THE HUNDREDS AND THOUSANDS with LITTLE ONES and SMALL SINS at the Horseshoe, November 24. Tickets: $8. Attendance: 200. Rating: NN Rating: NN
You know that whole "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" thing? It goes both ways.
I'm not just talking about Montague-Capulet drama. Though pop music lore's loaded with stories of bands forced to change their name under legal duress (Death from Above 1979? Caribou?) and who've upheld the quality and style of their original incarnation, there are as many examples of rockers who've taken a shift in nomenclature as a sign of evolution, forgetting that it takes more than revamped packaging to change a product.
Unfortunately, such is the case with the Hundreds and Thousands, the new musical identity of the Ottawa-founded, Toronto-based outfit formerly known as Starling. Featuring all three members of that band (singer/guitarist Ian LeFeuvre, drummer Peter Von Althen and bassist Maury LaFoy), a sometime Great Canadian Hope that never quite got its big break, the Hundreds and Thousands haven't been around under this title for all that long.
Friday's slot opening for Small Sins and Little Ones at the Horseshoe was one of the handful of shows they've played since relaunching last March, and judging by the nearly empty club during their 10 pm set, their former fans likely aren't aware of the change.
LeFeuvre gamely strummed and yelped through crunchy, hook-based alt-rock tunes, all of which sounded very much like the soundtrack-friendly, slightly Britpop-inspired anthems that made people pay attention to Starling in the late 90s.
The only discernable sonic shift that's developed under the Hundreds and Thousands umbrella is the threesome's slow movement away from rootsier arrangements to a plugged-in, stubbornly radio-friendly feel.
While all three members are good musicians, their "new" project flounders for the same major reason Starling did: they just don't have enough standout songs to take them to the next level - or leave you humming the perfect bits after you leave the club.
LeFeuvre's voice is pleasant but not distinctive enough to compensate for unremarkable writing. And one of the biggest disappointments of the Hundreds and Thousands' Friday set was the absence of decent Starling songs: I kept waiting to hear Rub It In, but it never came. And that late-90s sound has lost the freshness it had in 97.
That's not to say the Hundreds and Thousands are bad. Watching LaFoy rock out during extended solos and guitar-shadowing bass runs was captivating, and reminded me that he's one of Canada's most solid bassists.
Watching headliners Small Sins later in the night, whose transformation from the Ladies and Gentlemen coincided with an overhauled, expanded sound (from dreamy synth-based bedroom pop to a full melodic rock approach that keeps growing), I wanted the Hundreds and Thousands to take a page from their book.