Wednesday, September 29, 2010

School of Seven Bells at The Biltmore (Vancouver)

The Biltmore again! This venue is becoming one of my favourite places in Vancouver. Incidentally, I saw School of Seven Bells here last year, too. They were a bit disappointing last time, but I don't think my taste was in the right place at the time.

School of Seven Bells, often shortened to SVIIB, is a three-piece shoegaze/dream pop band, fronted by identical twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza and backed by Benjamin Curtis of Secret Machines, who met the girls when they toured with Secret Machines in their previous band.

Starting the warm evening was Active Child, aka Pat Grossi, a two-man solo act from Los Angeles. He started his set with a few smooth ballads that were lost somewhere between new age synthpop and shoegaze. He played the harp beautifully for his first song, which distracted me for a few minutes from what I realised about three songs into the set—this man's tenor voice is divine. He doesn't force out his high notes and breathe heavily like a trained singer, but rather, he sings gracefully with a hauntingly beautiful voice. He was the perfect melancholy warmup to put me in the mood for School of Seven Bells.

I had only taken a few hours to listen to School of Seven Bells' new album, Disconnect from Desire, so most of what they played was only vaguely familiar. I felt like they could have had a stronger start, with the first few songs, but it's clear that they put more thought into how the songs themselves work together, rather than how the audience will react when they hear them. School of Seven Bells loves to share their music onstage, but their priority is music for the sake of making something beautiful, and I have to give them credit for that.

Nevertheless, the energy began to build, several songs into the set. Not to say that people were dancing. I think that all shoegaze bands should bring enough couches for their entire audience to sit back and close their eyes. Nobody dances or moves much.

“Joviann” was the song that signalled the slow rise towards a climax. One track along the way got stuck in my head; “Bye Bye Bye”, although it doesn't seem to be one of the more popular songs from the new album. Then they finished the set with all my picks, right in a row; “Windstorm”, ”I L U” and the smashing “My Cabal” from their debut album. I noticed, when they played “My Cabal”, that the song is very special to the girls, Alejandra and Claudia. Perhaps there is a meaningful backstory to the song, or perhaps they just adore the song as much as their fans do.

School of Seven Bells played the same small venue here that they did a year ago, but they may be destined for bigger things, if they want it. I, for one, would love to see them in a slightly bigger venue with a better light show to back them, even though The Biltmore was only half full (everyone was at Arcade Fire tonight).

School of Seven Bells - Windstorm (zshare) (YSI)
School of Seven Bells - Heart Is Strange (Active Child Remix) (zshare)

School of Seven Bells' new album Disconnect from Desire is available now on Vagrant Records. Active Child's Curtis Lane EP is out as well, and he has also just released a split 7" with School of Seven Bells, each remixing a song by the other.


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