The Waifs with Kat Goldman and Ian Lefeuvre at Ted's Wrecking Yard (549 College), tonight (Thursday, October 4). $10. 416-928-5012. Rating: NNNNN
the waifs are possibly the most popular band you've never heard of, but that's about to change. Cult faves in their homeland, Australia, the folk-pop ensemble of sisters Vikki and Donna Simpson and Josh Cunningham has garnered a following in North America after an exhaustive (and exhausting) seven-month tour of the folk fest circuit.
The Waifs' status as word-of-mouth wonders owes a lot to their fierce independence. After forming the band in 1992, the Simpson sisters spent nine years running the whole show, covering everything from booking and promotion to distributing discs across Australia. The combination of this meticulous DIY approach and a relentless touring ethos proved overwhelming, and they reluctantly handed over the admin duties this year.
"These days we have "people' -- "our people,' I lurve saying that! -- doing all the hard work for us, but we still seem to have no time or energy for much else other than the music," admits Donna Simpson.
A lot of that energy is funnelled into their live act. The Waifs' appearance at this year's North By Northeast fest had music folks praising their tight acoustic set and flirty, chatty stage presence.
Their down-to-earth personas are important to the band members, who cite veteran festival performer Michelle Shocked as a major influence.
"We've struggled to find a balance," explains Simpson. "The band is polished and tight, but we kick over tambourines and knock over our guitars onstage and tell jokes and have conversations with each other."
Solid acoustic guitar strumming, mandolin accents and the Simpson sisters' pretty vocal harmonies carry the rootsy, country-tinged songs on the Waifs' most recent album, Sink Or Swim, released last year.
With straightforward, confessional lyrics -- The Haircut, a crowd-pleasing breakup anthem that climaxes with a celebration of masturbation, includes the lines, "I got my hands in my pants, down my Calvin Kleins/I don't need you no more baby, I can come every time" -- the band follows in the Aussie tradition of storytelling troubadours like Paul Kelly.
"We probably reveal too much of ourselves in our songs," Simpson sheepishly admits. "Of course, I can choose what in my songs is true and what is false -- it's my poetic license. I'll invent characters and talk about them onstage like they're real people. I once told a fan that a character in one of our songs was entirely fabricated, and he was devastated! I felt terrible after that, so now I lie outright -- when people ask, "How's so-and-so from that song?' I just smile and say they're doing well."
At this point, the darlings from Down Under are eager to go home.
"We're heading back to Australia right when it's getting warm. We've had an endless summer, really -- there was no way I was going to spend a winter in Canada after hearing such horror stories about the weather!" laughs Simpson.
And what differences have the Waifs noticed about their newfound fans in the frigid north compared to crowds Down Under?
"Aussies drink more. Y'know, they can get kinda rowdy sometimes!"