Montreal instrumental groups Bell Orchestre and Torngat both played to a full house at the First Baptist Church. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect, having never heard either band's music. I was also wondering if the crowd would be stuck in the basement where they hold garage sales, punk show style, but apparently they're a bigger draw than that.

There was a good sized lineup outside the church's front doors when I arrived at about 7:30, and the pews had filled up by the time the show got underway a quarter hour later.

Torngat are a trio. Mathieu Charbonneau's organ and analog synth give the group a funky vibe, while Julien Poissant's hard-hitting drumming drives things along with ferocious energy. Pietro Amato (also a member of headliners Bell Orchestre and Arcade Fire) played the French horn. Poissant played some keyboards as well, as well as some trumpet, which allowed him to engage in some tooting byplay with Amato (it sounded a bit like elephants squabbling over breakfast). The band played four or five lengthy numbers, finishing with a wheezing melodica duel between Poussaint and Amato that brought a few giggles from the crowd.

For the audience, the venue wasn't quite as ideal - the pews can get a bit uncomfortable (sitting in a hot church pew for a couple of hours can get a bit sticky, too). It isn't always easy to see what various band members were doing - the floorplan is intended to direct your gaze to the ambo, not the relatively low space where the choir would be). In this case there was a fair amount of leaning and craning by audience members trying to detect how a particular sound was being made.

For the musicians First Baptist makes an excellent venue. The acoustics are superb, thanks to its high, wood-paneled ceiling, which works as well at delivering the sound from for experimental Montreal music groups as it does choirs. As an added benefit, there was no real audience chatter, so Amato could walk up the side and down the aisle playing French horn, microphone free and still be entirely audible. The other nice upside to a sitting crowd - you can get a standing ovation when you're done, which Torngat did.

The crowd thinned slightly as people ducked outside to smoke for the intermission and Bell Orchestre set up.

Apart from their musical merits, the group has garnered interest because three of their members - the aforementioned Amato, violinist Sarah Neufeld and trumpeteer Kaveh Nabatian - are also in indie faves the Arcade Fire, either full or part time.

Standup bassist Robert Parry and drummer Stef Schneider are, technically, the rhythm section, but it must be said that Schneider's drumming is much more about mood than tempo than Poussaint's.

For this show Mike Feuerstack was also on hand to play lap steel. Feuerstack has gathered a lot of indie music mileage with Snailhouse, Wooden Stars and Kepler. Parry is also a local, and joked that "It's nice to have all our parents in the same room."

As with Torngat, Amato and Nabatian used the church's good acoustics to walk to the rear of the church and back while playing and still be heard.

The Orchestre has already garnered comparisons to groups like Rachel's and the Clogs, which combine chamber music with avant-garde influences. This show also inspired me to grab my Kronos Quartet box set and listen to the disc with Steve Reich's ‘Leaving Trains’ and George Crumb's ‘Black Angels’. Apart from minimalism, there was a melancholy mood that struck me as being in the same ballpark as Henryk Gorecki's ‘Miserere’.

They must also be Erik Satie fans - for one song Schneider sat down with a typewriter, adding some clicks and dings. He later balled the typescript up and lobbed it into the audience.

The band concluded their set with a cover of Aphex Twin's ‘Bucephalus Bouncing Ball’. Following a standing ovation, they came back for an encore - which also got a standing ovation.

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Commenting On: First Baptist Church, Ottawa, 8/9/2006 - Bell Orchestre and Torngat

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