Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The mystery is gone (Out Lady Peace live)

Our Lady Peace has always struggled with legitamacy, either in their songs or in the band's structure. With each new album, Raine and company have proclaimed that the current incarnation is the "true" OLP.

So of course, when the new album came out, I thought that it would be part of the natural progression of sound and subject matter that the band had been tweaking over the years.

From Naveed's primal urgency and passion, to Clumsy's big commercial breakthrough, the cerebral experiments on Happiness... and Spiritual Machines, and the slick and rock-ready Gravity - each album did bring something new, and arguably something better.

But the myth of progress holds true even with the most heart-felt of rock bands. This was never more evident than Our Lady Peace's concert in Royal Oak last night. Gone was the manic, scorching performance I saw at the Concert for Toronto in the summer of 2003. That became a landmark performance for me. I had always held tepid feelings for the band - didn't not like them, but they didn't move me - but that show was a sight to see. Pure energy.

Last night's show was pure lethargy. The band cycled through the songs off their new album, Healthy in Paranoid Times, and neither the crowd nor the band seemed very excited about them. With a few exceptions ("Angels/Losing/Sleep" and "Where Are You?"), we yawned through the new stuff. Even the opening saw, "Picture," had everyone staring around and saying "What the hell?" It was no way to open a show. My good friend Heather came with me, and she put it best: "Opening songs are supposed to get us pumped up."

The few older songs, like "Starseed," "Naveed," and "In Repair," got the crowd riled up - but even their delivery left me feeling like the band was robbing us of the vaunted "true" OLP. It almost seemed like Raine was afraid he would lose his voice. No more paranoid schreiking, no more banshee highs and despairing lows - it was just one almost-monotone delivery. It wasn't legit.

And the songs they did play were not the passionate high-risers I came to the show to hear. "Innocent," "Boy," "4 a.m." - these didn't take much to pull off. "Superman's Dead" was a rocker, but it had to be. It's the band's cornerstone.

Part of it, I think, is that this smaller club tour was made to promote the new album. It wasn't meant to be a "greatest hits" show, like the Toronto gig. But hearing the new songs live didn't help me appreciate them any more, which was a shame.

Our Lady Peace had always been experts on dealing with the inter- and intra-personal. The struggles we humans face in a society that, the band felt, didn't offer the needed support was the band's territory. Need help? Look to your friends. Holed up in a room somewhere? Grab my hand - I'll help you out. The rock-as-therapy routine had done the band well.

But on Healthy in Paranoid Times, Raine delves into some grander subject matter. War, Bush, poverty, the decline of humanity - this was OLP on a global scale. It's just too bad they don't have the grit to express their vision well. They want too much to sound like U2.

And I don't mind bands changing - it's part of what makes them vibrant and interesting. But when you change, and it sucks...well, you put on a show like I saw last night.

"No matter what you say / no matter what you do / no matter what I'm always right there behind you" Raine sings on "Right Behind You (Mafia)." I feel the same. After only recently becoming a big fan, I'll give OLP the benefit of the doubt. They're still very talented, and very passionate.

Maybe they'll be a bit more legit next time they come to town.

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