Ronley Teper’s Lipliners’ live debut of The Game was anything but straightforward

In their second of four monthly shows at the Baby G, the long-running Toronto band brought costumes, accents and wild reinterpretations of just-released songs

RONLEY TEPER’S LIPLINERS at the Baby G, Saturday, February 24. Rating: NNNN

Performance is the key to understanding Ronley Teper. A multidisciplinary artist who’s bounced around the Toronto scene since the early oughts, live performance, often improvised, is the tie that binds her many phases and iterations. In fact, Teper was in the midst of promoting a live album (2014’s Alive) when she recorded her latest, The Game, over two nights at the Piston in 2015. So it’s fitting that a day after its release, she’d be debuting the whole album live.

The second of four shows she’s playing as part of a monthly residency at the Baby G, this night’s gig was a relatively straightforward one: present the record to a room full of friends and family. Yet in Teper’s hands, that simple task became a platform for wildly imaginative reinterpretations.

Backed by her 10-member band, Teper worked through the record’s eight tracks, sprinkling in old favourites for good measure. Introducing the show with a heavy New York accent, she changed characters as often as the group switched songs, incorporating DIY costume changes for good measure. She donned a rough rooster getup for A Farm Song From A Rooster’s POV, which sits next to the Weakerthans’ Plea From A Cat Named Virtute as one of the great Canadian songs sung from an animal’s perspective. Addressing the massive gap between the front of the stage and the crowd, she leapt down and began engaging with the audience directly, eventually enticing many to dance.

Teper has been compared to everyone from Kate Bush and Mary Margaret O’Hara (who appears on the album, but did not perform on this night) to Frank Zappa and Tom Waits. Elements of each appear in her dense repertoire, yet she doesn’t fully represent any of them. Musically, her phalanx of backing musicians – horns, guitar, banjo, bass, drums, keys – land somewhere between Broken Social Scene instrumentals and Eastern European folk. Meanwhile, Teper’s satirical lyrics and performance (for the song Titties she appeared wearing comically oversized balloon boobs that would make Ursula Udders blush) splits the difference between Fred Penner and the KLF.

At times the mass of sound overwhelmed the songs and even Teper herself. Behind her various guises lies a powerful voice capable of evoking real emotion. But too often that was given the backseat by the spectacle of the overall performance, which was a shame – there is real depth and nuance in Teper’s music. Yet it seems that’s the price you pay when you’re making stuff up as you go. “I don’t like to rehearse and I don’t like set lists,” she boasted, leaving the crack group of players to keep up with her musical whims.

Love it or hate it, no one walks out of a Ronley Teper show without an opinion. Indifference is her enemy and on this night, she bested it handily.

Ronley Teper’s Lipliners play the Baby G again on March 31 and April 28. | @IanGormely

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