As a Torontonian who has lived the majority of her adult years in this city, it seems blasphemous that this Saturday night was my first time entering the wildly popular Wrong Bar. It’s definitely an impressive venue; dark and slick with a sizable stage and floor. Its clientele too offers me something I’ve been missing as of late, an age appropriate crowd (as a mid-twenty something I find it difficult to strike that comfortable equilibrium, its either too young or too old a group of cohorts). This crowd was young enough, hip enough and sported more than enough eye candy to appease both sexes.
Now, on to the reason for my writing: the music. The bands tonight were from Kingston, Ontario and Vancouver BC (I only stayed for the first two acts because I’m old and curmudgeonly). Let’s preface my opening, and somewhat scathing, half of this review by saying that it sucks to be the opener on a Saturday night. It’s 9:30, the crowd is scant and filled with keeners and jaded music reviewers, such as myself. We’re immediately harder to impress because no one has got a buzz on and everyone is still annoyed that the rain has turned to a fine hair-ruining mist, which has exacted it’s fury in the 19 minutes that the Queen street car took to arrive.
Cue Mockingbird Wish Me Luck from Kingston, Ontario. Luck they would need and judging by the crowd’s response, luck they did not have. A group of young males took to the stage. One first notes the tight pants and varying degrees of attractiveness. The look of this band seemed to fit into a carefully crafted mold bridging both an indie and a mainstream aesthetic without much to really set them apart. Let’s just say they looked a little like sweet, simple country boys. Although I found myself mildly annoyed and made very uncomfortable by the expressive eyebrows of their lead guitarist.
The first chord is struck and the song progresses in a typical mainstream rock pop kind of way. It’s as simple and as derivative as their look but also uplifting and easy listening. Then came the vocals. All of a sudden, seemingly from nowhere, this gruff, growling, angry voice emerges from the mouth of an otherwise handsome young man. Words were distorted and unrecognizable and I was a little worried they would hurt themselves. Vocal cord nodules are no laughing matter.
When all was played and sung, they sounded a lot like Simple Plan on steroids, which unfortunately, is not a compliment. With two very different styles – pop rock instrumentals and punk vocals – being mashed together in such an aggressive and awkward way the band seems, as of yet, without a strong identity. However with all my trashing aside, they were a relatively tight band, their instruments were well played and bless their little hearts, they sure did believe in their own music. In a few years perhaps they will find their groove but for now I’m sure their friends in Kingston really like their shows a lot. There may even be a market for them with angry emo teenie boppers across the country.
I found them to be shallow and unimpressive. Their sound was run of the mill, misplaced pop rock and strained punk vocals, that lacked a solid cohesive sound. Despite the adult vibe of the venue Mockingbird, Wish Me Luck made me feel as if I had been transported back to 2004 and placed in a high school all ages club. Kingston, Ontario party scene: maybe. Canadian Music Week Saturday night performer: no.
Ah, this looks better already: The Pack A.D. (The Pack After Death). With careless grace and haphazardly badass attire, Maya Miller and Becky Black mosey onto the stage and begin to fiddle with their kit, which consisted of one drum set, one mic stand and two guitars. They’re sipping what looks like whisky on the rocks and have a cool and calm demeanor about them. Admittedly, I’ve already developed a bit of a crush on the front woman who looks like Grace Slick with a punk rock haircut. I learn quickly as they start to play, that she kind of sounds like her too. I’m floored by their impressive dynamics. The banter the drummer provides between songs is endearing and hilarious, while their songs quite simply blow their predecessors out of the water. With strong blues influences and a rock and roll backbone, these girls rock in the truest sense of the word. Their music is dirty, yet precise and their songs evoke raw emotion and the genuine desire to dance or maybe to thrash. One fan felt so moved by their raunchy tunes that she broke a bar stool and proceeded to dance hedonistically around it, then presented it as a gift to lead singer, Becky Black at the end of the set.
The only problem with this set was the sound guy, who absolutely shat the bed on this one. Their mics were hot and squeaky and the poor drummer had to play the entire set without a working monitor. The girls still pulled out the big guns, and considering the obstacles they were virtually unscathed by the sleepy sound guy’s missteps.
For a two-person band, their sound was undeniably full and very effective. Becky Black’s vocals were the perfect combination of lilting, gritty and raucous, not to mention her impressive range. Her guitar playing was pretty damned acceptable as well. Maya Miller provided much more than a rhythm section with her out of control drumming; both of them real showmen (women). This being my first time even hearing of this band, I was maybe a little over excited, but would now consider myself an avid supporter and happily bought their newest album after the show. I now find myself researching their touring schedule and reading their bios. In essence, this is a band that will grab you hook line and sinker. With all the prowess of the once uber popular White Stripes (and the inevitable comparison that any guitarist & drummer have to said band… guilty), The Pack A.D. offers a sexier lead singer than one Jack White and a more animated drummer option than Meg. These girls are the stuff that rock dreams are made of. If only I was cool enough to party with them… I am however cool enough to dig them, maybe you should be too.
© Darcy Streitenfeld, Music Vice
Pictures of The Pack A.D. by Caroline Aksich: