Decked out in matching topsóall sporting big, white letter B'sóThe Bicycles might have spun their wheels a bit but as a whole, put in a winning effort as the second band on this four-band Lee's Palace bill. Their sorta infectious power pop was stupid and fun but somehow, seemed a bit too consciously weird. Like overcompensation, I guess. Their songs were good, their timing was spot on but they came off a bit like a clique in search of a scene. Or maybe that's just me.
No such issues with local heroes The Constantines, who touched down in a haze of self-assurance. "This is a song about f*&**@$*," spouted weary frontman Bry Webb early on and while their set list didn't exactly drip sex, it did ooze that weirdo soul punk shtick that the 'Tines have been honing for years. With a blend of new and old tracks, this definitely won't go down as a career best by any stretch but even on their worst night, The Constantines will meet 99.44 per cent of bands dead to rights, four out of five times. They previewed new tunes such as "Good Nurse" that may or may not have signaled a new direction for the boys. More intricacies, more noodling, still tension to the shoe tops but a different kind of tension. But you can't beat the hits and the majesty of "Nighttime/Anytime" and "Young Lions" still bleeds at every lesion. And when Webb barks "Can I get a witness?" you're tempted to provide ten and not ask any questions. Undoubtedly one of the country's most compelling live acts and this performance did nothing to diminish the pedigree.
Winnipeg's Weakerthans closed things out and while effortless in presentation, they can still deliver like no other in the nice guy, corn-fed indie rock class. Vocalist John K Sampson was either chewing gum or perhaps his cud, and it's this ambivalence to the beast he's built that makes him such a likable frontman. Even Propaghandi propagators crying out loud for "Scott Sucks" couldn't knock Sampson from his smiley-faced orbit. With each year that passes, The Weakerthans inch closer and closer to a roots sound proper yet they can still drops pissy tunes like "The Reasons" like it ain't no thing. Still, the new stuff previewed such as the plaintive "Night Windows" definitely points at a more refined sound that Sampson will probably take all of five seconds to master. Let's see where this goes but first, bask one more time in the tear-jerking abilities of "Left and Leaving". Ever the crowd favourite and with good reason, the song is like a fine wineóno, it doesn't improve with age, it stirs up all sorts of weird emotions that result in several visits to the little boy's room and a heavy heart at the end of the session. Sigh.
And not to be outdone, The Weakerthans and Constantines joined forces at evening's end for a spirited romp through The Travelling Willburys' "End of the Line". Brilliant in scope and without so much as a hint of pretense, it was a stroke of celebration from two of Canada's finest. We should all be so self-assured.
Writer: Cameron Gordon