THE UGLY DUCKLINGS, with the HELENS,at the Horseshoe, May 20. Tickets: $10. Attendance: 150. Rating: NNN
The five creaky gents on the Horseshoe stage Saturday night looked more like a bowling team than anyone's idea of a snarling garage punk combo. But then, the Ugly Ducklings never did really fit in, and that's part of what made them great.
Once long-haired guitarist Roger Mayne lurched into the jerky syncopation Ain't No Use To Me, the rock and roll band scenario became much more plausible. However, it wasn't until shiny-topped singer Dave Bingham began growling the Ducklings' classic "fuck you" anthem Nothin' that you could imagine that these bemused fatherly types actually were Canuck rock titans who -- for a brief time during the summer of love -- out-sneered the Rolling Stones in Yorkville coffee houses and Newmarket high-school gymnasiums.
Naturally, the majority of the new tunes they've written since reuniting last May -- namely No Fear, Don't Bug Me, Better Luck Next Time and Not For Long -- lack the gloriously snotty bravado that made their early masterstrokes like Just In Case You Wonder and Nothin' timeless triumphs of teen rebellion.
When Bingham announced he was going to do one "about our generation," someone could be heard groaning "Oh gawd!" as the rest of the smallish crowd braced for the worst. War Babies was definitely cringe-worthy. The opening line, "Born with the weight of the world on our shoulders," was enough to drive the merely curious out the door.
Their loss, though, because the Ducks didn't get quacking until the second set. Returning with a raunchy reprise of Nothin', they tore up My Little Red Book and Just In Case You Wonder, then stomped into Muddy Waters' I'm A Man before closing with Solomon Burke's Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.
The Ducks' stylistic offspring, the Deadly Snakes, weren't going to let the winded fivesome get away without an encore, and beat their demands out on the stage. For their trouble, they got a fabulously feedbacking rip at I Can Tell along with Bingham's promise to return for a 35th-anniversary show in October.