Monday, March 16, 2009

Gig: CMW (Friday)

CMW: Hooded Fang / Teenanger / Japandroids / The Mark Inside / The D'Urbervilles / The Ghost is Dancing

Gladstone Hotel Ballroom / The Silver Dollar. Friday, March 13, 2009.

Walked into the Gladstone Ballroom just as Hooded Fang were getting underway. Didn't see anything else especially eye-grabbing as an option, so I thought I'd check them out despite having seen them last month. Got a fairly similar set, but that at least showed consistency of their talent, and that it was no fluke the first time around. Once again they made me smile. Good bouncy pop.

Teenanger looked like a diverse bunch of miscreants (nerd/slimebag/reprobate/sexy chick) that had ended up in a band together. They were basically mining from a rich vein of Stooge-y rock. Just starting to build up a good head of steam a couple of songs in, all momentum was sapped from the set when a broken string (and no backup guit) brought things to a complete halt for a few minutes. A contingency plan for this sort of eventuality is definitely indicated for the future. Once things got going again, they were pretty good, although for one reason or another the guitar was pretty quiet for the rest of the set. Whether the room's sound system was just underpowered for this kind of thing, or perhaps the guitarist didn't crank things fully up after replacing the string, it made the band feel a bit less biting than it should have — music like this demands a loud, mean, snarling guitar sound. Even though the songs didn't stick with me, I enjoyed their set, and I dig what they do.

I had read some interesting things about Japandroids and they were probably the main reason I'd come down to the Gladstone. A two-piece (guit/drums) from Vancouver, with both members shouting along.1 An obvious point of comparison would be No Age, but these guys are coming from a different place, more straight-up garage2. When they started, I was a little doubtful: with their off-the-cuff shouty hooks, the first thing that came to mind was Armada.3 But as the set went on, they won me over as I realized these guys had found a sweet spot between sounding rough and sounding tight. The lads were also in a spot between swagger and modesty, making casual overtures to the women in the room while seeming humbled to be out on the road, playing for strangers. By set's end, I was a convert, and the deal was sealed on the last song when Brian lurched behind the drum kit, and then, while attempting to step out, tripped backwards over the monitor, and ended up sprawled out, still playing. As the song ended, he shouted, "we're going up the CN Tower, and you guys should come with us!"4

In the warm glow of that, it was time to switch venues and by luck there was a streetcar pulling up as I got to the stop. Made my way east and north to The Silver Dollar and had good timing again, as The Mark Inside were just finishing their setting up. It'd been ages and ages since I'd been to the Silver Dollar, and I'd forgotten how claustrophobic it gets when the place is full, as it happened to be. Looking for room, I forged through the narrow peninsula in front of the stage and did find a bit more breathing space on the other side, though regardless of where I was standing, there seemed to be a loud drunk shouting at someone just inches away from me. As the band started, I tried to remember where I'd read something positive about them, but was drawing a complete blank.5 With no preconceptions, I can say they were a very good band who were not totally my style. Good solid rock, very proficient. If I had to guess, I'd wager that a blues-rock band lurks in their background... and that a Tragically Hip-esque band lurks in their future, though without the mytho-poetic baggage. Very well-received by the crowd.

Next up was The D'Urbervilles, who were the band I'd come to see. Singer John O'Regan (tall, laser-beam glare) still projects a youthful image, arriving on stage wearing a backpack and being handed a slurpee soonafter, giving a bit of image of a high school-aged Ian Curtis. But despite their youthful appearance, this is a band that has fast matured. I last saw them almost exactly a year ago, at their album release gig, and their musical growth since then was palpable, as was their confidence. In short, they gave the sense that they have become who they are. Their set was powerful and spooky focused. This was one where I genuinely wish the band had been able to stay on for longer. The D'Urbervilles really come across like a band in their moment, so hopefully there are bigger stages in their future.

Anything might have seemed like a comedown after that, but The Ghost is Dancing felt more like a plummet. Another sprawling cute-rock collective, replete with props (their presence was announced with their name spelled out on a Lite-Brite) and instrument changes aplenty, there just wasn't anything I could get into here. The band was six members deep, which seemed like at least two too many, as it left the songs feeling over-arranged and all mashed together instead of layered. Not for me. I was feeling beat by then, and getting no lift from this music, decided it was time to make my way home.

1 In a fiendishly nerdy coincidence the drummer is named David Prowse. Although I imagine he must have taken some grief over this, it seems likely that anyone who'd make fun of someone about this would be the sort of person easily beaten up anyways.

2 Although if I were trying to be cool, I'm sure I could find some west coast punk band to place them in some sort of rock lineage. Maybe just a touch of early NoMeansNo?

3 Obviously sans Herman Menderchuck.

4 I note they already have another local show lined up, May 9 at the El Mo. I recommend it.

5 It was only after a week or so later, that I put it together in my head that I'd read their new album was recorded with Arctic Monkeys producer Jim Abbis, and that they opened a string of UK dates for The Hold Steady. Interestingly, one wonders if this would have shaped my appreciation of the band had I remembered this going in.

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