City Field performing as part of Santa Cruz with DJs KOLA and JOHN TURNER at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (January 14). $5 before 11 pm, $8 after. Sexy dress code in effect. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Questions were raised about the future of Toronto freakbeat faves the Flashing Lights as soon as main man Matt Murphy announced he was moving back to Halifax.
Everyone knew it would be only a matter of hours before the charismatic songwriter/guitarist hooked up with his old pals on the scene and got involved in another musical project, so nobody was really surprised to see him playing guitar alongside partner and frontwoman Gregg Millman in City Field at the Bovine last month.
What is unexpected is just how very 1979 the fivesome sounds. On City Field's snappy six-song Authentic City EP, the band makes no attempt to hide the new wave influence of the B-52s, Pere Ubu, the Talking Heads and Patti Smith.
It's just the sort of freewheeling retro frolic that should go down a storm with the furry-booted crowd at Tyler Clark Burke's Santa Cruz soiree Friday at Lee's Palace.
"Gregg and I were in a Halifax bar," recalls Murphy. "We saw Mitchell Wiebe from Soaking Up Jagged and Bad Movie walk in and said, 'Wouldn't it be fun to play in a band with him?'"
That led to recruiting Brent Randall and Dave Ewenson from the Sweet Tenders as a rhythm section.
"Mitchell typically takes a more chaotic, punk rock approach to music, whereas Gregg and I are more melodically driven and work in a very structured way. But in the few months we've been playing together, we've drifted more into each other's camps. Brent and Dave are quick and fearless about picking up on any changes, so it's all very spontaneous and exciting."
The six tunes that appear on Authentic City, released on the down-low, are meant to be a sampler from a forthcoming album for which Murphy says 11 more songs are ready to record this spring. Only now that Murphy has moved back to Toronto with Millman while Randall and Ewenson continue running their Just Friends indie label in Halifax, City Field could face the same fate as the Flashing Lights.
"Yeah, we're sort of living off the excitement we had before Gregg and I left in September. We've managed to do shows back in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto, which keeps it alive, but we don't have much time to work on new songs together.
"When the other guys get to town for the Santa Cruz gig, we'll work on three new songs, but we'll have to make a decision about where we're gonna record the album."
Murphy doesn't mention that one of the reasons he returned to Toronto was to finish up recording songs for the soundtrack of the forthcoming feature film The Life And Hard Times Of Guy Terrifico. It's a country-style mockumentary by first-time director Michael Mabbott concerning a talented singer/songwriter whose career goes south in the early 70s. Then, 30 years later, his lost recordings are discovered and hailed as overlooked masterpieces.
It's a Spinal Tap-like job - er, Spinal Twang if you will - that involves cameos by Merle Haggard, Ronnie Hawkins, Donnie Fritts, road mangler deluxe Phil Kaufman and Kris Kristofferson, whose song The Pilgrim (Chapter 33) appears to have been a key inspiration for the project along with the whole Gram Parsons myth.
Murphy not only co-wrote and performs the music for the film, but he also makes his screen debut as lead character Guy Terrifico. The final cut is complete, and it's hoped The Life And Hard Times Of Guy Terrifico will premiere during the South By Southwest music conference in March.
"The director saw a Little Orton Hoggett country revue I did and sent me a script. It was really funny, and being able to do the music seemed like a great opportunity.
"Initially, I thought it was going to be just some low-budget documentary thing, but when I showed up on the set to see them shoot a little one-on-one interview, there were all these huge trailers, cameras and 30 people running around. I was like, 'Wow, this is a real film. What have I gotten myself into?' But it turned out to be an incredible experience."
Just doing the music and making everything sound and feel authentic to the era proved to be a huge project that spanned over four years. Murphy doesn't regret a second of it.
"We got sent this tape of Kris Kristofferson's voice and acoustic guitar so I could add my vocal parts for a duet number. He sings in such a low register, I had to deepen my voice so it would sound right. The first time I heard the playback with my voice coming in after Kristofferson's, we just sat there and laughed for, like, 30 minutes straight.
"I mean, it works, but it's just so surreal."