the FLASHING LIGHTS with BEETHOVEN FRIEZE at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (July 14). $10. 416-532-1598.
the flashing lights are becom-ing experts at making a spectacle of themselves. Although their freakbeat-inspired thrill pop puts them at the melodic extreme in Can-rock's dissenting horde of guitar-brandishing retro rebels, a switched-on Flashing Lights can easily outshine contemporaries like Tricky Woo, Les Sexareenos and the New Pornographers when it comes to onstage razzle-dazzle.
There's more to it than catchy songs zapped out with a teenage kick. It's something in the way singerboy Matt Murphy swaggers as he welcomes audiences with an intro routine brashly lifted straight off an Elmer Gantry & the Velvet Opera record or how organist Gaven Dianda smashes tambourines to splinters that connects with crowds evenly split between male and female hip shakers.
They call it sex appeal. The Flashing Lights have it and flaunt it even on the nights when main Flasher Murphy fights back the temptation to play to the squeals by tearing off his shirt.
"I don't take off my shirt very often," protests Murphy with a look of surprise that soon curls into a wry smile.
Then what about the skin show for the NOW photo shoot?
"Well, it was hot and, um... I was in character."
And you're not role-playing each night strutting around onstage?
"This rollingstone.com review of a recent show described me as a "Ted Nugentesque frontman,'" he chuckles. "I kinda know what the writer meant. There is a machismo involved in what we're putting out up there, I suppose.
"It's a strange dichotomy, because the songs I write tend to be very personal and deal with relationships in a compassionate way. So if more women are coming to see us, I'd like to think it has more to do with the fact that our songs don't alienate them than if there are some cute boys in the band.
"In any case, it's really heartening to see so many women in the audience. It makes me feel like we're doing something right."
Ditching the progish elements that were creeping into the Flashing Lights sound might help them hang onto that favourable audience split. Fortunately, before recording their fabulous new Sweet Release (Outside) album, they exorcised most of their darkest urges to indulge in the frightful widdly-widdly guitar spew and keyboard twaddle I believe I once derisively described in print as...
"... hobbit rock," roars Murphy. "Yeah, we thought that was hilarious. We've got a theory that the whole hobbit thing came out of the set we did at the Exclaim! party.
"When I broke a string, Gaven had to solo for seven minutes to cover for me. But, admittedly, that was around the time I was playing longer guitar parts than I should've. After the review, the guys took me aside and told me the soloing was getting to be a bit much. But, hey, we now have a song called Hobbit Rock."
The Sweet Release album shows just how far the Flashing Lights have come since Murphy first formed the group in Halifax -- while still a member of the Super Friendz -- to work out his frustrations on Kinks, Yardbirds and Small Faces covers.
While a cursory pass through neatly assembled tunes like Been Waiting, Friends You Learn To Hate and Aim To Please might leave the impression that the Flashing Lights never left the 60s, closer scrutiny of the structures and effects reveals a much more modern, experimental approach.
"Initially, the song Too Delightful was called Faust, because it began as a simple, repetitive guitar riff like something off of Faust IV. Each time a new part was added, the thing seemed to become more "radio-friendly,' which made me uncomfortable. So we sabotaged it.
"Gaven and I stayed up all night with Ian (producer Ian McGettigan) trying all kinds of crazy things.
"We added some eerie Appalachian harmony singing to it, Gaven did this weird spoken-word thing -- which will never see the light of day -- and then he went nuts on the organ for a while. We put it all together and it worked out really well. There was a lot of luck involved."
It isn't obvious from listening to the album, but the piece-by-piece assembly that went into building Too Delightful from a guitar riff was typical of most of the recording process.
The great achievement is that they create the impression of the spontaneous feel of a band jamming at full tilt out of disparate bits cut here, there and in Murphy's apartment over the course of six months.
"When we got together in the studio, the songs weren't finished. All I had was sketches put down with an acoustic guitar to a click track.
"We didn't have much money, so we just had Henri (bassist Henri Sangalang) and Stephen (drummer Stephen Pitkin) play over top of my demos. In doing so, we inadvertently deconstructed the whole band concept we'd been developing for the previous two years.
"It seemed like a big risk to us at first, but in the end the process worked to our advantage because it forced us to think more about the songs than about what we were doing individually. And even though we're not all playing together in one room, everything felt really fresh because we each had to come up with our parts when the record button was on."
Counter-intuitive as it might seem, what you hear on Sweet Release is a more accurate representation of Murphy's song ideas than the Flashing Lights would've come up with if they'd rehearsed the songs for three months and recorded them live in the studio.
At least one member of the group is deliriously happy with the "demo-quality" results they got for all the money and time invested.
"From my experience, and that of my musician friends, your demos are almost always the versions of songs you like best.
"You get a special sense of immediacy when you put a song on tape that first time. It's the true essence of the song. In a sense, each time you play it you move further away from what was originally captured.
"I think the album we got is as close to a perfect studio recording as we could ever make."