Sunday, September 12, 2004

Live: Dan Livingstone, The Hooks & The Casingles @ Pub Balafré

It was the first Saturday in September and I was looking for a fix. I don't mean I was searching for anything contraband--that's what those 24 hour delivery cards are for--no, I wanted to hear some pure, uncut live music. I found just that at Pub Balafré, a dimly-lit little hole in the wall nearly devoid of women, except for a couple of cute ones at the tables. This would make any hetero single dude nervous, maybe because of that hunter-gatherer instinct, so I wasted no time in buying a 650 ml Boreale Blonde. (This is Quebecois for micro-brewed beer)

The first act was a solo blues artist named Dan Livingstone. He was all about Mississippi Delta slide guitar but adamantly refused my Muddy Waters request. Despite this obvious transgression against blues music as a whole, he still fed us some decent blues riffs. His peak must have been during an obscure Bob Dylan cover--"Let me Lay it on You", I think--and the crowd was mostly into his satisfying-yet-mediocre set. I'm sure he would have sounded a lot better with a full band to take some of the weight off.

A rumour was floating around the room that Luca, the Hooks bass player, was passed out on the street in front of the Pub. I gulped and felt a tad bit guilty for having shared my beer with him only minutes before. With starry eyes open wide as saucepans, he had admitted that he took "every drug possible" and that I could quote him on that. This appealed to me greatly. "Rock and roll," I thought.

I went outside for a cigarette and saw that Sebastian, lead singer and guitarist of the Hooks, had just resuscitated Luca and they were sitting in front of the bar. Luca vowed that this was his last night in Montreal. "I'm going to California. I want to sleep on beaches and rooftops like Jim Morrison," he said. "If I die, I die...but if I can make it out there, that's even's a cherry on the sundae." I suspect that he is still here in Montreal somewhere, although I can't be sure.

Minutes later, the Hooks were up on stage. From the minute they plugged in their instruments, I sensed that something was awry. Perhaps it was the way Luca had his bass slung so low; maybe it was that fierce look in Wolf's eyes (their part-time drummer); in any case, they sounded like a drugged-up Who with Kurt Cobain handling the vocals. [Ed. Note: This is a compliment!] The Hooks roll very close to the highway and they are not in the least bit ashamed about their rough edges. I guess this is what it's like to see the Libertines.

Eventually, Sebastian's guitar fell off and he smashed it angrily on the stage, halting the show for a few minutes. Soon enough, they were rip-roaring through a feedback laden opus who's name escapes me. They managed to squeeze a few more songs out of the night before Seb's guitar died for the last time. After leaving the stage, Luca ran back up and pulled his bass out of the case and raised it in the air. Although he used Ian's bass during the set, he had promised to smash his own bass before leaving.

True to his word, he began to pound the wounded bass into the floor. After a few strikes, it was in pieces and the soundman was running towards him in protest. Sebastian ran up and shouted "We're the Hooks" before they left the bar to cool down. I managed to pick up a chunk of bass the size of a Bic lighter; it remains in my pocket to this day.

The Hooks have the potential to be a great band if they can avoid setting themselves on fire at their gigs. They have the soul of Loki [Ed. Note: The Norse God of Mischief!] to guide them but he is a cruel master.

Next up were the Casingles, another rock band based out of Montreal. Justin is their guitarist & lead singer, Ian is on bass, and Tim plays some wicked drums. They started off their set by apologizing to Pub Balafré, God, Canada, and the Rickenbacker Bass Company for Luca's antics. Their sound is more polished than the Hooks; they might even be more huggable. They could be compared with the White Stripes but this wouldn't do them justice. Live, they exude a lot of confidence and reminded me somehow of Iggy Pop & the Stooges. This is a good thing.

the Casingles logo

Justin has a magnetic stage presence but he wasn't able to seduce the saucy blonde barmaid that had caught his eye, even though he purred compliments at her into the microphone between nearly every song. Ian held down the rhythm section with tight, effective bass lines. Tim proved to be a good drummer in his own right, peppering each song with frenetic fills and generous helpings of cymbals.

"Drive" could be a future hit single. It careened wildly towards a feedback-laden bridge and a dissonant, Sonic-Youthy solo before fading into the second-hand bar smoke. Another highlight was "Take a Chance", a dirty, vampy punkish song with allusions to Modest Mouse. I also enjoyed "Behind your Eyes" because it made me feel that I was watching a Canuck version of the Buzzcocks. Justin dedicated the song to his former manager, "a real bitch". This wasn't exactly PC of him but the largely-male audience laughed and guzzled their beers, this journalist included. [Ed. Note: What did Peter tell you in Broadcast 201? Keep yourself out of this, dammit.]

The definate musical OD came when we least expected it. By now, numbers were dwindling slightly and I figured that the show would just wind down. How wrong I was! Justin dedicated "Russian Opera" (which seemed to be a garage cover of the Beatle's "Eleanor Rigby") to a friend whom he had lost only days before. The emotion was visible on his face as he sang "I look at all the lonely people!" and the whole room resonated like a quartz crystal. "Russian Opera" had teeth and most of us were bitten.

"Three for One" was their second last one and I'm sure it could have been a Doors song in some other distant dimension. Slightly caustic yet completely palatable, it convinced me to finish my beer in time to buy another one before last call. They ended the night with a bluesy ode with slide guitar; Justin used a red Zippo lighter for effect.

Keep your eyes peeled for the Casingles. They are ready for prime time. The Hooks need some time in detox but they're good too, only a little bit scary. Dan Livingstone left me indifferent but remotely satisfied.

You don't have to go to Sweden to hear what true rock and roll sounds like; it's living here in Montreal and swigging forties in alleyways, rolling joints on the sidewalk and scrubbing windows with dirty water. I got my fix of gutsy garage rock that night, and it tasted pure. Do yourself a favour and go and find some of your own really soon.

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