Wax Mannequin comes alive at Goat

Warped folk fit for a generation raised on cartoons and 24-hour news

Hamilton’s Wax Mannequin sweats it out sans backing band at the Goat.
Hamilton’s Wax Mannequin sweats it out sans backing band at the Goat.

My first encounter with Wax Mannequin was brief and bewildering. It was two years ago, late at night, in the smoky, fly-infested depths of a basement apartment on Victoria Street. A brown disc inscribed with a logo and the words “and Gun” found its way to the CD player.

Over a spare, distorted drum track, skeletal acoustic guitar and electronic squelches, a scratchy-voiced man intoned “Paper snake takes the bait I left it now trapped inside the box I brought / Paper snake can safely be tested for nasty things that we don’t want / Paper snake filled up with our ointment cures its hate and its disease / Paper snake just relax and join us, together we will make you bleed.”

I didn’t hear Wax Mannequin’s music live and in person until this past Tuesday when he and Geoff Berner played the Sleepless Goat.

Toronto traffic delayed their arrival, and a very loose democratic vote by the crowd decided that Wax Mannequin would play a shortened set first.

So, at 9:40 p.m., a sturdy bald man with a patchy beard and a very intense gaze strapped on a guitar, turned on his drum machine, and stepped up to the mic.

It’s increasingly rare to find a truly unique sound in rock music after a half-century of experiments and bizarre ephemera, but Wax Mannequin just might have one.

An oft-quoted press clipping about him posits that he sounds like “Tom Waits and Type O Negative jamming on the early Beatles catalogue,” and while that’s really not right at all, I’d be hard pressed to come up with anything closer.

The man strums away at chunky chords all over the guitar neck, bellowing and hissing his cryptic but catchy lyrics in a scratchy voice, breaking occasionally for solos in odd time signatures.

An overly quiet vocal mic hurt the proceedings, frequently burying his singing beneath the guitar and drum track and filtering his lyrics into very odd sound bites that occasionally floated through the mix.

Still, as he stood in the window of the coffee shop, strumming furiously, it was easy to think of Wax Mannequin as a warped 21st-century folkie for people raised on Saturday morning cartoons and 24-hour news.

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