Timber Timbre at #RFF12
It turns out Taylor Kirk shares my concerns.
A few songs into their RFF set the frontman for the phenomenal eastern Canadian band Timber Timbre expressed his unease that the band were performing while the sun was still mostly up.
“We can all pretend that it’s dark, right?” he asked the crowd, before talking the folks running the stage lighting into turning down the bank of lights that were focused on the trio of band members.
“That’s better,” he remarked. And it was.
If you haven’t read our myriad posts about Timber Timbre they’re a downright spooky group of musicians. Kirk writes some of the gloomiest, doomiest murder ballads/death tableaus ever set to music and his bandmates help add layers of uneasy instrumentation to them. The end result is records like Creep On Creepin’ On, less albums than soundscapes designed to inspire you to turn on all the lights if you’re listening to them at home alone after dark.
I think Kirk and I share a further reticence as well: festival settings. He’s a severe-looking fellow when he performs, his unfortunate comb-over leaving his furrowed brow and clamped-shut eyes to make known the torment the characters in his songs — and who knows, maybe his own psyche — are undergoing at any given moment. But the stripped-down arrangements on display at the RFF didn’t really lend themselves to the constant din of shouted conversation coming from all quarters of Victoria Park. Up front, right at the fence separating audience from stage, dozens of other ticket holders could be heard chattering audibly above Kirk’s gently-strummed guitar, as well as the slide guitar and violin that accompanied it. The further afield I got from the stage the worse it got (the beer garden tables are great when you have to type, less great for hearing hushed, apocalyptic music).
Despite the surroundings, however, Kirk and company set a mood that could be neither denied nor reckoned with. Songs about demon hosts, great disasters, ominous dark pools of water, and shallow graves are unsettling at any time of day and the stark instrumentation the band presented gave their songs a new edge. That goes double for songs of their latest album, which was brilliantly produced but in a very maximalist way; the tracks are all-encompassing, huge-sounding. They swallow you up with their screechingly-sawed strings, the bottomless din of bass saxophone, and hollow, reverberating vocals. But on the main stage the songs are defined by the absence of sound; Kirk’s acoustic guitar is amplified, but it sneaks into your ear gradually. He utilizes some manner of chorus pedal to double up his vocals at appropriate moments, lending unexpected moments extra gravitas. The violin and slide guitar are more ethereal in this setting, sneaking in around the edges of the songs before washing them over.
It was a very different aural experience but no less arresting. Which is good, because their stage presence leaves a LOT to be desired. Kirk was confined to a chair so that he could do double-duty on guitar and the bass drum. The other two band members also stayed stationary for the duration of their set. There’s something to be said for letting the songs do the work for you and a lesser band might have been in big trouble in that state. Thankfully Timber Timbre are thoroughly accomplished songwriters and players.
Up next: Shad! I cannot wait!