The New Deal completed a four night mini tour of California last week, performing improvised creations of instrumental house/electronica and promoting the October release of their new CD. A busy itinerary included stops at the Elbo Room in San Francisco and at The Echo in Los Angeles, with their final destination being Street Scene in San Diego; possibly the tenth American music festival appearance for the Toronto based trio this year.

Bassist Dan Kurtz, drummer Darren Shearer, and keyboardist Jamie Shields, together since 1999, displayed expert musical proficiency in their L.A. and S.F. shows, toying around with song structures and set lists while silently communicating the sweeps, changes and break beats that make up their sound. This is a band that feeds off the live setting, so the sound difficulties and lukewarm turnout at The Echo hindered their performance at times. Meanwhile the sound and light drenched atmosphere and overflowing crowd at The Elbo Room stoked the group's fiery output.

Thursday night in Los Angeles, The New Deal was sound checking a half hour into the scheduled 10pm start, a result of inadequate speakers at the venue and a 7pm show that delayed the crew set up. By 11:15pm, the first notes of "Glide" took wing from the beats of the opening DJ. A song featured on the band's first ever performance and CD release; This is Live, the tune has evolved into a swanky dance number, developed even further as the opener for this first set. Despite struggling with sound and mix issues, Jamie Shields was able to conduct his compatriots through a solid first set, highlighted by a marathon "Ray Parker Suite" > "Jam" > "Ray Parker Suite." Shields drove the melodies and harmonies with his multi deck set up, keeping an eye and ear on the breaks and rhythms that Darren Shearer was creating. Dan Kurtz stood between Shields and Shearer, bridging their instruments and grooving on the rhythms he was laying down in support of them. Kurtz's lines were funky and deft, but the sound mix wasn't allowing them to come through in a fully effective manner, so some of the trademark sound of The New Deal were lost on this night.

Sound problems persisted, as Shearer's snares were often rattled by monitors at the front of the stage. Shearer kept in constant contact with them to keep them quiet, yet still found time to pepper certain numbers with his beat boxing (something that has to be seen and heard to be believed). The second set featured a lengthy take on "Technobeam," set off by a furious bongo barrage from Shearer (though he would later say they sounded "like ass"), plus a bounce inducing ride through "Moonscraper." The New Deal threw in a few tracks from the new CD, each one punctuated by the obvious joy that these friends derive from performing together. "Homewrecker," a jazzy, downbeat, harmony based number that is the electronica equivalent of R&B, plus the high energy title track to, Gone, Gone, Gone, were second set highlights, along with several touches of the band's new material. As the show drifted onward, "Thunderstruck" received a lengthy tease as the cover choice of the night, providing a high rising plateau from which The New Deal could improvise their way to the end of a hard day's night.

Friday night, The Elbo Room in San Francisco's Mission District was buzzing from the get-go. A packed ground floor hinted at a sellout upstairs, and by 10:45pm people were talking their way up to the overstuffed concert area with any excuse they could muster. At the set break the club was indeed elbow to elbow, likely the result of heavy local promotion and the impression that the band left on the city after their last Bay Area show. As with the previous night's song selections, The New Deal mixed the old and the new into their free form sets, developing older material and blending in plenty of fresh creations from Gone, Gone, Gone. The sound quality in the club was spot-on perfect, and the venue was equipped with some quality lighting that took the space trip atmosphere up a few notches, allowing The New Deal to deliver two well received sets.

Jamie Shields was the mad professor on the keyboards, glaring wide-eyed at his machinery as he experimented with his bubbly musical concoctions. Looking like a youthfully energized Billy Joel, Shields portrayed the musical version of a child and his chemistry set, the Harry Potter of the Moog. Dan Kurtz had the low-end thumps and jazz infused high notes working loud and clear on this night, and he was beaming brightly. Kurtz seemed to know that they were hitting home runs all night long, so he couldn't help but revel in it while he danced to it. Darren Shearer was locked into his role, often beat boxing to the stunned amazement of those who stood close by, unaware that a white man from Canada was physically capable of such sounds. "Back to the Middle," "Receiver," "Technobeam" and "Self Orbit" all received extended, dance-til-you-drop treatments.

The truly memorable moment of this evening was a red hot version of "Deep Sun," blown up to 20-plus minutes and book ended around one of the more eclectic covers you will hear in live music today. "Everything She Wants" was giddily cheered for as the familiar notes found recognition in the crowd, and Shearer even swung in his microphone to add a little vocal flavor to Wham!'s pop hit. It was one of those moments that can often be experienced during a typical New Deal performance, where both band and crowd seem to have an equally splendid time with the performance of a certain song or set. The show came to a close quickly after, but not before Shearer spent some time talking up the new CD and The New Deal's desire to return to San Francisco to support its October 7th release.

If there is anything to criticize about The New Deal's music as a whole, it would be that their wordless, dance-oriented instrumentals can often bleed into each other, which doesn't allow for some listeners to really take hold of certain songs in their hearts and minds. The keyboard driven nature of the harmonies and melodies can also be reminiscent of the musical scores from some late '70s and early '80s television action shows, though I personally see that as a good thing. However, The New Deal is a fantastic live act in every way, capably playing large outdoor festivals, club venues, and private raves. They make it up as they go along, playing it live so you can hear it live and shake and jive if that's your vibe, and they'll make no apologies for it. They're in it for their music, and more importantly, they're in it for us.

Words by: Jason Head
Images by: Matt Earhart
JamBase | West Coast
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[Published on: 9/16/03]

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