I go to a fair amount of shows in Boston, but somehow I've only been to Church once. The 225-cap venue in Boston simply called, yes, Church, hosted Ought in 2014 when the Montreal band was touring on their excellent full-length debut, More Than Any Other Day. I haven't been back since, and that's not a slight against the place, but more the lack of inviting shows they've booked. That was a good one, though, with the Canadian quartet right at the onset of them gaining some traction, with a modestly sized crowd witnessing their idiosyncratic sound that's oft-compared to Talking Heads--a little bit demented, insanely catchy, and actually deeply emotional resonant. At that show, Any Other Day wasn't even three months old release-wise, but the band played a new song: the epic, sprawling "Beautiful Blue Sky", which took frontman Tim Beeler's hyperfocus on daily minutiae and turned it into delightfully repetitive, sardonic barks that somehow lead to celebratory relief. It's a wonderful song, and it's probably the centerpiece of their new album, Sun Coming Down, which followed the debut by just under a year and a half. Not to mention last year's Once More with Feeling EP, which was far from half-bad too.
I like Sun Coming Down a lot--not quite as much as Any Other Day, but I certainly appreciate that an act like themselves accrued press notice, increased buzz and an expanded fanbase, and then delivered something uncompromising in the form of a much more abrasive, angrier and difficult record. (I wonder if this is an acknowledged opinion Beeler is aware of, as he referred to More Than Any Other Day's title straight up as "Greatest Hits" late in the set.) Sure, it's only been out a few weeks, so it's hard to judge what the overall response is at this point, but the packed-out audience at Great Scott this particular autumn night sounded almost as excited to hear the new stuff as they did when the opening licks of "older" songs came through. It was hard to even get a decent vantage point unless you showed up early enough; I shimmied up throughout the set here and there, but was still a bit away from the small throng of especially pumped fans in the front.
The set was an intense, hour-long blur; they frontloaded with a couple career highlights like "Men for Miles", "The Weather Song" and "Beautiful Blue Sky". Each had a unique wrinkle. During "Men for Miles", it seemed like there was some momentary reference to a different band's song tucked into the bridge, but I couldn't place it, unless I just remembered Ought's own song wrong ("Where I go, it's my decision," went one unfamiliar line). "The Weather Song" sounded well off time and rather discordant; there was a look on Beeler's face as they started the song that something was not right, and I expected him to pull the plug and restart, but he just rolled with it and it was kind of a wonderful mess that complemented the song's upbeat, spazzy urgency.
I thought they would be done for sure after "Gemini", as their set just seemed exhausting, but an unplanned encore followed after enough culling by the crowd. The band asked if anyone wanted to play guitar, and Beeler handed it off to a fan who stepped up to the plate. They gave him some quick instruction, and he kicked it into high gear with the intro to "New Calm, Pt. 2". This dude riffed way, WAY faster and heavier than on record. At least, it seemed a lot faster, but according to my time watch it was the same length as the studio version, oddly enough. It was pretty fucking awesome either way, an intensified version of the song corralled by someone who was seemingly just a fan of the band, adding just another unique detail to a night from a band making a name for themselves on their charisma, artistic progression and prolific, excellent songs.
Set list (11:14-12:10):
- Men for Miles
- The Weather Song
- The Combo
- Beautiful Blue Sky
- Today More Than Any Other Day
- Passionate Turn
- Sun's Coming Down
- New Calm, Pt. 2