Photo courtesy of Tiana Feng / Ride The Tempo
Usually when I go to shows, I walk in with at least some idea of how a band is going to sound. Most of the time, I’ve listened to at least a couple of the songs in their repertoire, be it their hits or their new releases.
Ought was a different story. I went in after hearing their name thrown around my Twitter feed on numerous occasions. I didn’t listen to them beforehand: I went in on buzz alone. Turns out my friends have good taste.
My friends aren’t alone in their praise: the Montreal-based (but by no means originated-from) band has already picked up acclaim from the tastemakers at Pitchfork. Ought’s April 2014 debut, More Than Any Other Day, was awarded a “Best New Music” designation.
Before the band came on stage, I briefly conversed with some friends and asked them to help me out and place Ought in a genre. The underlying consensus was punk – but it was a hesitant statement. It was punk only because it wasn’t anything else, but it also wasn’t punk because it wasn’t anywhere close to what you’d expect of punk. Would there be moshing? Probably not at the Drake Hotel, but it could be done in the right circumstances. Alright then.
Opening for the band was Los Angeles’ Dub Thompson, a four-piece that took to the stage with little fanfare – launching into their first song with the simple statement: “This song’s about riding horses, motherf***er.” It turns out that was an accurate description – a short blast of energetic music about said mfs riding said horses.
Most of Dub Thompson’s set was in keeping with this theme of short and to the point, veering between topics of dog racing and shoes. The band themselves are still fairly young (19, if you believe Pitchfork) and at this point it’s difficult to tell if the interesting risks involving diversions in tempo and melodic lines is something done entirely on purpose or just through happy accident.
At times, it was almost Rage Against the Machine like. At other points, more hip hop influenced than anything else. Either way, it was oddly cohesive – a dark edge and grit to the screeches and creeping bass lines working well with jittery drums and wavering synths. Dub Thompson seem to be a band that might very well develop into something interesting and will be worth keeping an eye on.
Sharing in the young-but-brimming-with-talent category was Ought, who led into their opening song (the titular “Today, More Than Any Other Day”) slowly and purposefully. It was the type of song you could tell was building up – and also the type of song that made it immediately apparent that the guys in Ought have watched the Talking Heads’ classic concert doc Stop Making Sense at least twice. Vocalist/guitarist Tim Beeler channels David Byrne in his performance: animated and highly convincing in his stilted, almost spoken-word delivery.
Peppered throughout the night were also some strains of LCD Soundsystem and early efforts of The Strokes. “Around Again” harkened back to both NYC bands but was also remarkably surprising, the spoken refrain of: “Why is it that you can’t stare at the sun, but you can stick your head into a bucket of water and breathe in deep?” hanging in the air, the rest of the instruments soon coming in with a ramshackle bang.
Their last three songs (one of which was new) were departures in length, each clocking in at impressive running times. Tempo shifts coloured their structures, taking both the band and the audience through a marathon that would leave most artists exhausted and satiated after just one – let alone three.
It’s hard to know what niche this band will occupy or what target demographic they’ll end up winning over en masse. At this point, it could go either way: you can envision them on a large stage or you could picture them as pure cult favourites. There’s still some work on cohesion to be had, Beeler’s vocals taking such a priority in the mix that made it near jarring – but even with this slight distraction, it was all still very good and sure to improve with each show under their belt.
So it seems odd to say it having only seen them once, but at this point Ought seem to have tapped into some sort of voice-of-the-generation thing. They’re not preaching to the choir, but they are part of it.
It’s weird. It’s unexpected. It’s so totally engrossing. Best of all, it makes sense when you see them perform and it’s like remembering all over again that music can be equally familiar and comforting; exciting and new.
And hey – turns out Ought like Toronto a lot. They’ll be back next week on Friday, July 25 to play the Silver Dollar. I’d highly recommend it: the buzz is warranted. Thanks, friends.