Review by Pablo Cordero. Photos by Edson Castillo. Check out the setlist.
A less than perfect evening, though one often packed with brilliance and beauty. The Cranes I saw tonight was an aggregate of 4 very talented individuals who were never quite able to gel together as a band. Maybe this is because tonight they are just beginning their tour, whereas the last time I saw them they were at the end of a long one, and were therefore a viciously tight unit.
Also, the absence of Mark Francombe was sorely felt, as my father (who once famously said of Mark "that guitarist is a motherfucker" as he ripped through 'Adrift') was quick to point out. Paul, everyoneís favorite ponytail, is a talented musician with a strong stage presence, but his electric guitar was terribly undermixed throughout the night. And even when it wasn't, Markís primal, furious power was still absent. Their reliance on backing tracks was also too extreme.
On the bright side, the 4 individuals did shine very brightly by themselves, and the sound was crystal clear. Compared to the last time I saw them (Population 4 tour), the quieter songs were very beautifully played, but the harder rocking numbers for the most part suffered from Markís absence (and also because their new drummer, while excellent and indeed better than Manu Ros, is more of a subtle craftsman than a hard rocking trapsman).
I was very, very impressed by their new songs. "Submarine" has a trip hoppy groove with an excellent bassline, beautiful textures, strong vocals and some great drumming (including some sinewy drum machines in the middle). The "Flute Song" (working title) is to my ears already a major Cranes classic; a spare drumbeat and a 2-note bass figure set the backdrop for Jimís brilliant ambient guitar and some lovely keyboards. A heartbreakingly beautiful strings-and-oboe interlude (much like something off "the tragedy of orestes and electra", but better) guides the song to its subtly powerful climax. The final new song of the set, "Future Song", is also brilliant and probably more immediate and accessible than the other two. It's a dolorous ballad, where Jimís guitar and Aliís bass navigate through a beautiful chord progression and some reedy, droning instrument glides above all this. These 3 songs demonstrate that the Cranes are moving towards a more modern and mature sound (while still sounding as only they can), less guitar oriented, more electronic and from what I heard tonight extremely brilliant. The next album will be a goodie.
As for the older songs, it was a mixed affair. Solid performances of "Reverie", "Jewel", "Paris and Rome" and "Starblood" were scarred by the weakness of what should have been rousing guitar surges ("Jewel" and "Starblood" were brilliant anyway, but "Paris and Rome" survived only with problems, and "Reverie" sadly didnít at all, despite the snappy drumming). "Breeze" was extremely brilliant, much better than on the record. This song has really grown. The raveup during "To Be" is still one of the finest things you can see onstage, and "Adoration" (although awkwardly placed too early in the set) is always an orgasmic experience. Things got better towards the end. The brutal 1-2 punch of "On Top of the World" and "Lilies" was not weak at all, but as crackling as you could expect it to be. Then, during the 1st encore, they broke into a very moving "Far Away", and tonightís best performance, "Adrift", which was perhaps the only time tonight that the band truly moved as one, from a common purpose and vision, to stomp the whole room to the ground. Sure, Mark was missed but Paul soloed brilliantly anyway.
For the last encore, they played a "Tangled Up" that proves that Ali has acquired a voice of a confidence and beauty that isn't evident on any of their recordings. The night ended with a fun, strong but oddly unsatisfying "Starblood".
All in all, I'd say "Slide Song" and "Adrift" get 6 stars out of 5, most of the other songs rate between 4 and 5, and even at their weakest moments (the castrated "Reverie" and the hurried, amateurish "Brazil"), they were miles better than 98% of the bands you could hear nowadays. Sure, some of their older songs were not brilliantly played, but the Cranes are at the moment more interested in looking towards the future and going there. And weíd be bloody fools to condemn them for that.
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