Thu, Feb 1
PONY UP! at the Horseshoe
What a difference a couple of years makes. Last time we remember checking out Montreal girl group Pony Up! at the Horseshoe, they were opening for Camera Obscura with a saccharine-sweet set of chiming sugar-pop that came off like a version of what might happen if Juliana Hatfield's virginal little sisters played "band" for fun.
Fast forward two and half years to last Thursday at the 'Shoe and the now four-piece Ponies (they lost a member along the way) have toughened up and tightened their songwriting, inching away from pastel-coloured twee pop and closer to the Riot Grrrl bands that originally inspired their members.
Not that Pony Up! aren't still attached to sweet hooks, harmonies and girly vocals, but their newer material prioritizes a strong rhythm section - particularly Lisa Smith's serrated bass lines - as much as it does pretty melodies. Well played. They could definitely kick Ben Lee's ass any day.
Fri, Feb 2
DANDI WIND at the Mod Club
Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the era of coasting on the cachet of an ironic electro aesthetic and fancy costumes without worrying about the quality of your songs ended before Larry Tee's travelling Electroclash carnival breathed its last gasp.
Someone should mention as much to Montreal-based ("At least we are today," trumpeted their high-kicking frontwoman) performance-arty troupe Dandi Wind, whose whirl through the Mod Club Friday night was a flashy, trashy snore.
Flanked by giant screens projecting lo-fi video art of condoms, kimono fabric and seed pods that'd been scanned and edited into a flickering slide show, core performer Dandi Wind relied on screechy, percussive vocals and rhythmic gymnastic moves to distract from the monotony of her band's glitchy, repetitive, vaguely industrial tracks.
Though live drummer Evan Pierce provided a solid, muscular backbone for the trio's buzzing synth loops, the entire act felt stale, and Wind's frenzied arabesques - choreographed to maximize the fluttering potential of her lamé harem pants/skirt combo - had an air of "look at me!" desperation.
Maybe we're missing something. Rumour has it Dandi Wind are hu-u-ge in Europe. Still, we'd sooner see headliners Kids on TV - who matched their black-light-friendly neon ensembles and face paint with an impressive variety of solid tracks, from half-spoken stuttering narratives about public sex at Fairview Mall to plaintive Roxy Music covers - than warmed-over electroclash sans substance.
Sat, Feb 3
THESE ELECTRIC LIVES at the Mod Club
After watching Toronto's These Electric Lives play to a near-packed Mod Club, we could see why these guys have built up a substantial following.
Led by charismatic singer/guitarist Bryan Lowe and backed by solid-ass drummer Adam Balsam, the band kicked it with a sweet, catchy mix of danceable Jimmy Eat World-meets-Radiohead melodies and a genuinely exciting live show in which the entire band swayed and rocked out without the slightest hint of gratuitous posing. One day soon these guys are gonna be big. Seriously.
Sun, Feb 4
PO' GIRL at Hugh's Room
Dear Hugh's Room: we dig the whole seated dinner-theatre vibe of your club. It's such a treat to be able to relax and take in down-home folk acts and roots ensembles in a more laid-back, civilized environment than the typical rock club.
But your sightlines are kind of atrocious. Especially, say, when you're hosting a band as popular as Po' Girl, who played for a packed house on Sunday. Unlike most live music joints, where even at sold-out shows you're allowed to squish in like sardines and peer over shoulders and through gaps in the crowd, the not-so-strategically arranged set-up of your tables means there's barely room for non-dinner-eaters to watch the band. Trying to find wall space is a bitch. And the pillars in front of the main bar destroy any opportunity for stragglers at the back of the club to glimpse the stage.
If renovation and restructuring are out of the question, why not follow the lead of the old Healey's and put monitors near the bar, where sightlines are shittiest. It would've been great to see closed-circuit performance footage while Po' Girl did their thing instead of the Super Bowl playing on mute.
Tues, Feb 6
GRIZZLY BEAR with the DIRTY PROJECTORS at Lee's Palace
On record, Grizzly Bear's lush, layered soundscapes and quiet demeanor are perfect for an introspective, solitary listen, which made us wonder how they'd fare when faced with a sold-out Lee's Palace. Surprisingly, they managed to replicate their Wilsonesque harmonies and Smile-like song structures with ease. The band ran through most of Yellow House, including The Knife, Colorado and On a Neck, On a Spit, and even threw in a couple songs from their Horn Of Plenty debut. Despite the fact that all their equipment was swiped recently, the Bears still managed to rustle up a flute, an autoharp and a great soundman who layered on the reverb to recreate Yellow House's orchestral vibe. Admittedly, there were a few draggy moments - as you'd expect with a band whose songs are best suited to the bedroom - but a few unusually amped up tracks, some funny banter and a whole lot of exceptional tunes made the show a must-see.