Exclaim tour offers a mix of talent

Luke Doucet doesn’t understand why he can’t get “just one kiss.”
Luke Doucet doesn’t understand why he can’t get “just one kiss.”
The Fembots’ country-esque sounds were the highlight of the evening at The Grad Club.
The Fembots’ country-esque sounds were the highlight of the evening at The Grad Club.

Concert Review: Exclaim Four for Fall Tour @ The Grad Club, Oct. 18

In a modern musical landscape where taste is generally dictated by iPod-toting, blog-reading disciples of online music ’zines such as Pitchforkmedia, it’s easy to question the potency of national music rags such as Exclaim. That doubt might make some cynical when Exclaim sponsors a national tour. But fear not—Exclaim’s tour sticks to what it knows best: tried and tested Canadian indie rock.

Edmonton’s Whitey Houston kicked off the four band bill. Despite having van troubles and the dubious distinction of playing at 9:30 on a Tuesday night in Kingston, they managed to pound through their set in a manner which they admitted was “unapologetically loud.” At first listen, you might be quick to write off the bass-and-drums combo as another Death From Above 1979 ripoff. If you listen harder, you’ll find something peculiarly Canadian about them. Gone from the mishmash of distorted bass and feedback is DFA 1979’s bravado and Jesse Keeler’s lyrical obsession with the act of making the beast with two backs. Instead, Whitey Houston were refreshingly self-aware. Their name is our first clue. Any band that can confidently strut across the Canadian landscape without fearing reprisals from Bobby Brown or Whitney have got to be on their game.

Whitey Houston finished up their short but frenetic set in front of an audience largely populated by the FemBots’ equipment and fellow band members. After a rough day, the boys deserved a better reception. Had there been an audience, there would have been a collective urge to buy them each a beer.

After setting up enough instruments to fulfill a small orchestra, the FemBots took to the stage. By that point in the evening, a decently sized audience appeared almost out of nowhere. They started off their set with some old standards from their sophomore album, Small Town Murder Scene.

They managed to do more than justice to their laconic, country-fried tunes. Their sparse songs came off more energetic live than on their album as they included more uptempo drumming and the vibraphone, which usually haunts their records only in the background. They seemed to have traded their junk shop orchestra—full of idiosyncratic sounds and samples—for more conventional arrangements. While most would not consider violins and vibraphones par for the course in Canadian indie rock, the FemBots’ sound is certainly tamer than their earlier experimentations. Luckily for them, it appears to have worked well.

The FemBots were treated to an attentive audience as they polished off tracks from their new record The City. Dave MacKinnon’s voice has a dry resonance that squawks out desolation and stings like a cold, prairie winter in the same vein as John K. Sampson of the Weakerthans. The FemBots were clearly the big draw for the majority of the Kingston audience, as few people spoke or moved a muscle through their brief set.

The FemBots are a tough act to follow. Luckily, Luke Doucet and company were up to the challenge. Doucet’s guitar work took centre stage as he fired out Ventures-esque riffs that transformed The Grad Club into an old west shootout. Propelled by the thumping of an upright bass and sugary sweet boy—girl harmony, Luke Doucet let his prowess as a pop songsmith peek through.

Toward the end of his set, Doucet provided a surprisingly apt- sounding rendition of The Violent Femmes’ Add It Up, although some of the effect of the original was lost in Doucet’s adaptation. Somehow a song about teenage sexual frustration is just more effective when it's being squeaked out of the throat of a man as hopelessly awkward looking as Gord Gano. Let’s face it, Luke Doucet is a pretty boy. At least when Gano sang “why can’t I get just one kiss” we knew why.

Nonetheless, Doucet provided a solid set that kept the majority of the audience who had come to see the FemBots.

The same cannot be said about Edmonton’s Shout Out Out Out Out. Even their very name was an exercise in excess. The band featured two drummers, two bass players, and two keyboardists. By the time they had finished setting up their equipment it was nearing 1 a.m.. Most of the crowd had filtered out before they played a single note. They treated patient concert goers willing to dance with appropriate beats, but the overuse of the vocorder—you know, that thing that makes you sound like a robot or Cher when she had that comeback club hit in 1998—proved to make their set repetitive. There is a right time and a right place for Shout Out Out Out Out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a late, late night set playing after the FemBots and Luke Doucet.

Crowds will return to The Grad Club tonight when Nich Worby takes the stage for the Queen’s Journalists for Human Rights benefit concert.

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