The Avalanches Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, June 8
Published Jun 09, 2017Sample-based music was on the outs even when the Avalanches dropped their stunning debut, Since I Left You, back in 2000, yet at the time, they sounded like the future. Returning after 16 years to a world that favours bombast and plug and play beats, though, their ability to turn music from myriad sources into pastoral dance music makes the Australian DJ and production duo's feel something like an anachronism.
Hip to this, the group's current tour eschews the two-guys-behind-laptops aesthetic prevalent in so much electronic music in favour of a set-up that somehow feels even more out of step: a guitar-drums-and-keyboard-based rock band. They now recreate their albums with Robbie Chater on guitar and keyboards and Tony Di Blasi on synths, backed by drummer Paris Jeffree and singer Eliza Wolfgramm performing many of the group's most prominent samples while also acting as de facto frontwoman.
Starting their set 45 minutes late due to one member's delay at customs, the group wasted no time, jumping into "Flight Tonight" and "Radio" from Since I Left You. Essentially playing over top of backing tracks (something many, many rock bands do) the group were game, even if their level of musicianship couldn't quite match the complicated rhythms and sounds used in their myriad samples. Nevertheless, the band — particularly Wolfgramm, who kept waving an American flag for some reason, and Di Blasi — hyped the crowd, who were keen to get down.
Filling in for the many guest MCs used on Wildflower was Baltimore's Spank Rock, who first stepped in to fill Danny Brown's shoes on "Frankie Sinatra," before the group segued into a cover of the Clash's "Guns of Brixton." On point throughout the night, the Avalanches repaid Spank Rock for his assist by backing him on his own track, "Bump," magically transporting the room back to 2006. Also joining the band was Chandra Oppenheim, the singer they sampled for Wildflower's "Subways."
At the close of the main set, they left the stage rather haphazardly — Wolfgramm didn't seem to know they were done — before returning for an uplifting encore of "Since I Left You," finishing their hour-long set.
While the live band certainly added some oomph to the performance, it took away much of the nuance from the band's music. "Frontier Psychiatrist," one of their biggest tracks, and which is built around a series of spoken vocal samples, felt particularly flat; the band even cut it off halfway through. Though it was fun in the moment — the crowd grooved and sang along throughout the night — the performance ultimately felt hollow and somewhat forgettable.