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Clip: Hidden Cameras come to Cleveland

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  • Carl Z.
    Congregation of Freaks The Hidden Cameras play church rock with a naughty, naughty twist. By
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2006

      Congregation of Freaks
      The Hidden Cameras play church rock with a naughty, naughty twist.
      By Mikael Wood

      Dec 6, 2006
      "Modern-rock radio, the way that they master their music, they make it
      sound so loud, but really crappy," says Hidden Cameras frontman Joel

      Part of the Toronto indie-rock community that also includes Broken
      Social Scene, the Cameras play what Gibb once described as "gay church
      folk music." Other writers keep recycling the phrase because it
      captures the band's material better than anything else: Gibb, a gay
      man, sings in a polite choirboy voice about love and religion and sex,
      over arrangements that favor acoustic guitars and Sunday-school piano.
      The only improvement "gay church folk music" could stand would be the
      addition of "summer camp" in there somewhere.

      Gibb -- on a cell phone, "somewhere in Germany" -- mentions the loud
      crappiness of modern-rock radio because one hallmark of the Cameras'
      records is the massive, wall-of-sound quality Gibb inherited from one
      of his favorite producers, Phil Spector. Concerned more with scale
      than volume, the '60s pop icon built his monolithic sound by recording
      several instruments playing the same thing at once. It's huge, but
      lacks the kind of definition that obsesses modern record makers. As
      heard on such classics as the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," Spector's
      productions possess an airiness that is in total contrast to the
      hyper-compressed churn you get from Nickelback or Hinder.

      Albums by the Hidden Cameras, whose fluid membership sometimes counts
      10 or 11 players, exude a similarly airy quality. On 2004's
      Mississauga Goddam -- a play on words referencing both Gibb's suburban
      Toronto hometown and soul-jazz singer Nina Simone's "Mississippi
      Goddamn" -- the music skips across tempos that are consistently
      quicker than you'd expect, goosed by sawing strings and lots of hand

      "On that record we were doing a lot of things, in terms of the studio
      and the production, that would be similar [to what Spector did]," Gibb
      says. "We used an old, big tape machine and a reverb plate -- all the
      same stuff that he would've used. But it wasn't all at the same time,
      so that's different."

      What's also different is Gibb's lyrics, which would make tough-chick
      Ronnie Spector blush. In 2003's "Golden Streams," Gibb sings, "My
      golden bone meets the golden bun." This is the other idea that writers
      keep recycling about the Hidden Cameras: the titillating friction
      between Gibb's sexually explicit songwriting and his band's melodic
      indie pop. There's merit in that observation, inasmuch as there's
      merit in observing how surprising it is that Justin Timberlake's songs
      with Timbaland aren't all about software. Think about it for a second,
      though, and the notion is a little offensive. What should music about
      gay sex sound like, if not the music the Hidden Cameras make? Should
      it be ugly instead of pretty? Rude instead of polite? Funny instead of

      Perhaps Gibb has grown tired of the observation himself, since on the
      Cameras' fine new album, Awoo, he seriously holds back on the
      beautiful descriptions of anal sex. The new stuff emphasizes another
      type of friction in the band's music: the contrast between Gibb's
      deadpan delivery and his bandmates' exuberant playing. The songs are
      some of the Cameras' loveliest yet. "Heaven Turns To," a midtempo
      ballad, shimmers with clean electric guitar strumming and a wistful
      oboe line, while the verses in opener "Death of a Tune" tremble in
      anticipation of the song's jubilant chorus.

      Yet throughout Awoo, Gibb sounds like he's reciting insurance-rate
      figures, which actually ends up giving the music the sort of
      over-the-top melancholy that is Morrissey's enduring gift to misfits
      the world over. As in much of Morrissey's stuff, the music's narrative
      is that of a man trapped by society -- a sort of 21st-century update
      of Spector's trick, in which the producer's wall of sound represented
      the forces bearing down on the teenage singer's doomed romance.

      That angle is even more pronounced in the Hidden Cameras' live show,
      where Gibb surrounds himself with costumes, go-go dancers, and props,
      including "some rather large banners" (which a New York gallery plans
      to exhibit early next year). The show is stormy and hilarious, yet
      Gibb plays its center of calm, a prisoner of his own creation. He
      resists agreeing that his delivery is restrained in some way, but does
      allow that he's "too busy playing guitar and singing" to work up much
      of the excitement we've come to expect from rock and roll frontmen.

      "There's not a lot of breaks where I don't sing," he says. "A lot of
      times I'm singing, like, really a lot -- there's lots of words to
      remember, you know? And it just requires concentration, because I'm
      not that great of a musician."

      Show Details
      Who / What:
      The Hidden Cameras
      Music Genre:
      Rock & Pop
      9 p.m. Tuesday, December 12, $10, 216-321-5588
      The Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Boulevard, Cleveland Heights
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