Man, people really go all out for their bar mitzvahs these days. When I celebrated mine, we had, like, a séance in my backyard and slow-danced to Meatloaf played softly on a CD player. But when a national music mag turns 13, they pull out all the stops.
Earlybirds for Exclaim! 's big coming-of-age shindig at the Phoenix were greeted by the sweet smell of head-shop incense and the ambient tones of Montreal's Montag (aka Antoine Bédard ), who warmed up the crowd with his cinematic, bilingual indietronica and adorably nervous demeanour. Bédard ditched the stereotypical laptop jockey stoicism for a chatty one-man band act that found him juggling shaker eggs, stroking windchimes and ricocheting inside a small cage of retro keyboards.
Although he looked relieved when Stars ' Amy Millan sauntered out to coo breathily on Perfect Vision, her sultry rock chick shtick didn't mesh well with Bédard's fey playfulness. The appearance of a handful of other Stars members, who played manic percussion on the set closer, however, worked like a charm.
As keyed-up revellers poured into the increasingly packed club, Ottawa indie survivors Wooden Stars did their mid-90s shambling jazzy guitar thing, which didn't translate entirely well to 2005, possibly due to the Phoenix's hit-and-miss acoustics. In the back of the club, their angular ballads sounded like a muddy mess, with weird new-wavey undertones - rumour has it someone by the bar was asking who let Oingo Boingo into the show.
BC brooders the Organ fared slightly better, with resonant moody brooding synths that echoed off the walls quite well. But while their haunting Smiths/Cure homage has improved by leaps and bounds since the ladies in the band learned how to play their instruments, their morose, motionless stage presence remains the same.
Singer Katie Sketch sounded great, especially considering she was fighting a nasty case of strep, but despite her best attempts to jack up the energy, it was hard to stay focused - a band that relies so heavily on the same few chord progressions and whose members look like they want to die does not a great live act make.
By midnight the crowd was restless, and it seemed like the only thing that could get the party back on track was a round of Havah Nagila or a quick hora.
Or, as it turned out, a stellar set by Stars. Relentless touring has done a shitload for the Montreal five-piece, whose dreamy anthems for the soft revolution have morphed into searingly beautiful full-on rock numbers.
Drama queen Torquil Campbell punctuated the swooning boy-girl duets with repeated thank-you's, caustic quips about sex and fucking and a pointed dis of show sponsor Jeep that probably got him wrist-slapped backstage after the show.
Knowing Torq, he probably liked being disciplined. And you can't have a good party without at least one hyper shit-disturber.
EXCLAIM 13th ANNIVERSARY w/ STARS , THE ORGAN , THE WOODEN STARS and MONTAG at the Phoenix, April 14. Tickets: $16. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNN