|Gig/Concert:||The Von Bondies with Nico Vega|
|Venue:||The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON, Canada (map)|
|Date:||February 13, 2009|
|Headliners:||The Von Bondies|
Who gives a damn about The Von Bondies? Apparently a lot of people in Toronto, as this show at the ‘Legendary’ Horseshoe Tavern was a total sell-out, as I discovered when I saw a group of guys being turned away at the door.
OK, so you may have already guessed it –I’m not exactly a fan of the Von Bondies. I still have a clear image in my mind of a dull show that I saw them play back home in the UK some five years ago. Typically I only remember the good shows, but I remember that Von Bondies gig because it was particularly dire – a bland performance by a bland band. It was not what I had hoped for, or expected, given all the hype about the band at that point in time. For a brief spell in early 2004 they were getting a lot of attention in the British music press. Most of those headlines were not about the band’s music, but due to that infamous incident involving lead singer Jason Stolsteiner getting punched in the head by Jack from the White Stripes. Remember that? Unfortunately the Von Bondies failed to really capitalise on their 15 minutes in the spotlight.
A few things have changed for the Detroit rock band since 2004, with a return to indie label–hood after getting dropped by Sire. Clearly though, in evidence on this night at the Horseshoe, the band still can pull a crowd, but I had a different motivation altogether for attending this show: I was here to see Nico Vega, the Von Bondies’ support band for their current tour.
First up though, at around about 10pm, were the local support who appeared on the bill as Tropical Pet. The band made no secret to the fact that they were using an alias for this show, but I didn’t catch the band’s real name at the time. However, I could’ve sworn I’d seen their bassist before, and indeed I had, but I doubted myself at the time. The guy on bass was Keith Hamilton, and his current band usually takes to the stage with the name The Diableros. Mystery solved – but what about their music?
The Diableros set the tone for the evening with a good outing of hook-laden rock music. Not your jump-around-and-mosh-like-a-mother brand of rock music, but more like a marauding, mind-tripping, left-field kind of deal. Guitar, bass and keys mixed it up to good effect, and the energy was good, with the bespectacled singer Peter Carmichael leading a performance that drew good support and interest from the punters.
Next up, were Nico Vega, a trio from LA, comprising of a drummer called Dan, a guitarist called Rich and a manic minx of a lead singer named Aja. The absence of a bass guitar was made up by Rich getting a lot of extra low-end sound from his guitar, likely by using some thicker gauge bottom strings and I think he may also have been feeding his instrument into both a guitar amp as well as a bass amp.
“Nico Vega have a veritable utility-belt of sounds, all designed to get you moving in one way or another. “
Visually, Nico Vega were brilliant – when Aja wasn’t falling to the floor with her mic stand, she’d be reaching out to the crowd, and holding the hand of someone at the front of the audience. It was an enthralling set, and a complete connection was achieved between the band and their audience. To me they completely upstaged the headliners the Von Bondies, but more on that later…
There was good variety to Nico Vega’s set list. The second song of the night, “Million Years”, is an anthem that demonstrates the band at their strongest – a song with instant appeal. “Living Underground” is a song that switches from angry to bittersweet in its tone and lyrics, with an almost robotic and hypnotic edginess to it. Other songs such as “Burn Burn” and “Gravity” deliver top-notch high-octane rock and roll, which allowed Aja and Rich to move around the stage as wildly as they please. Nico Vega have a veritable utility-belt of sounds, all designed to get you moving in one way or another. My highlight of the night was the buccaneering triumph “Wooden Dolls” – an absolutely beautifully crafted piece of rock music, sung with such a haunting and soul-exploding finesse by Aja.
Finally; what about the Von Bondies? Well, they seemed a bit livelier since the last time I saw them. I only had time to catch the first 20 minutes or so of their set, catching about five songs, before I had to leave to get a taxi to Union Station and grab the last train home. My overall opinion of the Von Bondies didn’t change much during those five songs, as their music doesn’t interest me at all. They just aren’t my cup of tea, none of their music has ever interested me. Meanwhile the rest of the packed-out Horseshoe Tavern seemed to be having much less of a problem keeping interested in the band. The Von Bondies’ hit songs like “Pale Bride” were being lapped up with glee for their beer-swigging fans, but to me even that song is well, just not that good.
But heck, at least I can left the Shoe with a couple of positive thoughts on the Von Bondies. Firstly, their drummer Don Blum is one of the maddest tub-thumpers I’ve seen in a while. Blum was fun to watch, with some good fills, and damn he likes to hit his drums hard, which is the quality of all my favourite drummers. Most importantly though, I left this gig thankful to the Von Bondies for taking Nico Vega on tour with them, because I hadn’t even heard of them before seeing the show listing a couple of weeks ago.
© Brian Banks
Photos – Von Bondies