The Beach Boys played over the PA, and singer-guitarist Jace Lasek methodically tuned his guitars. He had half a dozen of them racked and ready. One by one, tuning, testing, getting the pitches just perfect. Not a roadie or a tech, Lasek himself. Then the stage filled with smoke. Carl Sagan replaced Brian Wilson. "This is a time of great danger," the late Sagan intoned, "but our species is young, and curious, and brave. It shows much promise."
Lasek and his Canadian crew then proceeded to blind us with their science.
Given how he tortured those guitars throughout 13 songs Thursday night at Lincoln Hall (part of the five-day Tomorrow Never Knows festival at this and two other North Side venues), it's a wonder Lasek spent so much effort setting the strings. But within the cacophony of thunderous guitar and monstrous bass and pounding drums that constitutes the sound of his band, Montreal's the Besnard Lakes, there are wonderfully knit patterns, elegant structures and bright flares. The band's very big bang gives birth to a universe of wondrous order. It happens in the lab -- their latest and third album, "The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night" landed on many best-of-2010 lists, including mine -- and it occurs with greater force and impact on stage.
The band's epic music -- a fillings-rattling mix of '90s noise-rock and '70s AOR -- is so powerful you kind of wish they wouldn't talk. Between some songs (the ones that didn't naturally meld into each other on the same lurching rhythms) the band dropped character and yukked it up with the crowd. Lasek joked in his Canadian accent, doing lines from "The Kentucky Fried Movie" and sharing anecdotes about truckers who tell him he looks like David Koresh. (The frizzy mullet, the enormous glasses, always the Western shirt, they make him look more like a member of Toto or Asia.) It broke the mid-show spell expertly cast during "Disaster," another heaving song spotlighting Lasek's aching falsetto wail, and forced us to refocus for the flight of "Albatross," a Cocteau Twins-on-Quaaludes stomp sung by bassist Olga Goreas.
After that, the Besnard Lakes boiled over. Lasek and Goreas tuned into their husband-wife wavelength for soul-stirring harmonies on "Glass Printer," and they faced each other for fearsome guitar-bass jamming during "And You Lied to Me"; the lyrics got lost in the fracas but the tension sparked the room like static electricity, with Lasek shaking his guitar with every bent string like he was firing a machine gun and twice holding long quiet pauses to their absolute breaking points. Drummer Kevin Laing then drove the band into "And This Is What We Call Progress" with guitarist Richard White's experimental wailing alongside and left the crowd with barely enough energy to clap out the encore.
A dangerous, curious and brave sonic experiment, indeed, showing much promise. Next up: a self-titled debut by the Soft Province, comprised of Lasek and longtime friend/collaborator Michael Gardiner, due Feb. 22.