Tunng is weird. The band plays “folktronica,” which is a stupid name for a genre if there ever was one. Really, they play folk, but play it in such a way, with so many instruments and so many weird diversions on the way to and from the pretty bits that they’re best at, as to make “folk” too narrow of a genre to file them into. Can you dance to “folk”? Can “folk” balance big, crunchy, dirty beats with really wonderful melodies? Can we just call them something else? Like, as the girl who stood beside us suggested at the band’s Rivoli show on Tuesday night, “awesome”?
9:55 PM: It’s driving rain outside. We leave the Local Motion party early only to arrive at the Rivoli’s back room early, too. Tunng, the reason we’re here, isn’t on stage yet; Donovan Woods, the opener we hadn’t heard of, isn’t either.
10:10 PM: Oh, here’s Donovan Woods. He is from Orillia, he says (or Sarnia? Later, he says Sarnia). He has the voice of an angel, which the warm speakers of the Rivoli are really suited to. We forget about the rain. At the back of the room, Woods’ mom and dad are manning the table where his CD, The Widowmaker, is for sale. About “Let Go Lightly,” he laughs: “This song was in the third episode of a TV show that got cancelled after two.”
10:15 PM: Those must be Tunng’s instruments behind him, because Orillia-born angel-voice up there, with the acoustic guitar and the voice and nothing else, doesn’t look like he’s about to start jangling that small wooden board with dozens of keys dangling from it.
10:34 PM: Woods sings about stuff like coveting hats, and coveting Grey Cup rings. There is lots of coveting. Everyone in the room is talking over him, though. We covet them stopping.
10:59 PM: You did good, Orillia, or possibly Sarnia.
11:00 PM: Tunng’s lead singer, Mike Lindsay, walks on stage wearing a black t-shirt with “FOLK” on it in huge, white text—FO on one line, LK on the other. It looks like it could or should read either “ROCK” or “FUCK” instead, which, as far as t-shirts go, is more than a little clever for the lead singer of Tunng to be wearing. Are they subverting folk or rock or some weird hybrid? Or do they just not care? Either way, good t-shirt choice, Mike Lindsay.
11:02 PM: The band opens with “Don’t Look Back or Down,” which starts off delicate and then crescendoes with a crunchy, thumping chorus. The percussionist—”drummer” would almost be an insult—is surrounded by a piano, drums, and a whole bunch of other percussion (that board with keys on it!). He only has so many hands, so he is playing some of the percussion in front of him with his bare feet.
11:12 PM: Becky Jacobs, meanwhile, looks either bored or aloof. Hard to blame her when the half-dozen people closest to the stage are sitting, cross-legged, on the floor. This isn’t an Iron and Wine concert, guys. Up you go.
11:20 PM: Strike that. With “Take,” the band hits their stride. We know this because they have started dancing.
11:22 PM: We can’t stop watching Tunng’s percussionist. For “The Roadside,” he manages to record and loop a piano riff while picking up and shaking everything from maracas to—yes! finally!—those keys on that board. He also continues to hit stuff with his feet.
11:23 PM: A bunch of the people who were sitting in front of the stage have stood up.
11:27 PM: You know when you’re at a concert, and a band and you and the crowd are all on absolutely the same page about what the band’s hits are, and the band plays only those hits? Tonight is that.
11:35 PM: Girl beside me thought the small notebook I’ve been scribbling notes in was a cellphone that I had been texting with throughout the concert, which we both agree would have been very rude. We’re cool now, though. She asks: “Are you writing about how awesome they are?”
11:43 PM: Lindsay just unplugged the acoustic-electric, grabbed a Strat, threw on whacky gasses, and proceeded to rock out, rock-star poses and all. Like the “FOLK” shirt, it is hard to parse how sincere the gesture is: he is clearly into it, and so is the crowd, but he is also clearly joking. Will have to write five-thousand word essay about this moment later.
11:53 PM: Lindsay and Jacobs show us how to make sausage fingers, which somehow leads seamlessly into a flawless version of what might be the band’s best song, “Hustle.” We are now writing about how awesome they are.
12:00 AM: Obligatory encore?
12:01 AM: Obligatory encore.
12:11 AM: After the show, the band sits at their merch table and take photos with fans. It’s the first time they’ve been here in three years, they said earlier, and we ask when they’re coming back. When the next album is done? “Well, we’ve got to write it first,” says Lindsay. Fair enough. See you then, Tunng.
Photos by Dean Bradley/Torontoist.