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R. Jeanette Martin
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RATTLESNAKE CHOIR with NEW COUNTRY REHAB and the PINING at the Horseshoe, Thursday, January 5. Rating: NNNN
After New Country Rehab's characteristically fast and furious middle set, I questioned the order of the performers at this strong showing of local alt-country talent.
But it turned out that roots rock veterans Rattlesnake Choir were just what the night's end needed. Led by understated, gentlemanly singer/songwriter John Borra, the "Choir" also includes violinist/vocalist Miranda Mulholland, double bassist Tony Benattar, percussionist Sam Ferrara and pianist/accordionist Michael Boguski, who leaned closely over his keys and occasionally went nuts.
Ferrara played a cheese grater, a homemade slinky contraption and tambourine, leaving lots of room for the tempo to breathe. When he switched to saw, his melodic and percussive playing was perfect.
The Pining drummer Dani Nash came up for backup vocals near the end. Speaking of the Pining, their sweet opening set was a treat. The ladies have strong songs, original voices and a warm, easy rapport with each other. They're better and better every time.
MICRONITE FILTERS at the Horseshoe, Saturday, January 7. Rating: NNNN
It's usually a sign of a good band when the first few rows of fans at a loud rock show are dancing their asses off, which is exactly the response Oshawa's Micronite Filters provoked at the Horseshoe Saturday. The four-piece sounds like a bluesier, more soulful version of proto-hard-rock acts like Blue Cheer or the MC5, tweaking the acid rock formula just enough to sound new again.
They're clearly building a decent fan base, although judging from the applause provoked by mentions of Durham Region, much of their support seems to be from out of town. It wouldn't take much for them to fit in better with the Toronto scene; just making sure that more than half the band wear suits onstage would help earn cool points. Stage wear aside, it's refreshing to hear musicians pull off the hard-rock-and-blues combination without it sounding like a beer commercial.
PICASTRO and LOOM as part of FEAST IN THE EAST 9 at Dickens Street Theatre, Saturday, January 7. Rating: NNNN
There tends to be a lull in big-name travelling musical acts in early January, but that allows smaller, local-focused shows to draw surprisingly large crowds. At the Dickens Street Theatre, a modest loft space, it was shoulder-to-shoulder standing-room-only for most of the ninth edition of its monthly Feast In The East series.
The downcast experimental folk of Picastro and Loom usually falls into the "unsung heroes" category, but both acts got their full due Saturday night. The singer/songwriter projects of Liz Hysen and Brooke Manning respectively offered few big moments but, with the aid of strings and electronics, created a dark, heartbeat-slowing atmosphere that eventually convinced the crowd to sit cross-legged on the floor.
That made it a challenge to scarf down the vegetarian Balkan feast cooked up by Hysen (it's not just a clever series name), which included delicious baklava that left us wishing every show included a meal.
MUSKOX at the Holy Oak Cafe, Sunday, January 8. Rating: NNNN
The Holy Oak only holds a few dozen people, and it seemed that many at the Muskox gig were musicians from other local bands. That's not so surprising: Muskox's hard-to-define prog/math-rock/jazz/post-rock/Kraut-rock banjo-led instrumental songs are definitely more muso-friendly than your average pop band's.
Despite the sheet music stands, complex arrangements and general nerdy awesomeness, Muskox are more accessible than you might think. If you listen closely, you can catch traces of many genres bundled up cohesively. Two of those are jazz and post-rock, but the band's music is more structured than the former and more dynamic than much of what we associate with the latter. And as we learned from Mike Smith's jovial stage patter, Muskox are also a lot more lighthearted than many "serious music" bands.