A UFO sighting may or may not have been “imperceptible” on Wednesday night at Chicago’s Empty Bottle, but The Besnard Lakes definitely provided a close encounter of some kind. Especially handicapped against new wave stars Sparks playing the same night across town at Lincoln Hall, many would agree with that The Besnard Lakes show was the “Dark Horse.”
But the band brought its own unique brand of “Roaring Night” to those that braved the thick smoke pouring off the stage throughout the night.
The Montreal quartet is at its heart a duo, led by the towering, besptectacled, Jace Lasek on guitar, keyboards and vocals, clad in a black western shirt festooned with modest embroidered roses. His other half is bassist Olga Goreas who contributes prominent bass and a key counterpoint, her alto vocals. On record she sounds like Miki Berenyi from Lush or Carol Van Dyk from Bettie Serveert, but in the live setting tonight, her husky delivery was more reminiscent of Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders. Although her blond hair and dark roots were initially covered by a longshoremen’s cap, she doffed that within the first few songs. Regrettably she chose to remain in her hideous dark green polyester dress that seemed to be accented by patterns a bar code scanner had vomited, and this was made all the more prominent by her habit of standing with her back to the audience and facing her bass amp unless she was singing a vocal part. Rishi Dhir from tourmates and openers Elephant Stone (with whom they share a guitarist) remarked that The Besnards are like the child that The Beach Boys and British guitar sprawlsters Swervedriver produced, and as if to underscore that point, drummer Kevin Laing was even sporting a Swervedriver T-shirt as he pounded on his set.
Their appearances were repeatedly obscured by the dense walls of fog produced by multiple smoke machines, and the lights shining through made the tiny Empty Bottle stage look like the climactic scene from “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.” Given that The Besnard Lakes are still touring behind its most recent Jagjaguwar release, Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO, this atmosphere seemed eerily appropriate, and indeed, the foursome specialize in creating eerie sonic structures that ride majestic, melodic hooks and layer Lasek’s falsetto tenor over Goreas’s anchoring tenor. Having seen them once before at an outdoor venue, Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park, the sound was more surrounded by Lasek’s signature siren song, so much so that the performance was more a mournful wail than a throbbing, pummeling rock and roll experience like it was tonight.
The band stretched out and vamped for a lengthy period on UFO’s “Specter,” so much so that they brought to mind a lower key version of the “chord that never ends” that My Bloody Valentine treated the audience to during “You Made Me Realise” only a few nights earlier at the Aragon Ballroom.
Other highlights included “46 Satires” and the kick off to the encore, “Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent,” from a previous outing, 2010’s The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night.
Openers Elephant Stone took advantage of a drone inspired by Dhir’s Indian heritage and his formidable tabla talent and ability to integrate that instrument into its psychedelic ’60s sound. Logistically this was a task made difficult by the bassist and lead singer having to sit on the floor and cross his legs to properly play it. Dhir made a point to thank Lasek for bringing the band on tour with them and for his production assistance on the band’s records as well, saying he told him he wanted to record another All Things Must Pass, which didn’t help eliminate the thought that he bore a striking resemblance to George Harrison’s son, Dhani. Just as the band had when opening for The Black Angels at the Vic earlier in the year, it echoed that Austin group’s darkness and performed a spiraling, swirling collection of pop songs that always threatened, but never fell into, complete chaos.