Published May 27, 2016At first, I paid no mind to the white-shirted, black-scarved individuals wandering around Art Bar during Belave's night-ending OBEY set. The venue was an art cabaret, after all, so the idea that students or showgoers would dress in an odd, coordinated way really wasn't all that strange. I was tipped off that something was out of the ordinary, though, when one of the white shirts walked into the stage area, began tinkering with a drum kit strategically placed in the corner, and then began to pound away at it: this was all part of the show.
A project combining intense spoken-word performance with synth and woodwind soundscapes, Belave's popular noteworthiness comes in no small part because of its connections to the now-defunct Montreal duo Majical Cloudz. That band's frontman, Devon Welsh, is responsible for Belave's music, and Belave's vocalist and lyricist Matthew E. Duffy was an early member of the Cloudz. Those in the crowd last night (May 26) expecting something similar to Cloudz could hear echoes in Welsh's keyboard soundscapes, but Belave is for the most part a different beast entirely: theatrical, deeply poetic, almost primal at moments.
With woozy guitar and fluttering clarinet added to the mix, the Belave live experience is often a cacophonous one, over which Duffy holds court with his mostly spoken word vocals, alternating between soft whispers and loud, almost maniacal bellows. There were slight costume changes — a shawl here, a robe there — but whatever stories were being told were almost impossible to follow, as Duffy's vocals simply weren't decipherable through the speakers, aside from an odd word here or there. And while the "art bar" vibe was a perfect fit for this sort of experience, the late hour meant a sparse, sleepy crowd that thinned out significantly as the show went along, despite the fevered energy onstage.