Alcest/Monarque/Thantifaxath at Hard Luck Bar, April 23 2010

Here is my review (originally for Hellbound.ca) of the Alcest/ Monarque/ Thantifaxath show that took place at the Hard Luck Bar on April 23, 2010. You can read the original here, complete with gorgeous photos by Adam Wills.

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First, a little context. Tuesday night, I went to see GOGOL BORDELLO at the Sound Academy. This was one of the craziest, most high-energy shows I have ever been to. I’ve been waiting to see them live for years, and my stratospheric expectations did nothing to dampen how impressed I was by their performance. By the end of the show, over a third of the audience was walking around in their underwear, clothes balled up under one arm, sweat-soaked and cheerfully exhausted.

By Wednesday morning, I was already feeling like I’d been worked over with a blunt instrument. Instead of spending the day in the bathtub, however, I put in a full day of work and then went to see AMON AMARTH, ELUVEITIE and HOLY GRAIL at The Opera House. By the end of that show, I felt far more ready to don a breastplate and pick up a battleaxe than go to bed; it was not an early (or sober) night. By Thursday morning, the ache in my body had progressed from beaten-with-a-lead-pipe to hit-by-a-truck. And once again, instead of staying cocooned in my impossibly comfortable bed, I dragged myself up and went to work. At my two jobs. For fourteen hours.

By Friday, I no longer felt like I’d become intimately acquainted with the bumper of a speeding motor vehicle. I felt dead. I counted thirteen bruises. The temptation to spend the entire day and night in my most embarrassing pajamas, drinking whisky and watching episodes of Spartacus: Blood and Sand was nearly overwhelming. But, in the names of Music and Journalism, I put on some pants and wandered down to the Hard Luck Bar.

I tell you this not to complain, but to give you an idea of my state of mind and body going into this show. Walking in, I was afraid I might not be able to listen properly – even giving it my all would not have been giving very much. Instead, it was perfect. My guard was down, so the show was able to get around my defences. And, being drained, I was open to being refilled.

The night began with a set by the local black metal band THANTIFAXATH. I had absolutely no experience with this band prior to seeing them play this particular show; I actually had no idea they were even performing that night until they walked on stage. I was most impressed by their consistent aesthetic, both in their music and in their performance. Seldom have seen a band so difficult to pin down, so apparently unknown and unknowable, with such a clear idea of exactly what they’re on about. Also, all three band members wore full floor-length robes, hoods obscuring their faces, for the entire performance. Including the drummer. That right there is badass.

MONARQUE was next to take the stage. This may sound strange, but I found that they provided a break, an interlude in the proceedings. Where THANTIFAXATH had been at once blistering and droning, and ALCEST would be something else all together, MONARQUE were simply, almost mercifully entertaining. When the frontman yelled: “We are MONARQUE from Quebec! We play black metal! Tabernacle!” I felt myself relax into the comfort of having my expectations straightforwardly met.

After the theatricality that characterized the previous two performances, ALCEST’s use of a few candelabras and a bit of dry ice felt positively minimalist. The band members themselves were startlingly quiet, not engaging the crowd at all aside from disarming eye-contact and the occasional, nearly whispered “Merci.” This combination of subtlety and intensity dovetailed beautifully with their music, which managed to be tender, plaintive, and devastating all at once. For the first time in a great many shows, I actually sat down during a performance. I sat not because I was bored, not even because I was tired. I sat because the energy it took to operate my legs felt like energy I could be directing towards my ears. I sat on a table top with my eyes closed, rocking back and forth unconsciously, entirely consumed.

I walked into the Hard Luck Bar feeling empty; but oh, I left so full.

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