the m's with wilco at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Friday (July 7). $40.18-$45.18. 416-872-4255. Rating: NNNNN
A high-profile music video - or more accurately, a high-profile video director - can be the key to transforming upstarts into household names.
Would Daft Punk have achieved instant star status if not for their Michel Gondry-helmed Around The World vid? Would anyone have been able to tell Keshia Chante from Keisha Knight Pulliam if the Canuck R&B mini-diva hadn't hooked up with Mr. (formerly Lil') X to direct her Bad Boy clip?
But with hotshot directors in higher demand than Third World orphans in the Pitt-Jolie household (and carrying a higher price tag than the GDP in those orphans' home countries), starving indie bands generally have a snowball's chance in hell of attracting the Jonzes and McGs of the world.
Unless, of course, you're rising Chicago rock crew the M's, who convinced Jonathan Demme to create a video for the shimmery title track of their new Future Women (Polyvinyl) disc.
"Jonathan picked up our CD when we opened for Wilco at a sold-out show at Irving Plaza in New York," explains singer/guitarist Josh Chicoine, sounding curiously embarrassed. "I was the guy who wrote him back when he e-mailed us to ask for more albums. I knew he'd done videos, so I was pestering him, like, 'Are you the guy who made Stop Making Sense?' and asked if he'd be into doing something with us at some point. He said sure."
The shoot didn't quite live up to their hopes.
"It was really, really different from what we expected. He was making Heart Of Gold, that Neil Young movie, and the film ate up more time than he anticipated. We had a day to shoot at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC, and it was just live footage, which doesn't lend itself to Future Women.
"It was a great experience," he insists. "But he had his own projects to work on, which came first."
Though the disc has a distinct throughline - partly due to smart sequencing that begins with the gentle bounce of Plan Of The Man and builds steadily through a series of chamber-psych ditties before winding up with heavier numbers - it's definitely more of a pleasantly random genre collage than the straight-up glam revisionism of the M's self-titled debut.
The fellas are happy enough to give credit to their obvious influences: the Kinks, the Velvets, T-Rex. More interesting, though, is Chicoine's assertion that the music of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a guiding force throughout the making of Future Women.
"It was more about convincing us that it was okay to do something different," he begins. "A spirit thing rather than straight thievery."
It's barely there, but you might pick up faint suggestions that Kuti's influence registered on a sonic level - try listening to the subtle polyrhythms and just-off syncopation of drummer Steve Versaw's beats, particularly on the standout track Trucker Speed.
The album's orchestral exuberance does make you wonder about the logic of their tour with the currently guitar-rock-centric Wilco, for whom the M's also opened on a mini-tour shortly before the launch of A Ghost Is Born.
Chicoine isn't put off by their aesthetic differences, though he does note that the M's "don't have a frontman in the sense of Jeff Tweedy being Jeff Tweedy and leading the band."
Hrm. So are the stories of Tweedy's intra-band dictatorship true?
Chicoine is diplomatic.
"Those are just nasty rumours. The last time we toured with Wilco, he hung out with us the least by far of all his bandmates, but he'd also just gotten out of rehab at the time.
"In that period after an album comes out, bands are jacked up to play, and then as it goes on, the tour gets gruelling. Everything rubs you a little raw more than it should on the road.
"But when we went out with them, he was still in that excited-to-be-playing state."