood.

Hands & Teeth’s set began with “Sound of Hamilton,” a gripping opener featuring Jeff Pinto’s and Natasha Pasternak’s voices soaring through a wildly sliding violin and spy-movie guitar leads. They played cuts from the new record as well as songs such as “Rainbows And Unicorns” from Enjoy Your Lifestyle as they threw quips to the audience throughout.

Having 4 singers in the group–frontwoman Natasha Pasternak is sort of the first-amongst-equals, with Kevin Black, Jeff Pinto and Derek Monson also handling lead-vocal duties–Hands & Teeth are in a great position to recreate almost any studio texture they desire, live. It’s refreshing to hear a group with so many talented singers actually exploring how their voices can work together within the context of pop music. With multiple vocal lines constantly weaving in and out of songs like ‘Missing’–which started with the crowd slapping their thighs and clapping their hands in time–this band sounds not just full, but surprising too.

“This is a stacked bill!” keyboardist/singer Jeff Pinto remarked, and he was right: also on deck were Toronto-based Army Girls, a group whose charisma and jagged musicianship made them impossible to miss. They blasted through songs off their EP, Close To The Bone, as well as a few others I hadn’t heard before. Unfortunately, just as the crowd had begun to gather to listen, Army Girls finished their set and walked offstage. I’m not sure if they ran out of material, or if they just had a short set, but they definitely left the audience eager to hear more.

Vancouver-based Sidney York and Montreal’s HONHEEHONHEE (pronounced ‘Honey-honey,’) each played very well, but to diminished crowds compared to Hands & Teeth. Sidney York’s closer, ‘It’s Cold In Here,’ off their LP Apocalyptic Radio Cynic, went over very well with the audience, but it was obvious who they’d come to see.

All of the bands carried themselves with grace and professionalism, though, and all worked hard to deliver a great show. Unfortunately, the crowd wasn’t quite there with them; apart from Hands & Teeth and the last song or two of Army Girls’ set, the audience was just not really into it. And if a band has to bring out all their own supporters just to have a great show, how are they supposed to grow their audience?  Especially when you consider there was no cover charge to get in, I was hoping for a bigger turnout in general, but what do you expect for a Tuesday?

Hands & Teeth’s new record is amazing, and they sure know how to stack a bill–as Jeff Pinto himself said. All of these groups are worth watching, even if just to see how far they’ll all get.

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