DOLLARAMA with OH THE HUMANITY and a special secret guest as part of Wavelength at Sneaky Dee's (431 College), Sunday (January 29). Pwyc. www.wavelengthtoronto.com, 416-603-3090. Rating: NNNNN
To a lot of people, concept bands are like the pop music equivalent of Pauly Shore: they have dubious artistic merit and undefined skill levels, rely on unsophisticated gags and owe their popularity to undiscriminating (or stoned) patrons of the arts.
The idea of the gimmick-based group elicits visceral, emotional responses from even the most mild-mannered music aficionado. The virtual shit's been hitting the virtual fan on a handful of multi-page threads discussing the concept of the concept band on the Toronto segment of the cyber indie community's Stillepost.ca message board, inspired at least in part by the forthcoming release of Katarina Collins-Gligorijevic's and husband Matt Collins's Bad Bands Revolution compilation of tracks by local artists who challenge conventional ideas of what constitutes appropriate artistic expression.
The fact that folks can get so het up about unorthodox outfits like Bad Bands Revolution contributors Dollarama suggests that there's something way more interesting going on here than you'll find on a Son-In-Law DVD.
The founding concept of Dollarama, the open-ended collective held together by Eric Warner and Aaron Bronsteter, is to deliver manic improvised performances using gear exclusively obtained from dollar stores. Each instrument must cost a maximum of $1 plus tax, and the sum total of each member's gear can't be more than $25 per show.
"In some ways, all bands are concept bands," insists Bronsteter. "I mean, Queen had a singer who could sing falsetto and they could actually play their instruments: that was their concept. Ours is more experiential, and we can't play our instruments very well at all."
He thinks people's passionate response to bands like his has more to do with pure, simple jealousy than with anything else.
"When a person sees a group with no perceptible musical talent, he or she thinks, "Hey, I could do that just as well,' but is too chickenshit to get onstage.
"But even though the comp is called Bad Bands Revolution, we don't consider ourselves a bad band," he adds. "One of our goals is to demonstrate that music isn't a simple one-dimensional creature; it's a multi-headed monster, and a band doesn't have to be a four-piece with guitar, bass, vocals and drums."
If you're up for it, you, too, can be a part of Dollarama, who've been known to pull off improvised cacophonies about Fleetwood Mac and the Panama Canal performed on everything from cheese graters ("We've really taken a liking to graters," Warner smiles, "though cuts and bruises do happen. We're not afraid to shed blood for our music") to Tupperware filled with marbles.
Grab a pot, a skipping rope or an ugly porcelain figurine from your local dollar store and check out their website dollarama.atspace.com to learn how to sign up for membership.
Smashing boundaries between performer and audience member is part of the point of the band, kinda the same way the twisted geniuses behind the Dada movement were all about challenging ingrained ideas of the artist-as-authority and the fetishization of art for art's sake.
If that's too academic, rest assured that Dollarama are mostly in it to have a good time.
"I think it's horseshit if you're not starting a band to have fun," Bronsteter fumes. "Starting a band to make money, which a lot of people do these days, is garbage. We understand that we're not gonna be on MuchMusic any time soon. If you're not into new musical ideas, then go turn on mainstream radio."
As Warner explains, the members of Dollarama can't really predict what's gonna go down at Sunday's Wavelength bonanza, since they don't even know who will be in the band, let alone what songs will come out when they hit the stage. He does, however, promise it'll be really heavy.
"We're very into our surroundings, and what we play is primarily based on that. We also don't really know when to stop. We usually keep playing and playing," he continues, "so I guess that makes us like the next generation of jam bands."
"We're the new Phish!" Bronsteter interjects. "Next thing you know, we'll be playing four-hour sets."
Can you get patchouli and hacky-sacks for a buck plus tax?