there were no shouty mobs of business nobs swarming the clubs, no busking guitarists, no hopeful musos hawking CD-Rs. Really, there was nothing going on to make the Thursday-evening launch of Canadian Music Week's showcase component seem different from any other night of the week in downtown Toronto.
Only when some hired lunk outside Lee's Palace shouted "No more badges are getting in" did it click that there was a music conference going on. Yet there was no real festival vibe. Onstage, Brassy singer/guitarist Muffin Spencer was going through the motions of fronting a "modern rock" act, adding a little guitar noise to some shuffle beats. Blah. And people think her brother Jon Spencer is the no-talent charlatan in the family.
Over at the El Mocambo, madman mover Johnny Dowd was waging a war of wattage with his guitar-slashing cohort Justin Asher while Blondie drummer Clem Burke was expounding upon the many splendours of the Handsome Family to New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, who was leaning against the bar.
"Clem and I are in town to record a Johnny Thunders tribute album," Sylvain explained as Burke heaped praise on the Handsome Family's slightly baffled lyricist, Rennie Sparks.
"Umm... who's Clem Burke?" she asked, as soon as they were out of earshot. Oh, well.
Friday night was off to a much better start with the swinging frat-rock foolery of Montreal's Les Sexareenos at the Horseshoe. Frightfully furry bassist Colonel Lingus unzipped his hooded parka after the second stomp, revealing a Headstones sticker affixed to his T-shirt. Tearing off the promotional paste-on, he crumpled it, sneering, "This is what Canadian Music Week's all about!" before hurling it at the throng of cameramen.
More comedy was on the way from the Black Halos, who don't realize the hilarity of their dog-collared punk cartoon. Just when you thought it couldn't get much more ridiculous, Lily Frost came up with some faux- Mary Quant go-go shit at the Reverb that was absurd in ways Austin Powers only dreamed.
Far from the trickle of CMW traffic, Halifax DJ Scratch Bastard was cutting pure chaos before a roomful of bored suburban b-boys waiting for Aceyalone. Brassmunk and Vancouver's highly touted Checkmate came and went without so much as a head-nod, and even the between-set airing of Kardinal Offishall's hot new single Bakardi Slang couldn't get a rise out of the slouchy mass busy dribbling beer on their saggy pants.
By Saturday, none of the hot tips floated my way had proved anywhere near accurate, and expectations of having my jaw slackened by a stunning new act had shrunk accordingly. The MC5 reference someone made about Vancouver's John Ford got me to Ted's Wrecking Yard, and although there was nothing vaguely motorific about them, they turned out to be an astounding roots-rock combo -- kinda like Uncle Tupelo before they could drink legally. They moved from a Buffalo Springfield jangle through some blistering Crazy Horse crunch with the confident swagger of a band ready for their close-up. That 45 minutes made the whole sorry ordeal worthwhile.