Marquee Beer Market & Stage, Calgary – May 28, 2016
By Brian Stanko w/ photo’s by Charles Hope
Call The Age of Electric’s music post-post-punk or alternative rock. Call the band edgy or harsh. Call them loud and direct. Call both what you will, but know that they are a great live band. A band with huge hearts, pumping with musical passions, who use their minimalist instrument set-ups to full advantage. The Age of Electric do not fear the sound they make. They avoid gimmickry and digital toys and get to the essence of their songs with precise delivery; strong melodies lying on a bed of sonic power.
Messrs. Kerns (Todd on lead vocal and guitar and John on bass) and Dahles (Ryan on lead guitar and Kurt on drums) play as a cohesive machine—well-honed and smooth. Perhaps the sets of brothers make this happen, but it is more likely they just gel, playing as a unit with effortless ease.
Stepping onto the small stage with little fanfare and a slight buzz from the assorted and mismatched amplifiers they launch into “Motor” with a drive one would expect near the climax of a set, not at the beginning; like going from 0 to 60 without using 2nd or 3rd gear. Todd Kerns is the epitome of rock star prowess. He has the moves, the jet-black long hair, the chiseled jaw-bone, and the tapestry of tattoos that send many a young woman, and perhaps young men, into an ecstatic tizzy. He has the postures and the stance, but without the contrived attitude. To paraphrase Phil Lynott, he’s a “rocker” through and through. But it’s not about him, his band mates are every part as charismatic in their own way. Todd is the front man, but he never loses touch with the foundations, the tight connections that support his vocals ministrations.
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“I Don’t Mind,” “Belly Up,” and “Mad at the World” flow in quick succession: powerful and tuneful. The generally young audience were likely children when the band folded in ’98, but they listened intently, heads nodding, and faces smiling. Kerns encouraged active vocal participation, but only a few reciprocated, mostly they just swayed to the rhythms, living in the moment.
Brother John had his own moves to counterpoint Todd’s with his Rickenbacker bass slung low, then bending over to rest its body on the stage as he played with wrists at uncomfortable positions. He wasn’t playing so much as pushing the instrument into submission. The Rickenbacker, known mostly for melodic jazz-styled crispness, was transformed into a sleek droning beast that could produce wild fire.
Kurt Dahle, sitting behind a small kit that looked like it had been assembled from a collection of garage sale castoffs, played with a casual zaniness, grimacing and gesturing to no one in particular as he made full use of this lamentable kit, finding the complete dynamic range of its sound and making it sound bigger than should have been humanly possible.
On lead guitar brother Ryan used his singular determination to paint a sonic palette of intense emotions into the thickness of the songs. His solos were compact, dense, and full of curious timbres, taking us along on a journey dark and foreboding, but familiar. He often played with his eyes closed, transported, but never disconnected.
Distinct as individuals, they coalesced into something larger, their sound complete, with a sense of longing as they reflected on their musical history. “Enya,” “Unity or Grenadine,” “Untitled,” and “Getaway” touched on a number of emotions and didn’t disappoint. The songs were played with intense abandon and held sway over the audience. Though many of the songs were close to 20 years old, they rang with a riotous fervor and controlled rage as if the music was sustaining the band, giving them life. It appeared that the band weren’t playing so much for the crowd as for themselves, pulling themselves into the music rather than pulling the music out of their core.
They casually strode new ground with songs “Kids Break Bones,” “The Elephant in the Room,” and “Keys,” all signature pieces full of intense lyrics, great harmonies, and superb melodic hooks. One hopes these songs find a path to live on record—they deserve to be heard again and again. Kerns was hopeful that it would happen at some point.
While regrouping between songs Kerns reflected on the number of times that the band had played Calgary, stating that they have likely performed more hours in this city than any other city in Canada, “It feels like home,” adding that it might be a good idea to set up a residency in the city, playing every weekend since, “we’ve got beers, friends, and loud guitars.”
The encore was short and to the point: “Cranky” then “Remote Control” for which Kerns declared, “you know this song…and if you don’t, you’re in the wrong room.” The crowd drank it up with positive gusto.
A mantra for the night: keep it simple, keep it direct, and have no fear of the sound.