WOODHANDS with 100% WOOL, PINK DEAD WHALEand more, as part of the PITTER PATTER NIGHTS festival at the Boat (158 Augusta), Wednesday (March 7). $5. www.pitterpatternights.com. Rating: NNNNN
Attention, spambots: in your tire less quest for ever more outlandish strategies to "IINCREASE HER PLeaSURRRE," "GO ALL NIGHT WITHOUT STOPPING!!!!" and "never feel like less of a man again," you are overlooking a key tool in the fight against emasculation.
Rock gods as diverse as Liv Tyler's beloved stepdad, Todd Rundgren, and squishy fromage king John Tesh are all too aware that the key to maximizing your onstage machismo is simple: strap on a big shiny keytar.
If even Tesh's infamous keytarization of a Sabbath tune on Conan O'Brien isn't enough to make a believer out of you, listen to the glowing testimony of Dan Werb, the peripatetic mad genius behind electro-pop sensation Woodhands.
The Vancouver-bred Werb, who ricocheted between Montreal, Paris and his hometown before falling in love with Toronto this past year, claims he only (re)discovered his mojo after replacing his 125-pound Fender Rhodes with "a white, glowing, light phallic object with an expression bar.
"Every time I play, I feel sexy. I get all juiced up. When you're sitting behind a keyboard, there's only so much you can do, unless you're Luca (Maoloni) from the Old Soul. He's pretty wild. But the keytar totally frees you up."
On the surface all cardigans and spectacles, Werb certainly doesn't appear to be the sort of guy who, y'know, takes audiences to that very special place.
But that's before you've witnessed him oozing sweat while he croons, hollers and squiggles those Suzuki-trained fingers down the flashy neck of a hot-rod strap-on synth. Woodhands live is a retro-futuristic explosion that marries the unabashed cheese factor of plasticized 80s dance-soul, the robo-funk of Kraftwerk and the dreamy wool-blanket haze of indie-friendly bedroom-tronica like Boards of Canada and DNTEL.
Of course, Woodhands wasn't always that way. After Werb grew out of his brief phase as an acid jazz nerd, the self-proclaimed "non-tech guy" started fiddling around with synths and programmed beats in his drafty apartment.
"I wanted to do a solo thing," he explains, "but at the time I couldn't imagine myself as a frontman or singer, so the obvious choice was to do something electronic. I bought five Kraftwerk albums and listened to them over and over till I got it."
Woodhands morphed and stretched as Werb city-hopped, incorporating his childhood friend Pat Placzek on bass and vocalist Roselle Healy in Vancouver, then swerved mightily into the ecstatic revival that it's now become after the frontman settled in Toronto last summer and brought drummer Paul Banwatt into the fold.
"I'm in love with Paul, I think," Werb gushes. "I'm straight, but we have such chemistry on and off stage. My mom actually called me the other day when I was out for dinner with a girl to say, 'I read on your website that you and your drummer are getting really, er, intimate. I have to ask – are you gay?'"
He laughs, adding that Banwatt's coming to "meet the family in Vancouver," where Werb and Pat are currently putting the finishing touches on Woodhands' forthcoming Baggagetown EP. Werb cautions that it's a very different beast from Woodhands' live show – softer, more introspective and trippy.
He claims the short disc, which contains songs written and recorded over his last several years of travelling, marks the end of an era and the beginning of his current love affair with Toronto. The willing embrace of local indie rock outfits like Spitfires & Mayflowers and Henri Faberge & the Adorables (Werb has joined both bands at various times) has been powerful enough to convince the adamant non-music geek, to whom rock music was previously a huge snore, to reconsider his dismissal of the genre.
"How can you not be exposed to indie rock in Toronto?" he snorts. "It's fuckin' everywhere! My biggest influence is hiphop, for sure. That's what gets me excited, but I love the energy of indie rock, and I can't help but be... well, colonized by it. The reason I loved Toronto so much when I got here was because Henry (Fletcher, of the Adorables) and Jose (Lourenco, of Spitfires & Mayflowers) gave me an instant indie rock hug.
"But ultimately," Werb says, "how can you not feel uncomfortable with whatever's the norm? In Toronto, indie rock is the norm, so I have to trash it. But that community? Holy shit, when I got here, the Woodhands shows were terrible, but people were into it enough that I felt totally supported and inspired."
Additional Audio Interview Clips
Dan Werb explains the differences between Woodhands' new Baggagetown disc and he bands's live show
On being a pseudo hiphop fan as a child and why he's not a music collector
Werb talks about the differences between the musical communities in the different places he's lived