Cuff the Duke
The Lamplighter used to be the ultimate Gastown flop bar, the default place you’d reluctantly shuffle to when you realized the lineup at The Cambie was too long. Thanks to some savvy promotions and a string of solid acts over the last few years, those days are gone; The Lamplighter is emerging from its cocoon only to find itself a beautiful, beer-soaked butterfly. When I walked in the doors Toronto’s Old Soul was in full swing, treating the crowd to what lead singer Luca Maoloni described as “The Glen Miller Band for the 21st Century”. The small stage was packed to capacity with drunken mariachi
troubadours from the heartland of Ontario, alternately doing shots of tequila and playing their own debaucherous soundtrack. In addition to the standard rock ensemble, the Old Souldiers boasted some earnest saxophone and trumpet blowing, nicely complimented by a be-toqued gentleman on xylophone who looked like the guy from the hockey B-movie classic Slap Shot. This was party music played with abandon, loaded with premonitions of the next morning’s hangover. Despite the fact that it was Wednesday, the crowd seemed more than willing to indulge. After the opening set I had a chance to have a brief chat with Maoloni outside the bar. He was eager to assure me that he had no pretensions, and little desire to make “deep” music. After a brief dissertation on the ways in which panhandling violates conversational etiquette, the old soul extolled the virtues of the simpler things in life, such as drinking beer and hanging out with one’s girlfriend. He praised his pals in Cuff the Duke, but, with a conspiratorial gleam in his eye, straightened out all the
ballyhoo about their blue-collar aesthetic. When Cuff the Duke took the stage any contention over the colour of their collars was quickly settled; they look
distinctly like the guys I would have gone to youth group with if I had actually gone to youth group at my parent’s request. From the opening piano lines
of “No Sleep, No Heat”, class consciousness became instantly irrelevant, and the room was enveloped in the all-accepting embrace of warm Canadiana.
In between flaunting his excellent vocal register and teasing some down home country twang out of his guitar, lead singer Wayne Petti actually executed
a farmer’s blow in front of the audience. We’re talking visible mucus flying across the stage in a sublimely beautiful arc of Compared to last year’s
straightforward appearance with Hayden at the Vogue Theatre, the band seemed far more at home in the beery environs of The Lamplighter. Their alt-country elements have been toned down slightly, incorporating more rootsy blues tones and even disguising some sinister menace beneath their perky veneer. Songs like “The Future Hangs” sounded excellent in a live setting, as the infectious harmonica set the whole room to swaying and
toe-tapping. The set ended with the droning, spaced-out guitars of “It’s Over”, displaying the impressive range of genres and moods covered on their latest
self-titled release. From this point on things started to get pretty silly, as their antisocial friends in Old Soul bumrushed the stage to help out with the first encore number, “Antisocial”. The stage was too small to accommodate everyone, so a couple trumpets and a saxophone were posted on various bars around the room. A wandering jam ensued, dubiously titled “The Mexican Wrestling Anthem”. The music devolved into Blarney Stone booze anthems, capped off
with some unfortunate band-led chanting of “Cuff…the…Duke!” But I couldn’t really hold it against them—they were clearly having a blast and I couldn’t begrudge them their good time.
I have been an Atmosphere fan since my days in Minnesota, when a buddy left a copy of the Lucy Ford EPs at my house. I had to see them at least once in my life, so I popped down to the sold out Commodore with no ticket. Sure enough, as soon as I got there I overheard someone talking about his extra ticket, and I took it off him for cheap. Rhymesayer P.O.S. opened up the show talkin’ shit about George W. Bush, which got some loud cheers, but his set didn’t get quite the same response. He was condescending and seemed bitter at the fact that none of his songs could elicit the same enthusiasm that his anti-Bush sentiment could. Blueprint came next, and his songs ranged from stupid to red hot. He played the RJD2-produced “Final Frontier,” which
was great. Throughout the openers, the lily-white crowd of nicely manicured college kids pulsated in anticipation for Slug, so much that Blueprint had to tell them to be patient for his set to finish. Slug came out with a five-piece band, which backed him up in place of Ant, who Slug said couldn’t get over the border. It was pretty amazing to see his songs performed with the power of a live band, and Slug’s intoxicating flow upped the intensity. “Between the Lines”
was particularly powerful played by a full band. The instrumentalists took a break for a few songs while Slug and MC Crescent Moon rapped to looped beats,
also entertaining but not as good as the band’s numbers. Why “Smart Went Crazy” was played recorded and not live, I have no idea.
The Magic Numbers
Richard’s on Richards
The Magic Numbers’ sixth show in their first official trek around North America proved that six is the magic number, not three. But first: the Parallels.
Surprisingly, the sight of an organ on stage did not indicate another post-wave dance outfit. Instead, the local openers played short and sweet retro nuggets that were part rockabilly, part surf rock, and part 60s Brit rock. The quartet kept up the energy and all three guitarists took turns frantically sing-shouting.
As for the Magic Numbers—well, if you wanted a love-in, you came to the right place. The UK band seemed genuinely surprised at the huge warm welcome they got, prompting lead singer, Romeo Stodart to comment on how this was by far the best of the tour and that “We’re definitely coming back to Vancouver!” The band was all smiles and a great mood was set for the whole night, kicking off with “The Mule”. Playing tunes from their self-titled debut album, The Magic Numbers could have been playing on a pile of dirt and no one would notice because all the songs are attention-grabbers live. So there was no need for light spectacles, flashy outfits, or a posse of Harajuku girls. It was just two pairs of siblings doing their thing. Angela Gannon and Michele Stodart’s high, raspy voices mesh well with Romeo Stodart’s warm tenor. Their doo-wop harmonies in “Mornings Eleven” were spot-on and they showed that they’re definitely experts in West Coast harmonies and country crooning. Angela also showed off her melodica playing skills. “Hymn for Her” was the show-stopper and a multitasking one at that. First, it started as a country ballad, morphed into a lullaby with Michele and Angela on xylophone, and
ultimately lead to a Coldplay-esque power ballad. The surprise of the night was their slow acoustic encore of “Crazy in Love” (sans Jay-Z) where Romeo encouraged some “shakin’”. The band didn’t want to stop playing, but they ended things off with, “The Beard”, a
stompin’ country hoe-down tune; the energy was so loud and fast, that these hands hurt from manically clapping along. And so (the band) began the
start of a beautiful friendship.
“I just wanted to make a stupid dance record.” I’m sure there are more than a handful of readers that would agree with Gwen Stefani’s summation of her solo record, Love. Angel. Music. Baby. But, if the packed house at the Garage on November 20th was any indication, there’s a lot more punch crammed into Mrs. Rossdale’s first effort, sans No Doubt, than your typical “stupid dance record.” The level of adoration for the bleached blonde bombshell was evident in everything from crowd response down to the sheer number of young ladies who were copping her fashion sense, thread for thread. And, it was clear that Gwen wasn’t intent on making her foray into the world of pop a disappointment. Critical darling M.I.A. had the task of warming the crowd up. And, although her bastard pop sound was probably a little too far into left field for many attendees, she did manage to get a significant number on their feet. For those few (myself, the friend who scored me the ticket, maybe a couple others) who were in attendance when M.I.A. tore down the house at the Commodore last month, there were also quite a few changes in her set. These ranged from subtle tricks from DJ Contra, who manned the turntables, to opening with a couple of verses from various guest appearances (including, “Bad Man,” where Maya cameos with Vybz Cartel on Missy’s latest). I was a little skeptical about whether or not she’d extol the same level of charisma in such a big room, especially to a crowd that wasn’t her own. While it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience, she certainly held her own, and what more can you ask for from the opening act? At the very least, it wasn’t the leg of the tour where the Black Eyed Peas opened.
Armed with a harem of dancers, and a stage setup elaborate enough to make Britney or Christina jealous, Gwen’s decade plus of performance experience was on full display. Not surprisingly, the singles received the biggest response, culminating in the almost-too-predictable encore stomp of the inescapable “Hollaback Girl.” But, the album cuts were almost equally well received. Singing (and yes, she sang) in front of a tight backing band, Stefani and co. ended up making their way through “L.A.M.B.” in more or less its entirety. And, aside from one unfortunate wardrobe misstep (a “gangsta” Gwen pseudo Crip walking is just too much), you couldn’t have really asked for more from a high-budget pop spectacle.
Great Lake Swimmers
The streets of Gastown were eerily vacant, filled with a thick fog made orange by the streetlights. It was, undeniably, the appropriate environment for people to come in from to see Tony Dekker, a.k.a. Great Lake Swimmers, play a haunting solo set at the Lamplighter. At a brief in-store performance at Zulu Records earlier in the day, Tony seemed jittery, nervous in front of the ten of us who huddled faithfully next to stacks of used vinyls. He explained how he was “a little on edge” after travelling up the west coast of America. “It’s nice to be back on Canadian soil,” he said, without further explanation. For anyone in attendance, it was like watching a vase teetering on the mantle. But under the hood of night, Dekker seemed to have dulled some of that edge, as his performance effortlessly captured the beauty and fragility at the heart of his songs. Playing an even mix of material from his self-titled debut (a record that seems to get better with time) and this year’s Bodies and Minds, Dekker exorcised his demons. A hush fell over an audience that hadn’t paid much attention to excellent openers Jonathan Inc., and a select few crouched in the darkness at the front, gazing up in awe at Dekker, who stood on stage like a lonesome wanderer, vaguely staring out into the audience. Always soft-spoken, he said, “This song is about manic
depression,” before strumming his way into “Various Stages”. After a few nervous chuckles from the audience, Dekker replied, “It’s funny but true,” and
carried on. Like this statement, with much of his music, the audience never seemed sure how to react, where to clap, whether to cheer, or whether to
simply sit in silence and watch. But everyone in the room realised that they were in the presence of someone truly special, and that the songs they were witnessing were as startlingly honest as the way he introduced them. After the show, people stumbled out into the haze that awaited them, and most of us stood around for a few minutes, wondering where to go next.
Is it the internet? Is it the fact that the music press has crowned Montreal the “new Seattle?” Or, is there some other explanation for the packed house at the
Commodore, gleefully singing along to Set Yourself on Fire, the title track from Stars’ latest long player? The band themselves may or may not know the reasons why people have finally awoken to their soaring brand of clever pop, but they were certainly grateful, either way. After thanking the crowd on one of the numerous occasions, lead singer Torquil Campbell, a transplanted Vancouverite, noted “it’s a lot nicer playing for a thousand people than for fifteen.” It certainly showed. The Thurston Revival drew first blood for the evening, and are a hard band to peg. Lots of
keyboards, with a slightly gothic sort of aura, but with a clear love of 50’s rock n’ roll. Definite potential, so keep an eye out for them, but they have a ways to
go before they blow me away. Bontempi played second. Think Tegan and Sara with one less guitar, and more keys. Lead singer Carla Gillis’ riffage was also vaguely reminiscent of Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein when she turned up the rock, which may explain why their uptempo numbers were so much more engaging than the slower songs. Again, they’re a band to look out for, as they seem capable of some pretty great tunes. If the members of Stars were alone in any other band, you might knock them for upstaging, but throw them together, and it’s a dynamic
spectacle. Bassist Evan Cranley was all axe swinging glory, while Torq bounded around the stage, flanked by Amy Millan, who seemed to emote every word
that beautifully left her mouth. Only keyboardist Chris Seligman was content to stay fairly still with his instrument, as even drummer Pat McGee got into the act by moving from behind his kit to crowd surf. It wasn’t all style over substance, however. Not even close. Stars drew from their entire catalogue, reaching all the way back to Nightsongs for three numbers, but pulling mostly from Heart and Set Yourself On Fire. The band was tight, but the live treatments of the songs also had enough character to set them apart from the recorded versions. They also seemed to draw off the crowd, who enthusiastically sang along to almost everything the band threw at them (and were, happily, mostly in tune), and received some help from locals The Organ, on a significantly more calypso sounding version of “The First Five Times.” By evening’s end, Stars had crammed in more pop, grandeur, and romanticism
into one night than most bands could muster in a career. But, if for some reason, you were immune, the closer, “Tonight” —all plaintive and gentle, with
a stripped-down version of the band’s lineup—was enough to melt the iciest of hearts.