Musical group The Modern Men performed selections from their recently-recorded CD in Halifax tonight. I would not have heard of them had their lone female member, vocalist Lulu Healy, not sent me some of their unmixed tracks recently. The group is based in Halifax and Toronto, and this marked one of their few public performances together on stage.
The music of The Modern Men is very modern, and heavily synth-laden (in a good way). The group makes extensive use of vintage analog synthesizer sounds and the Vocoder sound processor. The Vocoder transforms a natural singing voice into a robotic-sounding synthesizer patch. It was a production effect first mastered by such synth pioneers as Herbie Hancock in the 1970s, and it provides a tremendously warm, vintage character to any song to which it’s added.
The repertoire for this group sounds original and fresh, while still remaining recognizably anchored in the contemporary/pop idiom. The songs are comprised of simple, singable melodies set against rich arrangements and orchestrations using multiple synths, voices, and instruments. There’s no lack of low end in the group, either; the groove emanated strongly from the bassist, who was in turn well locked-in with the drummer.
It would be remiss not to make mention of the declining state of this venue, however. Hell’s Kitchen sits downstairs from The Marquee Club, which has been one of Halifax’s premiere music venues for club acts playing to crowds in the range of 750 or more. Its location at the base of Halifax’s North End makes it central, yet with some grit. And CBC Radio One recently reported that its owner, the local restauranteur, entrepreneur and erstwhile mayoralty candidate Victor Syperek, has filed for the Court’s protection from his creditors. Syperek has also decided to close The Marquee Club permanently in early 2009.
That the club is condemned for closure seems obvious when you see the place now. Several areas are closed off, curtained off, or not staffed. Bar staff in general is at a bare minimum, along with security and door staff. The heating was conspicuously turned off, despite the low temperature outside. And the kitchen, once renowned for its excellent pizza, was shuttered and dark for the whole night. When I walked along the paths that I’m used to taking through the various rooms and levels at The Marquee, it began to feel like an archaeological dig of sorts.
This down-at-heel state of affairs at The Marquee Club also extended to its country-cousin downstairs venue, Hell’s Kitchen. Hell’s low ceilings were as gloomy as ever, and the sound technician on loan from upstairs was functionally unable to create a suitable monitor mix for the band even after a two-and-a-half-hour sound check. (In his defense, he appeared to be saddled with equipment in very poor repair.) To the seasoned listener, the band experienced certain noticeable hiccups, delays, missed entries, and sloppy endings. But I don’t doubt that these would have been reduced by at least half, had the musicians been able to hear each other properly.
It’s difficult to know what’s in store for The Marquee Club, or what venues will remain for The Marquee’s traditional size of show in the future. It’s not a large leap of logic to assume that Robert Risley will be trying to book certain groups at his Cunard Centre, but he probably wouldn’t want at least half of the bands that usually appear at The Marquee. Hopefully other venues will step up to fill the void, or that somebody else with additional funds will be willing to help run The Marquee Club under a new mantle. A new kind of local cultural collective or something? Perhaps somebody should invite Mr. Syperek our for lunch to discuss it. Lunch at The Economy Shoe Shop won’t work anymore though, because their new hours will soon be excluding the daytime. (News item: Marquee Club set to close)