The first notes are a foreboding bassline. Drums drop in line. A guitar hums. Synths flare softly.
Sings Tim Darcy in his distinctive drawl: With the light coming down over your shoulders, saying, “What is that sensation?”
As “Beautiful Blue Sky” unfurls, it becomes more frenetic and the band scatter pieces of a life across the audience like a hyper-montage from a forgotten movie — war plane! condo! How’s the church? How’s the job?
And while the song maintains its foreboding tone, somewhere it breaks out into hope, and the narrator abandons pretense and shares, “I’m no longer afraid to die/Cause that is all that I have left” then “and I’m no longer afraid to dance tonight/Cause that is all that I have left.”
This band, ladies and gentlemen, is Ought, and the post-punk quartet from Montreal have a knack for leaving you wanting more, as they did after about 10 songs at the Black Cat on Tuesday night.
“Beautiful Blue Sky” serves as the centerpiece of the current Ought setlist, and it draws them together in a bit of a way that begs the question “What if Joy Division were inspired by the themes and musical influences of the Talking Heads?” Ought provides a possible answer to that question in their current tour, which supports their second full-length album, Sun Coming Down, released last year on Constellation Records.
A full-length album it may be, but at only eight songs (paired with Ought’s debut, More Than Any Other Day, also at eight songs), it lays the foundation for a very tight hour of performance. The show’s setlist drew from album highlights such as the title track; “Passionate Turn,” a churning number on loneliness; and closer “Never Better,” another chant for getting through life.
Ought augments these selections with good picks from the first album, including “The Weather Song,” a salute to living through others, and “Habit,” a terrific recognition of becoming who you are (or at least how you do things with “habits”) — but sadly not the song “More Than Any Other Day,” an excellent tune about seizing the day that perhaps was a bit too similar in sonic temperament to “Beautiful Blue Sky” to make the cut.
With his tall, lanky frame, vocalist and guitarist Tim strikes the figure of a melancholy academic on stage, looming large over the proceedings in a manner metaphorically similar to the way his words hang over our heads. To his right, keyboardist Matt May fires off synthlines that may roll in low and slow or fast and hot. To his left, bassist Ben Stidworthy is a classically handsome, rough and tumble musician. And drummer Tim Keen adds pep to the ambience with a happy go lucky demeanor that gives balance to his bandmates.
Well, Ought is a band quite worthy of seeing live, and they continue touring the United States and Canada tonight in Raleigh, NC, and on through the end of the month. DC’s own worthy punks Priests accompany Ought on most of the dates, making for a fine bill indeed. Don’t miss their tour if it stops in a place near you!
Here are some pictures of Ought from the Black Cat on Tuesday, May 10, 2016.