Canadian Slacker Music Fest Boogie Throwdown. Or Whatever 2012
Story: Lenny Stoute/James Lizzard
Photo at right: Last Year’s Men
So when’s the last time you saw a dude smash the splinters out of his axe to end the set? If you were at The Silver Dollar as Saturday night slid into Sunday that was exactly what went down courtesy of young Geoff Schilling. The boy plays lead axe with South Carolina foursome Last Year’s Men who deal in a sound mashup of thrash and speedcore rock wedded to Southern Gothic. That no one else is doing this is for sure, the jaw-dropped crowd mesmerized as hollow-eyed singer Ben Carr intoned his dire tales of dirty deeds over an ominous drumbeat echoing from the piney woods. When the guitars erupt it’s like somebody took the lid off a boxful of vengeful spirits. Along with Carr and Schilling, Last Year’s Men are bassist Montgomery Morris and drummer Ian Rose and y’all should catch them when you can.
Know what else you don’t see much of anymore? The classic knee drop, that potentially career-ending move what separates the men from the kids. But if you stayed around after the LYM set at the Dollar, you witnessed not one but three full-on knee drops from The Mercy Now bassist/frontman Russ Fernandez. The homie hammerheads were showing off tracks from current EP, Love Battles a collection of their trademark crunchy rock riffs married to heavy and danceable rhythms just this side of a mosh. The by now mostly fans in the house got into it in a big way, a testament to this crew’s way with three chords and as many hooks per tune, with “ Need Some Money” close to a template.
You know it’s tight in a club when you can feel the phone but can’t reach into your pocket without molesting the persons around you. Such was the case Saturday at Cherry Cola’s Rock’n' Rolla as Welsh power trio Kyshera tore through their set heavy and loud as a runaway 747. Fronted by charismatic singer/guitarist James Kennedy, with bassist Matt Warr and drummer Rhys Jones keeping the beat unbelievably strong. Kyshera played a flawless set of intense music mostly drawn from their current album Paradigm. Both headbanger boys and hardrock girls agreed this was the realest shit.
Friday night at the Horseshoe they came to praise Zeus but many agreed The Stills splinter band Eight And A Half came with way worthy game. Fronted by ex-Stills Dave Hamelin and Liam O’Neil, the Eights came to show off their spanking new self-titled debut album. Good thing the material was gripping as the set was marred by feedback and glitchy stuff. Their brand of spacey, r’n’b inflected pop awash with layers of synths and lotsa high-end vocals proved a winning combination and for sure made the band a lot of new fans.
It’s not that Zeus were sub par; if anything they were bigger and brasher in taking the tunes from current album Burning Visions to the people. Having spent close to two years on the road, the three-part harmonies and dual guitar work was super tight as was the flambouyant stage business. Yet, especially in the vocals, Eight And A Half just seemed to bring a little otherwordly something which elevated their set.
Away from the power chords and scalding vocals, John K. Sampson, frontman of the Weakerthans, sold out the Great Hall for a solo stint. Sampson didn’t disappoint in showing off his skills as a live performer. He boldly opened the set with two acoustic tunes After that he was joined by his Provincial backing band for the uptempo numbers from the muchly acclaimed solo effort, Provincial. Tunes like "When I Write My Master's Thesis" and "Longitudinal Centre" got great reaction from the dancing feet, as did Weakerthans highlights "One Great City" and "Pamphleteer".
A confident, fun-filled performance of the kind that can only come with a roomful of diehard fans.
It was obvious from the pre-show chatter the kids at the Belle Province showcase at El Mocambo were mostly there for buzz bands The Dears and Galaxie and likely many didn’t know who Martha Wainwright is. Clad in eye-catching top and alone onstage with guitar, Wainwright spoke not a word before playing her first song, after which she warned us she’d be doing only all new stuff. The crowd didn’t seem to care either way and continued to chatter, putting Martha off her delivery of the second song, which seemed a work in progress. It didn’t get better with the third tune, after which Wainwright stopped and announced she would now play a tune about motherhood. The crowd was still abuzz however and Wainwright finally lost it and snapped,” Shut the fuck up, just for three minutes." It would be nice to report her remark quelled the kids but not so much as they instead now focused on tweeting and texting about how they flipped some lady out. The feedback got better towards the end when Wainwright dropped into her back catalogue for "Factory," a music biz slam that always gets good reaction and "When the Day Is Short." The canny Wainwright closed out her set with "This Life" sung with alternate French and English verses and lo, the house was finally with her. This gig was just too weird of a mismatch to make a judgement call but somebody in Martha’s camp should have checked out the other acts in the lineup more closely.
Texan Johnny Dowd’s midnight gig at the Comfort Zone was the perfect match of perfromer and venue. Dowd’s decconstructed and anarchic country blues throwdowns came over as right at home in the Zone’s low ceilinged subterranean room.. Backed by chest-fever organ, rattling drums and all manner of weirdass percussion, Dowd laid out his severly bent stories in a gleeful and menacing drawl like somebody about to drop really bad news on you with a smile.“He…is the power…and GLORY…of rock ‘n’ roll,” he yelped, choking some unearthly sound out of his battered six-string. “Forever…and ever…and ever” The man’s a lost gem who’d make Marilyn Manson’s underwear change colour.
Then there was the ‘secret’ Dan Mangan gig at the Horseshoe, a waste of guerrilla hype as the joint was already packed tight as leggings on a wide loader. Fulll credit, the current poster boy for sensitive indie rokc didn’t dsiappoint. Mangan’s brand of folk-rock is appealing to both the folks who buy music and those who sit in judgement on it, that rare artits who can balance critical and popular acclaim. Newest album Oh Fortune, is his darkest yet but leaning on its denser instrumentation, he turned out the songs as appeakling live pieces, in particular “Leaves, Trees, Forest”.
For going along with the ride, Mangan rewarded the audience with his floor filling feel good anthems “So Much For Everyone” and monster hit “Robots,” which inspired the boy to leap into the crowd for a short surf.
At the newish Hoxton, electro-pop muppets Dreagonette fought off a scrappy sound mix which chewed up many of the lyrics but couldn’t dampen the mood of pop party lovefest. The mix of hipsters, gays and club cuties came dressed to be in a video and gave good audience, cheering on frontgal Martina Sorbara’s every move. While many folks down front knew all the words, the fact every tune is delivered in the same bubblegum, perky pitch, made the songs all blend together and apart from the raucous reception for the radio hit,“Hello,” it was hard to tell the hits from the misses.
“Course, you can’t cruise the Fest without checking in on the gritty crews who play the Bovine Sex Club. In this case, Starvin’ Hungry in an uber rare appearance, a lovefest full of friends and admirers of an act who cut the template back in the Nineties for rock duos. The Milchem brothers Glenn and John, who haven’t played together in eons, showed they’ve lost none of the unique energy and wonky sense of how rock music goes together. This was put out as just a one-of reunion gig but judging by the reaction, SH could be back onstage sooner than they think.
The other must-see reunion also had to do with a rock duo, bassist Mike O’Neill and drummer Dave Ullrich of The Inbreds. A packed and jacked-up Lee’s Palace came to welcome them and O’Neill seemed particularly moved by the reception, beaming warm smiles all night long as the pair rocked through their back pages and entertained fans and newbies alike, closing out with the anthemic “Amelia Earheart”. Again, no words on what’s next for The Inbreds but like Starvin’ Hungry, there appears to be a significant audience for their music.