LULLABYE ARKESTRA playing with Atomic 7, the Dirty Hearts, Plus-Minus and Lederhosen Lucil as part of the Wavelength 150 Third-Anniversary Festival at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), Friday (February 14). Pwyc. 416-777-1777. For full schedule and details, check www.wavelengthtoronto.com. Rating: NNNNN
Don't be fooled by the sweetly bucolic moniker. Like that billowing dust cloud hot on grimy Pigpen's ass in the old Peanuts comix, wherever the Lullabye Arkestra travel, they leave a devastating trail of pure rock destruction. Take the time a big naked guy named Jesus scrawled marker all over his skin and toppled down a flight of stairs at Sneaky Dee's. Or the show that dissolved into total chaos when their go-go-dancin' frontman, "Deadeye" Landini, sliced his flesh into bloody shreds and incited the crowd to riot.
And what about that recent gig in Montreal where the building burst into flames and had to be evacuated? Folks who took a rain check and caught their makeup show watched a dancin' dude fall repeatedly on his head till he sent himself to the hospital with a concussion. Oh yeah, and the band blew a couple of amps and then paid tribute in a track called Ampgrave.
The irony is that the Lullabyes base all this musical mayhem on a hippieish manifesto of peace, love and understanding.
"I don't know why it happens," marvels Justin Small, the taller half of the core Arkestra.
"Sometimes foolishness and chaos are the direct result of love. I think we lay this voodoo out and it goes onto the audience, and if they have no direct outlet, like a lover, to channel it, they go nuts and start throwing chairs around and knockin' over equipment.
"The voodoo doesn't come with any instructions, but if we're gonna bother putting out this message of love and respect, then that's what we expect in return from everyone else. If people are falling, then other people should pick 'em up -- like the old-school days when punk was great and you could count on somebody jumping off the stage and not kicking you in the head."
The vehicle for all this wacked-out voodoo is a wicked fusion of hardcore 80s-style thrash metal and sultry 60s soul. It sounds cracked, but it works. The polar opposite genres shake hands on a common ground of pure passion.
Listen to the smokin' cover of Summertime on their indie Bzaster album, where a creeping bass line plays inchworm while Katia Taylor sweetly coos her way toward the chorus and finally lets loose with a guttural banshee howl over flailing drums, explosive horns and heavy feedback. The fizzy buzz and James Brown-style yelps of Y'Make Me Shake are a counterpoint to the Patsy Cline-ish country-soul of All I Can Give Ya.
The quality and originality of the Archestra's music shines through the wobbly production. Their tunes are a blast of raw, overwhelming immediacy that's rooted in their throbbing rhythm section. It stands to reason that bass 'n' beats form the backbone of the Lullabye, since Taylor's a bassist and Small does drums.
The duo draw on their contacts from other projects -- Small's a member of Do Make Say Think and Taylor does double duty in Deep Dark United and dark country balladeers Blackeyes -- to create an amorphous band beast comprising horn- and guitar-playing Do Makes, the odd go-go dancer and even an organist. Think of it as the Broken Social Scene model of communal bands without borders.
The key qualification for playing in the Arkestra is believing in their philosophy, explains Small.
"We want to challenge the way culture has branded entertainment around jadedness and bitterness. The hardcore music aspect of us is really speaking to that, like it's fucking cool as all hell to be honest and beautiful."
The pair admit that the notion of happy-go-lucky hardcore seems about as plausible as, well, marrying metal and soul, but they see something subversive in the undertaking.
"Heavy metal music is very powerful in terms of what it's saying, and we draw on that force," Taylor proclaims. "It's like taking that power and turning it around to talk about the opposite." Small agrees.
You've gotta understand why Lullabye Arkestra's so infatuated with the power of l'amour. Small and Taylor are both hopelessly in love -- with each other. In fact, they started this improbable fusion of thrash metal and soul to proclaim their love to any scenester who'd listen.
They're a rock 'n' roll dream couple (more John and Yoko than Britney and Justin) living out an indie rock fairy-tale romance. It's particularly appropriate that the band's playing to celebrate Wavelength's third anniversary, since they met at the first birthday party of the local indie showcase/zine/revolution (see Wavelength sidebar this page). Mutual pals introduced them when their bands were playing on the same night. Two weeks later, Taylor and Small played on the same bill again; they ended up hanging out backstage in the sleazy kitchen downstairs at the El Mocambo and talked about belt buckles and gospel music.
They started dating, discovered a mutual craving to rock hard and gave birth to the Lullabye another two weeks later.
Watching the two over pints on an unseasonably warm Sunday night just east of Rotate This, there's something freakin' transcendental about the way they interact. And since each was infatuated with the other's artistic talents before anything else, you sense that their chemistry is rooted in some kind of tangible reality. No wonder they've gotta sing about it.
Still, Small insists, "The one misconception about the band might be that we're solely just about proclaiming our love for each other, but that's only half the point."
Gotcha. But what if the honeymoon really does end? Have they considered what to do with the voodoo if their love affair blows up?
"We'd negate ourselves," says Small.
"I mean, the band was founded on love. If the love isn't there, the band isn't gonna be there.
"If the Lullabye stops doing this because of a breakup, you'd get two bands out of it. They'd be great bands, but they'd be heartbreak bands."firstname.lastname@example.orgON THEIR WAVELENGTH
Lullaby Arkestra's Small and Taylor both laud Wavelength as the aspect of Toronto's indie scene they love most -- and not just because that's how they met.
"Justin refers to it as a town hall meeting," beams Taylor. "A lot of kids from the suburbs come in with their bands and get a great audience that's gonna listen."
The weekly pwyc indie showcase, Web site and monthly zine were hatched over beers at the Green Room in the fall of 1999, when a pack of indie musicians reacted to the general lack of info about and recognition of the local scene.
Founding member Jonny Dovercourt recalls that although the indie scene was active, no one knew what to call it.
"Wavelength put a stamp on it and gave people a reason to keep coming back for more. I liked the name because it implied something with longevity and duration."
Wavelength's weathered many venue changes and other ups and downs since its Sunday weekly debuted at Ted's Wrecking Yard (Sneaky Dee's is the current home base), but it's maintained amazing relevance, spotlighting bands that operate underneath most fans' radar.
Besides the Lullabye Arkestra and Do Make Say Think (Small's other band, which plays tonight -- Thursday, February 13 -- at Lee's Palace), here are some bands not to be missed during the Wavelength third-anniversary series (all shows pwyc).
PONY DA LOOK Thursday, February 13, at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West)
Super-styley synth-grrrl divas breathe new hot-pink life into the 80s. Light on the bubble-gum cheese factor, their straight-up take on electro-disco goes organic with real instruments!
POLMO POLPO Thursday, February 13, at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West)
Local producer Sandro Perri deconstructs dark, dense techno into a swamp of sonic components. Deep swirls of eerie instrumentals and abstract feedback build pressure around pulsating EKG heartbeats.
LEDERHOSEN LUCIL Friday, February 14, at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina)
Former Kingston-cat-turned-Montreal-Kraut-crooner Krista Muir dons Alpen drag to blow minds and bust guts with comedi-tronic keyboard character antics.
THE SICK LIPSTICK Sunday, February 16, at Sneaky Dee's (431 College)
This four-person herky-jerky noise-punk attack earns cred for its split 7-inch out with Quintron and Miss Pussycat. Chaotic, messy organ-driven noise rock with gleefully sloppy pop sensibilities.