Here’s a disclaimer: it would be difficult to overestimate the impact Frog Eyes has had upon my life. My friends will attest to the fact that I am obnoxiously evangelical about this band. I regularly post transcribed lyrics, links to Frog Eyes’ videos, and news about the band’s upcoming tours to the pages of suspecting friends. It has become a running joke, a joke that Frog Eyes’ consistently brilliant output forces me to keep up.
It all started about fifteen years ago. My good friend Brendan Tincher strongly urged me to attend a show at a tiny, now defunct, Calgary club called The Night Gallery. Three bands from the West Coast were on the bill, namely, Pink Mountaintops, Frog Eyes, and Destroyer. I took Brendan up on his invitation in spite of my reticence about the deceiving moniker of the evening’s headliner. I was convinced that Destroyer was a heavy metal band. Google searches took me to a Kiss album.
While I attended the show reluctantly, I was immediately blown away by every one of the bands that took the stage that night; for me, it was a formative musical experience.
A lot has happened in the professional lives of each of those bands since then. Pink Mountaintops’ front man, Stephen McBean, has gone on to massive international success with Black Mountain. Destroyer’s Dan Bejar is practically a household name due to his ongoing contributions to The New Pornographers and the somewhat surprising success of 2011’s Kaputt, and Frog Eyes has managed to completely transform with every subsequent release: singer/guitarist Carey Mercer and percussionist Melanie Campbell are the sole current/founding members of a band that morphs with every album.
I have also changed. In 2007 I moved to Victoria, a decision which was instigated by my love of a woman and passion for the amorphous vein of music I heard at The Night Gallery that fateful night; I am divorced now, but my love of this music is just as, if not more, vital now than it was then.
These bands have led me to newfound favourites such as Chet, Himalayan Bear, Daddy’s Hands, Jerk With a Bomb, Hello Blue Roses, Blue Pine, Prancing Cat, and a multitude of others. These are the things I thought about as Frog Eyes took the stage at the Metro Theatre on Thursday night.
And Frog Eyes did not disappoint. Save for two selections from 2007’s Tears of the Valedictorian, the band drew exclusively from their newest release, Pickpocket’s Locket. The manifestations of standout songs such as “Two Girls (One for Heaven and the other for Rome)” and “Joe With a Jam” were at once spare and ornate. The four piece, comprised of Carey Mercer, Shyla Seller, Terri Upton and Melanie Campbell, managed to straddle the massive divide between the acoustic origins of these songs and the album’s fully blossomed, orchestral renditions.
Seller looked like a woman possessed as she tickled the ivories, providing a counterpoint to bassist Upton, who plucked both an upright and electric bass with a permanent and completely un-ironic smile resting upon her face.
It was nice to see Melanie Campbell back behind the drums on Thursday. While Campbell’s brief sabbatical from the band allowed us to bear witness to Run Chico Run’s Matt Skilling’s genius on Carey’s Cold Spring, Campbell’s unorthodox, often tribal approach to percussion is every bit as central to Frog Eyes’ definitive sound as Carey Mercer’s wail… and, oh, did he wail on Thursday night.
Mercer’s voice is the stuff of legend; at once summoning and inhabiting Gods of old, Mercer’s growl never once betrayed cancer’s attack on his corporeal body. It is a voice, a bellow, and, at times, a squeak, that fills any space it inhabits; Metro Theatre provided the space for Mercer’s beast moans to conquer—the exhausted ears of those who bore witness quickly fell under his spell.
Frog Eyes’ rendition of “I Ain’t Around Much” stood out as the highlight of the set. Mercer’s cry to a father who is at once absent and omnipresent brought tears to my eyes. Those gathered there on Thursday night learned that Frog Eyes is facing some legal complications going across the border to tour, once again, with Destroyer. My only hope is that they managed to overcome such technicalities. Maybe another young twenty-something will be baptized into the magnificent musical world in which I now happily swim.