New York’s the Books have charted an unusual course to popularity in the world of indie music, combining low key, jazzy folk music with prerecorded snippets of conversation (often salvaged from ulterior sources) and random noise turned into rhythmic loops, and have achieved acclaim for a live show that employs ‘found visuals’ to complement the music.

Thus, there was a large group of music fans awaiting them when they kicked off a brief North American tour in Ottawa with accompaniment from Kranky/Carpark-associated musician Greg Davis. (Notwithstanding an unfortunate coincidence that had fellow Tomlab recording artist Final Fantasy in the area on the same day and an unseasonable snow storm.)

Pushed offstage by the Books’ video gear, Davis sat behind an Apple laptop, combination Korg keyboard and channel mixer and a microphone arrayed in a tight circle on the club’s dancefloor. While some of Davis' output consists of pretty acoustic pieces which dovetail nicely with the Books’ music, for this show he performed a long single drone piece. The audience was completely receptive; as soon as Davis got underway most of the crowd sat down around his setup to nod along to what sounded like a monkish chant extended to paralyzing length.

It was a compelling performance in its simplicity.

The Books took the stage shortly afterward. Guitarist and primary vocalist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong sat in chairs on either side of a mixing board, just in front of a backlit projection screen.

The duo’s fascination with found sound extends to a video – although not the first outfit to boast a visual component to their live show, the Books’ musical performance has achieved an uncommon synchronicity with the video (ranging from family pictures to snippets of nature docs to an introduction to hat-tipping Mormon elders that looks like it was recorded before the arrival of the “talkie”) projected behind them.

Babylon’s low-ceiling interior was originally designed to improve the stability of stripper poles, not fit in video projection, so the image was a bit smaller than ideal, but the on-screen action was still clear enough to draw hearty chuckles from the audience – and how often do you hear that during a show?

Apart from the amusing quality of images on screen, there was a slight thrill to the coordination of sound and music to the imagery, not unlike that when one witnesses a cunning bit of improvisation.

The audience was charmed by the music’s cheerful undercurrent (even when the band left the stage for a recorded version of ‘Tokyo’) and whooped at the announcement of show closer ‘Take Time’. A cover of Nick Drake’s ‘Cello Song’ was also enthusiastically applauded.

















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