JOHNNY DOWD with silver hearts and the BLUE DEMONS at the Tequila Lounge, January 25. Tickets: $8. Attendance: 175. Rating: NNNN
in the tequila lounge at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor, malevolent mover Johnny Dowd was going over last-minute show details with booker Dan Burke, and it was hard to tell who seemed more uneasy about the evening's performance. They both knew that trying to put live rock and roll in a dance club might not fly, but if Burke was willing to give it a shot, Dowd seemed willing to make the appropriate adjustments.
The Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns being silently projected on a cinema-sized screen stage left worked well to complement the rickety brothel-blues revelry of the Peterborough-based Silver Hearts, yet for Dowd and crew the films were more of an annoying distraction.
Dowd's music demands that the listener enter his twisted twilight world, where comedy and tragedy meet at the business end of a gun barrel. Any extraneous visuals added to his deadpan delivery of mostly growls and shrieks make Dowd's mind-manipulating designs even more difficult for him to manage -- particularly when the crowd is scattered around the oval bar set up in the middle of the room or tucked away in cushy corners equipped with televisions showing the Leafs game.
The joint might be rated for 400 capacity, but it could easily hold 1,000. A venue that size looks empty with 175 bored people slouching around.
If Dowd was concerned that the first few tunes weren't connecting, there was nothing in the characteristically crooked half-smile he shot at vocalist Kim Sherwood-Caso to give it away. He just flipped to the next sheet on his music stand, announced, "This is one from my new record, The Pawnbroker's Wife, which will be out soon," and pushed ahead.
But suddenly, things started to get funky. Dowd shrewdly shifted into rhythm mode, joining fellow guitarist Justin Asher in bolstering the beat being slapped and stomped out by Brian Wilson on drums and bass foot pedals. It worked remarkably well with the bass-friendly PA. Dowd realized it and just grooved deeper and harder.
I've heard Dowd play the blues, a little country, some metallic Hendrix wank and even a nasty bit of avant screech, but I've never seen him get down like this. Even his harrowing new death-penalty protest song, Judgment Day, given a swinging Latin treatment, seemed like a plausible club hit.
Lethal injection, coming to a dance floor near you.