JON-RAE FLETCHER AND THE RIVER with the PAULS and MARK SEXAREENO's B.B.Q at the Silver Dollar, January 22. Tickets: $6. Attendance: 50. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Watching van city expat Jonrae Fletcher and his River Thursday night, I had a total Sugar Refinery flashback. The Sugar Refinery is a Vancouver club that's less a bar than it is a wholesome hipster hangout. They serve incredible homemade vegan food, and the beer (from an organic community microbrewery, natch) comes in recycled mason jars.
Bands play right beside your table in a makeshift stage set-up, the place is painted in an airy modernist palette, there's cool faux-naive art all over the walls, and it seems like everyone there has gone tree-planting with everyone else.
Now, the River is a band far better suited to the Sugar Refinery than the considerably seamier digs of the Silver Dollar . In fact, I swear I saw Fletcher there on a trip to Vancouver a few years back. Their earnestly soulful material, ranging from heartfelt indie country gospel to cranked-up Southern-tinged classic rock, is fuelled by Fletcher's reedy wail (falling somewhere between the Counting Crows' Adam Duritz and reigning emorchestral sad sack Conor Oberst). They're fairly tight, have lovely girl-powered harmonies - and a hardcore female drummer - and look like they're having oodles of fun onstage. Kinda like a more secular Danielson Famile.
But you can tell they're not from around these parts, cuz they're just too fresh-scrubbed and unjaded. That came through as the bespectacled Fletcher hollered his "Amens!" to a fascinated crowd.
Still, just when I started to worry that such sweet kids might get swallowed whole by the cold Toronto music biz, they caught me off-guard with a devilishly good, countrified cover of the Cars' Just What I Needed.
Openers the Pauls (members of the erstwhile Size Sevens) leapt onstage to chime in on the chorus and pop the multitudes of black balloons hovering above the band, and brought exactly the right loose energy to Fletcher's set. The lads displayed a similarly flailing, goofy vibe during their own herky-jerky post-punk freakout, but could've tightened it up, although their riffing on the non-descriptor "math rock" was priceless, especially when bearded Paul-Julien Tanti broke into the "One-two-three-four-five" hook from Sesame Street.
But ex-Spaceshit Mark Sexareeno stole the show with his killer B.B.Q. A one-man band of old-school hillbilly soul/blues guitar and percussion (how the fuck does he do it all at once?), taken to the next level with his unbelievable better-than-Elvis crooning, Sexareeno made you forget he wasn't backed by a full Motown ensemble. His cussin' and banter were better than any old-time radio DJ. Even typically verbose promoter Dan Burke was speechless. I think he had tears in his eyes.