Saddle Creek band, Land of Talk and Suuns, both from Montreal, stopped by Kilby Court to play to a somewhat small, but devoted crowd. There was no local opener, so Suuns went on around 8:00. The four-piece Suuns started with the stellar, keyboard-driven “Arena.” The rest of their set diverged into dense, noise-drenched guitar jams played over driving rhythms, sort of a Sonic Youth meets Can. They were excited to be at Kilby, claiming it was their favorite venue so far on their tour. They fed off each others’ energy well during the extended instrumentals, but didn’t play very much to the audience. Their set did, however, include one unusual bit of audience interaction—they asked for a guitar player (I volunteered and was picked) to come up on stage and strum a single note while the guitarist manipulated the signal through various effects.
While we were waiting for Land of Talk to come on, I met someone who claimed Land of Talk as her second favorite band. Being only vaguely familiar with the band, I was a little surprised that they ranked so high for her. As the night went on, it seemed that most of the crowd was just as excited to see them play. As they were setting up, Land of Talk’s lead singer and guitarist Elizabeth Powell, with a loose t-shirt and a Native American-pattern headband, looked better suited for a jam band summer festival than Kilby Court. She even ditched her sandals before their set began.
After skipping the first song because the tuner on Powell’s acoustic guitar broke, they played “Swift Coin,” an up-tempo rocker complete with a capital-G Guitar Solo. All four Suuns members joined them for the first part of the set. Both bands share a full-time member in Joe Yarmush, who plays bass for Land of Talk and guitar for Suuns. The Suuns guys beefed up Land of Talk’s sound nicely, but on some songs the three guitars muddied the mix and made it even harder for Powell’s nuanced vocals to compete, which they were already doing over Kilby’s P.A. At the beginning of the night, I had wondered about the logic of the earnest, rootsy Land of Talk touring with the abstract Suuns, and I was surprised when Suuns joined them onstage as they were setting up. As the set went on, however, I came to see that the noise tendencies of Suuns provided a congenial foil for Powell’s sweetly wounded vocals.
While Powell was definitely the centerpiece of the show, additional band members magnified rather than detracted from her presence, probably because of how much she enjoyed playing with people. During one instrumental section, the drummer played an extended fill while Powell faced him, egging him on. Maybe this explained why I liked the bigger ensemble at the beginning and the end of the set more than the middle section of older songs played with the core quartet. Powell had an unabashed enthusiasm for playing music, clearly seen in her facial expressions and idiosyncratic dance moves, that had the audience hanging on every syllable. We all waited for her to exhale before applauding the show highlight “Quarry Hymns.” They were also appreciative of the audience, thanking us a few times during the set and expressing how much they liked Kilby.
With two broken strings over the course of the night (she had about five Gibson SG’s of various colors lined up on stage, so no big delay), they played their closer, after which Powell’s charisma still held the audience in sway. They came back for a rare Kilby encore and played a slow, soulful number to send us home. When musicians put their heart into something as Land of Talk did, it makes it an experience for the audience, not just an entertaining performance. I left understanding the fans’ devotion to Land of Talk.