Canteen Knockout at B-Side (129 Peter), Wednesday (July 21) $5. 416-204-9660. Rating: NNNNN
Have you ever wondered what the dark side of alt-country would be? Throw away the image of a grungy disciple of Neil Young perfectly combining dirty riffs with a soulful twang stomp, and allow yourself to focus on the horror that would occur if there were ever a band to combine Bush X with GG Allin's country work. You can stop fretting about it, because Canteen Knockout, the year-and-a-half-old brainchild of local musician Andre Skinner, have fought against the dark side of alt-country and won. The evidence lies in their self-titled EP, which contains a series of well-crafted and aurally pleasing rootsy rockers.
"When we started, I tried to do alternative-type stuff, with the big choruses, and it wasn't really working with the rest of our sound," says Skinner during an Annex tête-à-tête. "This year we got into North By NorthEast because we didn't have an alternative sound. It's working for us."
The lineup has changed several times; a guitarist whom Skinner describes as "talented but high-maintenance" has left, as have a bassist and a drummer. Skinner's written all the songs, which might explain why the lineup can change without hassle.
"These guys are a lot more subdued and easy-going. They just show up for rehearsal and play. They say to me, 'Oh, we've got a gig? Cool.' "
Skinner, the former drummer of jam-rap band Slit Slot, learned a lot from time spent with the dramatically different, often drunk miscreants.
"I learned that you can't really give a fuck when you're onstage. You've just gotta play. Don't be concerned about the crowd or every little detail - you've just gotta have a good time. The more relaxed you are onstage, the better you are."
When I ask if he wants CK to be a hip band, he gets offended, thinking I'm referring to the Tragically Hip.
"No, we don't. You can put that on the record, too. I don't care."
When told that the question was whether Canteen Knockout want to become the kind of band that plays to the types who wear po' boy hats and listen to crunk/Frente! mash-ups, his answer changes to "Yes. Certainly we do."
And as long as they stay on the right side of alt-country, they'll be fine.