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Friday night downtown 

I arrived at St. Matthew’s Church last night midway through the Prospector’s Union, who played this kind of wool-hatted, folk/ country sort of music I’ve been listening to far more than expected for most of this year, reminding me a little of the Great Lake Swimmers. They played some nicely crafted songs about New Brunswick, starting off this mythic sort of atmosphere that filled the church for the rest of the evening.

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I hadn’t seen i see rowboats in months, and it was nice to hear some new material from them. The kids over at Halifaxlocals kept knocking them and being annoyed that Dog Day cancelled (due to mixing a new album in New York), but I feel like i see rowboats fit the bill much better. St. Matthew’s suited them well and violinist Lisa Lipton looked adorable seated on the piano bench in a pink dress. They played a stripped-down choral version of their normally rocking “In Cars,” which I’m not sure how I feel about, with one guitar and everyone on vocals. It seemed fitting for a church show in a way, though lead singer Will Robinson’s vocals quavered a bit. Rumour has it the band may have an exciting engagement at a certain Christmas event in a nearby city coming up this holiday season, but I’m not authorized to divulge any further details.

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Having never been a Low fan, I wasn’t exactly expecting to enjoy the Retribution Gospel Choir. If you haven’t already, please read Mark Black’s writeup on them from the Pop Explosion guide, speaking of mythic atmosphere. And they’re still not the first band I’d choose to put on, but it was a fantastic performance and I’m glad I stayed. Their set was a heavy, gothic submersion (and I mean gothic in the architectural sense, not the black eyeliner one). Dressed in church shoes and ties, they rocked a lot harder than I’d expected, but it was entirely fitting. Their bassist’s awkward, exaggerated demeanour probably gets my personal award for ‘most awkward bassist’—but then that’s always a tough one to choose. Alan Sparhawk’s attempts at stage banter were strained, although we did hear three times about how they went clothes shopping in Halifax. When I saw Wire in Montreal three weeks ago, they were similarly quiet, but it was a lot less creepy in a half-full church than in a sold-out venue holding a few hundred.

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It’s a good thing the early show was good, because I would have lost faith entirely going between Coconut Grove and the Seahorse later. I went to see Swedish Death Polka at the Seahorse, who had cancelled, which the door staff and the big sign reading “Friday: Swedish Death Polka” failed to mention to me—I found out from a friend later. The Seahorse was like every nightmare you have of industry events. Everyone wears black, has a pass around their neck, a bored expression, and is talking on their cellphone. “Yeah, we had some lobster for dinner? Man, I can’t wait to get back to Toronto. These hills are hell on my shoes. I’m doing a shoot with Lindsay Lohan next week.” I just don’t know about this Friday night lineup. It’s like, we’ll have four outstanding shows going on at the same time every other night, but for Friday we’ll just book this huge show that’ll be packed and sold out at the Marquee, and a weird array of other stuff. Everyone else I talked to agreed. To quote some guy I overhead, “I mean, I know nothing’s going to be better than what I saw earlier, so now I’m just getting drunk.”

I was a bit underwhelmed by Ottawa’s Hilotrons’ CD, but I had high hopes for their live show. It didn’t acquire any momentum on stage, though. I wanted robot costumes or beach balls, and I got t-shirts and live renditions faithful to the album. What gives, Ottawa? You seem so excited about this band in all your press, but maybe they were just disappointed to be in Halifax, or maybe you just don’t like dancing very much, because you are supposed to be pretty boring. Oh, they got those girls in ponytails and tank tops to the dance floor all right, but I wasn’t entirely clear on whether anyone had come to see the bands, or because they go to Coconut Grove on Fridays.

I’ll leave you with a list of five acts I’d like to see play in churches:1. The Cure2. The Birthday Party3. Patti Smith4. The Decemberists5. Sonic Youth


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