GWAR at Sound Academy, Saturday, November 24. Rating: NNN
If you were expecting a sombre show from Gwar due to the sudden death of guitarist Flattus Maximus last year, your instincts were off. The long-running shock rock band was as ludicrous as ever, spraying gallons of fake blood and green gunk at their fans, many in white T-shirts for the occasion.
Dressed in barbarian pants-less outfits, grotesque headgear and meaty-looking masks, the five-piece bludgeoned through thrash-leaning metal songs from its 28-year history. Around them loinclothed "slaves of Gwar" kept busy decapitating, sodomizing and crucifying likenesses of Hitler, Obama and Jesus.
The members of Gwar are capable of flashes of technical brilliance - newer tune Hail, Genocide! and old-school closer Sick Of You definitely hit the spot - but the music comes second to the theatrics. Whenever the latter died down and the band simply stood and played, interest waned.
The most entertaining bits came during singer Oderus Urungus's stage banter. He called out Rob Zombie and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong as derivative and had nothing but vitriol for Marilyn Manson. When it comes to Gwar, no one's safe and nothing's sacred.
HIAWATHA at the Drake Underground, Thursday, November 22. Rating: NN
Hiawatha pairs Toronto DJ David Psutka, better known as Egyptrixx, and former Thrush Hermit alt-rocker Ian McGettigan. On paper that doesn't sound like it would work - and it doesn't, at least not onstage.
Hiawatha's set-up is more "live" than the head-down knob-twiddling that sometimes plagues dance music. Psutka held down the drums, only occasionally fiddling with his laptop, while bassist McGettigan faced him. The staging could have been conducive to a bit of showboating, but instead both hid in complete darkness.
Their debut record, Language, effectively combines rock distortion with electronic synths and moody, psychedelic textures into a cohesive (if sometimes undercooked) signature sound. But live, those elements did battle.
Occasionally the gut-wrenching bass, drums and preprogrammed beats fell into a tantalizing groove, but they were often overpowered by loud, piercing synth lines and shrill, ugly noise. Psutka, meanwhile, seemed to struggle to hold down the rhythm.
Hiawatha have some intriguing ideas but are still figuring out how to execute them.
THE WHO at the Air Canada Centre, Friday, November 23. Rating: NNNN
At first blush, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend's continuing to play as the Who seems wrong-headed; drummer Keith Moon died in 1978, and bassist John Entwistle in 2002. But the Quadrophenia And More tour proves that a bare-chested, gold-chained Daltrey can out-sing his peers, and, even in a baggy sweater and trousers, Townshend is the coolest man alive.
The band, including drummer Zak Starkey and guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete's younger brother), played note-for-note renditions of Love, Reign O'er Me and the rest of the soundtrack to the first mod revival. In the background, projected footage added cultural and historical context. But the two original members' precision and passion were reason enough to love this concert.
The Quadrophenia portion of the set was devoid of any (in Townshend's words) "nonsensical, over-thought crap," while the encore (without the conceit of pretending to leave) included sweet, sincere banter. It could only have been better had they played for another hour.
L CON at Cinecycle, Saturday, November 24. Rating: NNNN
On The Ballad Project, Lisa Conway's new solo album as L Con, the Toronto singer wraps her silky voice around big, dramatic string-section arrangements that suit it perfectly. Bringing the songs to the stage required some major reworking, though, since touring with an orchestra isn't practical at this point in her career. She stripped things down to two female backup vocalists, an electric bassist, the soft pitter-patter of a vintage drum machine and her own pizzicato violin-plucking.
Now and then a string trio augmented the minimalist approach at this release party, though the songs worked just as well without the extra layer of lushness. It's amazing how rich three voices can sound when they're not fighting to be heard above guitars and keyboards. This drastic reworking of The Ballad Project makes us excited about the electronic version, which we hear is coming in the new year.