Such an odd and awesome mixing of worlds at the They Might be Giants show this past Saturday. The long-loved and long-lived band played an epic set spanning their old, their new, their adult, their kid, and their all-around crowd pleasers. The audience was a refreshing mix of older and younger, dowdy and hip, nerdy and not. The diversity in the crowd reflected the variety of directions TMBG has gone since 1982, when the group was little more than founders John Flansburgh and John Linnell backed by a drum machine. The crowd cheered indiscriminately for the now full-band’s old and new tracks, happily dancing and singing to all of it, with particular enthusiasm for TMBG’s kid’s album Here Comes Science. The group did put on a particularly entertaining show for those tracks, using robotic voices, humor, and awesome lighting to pump up the fans.
Older songs got big cheers, too, with a resounding roar for “Please Pass the Milk” off the band’s 1992 album Apollo 18. This one particularly stood out thanks to the amazing woman wearing a “Got Math?” T-shirt and a “I Heart Science” trucker hat who busted out moves the likes of which may never be repeated again.
All in all a great show by a band who’s made its mark on music for all ages.
I had previously seen German folk/pop act BOY this past March (read Gary’s review of one of their SXSW sets here) and I will admit that they charmed me. Never having heard of them before, it was a pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it enough to take in a set by them the following week during CMW (though I walked out a few songs in as I didn’t really like the chatty crowd). For those shows, core members Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass were accompanied by a single guitarist, which made for a much more stripped down presentation that probably accounted for a bit of the charm in their sound. For their early evening Friday night show at The Mod Club, however, they were backed by 4 or 5 other musicians for a band that included keyboards and at times, two drummers. The added heft brought by the extra musicians definitely downplayed the “folk” aspect of their sound a bit, though they still came across as rather charming. Maybe even at times a little too charming.
I’m not suggesting that the band was being insincere at all, but at times, the charm was laid on a little thick, with Steiner’s stage banter including lines like, “This song is for everyone who just moved to this beautiful town of Toronto!” or “This is a very very beautiful night for us” or even stating that their first North American tour with a full band was “a great adventure for us.” Like I said, I don’t think she was faking it; she’s probably just really nice and very enthusiastic about everything. I’m sure it has something to do with her being Swiss. I’m sure that playing to a pretty receptive crowd also had something to do with it.
Highlights of their set included “Little Numbers” (which inspired a bit of a “whoa oh” singalong) and a cover of The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy” as well as a shout out to Canadian Thanksgiving. Speaking of “Little Numbers,” when I hear the lyrics, “Seven little numbers/Baby, I know yours by heart,” I have to wonder if anyone knows anyone’s phone number off by heart anymore these days. But that’s neither here nor there.
Though I’m still more partial to the stripped down set I caught them playing in a smaller venue, this was an enjoyable show regardless.
The evening started off with power pop band Team Spirit belting out an energetic set to a mostly sparse room. By the time Surfer Blood took the stage just after 10:30pm it was still only about half-full which was slightly disappointing. It was a Wednesday night though. They started their set by playing the instrumental “Neighbour Riffs” followed by frontman John Paul Pitts asking the crowd sarcastically “Are you guys having the time of your lives?”
Surfer Blood have had a rough time as of late mostly in dealing with Pitts’ highly publicized arrest for domestic battery last year. They’ve since bounced back with their latest album Pythons which wasproduced by Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters, Dashboard Confessional) and has received mostly favourable reviews. As well, Pitts spoke openly in an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year that attempted to set the record straight about his arrest and his issues with alcohol. It’s hard to have an opinion one way or another on Pitts but I will say his attempt at playing a rockstar on this night fell short. Despite being able to write catchy music fit to play on modern rock music stations and a strong voice, his live show was lacking. He was stone-faced with pursed lips the entire show including both times he left the stage and came down to the floor to awkwardly sing and pose for camera pictures. It made me uncomfortable.
The highlight for me was following their 50-minute set they returned to play a cover of Pavement’s “Box Elder“ and the song that put them on the map “Swim”. A short and sometimes sweet University student-friendly rock show.
Simply put, Heavy Times are a very good band. Sure, they’re not exactly reinventing the wheel, but they’ve got all of the ingredients for a fun show. They’ve got the riffs, they’ve got the hooks, they’ve got the melodies. It’s pretty much perfect.
The Chicago band’s latest, Fix It Alone (out on Hozac Records), is a solid garage punk album that ranges from more melodic numbers to noisier fare and while their official bio refers to them as “Chicago’s most hated band on the world’s most hated record label,” I find it hard to believe that anyone could hate a band with a song entitled “Denim Girls.” And while the album is enjoyable, with a band like Heavy Times, the live show is where it really all comes together. And on this night, it definitely all came together.
While Obits were the headliner and obviously the main draw for most in attendance, for me they just weren’t quite as compelling as Heavy Times. They still put on a great show, mind you, and frontman Rick Froberg’s got one of the great rock n’ roll voices, all rasp and attitude, but there was something more immediate for me about Heavy Times. Maybe it was the fact that I more or less knew what to expect from Obits, whereas Heavy Times was a bit of a ‘eureka’ moment. Or it could have been the 30 minute-plus wait between sets. Still, when Obits launched into “Widow Of My Dreams” at the beginning of their encore, it was a highlight of the night and moments like that when they really kicked it up a notch during their set showed that, for Obits, everything also came together on this night.