Come again?

Wave of mid-terms trumps concert as Ruby Coast and Hilotrons play to a tiny crowd

Another gem to emerge from the GTA, Ruby Coast are bright in sound and performance skills.
Another gem to emerge from the GTA, Ruby Coast are bright in sound and performance skills.
Credit: 
Photo by Christine Blais
The Hilotrons venture into experimental realms and just barely survive.
The Hilotrons venture into experimental realms and just barely survive.
Credit: 
Photo by Christine Blais

The Grad Club is unique among Kingston venues for its sense of community.

Artists will often regale the audience with tales of the first time they graced the stage of the humble house, greeted with cheers and applause by members of the audience who also attended that first show. It’s as if the place builds its own rapport with the bands that pass through its doors. Never was this more evident than on Friday night when two newcomers to the Grad Club, Ottawa’s Hilotrons and Aurora’s Ruby Coast, played to an unfortunately sparse crowd.

Perhaps it was the threat of mid-terms looming that kept people away, or maybe concert-goers were saving themselves for Saturday night when You Say Party! We Say Die! would rock a full house, in stark contrast to the previous night’s tepid reception. Whatever the reason, despite the awkwardness of this first meeting, many missed out on what, by most other measures, was a first-rate first time.

The stage set-up for opener’s Ruby Coast was deceptively simple considering the depth and variety of the sonic onslaught that was to ensue. With five members playing the usual suspects of any contemporary rock act—two guitars, one bass, drums and keyboards—what set them apart was what was hidden, or at least not immediately apparent. Guitarist Nathan Vanderwielen doubled on xylophone and second keyboard on many numbers, giving the group a cheery, bright sound and, at a couple points during the show, even hammered out some additional percussion on an extra floor tom hidden in plain sight at the front of the stage.

Bonus points should be awarded for extensive but effective use of tambourine as well as synchronized off-mic shouts from all members, reminiscent of Born Ruffians. Marks were deducted, though, for the band looking a bit bedraggled after what must have been a much better show the previous night in Ottawa.

A comparison to Tokyo Police Club, originally from Newmarket—just north of Ruby Coast’s hometown—would be apt not only because of their geographical proximity, but stylistic similarity as well. The band’s self-released EP, produced by Tokyo front-man Dave Monks and singer Justice McLellan, is often dead-on for Monk’s trademark timbre. But given their performance it would be unfair to dismiss them as Tokyo 2.0.

The band being, as of yet, unsigned should not be counted as a strike against them either. These boys know how to play their instruments and know how to play them to a specific end, an end that is so fast-paced and multi-textural that on any other night it would surely have had the crowd on its feet.

By the time the Hilotrons took the stage the crowd had grown only slightly and after their opening number singer Mike Dubue, commenting on the scarcity, asked “What does it all mean?” No answer was immediately forthcoming but, not phased by the emptiness, Dubue and company carried on.

Like Ruby Coast, The Hilotrons also centre a lot of their material around keyboards. Dubue eschews the traditional guitar for a second, smaller synth, although he only touches it occasionally, generally being too occupied with foot-stomping during his Talking Heads-like lyrical delivery. The sweat drenching his shirt was testament to the energy he puts into every song, but once again this energy never really translated to the crowd.

The influences here were harder to pin-point with all songs sounding like they could have been some undiscovered new-wave B-side from 20 years ago, while still having an original quality all their own. Subtle keyboard hooks layered into the background conjured up TV theme songs of yesteryear. Combined with lyrics such as those on “Dominika,” where Dubue tells of a girl who “dances to science fiction music,” the overall effect is somewhat like being taken back in time. But the Hilotrons caused a tear in the space-time continuum and the past doesn’t sound quite like you remember it.

The penultimate number, “Emergency Street,” showcased the band’s strength at crafting a catchy pop song while still giving it their unique twist of syncopated, choppy lyrics. But it also pointed out their biggest weakness; they’re a self-described experimental act who sounds best when they’re not being so experimental.

Both bands were out of their element; both played for their first time in Kingston to a small audience that probably consisted mostly of friends, Grad Club regulars and a few adventurous souls; both are clearly accustomed to getting people moving and shaking and rightly so; both have a unique sound, deserving of more Kingston fans. But just like an awkward first date, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to work out. So to Mike Dubue, I don’t know what it all means, but I’d like to ask you and Ruby Coast if maybe we can do it again sometime?

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