November 26, 2011.
Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto.
It was 6:45 PM on a Saturday evening. The doors to the theatre in which Timber Timbre was scheduled to play were tightly closed, and would remain so for another forty-five minutes. Yet, an eager crowd of mostly twenty-somethings was already gathering outside.
The Queen Elizabeth Theatre was clearly the place to be last night. When we took our seats (yes, seats), my friend chatted to the guy sitting next to him. The guy spoke with a heavy french accent, and turned out to be a music enthusiast (for lack of a better term) from Switzerland. He had a giant beard and was about seven feet tall. In the middle of their conversation, he was suddenly summoned backstage. He looked like he lived at these things.
There was another couple farther down who, upon first glance, appeared Amish. She was slight and wearing modest clothes: a meticulously buttoned cotton shirt, a linen skirt, leather shoes with barely-visible bow-ties. Her hair was styled in a way that resembled a bonnet. He was wearing a cotton suit and shirt of equally modest outlook, horn-rimmed glasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. After about half an hour of trying to figure them out, we concluded that they were in fact not Amish, but rather highly advanced hipsters (the iPhones gave them away). Clearly, the evening was going to be full of strange things, strange melodies, and above all, theatrics.
Agnes Obel, a Danish pianist and songstress, opened the show. Her piano and cello-crafted melodies were ghostly and ethereal, yet instinctively powerful - they lifted the audience into a heightened state of awareness. “She’s like a mix between Portishead and Enya,” remarked one of our friends, while another described her as a “Scandinavian Emily Haines.”
Soon ofter Obel’s set, the telltale signs of Timber Timbre began appearing: red light and smoke flooded the stage, and a slideshow of eerie black and white images began playing behind it. When the band appeared, they added to this already very dramatic picture. The first thing Taylor KIrk, the lead vocalist, did was give the audience this look - as in, watch the fuck out.
The way the band handles their instruments is truly incredible. Mika Posen swayed to a fro with her violin, resembling a very lifelike marionette. The drummer, the band’s latest addition, was all attitude - on numerous occasions he would wind up to beat the crap out of cymbals, only to presumably change his mind mid-air. Simon Trottier, the miscellaneous guitarist, was the band’s evil musical genius. He sat in the front of the stage surrounded by a myriad of instruments and pedals. At one point he played the slide guitar with a screwdriver, and at another point he picked up the slide and played it vertically, like a real guitar.
And then there was Taylor Kirk. The man is a one-man band who happened to have brought his personal orchestra along for the show. He plays his guitar like a rifle, and fittingly, it is clear that Kirk calls the shots. At one pint he suddenly ran off the stage without warning, while the band was completing an outtro. The band looked at each other in puzzlement, and continued improvising until Kirk reappeared a long minute later. He mumbled something about a cable and started fumbling with the setup. The band stopped playing with relief, presumably to wait for Kirk. As they stopped, Kirk looked up, pointed one finger in the air, and spun it. The improv started up again. The audience laughed.
His band were not the only ones whom Kirk picked on, somewhat good-naturedly. Several times during the show Kirk told the audience off. “Calm down,” he shot jokingly at a couple of blonde girls giggling during an especially slow and eerie song. At another point, Kirk called out a less-than attentive audience member by interjecting “Can someone wake that guy up?” into a song. Once someone presumably complied, Kirk proceeded to sing part of his song directly to the offender.
But perhaps my favourite part about this Timber Timbre performance was how effective Taylor Kirk was at building and using tension. For the first half of the show, Taylor Kirk never said a word. During breaks between songs, Kirk would approach the microphone, breathe in as to speak, look out on the crowd, and then back away. I was struck by how uncomfortable that made me feel; I realized that every time Kirk approached the microphone I was holding my breath. When he finally spoke - mumbled - something inaudible about Toronto, I was deeply relieved. I realized that I was inexplicably worried that we had somehow failed him as an audience. I was nailed to my seat.
The best part about Timber Timbre shows, as we have already alluded to in the past, is that the band carries you away into the creepy-crawly world of their art. Part of that effect is their music, which was overwhelmingly excellent. But part of it is their theatrics, the red lights, their overt gestures, and the fact that, if you don’t behave, they might just call you out on it.
PS: Thanks to jeffbierk for the photos!