WARSAWPACK with Electric Shoes and Wheels on the Bus at Lee's Palace, January 16. Tickets: $3. Attendance: 150. Rating: NNN
the turnout for the mishmash of local talent at Lee's last Thursday felt like a crowd of in-the-know NYC art-school hipsters.Maybe the Big Apple vibe came from the Ramones Greatest Hits album on constant repeat between sets. Can't beat good old-school bubble-gum punk, right?
It was obvious that openers Electric Shoes thought so when their lanky, awkward lead singer wrapped himself protectively around his shiny guitar and slouched over the mike stand while yowling indecipherable lyrics over a crunchy three-chord assault.
While the faint Simple Minds echoes in his vocals added some interest to their set, the selling point was definitely their Buddy-Holly-specs-sporting chick drummer. Adorable, determined and driven, she ripped at her kit with po-faced concentration.
She didn't go unnoticed by second-stringers Wheels on the Bus, whose frontman jokingly professed his undying love midway through the Brampton emo-core quartet's set.
Their slightly grating, pulsatingly soft-loud dissonant two-guitar rock hinted at Sunny Day Real Estate, no doubt in heavy rotation during these guys' high school careers. The band's solid enough, but their tunes were derivative, with boring structures and too many anguished howls.
After that shaky lead-up, it wasn't hard for Warsawpack to stand out. You could feel the energy in the club intensify as soon as the band took the stage, oozing professionalism and confidence.
'Pack leader Lee Raback riled up the crowd like the coolest counsellor on a day-camp bus, commanding attention with his razor-sharp anti-capitalist rants and inter-song anecdotes. (A hit with the dreadlocked, ganja-friendly crowd: "I heard a rumour that Canada was gonna become Amsterdam over Christmas. What happened with that? You don't see anyone smokin' doobs on Bloor Street, do you?")
Warsawpack have the same setup as Kid Koala's Bullfrog outfit, but bring more authenticity and less overblown publicity to the mix. Sure, DJ Aaron Sakala isn't necessarily gonna be blowing minds at the DMC championships any time soon, but he tied together the rock-jazz-hiphop potpourri with sporadic scratches and well-chosen loops. And the band's fleshed out by an awesome horn section. (Tenor blower Simon Oczkowski does double duty as the least sissified rock flautist I've ever heard.) Jethro Tull? Perish the thought.
The thing so many other agitprop ensembles could learn from the Steeltown seven-piece is a healthy sense of irony. Warsawpack are obviously committed to their politics, but they know when to lighten up -- witness Raback's repeated riff on Ron Popeil, the Ronco infomercial king famous for spray-on hair and electric food email@example.com