DANKO JONES with LIVE opening for NICKELBACK at the Air Canada Centre (40 Bay), Wednesday (February 15), 7 pm. $39.50-$49.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
The members of Danko Jones are bracing for the Danko Goes Pop headlines that will inevitably accompany the February 21 release of the Can-rock power trio's bold new Sleep Is The Enemy (Aquarius) disc.
Although they're still kicking out riff-heavy rock 'n' roll at a reckless clip, they've definitely given much more attention to the treatment of vocals on the new album. Not only are these prominent in the mix, but there are also forthright harmonies and catchy vocal hooks that appear to be modelled after Rocket from the Crypt.
Since Danko Jones have never enjoyed the commercial radio play they deserve, the natural assumption is that the extra sweetening was added as an afterthought to make their punishing sound more accessible.
The group's namesake frontman, however, claims that isn't how it went down.
"Way before I even started writing songs for the new album, I knew I wanted to have more melody in our music while maintaining the heaviness," says the man called Danko, lounging around his Stockholm pad after a round of probing interviews with the European press. "I did look at the way Rocket from the Crypt did that with their stuff. Some of it could definitely work as pop songs.
"But it wasn't a stab at getting our music on the radio in Canada and the U.S., because we already gave up hope for that long ago. It was more of a personal challenge I set for myself. Some people have said the new stuff sounds lighter, and they don't like the change, but I kinda think it's more punk rock to go against the grain.
"Whenever you challenge the conventions, a lot of punk rock people don't want to know about it. In many ways they're very closed-minded and conservative, which is the exact opposite of what I thought punk was all about."
If the melodic sweetening wasn't enough to split the punk faction of loyal Danko Jones followers, the current cross-Canada stadium blitz opening for the equally loved and despised Nickelback sure did. Evidently, the reason for signing onto the Nickelback tour had nothing to do with the newfound camaraderie they felt after both groups recently went through a drummer change. Danko Jones announced in January that long-time pounder Damon Richardson had left the group due to "fatique" (hey, that's how it was spelled on their website) and was being replaced by Damn 13's Dan Cornelius. It was more about broadening their reach and getting their music out to more people.
"I've already been hearing people griping, 'Oh, you should be playing with groups that sound more like you,' but I don't get it. We're playing for 12,000 people every night on this tour, and an arena full of people is still an arena full of people. Even if only 5 per cent of the crowd on any given night like our stuff, that's a sold-out club show when we come back to town.
"Even though we go onstage at 7 pm, we're still playing for over 5,000 people, and that's a lot of potential disc sales. As we know, Nickelback fans are big music buyers; the last three Nickelback albums sold, like, what, 17 million copies? It's good for us to get our music to people who may not have heard our stuff."
So what's the best thing about a winter road trip across the Canadian Shield as the guests of multi-million-selling rock superstars? It ain't the sports-stadium acoustics.
"I've been overwhelmed by the backstage catering. For the first few shows, I just went crazy stuffing my face. I'm not talking about merely a huge spread of meats and vegetables; the deserts are incredible! They've got, like, five different pies each night, so I was gorging on Black Forest cake and apple crumble with ice cream.
"One night the guys got to the arena before me and said, 'Dude, you're not going to believe what we're eating tonight. It's all sushi!' So I check it out and, oh my god, it was amazing! I love sushi, so that was almost better than playing the show.
"We may have done a shorter set that night. It was like, 'Okay, guys, one more song and then it's back to the sushi!'"