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Will Butler + Sister Squares @ The ICA (Live review) Featured

  • Written by  Captain Stavros




 Will Butler + Sister Squares

 The ICA, London

Words & pics by Captain Stavros


Once my mother got so angry at me, she threw the stand up am/fm radio with single tape deck I kept next to my bed out my second story window.  As it sailed into the night, arcing in slow motion before my young eyes, then coming crashing down hard with a sickening crunch, my heart leapt into my throat.  Hours passed as I sat, still mourning the loss of my beloved and only connection to the outside world, for we lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in a sleepy part of town, The Suburbs.  I rallied the courage after my parents went to bed and crept out to retrieve what felt like a lost appendage.  Remarkably, after retrieving the unit and plugging it in, it still worked, but differently.  Something must’ve come loose deep in the guts of the fractured receiver because now it played with added fuzz.  Not only that, but it played any song’s bass and percussion more predominantly than that of their counterparts.  Naturally, this being the ‘80s, new wave was in vogue, and I guess the long and short of it is that after hours, days, months and even years of listening to my peculiar radio, I was now primed as a receiver for those elements in music.  Enter Will Butler + Sister Squares.

I had no idea Will even had a side project.  Around mid-summer, Will started leaving a trail of musical breadcrumbs, not directly or literally for that matter, in my inbox around the beginning of a very wet and cold summer in London town.  ‘Willows’ was the first single to whet my appetite. The kick-drum on the track pounded out like an elevated heartbeat and, in turn, raised mine.  I was hooked.  The Weeping Willow also happens to be my favourite tree.  ‘Arrow of Time’ was next and had a sauntering bass beat that lead it.  It’s a song that finds its way into any room, then waits for the sun to go down, and changes tack with a crisp hook full of cymbals forcing you to want to crash the nearest dance floor.  Both will be played this evening with accompanying bandmates, Miles on Will’s left and Jenny, Sara and Julie on his right.  All, except for Miles (who’ll play mostly standing up) dance loosely and naturally.


Will Butler doesn’t shy away from speaking about his time in Arcade Fire, and why should he?  It was a huge part of his life; his family is in the band and, not to mention, it’s still a raging success.  When I first heard Arcade Fire, it was during the wildfire that was the indie wave ripping its way through Canada by way of Montreal.  In the early ‘00s, Montreal was a powerhouse of new bands and music and I can scarcely remember a time I was either more entertained or proud to be Canadian.  Due in part to a myriad of unbelievable life events, I would not get to see Arcade Fire until two years after I unexpectedly dropped roots in London back in 2012.  In 2014, at the height of their popularity, due largely in part to the overwhelming success of The Suburbs and Reflektor albums, every show was sold out months in advance.  I didn’t have much (any) money and I wasn’t writing (if you can even call what this is, that) in those days so I had no hope of even dreaming about getting in to see them.  I still went to Earl’s Court, which called to me like a beacon on that fateful evening of June 6.  As luck would have it, outside of the huge venue, I found a ticket stub that someone must’ve dropped.  It was already torn showing admission which often meant no-re-entry at larger venues, but I thought I tried my luck anyway.  To my great surprise and relief, I managed to gain entry.  I was elated.  Getting in late I was super far from the large stage which took up the central part of the space.  The lights went down and the band came up from beneath the stage on motorized platforms wearing their giant papier mâché heads.  The set aptly started with ‘Reflektor’ and blew the audience away, I could barely see them but still remember the experience vividly. Then, they just stood there, inanimate.  Then, without warning, a huge WOOOSHING sound came from behind me.  There had been a giant fucking curtain setup which dropped and appearing directly behind me stood Arcade Fire in all their glory a mere arm’s length away!  Talk about theatrics.

So, I guess the point I was driving at, in the rather verbose recollection above, is would this also be a theatrical display or would Will shy away from that chapter of his life?  Will came onto the stage wearing a green singlet, black trousers and a classic pair white Oxfords.  He cut a tall, lean, sinewy figure that of Iggy Pop in his prime.  There was not a time where he wasn’t on stage swapping instruments; guitar, bass, keys, singing and kicking high with a reckless abandon one could only dream of.  Sure, there weren’t papier mâché heads, but a different sort of theatrics a-plenty.  Believe me when I say, we were all thoroughly entertained throughout the 16-song set.  The music that evening showcased the dynamic range and colourful vibrancy the new LP throws down.  Will credits his new work’s success in part to bringing in Sister Squares, which includes Will’s wife, and giving them agency during the creative and collaborative process.  It was a set full of textures, pop music, drum beats, and resounding bass that Will describes as “glacially slow with a fucked up colorscape, but with dancey drums.” - Brooklyn.  Agreed.

The set ends with ‘Tall Grass’,  one of my favourites on his new cut. Before they begin to play, Will looks into the crowed, shooting a sideways glance at his bandmates over an exposed shoulder seemingly unaffected by the efforts that’ve led to him covered in a sheen of sweat.  ‘It’s Friday Night’, perhaps a subtle nod to his 2016 solo release sharing the aforementioned namesake, or perhaps his evening was just about to get started.  Will Butler & Sister Squares on Friday evening left a kinetic trail of music in their wake and as they left the stage, they also left behind a satisfied and danced out audience.  It was Friday night alright, as Butler stated but as we filtered out, I couldn’t wait to get home and hit my bed, it’d been a long week.  At the merch stand, I was stopped when my eye caught the t-shirts, and  the beautiful album cover of their latest release. I asked the guy at the stand how he was doing, his final words to me were, ‘it's Friday night man, I'm tired and I want to go to bed’.  True say.  Will Butler and Sister Squares, however, show no signs of slowing down, so we’d recommend catching them during their next batch of tour dates.  It wouldn’t hurt in the interim giving the album a spin either.






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