MELON GALIA with Detective Kalita, Tetrezene and the Magnetars at the Silver Dollar, April 24. Tickets: $8. Attendance: 70. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Considering that they hail from Belgium, home of the original Belle & Sebastian cartoon, and that they share a similarly twee dreamy-pop ethos, it's hard not to compare sissy orchestral four-piece Melon Galia to that sprawling Scottish band.
But while Belle & Sebastian's massive live shows can sometimes come off as so much contrived, self-satisfied pretension, the too-cute-for-words Melon Galia are charmingly down-to-earth onstage.
So they demonstrated to a sparsely filled Silver Dollar last Thursday night during a shortish and sweet set of pretty pop en français. While most folks in the crowd probably had a tough time translating the lyrics (Ontario high school French only goes so far), Melon Galia's excellent Burt-Bacharach-meets-sleaze-free-Serge-Gainsbourg songwriting and right-on instrumental arrangements transcended linguistic barriers.
The emphasis on sonic qualities over vocals applied to the evening's opening acts as well. Local indie art-kid foursome Tetrezene (featuring NOW club commentator Benjamin Boles on cool processed lap steel) helped establish the sweetly spaced-out vibe with droney, floaty songs featuring nifty noise-squelch accents and some nice, bright melodies.
Shannon du Hasky's barely perceptible singing, however, was the weakest link, oddly evoking Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier crooning through a mouthful of yogurt.
Lucky for the Magnetars (yet another project of Wavelength organizer Jonathan Bunce - does that guy ever sleep?), then, that their brand of rich, guitar-charged indie pop nixes words altogether in favour of wistful instrumentals. It seems to be pieced together out of the best hooks from the coolest 90s-nostalgic pop tunes trapped in any self-respecting indie kid's subconscious. What's impressive about the band is their ability to tweak emotions through well-crafted song structures without lapsing into boring art-rock wankery.
The only downside of so much low-key dreaminess was that by the time Melon Galia came onstage shortly after midnight it was hard to keep from yawning. Adorable drummer Samir Barris noted chirpily: "Yesterday, we were in Chicago and we didn't slip - I mean sleep - a lot. But we will try to stay awake for you!"
They did an admirable job of it, playing Latin-jazz-spiked fingerpicked acoustic tunes with warm brass and clarinet like a sonic hug, buoying Aurélie Muller's and Thierry De Brouwer's endearing boy-girl vocal interplay.
Actually, with their jaunty but stripped-down live sound, Melon Galia are less like overblown Belle & Sebastian than like former B&S chick Isobel Campbell's Gentle Waves side project - poppy, underrated and understated.