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Half Past Four – Penny’s – Toronto Live Review

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Half Past Four – Penny’s – Toronto Live Review

Half Past Four at Penny's, July 13, 2014

Who: Half Past Four
From: Toronto, ON
When: Friday, July 11th, 2014
Where: Penny’s

Total Score: 9/10

Style: Prog Rock

Half Past Four, one of Toronto’s prominent progressive rock bands, played a show at Penny’s last Friday. It was an unusual show even for the band who is known to do unusual (but good) things, and probably unusual for the venue as well.

It was originally set to be a par-for-the-course performance with all five members of the band, however the drummer, Marcello Ciurleo, had to cancel last minute due to an emergency. Rather than cancelling the show, the talented band decided to soldier on without their regular man behind the kit, and instead managed via last minute arrangement to bring in one of their first drummers, Michael Tolstikov, who last played with the group 8 years earlier. He was not playing the band’s drum kit but instead was set up in front of a pair of bongos propped on top of a chair. As such, the concert had turned into an impromptu half-acoustic rendition of the band’s material.

Half Past Four’s music is quirky, fun, unpredictable, and adventurous. With two albums under their belt, the band has a generous selection of songs to offer their listeners in their live performances. The setup of the venue didn’t entice the audience to crowd in front of the stage so much, but those who were sitting, watching and listening to the band, were doing so intently.

The material sounded very solid given the circumstances of the gig. Particularly fascinating about Tolstikov stepping in was that, not only did he not play with the band for almost a decade, he also had no prior knowledge of the material on their most recent album entitled Good Things, and last but certainly not least – there was no rehearsal with him whatsoever given the short notice nature of the lineup arrangement.

Half Past Four at Penny's, July 13, 2014

The band powered through their songs from both the aforementioned Good Things and their debut Rabbit in the Vestibule, showing little to no desire of ‘watering down’ their sound to accommodate either the bongo drums or the small venue more commonly suitable for a folk set. “Landmines” and “Wolf” stood out the most, with tight yet groove-heavy bass provided by Dmitry ‘Les’ Lesov, note-perfect guitar parts (rhythm as well as lead) by Constantin Necrasov, and melodic intriguing keyboard parts provided by Igor Kurtzman. The vocals, by Kyree Vibrant, were serving the songs as well as they always do, though they did sound a bit quieter in the mix. It seemed that, perhaps consciously, the singing was more subtle so as to blend with the minimalistic drum setup. Although fans of the band who know the material would have picked up on a several hiccups in the drumming, to the casual listener the drumming sounded very blended in with the other instruments. The groove of each section was almost always closely and accurately followed, making the songs work spectacularly well, and serving as a testament to the musicians’ ability to adapt.

Half Past Four closed their set with “Cool Water”, and it is for good reason that they save this one for last. It contains many all elements that a progressive rock song should strive to have – tight songwriting, introspective and thought-provoking lyrics, dissonant yet compelling guitar in the verses, a strong melodic chorus, an extended guitar solo providing a sort of climax for the song, and an out-of-left-field keyboard-driven bridge to bring the song back to the last chorus.

After they had finished and looked about ready to leave, the enthusiastic audience kept cheering and strongly requesting another song. Half Past Four played a popular cover and did not disappoint with the choice and execution – Queen’s incredibly well known “Bicycle Race” was played flawlessly, down to the bicycle bells in the middle section, played by the singer.

Half Past Four continue to excel head and shoulders above many other live bands. As with many modern progressive rock groups, their appeal is not so widespread among the general public, but their music is highly appreciated by lifelong enthusiasts of the prog genre. Though the acoustic approach of the gig was completely unplanned, it does make one wonder what a prepared ‘unplugged’ Half Past Four set would be like.

Half Past Four at Penny's, July 13, 2014

Written by: Serge Taliansky
Photos by: Victor Vassiliev (vav.photo)


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