Canadian musician Alden Penner is a guy who’s been many places and, somewhere along the way, he picked up the well-known actor Michael Cera. When telling friends I was going to a gig that featured Michael Cera, they were both strangely impressed and slightly confused. ‘As in the actor?’ they asked, to which I would throw in the little known fact that Cera actually contributed mandolin and backing vocals to the Weezer track ‘Hang On’. He has also been a member of various touring bands, and has provided bass and backup vocals for films he has acted in such as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. These are all facts, I hasten to add, I had known nothing of before I purposefully researched Cera’s musical history. Considering all this I was intrigued, if not a little dubious, and took my well researched self down to Komedia on Monday evening.
If it already sounds like I have effectively omitted Alden Penner thus far, then that would be aptly reflective of the gig itself. Although Penner didn’t necessarily have an absent presence on stage, it was clear that he was somewhat overshadowed by Cera’s celebrity. Penner remained quite distanced throughout a lot of the performance, rarely addressing the crowd or interacting at all. This being said, when Penner did take the lead and perform tracks from his LP ‘Exegesis’ and newly released EP ‘Canada in Space’, it was clear that he is a musician totally devoted to his art. When singing, Penner would often close his eyes and sing in an almost devotional manner. There seemed to be a deep level of concentration and purpose in everything Penner did. For some, this may have felt distant and alienating, however I feel like it gave his performance an ethereal quality, and made watching him all the more captivating and hypnotic. This isn’t to say there weren’t any fun, upbeat songs thrown in too!
Despite the merits of Alden Penner it did, effectively, seem to be the Michael Cera show. It seemed that many had been brought in by the notoriety, and even novelty, of Cera however I did hear the word ‘unicorns’ circulate in various pockets of the crowd, which showed that at least a fair few had heard of Penner from his first band The Unicorns.
It would be hard to categorize the music heard on Monday night. Although Cera and Penner did each perform their own separate material, they seemed to reflect similar sounds. If I had to give it a name, I would venture Lo-fi indie folk, with a bit of synth thrown in for good measure. Hardly a cohesive name, but due to the wide range of sounds Penner and Cera created, it seems oddly fitting.
One slight negative aspect of the night would be their stage presence. Between the slightly awkward fumbles in between songs, the energy in the room felt slightly muted. Despite the clichéd ‘good vibe’ Cera claimed he detected, it seemed like he and Penner didn’t really know how to work a crowd and thus lacked the intimacy usually felt in smaller venues. Despite this, however, it was an enjoyable night filled with music interesting enough to keep you satisfied, if not entertained.