Fans of Canadian post-rock were treated to a smattering of unexpected good news in the year 2012. In addition to Godspeed You Black Emperor! extending their reunion tour to include a ton of additional stops, a slew of festival dates, and the potential recording/release of their long-awaited fourth LP, the band announced that their sister project Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra had enough time before all that for a quick stateside tour. Fronted by the striking Efrim Manuel Menuck the very same Menuck who serves as GYBE!’s fearless leader Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra has been making gorgeous music in the same epic, widescreen vein as Godspeed You Black Emperor!, though their music is typified by the very element most notably absent from Godspeed’s: vocals. Menuck’s scruffy, world-worn croon and impressionistic lyrics took center stage for most of the night, only occasionally taking a backseat to the groups sprawling compositions.
Support came in the form of Matana Roberts, a longtime collaborator of the band and fellow Constellation Records signee on jazz saxophone. A far cry from the usual guitar/drums/bass setup that graces the Troubadour’s stage, Ms. Roberts had no issue getting the crowd acclimated to her vibrant free-jazz impressions on solo saxophone. Between improvising off of entries in a little red journal she kept beside her onstage, she kept things lively with her winning charisma, engaging the audience with anecdotes on everything from family ghost stories and her time in a John Coltrane tribute quartet to musing on the surprising lack of graffiti on the streets of nearby Santa Monica.
Menuck took the stage shortly thereafter, guitar slung over his shoulder as he stepped out in front of the upside down portrait of Canadian PM Stephen Harper. His band, made up mostly of his Godspeed compatriots, proved a formidable force. Thierry Amar who switched between electric and upright bass served as the bands anchor for the night along with David Payant on drums, while the lovely duo of Sophie Trudeau and Jessica Moss on violin and backing vocals lent the music more than its fair share of dramatic flourishes. Trudeau and Moss often matched Amar with their own lithe variations on his tight basslines. Comparisons to Godspeed are inevitable; their shared pedigree aside, the music of both acts bears the same deeply hopeful but decidedly bleak nature, though Mt. Zion’s performances make for considerably more lighthearted fare with all the vocal harmonies and Menuck’s cheery banter between guitar retuning.
Even though no song Thee Silver Mt. Zion performed Wednesday night came even close to clocking in at less than five minutes in length, the audience was decidedly patient throughout, foot-tapping, singing along, and headbanging at all the right points. The best moments of the night came at those headbang-worthy moments when the band came in all together, singing and thrashing about in unison (each of the five had a microphone of their own), as on the dizzying climaxes of There Is a Light and fan favorite Blindblindblind. At night’s end, Menuck who was the last to leave the stage thanked the rapturous audience and promised that he’d be back in town soon, to which someone hollered back, “with Godspeed?” Already most of the way offstage, he turned to flash the suddenly very hushed crowd a knowing smile before stepping upstairs and out of sight. Maybe some questions are better left unanswered.
Photography by Holly Brown.