While Absolutely Free was onstage in Toronto for the release of its debut album, Absolutely Free was also onstage in Hamilton doing the exact same thing.
Wait, what? The Hamilton gig was performed by the flesh-and-blood band. The Toronto one, part of the Long Winter festival, featured holograms of the band playing the album for the assembled audience.
“We just wanted to present the album… you know how people have a listening party? It’s kind of a classic thing,” says Moshe Rozenberg, Skyping in alongside his bandmates Matt King, and Mike Claxton. (At least I think it was Rozenberg; their voices sound pretty similar over Skype.) “But we didn’t just want to be at a bar, or something awkward. We wanted something ridiculous and spectacular. Originally we were thinking something like a laser light show would be cool. And then the people we were working with got really ambitious, and said, ‘Hey, we can do holograms.'”
It wasn’t the first unusual live show the band’s committed itself to; in fact, that’s proven to be the band’s stock in trade: beyond holograms, Absolutely Free’s also scored a feature film and a series of National Film Board animated shorts. The band has played to a single person at a time as part of a theatre festival, thrown a video dance party a la the MuchMusic ones you attended in grade school, and set up at an indoor swimming pool during its evening swim hours.
That sort of visual bravado meshes well with the music. The band, formed from the ashes of art-punk outfit DD/MM/YYYY, drifts from rolling psychedelia (there’s a “Tomorrow Never Knows” drumbeat driving “Beneath the Air”) through haunting, unchained digital pop that reflects the sort of sonic adventurousness of Chad VanGaalen. I don’t mean that reductively.
The band’s self-titled album was produced by Fucked Up’s Mike Haliechuk, who offered some grounding for the group’s more out-there musical choices.
“In some instances, he sort of normalized our ideas,” King explains. “Because we have a tendency to get carried away, and get deeper and deeper. He sorta drew some lines, and stopped us from making things too elaborate, in some instances. He’s a very blunt guy, and we love him for it.”
But how does a band that’s known for high-concept live shows at home tackle a regular old tour? Absolutely Free’s presently opening for Alvvays, and taking holograms on the road isn’t all that feasible (yet).
Claxton notes that it’s the number of unusual gigs the band does that keeps the normal ones from feeling too rote.
“The fact that we have all these other outlets for presenting our ideas and our music keeps the live shows still exciting to us,” he explains. “Because we keep dipping into other avenues and experimenting in different ways, it keeps us from getting jaded on playing our set at a regular venue that sells beer. It keeps us excited about that.”
Fri, Dec 5 (10 pm)
Starlite Room, $13