Picastro, Akron/Family, Angels of Light
April 14th 2005 – St. George Martyr Church – Toronto, Ont.
by Leanda Quinquet

Any night that involves Michael Gira, former member of NY noise rock band the Swans, is bound to be a night of surprises and eclectic musical madness, and this evening was no exception. Opening acts and headliner promised an amazing wealth of class talent. The show took place at a new venue in Toronto, an old church right downtown, steps from the bright neon clubbing district. Dim lighting, pews and stained glass windows set the scene for the melodic and beautiful tunes of the opener, Picastro.

Picastro is a band based in Toronto that is gaining quite a following. Their sound is truly unique, a plethora of instruments used to create a larger than life sound scape of seamless tension, haunting calm and jarring reality. They are impressive, playing an eclectic set of cat power like tunes with early Low elements thrown in for good measure; they master the art of creating melancholic beauty in a song. Liz Hysen, the vocalist and songwriter, has a distinct, rich and beautiful voice, that will carry you off to unknown lands only to slam you back down on home ground without so much as a goodbye. 

Akron/Family was next to bounce onto the stage. Amongst a mess of cables, toys and instruments they sat ready to begin, smiling peacefully. These boys look like bohemian bush men; rugged, partially bearded and crazy as hell! They met in Brooklyn in 2002 and have since accumulated about 3 albums worth of material. They soon caught the eye of Young God Records founder Michael Gira (whom also founded Devendra Banhart) and have recently released their self titled debut album on his label. Using bells, whistles, toys, guitars and drums these multi-instrumentalists created the largest and tightest psych-folk rock I have ever heard. All the music is fused with stunningly harmonious voices, clever lyrics and sharp hooks. The songs ranged from hushed folk, to hard, brain-shaking rock. If these boys were to combust into a mountainous ball of flames whilst on stage I wouldn’t have been surprised. They were electric.

After an hour set Michael Gira graced the stage with his great battered presence, and Akron/Family now thoroughly exhausted, prepared to do another set as Angels of Light, Michael’s backing band. Michael used to be known for his deep, dark and intense songwriting, but things have changed somewhat since his days with the Swans. Now his music is lighter, delicate at times and generally more upbeat. His set featured haunting, melody driven songs, graced with lyrics full of beautiful imagery. Michael sat front stage and played acoustic guitar, his voice booming, it cut through the room and demanded to be heard. His between-song banter was also amusing, notably so when he explained the story behind the song ‘Michael’s hands’ a tune written after he saw Michael Jackson on Television and was disgusted by his “white hands that looked bleached, like two boiled fish”.

Angels of Light’s blend of folk and rock swings from Americana to roots flavored stylings, a great mix of the old and new genres. The show ended with two encores and a standing ovation. The last words Michael said with a wry smile were “fucking sit down and we’ll play another song” the crowed complied and the man kept his word…priceless.
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