ME FIRST AND THE GIMME GIMMES with the SAINTE CATHERINES and DEAD TO ME at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), tonight (Thursday, November 30). $18.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
If you ask most people who dig hearing a bunch of dudes on a small, poorly lit stage break into Louie, Louie, cover bands and bars go hand in hand like salt and vinegar or hugs and kisses.
But for the guys in punkified cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, it's a whole other ball game. Instead of playing to rooms full of half-listening beer-bottle-suckers, they've weaseled their way onto gigs like the Warped Tour while still playing only the finest in show tunes, old soft rock ballads and, most recently, country classics, all with punk rock attitude.
Singer Spike Slawson seems baffled when I ask how they turn songs we've heard a hundred times before into balls-out fun explosions.
"I don't know, man. We don't really care - that's why. We don't properly practise, and it only gets tedious when we do much more than 10 or 12 days."
Shit. Maybe this apathy thing really works. Either way, the punk supergroup - also featuring Fat Mike of NOFX fame and Dave Raun and Joey Cape from Lagwagon, has made a fantastic discovery: playing old songs your parents love is a great idea.
"If you wanna start a fun band and play live and get drunk, then covers are your best bet, cuz the songwriting stage can be really time-consuming.
"99 per cent of the stuff out there is garbage, and who's to say you wouldn't just be adding to the pile? I know I probably would."
Most recently, the band has culled that quality 1 per cent from country music's finest, including Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and even the Dixie Chicks. But do they think singing Goodbye Earl is gonna be just as rad as singing, say, Elton John's Rocket Man?
"If you go back and listen to the New York Dolls or all that New York street rock from the early 70s, that was basically like stripped-down rockabilly. It was an answer to Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer and shit like that.
"In California in the 80s (it might've had something to do with Social Distortion), the hipper punk kids were into Hank Williams and Johnny Cash."
The band could choose from any genre - they're flirting with rock ballads and maybe some jazz standards next - and their Teflon formula would make it work. Sadly, since they're all so busy with other projects and families, a life on the road isn't realistic.
As for their Toronto show, Slawson assures me there'll be plenty of tomfoolery. These guys'll do just about anything for a laugh, including playing a bar mitzvah and recording the show for a live record called Me First And The Gimme Gimmes Ruin Jonny's Bar Mitzvah (Fat Wreck Chords).
But Slawson tells me it probably wasn't as bad as it all sounds.
"Every time we asked for a glass of wine they gave us mugs. It was really awkward. People didn't know what to expect, so there was this almost hostile reception - at least on the bad side of apathetic. But then everybody started drinking and people got up and started dancing."