YOUNG & SEXY with Hotel and Gentleman Reg at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, December 4). $7. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
When you're an indie band trailing descriptors like twee, dreamy and sweet in your wake like toilet paper on a shoe, the last thing people expect from you is a blistering live show. That's why so many jaws dropped when Vancouver pop posse Young & Sexy hit town for their one and only Toronto appearance way back in the summer of 2002. Performing in the tiny, sweat-soaked Rancho Relaxo, packed past capacity based solely on advance buzz, the band rocked so hard that one poor soul in the audience passed out.
OK, so you could blame the fainting spell on the merciless heat, but it was rock 'n' roll enough to convince me never to damn the mild-mannered indie outfit with fey praise ever again.
What sucks, agrees songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Paul Hixon Pittman, is that despite the harmony-soaked loveliness of their second album, Life Through One Speaker (Mint), the crew is still struggling to match that explosive live energy on disc.
"When you're recording, there's always a mind game going on," Pittman explains from his home base in Vancouver. "You know it's going down in history, so the music can't be as loose as it would be live. At a show, you've had a few drinks and the crowd's not gonna notice a mistake or two, so you don't even worry about anything when you're up there onstage. In the studio, you're desperately trying not to worry. We still have a ways to go with that." He claims taking it up a notch was his band's main goal with this album, their follow-up to last year's delightful - if twee - Stand Up For Your Mother.
"We wanted it to have more of a band feel, like when you listen to recordings from the early 70s like Dylan's Nashville Skyline, or any Neil Young record. Those albums sound like the band's in a big room and they're all hangin' out and playing."
To aid in their mission, the Sexies called upon BC production whiz team John Collins and Dave Carswell, who also helped hone their first record. The genius of the JC/DC studio duo - who boast a stellar Van City rock pedigree as members of the New Pornographers, the Smugglers and the Evaporators (yes, Nardwuar's band) - lies in their polar opposite approaches, insists Pittman. Perfectionist Collins demands note-perfect performances, while Carswell focuses on the vibe of the tunes and stands over musicians with a whip, screaming, "Feel it! Get the energy!" till they commit it to tape.
Well, maybe I made up that last bit about the whip. Pittman's too sweet to resort to mockery. In fact, he's soft-spoken to a fault, which is sorta shocking when you consider the acerbic edge of his lyrics.
Young & Sexy have the ability to match the generational dissatisfaction of a wit like Douglas Coupland to gorgeous pastel-coloured melodies, lilting synth fills and Beach Boys-worthy sun-drenched harmonies.
But Pittman's wary of claiming to speak for a generation à la Coupland.
"When I'm writing, I try not to think too much about where the song sits as a whole. It's trial and error, but the whole trial is just waiting for something good to come along that I can relate to.
"Fear is my biggest nemesis, and trying to overcome that, to actually produce or just exist, is what comes through."
Right now, Pittman sighs, the band's biggest fear is not having time to tour.
"The critical praise is cool, but it definitely hasn't translated into anything. I think getting a bit more mainstream press would help. I don't think we're cool enough for the really cool people, and we're not super-slick enough for the mainstream, so we're in this weird in-betweenland."
So for the moment, they'll keep on storing up vacation time at their dull office jobs and channel all that frustration into the music.