august 1, badly drawn boy
Living by the adage "it's better to look good than to feel good," Badly Drawn Boy Damon Gough turned up for his in-store at the packed and steam-bath sweltering Soundscapes sporting a jacket and wool toque pulled down over his eyes. "It absorbs the sweat," he claimed afterwards. Armed with just an acoustic guitar, he focused primarily on the gentle pop ditties from his About A Boy soundtrack, but rewarded those who managed to fight off the fainting reflex by strumming a couple of new compositions, like the charming You Were Right, from his forthcoming Have You Fed The Fish? (Twisted Nerve/Beggar's Group) disc, due in October. Even without the strings and things, it sounds like a winner.
august 2, paul westerberg
Older? Yes. Wiser? Perhaps. But Paul Westerberg is no less temperamental. At the first sign of technical trouble he wasted no time in smashing an acoustic guitar to splinters rather than simply handing the faulty instrument to his tech man standing by. Even though the Phoenix stage was set up with a couch, comfy chairs and living room lamps to make the reclusive cult rock star feel at home, Westerberg seemed wobbly and out of place. Although he solicited song suggestions from the adoring crowd -- and gamely attempted them -- it was more than a bit pathetic to watch him fumble through the lyrics and chord changes of his best-known tunes. Not that the gaffes mattered to most people in attendance, at least not those who assumed it was a hootenanny night and annoyingly shouted along with each familiar Replacements-era favourite.
august 2, dan bryk
Dan Bryk is the type of guy who can find the dark cloud behind every silver lining. He even griped when he got signed to ex-Pumpkin James Iha's Scratchie Records back in 1997, but released his Lovers Leap disc on the label three years later to critical praise. True to form, it was a fairly bitter Bryk who took the stage Friday night at the Rivoli to play a solipsistic set of quirky Randy Newman/Ben Folds-inspired piano songs while sipping on a Starbucks beverage. He sprinkled snarky banter between tunes, dissing his adopted U.S. home base, including a self-deprecating riff about how American fast-food buffets have contributed to his girth. Finally, near the end of the set, he revealed the cause of his crankiness -- Scratchie had passed on his new record the previous Tuesday. The indie rock crowd, which included a quiet Sarah Slean, cooed their support and offered ecstatic cheers when Bryk invited mystery guest drummer "Worksley Hawkman" onstage to help out with his last song.
On a brighter note, keep an eye out for Sarah McElcheran, who traded off between electric bass and trumpet throughout the sparkling second-act set by Young Ideas. McElcheran's played with virtually every great musician in this city, but never gets her due. Her instrument-switching talent was impressive, as were her sweet backing vocals, which added 60s-girl-group flavour to the lovely tunes. An underrated talent, to be sure.