THE GRATES with 5 BLANK PAGES , BARMITZVAH BROTHERS and EXPATRIATE at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Saturday (March 11). $8. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
Every 20 years or so, another important band breaks out of Brisbane, Australia, onto the world stage. There were the Bee Gees in the 60s, the Go Betweens in the 80s, and now the Grates are shaping up to be the group most likely to continue the cycle.
During NXNE last June, their wildly charismatic singer, Patience Hodgson, had a standoffish music-snob crowd kangaroo-hopping and hand-clapping along to the Grates' exuberant workouts, and they've been playing progressively bigger festival stages ever since.
Touring non-stop with the similarly charged-up Go! Team has turned the Grates from giddy newbies into the house-wrecking threat you'll see when the Brisbane bounders stop by the Horseshoe Saturday night to preview songs from their forthcoming Universal debut, Gravity Won't Get You High, set for release in May.
That is, if Hodgson and her bandmates Alana Skyring and John Patterson - who initially bonded over a wobbly karaoke sing through A Whole New World, from Disney's Aladdin - survive their current UK tour.
"We were out having dinner last night and some really big tough guy at the table next to us got angry with a waiter for being a bit cheeky," recalls Hodgson from a London café. "He then grabbed hold of the table next to us, picked it up over his head and started shouting about how he was going to throw it at the server. But I could see by the way that huge table was teetering, it would've landed right on us if he'd let it go, and we would've been flattened instead. Fortunately, we escaped with our lives."
They've also been blessed to avoid a major-label makeover that could've crushed their blossoming career before it ever really got underway.
They already had a clutch of insanely catchy tunes, but working in the studio with the combination of producer Brian Deck (Secret Machines, Modest Mouse) and mix master Peter Katis (Interpol) has made them sound huge without getting all slick and sappy.
"So many producers we spoke to said they wanted to make our album sound really dodgy, as if was recorded in a garage, like, 'Let's put you all in the same room and we'll do every song in one take.' I guess they thought that's what we wanted to hear, but we didn't want to come all the way from Australia to make a record we could've done in our backyard shed. Yet neither did we want to wind up with an album that was too slick, and after talking to some people in Los Angeles, there was a real fear of that.
"We really liked Brian Deck's style of production to begin with, which always seems to have a lot of layers, yet there's still this rawness to the sound - you can hear all the parts. I loved what he did with Ugly Casanova and Iron & Wine, and his Holopaw stuff was just gorgeous. When we spoke to him, he suggested we experiment as much as we can and represent both the dark and the light elements. That was more like it."
Of course, getting a great sound out of other artists is one thing, but finding a producer who understands what a group needs and has the technical facility and the people skills to get it is another story.
"When we met Brian for the first time, he was dressed the same way as John - they were both wearing black shirts and Levi's jeans with Cons. The only difference was that John's shirt had Go Gamma Go! written on it, with a picture of this GammaBot robot.
"When Brian saw it, he reached into his pocket and took out his wallet, which had the exact same GammaBot image on it. We were like, 'Oh, crap, that's too weird!' We'd found our man."