Show Review: July Talk At Hart House

By Adam Bernhardt

Offering the most bang for the smallest buck, July Talk swung by U of T’s own Hart House Great Hall for a free concert as part of UTSU’s Winter Week of Welcome. The Hall was transformed from an older Victorian room into a lysergic enclave under a canopy of purple Christmas lights and pink polka dot spot lights. DJ Mama Knows demonstrated the depths of her knowledge with a playlist heavy on the mutant disco of ESG, Arthur Russell, and the Raincoats among others, providing the perfect pulse to inaugurate the evening.

Fay performing with July Talk.

Fay performing with July Talk.

Opening with the one-two punch of “The Garden” and “Someone”, July Talk kicked off the festivities with the raw, gritty action that would define the evening. Skirting a line between gutbucket garage and more contemporary noisenik impulses, July Talk maintain a certain sweet spot that, combined with their visceral high-energy, make for an engrossing spectacle. The self-described “Beauty and Beast” nature of their music comes across plainly in the contrast between Peter Dreimanis’ gravely sandpaper-and-whiskey voice and the cherubic vocals of fellow singer Leah Fay. Playing songs largely off their self-titled album, July Talk mixed up the thrashy gutter punk of their openers with moodier, more sinister numbers like “My Neck.” The audience, made up of fans and newcomers alike, were easily won over by the combination of rousing anthems and an equally arousing stage presence.

The band’s theatricality is perhaps one of their greatest strengths, a bewildering and spirited performance that can border on confrontation at times, the show was enrapturing. The band started by playing with just Dreimanis on stage before Fay made her entrance singing from a window on the second story of a staircase in the Great Hall.  Not shy of interacting with the audience, Dreimanis and Fay made frequent excursions off the stage and into the audience, giving hats and beads to lucky spectators along the way. At one point Fay grabbed a broken beer bottle and threatened those audience members unlucky enough to have been caught trying to film the show on cellphones.

July Talk (1) (E)

Dreimanis held by Fay.

The “Beauty and Beast” aesthetic was also made obvious not just in the contrast between Dreimanis’ impish romp and Fay’s coy sensual dancing but also in the sadomasochistic interplay between the two.  This tension that lies at the bottom of their performance was made apparent when Fay would grab Dreimanis’ hair, or hold the broken bottle against his neck or, perhaps most eyebrow-raising of all, place the microphone between her legs and make him sing into it, in a clearly phallic role reversal which calls into question which singer is the beauty, and which one is the beast.

Closing with a stirring sing along version of “Paper Girl” that turned the audience into a seething frothy mass of sweaty smiling bodies, raised arms, and shaking hips, July Talk clearly left with many new fans.  Capping the evening off with an encore of “Black Lace” and an all-male wet t-shirt contest solidified an enthralling reputation.

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