Saturday, May 02, 2009

Review: Ponytail @ Deleon White Gallery, 29 April.

Ponytail, a Baltimore band that plays beat-driven, primal (in terms of the wordless vocals), eminently mosh-able noise pop, hit up Toronto last Wednesday as part of their first headlining tour. The quartet joined locals(ish) Brides and Romo Roto at the Deleon White Gallery on College St. near Dufferin. The west-end space is now hosting shows thanks to promoters Primary Colors [yeah: sic], and this is a good thing. The neighbourhood, however, might not agree.

A large open subterranean room with white walls and three wooden pillars, that night there was little art on display: two large panels of colourful wallpaper (I suppose), "Neighbourhood" painted in large wobbly letters on the wall near the make-shift bar, a special sculpture by Top Friends done for the occasion, and a sizable screen showing looped mirror-image video projections. The gallery was a great choice of venue, and though I wasn't totally sold on the sculpture, the point was taken: this shit (music, images, etc.) is weird, and we love it. When I arrived the DJs were spinning a brilliant selection of songs, old and less-old, and band equipment was set up in the middle of the room, between and behind two of the pillars. The non-standard setup took some getting used to for both the crowd and the bands.

Brides, usually top-notch (if not exactly my musical style of choice), suffered from the set-up. The drumming stood out, but the other instruments and vocals weren't always well balanced. With fans to the front, the sides, and behind them, the band was playing outside its element. This is an experimental group worth seeing, but Wednesday was not their best outing.

Up next was Romo Roto, a newish two piece including Tomas from DD/MM/YYY and Alex from Machetes. Their percussive heavy set was better suited to the room's acoustics and the crowd that surrounded them. It seemed to me that this band has added pre-recorded samples to some of their songs since the last/first time I saw them perform. (Or it could be I wasn't paying enough attention then.) In either case, the semi-choreographed interplay between the two drummers/vocalists, and the backing samples worked well, and was the right choice to open for Ponytail. This is a cool project, and the assembled ate it up.

By now the venue was well-populated with who you might expect to see at a mid-week avant-guard indie rock show: twenty-something noise-pop lovers, the vast majority of them in skinny jeans (myself included, of course), good vibes, and awkwardness all around, and one young woman in an off-white cocktail dress. Even kidwithcamera came out. At one point my friends and I were asked: "Do you have papers?" I was holding a 8"X11" sheet of paper, jotting down some notes, and so my initial thought was, "uh, yeah." But that's not what he meant. (And I assume he found what he was after.) If this had been a weekend night, the place would have been filled to capacity and then some.

At around quarter after 11pm Ponytail started their set. It took me a couple or three songs to get into it, but once I got it, I really got it. The kids in the front row---the row facing the band's singer, that is---had a small but dedicated dance/mosh thing going on. Those of us on the sides were a little less keen on bruising, but soon enough there was jumping and dancing all around the band. Yes, even a mid-week Toronto crowd deigned to get a little sweaty. About twenty minutes into the set one of the night's DJs/promoters started darting in and out of the band's space, inexplicably. At first I thought he was trying to fix the PA, which was no longer amplifying the singer's yips, trills, and other vocalizations. Nope: the police were outside. The band stopped playing, told us all to sit down and be quiet (we mostly complied), and a few minutes later the cops left. Ponytail, who'd been through similar situations twice before, they said, played a few more well-received songs, and then that was it. No encore. But what a great performance. I don't know that I'd ever choose to listen to their tunes at home---I like quieter folky stuff, or poppy-happy stuff---but I would see this band live again. And, you know, that's something.

Download: Ponytail's "Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came From An Angel)" (Ice Cream Spiritual, 2008).

As I biked away from the venue, a police car approached, signalling it was time to disperse. The guy who'd asked for "papers" was a couple blocks east, utterly failing at controlling his skateboard. After a couple of false starts, he threw it hard down the street, his two companions yelling for him to stop lest he get hit by a car.

Primary Colors hosts Ponytail's friend Dan Deacon & Ensemble next at the gallery. That one's happening Sunday, 10 May, and also playing are Teeth Mountain, Future Island, and DD/MM/YYYY. You can pick up tickets ($15 adv) at Soundscapes. Promises to be an excellent show, assuming the cops don't shut it down.

[Thanks to suckingalemon for the photo. She's got more great images of the show here.]

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