Tue, Apr 24
MODEST MOUSE at the Hummingbird Centre
Since Modest Mouse have been around significantly longer than their commercial radio success might dictate, there's likely a large contingent of fans who are not too happy about the venue upgrades the band's career now demands. Well, Isaac Brock doesn't seem entirely thrilled either.
As the frontman commented immediately upon taking the Hummingbird stage, "Do you feel like you're here to see Cats?" It would be one of very few sentences uttered by Brock that evening. Regardless, the Mouse clan ripped through a handful of tracks before Johnny Marr finally stepped into the spotlight for a lead riff on Dashboard. The legendary guitarist adds a patriarchal presence to offset Brock's bratty demeanour, not to mention one incredibly crisp-sounding guitar and some excellent backup vox. For some, watching him is a constant mental battle not to fantasize about a Smiths reunion (forget it!).
Marr appeared to be the only one enjoying himself even as sound problems plagued the fill-in bassist, who looked lost on a few songs, adding to Brock's visible annoyance. Getting through a Prozac-tempo version of Float On, Doin' The Cockroach and Bury Me With It, Modest Mouse scurried from the stage barely past the 70- minute mark. Not the most satisfying evening for audience or performers.
JANN ARDEN at Massey Hall
Even if you cringe at the over-the-top melodrama that saturates adult contemporary Canrock queen Jann Arden's music, it's impossible to deny the fact that, when she's not singing, the dame is funny as fuck.
Whenever her band died down at Tuesday's Massey Hall gig, Arden was there with a zinger. It started as soon as she came on apologizing for her cocoonlike jacket, explaining she'd initially opted for a sparkly ensemble, but peed on it in a fit of pre-show jitters. Later, the singer, who looked healthy despite recent medical scares, delivered an anecdote about her best friend's maxipad ("It was back when adhesive strips were still a novelty; wings hadn't been invented yet") scooting across the floor at a high school dance before launching into I Cry, her sorriest weeper. While the dramatic tonal contrast makes her shows feel bipolar, Arden's brash sense of humour is really her secret weapon.
Thu, Apr 26
JUCIFER at the Silver Dollar
A lot of groups today are going for that "wall of sound" effect, which usually just means overloading your band with superfluous members and then calling it an artistic collective, or whatever. Jucifer take a far more straightforward approach by building a wall of sound, literally. Athens-based married rock duo Amber Valentine and Edgar Livengood have created one of the most imposing stages in the underground club circuit, a fortress of amplification stacked to the ceiling, all wired for red-lining volume levels. It defies all logic and reason. We're talking nearly 20 speaker cabinets and amplifiers humming over 7,000 watts of terrifying power and, in this case, playing to a Thursday-night crowd of roughly 30 intimidated patrons.
These volume fetishists play Melvins-style sludge metal with Valentine's oddly innocent-sounding voice lightly sprinkled over top. Livengood doesn't play drums so much as fight with them, punching toms with his fists, smashing cymbals with extreme prejudice, all while contorting his face as though someone backstage is applying shock therapy treatment. As Valentine gets off on voltage and Livengood bashes maniacally out of time, you get the impression these two exist happily in their own bizarre reality. If you ever plan on entering it, make sure to bring earplugs.
JUDITH OWEN & HARRY SHEARER at the Drake Hotel
Those not at the Drake to catch a glimpse of musical cut-up Harry Shearer (aka Spinal Tap's Derek Smalls) didn't seem interested in the jazzy stylings of Shearer's partner, Judith Owen, shouting herself silly at the piano. Eventually, she gave up shushing and played two breezy tunes from her new Here (Courgette) disc to the attentive few industry types up front. Shearer, decked out in a shiny brown sports jacket and purple corduroy trousers like a club-cruising college prof, added unobtrusive bass support. Noting that her audience was fading fast, Owen wisely switched gears and launched into a delightful deconstruction of Deep Purple's Smoke On The Water as a lead-in to the big closer, a lightly Latinesque jaunt through Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger, which finally won over the crowd.
Sat, Apr 28
HUCKLEBERRY FRIENDS at the Great Hall
While most of the bands on Saturday's too-good-to-be-true free SUDDEN DUSK bill at the Great Hall play, like, Sneaky Dee's or the Boat every week, the dark, mysterious theatrical set-up of the event - from the bleacher-style seating to the heaps of coiled film and the thoughtful, moody lighting design - made you feel you were seeing something rare and special.
That was cemented as soon as opening act Huckleberry Friends slowly crept onstage. Building their haunting songs around thumping, primal percussion, disaffected vibrato-free vocals, mournful guitar strumming and a precise awareness of space and density, the hipster-banged girl trio came off like changeling prodigies warping time to evoke 60s-era happenings. One of the most exciting new bands making noise in the city.