THE JUAN MACLEAN with DUCHESS SAYS and TIM SWEENEY at the Horseshoe, February 6. Tickets: $13.50. Attendance: 75. Rating: NNNN
There was a moment during the Duchess Says set when Juan MacLean kept glancing over his shoulder, anxiously surveying the crowd. It was as if you could read his mind. He was either thinking, "Gee, these Duchess cats are pretty good," or, more likely, "Where the fuck is everyone?"
Monday night shows are a tough sell. Snow flurries and piercing winds certainly didn't help, but the feeble attendance was still baffling. MacLean's Less Than Human placed well on January critics' lists, and his label, DFA, currently reigns in the electro-indie world. Plus, his last Toronto show was in a jammed Kool Haus, opening for LCD Soundsystem. So what gives?
Don't ask DFA affiliate Tim Sweeney , who faced the daunting task of warming up a barren dance floor while incongruously stationed in the shadows of stage gear. Still, he persevered, seamlessly mixing a banging set of obscure disco and four-on-the-floor remixes, but sadly, his record crate became little more than the soundtrack to a smoke break. It was a dance-floor opportunity squandered, as anyone who witnessed his and DFA producer Tim Goldsworthy's destruction of Supermarket last April can attest.
Duchess Says fared a bit better, except that instead of playing to the sound man, the four-piece rocked to what could only be described as a small army of mannequins. The crowd's limp energy was reciprocated by the Montreal Moog rockers, who'd thrown down a much livelier performance at the Boat only two weeks earlier.
Singer A-Claude summoned a few Iggy demons, crawling on all fours, moaning and hissing to songs like Cut Up. Her crouched position put the focus on the band, which seemed aloof. But if ever there was a reason to be in a half-empty tavern on a winter Monday night, the Juan MacLean (aka John MacLean ) gave it to us. Looking like a bug-eyed Bruce Willis, JM immediately lit a fire under the self-conscious handful on the floor. When the glitchy intro from AD 2003 subsided into a slammin' big-room house beat from Shining Skinned Friend, the crowd thawed and the room belonged to MacLean.
Keeping his pace unrelenting, the twitchy ex-Six Finger Satellite guitarist tweaked his dials and wailed into his mic on a Nancy Whang-less version of Tito's Way and a screamier interpretation of Give Me Every Little Thing. Flanked by a drummer, electronic percussionist/knob-twiddler and a keytar-playing theremin master, the mostly muted MacLean spoke only to inform spectators that he hadn't slept in three days.
Unlike, say, the unfortunate city who dozed on this Juan.