In a way, when Montreal-based trio Plants and Animals play The Marquee this Saturday, they are hosting their very own Christmas special---Home for the Holidays with Plants and Animals. “Christmas is always a little bit of a shitstorm,” says guitarist Warren C. Spicer. “It’s a little like going inside a pinball machine, you know. It’s fun but it’s also kind of demanding,” he adds.Fair enough: When you’ve lived away from your hometown for more than a decade, a visit brings with it the usual flood of family and old friends, many swinging through the city on their own trips from other locales. Not to mention a rapid period of adjustment to the changes in the place itself that the rest of us residents take for granted.“I’m super out of touch with what’s going on in Halifax,” Spicer says. “I don’t even know what bars still exist.” (A sentiment of dislocation and estrangement from a place once so familiar is at the heart of “Bye Bye Bye,” a lovely piano-and-string-led singalong, opening the band’s debut full-length Parc Avenue, which came out bright and early in ’08 and caught a Polaris Prize shortlist nomination.)The Marquee exists, for the time being at least, with a series of supposed “final” shows starting during these high holidays into February 2009---a little added cache for Home for the Holidays with Plants and Animals. Spicer, who also sings, drummer Matthew Woodley (also of Halifax) and bassist-guitarist Nicolas Basque pulled in an impressive crowd at that same club about six months ago, with the curtain that divides the upstairs space for smaller gigs being pulled back to accommodate the crowd.On track two of Parc Avenue, “Good Friend,” Spicer sings, “...but what I really want to do is dance.” This is an indie-rock band that knows how to build on a rhythm, a groove even (though that’s such a loaded term in indie-rock circles because Plants and Animals is not a jam band). The song also suggests a desire to connect with, and to benefit from, the wise counsel of a “good friend to say you’ve got your head up your ass,” speaking to the friendship at the core of this band.“Warren and I have been playing together since we were, what, 12 or something like that,” figures Woodley, whom friends, Spicer included, call Woody.After some forays into rock and more formal jazz, the pair hooked up with Halifax sax player Dani Oore and played free jazz. “We grew a lot as musicians during that time,” Woodley says.Spicer and Woodley both studied the esoteric, eccentric’s realm of electro-acoustic music at McGill University, where they met and started playing with Basque, first as an instrumental and more folk-oriented outfit, and then slowly started to rock out with Spicer stepping to the mic. You can hear a variety of influences, from West African sounds, the likes of the late Malian guitarist/singer Ali Farka Touré (most notably on the instrumental closer, “Guru”), to Halifax’s own Al Tuck (“A L’orée Des Bois”).The band is working right up to their show in Halifax and the holidays. They’re in the same studio where they recorded Parc Avenue, in Montreal’s Mile End, going where the ideas take them---like the river in their song, “New Kind of Love.” The three tend to examine ideas and motifs, allowing them to fit together into a song. Nothing’s forced.They booked time in the studio, Spicer says, with “no grand expectations, let’s just go in and work.” The ideas seem to be pointing into a certain direction: “I think it might be a rock ’n’ roll record.”Plants and Animals can rock out. For example, “Feedback in the Field” makes a strong case with its uncompromising, driving tempo beneath a wah-wah-slide guitar. “Mercy,” another Afro-funk-flecked track, suggests another possible route. The Rheostatics-like “Sea Shanty,” yet another. But for now, all roads for the kid from Connaught (Woodley) and the guy from Vernon (Spicer) lead home.
Plants and Animals w/Broadcast Radio, Thursday, December 20 at The Marquee Club (2037 Gottingen), 10pm, $13adv/$15.