Live in NYC by Canyon (Review)
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Neil Young live back in 1996, if for no other reason than that my dad has refused to listen to or say a good word about him since. Sure, it was a great show, a powerful statement of Young’s power as the elder statesmen of singer-songwriters, the duly-noted “Godfather of Grunge.” My dad, however, didn’t agree. Apparently having frozen the image of the “Harvest”-era, pedal steel-toting country-folkster in his mind, this image of Neil Young stomping out 13-minute, feedback-drenched guitar solos did not mesh well with his idea of music.
About a half hour into the show, as similarly middle-aged men were playing air guitar, my dad took his seat and mouthed the words, “Can we go now?” under the hailstorm of feedback every time I made the mistake of looking at him. Listening to Canyon’s Live in NYC, I’m again reminded of that invigorating, and for some, nauseating racket.
Everything you’ve heard about Canyon sounding like a combination of Pink Floyd and Neil Young & Crazy Horse is true. Throughout, the Washington D.C. fivepiece rides the same darkly reverberating beast that those two have mounted over the years, with equal parts spacey nuance and visceral stomp. And inside that interplay lies Canyon’s distinct power, with the nightmarish slide guitar of “Magnetic Moon” boiling to a majestic climax, just as the acoustic strums and traditional references of “Rio Grande Rail” hang spindly reverb over the simple framework to create a brief study in contrast. Soon, stretching out and expanding upon that dynamic becomes the focus of the set.
Despite the general uniformity of the textures and tempos displayed here, the band shows an impressive range of emotion in their performance. From the delicate accordion of “Lights Of Town,” a song that nearly forces you to find a cigarette lighter to wave in your living room, to the black vacuum and space debris of the humming waves of organ and spiraling tortured guitar leads of “Head Above,” Canyon holds down the ominously paranoid end of the country-rock continuum.
Furthermore, a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire” takes the previously dour arrangement and maintains the haunted, uneasy feel, spiraling into a crashing, funeral dirge by the end. To that end, vocalist/pedal steel player Brandon Butler is an appropriate foil for the always-mutating solos of guitarist Joe Winkle, his voice a perfect combination of Michael Stipe disinterest and Chris Robinson blue-collar soul. Together, they pull the band (and, one imagines, the entire room where the show was recorded) into a swirling, chaotic mass of reverb and otherworldly haze.
Bringing any and all Neil Young comparisons full circle is a faithful cover of “Cortez The Killer,” adding on a few psychedelic effects that turn the extended guitar solos into a ghostly coyote howl but otherwise retaining the disarmingly serious tone of the original.
Ultimately, Canyon roam fairly exclusive geography as a live band, having neither the coy Gram Parsons-isms of bands like the Beachwood Sparks nor the honed intergalactic sprawl of Spiritualized. Here, they sound a lot like a really heavy rock band that is taking their liberty to stretch out their arrangements, with members who know exactly how to weave a dense mass of guitar reverb into an ethereal mist. Exactly like something my dad would hate.
Written by Matt Fink.