Besnard Lakes and Handsome Furs

Somehow, even though I saw just about every other band on the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar labels when I was at SXSW this year, I missed one of the groups from the family that I really wanted to see, the Besnard Lakes, who have a superb album out this year with the peculiar title The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse. (Or is the album just called Are the Dark Horse? That sort of thing is always confusing…) I also missed this Montreal band on an earlier stop in Chicago, but I made up for that last night (July 23) by catching the Besnard Lakes at Schubas.

The band’s male/female vocals and lilting melodies remind me of Low – but Low in its livelier moments. There’s a similar tripped-out quality to the songs, but they also know how to rock out, specializing in repetitive guitar grooves. It was a very good show, making the songs sound even better than they do on the record. I was unaware of an earlier Besnard Lakes album titled Volume 1, from which they played a song or two. I picked up a copy at the merch table and I’m listening to it right now for the first time. The songs seem a little hazier and less distinct than those on the new CD, but I’m still liking it. The Besnard Lakes also have the distinction of being, I believe, the first band I’ve ever seen that used a fog machine at Schubas. It set the mood perfectly. See my photos of the Besnard Lakes.

I also wanted to be at Schubas Monday night to see one of the opening bands, Handsome Furs, who are also from Montreal. I think I’d only heard one song by the group, a guitar/electronics duo featuring Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Alexei Perry. I’d been hearing some buzz about these guys as a new band to watch out for. I enjoyed their set quite a bit. Although Perry’s role is basically standing at a wee keyboard and another electronics device or two while Boeckner plays guitar and sings, she was pretty lively in her largely stationary role, creating a decent rhythm section. Boeckner played some sharp, spiky guitar parts. I liked it enough to buy their album Plague Park at the merch table. See my photos of Handsome Furs.

The first act of the night was Scottish singer-songwriter Chris Connelly. I have to say that his vibrato-heavy singing style and his heavy acoustic-guitar strumming were not really to my taste, though I think some of his songs might interest me more in their studio incarnations, if they’re produced with some creativity. I have to give him credit for doing a solo a cappella song, which takes guts. See my photos of Chris Connelly.

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