POZ Review: Pioneer North American Tour (Live EP)
The Maine are gaining quite the reputation for their independent streak. Following their move to self-release 2011’s Pioneer caused by WMG’s refusal to issue the album, the band embarked on a two month long cross-country trek, accompanied by a pair of unlikely (albeit excellent) tourmates, Lydia and Arkells. The Pioneer North American Tour (Live EP) is a three-way split between the acts, with each band contributing two tracks, along with a cover by all three to round off the collection.
Neither Maine track here, “Identify” or “Every Road”, improves on their studio versions. “Identify” finds frontman John O’Callaghan yowling through some sort of muted, echoey distortion. And while the effect might have been operative in concert, it is totally lost on the split. Meanwhile, “Every Road” includes two extended instrumental vamps during which something interesting might have been happening live, but it is near-impossible to tell on the recording. The split concludes by sliding into the opening bars of what appears to be “I’m Sorry” before abruptly cutting off. Would a fade-out have been too much to ask for?
Lydia’s and Arkell’s tracks fare far better. Lydia’s “Best Nights” tamps down some of the dense atmospherics that overburdened the song on 2011’s Paint It Golden; the more straightforward arrangement here allows space for frontman Leighton Antelman’s yearning, empathetic vocals (the band’s best asset), to shine. And “All I See” takes it one step further. If the original arrangement was sparse, then live, with just Antelman and a quietly chiming electric guitar, it becomes positively haunting. Meanwhile, Canadian newcomers (and Juno award winners) Arkells have quickly established a reputation as a great live band, and it is easy to hear why: the 80’s-indebted rock of “Where U Goin” and “On Paper” both benefit from a touch of quick-wit stage banter, and pick up some extra bite outside of the studio confines.