PONY DA LOOK with LAURA BARRETT and REPUBLIC OF SAFETY at the Gladstone, July 27. Tickets: $10. Attendance: 80. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Who knew Chris Murphy secretly likes his music on the quirkier side? Last Thursday, Sloan's bass player was diligently watching local wacky synth-pop outfit Pony Da Look create nearly danceable tunes using only three keyboards and a drummer.
Along with Murphy, Gentlemen Reg and a few dozen appreciative fans looked on at the Gladstone , half of them moving and half mesmerized by the all-female foursome's eccentric set.
One of the more interesting quartets in Toronto right now, Pony Da Look create a hard-to-classify blend of 80s new wave, old-school Nintendo-style bass lines and nearly operatic vocals. The combo can be hard to grasp at first, but after a few songs you'll want to sing along.
Lead singer Amy Bowles drives the band. Right off the top, her voice soared and fluttered like Karen O doing arias, with occasional yells finding their way into her peculiar melodies. Commanding vocals aside, Bowles has a powerful stage presence. The more involved she was in a song, the wider she opened her eyes and mouth, eventually appearing suitably possessed.
Her fellow keyboadists, Temple Bates and Catherine Stockhausen , barely moved save for a few sways. The two were called on to harmonize with Bowles's frantic vocals a couple of times not an easy task, but they pulled it off flawlessly.
Though Pony Da Look's performance was exciting, it got a little tired by the end. The songs were all short and quite similar, making it hard to distinguish one track from the next. Fortunately, the group took off after a short encore, making way for multi-instrumentalist Laura Barrett .
Barrett, who's currently in pop band the Adorables, must be seen to be understood. The kalimba (an African thumb piano) is her instrument of choice when she plays solo. Seated on a chair and backed by double bassist Richard Carnegie (playing his last show with Barrett), the Toronto-based musician performed a string of intimate tunes.
While her delicate voice is charming, it's her thumbs that really impress. Barrett played the kalimba so quickly, hitting so many notes, that it often sounded like she was being accompanied by two or three other musicians.
Republic of Safety , who headlined the night, couldn't have planned a better lineup. Barrett's unconventional approach to her accessible songs was a perfect contrast to Pony Da Look's oddball tunes framed in a fairly conventional band set-up. If only more shows were this dynamic.