Published Feb 12, 2013Remember when Radiohead were little more than a grunge outfit (see Pablo Honey)? Well, times have changed. Similarly — though the comparison is too lofty — the Maccabees have gone to decent lengths to distance themselves from other post-Libertines Brit guitar rock.
With third record Given to the Wild, their clever, playful guitar sound has all but disappeared, the combo instead opting for more grandiose concoctions. The results, while uneven, got them a Mercury Prize nomination and their first trip to Toronto.
At their busy Canadian debut, the six-piece began atop a speed bump, contending with a muddy mix that obscured vocals throughout "William Powers" and turned "Feel to Follow" into a sonic bludgeoning.
With the band eventually smoothing out the sound, "Wall of Arms" was a party jam begun by a big kick drum and driven by an infectious, circular bass line. More importantly, Orlando Weeks' vocals finally broke through to supply the cut with its much-needed foundation before Ray Manzarek-style keys gave it a stirring finish.
Weeks was cordial throughout, apologizing for aborting an ill-fated "Grew Up at Midnight." Incidentally, on a second attempt it became one of the evening's highlights thanks to the juxtaposed falsetto and melodramatic percussion.
Older songs fared well, especially a singalong-aided "Precious Time" and a late-act "Toothpaste Kisses," which showed off the frontman's Garth Algar-style whistling prowess. Still, the band have matured considerably since then.
Thus, standouts were culled from the more recent catalogue, especially a towering "Go," which was at once intricate and grand, benefitting from a large, canned-drum intro and choral-vocal parts.
Shaky start and occasional feedback aside, the Maccabees played an amiable, occasionally thrilling gig dotted with fan-favourites and showing off the impressive live strength of later work.