ELENI MANDELL with Dan BRYK at the Rivoli (334 Queen West), Saturday (October 20). $10. 416-596-1908. Rating: NNNNN
bad relationships have been good for Eleni Mandell. Typically, the end of an affair is worth at least a few decent tunes to a songwriter, but Mandell has already gotten last year's Thrill (Zedtone) album out of her last liaison and is about to release a second in February. Although the snarling Snakebite (Zedtone) has a few seductively sweet moments like the lovely lullaby Dreamboat that opens the album, Mandell is still at her simmering best when fighting back a violent outburst.
And apart from perhaps Polly Harvey, no one delivers a three-chord brush-off with the fiendish eloquence of a maligned Mandell. It makes you wonder what her ex-boyfriends think of being immortalized in dis songs.
"There's a song called Christine on the new album," says Mandell from northern California en route to Portland, "that was written about this girl my ex-boyfriend couldn't stop talking about. He'd always be saying, "Christine's a 10! She's a stripper! She's bisexual!' She's this, she's that, whatever.
"So when he heard my song, he said, "Hey, I should be getting money for all the songs you wrote about me while we were together. And you should talk about me more in interviews, too.'
"My other ex-boyfriend, whom I wrote Dreamboat about, happened to be in the room at the time, and they agreed I should be giving them both a cut of the royalties from my new album. I was, like, "Shit, man, I should be collecting danger pay retroactively for having to put up with you two losers!'"
We'll get a sneak preview of Mandell's Snakebite when she returns to Toronto for a Rivoli show Saturday. Adding further interest is the fact that she'll be performing for the first time locally with her Los Angeles band, which includes upright bassist Sheldon Gomberg, lap steel guitarist Woody Jackson and Tom Waits's drummer, Andrew Borger.
Although Mandell is an entrancing solo performer, her songs really demand to be heard in a group context, as they were originally conceived. Especially now that her band has had a chance to gel.
"My new album finally sounds like I've always heard my music, and I think that comes from recording with the musicians I'm playing shows with. I've never been in a real band, but we've sort of developed together like a band.
"It's so much fun having these guys onstage with me each night. People might be surprised, but it can get pretty loud and crazy. They give me the freedom to rock!"