THE YOKO CASIONOS with SLOAN at the Kool Haus (1 Jarvis), tonight (Thursday, November 30). $25. 416-870-8000. Also playing as part of Wavelength at Sneaky Dee's (431 College), Sunday (December 3). Pwyc. www.wavelengthtoronto.com Rating: NNNNN
For most Canadian rock bands embarking on their first cross-country tour, the biggest thing they have to worry about is whether or not their van will survive the gruelling journey. Well, that and hoping they'll maybe break even.
There's not much room to fret over, y'know, odds-defying disasters like getting attacked by a swarm of killer bees or being knifed in an alley.
So you can't blame Vancouver's Yoko Casionos for being completely flabbergasted when, midway through a dream-fulfilling stadium jaunt opening for Sloan, their guitarist was abducted by crack addicts, robbed of his cash and forced into a car en route to their dealer.
Seriously. And in Calgary! You can read the after-school-special-worthy details on the Yoko Casionos' tour blog at www.yokocasionos.com/blog, but in the meantime, just know that Kieron Rhys Drake was lucky enough to escape from the car when his kidnappers were engaged in stocking up on rock.
"On the plus side, our van was in perfect shape for the entire tour," laughs unflaggingly cheerful drummer Juice Kadis over the phone from the VanCity home he shares with singer/guitarist Misty Reid. "It was probably the absolute worst thing that could happen to you on the road. We used to think car troubles were the worst, but this beats 'em hands down."
"Other bands don't believe us when we tell the story," Reid interrupts. "You can see their jaws drop."
"Usually when we're in unfamiliar cities on tour, we follow the buddy system," Juice continues. "This time, though, Kieron decided to call his girlfriend after our set and had to track down a pay phone cuz the venue was too loud. He ended up going too far away, and the freakiest thing happened. We're definitely not separating from now on. We especially don't want Misty going places by herself."
You can tell the Yoko Casionos prefer to hang out on the sunnier side of the street just by listening to the relentlessly peppy tunes on the power pop posse's Universal-licensed debut LP, These Are The New Old Times.
It's an album fairly exploding with sunshiny hooks, Cars-inspired keyboard fanfares and popsicle-melting middle-of-July melodies delivered in the form of boy-vs.-girl back-and-forths (Misty trades off with twin brother Chad) that could challenge Mates of State to a he-said, she-said cute-off.
Reid claims it's not that she and her bandmates block out negative thoughts; super-positive pop is just their way of dealing with the shittier things in life.
"When I was younger and would feel down, I'd always listen to stuff like the Beach Boys and the Beatles to shake me out of it. I think positive music is hugely important when you're trying to deal with stuff that's crazy and chaotic in the world.
"And if you come from a crazy upbringing, like me and Chad, music can be like therapy," she continues. "Things weren't always easy for us. Actually, it was totally tough. We learned a lot and became stronger people because of it, and ended up writing happy songs about gloomy things."
While it can be hard to extract those "gloomy things" from songs called No Regrets and Nice To Meet You, there's something delightful about the sheer exuberance of the Yokos' brand of pure pop. They're like the New Pornographers without the irony or the uneasy air of intellectual superiority.
And even though they've been waiting for their big break for a while (Juice and Reid originally formed the band, then called Misty, in Toronto back in 99), they're more excited about the journey than the destination.
"Labels were approaching us when I was 22," Reid explains. "Writing songs was still very fresh and new, and we were even poppier. I remember Universal coming to see us a bunch of times, and I think they were ready to offer something.
"I'm so glad they didn't! We wouldn't have been ready if anything had happened at that point. We've learned so much since then."