Monday, August 11, 2008

Hank & Lily Do Toronto
Sneaky Dee's
w/ Walter Haul

I'm thinking this is not a good idea from the start, as I am anything but a 'night person'.

Hank Pine and Lily Fawn have brought their eclectic-vaudevillian weirdness to Toronto for a two-night stand. A Sunday (11 pm) set at Sneaky Dee's and a Monday (10:30 pm) set at the world-famous El Mocambo. I have scheduled a 6 hour in-house training course for Monday, two on-site demo's for Tuesday and a product-launch at a major financial institution on Wednesday. All those things are scheduled to happen when the sun's up.

We will see how it goes.

Check out my blog report on their 2007 Hootenanny set from Kitchener.

Heading out of the home at 9 pm to start an evening is anathema to me. Even when I was young I was the one leaving the party at midnight as the bulk of the crowd was showing up. I wake up at 6:30 am every day. Even on weekends. But there are advantages on a Sunday traffic and plenty of parking as we pull up to the bar at 9:30 or so. We missed H&L's soundcheck and are treated to 15 minutes of Walter Haul setting their levels...and helping me set mine.

For reasons unknown to me, but probably readily apparent to the youngun's who still have decades of their lives to waste, the show never starts on time. That's likely because we are the only two paying patrons in the joint, everyone else being employees, band members or family of the band. By 10:30 pm a smattering of wandering yuppies and assorted freakaloids make their way into the venue and we get a 30 minute opening set of increasingly interesting jazz-based, ummm, music. Walter Haul consists of; a 'computer tech/saxophonist'; some guy who plays two keys, the same two keys the entire set, on a Casio or Fisher-Price piano; a drummer, bass and funky lead guitar/sound effects guy.

They open with a short Icelandic fertility dance with flutes and follow with what seemed like a 15 minute improvisational piece that got better, right at that tipping point where it might have just got absurd. The groove in this song, which threatened to become annoyingly repetitive found a nice interesting hole to swim in. The guitar work that's almost underneath all the noise makes the cacophony challenging and rewarding to cut through. That piece was Steve Reich's Piano Phase. If this stuff at all interests you please read those links (esp the Piano Phase piece), they are illuminating.

Pleasant surprise #1 comes in the shape of an arrangement of a performance art poem penned by Myra Davies, called No Time. What a great piece. At first brutally simplistic in it's exclamations "I can't talk", "I'm too busy", and "I'm working," it gets more intense musically, tempo and volume building, as the exclamations become more exhuberant. Screams of "where's my briefcase" and "there's not enough time", "i got a lot of important stuff to get done" lead to "that's the problem with time, it's so limited compared to me" and "I'm bigger than time." A descent into madness ends with the simple observation; "I don't have time...for you!" And that's how it ends, not with a bang but a whimper.

4th song in the set is another poem, His Mistress the Witch by Toronto artist Phoebe Tsang. It starts too slow and too low for this bar crowd as the early minutes are drowned out by casual conversation and drink orders. It becomes quite the spectacle as it builds in intensity. The whine of the slide guitar work is enhanced by what seems like a purple vibrator playing the other end of the neck. It's like listening to music under water.

The set closes with a Mad Max-meets-spaghetti-western soundtrack outtake Robot Pony, a great arrangement of a song penned by Laura Barrett. Another highlight.

I'd have bet dollars to donuts I wouldn't have liked this band, not being an aficiondo of jazz or even songs with excessive instrumentation. Somebody would have my money and I'd still be hungry.

Set list and mp3 downloads:

Walter Haul
Sneaky Dee's
Toronto ON

Track 01 Icelandic Pennywhistle
Track 02 Piano Phase (Steve Reich)
Track 03 No Time (Myra Davies)
Track 04 His Mistress the Witch (Phoebe Tsang)
Track 05 Robot Pony (Laura Barrett)

Between the sets Hank and Lily show up and do a meet-and-greet with fans. It's ascertained there definitely IS a show at Rancho Relaxo on the 15th...which means I'll take a pass on the second late-night out in a row at the ElMo tomorrow. The stage has been cleared and after a brief, rambling introduction, the dyanmic duo are onstage.

For a mere $25 I was able to purchase the new CD, North America, which comes with the songbook AND a 60 page graphic novel! I don't pretend to understand everything the kids are into these days and the graphic novel craze is one thing I missed. Oh, we had comic books, but it's a whole artform beyond that now, merging with popular culture through movies, videos and live performance art.

F*ck you, SONYBMG, we don't need no stinkin' record companies. Put the money in the pockets of the artists whenever you can. There are those who would argue digital downloads and easy transfer of music is ruining the industry. Well I say, let it die. Talent will find it's way to the top, maybe faster if we clear the slate of all that crap that is American Idol and whatnot.

Hank introduces Lily... "half-deer, half-girl, all woman" and Lily returns the favour... "the creepy Hank Pine." All in good fun, he is much more eerie than creepy, dressed in leather and metal, which in Toronto where humidity and lightning in the sky are the predominant weather forces this year, might not be such a great choice.

Lily is up front with the saw for the opening number. She starts with a poem as the saw and Hank's swampy-guitar create an aural palette that evokes the trail Little Red Riding Hood may have taken. Deep Dark Woods is a preamble to Don't Be Afraid, a wonderfully spooky tale of things that go bump in the dark. It's become their signature tune but they are brave enough to put it away early and let us concentrate on the new material.

Que Hora is a apocalypse (pay attention fans) in Spanish. The fiery end and a warning to set your affairs in order. In the face of all that horror...the secret to survival...we can only sing.

Song 4 is unknown at this time.

Lily is on the drums, pounding the skins like the pro she is, picking up the tempo for Hank's 'love song', I Need A Lover That Can Take Me Down, a bluesy romp with a touch of The Stones hidden in there somewhere.

Quickly back into the new record with Xanadu, Lily upfront on worried lyrics and Hank in with the bridge, making his case for a secret get-a-way to cure all ills.

Hank's on lead vox with the wonderful I'm Starting Up A War (with the girl next door)(?), and it ain't gonna be fair. Ain't nothing like a love song to put the audience in the mood.

And nothing like a 7 minute excurision into the wasteland of The Junkie Shuffle to break it. Just kidding. Uberfan, Kristy Brown is invited onstage to show us how to do it... "you put your chin to your chest...and you grab your elbow...'cause you got your own beat...and you sway real slow...". Hank has Lily pick up the pace and the song turns into a B-52-like hop. Lily gets the best line: "I got scabs on my feet and I haven't shit in a week." Cautionary tales come in all forms.

And for all those who were paying attention the show ends with the spelling bee; APOC-ALY-PSE. No one in the audience could spell it tonight.

It was a hot night in the little club. Hank and Lily don't get out in Ontario as much as I'd like, so it was worth the strain to see the set.

Set list and mp3's

Hank & Lily
Sneaky Dee's
Toronto ON

Track 01 Deep Dark Woods
Track 02 Don't Be Afraid
Track 03 Que Hora
Track 04 ?
Track 05 ?I Need A Lover That Can Take Me Down
Track 06 Xanadu
Track 07 I'm Starting Up A War (with the girl next door)
Track 08 The Junkie Shuffle

No comments: