Thus Owls / Last Ex

Bar le Ritz PDB, Montreal QC, February 13

Thus Owls / Last ExBar le Ritz PDB, Montreal QC, February 13
Photo: Bridget Walsh
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Last Ex, an instrumental rock project born from an abandoned horror film score, served the perfect band to play a set on 2015's first Friday the 13th, and their haunted, ambient rock fit the superstitious mood well. Composed of Timber Timbre members Simon Trottier, Olivier Fairfield and Mathieu Charbonneau, the trio played cuts from their self-titled debut, released last fall, but the live atmosphere allowed for a more immersive experience than the studio versions.
 
The performance stretched out certain sonic concepts and elements from the record, as the trio twisted them and added to them before moving on to the next. It was almost as if they were channelling the spirits of local post-rock legends Godspeed! You Black Emperor — which may have been the case, as the venue is co-owned by the troupe's Thierry Amar and Efrim Menuck. An early highlight was "Hotel Blues," with an extended Krautrock section that felt undoubtedly cinematic. While it initially felt that the set had peaked all too early, that notion was quelled with "Nell's Theme," which took a simple arpeggiated chord progression and crafted a sinister mood around it with their various instrumental textures. The tension of the instrumentation was unmistakable: ethereal and stunning.
 
The trio worked well together, but a particularly excellent display of musicianship came from Fairfield, who frequently played the drums and a synth simultaneously, the sounds of which truly added to the eeriness of the set. No matter how one feels about Last Ex's record, the music is truly a different beast live, where it is best experienced.
 
For their first show since December, Montreal-via-Sweden's Thus Owls brought a new configuration to the stage: husband-and wife duo Simon and Erika Angell were joined by drummer Robbie Kuster, Simon's old cohort from his days with Patrick Watson. While this was technically the trio's first time as Thus Owls together, you could never tell; Simon and Kuster's synergy was still palpable — despite Simon's departure from their old group — and that energy held the fort while Erika led the charge with her buoyant voice, sprightly synths and Autoharp.
 
The set was dominated by tunes from last year's Turning Rocks LP: the trio opened with the title track, with a staccato synth intro that carried on Last Ex's haunted feelings before roaring guitars came into play. The set frequently featured rumbling instrumentation and Erika's captivating, winding vocal lines, elements best exemplified on highlight "A Windful of Screams," also from Turning Rocks, which walked the line between predatory poignancy and airy reflection. The best tune came near the end with "Could I But Dream That Dream Once More," which commanded attention the moment Erika began the song's Autoharp intro, and blossomed once her voice and Simon's bass-affected guitar joined the fray.
 
While the excessive bass-rumble intro to the last song of their set proper may have overstayed its welcome, the set as a whole was a pleasant display of passion and an interesting sonic palette. It's yet to be seen if this formation of Thus Owls will stick, given that it was their first performance, but it was definitely enough to convey the emotion from the studio versions. 
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