THE LEATHER UPPERS with No No Zero and Boyfriend Material at Smiling Buddha Bar (961 College), Saturday (May 20). $8. 416-516-2531. Rating: NNNNN
Whenever the two-person rock band phenomenon is discussed - as in the White Stripes, the Black Keys, Fiery Furnaces or DFA1979 - the group that's often left out is Toronto's own Leather Uppers, which is unfortunate because it was their ferocious drums 'n' guitar attack that helped make the post-grunge world safe for rock duos.
By the time the Leather Uppers arrived on the scene in 91, the innovative work of Montreal gruesome twosome Deja Voodoo was a distant memory, so it fell upon the Leather Uppers' dapper duo, "Classy" Craig Daniels and "Groovy" Greg Tymoshenko, to convince doubting audiences and confused club owners that two sweaty men in chiffon scarves and polyester suits could rock the house by themselves.
"When we started there was really no other group out there like us," explains Daniels. "One of our earliest out-of-town shows was at the Brunswick Hotel in London, Ontario, and the guy who ran the place said, 'I'm sorry, but when I booked you I thought you were a band. I didn't know you were only two people. That's not a band. I'll pay you for tonight, but you can never play here again.'
"It took some time before the concept caught on."
Around that time, the Leather Uppers were starting to make regular trips to play shows in Detroit with their pals in the Gories and Rocket 455.
If Jack White was at their shows taking notes on chord progressions and colour-coordinated stagewear, he didn't mention it to Daniels when they met briefly at the Horseshoe after a Dirt Bombs show in 2004.
"That's one of those things I've always been curious about myself, since we played shows with many of his friends' bands. So I was going to give Jack a copy of the reissue of our OK, Don't Say Hi (Pantsuit Party) LP and talk to him about it.
"But he was there with his then girlfriend, Renée Zellweger, and they'd obviously both been drinking. He didn't seem to want to talk to me, and when he did it was in this strange affected 'cool guy' voice.
"He said, 'Oh man, don't give me your LP, maaan. You gotta hit me with the 7-inch first, and if I like that then you hit me with the album. So why don't you give your LP to my cousin Ben in the Dirt Bombs. He might like it.'
"That was the extent of my conversation with Jack White. Hey, at least he didn't punch me out."
Even if White is reluctant to openly express his affection for the Leather Uppers, a lot of other well-connected people from influential bands are willing to sing their praises - namely, Eric and Greg Oblivian, who cite the Leather Uppers as a key inspiration for their transition from the larger band concept of the Compulsive Gamblers to the slimmed-down assault of the Oblivians.
In fact, Eric Oblivian's patronage is largely to blame for the Leather Uppers' reactivation, which led to the Uppers' boldly bodacious new Bright Lights disc, released on Oblivian's own Memphis-based Goner label.
Hands-on production assistance from John Critchley has given their patented garage rock rattle a much bigger New York Dolls-style 70s party rock blast, but there are no grafted-on disco beats or any concessions to the post-punk fad.
"We didn't have the right sound when we started. Just about every other band in Toronto was playing goth metal back then. And we probably don't have the right sound now. But trying to sound like Public Image Limited just because that 80s stuff is trendy would be wrong for us. Somehow, when Greg and I play together we always end up with a certain sound that's the Leather Uppers.
"The other day we were playing an all-ages show with Danko Jones and I saw some really young kids up front singing the words to Sugar Sandwich with us, which bodes well for the future. And then after the show, some kid came up to us and said, 'You guys rocked, but those scarves are for fags!' It's good to know that not everything we do is acceptable to everyone."