THE VERTICAL STRUTS with the CREEPING NOBODIES , DISGUISES and GHETTO PONY at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina), Friday (February 24). $5. 416-763-9139. Rating: NNNNN
Saying "Prime Minister Stephen Harper" can leave a bad aftertaste. Nobody agrees more than the Vertical Struts, and they're from Alberta.
The Edmonton-based queer/straight duo honed in on Harper before most even had the PM-to-be on the radar. They lovingly screened "Fuck You Stephen Harper, sincerely the Vertical Struts" across the front of T-shirts over four years ago. As indie-rock duos go, Raymond Biesinger and Trevor Anderson certainly did their political best.
"We did everything we could to prevent him from becoming prime minister," says Anderson sarcastically. "But the limited powers of independent rock 'n' roll couldn't dissuade the voting public. It's funny cuz we made the shirts way back, and people kept asking, 'Who is he and what did he do to you?' They're collector's items now."
Big deal, you say. Printing up a few dissident Ts isn't going to ignite an anti-conservative revolution. But consider what it takes to peddle them in rural halls and bars across the Prairies - not exactly hospitable territory for a homo/hetero, leftist band of Harper haters, with a merch table to prove it. It hasn't deterred Anderson and Biesinger from traveling across small-town western Canada and beyond.
"People are sometimes surprised by the queer-positive, art-fag thing," laughs Anderson, who originally hails from Red Deer. "More people are shocked that Ray is the straight one. But people do have ideas about the kinds of bands that are from Alberta. It makes for a nice sucker punch."
It was in Biesinger's sweaty, body-stuffed parties back in 2001 where the Struts first united in smash-and-trash rock 'n' roll harmony. Biesinger, a well-known illustrator, and Anderson, a popular fixture on the E-town theatre scene, had enough tastemaker buddies to get the rest of the city's music intelligentsia asking questions about this gay/straight combo with exceptional aesthetics.
Two years later, their debut 7-inch slab was spun frequently on college radio dials, and some national press jumped on their subversively prescient clothing line.
It took a few years, but their self-titled full length finally dropped in November. It's a primitive-sounding piece of raw emotion, stripped-down garage rock and sexual ambiguity, with song structures ready to unravel at any given moment. The riffs are reckless, and Anderson's drum style creates a chaotic design that might be their most endearing attribute. On the vox, Biesinger howls unapologetic lyrics representative of the musical pair's creative and sexual forces.
"When he sings, his mouth belongs to both of us," explains Anderson. "One of things I love about us is that we're not a straight band and we're not a gay band. The band has collaboration built into it. For Ray to sing with equal fervour about girls and boys is incredible, because it shows this is band with two separate individuals coming together to make a larger artistic statement. At the same time, it's important for us to satisfy the people who came to the bar to hear rock."
Surprisingly, the Struts weren't met with antagonism in the flowing wheat-field towns of Penhold, Red Deer or Regina. It was in the thieving streets of Vancouver that Biesinger was recently relieved of all his instrumental belongings. Biesinger has since upgraded his rig and revamped his collection of pawn-shop specials. As for Anderson, he still smashes on the same trap set as before, but not without a few new "modifications."
"I've taped extra gay porn to my kick drum," deadpans Anderson. "It has a little collage on it. It's probably the gayest little drum in Canada."
What about all those impressionable all-ages crowds the Struts play to?
"I'll usually just move closer to the front of the stage."