By Ryan Pratt | 16 April 2011
I’d be lying if I said attending this Timber Timbre show was all about Taylor Kirk and his music. No, the shared appeal for me was experiencing the trio (rounded out by violinist Mika Posen and guitarist Simon Trottier) amid the gothic charms of First Baptist Church, a limestone-built relic dwarfed by the commerce of Ottawa’s downtown core. When people asked my plans for the weekend, I couldn’t even tell them I was catching a Timber Timbre show without adding something to the effect of “yeah, and it’s taking place in a church!” It was borderline embarrassing, my treating the venue and artist as equal draws, but the combination seemed too intuitive and eerie to downplay.
Upon entering First Baptist’s humble corridor and meeting a friend several pews from the front, I discovered I wasn’t alone in my emphasis on venue. My friend had seen the band four times, and instinctively pinpointed a sunny festival gig as their least affecting performance. That’s one guy’s opinion and valid as such, but sitting beneath elongated stained glass windows at dusk and facing a mammoth, wall-scaling organ, I could see that this church represented a serious home-field advantage.
Indeed, Timber Timbre squeezed every opportunity out of the venue’s solemnity, blanketing the entire nave in darkness and casting the altar in a menacing red glow. When the house music quickly flat-lined for deep rumblings, like longwinded creaks of an old wooden ship, nobody cheered. When Taylor Kirk and his bandmates walked single-file up to the stage and strapped on their gear, nobody clapped. To the band’s credit, it was an unnerving scenario only they could save us from, preferably by interrupting the morose atmosphere with anything uplifting.
Of course, anyone moderately versed in Timber Timbre’s songbook knows that “uplifting” is a term deserving of some subjective gray space. (Let’s also not forget: the album’s called Creep On Creepin’ On.) The set’s first song, “Bad Ritual,” gave the audience its sweet release but the effect was temporary. Since Taylor’s songs differ instrumentally about as often as he abandons his creeped-out croon, the bite of these compositions—that devious and infectious swagger—gradually weakened when resorted to time and time again. What’s worse, the trio’s set-up often seemed in favor of this congealing effect. Percussion was limited to a series of bass drum thwacks, whereas Posen’s loop-pedal and violin, capable of creating the gauzy swoon of a full quartet, were mostly used to quell momentum, to keep Taylor’s “Swamp Magic” stagnant. In that vein, fan-favorite “Lay Down in the Tall Grass” sounded particularly anemic, its only pulse detected through feather-light strums.
Beyond the odd couplet blurring together, a good portion of the set benefited from this symphonic approach, with “Black Water,” the instrumental “Obelisk,” and “Demon Host” each attaining a shimmering sonic counterpoint to Taylor’s lonesome, guitar-based blues. It was hard, however, not to compare the entire show post-mortem to Timber Timbre’s pre-encore performance of “Too Old to Die Young,” which instilled their lush setting with some discordant drive. Taylor’s velvety vocals became ensnared with conflict, which contorted his mouth and permitted his patient hand some rough riff-playing. If all that had preceded this finale was sermonizing, here was Timber Timbre’s exorcism.
I could’ve done with more of that passion, but it isn’t really Timber Timbre’s style. (Taylor admitted as much upon returning for an encore. “Let’s pretend we’re at a rock and roll concert,” he joked in response to the crowd’s applause.) Kirk Taylor’s presence didn’t disappoint; it simply catered to the one-note image he’s been indulging in for two years now. They’re a wonderfully twisted gospel act, make no mistake, but Timber Timbre can’t hide in dark church corners forever. Eventually, they’ll have to drop their schtick or develop it beyond the merit of vague creepiness.