REVIEW: The Frames: Breadcrumb Trail [Live]
The Frames: Breadcrumb Trail [Plateau, 2002] (mp3)
Three words? Live, sloshed, wonderful.
Some albums are works of love for the artists who record them. This album, perhaps, was a work of love for Vladimir Holek. Or maybe Marek Irgi. I find myself imagining the primary figures behind this ramshackle live record - the recorder, the mixer, the producer - I imagine them sitting at a lowlit bar one Saturday afternoon, having the following conversation:
Vladimir Holek: Marek!
Marek Irgi: Yes, Vladimir my friend!
Vladimir Holek: The Frames!
Marek Irgi: They come!
Vladimir Holek: Tonight!
Marek Irgi: Indeed, Vladimir. I am most excited!
Vladimir Holek: Oho! And I!
(They each drink from their dark, Czech beers with monosyllabic names.)
Vladimir Holek: I am recording tonight.
Marek Irgi: You are?
Vladimir Holek: (Seriously) I am, my friend.
Marek Irgi: Good. Good.
(There is a silence as they stare at their calloused fingers, smell the smoke, think of some lingering sadness.)
Marek Irgi: Let us release your recording on a record label and share it with the world!
Vladimir Holek: Hooray!
But let us leave this hypothetical discussion that took place, perhaps, in January of 2002 at Stara Pekarna, in Brno, Czech Republic. The consequences of this artifact's creation are rather beside the point. Let it be accepted simply as it is: a strange, sincere recording of one night, deep in Eastern Europe, when a band played and the audience loved what it heard. The sound is not particularly clean, the songs not exceptionally performed, the set-list lacks in places... but there is an extraordinary honesty to the whole affair: Glen Hansard's stuttering Czech, the effortless poetry of his banter, the drink-soaked cheers of the crowd, the enthusiasm of Ireland's best-kept secret, The Frames.
The Frames play a rich and pungent brand of rock'n'roll, an idiosyncratic brew of Pearl Jam intensity, Mogwai dynamics, Nick Drake melancholia and the fiddle-lacings of Irish folk. It is not at its best, here - that is, the group's maturing talent is not studio-nuanced, practice-perfect. It is reeling and real, however - electric, vigorous and bursting at the seams. Everything is loose and true, performed with whole heart for Vladimir-knows how many dozen listeners.
The set-list takes many of the best cuts from the group's last three albums, starting with the four-way-punch of "Lay Me Down", "What Happens When the Heart Just Stops", "Rent Day Blues" and "Fitzcarraldo". Quieter moments struggle, however - things truly come alive when the volume lifts, electric guitar blazing alongside fiddle and raised voice. The hushed poignancy of "Lay Me Down" simply doesn't make it through the smoke in the room and the fog of the recording. The lullabye stomp of Will Oldham's "Ohio Riverboat Song" is an absolute success, lilting and rousing in equal measure. Holek's mixing job leaves something to desire - music blasts out of nowhere, then vanishes into the furthest reaches of the speakers - but there is, again, an integrity to this clumsiness, a spirit that reflects the swaying melodies of an increasingly drunken band. With the lights out, a fire in the corner, a whiff of black Czech beer - and Breadcrumb Trail - one can almost imagine The Frames before you, playing and singing away, coaxing up the sun or dancing for the moon. Until they cross up to Canada's cold reaches, it will simply have to do.