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Dustin LindenSmith

father | musician | writer

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"The Modern Men" at Hell's Kitchen (Halifax, NS)

Musical group "The Modern Men" performed selections from their recently-recorded CD in Halifax tonight. I was first turned onto the group by its lone female member, vocalist Lulu Healy. She sent me some unmixed tracks from the aforementioned CD which really blew me away, so I had to come out and see the group play live.

Their music is very modern, and heavily synth-laden (in a good way). Extensive use is made of vintage analog synthesizer sounds, MIDI-controlled patches and triggers, and the Vocoder sound processor which overlays a synthesizer patch on a human singing voice. The Vocoder is a production effect first mastered by artists and synth pioneers such as Herbie Hancock in the 1970s. It provides a tremendously warm, vintage character to any song to which it's added.

The repertoire sounds original, while retaining a recognizable position in the contemporary/pop idiom. The songs were comprised of simple, singable melodies nestled in rich arrangements and orchestrations using multiple synths, voices, and instruments. The bassist and the drummer were solid musicians, and the group's sound was firmly rooted in groove of the bass and the drums.

It would be remiss not to make mention of the declining state of this venue, however. Hell's Kitchen sits downstairs from The Marquee Club, which is one of Halifax's premiere music venues for club acts up to around 750 people. Its location at the base of Halifax's North End makes it central, yet gritty. And its owner, local restauranteur, entrepreneur and erstwhile mayoralty candidate Victor Syperek, has recently filed for creditor protection in the courts. Apparently The Marquee Club will be closed permanently in Jan 2009. You'd definitely know it when you see the place, too. Several areas are closed off, curtained off, and not staffed. Bar staff in general is at a bare minimum, along with security and door staff. The heating was conspicuously turned off, despite the extremely low temperature outside. And the kitchen, renowned for its excellent pizza, was shuttered and dark for the whole night. It was not unlike walking through a ghost town, of sorts.

This disheveled state of affairs at The Marquee Club also extended to its smaller, country-cousin downstairs venue, Hell's Kitchen. Hell's low ceilings were as gloomy as ever, and the amateur sound technician on loan from upstairs was functionally unable to create a suitable monitor mix for the band even after two and a half hours of sound check. To the seasoned listener, certain hiccups, delays, and sloppy endings were audible at times. But I don't doubt that these would have been reduced by at least half, had the musicians been able to hear each other properly.

It's difficult to know what's in store for The Marquee Club, or what venues will remain for that size of show in the future. I imagine that Robert Risley will be trying to get certain groups to book in at his Cunard Centre, but unfortunately that venue isn't appropriate for every type of act that routinely appears at The Marquee. Hopefully other venues will step up to fill the void, or that somebody else with additional funds will be willing to help run The Marquee Club under a new mantle of some sort. Perhaps some sort of local cultural collective or something? Somebody should invite Victor Syperek to lunch sometime to discuss it. (News item: Marquee Club set to close)