Published Feb 07, 2014While it seems as if Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra is destined to forever live in the shadow of iconic Montreal post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, with whom the former shares three members, a penchant for lengthy songs and a label, the band shook off any notions of simply being an offshoot with a splendid hometown album launch party at Montreal's Rialto Theatre. Commemorating their newest record, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything, the five members of Silver Mt. Zion crafted a unique experience that proves that they deserve their own attention away from their other outfit.
The band quickly got to work introducing their new album to the expectant crowd, starting their set by playing the first half of the six-song record. Fittingly kicking the event off with "Fuck Off Get Free (For the Island of Montreal)," the band's frenetic onstage performance was quickly justified: they were fighting for something. Cascading into a roaring rock breakdown sandwiched by haunting string-driven breakdowns, the song proved a beautiful tribute to the tumultuous but ever-spirited city the band and majority of the concertgoers call home.
The band continued their performance of the new record with the hard-rocking "Austerity Blues" and "Take Away These Early Grave Blues." Despite the sonic cacophony onstage as the quintet powered through loud, borderline-dissonant riffs and lines capped off by Efrim Menuck's panicked yelp, melodies never failed to arise from the discordance. The long, textured tunes are often described as post-rock, though the band members have expressed disagreement.
Indeed, Menuck's vocals, the repetitive chanted lyrics and the band's explicit political message are more in line with punk tradition.
In addition to Menuck, who also played guitar, the band featured Thierry Amar on basses both upright and guitar, David Payant on drums and keyboard, and Sophie Trudeau and Jessica Moss on violins and backup vocals. Each member had their moment to shine, and the pared-down incarnation of the once-septet worked well together. While the band has gone by many names over their decade-and-a-half of activity, the "Memorial Orchestra" suffix is quite apt: Moss and Trudeau's shrieking violins were instrumental in shaping the mood of the songs, and undoubtedly orchestral in nature, especially with Amar's complicated bass riffs.
Instead of playing the back half of their new album, the set took a turn with a performance of "'Piphany Rambler," the closing track from 2010's Kollaps Tradixionales. The band spared the audience nothing, wallowing through the song's sparse intro that lulled in comparison to the raucous rock of the prior tunes. Despite the languid introduction, the payoff was more than worth it: Payant came in with crashes of drums while Menuck appropriately crooned "don't sleep," almost as a warning not to underestimate the duller intro, before Payant's steady 6/8 beat launched the song toward its sweeping finale, with waves of orchestral grandeur ensuring that Menuck's plea was realized.
The band paused the music for a bit as Menuck engaged the crowd in a lively question-and-answer session, featuring the singer nimbly dodging questions from the crowd ranging from topics such as politics, amplifiers and — much to his chagrin — Menuck's long mane of hair. It was an amusing and humanizing moment for a band whose other project finds them completely devoid of language as a form of communication.
All aspects of Silver Mt. Zion's live performance were inviting: band quickly let the audience know how much they love and fight for the city of Montreal despite the turmoil and any potential distrust from the rest of the country, coming off as hometown heroes in the process.
"What We Loved Was Not Enough," first seen on their 2012 EP The West Will Rise Again and rerecorded for Fuck Off Get Free, closed out the show. The band took turns with the pleading lyrics, including the poignant mantra "the days go where we no longer feel," to really create an atmosphere of poetic reflection of moments past as the band played on toward, as Menuck expressed his hope for, a better future.
Coming out for a brief encore, the band ended the night with "Little Ones Run" from Fuck Off Get Free, a pleasant comedown from the raucous roar of the set proper featuring a stunning vocal duet between Moss and Trudeau. The performance featured a band clearly enjoying what they do performing in a city that they undoubtedly care about, and this feeling of warmth mixed with a do-gooder sense of improvement shone through for a show that was a fitting welcome party for a great record.