MICHAEL FEUERSTACK AND PAPER BEAT SCISSORS at the Piston, Tuesday, September 24. Rating: NNNN
Michael Feuerstack's intimate, folky show was lots of fun, the Montreal-based singer/songwriter poking fun at the "hippie lyrics" in some of his new songs and bantering with tourmate Tim Crabtree, aka Paper Beat Scissors.
The two have great musical rapport, too: Feuerstack guested on lap steel and backup vocals during Crabtree's opening set, and Crabtree returned the favour on clarinet, electric guitar and vocals during Feuerstack's.
Fingerpicking gently on a bright red Rickenbacker, Crabtree used two vocal mics - one much cleaner than the other - to vary the sound and intensity. His songs often start out mellow and incantatory before jumping up five notches, and Crabtree pulled this off without sounding contrived.
For his part, Feuerstack demonstrated that he's an original songwriter and a captivating guitarist.
He got Jenny Berkel up to sing on Leave Me Alone, but the biggest surprise came during the encore: Feuerstack was struggling to remember some of the words for the Snailhouse song Tone Deaf Birds, so an audience member got onstage and performed an impromptu duet with him.
DANIEL ROMANO & THE TRILLIUMS at Enwave Theatre, Friday, September 27. Rating: NNNN
Welland's Daniel Romano makes music in the style of George Jones, has a voice like Willie Nelson's (only deeper) and wears gaudy rhinestone suits. In the incongruous setting of the ultra-modern Enwave Theatre, he proved that 60s and 70s purist country has an enthusiastic base in modern-day T.O.
As his most recent album title, Come Cry With Me, suggests, most of Romano's tunes are sad, but there's something in his voice and delivery that prevents full-tilt sorrow. Even the gloomiest ditties - is there a dumpee on earth who can't relate to A New Love (Can Be Found)? - have silver linings.
Clever, brighter fare peppered the set, and Romano wasn't afraid to take the piss out of himself. "Here's another song that sounds a lot like the one we just played," he said. His tight backing band, the Trilliums, dramatically moved from forte to piano and back, as if guided by a conductor's wand.
A brief acoustic interlude was a welcome change of pace, and surprise duets brought down the house. On Time Forgot (To Change My Heart), Gord Downie's ragged voice was an effective counterpoint to Romano's. Later, Sarah Harmer's technique-perfect singing quieted the foot-tapping audience to pin-drop attention.
JENNY HVAL at the Rivoli, Friday, September 27. Rating: NNN
A small crowd came out to the Rivoli for this stop on Jenny Hval's first North American tour, and the under-the-radar Oslo-based multidisciplinary artist immediately set to work challenging us with her avant-garde experimentalism.
Her high voice is beautiful and striking, and she uses it for so much more than just delivering pretty melodies. It pummels us with surreal, seemingly stream-of-conscious lyrics, and grows into pained yelps and banshee yodels.
Beneath the wild vocals, the music drones and pulsates, expands and contracts. It would be fairly inert save for the inventive accompaniment of Hval's two bandmates, a drummer who finds seriously interesting ways to play his cymbals and a guitarist who sometimes uses a bow and can make his chords shimmer and cascade.
The set list drew heavily from Hval's recent Innocence Is Kinky, a provocative album with frank lyrics about sex and gender. It draws you in and then repels you, a cyclical dynamic that was also at work at the Rivoli. Despite Hval's warm and friendly banter, a sort of stunned silence arose between songs, and some people left partway through.
WAVVES, KING TUFF AND JACUZZI BOYS at the Opera House, Sunday, September 29. Rating: NNN
Sunday's garage-themed throwdown began when a smattering of young hipsters showed up early for the remarkably tight Jacuzzi Boys. Held afloat by drummer Diego Monasterios's precise timing, the Miami threesome channelled their inner Stooges for a punchy set.
Looking like left-for-dead burnouts in stars-and-stripes headbands and studded vests, King Tuff and his band carried a large banner onstage bearing his name and likeness. And judging by the size of his smile, he'd gladly welcome all his followers inside his chariot (presumably a 78 Camaro). Touring the near sublime album Was Dead, Tuff displayed a genuine lack of ego throughout his thoroughly enjoyable scuzz-pop set, complete with pitch-perfect guitar solos.
Frontman Nathan Williams was polished throughout Wavves' streamlined, efficient set. Even fans' constant theatrical attempts at stage-diving didn't faze him. Sipping wine, he sounded like a paternal figure to his young fans, a stark contrast to past tours. "If I see one more person try to take a picture onstage, I'm gonna throw that camera into the back of this place," he said, mock-scoldingly. Kids these days.