Timber Timbre Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver BC, June 10
Published Jun 11, 2014"Take a waltz. Find that special someone, and make this count. Make this night last forever. Make this fucking night last forever. That was a bit intense, but you know what I mean." – Taylor Kirk
For a band that doesn't get much tabloid coverage, Ontario's Timber Timbre were weirdly obsessive about their no photography policy, denying photo passes and reminding patrons at the door that security would be on watch for smartphones. When they took the stage, the reason for this became apparent. With a hot pink neon sign reading the name of their recently released album, Hot Dreams, glowing above them, red-bulbed mechanic cage lights hooked to racks and mic stands about the stage, and different colours and choreographed beams of smoky backlighting, taking a good picture would have been difficult for even the best concert photographer, but the lack of glowing screens peppered throughout the crowd also suited their oddly timeless aesthetic. On their new album, more than ever, they sound like Lee Hazlewood producing a Leonard Cohen score for a David Lynch film. Sick as they are of hearing Lynch references in their reviews, it's far too apt for their present style, borrowing heavily from '50s rock and '60s Americana without ever approaching parody.
Their set this evening began on a bit of a sputter. The touring quartet — consisting of singer Taylor Kirk and Simon Trottier, who traded bass and guitar throughout their set, along with keyboardist Mathieu Charbonneau and drummer Olivier Fairfield — came out to a lengthy drone. Three minutes in, as the drone began to modulate in wider circles, Fairfield started a heartbeat drum beat. A moment later, Kirk grabbed the mic, unfortunately ruining the previously established ethereal effect with the static crackle of a bad mic cable, a sound that persisted throughout their extended version of "Grand Canyon," while his voice seemed momentarily unsure.
Unperturbed, the quartet played launched straight into "Beat the Drum Slowly," and it all came together. Kirk's voice locked into its wheelhouse, that smouldering, panty-dropping baritone seldom punctuated by quick hoots. Trottier was entrancing to watch, earning extra style points as he grabbed one of the shop lights and used it as a slide for the bridge on "Woman." Fairfield proved less is more on his minimal kit, while Charbonneau set the mood on keys, providing weird synth bits to ease transitions and performing their violin parts via sample. Together, they were a well-oiled machine, astonishingly tight and dynamic in tracks like "This Low Commotion" and "The New Tomorrow" from Hot Dreams, but never coming across too polished or over-rehearsed. As ever, they maintained their natural, woozy swing.
It was apparent why Timber Timbre have made recent attempt to tone down the kitschy Halloween aspects of their aesthetic. Although Kirk looked like a Miami drug dealer in his white pants and tropical shirt, they were all obviously serious musicians. Kitsch can be a good thing, though. Without it, they seem to be pushing from merely creepy into the realm of plain scary, considering the barked hook on "Curtains!?" and particularly the violent lyrics on new album (i.e., "Run from me darlin' / You'd better run for your life" on "Run From Me" and "I want to follow through, follow through, on all my promises and threats to you, babe" on the title track). They wanted to be less niche and more like a regular rock band, and they definitely pull it off, but one worries they might lose something essential along the way.
These worries were laid to rest in their renditions of "Lonesome Hunter," "Black Water" and "Bad Ritual" from 2011's Creep on Creepin' On, taking them to a relatively more upbeat place with Kirk singing in a higher register, and their arrangements taking on more of a cool prom dance feel. If this set is any indication, they have achieved the improbable, expanding their appeal without sacrificing their established fan base. That is a mark of greatness.