EX-GIRL, with the SPY and TETRAZENE, at the El Mocambo, May 24. Tickets: $7. Attendance: 200. Rating: NNNN
From the way agitated El Mocambo booker Dan Burke was imploring patrons to hang onto their ticket stubs, you could tell that something was amiss. The announcement that he was "giving up drinking" just prior to ordering his third shot of sambuca in about as many minutes clearly spelled trouble.
With a little prodding, Burke confessed that he'd been woken up early that morning by a call from Detroit police saying they'd recovered a stolen suitcase belonging to the members of a band called eX-Girl who were scheduled to play a show at the El Mocambo later that evening.
Then the group's road manager called at 1:30 pm to say they'd had their van broken into and would be late arriving. Nothing more had been heard since 6:30 pm, when they called to have a replacement copy of their performance contract faxed to the office of an Ann Arbor car-rental firm.
By 11 pm there was still no sign of eX-Girl, and the tightly wound Burke, grinning as if things were swell, advised members of the Spy to take their time going onstage.
Burke was mulling over his refunds spiel at 11:45 when a van with Michigan plates glided up on the sidewalk beneath the neon palms. Out popped three young Japanese women sharply outfitted in matching silver spy trench coats with the letters F, C and K emblazoned on their respective chests. Fuzuki, Chihiro and Kirilo of eX-Girl had made the scene in time to save the show.
Grabbing their odd-looking cases, the threesome trotted up the stairs and right onto the stage to set up their gear while people in the crowd flashed each other up-turned thumbs at the sight of the glinty- suited trio of agents from the planet Kero-Kero. Little did they know that the flashy macks were just their street wear.
After a brief visit to their upstairs dressing room, the threesome returned minutes later in brightly coloured flower-print mini-dresses topped with foamy frog-shrine headgear. Greeting audience members individually, they made their way to the stage lip-synching to a bouncy rendition of Kurt Weill's Alabama Song.
For a split second it felt like being in a real-life cartoon. Then off came the frog helmets, on went the axes, and it was back to rock and roll.
Despite all the oddly distorted riffs, quirky rhythmic shifts and unearthly vocalese -- which borrowed equally from the jazz scatting of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross and the Mbuti tribal chanting of the Ituri rainforest pygmies -- the alien amalgam of sweet noise hurled forth by eX-Girl sounded remarkably familiar.
Maybe the jungle pounding of stand-up drummer Fuzuki connected with something buried deep in the genetic code, but no matter how wiggy their chirpy harmonizing and guitar blurt got, their avant turns remained wholly accessible. It's not often that artists are able to inspire spontaneous sing-alongs at Toronto shows, let alone with made-up sound shapes, but it happened -- kind of like magic.