Friday, October 31st, 2008
The Rumble Strips in Toronto
Frank YangI’m going to have to stop using my line about any British band being able to fill a venue in notoriously Anglophilic Toronto… this past Wednesday night at the El Mocambo, The Rumble Strips were not only able to draw just a couple dozen people, they couldn’t even get their support act to show up.
Okay, in the case of tourmates Birdmonster, it was less the Rumble Strips’ fault than the border guards who wouldn’t let the San Francisco outfit into the country (I think this is at least the second time they’ve been turned away – a topic they address in a MySpace blog in a manner that pretty much guarantees they’ll never be let in…) but otherwise, I was perplexed as to why the low turnout. Sure, they’re not exactly NME darlings, but the horn-driven soul-pop of their debut Girls & Weather (reviewed here) is eminently likeable and it was hardly an expensive ticket. Was it the cold? Got news for you, Toronto, it’s only going to get worse. Wimps. I was out, and on my BICYCLE no less. Anyway.
But, as the sage show business advice goes, you play for the people who show up – not the ones who don’t – and so even to the thin house, The Rumble Strips weren’t going to phone it in. They did indeed bring it, albeit quietly at first. They led with a new song that was decidedly more sedate than anything you’d find on their debut, one of a few that would be scattered throughout the set and none of which were as immediate as the Girls & Weather material – which is as much of a commentary as I feel fit to make after a single live listen. Cue the more introspective sophomore effort? Everything else, however, was pure extroverted pop goodness.
Everything that makes The Rumble Strips distinctive on record – the horns, the hooks, Charlie Waller’s voice – somehow comes across even stronger live. The rhythm section sounds huge, with duties frequently divvied up between Matthew Wheeler on drums and bassist Sam Mansbridge on what they call “Rumble Drum” but is actually just the floor tom beat extra hard, and is super-tight. The horns… well another thing I’m going to have to stop saying is that I don’t like horns, because I loved theirs. In fact, all the band’s orchestrations and arrangements were impressive to witness. One strength that I hadn’t noticed on record but was quite evident on stage was their harmonies. Waller’s huge vocals – pitch perfect with loads of character – obviously take center stage, but three of the other four also quite ably stepped up to add their voices to the mix.
But above all else, they brought the songs. Each listen to Girls & Weather only makes me grow fonder of uptempo, feel-good, sad-sackery – with so many strengths and such personality, I am really astonished that they weren’t able to draw out more of the curious to go along with the converted who did show up. And though it’s damn near impossible to turn a room that’s only 5% full into a party, The Rumble Strips certainly tried.
Photos: The Rumble Strips @ The El Mocambo – October 29, 2008
MP3: The Rumble Strips – “Time”
MP3: The Rumble Strips – “Motorcycle”
Video: The Rumble Strips – “Girls And Boys In Love”
Video: The Rumble Strips – “Alarm Clock”
Video: The Rumble Strips – “Motorcycle”
Video: The Rumble Strips – “Oh Creole”
Video: The Rumble Strips – “Time”
MySpace: The Rumble Strips
The Drive-By Trucker/Hold Steady-powered “Rock & Roll Means Well” tour kicked off last night, and while the November 11 show at the Phoenix is sold out, a small block of tickets was released earlier this week via Ticketmaster and at last check, were still available. And I’m still giving away a few pairs. The Courier-Journal profiles The Hold Steady, The Winston-Salem Journal talks to the Truckers and Nashville Scene and The Village Voice talk to them both.
The Grace Potter & The Nocturnals gig originally scheduled for the El Mocambo on December 10 now appears to be happening at Lee’s Palace.