Monday, June 15th, 2009
Hang You From The Heavens
The Dead Weather and Hollerado at the Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangIt wasn’t technically a secret show – when the announcement was made, it was very clear as to what was going on – but considering the announcement came less than 36 hours before gig time, it was most definitely a surprise. The occasion was a show by The Dead Weather, a band whose existence was only revealed three months ago, but who by virtue of their pedigree were already one of the most talked-about new acts of the Summer. And it’s not hard to see why – their lineup features Jack White of White Stripes and Raconteurs fame, Alison Mosshart of The Kills, Dean Fertita of Queens Of The Stone Age and Jack Lawrence, also of The Raconteurs.
Though their album Horehound wasn’t set for release until July 14, coinciding with a large North American tour, they were opting to play a couple of hugely undersized club shows to warm up and build excitement – last Friday night at the Magic Stick in White’s hometown of Detroit and on this night, at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, a room with a generously-rated capacity of 400 heads that’s hosted more than its share of massive bills, both surprise and secret.
A strict wristband policy targeted at both foiling scalpers and getting genuine fans into the gig ensured that there were lineups of people along Queen West for goodly portions of Saturday afternoon and early evening, but while it meant long waits, it seemed to be effective – once inside, everyone seemed genuinely excited to be there and in great anticipation for the show. And they’d have probably happily waited the three hours from doors till show time, but there was also an opening band on the bill, hand-picked by Jack White from a list of local-ish suggestions via MySpace auditions.
The winners of this lottery were Ottawa’s Hollerado, who were in town for a show the previous night at Lee’s Palace, and while opening up for The Dead Weather would be a highlight for any young band’s resume, it could have been a mixed blessing – after all, it was a chance to play in front of a packed house, sure, but also a crowd that had no idea who they were nor potentially any interest in hearing them. Fortunately for everyone, Hollerado put on a winning set that combined collegiate smart-alecky lyrics with barroom-approved rock and served them up with an entertaining stage show – you have to give points to a band that’s willing to drink beer soaked into and wrung out of the drummer’s sock. No wait, you don’t. But they put on a great set, almost certainly won themselves some new fans and most importantly, helped pass the time.
By this point, The Horseshoe was absolutely packed and disgustingly sweaty as roadies set up for the show, and even then Jack White’s attention to visuals was very much evident. All crew members were nattily dressed in dark suits with blue ties and fedoras and the guitars were all stunning white Gretsches with gold hardware. You didn’t have to be a guitar geek to be impressed – that was some seriously nice gear. And then at 11:30 sharp, the lights went out.
In White and Mosshart, The Dead Weather have in their ranks two of the most charismatic frontpersons in rock, and put together on a stage as small as the Horseshoe’s in front of an audience as pent up with excitement as this one, the result was combustible. White’s role as drummer (and sometime vocalist) keeps him at the back and though his presence was most definitely felt – there were noticably no cymbal stands or any sort of hardware to obstruct the view of the biggest star onstage – it was hard to keep your eyes of Mosshart. Not just because she’s got that gloriously strung out sex appeal, but with her whipping hair, leopardskin coat and sheer rock goddess presence, it was impossible to look away. As good as she is with The Kills, hearing her equally sultry and sinister rasp front a massive-sounding, blues-soaked rock band staying to just the right side of sludgy is even better. It may not be as engagingly creative and catchy as her other gig with its punk and electro hybridism, but it sure as hell feels right.
To appreciate The Dead Weather, I had to get out of my pop-ist mindset because they are not about hooks or melodies or the other markers I usually look for in my music. This isn’t to say they’re not there, but they’re secondary to the mighty riff, be it on organ or guitar, the deep, muscular groove and the sheer attitude. And the volume. The Dead Weather may have been playing a small club but they blasted it like it was an arena. And while their songs certainly excelled in those departments, I didn’t find them individually to be especially memorable or exceptional – they were more just vehicles for the massive talents, musicianship and personalities of those delivering them and in that sense, they were triumphs.
With just an album’s worth of material, their show ran just over an hour long with the main set coming to its obvious but no less potent climax when White climbed out from behind the kit, strapped on a guitar and performed, “Will There Be Enough Water?” as a slow-burning duet with Mosshart punctuated by a searing solo the likes of which he’s more known for in his other bands. It was a finale that was tough to top, but that didn’t stop them from coming out with a two-song encore that wrapped with their current single, the snarling “Hang You From The Heavens”, and after gathering in front to acknowledge the rapturous applause, the four were gone, leaving their exhausted but utterly satisfied fans to recover at their own pace. They’ll be back for a full-sized gig at the Kool Haus on July 22 and while the vast majority of those there for that show will probably think it’ll be a great, wholly memorable performance, anyone amongst the few hundred who were able to catch one of the band’s very first gigs – I think this was their fourth or fifth-ever liver show – will know that however good that Kool Haus show is, it won’t have compared to this one.
Both The Globe & Mail and The Toronto Sun were in attendance on Saturday and have reviews. Black Book and The Times have interviews with the band, The Los Angeles Times, The Globe & Mail and Canadian Press talk to Jack White and The Courier-Journal chats with Jack Lawrence. The band are offering a download of album track “Treat Me Like Your Mother” in exchange for your email address.
That’s it for today. I used up all my random linkage on Saturday.