THE CONSTANTINES with the ARCADE FIRE and JIM GUTHRIE at the Horseshoe, October 11. Tickets: $10. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
One of the joys of being a nerdy indie music fan - and especially of being a music writer - is watching performers you pegged as hot prospects grow into their full potential. It's not just the self-satisfied feeling that you had your finger on the pulse before anyone else. It's more that sense of bliss you get when you see some kid get confident enough to release his or her true talent.
That's how I felt during Jim Guthrie 's opening set at last Saturday's Constantines CD launch. A year and a half ago, I watched the heartbreakingly modest singer/songwriter stumble through some sweet-but-shaky tunes in front of a handful of kids at the 'Shoe . His chops were there, but the shy Guthrie was too nervous to break through the bar chatter.
This time around, even with a crowd antsy for the main attraction, Guthrie clicked. Backed by a super-tight crew, including sometime fellow Guelphite Simon Osborne and Hidden Camera violinist Owen Pallett , he charmed with polished versions of tunes from this year's lovely Morning Noon Night disc and a preview of perfectly jagged ballads from his upcoming album.
The highlight, however, was a rapturous take on Sexy Drummer, the centrepiece of his A Thousand Songs debut, with its heartbeat of a bass line and call-and-answer chorus.
Montreal cult band the Arcade Fire pulled off an equally thrilling set. Even the most jaded snarkster couldn't resist the charms of the carnivalesque indie/folk/cabaret posse's over-the-top live show.
Frontman Win Butler delivered hushed lovestruck couplets in an affecting murmur and too-adorable singer Régine Chassagne cooed and yelped like a Björk doll while pumping an accordion or pretending to cast magic spells. Bandmates Richard Parry and Will Butler drummed on the walls, the stage, the lighting rails and one another's crash helmets. You couldn't take your eyes off the band.
Even their technical glitches were spectacular. When a second (!) guitar broke, Chassagne sidled up to the keyboard and bashed out three full levels of the Super Mario Brothers theme song while Parry and Butler made like video game characters. It was an 80s kid's wet dream.
By the time the Constantines took the stage after midnight, you felt like there was no way the energy could be jacked up any further.
But they blew both superb openers out of the water with the most blistering soul-punk explosion I've seen from them. This is a band who snagged shitloads of advance hype based on a random festival showcase when they were basically unknowns.
Other bands would go limp from that kind of pressure, but the Cons have managed to keep it up. A taut horn section (which included Skydigger Andy Maize ), a new appreciation of melody and the addition of keyboardist Will Kidman infused the guttural caterwaul of singer/guitarist Bry Webb 's - the only white dude who can pull off lines like "Can I get a witness?" and "Sister, don't reduce yourself" with any degree of dignity - with a shot of churchy reverence. Both older cuts like Justice and newer songs like the clap-along Nighttime Anytime (It's Alright) and Shine A Light come off as classic generational anthems.
It's easy to understand why a blissed-out fan beside me pronounced the Cons "this generation's answer to the Clash" while dancing like a lunatic and pumping his fist. Amen to that, brother.