All photos courtesy of the author
On the early end of Canadian Music Week in downtown Toronto, in the dark basement of Adelaide Hall with no real light but the blue and purple glow warming the stage, Athens, Georgia four-piece Mothers got ready to make some noise a half hour late. It was a bit of an odd bill: the funked-up grooves of Boulevards had done its best to get the sparse and decidedly un-dancey crowd moving, and then Brooklyn’s Honduras managed to get people closer to the stage for their abrasive but catchy rock ‘n’ roll. But Mothers was a whole different monster altogether, a major study in contradictions and whisper-to-a-scream dynamics.
Pulling a set almost entirely from their debut full-length When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired, the band kicked their set off with the free ‘n’ easy hypnotic sway of “Copper Mines.” They jumped from relaxed pseudo-psych to tense and thick guitar rock, but more or less the song felt like the calm before the storm. A couple songs later, after the dreamy six-string swirl of “It Hurts Until It Doesn’t,” they were more than ready to crank up the volume. Singer Kristine Leschper’s powerful warble is a devastating weapon with almost no middle setting—it’s either the loudest instrument in the room or barely there. Her poetic lyrics either being forced out at some sort of superhuman velocity or whispered gently like you’re the only person getting to hear whatever secrets they hold. So far, at their halfway point, her voice had carried along the set with an energy that fit that purple and blue glow of the stage lights, soft and warm, for the most part. The crowd was lulled into what felt like a safe trance.
That all changed with “Lockjaw.” Leschper, quiet between tunes except for the occasional “thank you,” pressed on with her airy melodies over gentle guitar on the opening verse, only to rip out the overdrive for a riff, and send us back into sleepier territory. Mothers’ push and pull, loud-quiet-loud aesthetic is infinitely more jarring live. After she built up to the edge of the quiet, singing “you love me mostly when I’m leaving/I was half gone when you met me,” the band roared into a massive extended guitar squall that left the audience stunned. Taking us to some glorious noisy nirvana, only to return us gently back to those pillowy sonics. “I cut out my tongue,” Leschper sang, “seeing yours would speak for the both of us.”
“Fat Chance” was more of the same rollercoaster, again basically hypnotizing the crowd, who at this point were like statues, eyes fixed on the stage and mouths shut. The only sound in the venue that didn’t come from the band or the bar was a rattling air conditioner. It’s rare to see people truly shut up at a show, but that must be what happens when the music changes so radically so often that you’re not sure how to react to it. Over five minutes of anxious energy was set loose in an extreme collision of skewed distortion, crashing cymbals, and thumping bass that shook the venue. And they still had one more song.
That song was “No Crying In Baseball.” On record, it’s one of the band’s shortest tunes, but for their finale, they stretched it to its limits. Starting with head-nodding psychedelia, Mothers established what felt like a safe space for ears, forcing us into a mellow groove that everyone should’ve known couldn’t last for long. In a flash, they switched things up to wild, emotional rock and roll, with Leschper asking the crowd, “are you not learning? Have you not been listening?” If there was anyone whose ears hadn’t been overtaken with the righteous heavy noise Mothers had been blasting, that immediately changed: the rest of the song flew into something like four different genres all seamlessly.
Woozy psychedelia gave way to hooky rock, which muscled itself into borderline punk and back to tender weirdness and off-kilter noodling, and then exploded into some sort of proggy math metal noise bomb mic drop. The audience reacted with a stunned silence, somehow even quieter than before, until finally realizing that was the end of the sublime din, and offered in kind a generous heaping of applause. With a quiet “thank you so much for having us,” Leschper and her bandmates disappeared backstage.
Matt Williams wants more noise. Follow him on Twitter.