Tuesday, January 19, 2021

January 19th 2017, Drab Majesty at Lee's Palace

Sometimes a show is more about seeing the opening act than it is about seeing the headliner. And such was the case when I went to see Cold Cave at Lee's Palace on January 19th 2017. Don't get me wrong, Cold Cave are great, and I'll have another post where I talk about them at length later in the year, but the show in January was all about the opening act for me.

Drab Majesty were one of those bands that I kept hearing about before I actually heard them. I'd see their name in playlists or mentioned in posts on Facebook and Instagram, and they seemed to be building a certain level of interest with a lot of people who share the same taste as me. So I decided to check them out on YouTube where I found the video for "The Foyer", and what I heard was amazing, absolutely amazing. There was something fresh and exciting about Drab Majesty's sound, a beguiling blend of Darkwave and Shoegaze that touched on nostalgia but went beyond and became it's own thing. I really enjoyed what I heard and within moments of that first viewing I was listening to their album "Careless" on Bandcamp. "Careless" is an excellent debut with a solid musical vision and ideal, songs written and produced from a place of confidence and surety. All of the elements are there, everything is laid out for the audience and it's quite impressive to hear everything so well executed at such an early stage in the band's career.

Where "The Foyer" piqued my curiosity "Careless" made me a fan, and a little while later when they announced a show with Cold Cave at Lee's Palace in support of their upcoming second album I made sure to scoop up a ticket. By that point I had already heard a couple of advance tracks from "The Demonstration", and I was impressed by how they had built on their vision and ideal even further and showed an even greater ability to capture the ear and the imagination of the listener. With all this in mind I was looking forward to seeing a good show.

I've mentioned before how much I enjoy Lee's Palace as a venue, I've seen countless concerts there and it's always been a great space, especially for a new band on their first trip through Toronto like it was for Drab Majesty. When I got to the venue there weren't many people around, so it was easy enough for me to get a spot towards the front of the stage on the left side where the keyboard stand was set up. I like being as close as I can be at shows, I like being able to see guitar and keyboard rigs and how certain songs are played, it all adds to the concert experience for me so this was pretty much the perfect spot for me to be.

The stage set up was fairly simple, with a keyboard stand where Mona D would play and a mic stand where Deb Demure would sing and play guitar on the right side. In between the two spots was a sculptured bust on a rotating platform and all through the show it slowly spun in place, a nod and a wink to the visual aesthetic of live music. As stated, it was all pretty simple but it was effective and I liked that.

The band came out wearing choir robes and face paint, blond wigs and eye makeup giving them a retro futurist Liquid Sky style that was in immediate contrast to the traditional look of their robes, and that contrast set the tone for their set, a collection of songs mostly from "The Demonstration", songs about UFOs and suicide and more, all with beautifully spiraling guitar lines and rich keyboards that anchored the sound and filled out the spaces inside the songs and inside the venue, wrapping around the audience and drawing us under it's spell. "39 by Design" sparkled with arpeggios and set a haunting mood, and "Too Soon to Tell" was perfect and exquisite, crystalline in shape and form. And all the while the bust rotated on it's pedestal, slowly turning to mark the passage of time...

It was a short set, only about six or seven songs, maybe forty minutes in length, but that was enough to impress me and make me a fan for life. After they were done the band started to tear down, but even in something so mundane there was a kind of artistry about them, rolling up cables and packing away gear with a kind of choreography, an order and process that seemed every bit as rehearsed as the songs in the set. They packed the bust last, picking it up with a care and reverence that suggested it was more than just a prop, and in many ways it was, wasn't it?

I've seen Drab Majesty a couple more times since that first show in 2017, and each time they've been more polished, more slick, tighter than the time before, always growing and building on their past experience and becoming more and more impressive with every trip through the city. But that first time seeing them? There was a sense of discovery, connection, and the initiation of a process that continues to this day in terms of my appreciation of their music. That first show seemed special and magical for me, and it stands as a particularly cherished concert memory for all of that. 

Or maybe I was just beguiled and hypnotized by that rotating bust? I can't really say...

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