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Concert review: Lee Ranaldo & The Dust and Elsa @Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, ON | Oct. 11, 2013

There’s plenty of noise, but Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley’s new band doesn’t play Sonic Youth
Tom Beedham

Lee Ranaldo takes a cello bow to one of his infamously hot-rodded Fender

Lee Ranaldo takes a cello bow to one of his infamously hot-rodded Fender “Jazzblaster” Jazzmasters during one of his mid-song noise jams with The Dust at Horseshoe Tavern on Oct. 11, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

Blame it all on the Thanksgiving gravy spilled this long weekend, but for a pair of acts sharing the Horseshoe’s stage Oct. 11 as a platform for the albums they’re each in the throes of sending off as their first official releases, it was easy to see Elsa and Lee Ranaldo & The Dust were pretty appreciative of the situations that brought them there.

Concert photos: Lee Ranaldo & The Dust and Elsa at Horseshoe Tavern

Sure to get some attention on “Local Bands to Watch” lists yet to come, it’s little surprise Elsa was called on by Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo to deliver some unbuttoned dreamgaze at the start of his show. And Elsa couldn’t have been more grateful for the opening set blessing imparted on them for the night; they made it known – both literally and figuratively – with some earnest stage thanks and a set fit for gifting.

Having evolved and quadrupled in size since songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Rogers brought the project into realization as a bedroom demo some time ago, Elsa now features second guitarist Matthew Goldman, bassist Jesse Mirsky, and drummer Angie Wong.

The band seized the exposure of their supporting slot and used the event to soft release their premiere 12” single, I Do (officially due Oct. 22 via Fucked Up guitarist Mike Haliechuck’s 12” singles boutique One Big Silence), but their set went well beyond the four-track listing on that EP, hinting it shoudn’t be long until Toronto hears a proper album from these folks.

If that follows, so might a sound that is markedly different from their EP preference.

While Jesse Mirsky’s bass has a subtle presence on most of I Do’s mix, emerging only at times from the lapping wash of hazy guitars provided by Rogers and Goldman – Rogers strums chords while singing, and Goldman demonstrates a strong right hand by plucking through whirling arpeggios on his Rickenbacker – at the Horseshoe, Mirsky was distinct and pervasive, his propulsive finger picking often evocative of a laid-back Peter Hook with a thing for disseminating Quaaludes.

They closed their set with a smoggy cover of lo-fi indie pioneers Guided By Voices track “Game of Pricks.”

Lee Ranaldo & The Dust didn’t forgo paying respects to their influences, either, cranking out covers of The Modern Lovers’s “She Cracked” and Neil Young’s “Revolution Blues” throughout the night.

The bulk of their hour-and-a-half-long set was otherwise a pretty even jumble of cuts from The Dust’s premiere, Oct. 8-released Last Night On Earth and Ranaldo’s last solo release, Between the Times and the Tides (full setlist below). That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, however. Although Ranaldo’s new group features bandmates from Sonic Youth and Text of Light – Steve Shelley on drums and Alan Licht on guitar, respectively – as well as jazz bassist Tim Lüntzel (Bright Eyes), The Dust is largely personelled by musicians that put in studio time on his last solo release, which distances itself from the guitarist’s previous noise-rock exploits with more conventional song-led structures in its sights.

Even when The Dust returned for an encore and a fan shouted a request for “Mote,” a Ranaldo-led cut from his and Shelley’s more avant-garde pinioned band’s 1990 album Goo, Ranaldo chuckled and dismissed it, citing its absence from the setlist for the night. But songs relying on such perpetual barbed clangour for escort don’t really come up in the guitarist’s new work, and as a result don’t find easy segues in the new material; it is a band more vocal about influences found in the contemplative folk rock ventures of songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young (hence the covers). Besides, Ranaldo doesn’t need validation for work that’s already proven successful.

Still, The Dust sated Sonic Youth-bred noise fans’ thirsts for Ranaldo-brand pandemonium when it wandered into some spontaneous and resourceful noise jams during the heavier sections of a few of the new songs; Ranaldo took a bow to his guitars during “Xtina” and “Hammer Blows,” and even smashed a jumble of Tibetan bells against his axe during “Lecce, Leaving”; Licht spent the night reigning over the eleven pedals he had surrounding his space on the right side of the stage and even tested the stage’s light rigging and bulkhead as neck slide devices during “Key/Hole.”

Fans even glimpsed some classic Sonic Youth nostalgia onstage. In addition to a more recently acquired (remarkably pristine – for Ranaldo) purple Deimel Firestar (not to be confused with the green 12-string Deimel seen on the cover of the Corporate Ghost DVD) and Jarell JZH-1x, the guitarist’s artillery included the signature Jazzmaster model Fender consulted Ranaldo on and manufactured in his name, the Saul Koll custom-built cherry F-Hole Jazzblaster Ranaldo’s used since tours in 2000, the Telecaster Deluxe that Kurt Cobain once borrowed (even though he played right-handed) to perform a cover of Fang’s “The Money Will Roll Right In” live with Mudhoney (!), and a motley herd of “Jazzblaster” hot-rodded Jazzmasters – almost all slapped with labels for unconventional tunings – among the ranks.

While the press concerned with Ranaldo and the rest of his Sonic Youth bandmates’ various solo endeavours continues to flog the jilted relationship of former partners Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore and the resulting hiatus of their band, the new groups have so far proven to mean cities are seeing its  members more often and, for longer combined periods of time. And with each of the members putting on different hats to explore and expand their separate careers, it’s worth noting that the time off to pursue other interests could result in stronger interests in Sonic Youth – so we can’t really complain, can we?

Sure, we’ll continue longing for a day when all members grace the same stage at the same time again, but until then, at the risk of sounding groaningly topical following Canadian Thanksgiving, we’re getting plenty to be happy about.

Ranaldo, at least, seemed content simply to air his satisfaction with hitting the Horseshoe’s long-lived stage at the end of his show.

“It’s nice to finally play this place.”

It was nice to have you, Lee.

Lee Ranaldo & The Dust setlist
“Tomorrow Never Comes”
“Ambulancer”
“Off The Wall”
“Angles”
“Last Night On Earth”
“Xtina”
“Key/Hole”
“Hammer Blows”
“Home Chds”
“The Rising Tide”
“Revolution Blues” (Neil Young)
“Lecce, Leaving”
Encore
“She Cracked” (The Modern Lovers)
“Fire Island (Phases)”
“Waiting On A Dream”

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Concert photos: Lee Ranaldo & The Dust w/ Elsa @Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, ON – Oct. 11, 2013

Lee Ranaldo at Horseshoe Tavern during one of the quieter parts of his set, which also saw him bow his guitar and smash it with Tibetan bells – also pictured in the photo gallery. Photos: Tom Beedham

Lee Ranaldo at Horseshoe Tavern during one of the quieter parts of his set, which also saw him bow his guitar and smash it with Tibetan bells – also pictured in the photo gallery below. Photos: Tom Beedham

While Lee Ranaldo & The Dust (featuring Ranaldo’s previous Sonic Youth and Text of Light bandmates Steve Shelley and Alan Licht, respectively, as well as Tim Lüntzel) released their first official album as a band, Last Night On Earth, on Oct. 11 via Matador, local dream pop outfit Elsa used the opportunity to soft release their debut One Big Silence 12″ single, I Do (FULL CONCERT REVIEW AND LEE RANALDO & THE DUST SETLIST HERE). Below are links to images from the gig, which saw Ranaldo abuse his guitars in the ways Sonic Youth fans know him best for. Do the click thing.

Lee Ranaldo & The Dust

Lee Ranaldo & The Dust_Horseshoe Tavern_Tom Beedham_1 Lee Ranaldo & The Dust_Alan Licht_Horseshoe Tavern_Tom Beedham_6 Lee Ranaldo & The Dust_Horseshoe Tavern_Tom Beedham_7 Lee Ranaldo & The Dust_Horseshoe Tavern_Tom Beedham_5 Lee Ranaldo & The Dust_Horseshoe Tavern_Tom Beedham_4 Lee Ranaldo & The Dust_Horseshoe Tavern_Tom Beedham_3 Lee Ranaldo & The Dust_Horseshoe Tavern_Tom Beedham_2

Elsa
Elsa opening for Lee Ranaldo & The Dust at Horseshoe Tavern - October 11, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Elsa's Matthew Goldman (left) and Jesse Mirsky (right) at Horseshoe Tavern - October 11, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Elsa's Matthew Goldman at Horseshoe Tavern - October 11, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Elsa's Jonathan Rogers (left), Angie Wong (back), and Matthew Goldman (right) at Horseshoe Tavern - October 11, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Elsa's Jonathan Rogers at Horseshoe Tavern - October 11, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham Elsa's Jesse Mirsky at Horseshoe Tavern - October 11, 2013. Photo: Tom Beedham

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Hillside reviews: Supersonic (Lee Ranaldo and The Dust, Colin Stetson, Richard Reed Parry, Sarah Neufeld +guests) at Guelph Lake Island Stage – July 28, 2013

Members of Sonic Youth, Arcade Fire play improvised set featuring reimagination of The Velvet Underground and Nico’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties”

Lee Ranaldo and The Dust performed a collaborative workshop with Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre members Colin Stetson, Sarah Neufeld, and Richard Reed Parry at Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont. on July 28. Photo: Tom Beedham

Lee Ranaldo and The Dust performed a collaborative workshop with Arcade Fire/Bell Orchestre members Colin Stetson, Sarah Neufeld, and Richard Reed Parry at Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont. on July 28. Photo: Tom Beedham

With a lineup consisting of Sonic Youth founder/guitarist Lee Ranaldo and his new band The Dust (which includes fellow Sonic Youth member and drummer Steve Shelley), Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre members Sarah Neufeld, Richard Reed Parry, and Colin Stetson (all of whom performed their own sets previously that day at Hillside Festival), listeners knew they were in for something special when they assembled under the tent at Island Stage for the closing performance of Hillside’s 30th anniversary July 28. But when, before the interim super group drove into its collaboration, Parry offered a disclaimer admitting, “We’re making this up as we go along,” fans were guaranteed a truly idiosyncratic presentation from some of the best classically and alternatively informed musicians in the world.

If a little highbrow, the workshop experiment’s marquee prestige was tested by its allegedly extemporaneous coming together; transporting its participants from the comparatively insular settings of their typical creative unwindings to a public environment, the bands and their special guests showcased their true grit (as if anyone was suspicious) with a handful of introspective drone numbers.

As Steve Shelley hammered out a meditative bed track and Neufeld and Stetson tapped into their frenetic-to-tranquil-shifting fiddle work and dirgeful sax drones (respectively), providing a source of friction for the rest of the group to massage, Ranaldo dug into his seemingly bottomless bag of tricks to display some of the experimental techniques featured minimally (if at all) on his newer solo material and at his earlier Main Stage performance with The Dust. He tested one of his Fender Jazzmasters’ physical endurance with some unrestrained neck bending, took the body with both hands and shook out some choppy feedback surfing, drew and peppered a fiddle bow and timpani mallets across the strings, and even applied iPhone playback to the pickups to render feedback.

Leaving the acoustic six-string he stuck to throughout his solo set earlier in the day, Parry, à la Bell Orchestre, manned a double bass for the entirety of the collaborative set, also putting the percussion skills he’s sourced for in Arcade Fire and Little Scream to use by drumming on the instrument’s sides. The Dust’s Tim Luntzel aided him in providing the low end.

(review continues after video)

Laurel Sprengelmeyer (Little Scream) – a collaborator of Parry’s and his solo act’s keyboardist for the day – came onstage to perform Nico’s vocals on a slow burning, 11-minute reimagination of The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” (See video above.) Mostly instrumental, it was an easy set highlight that doubled as a nod to The National-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties performance Parry gave in December of last year. Sprengelmeyer also performed vocals for the ensemble’s  interpretation of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “When You Know Why You’re Happy,” which she and Parry recorded in 2012 for the first volume of Have Not Been the Same: The Can-Rock Renaissance 1985-1995’s companion compilation, Too Cool to Live, Too Smart to Die.

Halfway through the Hillside performance, Ranaldo and The Dust left the stage while Stefan Schneider (The Luyas) stepped up to take Shelley’s spot at the kit for what Neufeld announced as “a post-Bell Orchestre throw down.”

About ten minutes after having left the stage, Ranaldo and co. rejoined the group to transition into a reworking of the performer’s “Hammer Blows” that would close out the evening  and with it, the 30th anniversary of Hillside. As a festival that’s built a reputation on providing the one-of-a-kind performer-coupling workshops it has hosted over the years, ending things with a little bit of the same magic seemed the only appropriate way to do things.

Arcade Fire’s version of Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers” is set to appear on a compilation of material covering the singer’s work, And I’ll Scratch Yours, which will also feature a cover of “Solsbury Hill” by Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed. The record is the answer to Scratch My Back, an album recorded by Gabriel as a collection of songs by other performers, including Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage” and Lou Reed’s “The Power Of The Heart.” And I’ll Scratch Yours is scheduled for release Sept. 23 via Real World.

Both Lee Ranaldo and The Dust and Arcade Fire have new albums of original material forthcoming. Lee Ranaldo and The Dust are set to release their first album under that official title sometime in September this year. So far untitled, the album will arrive via Matador Records. Also as yet untitled, Arcade Fire will release an  LP  Oct. 29 via Mercury Records.

Related posts:
Hillside reviews: Colin Stetson at Island Stage – July 28, 2013
Hillside reviews: Richard Reed Parry at Island Stage – July 28, 2013
Hillside reviews: Sarah Neufeld at Guelph Lake Island Stage – July 28, 2013