The final show ever performed by Regina’s Architects and Builders made clear all the essential truths about the band: they sucked at self-promotion, they have the worst timing in the world, and they hate Ayn Rand as much as Ayn Rand would’ve hated them — mostly because they were really, really great but despite that individual merit they went nowhere.
Not that they were ever really meant to go anywhere. The band freely acknowledged during their last performance on August 13th that they only really became a “band” (as opposed to what was essentially a recording experiment by Matthew Blackwell) in the last year or so. And even then they really only hit their stride this summer, when they released their final two recordings. The last time I talked about the band I was only starting to get a sense of what we were going to be missing; the show and further spins of The Joy Of Cooking have cemented that sense of impending loss.
Firstly: it’s hard not to love a band that gets up on stage, mentions it’s their last show ever, and then launches in to one of the most spirited Tears For Fears covers I’ve ever seen. The band’s performance of “Shout” set a surprisingly good tone, as bandleader Blackwell yelped out the words at maximum exuberance. Fellow members John Cameron and Mason Pitzel also displayed how keyed-up they were for the show by shouting right alongside him and exerting a lot of energy right off the hop. If one were prone to over-analyzing set list choices one could say the selection was also a pretty apt dig at the Regina music scene; perhaps the things the band could do without are the lack of audience that shows up even when the show is free, the tendency to have no choice but to play to a mostly-empty room, or the studied apathy of a lot of Saskatchewan show-goers. Perhaps Blackwell’s pleadingly-delivered “Am I talking to you?” expressed a deeper desire to connect to the audience or an expression of the futility of giving your all in an indifferent setting. Perhaps starting with a cover was a subtle comment on the tendency of a certain portion of people in Regina to get more excited about good cover bands than burgeoning local talent.
Maybe…but probably not. Regardless, the song put a smile on the trio’s faces and the majority of the crowd.
They blasted into their own material after that, starting with the terrific opener on the new album, “(He’s) Afraid Of Fire.” It was perfect — the slower verses of the song give way to attack-the-instruments bridges, squalls of guitar noise and furious shredding belying the cautious nature of the lyrics. On the stage it was imbued with extra frenzy with Pitzel pushing the tempo on the drums with a startling ferocity.
The Joy Of Cooking played a big part in the set with at least five songs from the final album included. They also reached all the way back to the start when Blackwell introduced the first A&B song he ever wrote, noting that Pitzel was a mere 15 years old at the time. It was delightful to see the band reconfigure as the songs required; each member played each instrument on at least one song as Cameron and Pitzel took the lead on songs they penned. Pitzel appears to be a natural, displaying an easy ability on drums, bass, and guitar. The other two proved capable on the drums, though the concentration was much more palpable on their faces.
Things didn’t go perfectly, of course, and I doubt the band expected them to. The instrument swapping caused a few issues towards the end of the set. When Cameron took the drums his plaid shirt got in the way, hamstringing his playing for a moment before he ripped it off. Cameron’s focus on the drums was intense and he swings HARD when he’s playing; when Blackwell took the kit a few songs later the kick drum seemed to slip over and over, making for a less-than-smooth performance. Their very last song ended with Pitzel, back on the skins, for some reason throwing a drum stick towards Blackwell, hitting him in what appeared to be the foot or lower leg. He hobbled off stage in a noticeable amount of pain. When I left O’Hanlon’s Cameron was at the bar asking for ice as the wound was already beginning to swell.
I’m pretty sure that’s not the ending they envisioned, but I also don’t think any of them would complain. At least it was memorable, right?
Well, The Joy Of Cooking is memorable as well so perhaps it was an appropriate send-off. I had the pleasure of finally meeting the band members face to face before the show and I was struck by how personable, friendly, and excitable they are. Blackwell openly joked about how he hoped that the first Architects and Builders releases would be remembered as “charmingly amateurish,” but even with the fevered recording process behind Joy that identifier simply doesn’t fit any longer. I mentioned in the previous post that I only had a couple of spins of the album when I gave my initial thoughts back on the 14th. Since then I’ve listened to it over and over. And over. And over and over and over. It’s infuriating how much I enjoy it.
I identified the urgency behind it as one of the charms of the record. That still stands after repeated listens but the timeliness of it also resonates. “View From The Top” was introduced during the show as Blackwell’s “fuck you” to Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, her most notorious work. His take-down of her theory of objectivism and the individual’s ability to succeed on their own merits instead of through a collectivist hand up from the government may be seen as inartful by some (“Do you have sex just so you have someone to climb over?” and “If you like objects so much why don’t you marry one? Is that childish? I don’t care.”) but at a time when the profile of the book is being raised and its lessons lauded by ham-handed Republicans it’s a noble effort. In a similar vein Cameron also manages to take his intense loathing for “ethical oil” blowhard Ezra Levant off of Twitter and onto the record through the remarkably-catchy “Ex-Staffer.” Cameron’s vocals on the muscular, up-tempo riff monster’s chorus remind me of some of Despistado’s more unhinged moments, helping the song achieve a remarkable build through a well-calculated bridge and into the rousing last section’s spelling lesson (“E-t-h-i-c-a-l, come on!”). Regardless of political affiliation it seems difficult to view Levant as anything but a cartoonish puppet; if A&B charged for their songs “Ex-Staffer” could go to #1 if everyone who has sued Levant for libel bought the track.
Blackwell still writes songs about girls too, in case you were wondering. “You’re Inscrutable” is a catchy one that OED-jocking intellectuals can get behind. “In The Shadow” is a more sensitive tale of letting go, with Blackwell and backing vocalist Rhiannon Ward lamenting in tandem, “This time you’re certain what you’re searching for…but I don’t hear your footsteps anymore.” It’s a tender moment that resonates a little louder amidst the larger cacophony of the rest of the album.
So what kind of legacy are Architects and Builders leaving behind? Well, if you listen to the members themselves it might be no legacy at all. They were giving away all 17 copies of their collected discography they had burned onto CD and the members joked before they took the stage that they were ending their tenure as it had begun: as dudes playing to an empty room. The room wasn’t quite empty but they probably could’ve given a CD to just about everyone who was there and paying attention. It may have been somewhat cathartic for a band that insists it was just hitting its stride when life intervened to rend them asunder but I guess when the “group” started as one guy writing, performing, and recording songs just to see if he could do it they could have done a hell of a lot worse.
If nothing else at least this one lone scribe will miss them. Thanks for the tunes, chums.
Despite the band’s dismissive jokes on stage if you google them their Bandcamp page comes up as the seventh result, not after pages and pages of other sites. Get all their music there except for the two parts of “Blues Lawyer,” which seem to have been removed for some reason.