May 23, the Guthries
Poor dears, the Guthries had van trouble coming in from Ottawa for Thursday night's gig at Rancho Relaxo, which may have accounted for the long faces on the Halifax alt-country underachievers. But why the Guthries' earnest singer/guitarist Dale Murray and accordionist Ruth Minnikin were warbling painfully off-key the entire evening remains a mystery.
Despite a fine batch of tunes on their new self-titled disc (www. theguthries.net), it's proving difficult to replace former frontman Matt Mays. After an hour of yelping, even the mixing desk could take no more -- Minnikin's announcement of an encore had the device convulsing with squelchy electro-spasms. Lights were flashing as the heated unit began whirring like a phaser on overload before the frantic soundman slapped off the power switch. Phew!
May 23, Renann
Even the gourmet nibblies weren't enough to appease the small but increasingly antsy crowd kept waiting till 11 pm for Montreal's Renann to start her CD-launching set at the Rivoli Thursday night.
The red-haired pixieish singer apologized for the delay, explaining, "We were stalling till the end of the game." In the interim, the new album, Taken With You, was kept in heavy rotation over the sound system, which meant the audience had heard most of Renann's set several times before she played.
Luckily, the tunes translated a lot better live. The disc's flaw is too-perfect production. On the recording, Renann's rich, malleable alto has less depth, and the layered, low-key tunes are flattened. Live, the band members played off each other with amazing chemistry, which made for a great show.
May 24, Plastic Bag
With the weather finally warming up, it's nice to see Toronto thud rockers Plastic Bag back in full swing.
There's something disturbingly summery about the quartet's brutal but surprisingly poppy riff rock. Frontman Eric Bridenbacker still snarled and popped his eyes out of his head Friday at the Horseshoe, but the more extreme metal moments of the group's sound have been excised for something approaching hummability.
It still hits you like a piledriver, though, and any questions about the Bag's intensity will be answered in full when they check into the studio in the coming weeks with the still-bearded "Count" Ian Blurton to record their debut album.
May 26, Billy Bob Thornton
Seeing actor Billy Bob Thornton lead a band of professional jobbers on the Phoenix stage Sunday, the cause for concern wasn't his vocal chops. He had no problem carrying a tune, but the pale-looking Hollywood star's health was the troubling issue. Thornton is so very thin now that at one point it appeared he'd left the stage when in fact he'd just stepped behind the microphone stand. If it was possible to count Thornton's ribs through his black sleeveless T-shirt from the soundboard area, the folks up front trying to get photos signed could likely make out what he had for supper. Who knows? Maybe he's getting ready to play Calista Flockhart's stunt double.
Upcoming, Merkury Burn
This just in: Local glam rockers Merkury Burn just pulled back into town after a whirlwind East Coast tour. The sexy and socially conscious punks headed over to Halifax for a Dalhousie queer students group fundraiser and decided to hit a few other hot spots afterward.
"We had people coming up onstage and dancing with us at the only gay bar in Fredericton," laughs guitarist Jones. "That's one scary town. Incredibly homophobic." The band was also invited to play Berlin's Europride parade, but the plan "fizzled out" when they couldn't swing free plane tickets. Next up, Merkury Burn play an NXNE showcase at the Kathedral June 6 at 11 pm and headline at Buddies during Pride Week.