Sometimes when you go to a concert, you can’t help but feel out of place among the other attendees. Most of my teenage years have been spent attending metal concerts and festivals, and I usually feel ill-fitting when in crowds of scene kids, pit ninjas, and dad rockers trying to understand the appeal of contemporary –core bands the teens are into.
This was not one of these instances. May 1st was my 16th birthday, and I spent my one and only sweet 16 doing the best thing possible: going to a Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra concert at The Crocodile. My fellow attendees were just as I’d hoped; that is to say, cartoonishly hipster to the degree of the Pitchfork Music Festival. Pretty much all of the attendees were wearing Swans T-shirts, plaid and flannel shirts, jean vests, drinking PBR and talking about how amazing bands like Cloud Nothings and The Mars Volta are. I’ve never felt more appropriate to be a part of a crowd before in my life, for better or worse.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra is an experimental rock band from Montreal that’s most commonly recognised as being a musical side project of several members of the seminal post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, though I personally like Silver Mt. Zion a lot more. Silver Mt. Zion has released seven albums over the course of their career, with the most recent being this year’s Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything, which, if you ask me, is one of the best albums they’ve released to date.
I arrived at The Crocodile at around 7:00, as the website said the show would start at 8:00. As fate would have it, the show didn’t end up starting until about 9:30, and I spent pretty much all of this waiting time watching the indie rock music videos they were playing on a TV. One in particular I caught was fucking ridiculous. If you want to see a worryingly-pretentious five-minute masturbation session, watch the music video for Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”. Here, I’ll even provide a link to it.
There was only one opening act, one Jherek Bischoff, revered Seattle-based neo-classical composer that’s worked with many acclaimed artists including Xiu Xiu, Amanda Fucking Palmer and Parenthetical Girls. Bischoff performed with a group of four fellow musicians on orchestral instruments including violin, stand-up bass, etc., while he would alternate between a standard bass guitar, Cavern bass and rototom.
While I’m not exactly the biggest fan of this particular brand of high-class chamber music, I found his group’s set to be entertaining. I enjoyed the sombre, melancholic tone of some of the performed songs, as well as the contrasting energetic tone of others, especially the cover they performed as one of their last (you’ll have to excuse me; I didn’t catch its name). The two guys that were behind me for the entire show that would never shut the fuck up didn’t really seem to be enjoying the set, though; when he told the audience that they were about to play their last song, one of the guys sarcastically said, “Aw, don’t go!” I found it to be enjoyable, myself, though.
After a short intermission, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra took to the stage, opening with the 10-minute “Fuck Off Get Free” off of their aforesaid similarly-titled most recent album. This would prove to be a recurring theme during their two-hour set, as they played over half of the album, specifically “Fuck Off Get Free”, “Austerity Blues” and “What We Loved Was Not Enough”, the three longest songs on the album.
One thing I’ve always admired about Silver Mt. Zion is their willingness to change up their formula on different albums to see what’ll happen, which makes each album a different engagement in its own right. Throughout the night, they played a nice variety of flavours of Silver Mt. Zion, tackling the mostly-instrumental post-rock of He Has Left Us Alone…, the unnerving gloominess of “This Is Our Punk Rock,”…, and the strikingly-emotional art rock of Fuck Off Get Free….
As anticipated, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra performed great as well. Primary vocalist Efrim Menuck’s live vocals were just as ominously breathtaking as they are in the studio, and the other fours’ vocals were matching in their stunning ostentation. Since Silver Mt. Zion is more on the slower side, the members didn’t do a whole lot of on-stage acrobatics. The performers were just as timid and collected as the music demanded, and being in their presence was a wholly divine experience.
Menuck had a charming amount of interaction with the audience, as he would speak in between songs as much as possible. He asked the audience for questions on a couple occasions, and several audience members shouted Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s name all at once, which prompted a small tangent about Ford’s messy track record and how people taking his misbehaving from a humourous standpoint is detrimental, as it is telling him that it’s okay to do these things, ‘cos people will just laugh it off as Rob Ford “just being his silly old self”.
“What We Loved Was Not Enough” closed their set the right way, encapsulating the moody oddity that Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra pulls off much better than many of their peers. Efrim Menuck and drummer David Payant showcased their unique harmony the most effectively on this 11-minute epic. The entire crowd exploded with applause afterwards, marking the perfect zenith to an amazing night.
I had an absolute blast seeing Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra live, and I’d certainly do it again. I said this in my TesseracT concert review as well, but the atmosphere of togetherness and similar-mindedness was just lovely. Everybody attending was absolutely pumped to see the main event, and you could tell. Before the show started, you could overhear everywhere fellow concertgoers discussing what they find Silver Mt. Zion’s best works to be and which specific songs they’d hoped they would play. Really, it was everything a great concert environment should be.
If you like Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and/or their specific kind of ever-changing experimental rock, you owe it to yourself to see these guys live in concert. While they bring a different kind of energy in their live performance than a bombastically over-the-top band like The Dillinger Escape Plan, it’s a very enriching kind of energy, and it leaves you satisfied, much like the music at large.