Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The first night of the T.O. Twang festival on Aug. 12 was a blast. I arrived at Harbourfront in time to enjoy an excellent seven-dollar plate of Mediterranean chicken and vegetables and catch the last few songs from N.Q. Arbuckle, which is peermusic's Neville Quinlan and his backing band. I haven't heard the latest album, but live Neville is an engaging frontman and the folky-roots rock the band played was well-received by the audience at the CIBC stage.

After a beer break it was time for The Sadies to take the CIBC stage. The band launched into the great spaghetti western track Dying Is Easy to start the set before Dallas and Travis Good welcomed their mom, Margaret, to the stage for a lovely take of Higher Power that extended into a lengthy instrumental featuring Travis on fiddle. Mom stayed around as the band romped through Pretty Polly. Part One and Part Two from the band's latest album, Favourite Colours, made nice bookends around the great '60s-based surf instrumental, Rat Creek.
Blue Rodeo's Greg Keelor was standing in the wings offstage and I expected him to join the band and handle lead vocals for Wearin' That Loved On Look, which I've seen him do a few times in the past. He didn't, but he really wasn't missed. There was a great mix of raw rock with the totally poppy "Shoop De Shoop" chorus that put the version of the song that Elvis opened his From Elvis In Memphis album with to shame.
After a few more songs, Keelor and partner Jim Cuddy joined the band for three songs. Having four guitars on stage added extra dimensions to the songs and combined to make one of the show's many highlights.
Back to the core four, The Sadies delivered more gold -- including Ridge Runner Rag, Lay Down Your Arms, Tell Her Lies & Feed Her Candy and Clarence White's Hong Kong Hillbilly -- before Margaret rejoined them for the spiritual I'll Fly Away and a festive version of Tiger Tiger to end the set.
Following a standing ovation, the band returned for an encore of The Story's Often Told and two others, one of which was dedicated to Jimmy Martin, who died a few months ago. Keelor, Cuddy and Blue Rodeo bassist Bazil Donovan then came on stage, and Baz strapped on Travis' red Gretsch guitar while Travis picked up the fiddle so Keelor could lead the supergroup through a cover of Neil Young's Are You Ready For The Country? that seemed like the perfect way to end the show.

One of Carolyn Mark's previous bands was Her Boyfriends. Conversely, me and my Girlfriends (Kate, Tima and Tracy) for the evening moved on to the Brigantine Room to see Carolyn and her latest band, Her New Best Friends. Among the members of the group were longtime accompanist Tolan MacNeil playing guitar, Bob Egan playing lap steel and Ford Pier playing the most energetic keyboards I've seen since Bobby Wiseman in the early days of Blue Rodeo. Pier also duetted on Done Something Wrong, from Mark's new Just Married: An Album of Duets, and N.Q. Arbuckle's Neville Quinlan joined her on stage for Fireworks from the same album. We were too busy dancing in front of the stage for me to take any notes, but I remember that she also played After Bar Party, Not Another Other Woman and that Idaho song from the Nashville tribute album from 2002 that Carolyn oversaw. Carolyn has a great sense of humour and always has so much fun on stage that the crowd can't help but share in her enthusiasm. There was even a very cute dead ringer for Norah Jones dancing with us.

I had hoped to catch a bit of Elliott Brood in between Carolyn's sets, but we unfortunately arrived just after the band had finished. I always enjoy the band's southern gothic take on roots music, and it comes across much more lively than it does on the group's 2003 Tin Type debut. You should definitely check the group out if you haven't already. And they're nice guys, to boot.

Next up were The Sin-Tones, a trio that blends '60s influences, surf instrmentals, swamp rock and more rootsy alt.country stompers. The set was thoroughly enjoyable, with: a very subtle but impressive cover of the Spiderman theme; a much less subtle but still impressive cover of the Batman theme; an odd but effective Rasputin/Rawhide medley; Knot of Wood (they saw Jesus in one, and it sounds just like The Cramps' Goo Goo Muck); a relaxed cover of the Peter Gunn theme; a number of other originals; and a very fast surf instrumental cover of Stairway To Heaven. It was my favourite version of the song ever, but I guess it's not that hard to do since I'm so bored with the Led Zeppelin original.
I remember DJing a high-school dance 20 years ago, when every dance used to end with Stairway To Heaven to give the kids 10 minutes of groping time before heading home. I played the first minute of the song so everyone found their favourite guy or gal and got into the slowdance position and then ripped it off the turntable and threw on Motorhead's Ace of Spades to drive everyone out of the gym. That was a good time.
The band returned for a two-song encore that included an instrumental cover of Gordon Lightfoot's If You Could Read My Mind and a lighthearted Folsom Prison Blues.
The Sin-Tones released a very fun album called Surf-o-Ghetti! a couple of years ago and sent me a can of Alphaghetti with a customized label along with the CD. I found both quite tasty.

All the Harbourfront bars closed at 1:30 a.m. and the only bar in the vicinity was some trendy dance club that deemed Jeff Kilpatrick and I unsuitably attired for entrance. We didn't want to hang with those snobs anyway, we just wanted a few more drinks. So we walked back to my place and enjoyed several Tiverton Bear Dark Lagers (which I cut my hands on a number of times since their plastic bottles had a 50-percent failure rate when it came to opening their screw-top caps and I had to get a knife to pry them open) while discussing music, beer and the Nixon administration until 5 a.m.

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