The Snitches with Guided By Voices at the Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen West), Friday and Saturday (July 19 and 20). $20. 416-598-4753.
Montreal -- It used to be that the Snitches were as major a component of this city's music scene as mascara in Tammy Faye Bakker's beauty regimen. Frenetic live shows offered regularly out of their loft space, the C-Pig, during the mid-90s, etched them forever into Montreal's music history books. They drew from a range of influences and injected them with doses of performance art.
Then, after two records -- 1993's A Day At The A and 1998's Sleepwalker -- the Snitches slipped into relative obscurity. It looked as though they might fall victim to what, after spending half my life there, I call the Montreal curse and go the way of such bands as Me Mom and Morgentaler. That means you disappear forever into the realm of the grossly talented, overexposed yet unsigned, and become an anecdote used by fans to illustrate how good the old days were after disillusioned members have long since moved on to seek out other projects.
But, no. The Snitches were not slinking into the forest to die. They were making Star Witness. And it's so damn good, it got them signed to Universal Canada.
"Any band from Montreal getting signed to a major label is like some sort of dream world," says vocalist and guitarist Mike Webber, on the eve of the band's two-nighter July 19 and 20 at the Horseshoe. "It just doesn't happen, though I think there is more attention being paid to Montreal these days."
"Our sound is more appropriate for radio, finally," he says, citing the Hives and the Strokes as examples of the friendlier climate.
But the Snitches, too, have changed considerably. Where there was once a violin, there are now heavier, clanging guitars, and the Latin-based drumming of Isabelle Lussier has been traded in for the harder, exciting rock drumming of Patrick Rico Naud.
"We used to make more baroque arrangements. Imagine the canopy of a rain forest. It's busy, it's flat and it's lush. Now we have one spiky idea at a time and just allow that essential hook to fly on its own, which makes for much better pop arrangements."
More clang. More Clash (but like Strummer getting goosed). More Elvis Costello, with the odd flicker of the likes of Tom Waits.
And if the album is more smashing, the live show is less so. Literally, that is.
"Yeah, Scott (Moodie -- the other core member who recently took on a more serious musical role and wrote the single Right Before My Eyes) hurts himself a lot. Once he hit himself in the head and there was blood everywhere and this girl passed out.... But bodily harm is something we're no longer interested in pursuing, so it's still the same show but without some of the excesses."