IAN McCULLOCH with Boy at Lee's Palace, May 24. Tickets: $18.50. Attendance: 275. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Scanning the early-evening crowd that turned up at Lee's Palace for last Saturday's Ian McCulloch show, I had the sensation I was seeing a trend wind its way through time to bite itself in the ass. In this corner, the College Street-friendly Soundscapes-loving indie rock scenester kids, working their Coupe Bizzarre-created faux mullets with ironic glee. And their challengers, weighing in at an average age of mid- to late 30s: the New Wave-nostalgic ex-Echo and the Bunnymen stalwarts, all of whom looked as though they'd been sporting their 80s coifs since long before the style was tongue-in-cheek retro hip.
Based on their remarkably early arrival (to accommodate Blow Up's club night, doors for the show opened at 7 pm), I'd wager most of the second-generation short-long hipsters showed up to catch the opening set by buzz-worthy Yukon-by-way-of-Toronto singer-songwriter Boy (aka Stephen Noel Kozmeniuk). And well they should.
Eschewing his usual backing band (or so he claimed) in favour of a spare acoustic set, Kozmeniuk brought along guitar-playing pal Darryl - both on chairs at centre stage - to help charm the crowd. The duo created a comfortably intimate vibe. Between their sparkling and stately 60s-ish guitar riffs and sweet semi-falsetto harmonies and Kozmeniuk's spare, slightly self-deprecating between-song banter, the eight-song set had the effect of a cool campfire sing-along.
Given time, Kozmeniuk could be the local version of Mercury Prize-winning indie poster boy Badly Drawn Boy. His songwriting might be less complex, but the two share a talent for witty wordplay in their lyrics, impressive guitar chops (some of Kozmeniuk's classical runs dazzled) and a knack for incorporating retro song structures into fresh-sounding songs. Hell, Boy even has half the moniker going and sported a similarly dopey floppy hat at Saturday night's show.
Ian McCulloch also offered retro flashbacks, albeit to a time period two decades after Boy. After keeping the suddenly teeming crowd waiting for over half an hour, McCulloch took the stage with 80s attitude, a naff do and dorky rock-star shades.
The fans screaming out requests for old Bunnymen hits didn't seem to mind the samey-ness of the anthemic New Wave Britpop, with track after track of chimey guitars and keening synths. A take on Killing Moon made me feel like I was starring in a John Hughes movie, but the highlight was definitely McCulloch's dead-on cover of Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side, which faded to a mumbling outro about "pain and sadness."
I wish I'd been able to decipher the tacked-on lyrics, but you'd need one of those nifty Ozzy translators to cut through McCulloch's thick Liverpudlian brogue. Maybe Sharon Osbourne could help.