THE WEAKERTHANS with VEAL and the CARNATIONS at Lee's Palace, November 7. Tickets: $15. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
there's an episode of sex and the City in which heroine/writer and perpetual woman-child Carrie Bradshaw coins the expression "za-za-zoo." The za-za-zoo, she explains, is that crazy, intangible spark that explodes when you have insta-chemistry with some hot prospect. In Carrie's case, she meets an attached writer on whom she crushes so mightily that she can't even recall what he looks like the next day.
Likewise, some bands have a knack for leaving you reeling from their crazy, gut-wrenching emotional impact and some just don't.
There's no rhyme or reason to it. Take Veal , for example. The prairie rock 'n' roll trio have a charismatic frontman in baby-faced guitar phenom Luke Doucet . His darkly clever lyrics and squalling walls of electric guitar set their surf- and rockabilly-tinged tunes apart from your average garage band, and his rubber-faced antics help keep a crowd's attention. Plus, he and drummer Chang have been buddies and collaborators for long enough to maintain that weird psychic band energy in spite of living in different cities.
I had near-za-za-zoo moments during Veal's set: on one track, dedicated to Elliott Smith ("May he rest in peace"), Doucet evoked madman Frank Black with his helter-skelter spoken-word rambling filtered through a cream-coloured telephone handset, and the slow-burn take on I Hate Your Lipstick oozed lust.
They've got the potential to blow minds, but they're still loose enough onstage (possibly cuz they were forced to set up their gear around the other bands' shit?) that they're not quite there yet.
Local boy band the Carnations radiated huge amounts of passion - they're totally committed to rocking out - but suffered from a lack of focus. They still haven't decided whether they want to be a quirky power pop unit or respected and "challenging" indie rockers.
I vote for the former. There were unpolished nuggets of hooks buried deep in the layers of the Carnations' tunes, but they were obscured by moments of artsy wankery. The boys have a great frontman, but their songs meander and fade. Neither experimental enough to be gripping nor straightforward enough to stick in your head, the sonic structures could use a poppy punch-up. And the Carnations succumb to that odd philosophy that verses are merely an annoying journey en route to a solid chorus.
For a lesson on how to achieve that elusive za-za-zoo, both openers need only look to role models and headliners the Weakerthans, who nail it every time.
The 'Peg folk-punk foursome shouldn't leave the kind of lasting impact they do. Singer/songwriter John K. Samson relies on variations of pretty much the same melody in every song, keening hyper-literate lyrics that are hard to absorb live.
But the quartet's effortless energy while playing deceptively simple tunes has the kind of wallop that feels like a religious experience.
Every time I see them - particularly Friday night's flawless set - they remind me why I love music, and that's saying a lot. Gotta love that za-za-zoo.