Review of Thus Owls @ M2 on July 3rd, 2018 for the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal
I’ve only attended a performance at M2 twice…and I got goosebumps both times. M2 feels like a true Speak Easy, hidden within the larger MTelus, this intimate space brings you back to a time where music was meant to be heard live.
My initiation to M2 was La Force, where I had goosebumps, which hasn’t happed at a concert in a long time!
Tonight, it would happen multiple times, especially when Erika Angell hit the high notes, while the band crescendoed into a sonic explosion.
This Owls is normally a trio consisting of husband and wife team Simon & Erika Angell along with drummer Samuel Joly. Tonight, they were sandwiched between two guests on stand up basses.
In the left corner was Morgan Moore, who recruited Simon into his own band when they were both just young lads. There was a small tension between the two that had love as its foundation, which made for hilarious banter.
In the right corner was Marika Galea who played with the band for the first time live. She seemed like a lifelong member of the band, adding her layer to the songs, but also crushing it at some solo spots.
When Erika sang, I had a hard time placing her voice vis-à-vis my mental library of singers. There was a pinch of Chrissie Hynde, a splash of Joni Mitchell and then it hit me…the occasional Siouxsie Sioux.
Just that description along give you a good idea of what this band sounds like…like nothing you have heard before! It had moments of Dead Can Dance, to some mellow Tea Party, to poetic readings, to sonic blasts of noise.
Yes, they can be experimental at times, but unlike some artists who seem to lose the crowd when they go into an indulgent experimental tangent, Thus Owls seem to hold a string tying these tangents into the narrative of the songs. We, as the listeners, are not left behind, but embark on the journey with them.
At one point, a song started as a sprinkle, minimal in its construction. Layer upon sound layer, they build on the song’s foundation. The buildup is so natural, you don’t realize the intensity taking you to a higher level, till it hits you: The sprinkle has turned into a fire hose!
To respect the space and the vibe, I decided to not take notes on my phone, which would distract. I did quickly scribble one or two quick notes, I admit, but I opted to be present instead and experience the performance without thinking of the review.
All but one song was taken from their latest release The Mountain That We Live Upon.
“Take Me Over” was one of the songs that spiraled upwards in intensity. The following, “Ashore” was one of the goosebumps songs.
The next choice was “Solar Eclipse”, which would be my choice for an elevator pitch song. This is the song you should hear if you don’t know them yet.
“A Shade of Green” would reveal their soft side while “Vessel”, which followed, was draped in Dead Can Dance vibe.
Song after song, they took us to a different place, a different vibe, while retaining some sort of narrative throughout.
Other songs like “Devils in the Dark” has these jazz-like solos that let everyone shine with their distinct talent.
“Museum” was the one song taken from the Harbours (2012). This is the song that let Samuel go wild on the drum, a smile on his face the whole time. It was also the chopsticks song, where they used sticks to elicit cool sounds from their respective instruments.
They ended the night with “Future/Past”, a song inspired by dreams a mother has while carrying a child. The body is trying to make sense of having a body growing inside itself, so it tries projects these dreams to let your brain catch up to your body.
That is the feeling I had I had tonight. Before me was this living performance. Some songs started as embryos and quickly matured to something completely different in form from its origins.
What passed through my eyes, ears and brain was hard to describe, yet felt so natural. In the end, I felt that the performance I saw would never be repeated. I’ve only seen Thus Owls once, but I feel like every performance is a new child.
One thing is for sure, I want to be in the audience for the next song birth experience. The beauty of creating, minus the pain of childbirth. I’m in.