THE BICYCLES with CASPER & THE COOKIES, ANGELA DESVEAUX, MAYOR McCA and BLANCHE at the Drake, September 30. Tickets: $10. Attendance: 180. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
West Queen West on Saturday felt like a carnival in the most classic sense. Not the ferris-wheel/ skee-ball kitsch of itinerant barkers and midways, but the anything-goes hedonistic inversion of the carnivalesque.
At midnight, when I saw the gothic country kooks of Blanche, clad in incredible Wild West outfits and full makeup, dart between a stiltwalker's legs and past a velvet-rope queue of oblivious clubgoers into the Drake, they looked right at home. For one night, only the weirdest and most over-the-top acts felt like the norm. Appropriate, then, that Drakeland folks recruited Eric Warner, mastermind of the Over The Top fest, to program their Underground music lineup for the first half of Nuit Blanche.
Descending into the basement through a circus of early-evening revellers, you could hear the jangly strains of Casper & the Cookies' psych rock guitars and a hiccupping backbeat.
Onstage, ex-Of Montreal member Jason "Casper Fandango" NeSmith batted outlandish false eyelashes and yelped his way through fractured melodies cribbed from AM radio hits and gas-station Solid Gold tapes of yore while bassist Kay Stanton gamely offered slightly tuneless harmonies.
Too bad the guitars sounded like they were playing in a different key from the vocal melodies. Though there were some decent Matthew-Sweet-in-Austin-Powers moments, the whole thing was awesome to watch (and felt suitably surreal for Nuit Blanche) but less awesome to hear.
Angela Desveaux had the opposite problem. Her rolling alt-country tunes sounded better than most of the other acts on the bill, due to her sweet Lucinda Williams drawl and Mike Feuerstack's fab guitar effects, but her straightforward act seemed at odds with the all-night bacchanalia.
Hamilton/Burlington icon Mayor McCa lurched through one-man band mayhem while tossing off one-liners.
"I didn't always look like Ian Blurton," he cackled, gesturing toward his Allman Brothers beard and scraggly hair, rawking a Southern-fried jam, then a loopy pop ditty about window washers, then a love song that found him attempting a clarinet solo.
The sound guy clearly hated the Mayor, but the crowd seemed to dig it for a while, at least. The dude does not quite know when to call it quits.
Happily, T.O. indie sweethearts the Bicycles struck the right balance of quality and wackiness. Wearing matching B-emblazoned shirts, the five-piece bounced eagerly around the stage as they busted out under-three-minute nuggets of pure golden pop.
Backed by Dana Snell's cymbal clashes and Randy Lee's striking Rickenbacker bass riffs, fragile singer Matt Beckett beamed through falsetto tributes to Montreal girls, Antipodean delights and other heartwarming topics that would've felt at home in the Archies' catalogue.
There were some setbacks - half of Snell's vocal solo was cut off due to a dead mic that took way too long to rectify, and some of the better harmonies were lost beneath jangly riffs - but the Bicycles' summoning of their inner children was a dead-on expression of the Nuit Blanche ethos.
Having to pay for it, however, was not.