Live Music: Mazzy Star and Psychic Ills at Danforth Music Hall

Mazzy Star & Psychic Ills Toronto

It’s been a long time coming. After over a decade and a half in hiatus, alt-indie darlings Mazzy Star have stepped out of the shadows and released Seasons of Your Day, their first record since 1996’s Among My Swan. Still mining the woozy, minimalist territory on which they built their acclaim, the band’s recently show at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall was swarmed with a mixture of old faithfuls as well as younger fans eager to take a dip into Mazzy Star’s nocturnal catalogue.

Opening for them at Saturday’s show was Psychic Ills, an experimental psych-rock band out of New York who are touring in support of their latest album One Track Mind. Cut from the same paisley patterned cloth as bands like the Black Angels and and Brian Jonestown Massacre, the band delivered a set of reverb drenched songs characterized by repetitive, droning chords and hypnotic basslines. The understated, atmospheric psychedelia conjured up by the Psychic Ills set the stage nicely for the night’s headliners. My favourite moment of the set by far came during a particularly acerbic noise freakout towards the end of the set, the band creating an enormous, menacing wall of sound built out of feedback and ill-intention. Not only did it remind me of Floyd circa Pompeii, but it also disrupted the gratuitous make-out sessions that kept breaking out in the audience. Bonus.

If Mazzy Star were painters rather than musicians, they would be impressionists. Meticulous about creating atmosphere, use of cell phones and cameras were strictly prohibited at the venue. While it initially felt slightly draconian, it really was refreshing to be at a show where the intrusions of modern technology were temporarily left behind, allowing for total emersion into the music.

The band opened their set in near darkness with “Look on Down the Bridge.” Ushered in on waves of mournful organ drones, Hope Sandoval cast her hazy spell over the audience, her world-weary voice accented by a band that knows how to play to their strengths. The songs were measured, unhurried, and confessional, and the band are masters of restraint, never overplaying, and always giving the songs a chance to breathe. The night’s setlist consisted of a mixture of songs from their back catalogue and newer material from their latest album. A clear highlight from the new album was “Does Someone Have Your Baby Now”, a bitter, heartbroken lament that featured some slinky slide guitar work that, amazingly, took on shades of Page and Plant’s unplugged work.

Sandoval is as ever, diminutive, melancholy nymph blessed with an ennui-ridden voice that has retained all its mysterious gravity after all these years. And so “Fade into You”, probably their biggest hit of their career, was met with rapturous applause. The highlight of the set, however, for me, came during the first encore of the night, “So Tonight That I Might See”. Built around a Doorsy vamp, Sandoval performed an incantatory spoken piece that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Patti Smith B-side from the 1979. Gradually building up in pace and intensity, the band whipped up a swampy, textured storm that swelled up into a cathartic crescendo that peaked and then slowly faded into the darkness.