LIVE REVIEW: Land Of Talk at Spaceland, Thursday, October 29, 2009

Due to heavy pre-Halloween traffic en route to Origami Records and an inexplicably stupid entry policy at the Bootleg Theatre, I managed to miss both L.A. performances by The Antlers last Thursday night.  Lucky me, because that left a slot open on my dance card for Montreal’s Land Of Talk, who were playing at Spaceland that same evening.

Cymbalic gesture: Land Of Talk's Powell at Spaceland (photo by the author).

Cymbal-ic gesture: Land Of Talk's Powell at Spaceland (photo by the author).

Land Of Talk appears to have more going for them that any indie band could hope for: their last full-length album was produced in part by shit-hot Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame, and was released in the States by Conor Oberst’s shit-hot Saddle Creek label.  If that weren’t enough, singer Elizabeth Powell has done time as the female touring voice of shit-hot Broken Social Scene, joining the likes of shit-hot Amy Milan, Leslie Feist and Emily Haines.  And in case you missed it the first time – Land Of Talk is from shit-hot Montreal.

With all that lather on them, it was surprising to find a less than half-filled room awaiting Land Of Talk’s performance shortly before midnight.  Whether or not the rest of L.A.’s indie music fans had committed to one of the aforementioned events by The Antlers or the first of two nights by Built To Spill, or something else altogether, they sure as hell weren’t at Spaceland.

No matter, there was all that much more of Land Of Talk for those in attendance to enjoy.

Helmed by Powell – a former jazz student — Land Of Talk live is essentially a trio suffering through an identity crisis.  The same way a schizophrenic with multiple personality disorder assumes various identities, which – no matter how disparate, are all of that person — a Land Of Talk show will find you being ushered through a slice of winsome pop that recalls The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler one moment and then ensconced in a frenzied inferno a la toenut. the next.  It’s that manic-but-cohesive combination of pop sensibility melded with serious musical chops that puts LOT in a category all their own, justifiably immune to any comparisons with their geographically aligned colleagues Arcade Fire, The Dears, Stars or The Stills (none of whom should be compared to each other anyway).  Put plainly, in the Land Of Talk, there aren’t any rules that say good songwriting must be restricted by musical simplicity.

It was momentarily concerning that “Some Are Lakes” – the sunny, summer-y pop gem that aired off LOT’s 2008 LP of the same name – arrived early in the set, as it is as close to anything the group has to an readily identifiable pop culture toehold.  But any wonder whether that song’s appearance heralded an early peak to the night was quelled the moment Powell and company invited their tour manager/merch seller/van driver on stage to fill in on bass while bandmember Joe Yarmush slid over to man guitar, keys and other miscellany — setting the stage for Land Of Talk + 1 to blister through material from their latest release, the Fun and Laughter EP, including the stellar “Sixteen Asterisk” and “May You Never.”

While LOT’s smart songwriting could live many lives on its own, it’s with drummer Andrew Barr’s contributions that the group arrives at something completely combustible and unique.  As a vocalist, Powell never comes across as anything less than sincere, but it’s Barr’s punctuation, quite literally, that cements her messages as more than anchorless fancy.  For all her toil onstage with her high-strapped guitar and theatrical bluster, the risks she shares with Yarmush would be a bit much to take without the framework Barr provides for them on which to stretch their fabric.  Whether bombastic or mellow, Land Of Talk collectively delivers compositions that simply exceed the service of the instruments creating them.  Just as Powell is never merely singing her way through a song for the sake of it, Barr is always doing more than just keeping the beat.  Again, not your average indie fare, and delightfully so.

But there’s really no point to trying to dissect what LOT is or how it works and why.  By the end of the night, it was apparent that the appeal of LOT has little to do with complexity and everything to do with connectivity.  Powell has a gift of expressing herself – her yearnings, disappointments, celebrations – in a way that resonates in tandem with the music she and her bandmates play.  Land Of Talk never leaves the impression that their songs are mere constructs of words on top of music; instead, each song comes across as a very specific emotional delivery mechanism.

Whatever the case, know that what LOT does, they do well and did it exceptionally on Thursday night, despite that so few were there to receive their performance.  There was a mutual appreciation between artist and audience from the get-go (Powell kept thanking them for coming out on a “Tuesday night,” very clearly suffering from Where The Hell Am I? Road Syndrome) which made for a blessed marriage.  As she gave, the crowd gave in return, and so on until the conclusion of the show arrived like a pot boiling over with goodwill.  Even after an encore vaguely sated the show’s handful of attendees, it was clear from the smiles on their impassioned faces that they didn’t care if anyone else in L.A. turned out to the event or not.  In fact, they probably preferred that less people came, if only so Land Of Talk can remain their little secret for just a little while longer.

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