Saturday, March 24, 2012

Canadian Music Fest Friday: Good but not great

I'd liked St. Catharines, Ont. street punk band The Lucky Ones when it opened for Stiff Little Fingers at Lee's Palace last August, so I was looking forward to seeing the quartet on Friday night at the recently renovated Bovine Sex Club.
The Lucky Ones

There weren't a lot of people in the club when The Lucky Ones kicked off the 9 p.m. slot with "No Fear, More Beer," the opening track from the recently released The Booze Sessions. There seemed to be a slightly harder edge to the band than what I recalled, but that could just be my faulty memory. "Ten Pints Goodlookin', "Punks R Drunk" and "Raise A Glass" give you a good idea of what many of the songs are about. I was hoping for more, but I'd give The Lucky Ones another shot.

I was cutting through Kensington Market when I heard a band playing Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up." As I walked toward the open door of the small venue, a street person charged past me and went inside, grabbed a tambourine and started what I guess she considered dancing. "I'll go get the water," she exclaimed repeatedly as management escorted her outside after the song and I continued on my way.

I arrived at the El Mocambo early for Apache Relay's 10:30 p.m. set and was very pleasantly surprised that D.A. Foods was serving free mini pulled pork sandwiches and hamburgers. That eliminated the need to buy dinner.

I didn't know much about Apache Relay, but had received a couple of recommendations, so I found myself near the stage as the Nashville, Tenn. sextet walked on to it. The group plays loud indie rock, but with mandolin and fiddle added into the mix. Lots of movement and energy permeated through visceral numbers like "State Trooper," "Set Me Free" and "Watering Hole." I didn't dislike it, but I wasn't knocked out, so I left mid-set for the Silver Dollar.
Last Year's Men

Promoter Dan Burke's latest garage rock find is Last Year's Men, a young quartet from Chapel Hill, N.C. that's doing a three-night residency at the Silver Dollar during Canadian Music Fest. I got a Black Lips vibe from "Paralyzed" and the other songs in the short set, including the more '60s-influenced "Spilled." Singer/guitarist Ben Carr kept breaking strings and, during one break in the action, bassist Montgomery recited a list of things he's thankful for, which included "Molson M, tobacco, Tim Horton's and Dairy Queen."

Carr jumped into the crowd and did a headstand to end the abbreviated set, which I enjoyed but expected more from. But a friend who saw the band on Thursday night said it was better then and that I should think about giving it another chance, so there's a possibility I'll be back at the Silver Dollar tonight to do just that.

I just caught one song from Chains of Love back at the El Mocambo, but heard enough that I liked that I'll try to see the band at the Horseshoe tonight.
Johnny Dowd

Johnny Dowd was rocking his Stratocaster and spinning his gothic yarns along with a drummer and keyboardist when I entered Comfort Zone. It's been a few years since I've seen the soon-to-be 64-year-old, but he seemed to be exhibiting more energy than I remember from the past. He's aging gracefully and craggily, just as he should. The surprisingly young and appreciative crowd picked up on it, and some were even dancing.

Dowd's blend of alt.country and experimental bluesy rock is hard to pigeonhole, but he's received comparisons to Tom Waits and Nick Cave. He was using a music stand to read the lyrics, which came in handy on "Hot Pants" and the disturbing "Betty" from his forthcoming No Regrets album that includes 13 songs that all bear the names of women.

Comfort Zone rivals Mod Club and Revival for worst beer selection of any music club in Toronto. I was reduced to ordering a Molson M, perhaps because of Montgomery being thankful for it less than an hour earlier and the fact that the other choices weren't any more appealing.
Thee Attacks

I headed back down to Queen Street for Danish band Thee Attacks, who I missed out on seeing in Austin, Texas last week but heard rave reviews of. The quartet played an 11-song set of straight-ahead rock-and-roll for its first Canadian performance that was largely comprised of material from its debut album with a few new ones from the impending follow-up.

Frontman Jimmy Attack wore tight leather pants and stalked the stage when he wasn't playing guitar. He stood and sat on monitors, pulled down a film screen to briefly hide the band from view and got down into the audience. He knows all the microphone and tambourine tricks and is a pure entertainer who I'm sure has no problem getting laid after shows, while guitarist Terry Attack actually does attack his instrument with abandon like Pete Townshend 45 years ago. He's good enough that Jimmy doesn't need to play rhythm, as the group loses a bit of momentum when he's not prowling around unencumbered.

Thee Attacks' songs aren't as consistently good as the showmanship, but there's a lot of potential with this young band, which recorded its debut album with producer Liam Watson (The White Stripes' Elephant). And I usually like bands that put Thee instead of The in front of their names despite the pretension of it.

I saw people in wheelchairs who appeared to have long-term disabilities at three different clubs, and it was great to see them out enjoying themselves.

I thought I'd drop by the Horseshoe to see who was hanging out and, when I arrived, was told that Dan Mangan was the surprise 2 a.m. guest. As much as I think he's one of the nicest guys around and I wish him all the success in the world, I elected not to fight through the large crowd and was content to stand at the back of the bar talking to friends while he played before moving to the front bar for one more pint before calling it a night.

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