Friday, December 14, 2012

In-store: Actual Water / Young Governor

Actual Water / Young Governor

Kops Records. Friday, June 17, 2011.

In-stores — official or otherwise — are always a most welcome fixture of North by Northeast, enhancing the musical overkill with chances to cram in even more bands during the earlier part of the day. The crowd-tantalizin' hook for this late afternoon affair on Queen Street was a headlining appearance by then-buzz-band Cults, who were attempting a SXSE-esque cavalcade of appearances. I didn't know any of their stuff and I wasn't too sad when I arrived to find a sign on the door noting that their appearance was cancelled due to "stress". As I settled in, an anonymous singer/songwriter type strumming his guitar was finishing up. I was just in time for the bands I was here to see.

After the switchover, as Actual Water were just about ready to play, Ben Cook (taking it in from right up front) catcalled, "you better play with soul!" — a comment presumably spurred on by the "SOUL" sign dangling from the ceiling above them, indicating which records would normally found at the back end of the store where the band were now set up. Once the sound was sorted out as the band led off with The Paisley Orchard's "The Situation", Cook could also be seen singing along as the band played both sides of their "Latoya"/"She's A Priest" 7", which he'd produced and co-written.

Rickenbacker-powered paisley punk was the band's stock in trade at this point, though there was room for some other sounds in their quick set, like the harder-edged "Caroline Ave." and the college rock/power-pop of "Vari Baby". Given that their sensibility seems to be to scuff the edges of their pop tendencies, the slightly rough sound in the store suited this just fine.

Listen to a track from this set here.

That mix of pop perfection and scrappy roughness was also in effect for Young Governor. Long a working alias for Ben Cook's solo efforts (when not working in his many other projects or playing guitar in Fucked Up), he was backed here by The Scuzz. The keyboards were absent (they probably couldn't fit 'em in the tiny area the bands had to play in), but Dennis P's all-important saxophone was present to add a classic rock'n'roll edge to the songs.

The raw sound in the room added a pleasing rough edge to the power-pop tunefulness of "Cindy's Gonna Save Me" and roared with the more punk-ish "Virginia Creeper". Passing time while everyone tuned up, Cook tossed some condoms from the shop next door into the crowd, enjoining everyone to "be safe, y'hear?"

There was a specific sort of layering of influences in the tunes — the catchy simplicity of early rock'n'roll filtered through an '80's pop sheen — Don Dixon's solo work comes to mind here, but with an added punk intensity — and I could almost visualize hearing these songs playing over the credits of a teen comedy playing on a battered old VHS tape.

I liked the fact that all of these reference points were touched upon without an ironic wink. In fact, Cook's fondness for his influences was really brought home when he paid tribute to locals The Stiffs (who'd later become Dead Letter Dept.), inviting the band's Rob Moir up to song along with a cover of the catchy "Rumors".

And for a guy who has pumped out plenty of concise two minute punk nuggets, Cook's songs here often started with mini-overtures, instrumental intros that would last almost a couple minutes apiece as lean-ins to the songs proper. But the music would never get too staid — "Summer Girls" accelerated giddily as the song unfolded and "Call Me When the Cat Dies" closed out the set with a punk sneer. This was definitely material that I'd want to hear again — and it would turn out that I wouldn't have long to wait.

Listen to a track from this set here.

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