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The Unicorns at Barclays Center

I was (re)born a unicorn: Cult band reforms to play Barclays

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There is a legendary indie rock band coming to Barclays Center Aug. 22–24 — and it is not Arcade Fire.

The Unicorns, a Canadian trio that rose to hyper-cult status in 2003 and then quickly imploded, is getting back together to perform a very short run of shows, including a three-night stint at the Rust Bowl.

“The band had a bit of an unnatural life and death and we started having conversations recently to see if we should do something about that,” said Alden Penner, who plays vocals, guitar, bass, and keyboard in the band under the stage name Alden Ginger.

The Unicorns will be opening up for the aforementioned they-who-will-not-be-named-again indie rock stalwarts, but their reunion has been generating far more buzz than the two-time Grammy-winning headline act — an impressive achievement for an act that was only around for four years.

The band formed in 2000 and released two full-length albums, “Unicorns Are People Too” and the much-adored “Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?” in 2003. It was an era in which manic energy and fun was creeping into the typically self-serious indie rock world, and no band was more manic or fun than the Unicorns — three baby-faced kids in pink outfits bashing out nonsensical songs with names such as “I Was Born (A Unicorn)” and “Ghost Mountain.”

But the group’s new-found fame and a grueling touring schedule took its toll on the young band mates, and they infamously broke up onstage one night in 2004.

“There was a real emotional intensity to the band’s first life tied up in our relationship and the tension that existed there,” said Penner. After the spilt, Penner went on to join Clues and make a solo record, while bandmates Nicholas Thorburn and Jamie Thompson formed Islands.

During their Unicorns years, Penner and Thorburn wrote their quirky, raucous songs while living on opposite sides of Canada from each other. One of them would record a track and then e-mail it to the other one, who would then record a layer on top of it. They sent the tracks back and forth until they were dense and angular songs filled with sweet hooks, exuberant vocals, and off-kilter drum beats.

“The unique and disjointed feel came out of the way we were recording,” said Penner. “These were all kernels of ideas that would develop from there.”

In addition to the Barclays shows, the Unicorns will play two nights with that other Canadian band in Los Angeles, and a music festival in Montreal. But despite the excitement around their reunion, the band has no immediate plans to go on a longer tour or to record any new material. And that is a good thing, said Penner.

“Now we can just have the pleasure of playing together again,” he said. “We are just doing these shows and seeing where it goes from there.”

The Unicorns, Dan Deacon, and that other band at Barclays Center [620 Atlantic Ave. at Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights, www.barclayscenter.com. Aug. 22–24 at 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $35.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.
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