RHEOSTATICS with KEVIN HEARN'S THIN BUCKLE and others at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, November 8) through November 17. $8.50-$13.50. 416-598-4753.
straightforward isn't a term you'd normally associate with the Rheostatics.The Toronto art-rockers have a tendency to go for the extreme, whether it's a lavishly orchestrated and illustrated children's record or power-prog tunes that pack five songs into one.
All of which makes the Rheos' new album rather curious. Despite song titles like These Days Are Good For The Canadian Conservative Youth Party Alliance, the group's new Night Of The Shooting Stars disc is a delightfully uncomplicated rock record, straightforward even.
Dominated by hooks and sing-along backup vocals in songs that only rarely stray beyond three or four minutes, the record displays a seldom heard pure-pop side of the Rheostatics, with considerably fewer impenetrable songwriting tangles than some past records.
"I think you have to have a record where you throw together a group of songs every now and then," Rheostatics guitarist/vocalist Dave Bidini explains. "If only so that it will lead you to more complicated or challenging places.
"In a way, this record being a bit more straight-ahead might be a bridge to doing something wilder than Harmelodia. The good thing is that we're in a position where people will follow almost whatever we do."
Night Of The Shooting Stars is not, however, the record that the Rheostatics went into the studio to make. In what was seen as a major step outside their own circle and sound, the group initially began to make the record with newly bearded Blurtonia frontman Ian Blurton producing.
It was, from all accounts, an unusual pairing. The Rheos and Blurton's Change of Heart had played around the Toronto scene at the same time for years, but never really interacted. Perhaps there was a good reason for that.
After a few weeks, Blurton's power-rock touch and the Rheostatics parted company, and sessions were finished with balladeer Alun Piggins and regular Rheos collaborator/current drummer Michael Phillip Wojewoda behind the mixing desk.
"We and Ian didn't really find a common place," Bidini offers cautiously. "The first sounds we did were big and loud, but once those were done we didn't really know how to take it to the next level. It was pretty stark-sounding. We got self-conscious about wanting to paint it more, and I think Ian resisted that.
"We've spent 15 or 16 years trying to craft these sounds and textures, and we wanted to bring them into play more. Ian and the Rheos have been on other sides of the road in Toronto for 20 years, and that's because we've been steadfast in our belief that what we do is the right thing. When those forces came up against each other, there wasn't much give, so we pulled the plug."
Anyone thinking that this new pop sound has somehow smoothed out the Rheostatics' eccentric edges need only look to the next few weeks of programming at the Horseshoe Tavern.
The group have booked themselves into the club for a marathon string of 11 consecutive shows. A handful of famous guests are rumoured to be showing up for support, but the man who still holds the Horseshoe title for longest residency (25 nights), Stompin' Tom, apparently won't be making the trip downtown.
"I wrote letters to Stompin' Tom, the Guess Who and Rush, and we actually heard from Rush," laughs Bidini. "They didn't say no, so who knows. Tom just doesn't do anything these days, and the only way to get him would be to go out to his place, get him drunk and strap him to a chair.
"I think the idea is to be exhausted by the end of the whole thing. It's almost the musical equivalent of seeing how many people you can stuff into a phone booth."