HUNX AND HIS PUNX at the Silver Dollar, Saturday, March 31. Rating: NNNN
Seth Bogart is as confident a performer as he is a flirty, hilariously faggy one. Dressed in a red blazer, sheer panties and black bikini briefs, the Hunx and his Punx main man presided over a rowdy mosh pit of deliriously happy bouncing guys and girls.
Though the Oakland-based thrift-store heartthrob's latest album, Hairdresser Blues, was a solo effort largely about personal catharsis and recorded without his Punx backing band, the garage-pop songs have a simple timelessness and filthy energy that's totally irresistible when played live by a razor-sharp four-piece band (including Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams on bass) dressed like background actors from John Waters's Cry-Baby.
When he wasn't pausing to reapply lipstick, Bogart used between-song moments to verbally molest a beefy stage hand - or anyone, really - and poll the audience for homos. "If you're a gay man raise your hand. This one's for you." Gay or otherwise, the crowd seemed inspired by his charisma.
GRIMES at the Horseshoe, Tuesday, March 27. Rating: NNN
Anticipation was extra-high for this Grimes show. It was Claire Boucher's first time playing Toronto since NXNE last June, when, latent buzz aside, she wasn't yet a critics' sweetheart.
It's also a month since the Montreal-based noise pop gremlin released the 4AD-backed Visions. But despite the favourable clamour, last Tuesday's show, her final North American date, fell a bit flat.
A disclaimer would be fair: Boucher's been sick. Much of her music is vox-dependent, hinged on looped, warped layers of octave-jumping yelps and coos. Hitting those high notes was tough, and she self-consciously acknowledged those missteps to the crowd, sometimes cuing pre-recorded vocals instead.
Still, Boucher, swaddled in an XXL camo-print jacket, moon face framed by long, heavy-hanging, mottled-blond hair, was smiling and in good spirits. She played off the crowd's energy, jumping along, making sure we didn't waver. Just six songs, the set was centre-stacked with Vanessa, Oblivion, Be A Body and Genesis. Openers Born Gold backed those songs, adding needed muscle.
It wasn't bad, just underwhelmingly short. No surprises, no encore.
ANDREW W.K. at the Phoenix, Tuesday, March 27. Rating: NNNN
I hurt my leg last night at the Andrew W.K. show, not because I was pogoing in the pit but because I tripped on someone's foot as I temporary left the pit to catch my breath. That seemed entirely appropriate: in A.W.K.'s universe, not partying to the max is much more dangerous than going balls-out.
In celebration of the 10th anniversary of his breakthrough album I Get Wet, the New York rocker played the entire thing (and some new songs) with a full band. After years of mostly performing solo on keyboard with backing tracks, he went all-out with the band. Why would you need four guitarists onstage? Why was his wife, Cherie Lily, jumping around in a leotard and headbanging? Why not?!
And although A.W.K.'s hard rock odes to partying are basically the same song over and over again, his absurdly catchy music is secondary to the larger celebration of fun. We're still not sure whether he's a really complicated conceptual art project or simply a rock singer, but regardless, he's one of the most consistently entertaining performers around.
YOUTH LAGOON at Lee's Palace, Saturday, March 31. Rating: NNN
Though his debut album, The Year Of Hibernation, is barely six months old, Youth Lagoon (aka 22-year-old Boise native Trevor Powers) faces a familiar problem for many bedroom artists who've blown up quickly: how best to translate music made in seclusion to a capacity crowd of adoring fans.
Powers spent Youth Lagoon's entire Lee's Palace set seated in front of a keyboard while guitarist Logan Hyde helped fill out the sound. The remaining arrangement came from sequenced drum and bass beats. Such non-organic concessions often detract from this kind of performance, but here the prerecorded dialed-up bits provided most of the sonic muscle. Still, the most distinctive element was the most human: Powers's voice, a fragile, damaged falsetto that reveals his semi-traditional singer/songwriter foundations.
Youth Lagoon's intimate yet epic aesthetic is a tough one to recreate with just two players, and while he did a decent job, it still felt like a work in progress. Shelling out for a live drummer would be a wise follow-up move.