Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Lost In Music Part 2 : The Be Good Tanyas

It all seems so long ago now, but certainly it was just as cold. Back into the other side of last year, early December maybe. I remember mistakenly parking my car in the staff car park and being chased by a lady for once in my life - wearing a luminous jacket. But we got there in the end, out of breath and shedding layers of clothing, getting comfortable, acclimatising to the warmth.

Oh I had so been looking forward to this concert for an age. We had arranged it months beforehand, having a choice of seating as a reward for booking so early. We chose front, not front row but near enough. If you're sitting in the front it doesn't matter the size of the room - it's always intimate.

The Be Good Tanyas are a trio of Vancouver Canadian women who play what they call 'porch music'. Or that's what I read. Maybe they came up with the term to appease journalists, or perhaps lazy journalists, ever on the lookout for a pigeonhole, coined it for them. Whatever. It's a term that fits them perfectly. Whatever imagery you might think up based on that phrase it's probably correct. Armed with an assortment of stringed instruments; banjos, mandolins, guitars, theirs is a music of drifting lilting beauty. They gather up and distribute gentle swaying motion that gathers momentum through the evening, every strum, every fingerpick motion, every perfect harmony, every note interlocking to form a unique motion drifting sensuously under your seat and moving up your spine. This isn't a cliche, you could feel it.

As I said at the beginning, this is all hindsight. I'm now here in February listening to a Be Good Tanyas album (their first, Blue Horse), lilting my head just like I did those few months ago. The band create such an impression it just all seems so vivid.

If you wanted to instantly point someone in the direction of their sound, you most likely would mention 'O Brother Where Art Thou', the Coen Brothers' love-letter to downhome southern music. But that doesn't do justice to the eerie alien quality the Tanyas possess. The songs may seem simple in structure, but are then layered with a production that renders these songs utterly otherworldly. Deeply resonant, swathed in reverb, the melodies shining through the darkness. They mock supposed progressive rock. You are transported elsewhere.

It can be a very uneasy place to be. Original songs are mixed with traditional ones. These songs should have a familiar air to them, but you are left feeling like you've been missing something all these years of hearing them. They give everything they sing a true dark side.

Live, with a further visual element of seeing these three women, both innocent and all-knowing, the effect is compounded with a hint of unspoken evil, and amplified by their old-fashioned dress.
At the centre of all of this is singer Frazey Ford, commanding the stage. In a floral-print frock, with her hands resting imposingly on her hips for much of the set, she surveys the audience serenely with an unreadable glint in her eye. It can't be nerves but could it be disdain. We sit transfixed, we love it. And don't get me wrong, there is much love here. I've seen Ford and (fellow vocal) Sam Parton's harmonies and singing described as 'buttery', and that too is perfect. It's not a sugary taste, but a lovely warmth. It carries through as another layer, another texture to that spine-touching sensation I mentioned earlier.

Frazey calmly (she does everything calmly) lifts her eyes skywards and informs us that the roof here in this venue reminds her of "a big 'ol gypsy caravan". She's right, I think. I'm glad I was there too.


Sarah said...

the chords A and G never sounded so good as on that song you played me ^_^

ps the Bloc Party album is amazing. I'm in Paris this Monday but you wanna sort out regular Mondays as of the week after?


DidesCharlie said...

Ah Sarah - tis a genius use of 2 chords, Rain And Snow is the name of that song. I think Ester has heard that one too now... :)

Bloc Party album is amazing - such precise drumming too. Love it.