Ought are the kind of band that can wring desperate poignancy from humdrum sentiments. On their first two albums, they found change through repetition and resolve in the dairy aisle. Each track offered an appealing spontaneity, with songs branching off to explore new possibilities in seemingly banal phrases.
But the Montreal post-punks changed their m.o. on this year's Room Inside the World, opting for what frontman Tim Darcy called "a more studio-heavy approach." Its mellower tempos and fuller arrangements made for a worthwhile departure, but the question remained: Could these songs carry the same immediacy as the band's back catalogue when performed live?
Fans packed into Lee's Palace on Wednesday night to get an answer. They didn't have to wait long, as the band began their set with a vivid rendition of Room Inside the World opener "Into the Sea." Faced with replicating the album's layered production, the four-piece took a less-is-more approach, often regrouping their arrangements around Darcy's guitar.
If anything, the Room Inside the World tracks benefitted from the intensity of Ought's live show. Drummer Tim Keen showed off his versatility, alternating between economical drum pad beats of "These 3 Things" and crisp, insistent kit work on "Disgraced in America." Keyboards took on a more piercing tone on "Alice" and "Take Everything," while driving guitars and frantic drumming made "Disaffectation" feel brand new. The 70-person choir was sorely missed at the tail end of "Desire," but otherwise, the new songs fit with the band's old setup.
That continuity worked in the band's favour, as they slipped seamlessly into their well-worn material after four songs. A slightly slowed-down version of "Men for Miles" led into fan favourites "Habit" and "Beautiful Blue Sky," with the latter ending in a tangle of feedbacking synths and delayed, alarm-bell guitar.
Through it all, Darcy remained a consummate frontman, contorting his body in a way that reflected his angular playing. He twisted his torso into his instrument for the entire show, forming a diagonal line with his shoulders. His guitar occasionally draped off his body as he waved both arms loosely at the crowd or pointed limply in random directions. During bridges or solos, he would roll his eyes up in their sockets or saunter backwards. Stage banter was minimal, but Darcy's movements communicated a sense of playfulness that ran through the set.
If audience members were still unsure whether the old and new Ought could be reconciled, the encore removed any doubt. For a band that once wrote about the frustrations of reaching their limits, they seemed capable of recognizing their own. Closing with a spirited gallop through breakout single "Today, More Than Any Other Day," they seemed calmer and less exuberant, but happy still to lead the crowd through a repeated chant of "today, together."