Thurs, Feb 15
DEMON'S CLAWS, NO DYNAMICS, DIRTY CHINESE THIEVES and JEWISH LEGEND at the Silver Dollar
The crazy number of young women sporting brown faux fur helmets at the Silver Dollar during No Dynamics' somewhat lethargic set made it clear the "dirty Q-Tip" look appears to have succeeded the white belt and forearm warmers as the hipster fashion don't of the moment.
But leave it to trendsetting Montrealers to come up with an even more ridiculous fashion statement -- how about long johns as stagewear? I thought I'd seen it all when hayseed hooligan Jeff Clarke of Demon's Claws stepped up to the microphone rocking crusty thermal underwear as if to match his group's sloppy sound with appropriately slobbish attire. If Clarke really wants to impress fans in the front row, he might want to pack an extra sock next time around.
JOSH RITTER at the Horseshoe
Josh Ritter's booking agent made a dubious decision picking the Horseshoe for the singer's solo acoustic date in Toronto. Ritter's style of from-the-heart folk demands a certain amount of intimacy that a liquored-up Thursday-night crowd can't always provide. Not that there wasn't an effort.
First he banged out some stripped versions off his latest, The Animal Years. Then he tried upping the intimacy quotient by downing all stage lights, a novel idea until you realized you were pointlessly staring at blackness.
The lights returned for the next song, but it wasn't long before Ritter began belting song parts off-mic. Though that might be cool for front-row superfans, it was impossible for everyone else.
At least Ritter made a valiant go at creating something special. The odds were definitely against him.
Fri, Feb 16
PATRICK WATSON and BRIAN BORCHERDT at the Rivoli
It's hard to know the precise cause of Montreal-based Patrick Watson's seemingly sudden popularity. Not that the man-slash-band's latest disc, Close To Paradise (Secret City), isn't dreamy, but we're talking about an artist who, within the past year and a bit, rode out a residency at the Drake where he ended up playing for barely anyone other than the bartenders.
So how did he end up selling out a jam-packed Rivoli last Friday, to the disappointment of frowny fans who'd queued for tickets over an hour before the skedded door times? Does a Juno nomination really have that much clout? Or was it the inclusion of his song The Great Escape on last week's episode of Grey's Anatomy, during oh-so-melodramatic meditations on mortality (cue corpse photos while Izzie's in surgery with a foundering patient)?
Either way, it's nice to see the guy make such a successful crossover. The most impressive thing about Watson as a performer is the fact that, though his background in the rarefied world of ambient scores for arty films might suggest otherwise, he's an awesomely engaged frontman onstage. Whether charming the bar staff to deliver a round of Glenlivet on the rocks to the band or coaxing the crowd to shut up and pay attention to a nearly a capella tune, Watson commands your attention with his urchin-like grin and ethereal falsetto. Maybe the laid-back charisma's a holdover from his secret ska-band past?
Sat, Feb 17
KISS ME DEADLY and TUSKS at the Drake
There are tons of acts trying to pull off that pretty, whimsical dance-pop thing where coed vocalists deliver jangly melodies and wank guitars over preprogrammed beats, but only a handful do it well. And even the bands who pull off jittery hits on record rarely pass muster onstage.
So it sucks that there was such a poor turnout for Kiss Me Deadly's appearance at the Drake last Saturday. Several members were AWOL -- vocalist/guitarist Emily Elizabeth and guitarist/programmer Adam Poulin were left to hold down the fort -- and their set was cut short due to openers Tusks stealing time with an extra song, leaving barely 40 minutes before the Drake's strictly enforced midnight curfew. (Gotta rake in a whole new round of cover charges with a late-night dance party.) But despite the setbacks and their dismay at the totally dead crowd, Elizabeth and Poulin's shimmering, glitchy tunes were staggeringly good.
While their interplay of disco-influenced beats and ethereal, washy melodies was solid, KMD's real strength lies in Elizabeth's utterly captivating vocals. She has a slightly snarly, girlish hiccup that turns up at the ends, and the crazed cadence of her delivery sounds like what happens when you squeeze a wet bar of soap too hard and it slips from your grasp. Be sorely disappointed you missed them, and don't let it happen again.
WE ARE THE TAKE at the Mod Club
Toronto's We Are the Take played a tight set of friendly indie-rock numbers at the Mod Club last Saturday evening. While the young foursome's stuff was invitingly catchy, they haven't quite found their own distinct sound just yet. But there's promise.
After one track, bassist Andrew Hobbs laughed, "Seriously, that is the worst response we've ever gotten." Oh well, guess the crowd wasn't here primarily for them.
With robust, fuzzy funk bass lines and bright riffs, WATT took advantage of the Mod Club's powerful system. Harmonized, they sang about having drugs in their pockets, but "I don't know what to do with them." (Hmmm.) They'll play again this Saturday (February 24) with regular DJs MRK, Bobbi Guy, DaSilva and Benny K, who kept the club jumpin' all night.