[Part One, in which I review a Connan Mockasin concert] OK I went to see a Connan Mockasin concert in Toronto, Ontario on Monday the 13 of January, and I wanted to review it but instead I am just going to list the facts.
1) Connan Mockasin is a highly psychedelic rock/R&B band from New Zealand. They are currently based out of London. [That's two or three facts in one. Additionally, the “band” is largely the solo project of Connan Tant Hosford, who records in a collaborative manner and assembles touring groups for performances, and I am just going to refer to him/them as “Connan” from now on.]
4ish) Connan has been active on other continents for a few years (including opening for Radiohead on their 2012 Australian tour), but the Toronto show was part of their first run through North America – a short stint of six shows in five cities.
5) Connan has amassed quite a catalog of releases and collaborations and hype, but there are two primary documents: the 2011 album Forever Dolphin Love (which is very exploratory early-Radiohead-meets-Ariel Pink lo-fi bedroom jazz) and 2013's Caramel (a slow and sexy R&B concept album, psychedelic-still, but sounds more like 90s slow jams on BET, performed by a scrawny white guy with a superlative falsetto).
6) I've blogged about the band a couple times, and as a result, received a Press/Photo Pass +1 for the Toronto show from the band's North American publicist. I invited my friend Ben as the Plus One because 1) he is nebulously Canadian and Knows Toronto, 2) he really, really got into Connan after I showed him some YouTube clips, and 3) he has a camera.
9) Before I left for Canada, I took some brain drugs (Ben drove). We arrived at the venue [The Drake Hotel Underground, in Toronto's bohemian West Queen area] at 8:30PM. The show was scheduled to start at 8, but we doubted that Toronto shows are any more punctual than Buffalo shows, so we blasted a pint of Canadian whiskey in the car before ambling towards the venue.
11) At the Hotel, I inquired about being On The List. The lady at the door had a laptop but didn't have a List (or at least she didn't consult the laptop [my story was foolproof, though, so she let us in]). There were only a handful of other people there at that point, and it was all music journalist-types and the attractive* ladies that they'd invited on Plus One (some of the journalist-types were female, but everyone seemed to have invited an attractive lady except me [though Ben With A Camera is pretty attractive, and well-dressed**]).
13) A moment before the Connan set began, the bandleader himself, Hosford, was at the bar. He was flirting with an attractive lady and having a drink. He appeared to be drunk or high, but in a good way. He was wearing a weird sherpa hat, and didn't seem ostensibly concerned if the flirting was going to lead to intercourse. The opener, Brendan Phillip (an avant-indie two-piece, which I want to call avant-rap because it reminded me of Odd Future even though they didn't actually really rap, and they were really good, and they only played for a few minutes – doing the whole “Leave Them Wanting More” thing [which worked because the first thing I did when I woke up was look them up on the internet]) had just finished. I looked to Ben, and we asked each other aloud, “Are there two openers?”
16i) But, no. Hosford quickly abandoned the bar and went to the stage. He dicked around with his guitar for a second, misleadingly high and drunkishly, as the rest of the band came out. By that point, the venue was packed***. I wondered if the set was going to consist of his demented bedroom lo-fi stuff, or more recent, slow-jam sex-funk material.
16ii) The exact moment in which the first kick drum and bassline set in, the two attractive ladies in front of us instinctively took off their shirts.
16iii) For legal reasons [Ben and I are in relationships] I should explain that the shirt-taking-off ceremony wasn't a sex thing: it was more of a demented psychedelic thing. But it was cool.
17) Footnotes / Key. ***- Literally everyone at the show was *- attractive and **- well-dressed. There also wasn't that Repressed American thing where if you stand too close to a guy's girlfriend, he glares at you for the rest of the show.
18) The band played three songs from 2011's Forever Dolphin Love (“Faking Jazz Together”, “It's Choade My Dear”, and the titular track). The rest of the set consisted of sweaty sex-jams, but stylistically they managed to blend the seemingly-exclusive genres. It all sounded sexy and sharp and psychedelic.
20) But here's the thing: I hate when I get into a “psychedelic” band because the term has been co-opted by shitty Jam Bands so when I tell people that I'm into “psychedelic” bands the conversation gets into Burning Man and Bonnaroo and fucking Disco Biscuits. Psychedelic Music should be about exploration, and function as the opposite of repression; you should take off your shirt, and sneak dominant sevenths into as many chords as possible to add suspense, and have agreeable question marks hanging over your head while a deviant smile creeps into your cheeks. On the other hand, “Jam” gets recidivist and insular, and repressed and repetitive.
20ii) Over the last decade, a lot of Pet Sounds-influenced West Coast and Austin bands have been reclaiming the concept of Psychedelic by marrying garage rock and freak folk, which is light-years better than Jam, to be sure. But Connan seems to exist in a vacuum; it offers no analogues or contextualization. It's similar, in spirit, to Syd Barrett; songs that don't present anything besides word salad and slew of signs, and catchy guitar-play/pop-writing – unpredictable and alluring, and spacey and obscure, and super-question-mark-inducing, and it doesn't Mean anything. And it “doesn't mean anything” On Purpose, so you're just left with this catchy, jazzy vacuum music. It's just psychedelic, and sexy, and sharp. And when they're playing live and getting sweaty and taking clothes off, the band is tight. So. I was initially bummed that Connan didn't play Buffalo on this tour, but in the back of my head I felt that, even if the best Buffalo people set up and populated the show, it would have been far too repressed and awkward.
98) After 45ish minutes, Connan had finished their set, but it was clear that no one wanted it to be over. Also, and I should have elucidated this at an earlier outset, but throughout the show, Hosford seemed to be trying to get everyone naked, and did weird, suggestive psychedelic sex stuff with the audience and his band. So, as the band was trying to figure out what else they should play for an encore, the bandleader went down into the crowd with his guitar, and got everybody to lay down on the sweaty ground together before they kicked into another sharp and sexy foray, and then everyone jumped up for a few more songs.
100) Outside, after it ended, everyone was cool. No one acknowledged the show out loud. No one was mad that somebody stood too close to their girlfriend. Cabs pulled up; a cable car went by. Ben and I felt ashamed that we were American, and that things like that didn't happen in Buffalo. And then we finished our cigarettes and left.
[Part Two, in which Ben takes a video of the band performing the song "It's Choade, My Dear" and in which Ethan Calabrese edits the video to include shots of cats:]