BULLFROG with PARKSIDE JONES at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (November 30). $12. 416-532-1598.
Being at a Bullfrog show is like sneaking into one of those top-secret house parties that only the hipster artsy kids knew about in high school.
The six-piece funk-jazz-hiphop-soul outfit get the joint hopping with tight instrumental jams accented by the mammoth rhyming skills of MC Blurum 13 (aka James Sobers) and quirky "Did I just hear what I think I heard?" samples courtesy of house DJ Kid Koala.
You can't help but feel, well, cool, like you're part of the action. That's partly due to the electric energy of the band -- onstage, each member shines individually, but they interact and riff off each other to create a sense of unity that draws the audience in.
So why is Bullfrog often billed as no more than Kid Koala's backing band? You wonder whether the second-banana status causes tension between the turntable whiz kid and his talented bandmates.
"Oh, yeah! At the beginning we fought all the time -- it was actually embarrassing," laughs singer-guitarist Mark Robertson. "Just kidding! No, it was hard at first, 'cause obviously we wanted attention for ourselves, but it's actually been good for us. People come out to our shows because they've heard about him as a DJ, but then they actually see us and realize Koala's only one of the six people onstage."
Robertson insists that the Koala connection has opened tons of doors, and his spin on the situation sounds like a savvy marketing strategy.
On the other hand, it's the notoriety of their better-known-than-Bullfrog bandmate that's curtailed the band's activities. They formed in 1994 in Montreal as an acid jazz jam band, snagging weekly gigs in funky lounges like Le Swimming on the Main, and have been touring relentlessly since then. But the demand for Koala's skills meant that the band had to be put on hold while he toured with projects like Deltron 3030 and Gorillaz.
The sextet took the time to focus on songwriting and studio experimentation, and supported the DJ on his solo tour of Europe and North America.
After putting together two indie EPs and selling them at gigs, the group recorded their first full-length album for Medeski Martin and Wood's Ropeadope label this year. The self-titled record is a bouncy compilation of material from the EPs, some new songs and a couple of live tracks -- it's almost as good as seeing them live. Robertson says it took time to nail that manic in-person vibe.
Now that the album's on record-store shelves, Bullfrog are back in tour mode. Calling on his cellphone from "somewhere on the 401 between Kingston and Hamilton," Robertson almost drives off the road. The guy is exhausted -- but not so tired that he can't recall some funny touring moments.
"This one time, in Princeton, we had two guys dressed up in police uniforms," he says. "They burst in and threatened to shut the whole place down, and then ended up stripping. It was nuts. College shows are usually pretty insane."