- Elliott Vincent Jones
Having been on the receiving end of a battering from Hurricane Doris, gig goers have sought out the relative safety of the basement of The Shipping Forecast for tonight’s show. Listening to those who caught TONSTARTSBANDHT’s last jaunt up North in 2014 along with Mac Demarco, adjectives like “insane”, “far-out” and – that old standby – “weird” are abound. Missing from most descriptions I’ve gathered, however, is any quantifiable attempt to describe the music itself. “Kind-of proggy, I guess” was the closest anybody could come up with. It’s not often a band evades description quite this adeptly. Consider my interest piqued.
Opening the show this evening is equally weird Toronto native ELLIOTT VINCENT JONES. With a solo set up of laptop, drum pad and samplers I was expecting some sort of moody ambient techno. Rarely am I so happy to be wrong. Instead, we are treated to what I can only describe as a one-man reinterpretation of Depeche Mode with a new wave bent. Cascading synth lines and 80s drums swirl around Jones’ dramatist vocals. All the while he is pumping the air like a man possessed. His boundless enthusiasm and stage presence breaks down any initial bemusement from the audience, and what starts as a slightly icy reception quickly melts away. Like a less neurotic John Maus, Jones’ performance doesn’t rely on his technical proficiency or light show. It’s his energy and commitment to the role that wins over the crowd.
As brothers Edwin and Andy White take to the stage, I’m still not entirely sure what to expect from the duo. As part of self-professed Pepperoni Playboy Mac Demarco’s wider circle (Andy takes on guitar duties live with Mr Demarco), you could reasonably expect Tonstartssbandht to reiterate some of the same brand of goofy lyrics, chorus drenched guitars and faux sincerity that has seen Mac embraced so widely. Instead, the brother duo concoct an altogether headier brew. Pop music this is not. Songs structures take on their own logic, breathe and flow. Section changes are difficult to spot as songs twist and turn down a multitude of different alleys, guided by the duos telepathic link (no doubt a result of their familial connection). The songs rarely last under 6 minutes and it’s impossible to separate the expertly improvised from the well-rehearsed. All of which makes for a thrilling experience. Bouncing from song to song, with stops to retune (taking doubly long thanks to Andy’s 12 String Danelectro) the set has a fantastic pacing, building to the points where it collapses into beautiful falsetto or fingerpicked guitar.
Though they may well fall under the purview of psychedelic music, the band manage to side step much of the excessive mores associated with the genre, particularly its modern incarnations. Stripped of the usual bells and whistles sometimes associated with psych – the overwhelming filter sweeps, never ending delay trails, overwrought solos etc., the duo rely instead on their tight rhythmic interplay, harmonic invention and dynamic playing to entrance the audience. Thanks to this, the music takes on an altogether earthier hue. Songs like new track Sorcerers, in particular, have a distinctly Americana bent to them. Underneath the chaos and scattershot rhythmic play sits an indelible influence of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Throw in a bit of Soft Machine or Funkadelic and you might get an approximation of where this band are coming from. In reality though, it may be best to take them as their own beast. A one of a kind, twin-headed beast of genre-defying excellence. Weird indeed. But also, kind of wonderful.