The band’s epic, orchestral sound, rooted in music theory and classical styles, might not seem like the right fit for a late, drunken Friday night in the Big Apple, with it’s ‘too cool for school’ hipster crowds. Throw a sell-out more thanks to an earlier act, and the signs didn’t augur well from the Milton, Ontario seven-piece. But, like guitarist/singer Emma Ditchburn’s self-done haircut, the results far exceeded any expectations.
The Most Serene Republic opened with two pieces off their somewhat cursed 2006 EP, Phages. The strange, disconcerting rhythm of “You’re Not an Astronaut” gave the set a speedy tempo, but singer Adrian Jewett’s reverbed vocals played atmospheric. An uncompromising act, M.S.R. are not afraid to start things off by challenging the audience. However, as Phages was the “ghost step” between their 2005 debut full-length, Underwater Cinematographer, and last year’s Population (QRO review), in a way, it actually serves quite well as an introduction to both albums’ sounds. “Astronaut” may be a little art-rock even for that – better was the following “Anhoi Polloi”; despite their titles, it is actually “Anhoi” that is the more accessible one, with a higher melody, well-placed duetting vocals from Jewett and Ditchburn, and giving Jewett more time for stage antics.
The catchy-yet-evocative “Sherry and Her Butterfly Net” turned the accessibility up another notch, as the band turned to Population, but the band turned things on its head by jumping back with “Phages”. The thirteen beat title track evokes how awkward M.S.R. felt upon entering the music business – yet it managed to both stir things up and calm them down (it’s also great whenever Jewett gets to break out his trombone). Sandwiching it between perhaps Population’s two most ‘pop’ tracks, “Sherry” and the epic expanse of “The Men Who Live Upstairs”, was ambitious – but this is an ambitious, even audacious group.
After that, Jewett made the top comment about the crowd (“There must be a lack of bloggers in the room…”), but things did slow up a bit with Underwater Cinematographer’s “In Places, Empty Spaces”, while the following “Shopping Cart People”, another scattered-beat Phages piece, got a little anxious. However, M.S.R. returned to an orchestral expanse with Underwater’s “(Oh) God” and Population’s “Why So Looking Back”, with “Looking” also bringing a level of driving purpose. Keyboardist/producer Ryan Lenssen’s keys got a higher play on the almost indietronic “Content Was Always My Favorite Colour” from Underwater (which might have inspired the Postal Service comparisons that annoyed Lenssen so much…).
The Most Serene Republic playing “Why So Looking Back” live at Mercury Lounge, New York, NY:
Also see them playing “Shopping Cart People”
The back-to-back Population tracks of “Compliance” and “Career In Shaping Clay” returned to the frenetic action, though Underwater’s “Proposition 61” did slow things down a little too starkly. But the band brought things to a crashing crescendo with the overwhelming “Present of Future End”, which nicely drew upon all their varied styles and influences to create kind of ‘The National Anthem of The Most Serene Republic’.
The Most Serene Republic playing “Career In Shaping Clay” live at Mercury Lounge, New York, NY:
Before M.S.R. and fellow Canadians Miracle Fortress (QRO photos) came New Zealand’s Liam Finn (QRO photos), who packed Mercury Lounge (QRO venue review) with his looped rock ‘n’ roll (QRO album review), selling out the night and threatening to limit the number of M.S.R. fans who were able to make it. But the crowd was still healthy past midnight, when the Republic took the stage. More importantly, these were fans, dancing, shouting, and generally having a gay ol’ time. And with the right audience, The Most Serene Republic kinda can’t be beat.