Rock Plaza Central Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON March 21

Rock Plaza Central Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON March 21
In 2006, Rock Plaza Central dropped a frequently fetishized, critically slobbered upon masterpiece, Are We Not Horses. In preparation for its forthcoming follow-up, the band played a Saturday night warm-up gig at the Horseshoe, road-testing a sprinkling of new cuts and a healthy dose of Are We Not Horses faves.

Despite the eight-piece's deft musicianship, onstage grins, and affability, the show ultimately lumbered when it should have soared. While the playful absurdity of playing "I Am an Excellent Steel Horse" with a gospel lilt, the sonorous, repetitive boom of "(Don't You Believe the Words of) Handsome Men," or the sauntering trumpet and vocal desperation of "Gutterdance" stirred, subsequent tracks sullied the promise.

The lead-off "Fifteen Hands" burned slow, simmering with dual drummers and a gothic violin. The Neutral Milk Hotel-indebted (yeah, that comparison is still appropriate) "My Children be Joyful" saw driving percussion, a rousing trumpet, and ramshackle-turned-crystalline violin. Regardless of beautiful moments, tempo and syntax ultimately lead to ennui.

Are We Not Horses is a lyrically heady, bravura record, best heard on repeat and through headphones. It's an intellectual grower and it requires multiple listening. Similarly, the new tracks effused complexity, from a baroque bluegrass number to an orchestral meander. Though promising in their density, they lacked zest, cruising along without resonating.

Aside from the front-standing faithful, the Saturday night crowd teemed with chattering and clinked bottles as attention wandered. Final act numbers faired better than predecessors yet couldn't entirely redeem earlier foot-dragging. Nice mandolin, though.