THE NATIONAL ANTHEM CD launch with the Nasty On and Bowling for Soup at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Tuesday (September 17), 9:30 pm. Free. 416-598-4753.
Bob Barker's gonna be kicking himself in the very near future. Why, you ask? Last year, due to an unfortunate series of events, the nipped-and-tucked Price Is Right host missed his chance to shine the spotlight on a rising Canadian pop star.
After Kevin Hilliard narrowly missed being taken hostage in an L.A. parking lot, the bassist and vocalist for local power pop proto-stars National Anthem showed up at the Price Is Right studios sporting a canary-yellow Canada Loves Bob Barker shirt, stoked for his Showcase Showdown.
Alas, Bob didn't take the bait. Fortunately for Hilliard, he's had better luck propelling his band into the bright lights through other means. Without a live show under their belts, the fun-loving foursome recorded their first album, Sing Along If You Know The Words (Riptide/EMI), last September. It's set to drop Tuesday, but Hilliard and company have already burst onto the scene with a coveted spot on the recent college tour with indie rock icons Sloan.
"We figured that no matter how bad we sucked, the worst-case scenario was that we got to see Sloan five nights in a row for free," laughs Hilliard. "It was unbelievable, just incredible. We played for 5,000 people in London! The best part of it was that they had no clue who we were, and yet five songs in they were all clapping and singing along with the words."
The sweet score of a slot opening for the Canrock indie kings isn't entirely coincidental. Half the freshly minted National Anthem quartet share Sloan's Maritime roots: Hilliard and guitarist-vocalist Chris Loane are both card-carrying Nova Scotians. They found their rock-star sea legs in the mid-90s Halifax pop explosion and perfected their power pop formula in the cult band Grace Babies, which fizzled out in 2001.
No wonder National Anthem, which Hilliard and Loane formed with Shifty guitarist Bernard Kehler and former Carnations drummer Craig Toutant in March 2001 (just after the Babies' breakup), have a strikingly similar sound.
Hilliard admits the Anthem are picking up where his old band left off, but insists their philosophy is different.
"We're all on the same wavelength. We share the same sense of humour. These days everything's a riot -- I refer to it as rock 'n' roll vacation!"
He's not kidding. Their debut disc gleefully bounces with fizzy-sweet spirit. Like They Might Be Giants' too-catchy-to-resist theme song for Malcolm In The Middle, National Anthem's sparkly, shiny power pop tunes hurtle outta the gate like an ADD-afflicted kid who didn't take his Ritalin. There's nothing twee or self-effacing about this raucous shit. By the time you realize what's hit you, you're grinning and bouncing like a Slinky.
These are polished verse-chorus-verse pop nuggets that clock in at a radio-friendly three minutes or under, and the lyrics keep it light with tales of candy-coated crushes and junior high-style heartbreak. But Hilliard and his bandmates are damn good at what they do, slipping in sly north-of-49 references to Suspect Video and Canadian Tire, a hint of covert country twang or a shot of punk under the covers of sweet pop harmonies.
"It all comes back to melody," confesses Hilliard. "A good melody's gonna kill me every time. I think the job of this band is to be like a pneumatic drill, to whirrrrr a hole in your brain, plant that song and run away -- flee! If we can ruin your day 'cause you have that song stuck in your head and can't get it out, then we've done our job. It's a power pop virus."email@example.com