GABRIEL MINNIKIN with WAYNE PETTI at the Drake, Friday, January 4. Rating: NNN
Haligonian songwriter Gabriel Minnikin (now based in Manchester) made a low-key appearance Friday night at the Drake, his first show in Toronto in six years. Best known in Canada for his work in alt-country band the Guthries (with his sister Ruth, Dale Murray and others), Minnikin is touring his third solo album, Parakeets With Parasols, recorded in the UK with help from an orchestra and a choir.
He spoke of the challenges of playing the lush recorded material solo on acoustic guitar, but the songs translated well bare-bones, especially after he'd settled into his set. Minnikin's charm lies partly in his tendency to let his low, gravelly voice hover around notes, conveying an air of comforting melancholy. And he lingers on odd chords that bring in a touch of laid-back psychedelia.
He also does straight-up country and folk well, as evidenced by his lyrical agility and steady fingerpicking. The show, which featured Cuff the Duke's Wayne Petti as an opener and guest during Minnikin's set, was a little awkwardly under-attended, but it's good to see Minnikin touring Canada again.
PINK WINE, OUTTACONTROLLER and NON-STOP GIRLS at Parts & Labour, Friday, January 4. Rating: NNNN
Sub-zero temperatures and post-holiday sluggishness might've kept a large crowd away from Parts & Labour on Friday night, but they didn't stop the three bands on the bill from giving everything they had, starting with local punk duo Non-Stop Girls, who exude a manic charm and keep their tunes pleasingly brief.
Pop-punk four-piece Outtacontroller had driven all the way from Halifax and weren't going to see that Herculean effort go to waste. Despite muddy sound, their Ramonesy gang melodies and tough riffs cut through, with closer Pink Pocket Knife from their Don't Play Dumb 12-inch (released by P-Trash) standing out in the set list.
Joel French, the small but mighty singer for in-your-face Toronto garage-pop band Pink Wine, delivered non-stop entertainment from the get-go, spending much of the set on the dance floor with the friendly crowd, engaged in singalongs and waltzes. James Michael McKeever matched French's efforts, thanks to an arsenal of frenzied drum fills.
We forgot the cold and left with vinyl under our arms.
YACHT CLUB and DIGITS at Polyhaus, Friday, January 4. Rating: NNN
There's something cheekily transgressive about Ben Cook (best known as the guitarist for Fucked Up) taking a break from punk rock to front Yacht Club, a band that sounds like a funkier Duran Duran. The fact that he pulls it off musically just makes it funnier, although we're not sure we're supposed to laugh. He already had the swooping hair to match the sound, so maybe smooth 80s synth pop was his endgame all along?
Ironic or not, Cook has great stage presence, and Yacht Club's songs are extremely catchy. Even through the battered, badly distorted sound system at the Feast In The East loft party, his vocals sounded confident and slick.
Beforehand, Digits struggled with the muddy sound - his solo computer pop act has no drum kit or guitar amps to help make up for the shortcomings of a makeshift PA. Nevertheless, his proudly nerdy take on R&B and dance-pop has a lot going for it and brings up fond memories of early Junior Boys recordings.