The Gig: The Cunninghams with The Box Tiger and Faye Blais
When: 27 November 2010
Where: El Mocambo, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
In One Word: Pastiche
It’s nice to arrive at a rock show and for it to actually feel like a rock show, straight off the bat. This kind of legit vibe, which is actually quite hard to find, was being delivered by the four members of Toronto indie rock band The Box Tiger. Led by female vocalist Sonia Sturino, Box Tiger had my attention immediately. As I arrived at the El Mo, they were midway through their set as they on stage seeped in crimson, while laying down some grooves to match the powerful mood lighting.
Their music has a swagger to it and as a group they got progressively better during the remainder of their set, really getting into their stride by the end. By the last song, introduced by Sturino as “a love song, a hate song, it’s your song…” and which features a cool intro bassline and vocals with a bit of a Florence Welch-esque kick to it, Box Tiger were building up to a climax. The crashing choruses of “Comes and Goes” gave them a memorable send-off. Really great song. I’ll be keeping Box Tiger on my radar and hope to see them again soon.
Faye Blais was up next. She sounded better tonight than what I remembered from her performance at Indie Week – it was perhaps easier for her to make an impact in a sparsely filled El Mocambo, with mostly sober people, rather than a packed out Tattoo Rock Parlour with a rabble and a lack of personal space. Blais’ voice was strong and distinguished, sounding older than it’s owner. Being flanked by two guests either side, Zoe Guigueno (of Fish&Bird) and Josh Turnball on double bass and drum-block-thingy respectively, was a good accompaniment for the ‘earthy’ acoustic vibe being portrayed by this dreadlocked young lady – even if the dreadlocked hippy image seemed slightly faux. The highlight of her set was when she sung a slow-dance swayer which she wrote for her brothers wedding, and which was performed some nice staggered vocal harmonizing. Mush.
Faye Blais was very talkative throughout. A large amount of her chit-chat inbetween songs was related to Australia; she had previously lived and toured in Australia and revealed that she was about to head there again soon. She is due to tour in Australia from January.
So, to The Cunninghams. I’d talked to the guys before the show and revealed my surprised that they had been beaten at their Indie Week heats by a band called Breaching Vista. The Cunninghams are easily better than Breaching Vista. Breaching Vista played one of the crappiest sets I’ve seen all year on the Saturday night of Indie Week at Hard Luck: they were bluntly ignored by all the occupants in the venue that night, (mainly other bands), and the leaving point for me came when they attempted to save themselves from dying on their arses by working into their set an ill-advised cover of the theme to Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Ouch, painful.
But Breaching Vista are not the only band that could use a few pointers about this rock and roll thing. Tonight, The Cunninghams started off okay, but by the second song “Baby Baby Baby” I found myself boggled by what I was seeing – the guitarist and bassists came together for a moment of pure cliche and pastiche as they threw shapes while one of the guitarists bit down on his guitar strings. There was nothing rock and roll about this moment – nothing spontaneous, just a false-looking, rehearsed display of showmanship. And during the second song? Bizarre. A real head-shaker.
As lame as that moment was, a few songs later The Cunninghams were sounding, and even looking, like a bona-fide rock band as they played a song called “Devil’s Ground” which was easily one of the best of their set. Seeped in the same red light that had earlier illuminated Box Tiger, the band laid down a real cool groove with a wicked bit of guitar work. But then, just a couple of songs later, the same band who had just sung a cool song about the devil were now singing a song about butterflies! I mean, seriously?! It’s too easy for me to point out where they went wrong there.
By the tail-end of their set The Cunninghams had regained some more credibility, partly helped by again singing a song referencing the devil. That’s always a fail-safe for creating a decent mood. The last few songs gave them a strong finish, including “Better Off Dead” and ending with their best known song “Gunblaster”.
The Cunninghams are part rock and roll, part parody. Perhaps all the lampooning and stage gimmicks are deliberate, and meant to go along with their ‘high class’ shtick of wearing ties and blazers, but to me all the playing-up detracts from the music and the performance. They ‘Ham it up too much. When they hold back from throwing shapes and trying to be Pete Townshend, they sound and look much more like an actual rock band: and a pretty good one at that. Let the music deliver the energy, ix-nay on the theatrics, and then maybe some real R n’ R excess and chaos will arrive on stage. It’s called raw power, baby, and you can’t fake it.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice
Pictures of The Cunninghams, The Box Tiger and Faye Blais