Bell Orchestre / Snailhouse
Wexner Center for the Arts; Columbus, OH

[04-29-06]

Bell
Orchestre was pre-empted by singer/songwriter Mike Feurstack, who can
regularly be seen as guitarist/vocalist for Wooden Stars but who, on this
night, played a handful of songs under the guise of Snailhouse. The music
wasn’t groundbreaking or revolutionary but was still pretty and distinguished:
all members of Bell Orchestre also joined Feurstack for several songs prior to
their set, and then Feurstack returned the favor by diddling with electronics
during the Bell Orchestre set. Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed
Parry, upon leaving the stage after the group had finished backing Feurstack,
stood about 5 feet to the right of where my girlfriend and I were sitting. He
really doesn’t look a whole lot like Napoleon Dynamite when you’re that close
to him; he also lacked his trademark black glasses, an absence that prevented
anyone from mistaking him for the lanky Mormon. Yet another few feet away,
some guy was wearing the ever-present Vote for Pedro t-shirt, as if to rub
salt in the deepest of wounds. Parry briefly chatted up a friend who had
arrived, and after meeting his sister (and bowing politely), he took his leave
and headed to a quasi-backstage area.

Those mistaking Parry for the heart and soul of Bell Orchestre are sorely
mistaken. He’s obviously an integral part of the greater whole, but this
evening the subtle spotlight shined a little brighter on violinist Sarah
Neufeld, who also plays a big part in making The Arcade Fire so impressive
live.

Pre-recorded oceanic sounds preceded the quintet as they carefully made their
way through the darkened performance space; small lights at each group
member’s wrists led the way. Neufeld was placed firmly in the center of the
stage with Parry to her right and a French horn and a trumpet player to her
left, the drummer behind her, and Feurstack to the drummer’s right, almost
hiding behind Parry. Parry played upright bass for a majority of the
performance, an instrument he not only played to perfection but also slapped
and pummeled during the “rock songs.” A majority of the songs were from the
band’s debut LP, Recording A Tape The Colour Of Light (Rough Trade),
and there were little surprises and variations in the performance of each
song. Neufeld is easily the center of attention for each song, as she plays
beautifully and thrusts her squat, sturdy arms into the air and saws at her
instrument as if she’s been tied to train tracks, a ferocious locomotive
barreling down upon her. The group played cohesively together, and each song
sounded as fresh as its counterpart on the LP. The only newish song played was
one Parry had recently commented on in interviews; during this song, the group
gathered together in the middle of the stage. The song was played without mics,
with Neufeld and the two brass players to Parry’s left. Parry played his
massive bass with the thin bow while the rest of the group kneeled on the
floor, clapping the floor once Parry had finished. Parry explained that the
song had been created at a “great old theater in Sweden when we were in
Europe.” And it did have a slight European vibe that well matched the other
songs performed. At one point, the group spoke at length about their newfound
hatred of all things Cleveland, a hatred discovered at a show a couple of
nights earlier at nearby Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom. They claimed that the
audience “hated them first” and that it was much nicer playing to a “quiet,
attentive crowd” rather than in a smoky dungeon where half the people weren’t
even paying attention.

A highlight of the show came near the end of the performance when the band
played what was announced as an Aphex Twin cover, a song that sounded
incredibly familiar and was played incredibly well. They ended the song with
what sounded like an electronic rubber band — stretched across the entire
stage — that snapped back and forth and continued to snap as the group members
quietly left the stage.

  

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