DOGS DIE IN HOT CARS with PHOENIX at the Opera House, April 8. Tickets: $17.50. Attendance: 500. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In the past two years, the neo- new-wave renaissance has thrown up dozens of good-looking, image-conscious bands sporting insanely hot wardrobes and hairstyles requiring a level of maintenance usually associated with TTC vehicles.
While nostalgia is always revisionist in scope, thus far the geekier, unfashionable side of the 80s new wave boom has been shut out. Enter Scottish outfit Dogs Die in Hot Cars . Rather than copping the detached groove of Gang of Four or the photogenic swank of Duran Duran, this quintet pilfer Big Country and XTC - two bands more celebrated for their tunes than for their image.
Though it was refreshing to see a group of young musicians seemingly unconcerned with clothes and posturing, the Dogs' unbottled glee at the Opera House last Friday was a little hard to handle.
"Everybody has to write a love song," announced singer Craig Macintosh before jumping into the ska-inflected mini-hit I Love You 'Cause I Have To. The tune's jumpy minor-key chorus worked up a skanky groove that had the fans up front hopping up and down, but much of the set consisted of forced, histrionic pop workouts that often bordered on aggravating.
Godhopping, for instance, a song with an almost Celtic vibe and overcooked chorus, drifted from the XTC framework enough to sound like a guitar-heavy version of Men Without Hats' Safety Dance.
Worse still, Macintosh constantly pushed his Andy Partridge-esque howl to the upper limits of its range, resulting in an unfortunate deluge of atonal caterwauling. In fact, it wasn't till the band slowed down a little for a mid-set acoustic number that their knack for melody shone through. Maybe they should invest in some Quaaludes.
Thankfully, French quartet Phoenix were the aural antithesis of DDIHC. Effortlessly parading through highlights from their two records, United and Alphabetical, the Parisians exuded a greasy chic and never broke a sweat.
Even if some of their material, like the epic vocoder-rocking Funky Squaredance, didn't match up to the recorded versions, live jams of I'm An Actor, Victim Of The Crime and the Sofia Coppola-approved Too Young were totally rad.