Beards, Blazers & Glasses: The Minor Canon
I'm a sucker for a band with a good horn section (no Hillbilly Jim). I don't know what it is. Maybe the brass fanfare reminds me of Renaissance Faires. Or maybe it reminds me of brass monkeys, both alcoholic and Beastiefied. So when I heard the Minor Canon's doleful, soulful, and horn-ful (if that isn't a word, it is now) record, No Deed Goes Unpunished, I was anxious to see the band live, to see how they'd incorporate a trumpeter and trombonist into their melancholic brand of acoustic guitar pop.
And after seeing the penultimate week of their April residency at Spaceland, I got my answer in the form of an alternately haunting, powerful and triumphant hour-long set that paired an uplifting Memphis Soul section to Minor Canon lead singer, Paul Larson's soft but sturdy guitar melodies. Backed by a piano man, a bassist/organist, a drummer and the horns, Larson sits up front, alternately strumming away and singing with a rich, powerful voice. At other times, Larson pounds away on a second drum set to his left, filling the air with an almost overwhelming sonic fury that belies the plaintive, muted sounds of the record.
Of course, Minor Canon's impressive performance wasn't all that surprising considering that Larson is a road-tested vet of the LA music scene, one of the former members of a mid-90s band called Strictly Ballroom, a group who broke up after just one album but whose members eventually went on to form The Beachwood Sparks, Dntel (Jimmy Tamborello was in the band), and the Tyde. (Duke has the entire history here, if you're interested). In fact, the Postal Service was recorded at Larson's studio and Larson himself contributes guitar work on the new Dntel record that came out yesterday.
The Minor Canon: Now with 25% More Cannon
But unlike Tamborello's interest in merging electronic music with rock, Larson is more interested in pillaging the Stax catalogue and setting it up against sensitive wistful acoustic ballads that would feel right on home on an OC Soundtrack. It's the kind of music that would come off as neutered sad white guy schtick in the hands of an amateur (or Ben Gibbard). But Larson's no rookie and he knows how to Sing, letting his Jeff Tweedy-esque voice stretch for notes without quivering, pushing the words out with an uncanny emotional force that blanketed the room with a soothing, calming patina of sound.
But it's the horn section that adds a depth and richness to the Minor Canon and allows Larson's tunes to be more than something you'd merely expect to see on in a freshman year dorm room iTunes playlist labeled "Just Been Dumped." Live, each tune explodes to life with resonant trumpet blasts, allowing for a impressive sonic diversity that bears well for re-play value. Minor Canon is never going to make party jams, but they aren't easy to dismiss either, especially for those who pay attention to Larson's meticulous pop craftsmanship and veteran's attention to detail.
Running through the majority of the tracks on No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (which is an early favorite for local album of the year), Minor Canon also debuted some promising new tracks, as well as a very impressive cover of Wolf Parade's "I'll Believe in Anything." The set was excellent and enough to make my include Minor Canon in my personal canon of top local bands. There's just one just week left in their residency at Spaceland, so go, and while you're at it go to the Renaissance Faire which just returned to SoCal (just don't touch their horns). Indeed, this Spring is shaping up to be a banner time for brass fanfare fans here in Cali. Huzzah!
Buy No Good Deed Goes Unpunished Here
MP3: The Minor Canon-"The Art of the Quickdraw"
Get two more MP3's on The Minor Canon's Myspace