EXCLAIM! 11th ANNIVERSARY SHOW with the JIM GUTHRIE BAND, TANGIERS, the CONSTANTINES and TRANS AM at the Phoenix, May 8. Tickets: $13. Attendance: 1,080. Rating: NNNN
The phoenix is one of my favourite venues in the city: it's gorgeous, there are enough island bars to avoid waiting more than five minutes, the space is massive and the sightlines decent. Plus, its prime location at Sherbourne and Wellesley makes for excellent COPS-worthy people-watching antics if you're stuck outside the club.There's only one glitch. For some reason, the cavernous acoustics in the concert hall make for a pitiful vocal mix. Get a musician like Jimmy Guthrie, with a resonant voice and sweet melodies, up on that stage and it's impossible to make out what he's crooning unless he bears down and yowls into the microphone.
In spite of the off acoustics, Guthrie and his nicely fleshed-out band (Hidden Cameras' Michael Olsen and Owen Pallett added an excellent electrified string section) did a fine job of filling the space with tweaked indie rockers off Guthrie's recent Morning Noon Night disc.
Although I was disappointed that Guthrie shied away from more heartbreaking, bitterweet ballads like 4am and his older Sexy Drummer, it was probably a smart move on his part. Anything under a dull roar was promptly swallowed up.
Raucous post-punk kids Tangiers growled loud enough to be heard above the din, although their set was a bit loose and marred by an annoying guitar strap glitch. Axeman Yuri Didrichsons took forever to find a new instrument, to the chagrin of the waste-case leather-jacket louts beside me, who heckled.
Any disappointment, though, was blown away by the Constantines' set. Watching the Three Gut champions tear through the most energetic rock star performance I've seen in the last six months (aided by tambourine cameos by Three Gut doyenne Tyler Clark Burke and Guthrie, among others), I was floored to realize they've been playing mostly the same material since their last album dropped. It's a testament to their dead-on songcraft that the tunes still sound novel. Plus, judging from a few preview songs (one twang-infused love song killed), their upcoming album stands to eclipse their 2001 debut.
The cool thing is that by the time stateside post-rock whiteboys Trans Am took the stage at around 12:30 am, the crowd of media types and eager indie kids here for Exclaim!'s birthday bash had already started to clear out. They didn't miss much; the filtered vocals, throbbing percussion and double synth/double bass switch shtick gets tired after a of couple of tracks.
You gotta love a show where local talent trumps bigger-ticket headliners.