Sunday, May 10, 2015

CMW Saturday starts with seafood and ends with old punks

The Music Nova Scotia Tiki party hosted by Mike Campbell is a Canadian Music Week tradition for me and, right on schedule, Cam Carpenter gave me a couple of drink tickets as soon as I walked in the back room of the Rivoli at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. The always delicious seafood chowder was gone by the time I arrived, but I was still able to avail myself of several tasty scallops, three oysters and some cucumbers, onions and dill pickles.

In addition to the food and drinks, and talking to people I sometimes just see once a year, I also caught three- or four-song sets by Alana Yorke, Don Brownrigg and Gianna Lauren. I preferred the two women, but none of them will have me rushing to hear more of their music.

The Bends
I moved on to The Hideout to see The Bends, a St. Catharines, Ont. quintet that was supported by several parents in the small audience that was on hand to hear its melodic indie pop. "Bikini Atoll" is an ear worm and is on the four-song CD I was given, and a faithful version of The Smiths' "This Charming Man" was appreciated. The rest of the songs were nice, though nothing exceptional, but at least The Bends wasn't a Radiohead cover band.

The Pinholes
I left midway through The Bends' set to catch the end of The Pinholes, who I thoroughly enjoyed the night before at The Paddock. Three young women who were dancing up a storm in front of the stage on Friday were back on Saturday at Cherry Cola's Rock 'N Rolla Cabaret for what was apparently purple and black-striped trouser night for the band. The group's vintage rock-and-roll was just as much fun this time and the lead singer/guitarist unfurled the Singapore flag at the conclusion of the set. A band member gave me a download card and a Pinholes bottle opener at the end of the set, which was a nice touch.

Steve Lane and The Autocrats
Australia's Steve Lane and The Autocrats were up next. The band has been around for several years and while its last four songs were the best of the night, most of their mid-tempo rock songs just seemed to blend into one another and didn't jump out at me.

Red Mass
I strolled up Bathurst Street to Sneaky Dee's to see Montreal quintet Red Mass. Lead guitarist and group founder Roy Vucino and a female keyboardist shared lead vocals in a set of pretty aggressive indie rock and proto-punk songs. It was OK, but I was hoping for more in some way that I'm not exactly sure of.

James O-L and The Villains
I dropped down to Dundas Street to the inexplicably named Magpie Taproom, which has no beers on tap. But luckily it had tall cans of delectable Nickel Brook Headstock IPA. Windsor, Ont. roots rock quintet James O-L and The Villains played in front of the fifth straight small audience I was part of. The performance was a bit unassuming and could have used more of the edge delivered in the band's lone instrumental track. The music was solid, but there was nothing particularly noteworthy about it.

Dead Ships
I returned to Cherry Cola's to see Dead Ships, where Barenaked Ladies' Kevin Hearn and Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning were also on hand. Canning produced the Los Angeles group's new EP, and the up-tempo indie rockers from it were played fervently. I wasn't blown away as I'd hoped to be, but I liked it. Bonus points are assigned for the belly dancer in the window ledge, although there were other women in the club that I would have rather seen shaking it up.

The Meatmen
My night of music ended at Hard Luck Bar with 36-year-old Detroit punk band The Meatmen. "We're the Meatmen … and You Suck!" is the rallying cry of the Tesco Vee-fronted group, and that aggressive attitude was on display throughout the set, which spawned lots of moshing at the foot of the stage and some jerk dumping a beer on me. It was straight-ahead punk rock, augmented with a cover of Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man," and was pretty much what I expected it would be after seeing the group for the first time.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

The OBGMs, The Pinholes and Rusty on CMW Friday

My time spent seeing bands for Canadian Music Week on Friday night was abbreviated due to another commitment, but three late night shows sufficed.

High-energy punk band The OBGMs took the Velvet Underground stage at midnight amidst black and white balloons and in front of a very decent-sized crowd. Lead singer/guitarist Densil McFarlane demanded that the audience members raise their hands above their heads, jump, clap, sit on the floor and sing along when he wasn't tossing balloons or mini lights at them, and most obeyed his commands. The Toronto quartet certainly doesn't lack enthusiasm, but it has a shortage of real songs.

Hunger struck and I got a donair at Falafel Queen in the middle of a police investigation. A woman had apparently just peed in the doorway and a man had swung a knife at the restaurant proprietor, so the cops were checking security cameras and looking for the miscreants. Hockey Night in Canada host George Stroumboulopoulos was also on hand for the adventure, and it was good to get caught up with him since we hadn't seen each other for several months.

The Pinholes
I moved southwest to The Paddock to see The Pinholes, and the five-piece band crowded on to a tiny stage where three musicians might uncomfortably fit. I was struck by the group members' matching black and red striped slacks, red shirts and black suit jackets while they were setting up, and once they started playing it didn't take long to figure out that I had just discovered my favourite Singaporean surf/power pop/garage rock band of all time. There were only about 30 of us on hand, but everyone was totally into it with a lot of folks dancing and some of them lifting the lead singer/guitarist above their heads near the end of the 40-minute set. Fun throwback sounds abounded and I highly recommend catching The Pinholes if you get a chance.

There was a lineup outside the Bovine Sex Club for Rusty's 2 a.m. show, but it was worth the relatively short wait. I was a fan of the Toronto alt.rock outfit in the late '90s (and wore a vintage Rusty T-shirt on Friday to prove it), but hadn't seen the band since it broke up in 2000. I'd missed a couple of reunion shows over the past year, but I'm happy to say that Ken MacNeil and company aren't showing any rust. They had the crowd eating up everything they did, which included such past favourites as "Soul for Sale," "California," "Empty Cell," "Wake Me" and others. It brought back fond memories and was a good way to cap off the night.

Friday, May 08, 2015

WOMPS, Les Marinellis, Bad Girls, Broncho, Twin Guns and Gateway Drugs at CMW on Thursday

Glasgow, Scotland trio WOMPS played a set of punk-fuelled indie rock to less than 10 people at Cherry Cola's Rock N' Rolla Cabaret on Thursday night and, while they seemed like nice lads, you didn't miss much if you weren't part of that small audience. The singer/guitarist's T-shirt and hair hanging over his face reminded me of Kurt Cobain, but his music didn't. While things picked up as the set went on, several songs were more atonal than anticipated and the band didn't live up to my expectations.

Les Marinellis
Things picked up significantly when I ventured north on Bathurst Street to Sneaky Dee's, where Montreal's Burger Records-signed act Les Marinellis played a set that reminded me of Black Lips. I wasn't able to see the quintet in Austin, Texas at the South by Southwest Music Festival in March as I had hoped and was happy to catch it in my hometown. It was another small crowd, but this is a band deserving of a significant fan base with its melodic, retro rock and roll sound and a charismatic, barefoot and bare-chested frontman who spent significant amounts of time on the floor and sitting on the front of the stage while delivering nasally vocals that suited the garage-y tunes to a tee.

Bad Girls
Toronto trio Bad Girls was up next at Sneaky Dee's and was just as entertaining. There was nothing fancy or unique about its rock and roll, but well-crafted, hook-laden songs floated effortlessly from the stage. The band covered Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams," and its original tunes were even better. The only negative I can think of is that, at 25 minutes, the set just wasn't long enough.

I caught Broncho at SXSW and liked the Norman, Okla. group well enough to see it again at the Horseshoe Tavern. As with Bad Girls, catchy indie rock songs abounded. If you like King Tuff, Weezer, power pop and '80s new wave, you should enjoy this hook-happy band. Two free shots of Jim Beam from company representatives didn't hurt either.

Twin Guns
I headed west to the Bovine Sex Club to take in Twin Guns, a Brooklyn, N.Y. band with three black leather-clad, dark sunglasses-wearing bad-asses -- including female bassist Kristin. Drummer Jungle Jim used to play with The Cramps, and that element was definitely evident in the sound along with strains of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Jesus and Mary Chain. It was dark, brooding and great.

Gateway Drugs
I stayed at the Bovine for Gateway Drugs, which opened for Jesus and Mary Chain's Toronto show last Friday. The Los Angeles band wasn't as drone-drenched live as it is on its solid new album, Magick Spells. The group rocked hard while performing its dark, psychedelic-influenced songs and a cover of The Count Five's 1965 garage rock classic, "Psychotic Reaction."

Sean Lennon, who will perform at the Horseshoe Tavern tonight with his band Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, dropped by the Bovine briefly and I had a chance to have a short conversation with him and shake his hand. 

I had George Harrison's phone number after surreptitiously jotting it down when I saw it sitting on a desk at Jeff Healey's house several years ago, but he never picked up whenever I called him. And since I don't think Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr will be coming over for dinner anytime soon, my brush with Lennon is probably as close a personal connection to The Beatles as I'll ever have.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Swervedriver headlines Wednesday night's Canadian Music Week lineup

The Flying Museum Band

My Canadian Music Week began on Wednesday night at The Cameron House seeing  talented Toronto outfit The Flying Museum Band. There were only about 20 people on hand, most of whom seemed to be friends of the group members, but this is a lineup deserving of more attention with a musical style that at times reminded me of Blue Rodeo and The Band -- though with lesser vocals and harmonies. The playing was tight, the songs were solid and the keyboardist/saxophone player added depth to the material with his contributions.

The Marvelous Beauhunks

There was an even smaller audience at the Bovine Sex Club for The Marvelous Beauhunks, an Oshawa, Ont. quintet featuring two Rickenbacker guitars and a bass from the same company. There wasn't as much of a chiming guitar sound as you'd expect from that instrumental lineup, but the group's mix of power pop and '60s garage rock was well-executed -- if not exceptional. It was enjoyable, but I'd seen and heard it done better.

The Cocksure Lads

The Cocksure Lads -- featuring former Moxy Fruvous members Murray Foster and Mike Ford along with guitarist Tim Bovaconti and drummer Blake Manning -- provided another '60s throwback with a sound straight from the British Invasion at the Rivoli. There were lots of pop hooks and the band rocks harder than Moxy Fruvous could ever have dreamed of, even without rocking that hard. A cover of The Who's "The Kids Are Alright" provided a fitting end to the set. The Cocksure Lads Movie, written and directed by Foster, premiered at the Whistler Film Festival in December and will get a wider release this summer.

Swervedriver didn't have to pretend to be British, as it was a big part of England's shoegaze music movement of the early '90s. I think I saw the band back then, but the memory is foggy and I can't be sure, so I jumped at the opportunity to see it at the Horseshoe Tavern. Big guitars and psychedelic influences are the group's hallmark, and the band provided both during an extended set played in front of a pretty packed house. I'm not particularly enamoured with the new I Wasn't Born To Lose You album, Swervedriver's first since 1998, but the group still packs a punch on stage.

The Steady Rebels
It was then back to the Bovine for a nightcap and The Steady Rebels, a Mississauga, Ont. eight-piece alternative reggae group with a blend of horns, keyboards, drums, guitar and bass that had folks skanking to its rhythmic tunes.