By Ray Adair
Initially set to be held in Dublin’s Fibber Magees on Tuesday June 30th, then moved to the Workman’s Club, and upgraded finally to Hanger (formerly Andrew’s Lane Theatre), hype for the Michael Cera and Alden Penner show grew rapidly – and at only €14 per ticket, the event was very much marketed as an indie underground showcase.
After a series of low-key self-releases, Alden Penner is back with a new EP, Canada In Space out June 29th digitally via City Slang, and on limited edition vinyl. Currently he is touring with Michael Cera around Europe; the pair are performing with Penner’s friends Laura Crapo and Farley Miller.
Upon arriving at Hanger before the start of the show, queues for the entrance wrapped right around the laneway corner, formed by a crowd of goths, session-moths, teens, queens, and all imaginable in-betweens. The varied audience made for an interesting experience, and after a quick body search, and a stamp on the hand we were in.
Trendy cocktails were on offer, and the venue’s new revamp worked wonders for the ambience of the night. Support came in the form of cheerful and seemingly nervous The Adam Brown, an act uncannily close to what would be the love child of Weezer and Fun, both visually and audio-wise. Performing at times with chanting melodies, and dotted evenly more melancholic tunes, The Adam Brown played an acoustic guitar and provided vocals, accompanied only by a drummer. His grungy over-drive guitar effects went down a treat, and an intrigued crowd began to funnel towards the stage.
After the support act had finished, a lengthy twenty five minute wait ensued, before Penner graced the stage and played a chilled out and laid back trippy track. For the next song Michael Cera stepped abruptly and awkwardly onto the stage, and was met with a showering of cheers from fans of all shapes and sizes. The pair engaged in an ensemble of performances including songs from Penner’s upcoming EP, some from earlier in his career, and even a few of Cera’s own tunes, as the crowd began to compact itself against the stage.
With lots of instrument swapping between songs, the foursome utilized guitars, both electric and acoustic, bass, a simplified drum kit, keyboards and lots and lots of synth. In his press release Penner noted the upcoming EP name Canada in Space and why it was chosen, in his own words:
There are more Canadians than any other nationality represented in the planned Mars colony. The “Canada In Space” EP is an imagining of the dreams, reveries, phantasms, hallucinations, psycho-spiritual projections, naïve mythologies, actions, visions and experiences of an abandoned crew before, during and after its permanent journey to Mars; the compression of time; dispersion, fragmentation of states and generations in space; ultimate detachment & wormholes.
Penner’s description seemed exceedingly fitting as he and Cera floated through art-pop dreamscapes, at times purposely off key and stilted, featuring plenty of odd-ball high pitched vocal harmonies performed by the pair. Cera’s nerves quickly dispersed after the first few songs, as he urged the crowd, “Quiet now. No talking. No talking.” in a jarringly uncomfortable and serious manner. With Penner more laid back, Cera took his instrument playing and vocal duties exceedingly seriously, with constant strain showing from his levels of concentration.
While some songs were elongated instrumental pieces with howling vocals featured, others adopted a definitively poppy vibe, with grungy choruses and anthem-like hooks. Cera’s own songs featured he and Penner sharing keyboard duties and vocals, including a vocoder for extra unusual effects. Although this provided entertainment in its bizarreness, the performances without Penner’s friends seemed a little eerie and misplaced –something presumably embraced by the duo.
Taking a break about an hour into the set, the boys returned for more melodic experimentation, providing quite a long show and exceedingly good value for money. More of an experience than a performance, cool blue lights lit the plain white backdrop, and as the night went on, those drinking seemed more open to Penner and Cera’s artsy experimentation.
Check out “Breathe to Burn” on soundcloud to indulge yourself in this unusual and unique project: