Torngat tear it up

Instrumental trio delivers flawless Grad Club performance

Torngat's Pietro Amato plays his horn of mayhem.
Image supplied by: Alexander Fanjoy
Torngat's Pietro Amato plays his horn of mayhem.

Concert Review: Torngat w/ D.A.R.T @The Grad Club, Oct. 14

If you can’t describe what animal sounds produced by a French horn and trumpet sound like, you should have been at the Grad Club at 11p.m. last Saturday.

If, when asked to recall the last time you remember rocking out to a xylophone, memories of the earliest days of your childhood come to mind: you are really missing out on a cool hobby, and you obviously weren’t at the show.

Torngat, the quirky Montreal-based three-piece symphony, was certainly a musical force to be reckoned with this weekend. Fresh off of their acclaimed performance at Pop Montreal–an annual showcase of the who’s who of Francophone, Canadian and international pop musicians–the purely and perfectly instrumental band made their first stop in Kingston and last stop on their current tour a memorable one.

Opening for Torngat was the endearingly local but all too forgettable D.A.R.T., whose adult contemporary style vocals, clichéd lyrics (“I gave it everything I got and ended up in a parking lot”) and mediocre melodies did little to inspire half the crowd. However, the other half of the crowd seemed to really enjoy the set, seeing as they were all old friends of the band enjoying a night on the town.

D.A.R.T. was instrumentally sound and managed to gain the already fleeting attention of the crowd with their last song “Is It Any Wonder?”, but it was not enough to salvage a set already lost on the majority of onlookers; namely, those who didn’t attend high school with the band.

From Torngat’s first appearance on the stage, several things indicate the band is concerned about little else besides engaging the audience with purity of sound and quality of music. Their equipment cases were held together with scarves, and wires and instruments were strewn about haphazardly. Pietro Amato, erstwhile member of The Arcade Fire and Belle Orchestre and the band’s resident French horn and melodion expert, wasn’t even wearing shoes. Torngat’s set also avoided hokey banter, letting their offbeat music speak for itself.

Formed in 2001, Torngat combines the musical stylings of Amato, Wurlitzer and synth ingénue Mathieu Charbonneau, and Julien Poissant, who switches from drums to melodeon and xylophone to trumpet with the ease of a musical prodigy.

Immediately, the band enthralled the audience and created an atmosphere of intimacy and intrigue with pounding drums, powerful brass horns and pulsing synth beats—like a quickly approaching, sonically pleasurable Mack truck. To the enthused Poissant, anything within close proximity became an instrument as he beat on the melodion and surrounding stage fixtures.

Torngat’s performance was flawless, making it impossible for those unfamiliar with their recordings to distinguish between improvisation and instinct. Their music is composed of complex melodies and impeccable timing—think Explosions in the Sky meets later Wilco, but much, much better.

Despite being deeply absorbed in the output of their own instruments, the men of Torngat seemed to have uncanny chemistry and a knack for non-verbal communication. They periodically looked up from their musical trances to share a few loaded glances, as if to say, “I think we’re onto something here.”

An obvious high point of the set was the indisputable crowd favourite “Alberta Song,” which saw Amato and Poissant leap into the crowd, brass horns in hand, and circle The Grad Club while making mock animal noises. But be warned: Torngat’s performance is so engrossing that it may motivate you to break out into spasmodic jazz dance moves mid-set and later yell obnoxiously for an encore, like a woman whose enthusiasm certainly livened up the evening.

Already certain that the musical and performance abilities of Torngat were as infectious as they were inspiring, the audience was left wondering one thing: was it just a coincidence that Pietro Amato’s shirt read “Soiree Good Times”? We didn’t need the subliminal messaging of a T-shirt to convince us to have good feelings about Saturday night—just the music.

Torngat’s next EP is due out in spring 2007.

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