On July 9, I went in search of Minto frontman Ryan Hoben at the Biltmore, wanting to offer my congratulations for what was looking like a successful CD release. “This shouldn’t be hard,” I thought, “I’m looking for a bearded man with glasses, likely wearing skinny jeans and flannel.” I have met Hoben several times before, but for the life of me, could not distinguish him from the dozens of doppelgängers roaming the bar. If flannel-rock were a genre, Minto would epitomize it.
The Vancouver five-piece consists of Hoben, rhythm guitarist Kalvin Olafson, lead guitarist Evret Tucker, bassist Suzy Easton and drummer Jimi Cuell. Minto has been around—in some form or another—since 2002, when Vancouver Film School students Olafson, Tucker and Hoben began jamming together. Since then, the band has chalked up a few changes in line-up and name, most notably the transformation from the Smokes to Minto earlier this year. July 9 brought the release of Lay It On Me, a full-length album recorded at Electrical Audio in Chicago and engineered by the legendary Steve Albini.
Albini, who has worked on everything from Nirvana and the Pixies to Joanna Newsom, would have been proud of Minto’s performance on the night of the release. The show was startlingly good. Hoben could barely contain his excitement and fortunately he channeled his nervous energy into a fervent and captivating performance. Even the listless presence of bassist Suzy Easton couldn’t puncture Minto’s energy. Musically, the band was tight. They clearly practise consistently and their commitment to Minto, and the album, is palpable.
The night had the feeling of a great send-off: a bit like a wedding or rocket-ship launch. Band members’ mothers were in the front row, recording with their video cameras as the fathers took pictures with long-range lenses and high-powered flashes. Best to preserve the moment for posterity; one feels as if it has been a long time coming. I hope at least a couple of pictures captured Hoben as he wiped his brow with his flannel shirt between songs.
That motion punctuated the show, as it slowly ramped up towards the climax of the night: the encore. In my experience, encores are usually planned by the band and only half-desired by the audience. People clap at the end of the show, truly appreciative but anticipating a trip to the bar or outside for a smoke. Then, however, the band takes applause as a call for more, and “spontaneously” regains their instruments for the last three songs of their set. Minto’s encore was nothing of the sort. I got the impression that they genuinely intended to be finished, but the relentless calls of the crowd urged them back the stage for a final performance. “Electrical Microphone” exalted the night, and with several fans singing on stage, it gave everyone the feeling that they were inside a Hold Steady song, or perhaps dosed with just a touch of E.
If Lay It On Me has any faults, it is that a recording cannot match the experience of the live show. This is an album meant for a stage. The band, after all, calls their music “fuzzed out arena folk rock.” That said, Lay It On Me is a worthy purchase. The music is quality and genuine, clearly a labour of love. Albini’s work is valuable and obvious; the sound is crisp and instrument-forward. Minto did not need the star engineer to make this launch a success, however. All they really need is a stage, a 24-pack of beer and some flannel.
Minto will be playing the Green Mountain Music Festival on Aug. 8, and in Vancouver on Aug. 15 for Kits Days, then on Aug. 26 for Sealed with a Kiss’ Gypsy Fade. After that, they will be embarking on a coast-to-coast tour of Canada.