Friday, June 19th, 2009
Patrick Wolf, Living Things, Plastiscines and Jaguar Love at The Mod Club in Toronto
Frank YangSure, it was billed as the Nylon Summer Music Tour, implying a traveling roadshow with all performers on some sort of equal footing, but everyone knew that this was the Patrick Wolf tour and the other three acts were just the openers. Or at least that’s what I’d thought going into Wednesday night’s stop at the Mod Club in Toronto – and even if the audience was on board with that train of thought, it was obvious from the get-go that the bands didn’t necessarily agree and were set to make the most of their time on stage to win over the Wolf disciples.
Lead-off hitters Jaguar Love seemed to me the most curious additions to the bill, at least considering their pedigree. Formed from former members of The Blood Brothers and Pretty Girls Make Graves, I thought they might be too loud or aggro for the crowd, not that I really had a notion of what the very much all-ages crowd were expecting. But my preconceived notions went right out the window when the duo, backed by beats off a laptop, tore into their set of super-energized, adrenaline-infused party rock. Singer Johnny Whitney and guitarist Cody Votolato were in constant motion, the former belting it out with his remarkable classic rock wail while the latter never stopped riffing the hell out of his Rickenbacker, whipping the crowd into a frenzy that you never see at a show at 8PM. Not once but twice did the duo leap into the audience, never missing a beat, and quite literally got this party started right. Absurdly fun, it was evident that anyone hoping to be able to stand back and have a nice, passive night out was at completely the wrong show.
Any momentum built up from the opening set, however, ground to a halt before France’s Plastiscines took the stage. Though you think that the tour would have had the routine for switching between sets down to an art by this point, it seemed that each band member was having some sort of mic or equipment problem that turned into a 30-plus minute wait to get sorted out. By the time they were ready to go, the natives were a bit restless and the quartet probably had more than their share of work cut out for the to win the house over. The Plastiscine recipe is pretty straightforward – four attractive French girls playing what would be considered garage rock if it weren’t so immaculate-sounding. Think The Donnas with less rock attitude and slightly more poppy gleefulness. Perhaps the snarliness will develop as they become more seasoned – though not awkward, per se, they were still a bit reticent in performance. Perhaps counting on our alleged bilingualism, they addressed the crowd in French and whether they were actually understood or not, it got a positive response, as did their charming if predictable cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking”. Despite the rough start, they were able to shake off the delay and turn in a good set that steadily improved and finished on a high note.
If the Plastiscines were lacking in genuine rock grit, the quota was more than made up for by St Louis’ Living Things. With a singer that looked like some genetic crossing of Ian Astbury, Iggy Pop and Richard Ashcroft, they served up good, old-fashioned rock laden with attitude and a healthy dose of photo-friendly posing. Musically it wasn’t the most distinctive stuff you’d hear, but the delivery was just right and the performance engaging – literally. The band pulled audience members onstage to dance and gyrate with them and also leapt into the crowd, not the first act of the night to do so nor would they be the last, but they definitely ratcheted the already-high energy level up another notch, and set the table nicely for the headliner.
Oh, Patrick Wolf. Seen him twice before, and even when you think you know what to expect, you never know what to expect. Given the darker tone of his latest excellent album The Bachelor, a heavier approach was likely – and this was borne out when he stepped out in an giant black… I don’t even know what the hell he was wearing, but rather than pick up his viola or ukulele, he strapped on a decidedly rock-correct Flying V electric guitar before tearing into “Oblivion”. He didn’t do much with it besides play one-finger barred power chords – no shredding solos, thanks – but symbolically, it set the tone for the show.
As dramatic as his recordings are, they pale compared to Wolf the live performer. Every move, every sound, is rich with theatricality and imbued with his intense and mercurial personality – it might come across as ridiculous if he wasn’t so utterly committed to it, and his fans are no less devoted to him. They hung on every syllable, every note and shrieked with every piece of clothing shed. Personal highlights were an intense “Count Of Casualty” (disrupted a bit by some idiot screaming, “Afghanistan!” behind be through the extended outro) and the string-laden “Damaris” – I realize that the the sound was far too lush for just the violin and viola being played live, implying some pre-recorded enhancement, but who cares – it sounded amazing. As the show progressed, he got progressively more undressed until around 50 minutes into the show, when down to just suspenders and his lederhosen, he started into “Tristan” from Wind In The Wires and just a minute or so in, abruptly declared the stage monitors to be the worst he’s had all tour and stormed off stage. After a few awkward bars, his band stopped and followed him off.
It was unclear whether this was it, a most disappointing end to what had been a terrific night, or if he might return to at least give one last song and say goodbye. Hopes were raised when the crew came out and began re-soundchecking the stage setup and after about 10 minutes, the tour manager apologized and said that Wolf would be back in a moment. And it seemed that Wolf had taken the unscheduled intermission to raid the costume closet, because when he did return to the roar of the house, it was clad in an undone shirt and a leather thong. Appropriately, the band kicked off the unusual encore with “Hard Times”, Wolf taking full advantage of the Flying V’s phallic imagery, and then he went to the keyboard for the crowd-pleasing “Magic Position”. Considering that that had been the show-closer for the rest of the tour, most were probably expecting that it was the finale, the show salvaged with a proper finish, but Wolf wasn’t done – not by a long shot. He then tore into a gloriously aggressive “Accident & Emergency”, then shed the shirt – just the thong now – and put on a bizarre knit headdress and collar for a stirring, “Who Will”. Any one of these could have been a fitting finale, but Wolf was apparently dead set on making up for his earlier outburst – say what you will about his diva-ish tendencies, but the man will not let his fans down and for that he deserves respect.
After a lengthy monologue to the crowd about how much Toronto means to him – not just lip service, the city and its residents were a great influence around the era of The Magic Position – and also announcing he was going to get married soon and Patrick “Wolf” would be no more as he would take his husband’s surname, he nearly stripped off the thong while mocking his body and demanded that the pictures go on the internet (happy to oblige). And then donning a giant feathered vest, he tore into a ferocious reading of “Vulture” which saw him leap off the stage and onto the bar running down the length of the room, singing all the while, and then into the audience basically inciting a riot. Though breathless at the end of it, he had enough left for one more mosh – the even more chaotic “Battle” – before climbing back on stage to serenade a bit of “My Heart Will Go On” as a farewell.
And then that was the end of the show. After looking like he was going to cut the show short, Wolf extended it to a near-marathon. Bizarre and unforgettable, it was easily one of the most manically wonderful and bewildering performances I’d ever seen. Overheard as we staggered out of the club was, “what the hell was THAT?” That, anonymous concert compatriot, was Patrick Wolf.
Wolf promised to return later this year, and it’s a shame that he probably won’t choose to play the Mod Club again, given his disdain for their sound system because Wolf’s stage show plus the gorgeous lighting at the club makes for some great photos. Slightly NSFW depending on your work’s tolerance for sweaty, pasty white British asses.
Photos: Patrick Wolf, Living Things, Plastiscines, Jaguar Love @ The Mod Club – June 17, 2009
MP3: Patrick Wolf – “Who Will?” (Buffet Libre mix)
MP3: Patrick Wolf – “A Boy Like Me”
MP3: Living Things – “Oxygen”
MP3: Jaguar Love – “Bats Over The Pacific Ocean”
MP3: Jaguar Love – “Highways Of Gold”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Hard Times”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Vulture”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Accident And Emergency”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “The Magic Position”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Bluebells”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “The Libertine”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “Wind In The Wires”
Video: Patrick Wolf – “To The Lighthouse”
Video: Living Things – “I Owe”
Video: Living Things – “Let It Rain”
Video: Living Things – “Bombs Below”
Video: Living Things – “Bom Bom Bom”
Video: Plastiscines – “Barcelona”
Video: Plastiscines – “Loser”
Video: Jaguar Love – “Highways Of Gold”
MySpace: Patrick Wolf
MySpace: Living Things
MySpace: Jaguar Love