BETTIE SERVEERT + Telefauna @ Main Hall

By Alex - Losing My Edge - 02/09/2005

What can you expect from a band whose 15 years of existence can be graphed into one giant downward slope? After releasing their near-perfect (too perfect?) debut album Palomine on Matador in 1992, Bettie Serveert moved away from their blend of Pretenders and third album Velvet Underground (in fact, they released a live album entirely composed of VU covers) and went on to carve themselves a nice spot in the 90's canon of forgettable but pleasant Intelligent Soft Rock (ISR? Ha!) alongside the Cardigans, Nathalie Merchant and the Sundays. However, after spending the rest of the decade comfortably releasing two-and-a-half-stars albums, they rang in the new millenium releasing a couple of albums brimming of confidence and maturity, having finally escaped the long shadow cast by Palomine. Making their return to Montreal after seven years to promote their new album Attagirl, surely they had to realize that the spotlight had moved past them a long time ago and questions abound on what can Bettie Serveert offer in 2005.

Telefauna kicked off the night with their brand of electro-pop and while owing a lot to the 80's sound of Depeche Mode, to their credit they did manage to be a bit more subversive and create interesting song structures. However, they sometimes got lost trying to write something more interesting and losing sight of the simple pure pleasure of pop music. More often than not, their peak moments were too short-lived before being lost and forgotten in the aimless mess that followed them. The mess itself wasn’t quite interesting enough to hold the attention and all goodwill built by those nice little pop instances dissipated into indifference. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, as the sound seemed to be customized for the headliners and having seen them at the 100 Sided Die a few weeks back, they were able then to harness the crowd’s energy better into a bonafide dance party and taking our focus off the songwriting.

Bettie Serveert took the stage and kicked off with the first cut off the newly released Attagirl, “Dreamaniacs”. Right away, there was no denying the commanding presence of Vancouver-born Carol van Dijk. Her vocals were strong and confident, yet without overpowering her capable band of pros. Indeed, this is a tight balancing act that not many bands can do, much less in a live setting. As hinted in Telefauna’s opening set, the sound was geared towards Bettie Serveert and it was impressive how each instrument was pitch-perfect. The first part of the show consisted of the slower material off the new album (“1-Off Deal”, “Versace”), yet infused enough energy to never create a sense of lull. In fact, while the songwriting is at best B-level, the band has mastered the art of building up to a chorus, all done with excellent musicianship. This was confirmed with Attagirl’s more rocking tracks (“Hands Off”, “Don’t Touch That Dial”) and while the small but vocal crowd wasn’t quite in power pop heaven, it was close (story of their career?).

Following the title tracks of their past two albums (Attagirl and Log 22), Bettie Serveert started to jam more and showcasing the tightness of the band. Again, the songs weren’t always there (the ill-fated blues rock number “Greyhound Song”), but the sound and musicianship made up for it, re-inforced with van Dijk’s excellent performance. A few old songs were thrown in (“John Darmy”, “Kid’s Allright”), as well as a cover of Bright Eyes’ “Lover I Don’t Have To Love” before another jam closed out the set. They came back for the encore to treat us to their finest moment “Tom Boy” (that was 1992, folks) which dissolved into a cover of Liz Phair’s “Divorce Song” and more tight jamming.

One wonders whether they could’ve competed with Rilo Kiley had they not being born too soon for the WB mainstream crossover. Of course, being an excellent live band is not so important for the O.C. set (not when they pre-record stuff for The Bait Shop), so the point is moot. What remains is a band that is able to overcome their recorded weaknesses onstage and the appreciative crowd rewarded them with the biggest ovation you’ve ever heard from 40 people. Perhaps that graph might have a little upward trajectory at the end after all.

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