Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gig: Dog Day

Dog Day / Immaculate Machine / The Balconies

The Horseshoe Tavern. Thursday, November 5, 2009.

Sometimes, you're interested in seeing a band live, but not quite interested enough to go see them. But when you throw a couple bands like together at once, it might be enough to tip the balance. As far as I could tell, Dog Day and Immaculate Machine weren't actually on tour together so much as they both happened to hit T.O. on the same night, and while I've been casually interested in both for awhile, I'd never investigated either too closely. So, a good opportunity.

Plus, truth be told, I was also here as much as anything to check out openers The Balconies (via Ottawa, now local) who have been accumulating some statospheric word-of-mouth over the past few months. Fairly warranted, as it would turn out — this new-wave trio gives the impression of being quite good now and of being on the cusp of more. With two lead vocalists in Jacquie Neville (guit) and Stephen Neville (bass), they sometimes sounded a bit like two separate bands, although perpendicularly complementary ones. Each vocalist approached a distinctly '80's vibe from a different direction: Jacquie a bit more pop, Stephen more college rock — kinda a "you put chocolate in my peanut butter!" admixture of Laura Branigan and The dB's.1 Both are capable singers, although Jacquie has the more immediately compelling vox.2 But when they put their voices together, such as on "Lulu", interesting things started to happen.

The set started with an almost-unaccompanied vocal from Jacquie before the twitchy, new-wave beat kicked in. She turned out be a rather crafty guit player, sometimes sounding like a more user-friendly Keith Levine, while Stephen played a fluid bass, sometimes verging on the too-funky. But their various combinations of smoothness and grit plus their dedication to catchy bite-sized tunes serves them well, and they managed a quickly-moving, dud-free forty minute set. A band to keep your eye out for.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Even without the Kathryn Calder connection, it's pretty tempting to compare Immaculate Machine to The New Pornographers. Both could be described as left-coast bands under the leadership of a singer with penchant for complicating 70's AM pop and a belief in female backing vocals as an all-powerful curative. And while it might be unfair at some level to compare Brooke Gallupe to Carl Newman, given that each is pursuing a different sort of vision, a casual listener trying to decide what is worth listening to might simply shrug his shoulders and conclude that Gallupe is no Carl Newman.

This is admittedly, more or less where I had stood with this band, having sampled '07's Fables album and not having found it especially memorable. But I was certainly willing to see what they could bring live.3 They opened with a trio from this year's High on Jackson Hill, which formed the core of the setlist — "Only Love You for Your Car" being particularly appealing. "C'mon Sea Legs" hit that sweet point of perfect backing vox, suggesting that maybe I should give Fables another spin. The quiet "And it Was" was followed up by the disco-beat of "Sound the Alarms", showing the range of sounds that can comfortably exist under their umbrella. Gallupe was also a fine banterer, recounting stories about living in Victoria and visiting an apartment in Hamburg that The Beatles lived in. Not every song did it for me, but I found some more respect for the band than I had coming in.

Listen to a track from this set here.

I must confess: I have an ongoing problem where I'll often intractably confuse and conflate pairs of bands that I first hear about at roughly at the same time, even if they have roughly nothing to do with each other.4 So, for a couple years, I kept getting Dog Day mixed up with Two Hours Traffic, despite the fact that, east-coat origins aside, they have nothing to do with each other. And the fact that I've found Two Hours Traffic to be vaguely pleasant but not worth thinking about meant that I'd also dismissed his Halifax combo without particularly meaning to. Anyways, once I managed to recognize that the aggressive post-punk band that people were praising was, in fact, Dog Day, I made a mental note I wanted to check 'em out.

The four-piece offers a strong visual counterpoint as its focus, with the lanky guitarist/vocalist Seth Smith bouncing lines off pint-sized bassist Nancy Urich, who was a compelling musical foil throughout. Their musical styles mirrored their appearance, with her plucky, tenacious basslines nudging along Smith's guitar work. Underneath it all was Crystal Thili's keybs, never drawing attention to themselves, but keeping everything grounded. The band also had a new drummer in tow, propelling the songs forward with an unfussy, hard-hitting rhythmical sense.

One song brought to mind Eric's Trip, or, perhaps, even more, Rick White's Elevator work before it got all psychedelic — which made sense when at the end of the track Smith commented that it was from a new EP that had, in fact, been produced by White. But that sort of animated/sluggish post-punk is where the band was pitching itself. The band was apparently largely doing material from their new album Concentration, which seems to be less well-loved by some of the more longstanding fans in attendance — "Love Makes It Mad" from their first EP drew the loudest cheers of the night, and afterwards, I heard some guys on their way out lamenting beloved older tunes left unplayed. Myself, I have no basis of comparison, but I like what I heard. The main set ended with Smith and Urich grinding guit and bass together in a string-on-string shoving match before the band came out for one last one, explaining that they couldn't fill most of the requests for old stuff, as the new line-up only had so many songs down. Forty-five minutes that didn't blow my mind but certainly left me with the impression that this was the sort of thing I like.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 It's hard to know if the kids today — who have had access to monumental amounts of music that I never could have imagined coming into contact with at that age — actually did come into contact with the things I'm hearing, or if it's something else, or if they just came into it independently.

2 Drummer Liam Jaeger also offered some credible vox, offering plenty opportunities for some inneresting vocal layering.

3 In a revealing sign of the times that we live in, the members of the band were spotted passing around a bottle of hand sanitizer between setting up their gear and starting their set. Which actually makes enormous sense — pandemic worries aside, can you think of many working environments that are filthier and more pawed by gawd-knows-who than a bar's concert stage?

4 Privately, I think of this as the Shout Out Out Out/You Say party! We Say Die! dilemma, as no matter what I do, I keep getting those two bands mixed up. At any given time, I'm often unable to even remember the name of one or the other, so I can't even clearly express who I'm mixing them up with.


  1. :-)
    as for me, THT > Dog Day. a lot.

  2. Mm, Little Jabs didn't do a thing for me. Haven't heard the new one yet, tho presumably the library will get it sooner or later. In theory, I oughtta check THT out live but it just hasn't happened yet. Some day, somewhere.