Dance frenzy at Clark Hall

Becky Ninkovic of You Say Party! We Say Die! loves her audience almost as much as she loves her microphone.
Becky Ninkovic of You Say Party! We Say Die! loves her audience almost as much as she loves her microphone.
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Pelt’s lead singer, Genene, reminds you that girls can rock out, too.
Pelt’s lead singer, Genene, reminds you that girls can rock out, too.
Photo: 

Concert Review: You Say Party! We Say Die! @ Clark Hall Pub, Oct. 3

Quarter to 10 on Monday night is no time to start a revolution. Yet this was the mission facing the young, bright-eyed members of You Say Party! We Say Die!. They took to the stage at Clark like radical cheerleaders dispatched to a rainy, early-morning protest with a faulty megaphone. Clark’s sound system isn’t really set up to handle big rock shows, and all evening it was difficult to hear the vocals in any of the acts.

You Say Party! We Say Die! had to fit six members on the small stage, leaving one guitarist trapped in a corner, but it didn’t stop lead singer Becky Ninkovic from using all the space she could find to rally the troops. What she lacked in natural presence, she made up for with her energy and commitment to the cause.

You Say Party! We Say Die! play leftist political dance-punk-wave under the same banner as bands like The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Le Tigre. The drums mimic the cops hammering on your door, and while the synthesizer carries the hooks, something eerie about its sound reminds you that Big Brother is watching. Ninkovic does little actual singing, mostly shouting or chanting soundbite manifestos, but she has that rare tone suited for it.

“You Did It” is a synthesis of “Monster Mash” and The Cure, as opposed to the more pensive “Love In The New Millennium,” whose squealing synth and melodic vocals inevitably exploded back into defiance. Then “The Gap” goaded the audience into a dancing frenzy.

“So people dance in Kingston! That’s so nice!” Nincovic said.

You Say Party! We Say Die! seemed genuinely surprised and flattered at the show of support, and also shocked to be cheered back on stage for an encore. In solidarity, Nincovic danced in the crowd, ending up screaming on her knees in front of the stage, while later one of the guitarists entered the fray to teach a dance routine. While the stridency and narrowness of their style can wear thin, their half-hour set avoided overkill.

The closest thing Pelt has to a manifesto is the chorus “I get drunk and I dance / That’s what I do.” Pelt doesn’t want to turn you onto politics — they just want to turn you on, but there’s an artfulness that keeps them sexy instead of sleazy. Monday was the CD release party for their first EP, Vacancy, and the majority at Clark came to celebrate it. Usually, Pelt is one of Kingston’s best bands, and their true colours did emerge a few times. But much like you can’t usually expect to be at the height of your mental faculties at your birthday bash, Monday night Pelt was better at partying than playing, becoming especially sloppy towards the end.

The band’s singer Genene is the irresistible focus of the show and the embodiment of what awkward adolescent girls listening to loud fuzzy guitars in their headphones hope they’ll blossom into overnight. While her antics can—and did—become too affected, her sexed-up performance is generally balanced by a casual attitude, an inability to take herself seriously, and enough charisma to fuel three dictatorships.

Genene’s powerful voice is also the core of the music, playing with pitch in an appealing way, and sliding into the bottom part of her range with the same provocatively-alluring carelessness as Emily Haines of Metric.

Yet Pelt doesn’t sound much like anyone else, building a coalition of militarily precise ’50s drum beats, nearly new wave keyboards, and cock rock.

Too bad that on Monday their tight songs seemed to bloat and stumble into tedium, losing steam even during the usually pounding “Five Finger Touch.” They still shone on “Papa Jack’s Dance Bone,” which steals that “backbeat” trick from “Wonderwall” for rump-shaking instead of wooing, and the slow tease of “Tide Me Over.” If Pelt didn’t win your vote this time, don’t write them off yet.

“I feel sorry for everyone who had to stick around to see a bunch of sweaty old men when everyone else is prettier than us,” said closers North of America.

Beyond a love of shouting, North of America had little in common with the rest of the bill. Already music scene veterans when they formed in Halifax in 1997, they were far more experienced than the other two acts, which showed in their polish, chemistry, and confidence.

“Dissent In The Ranks” blew open their set with dissonant guitars that sounded like a car accident being observed from several angles. North of America imagine sound level bars as skyscrapers bursting into the skyline and then slamming back into the ground, and switch time signatures like malfunctioning walk/don’t walk signals. This can be alienating, especially when the middle of the set started to blur into noise.

“We have successfully cleared half of the room. That’s awesome,” one member joked. “But we have the best half.” Those who stayed were rapt, crowded at the front of the stage to appreciate the inhale-exhale tension in “Revolt on Revolution” and the happier parade march of “Let’s Get Sick to our Stomachs,” but the space felt drained of spirit.

Word from party headquarters is that the kids are all right, the old guard hasn’t mellowed with age, and when the revolution comes, Pelt will be the first to start drinking. Three cheers for punk rock, whatever it’s fighting for.

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