Thursday, 29 January 2009

Sports: the Band, with Hexes and Ohs, Green Go, and others at the Tranzac, January 10, 2009

A Saturday afternoon in winter is a surprisingly fun time to see a show. And it feels pretty good to support local scenesters, such as the good folks behind The Singing Lamb, a new music blog based in Toronto—er, a new Toronto-based blog about music. And the show was five dollars, what!

It was thanks to Facebook that I heard about Hexes & Ohs playing at the Tranzac; even better, they were playing with Sports: The Band, which features friends Shayne "Extra Large" Cox and Nathan "Home" Rekker, as well as Michael Small of The Meligrove Band and Robin Hatch (both of whom I'm sure are equally deserving of meaningless but clever nicknames, but I'm not sure that's appropriate for people I only know through others).

According to their Facebook page, and their preview in the Eye Weekly (I think), Sports is a vehicle for Nathan's songwriting. I'd never heard any of his songs, but I know that Shayne has great taste, and is a great performer himself, so I was anxious to see them. Luckily I know how rock'n'roll shows work, and I got there just in time for their delayed 1:30 start.

So, once again I've been amazed at a friend's band, particularly one that I've waited ages to see and hear. I'd made half-hearted attempts to see them in the previous few months, but it just hadn't happened—not surprising, knowing me. Anyway, I saw them this time; that's what counts.

It's a great sign when a band makes me smile, because that usually means they're doing something I haven't heard before—in some way, the songwriting or performance stands out. That happened pretty much throughout Sports' set.

For someone of my age and taste, I think it should be hard not to hear a certain mid-1990s North American indie aesthetic in their sound, but I would have a hard time pinning it down to specific bands. mostly it was the simple, but slyly innovative song structures, the clever lyrics, and the confident and nonchalant performance. But now that I've forever painted them with my 90s brush, I have to make it clear it would be a real shame to say that Sports are some sort of 90s revivalist band—frankly, the idea of such a thing sounds awful! It's just interesting to see some uncommon influences displayed—unlike, for example, with the next band at the show.

All of that said, Sports are clearly a product of now; they just don't bother with all of the new-new wave post-post punk electro nonsense, like so many others. As a musician, I'm always watching and listening for the little things—changes, motions, chords—that make a band or individual band member stand out. With Sports it was all about ease. They just write and perform excellent pop-rock songs, with little fanfare, good energy, big smiles, and a healthy dose of noise. I like that—a lot.

Green Go performed next, and if I had no idea what to expect from this young group, I learned quickly enough. The five-piece band immediately pounced into a set of driving dance pop, and the crowd responded, doing their best to make 2:30 in the afternoon seem like 11:30 at night.

These folks didn't show me anything that I haven't heard before from the Rapture, controller.controller, Hot Chip, the Arcade Fire, or others, but that doesn't mean they weren't good. They didn't exactly sound like those bands, I just didn't achieve the same amount of smiles as with Sports—in fact, none, until near the end of the show.

The thing is, this is new music today, and Green Go are not afraid to say it. Anyway, this band is young. With luck—and these guys (and girl) seem plenty talented and energetic—they will move beyond the simple self-referentiality of the present, to the hyper-self-referentiality of the near future, and create something new from within themselves. I hope they do, because despite the lack of sly smiles, I enjoyed their show very much.

The only thing that bothered me was the instrument-switching that they did too frequently. It's a time-consuming, distracting, and almost certainly totally unnecessary gimmick that takes away from the energy of the show. Still, the show consisted of pretty much all live instrumentation, which is better than I can say for Hot Chip when I saw them a couple of years ago.

As for Hexes & Ohs, I've heard the hype over the past couple of years, and I tried to find some of their music early on—without actually, you know, going to a record shop—to no avail. So I went to the show knowing only what I'd read, which wasn't much more than a piece in the Star a couple of days before: basically, they're a two-piece electronic pop band from Montréal who are also a couple. And they have a cute name.

But for all the hype, I was expecting better than I got. Their songs were fine—some of them even verging on good—but their performance was weak. I simply find it uninteresting to watch two people play over canned beats and music. That might fly at a dance party, but not at a rock show; and certainly not in the afternoon. Also, maybe they were off that day, but it seemed that neither of them could sing very well: the lead whined, and the harmonies were flat. I'll probably just sound bitter if I mention that they had some technical problems, and, like Green Go, they switched instruments too often.

Somehow, remarkably, these negatives didn't add up to an awful show, which they probably should have; so I must give them credit for that, whatever it means. I did enjoy the show overall, but it wasn't good. I'll have to reserve judgment on Hexes & Ohs until I hear some recordings, but I won't be looking out for them to return to Toronto.

Also at the show were Maylee Todd and Winter Gloves, but I didn't watch them, so I'm not about to review them, am I?

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