THE DEADLY SNAKES with BBQ at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Friday (August 25), 10 pm. $20, advance, $18. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Disheartening as it was to hear that the Deadly Snakes show at the Horseshoe Friday (August 25) would be their last stand, 10 years and four albums on U.S. labels is an impressive run for a Toronto indie garage soul band. Especially considering that their original plan in 1996 was to just play some house parties that summer.
Like many incidents in the Snakes' checkered past, recalling the group's origins with founding keyboardist Max McCabe-Lokos, aka Age of Danger, brings up a story involving colourful local promoter Dan Burke, who was among the first to see the potential in the wiry teenage delinquents.
"Once Dan asked me if he could come by my place and hang out for a while," says McCabe-Lokos. "I thought he meant for the afternoon. So he shows up, plunks himself down on the couch and lived there for the next three weeks! I'd come home and Dan would be reclining on the couch munching day-old donuts and reading last week's newspaper.
"But I have to say Dan did a lot for us. He gave us a lot of encouragement, telling us we were exactly what rock 'n' roll should be about. I remember him saying, 'If you're going to play rock 'n' roll, you have to live it. So when you come to my bar, you can do whatever the fuck you want!'
"He booked us between 10 and 15 shows, and even though hardly anyone was showing up, he'd still pay us - and not in women's designer jeans."
It's appropriate that BBQ, aka Mark Sultan - among other surprise guests - is sharing the stage with the Snakes at their final show (which might turn out to be Saturday if the Snakes decide to return BBQ's favour and open his Silver Dollar show), since it was Sultan's group the Spaceshits who boosted the Snakes' profile early on by inviting them to split bills in Montreal and Toronto and by taking the Snakes out for their first U.S. tour.
"The guys in the Spaceshits went to (Sympathy For The Record Industry label boss) Long Gone John and said, 'These friends of ours have this amazing band, and you should do a record with them.' I don't think he even heard our stuff. He called us up and asked, 'How much do you need to make an album?' We didn't know anything about production costs, but someone said, '$2,000.' Long Gone was, like, 'OK, sounds good.' So we did it.
"The minimalist production gives a real live feel, and I think it's exactly right for the style of music were playing. We didn't know what we were doing so we didn't think about it. After that, we became more self-conscious about the whole studio process, and our recordings changed because of it."
For many Snakes fans, the aggressive attack of Love Undone makes it their favourite of the group's albums, but it left the group members trying successively harder on each of their next three albums to wipe away the garage band rep they'd acquired.
There were signs that the Snakes' days were numbered with the 2004 release of singer/guitarist Andre Ethier's solo debut, Andre Ethier With Christopher Sandes Featuring Pickles And Price (Sonic Unyon).
"It seemed to me that there was no longer any interest in working with me in the Snakes any more. Just the way it all came together - while I was away in Portugal for three months - seemed less than tactful. I blew up. If Andre had told me what he was planning, I might've reacted differently, but I found out second-hand. That made things very difficult."
It certainly added a few twists to the Snakes' sessions for their Porcella album, which now seems like their final statement. That is, unless they decide to release a live recording from the Horseshoe gig, which they'll be taping for posterity.
"My attitude was, if the solo album was his project, this Snakes recording is going to be my project. So going in, I made it clear that I was going to produce the record and mix it too. That created this really competitive atmosphere, which makes Porcella sound the way it does. I think the tension of those sessions comes through. It's a strange record, but I'm happy with it."