The Books at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, Nov 26 2009
– by Kate Reid
The Books are two dorky guys who play cello and guitar over looped samples they’ve stripped and digitized from found cassette tapes. And yet, despite this unpromising premise and the steep $45 ticket price, the venue – nicknamed “the Cultch” by locals – was packed.
But this shouldn’t be surprising: The Books tour infrequently and their upcoming, still-untitled album will be the band’s first full-length release in five years. Diehard fans were chomping at the bit for new material and they got it straight away in the form of a disembodied floating head.
The show began with guitarist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong seated in front of a large screen that projected found footage. The Books loop and collage their videos to parallel the fragmented audio samples that make up their sound. Fans were no doubt familiar with last night’s stage set up – The Books delivered an almost identical performance at Richard’s on Richards back in 2007 when they captivated Vancouver with their mixed bag of A/V snippets.
Also in 2007, The Books released Play All, a collection of music videos that have since been incorporated into all their live performances. But last night was something new.
The packed house giggled as a floating head appeared on screen and began dispensing hypno-therapeutic mantras. Zammuto and de Jong played live guitar and cello to accompany the deadpan, recorded voice as it dryly assured the audience that “It doesn’t matter what your disease is – you are not your father, you are not your mother.” Next came the floating head of a woman. “I am calm,” she stated, admittedly, in a calm tone. The song was heavy on synthesizers – a bit of a departure for the band’s usually acoustic sound – but the audience was mesmerized.
A technical problem between songs forced the taciturn duo to dispense some small talk and one delightfully disparaging joke:
Question: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Answer: What, you don’t know?
Once the knowing snickers subsided, The Books launched into some old favourites including “Be Good to Them Always” from Lost and Safe and “Take Time” from their career-making album, The Lemon of Pink. They then played another newbie, this one entitled “Cold Freezing Night”, a name taken from an audio sample they lifted from a Talkboy cassette they found in a thrift store. If you don’t remember Talkboy, or haven’t watched Home Alone 2 in a while, you should probably watch this.
Based on a conversation between a brother and a sister, “Cold Freezing Night” features some pretty hilarious samples like “I’m going to cut your toes off” and “I’m going to shave off your hair and you’ll be bald and everyone will laugh at you.” The Books also make some interesting commentary on gender by looping a sample of the sister grumbling, “I wish I was a boy” and playing it in sync with video of a young woman practicing her aim at a shooting range.
Other new songs included the wordless, haunting “Eight Frame” and the memorable “Chain of Missing Links”, which mimicked the thwacking sounds of a beating heart with an existential voice sample to match: “to be in this world… to be a fleshy temple.” And in the end, that’s what The Books are all about.