Friday, June 24, 2011

Movie Review: "The Housemaid" by David Pretty

An Nyoung,  Korean Movie Mavens!

I've had some pretty jarring experiences with Asian cinema of late.  A Tale of Two Sisters wowed me with trippy imagery and a "what's real/what's not?" storyline.  The Eye floored me with some of the most lingering and distressing images I've seen captured on film.  Audition lured me into a false sense of security and then t-boned my expectations in the intersection of Convention Avenue and Blasé Boulevard.

The Housemaid strives to join this hallowed company with a shocking finale.  But unlike Audition, where you can vaguely comprehend the motivation of its crazed female antagonist, here the actions of the put-upon anti-heroine seem downright arbitrary.  Frankly, this is a real shame since the rest of the film is pretty top-shelf.

Before we dissect, here be the trailer:

So, as you may be able to gather after watching this, The Housemaid definitely falls squarely into the erotic thriller genre.  But is it?  Thrilling and erotic, that is?  Well, in the largest sense, I'd say yes.

The film begins with a suitably odd preamble which sets the tone for the entire film.  While working in a bustling restaurant,  Eun-Yi (Do-yeon Jeon) witnesses a very ugly public suicide.  Looking to escape the rigors of urban employment, she enters the employ of the very wealthy Hoon Goh (Jung-Jae Lee) and his beautiful and very pregnant wife Hae-Ra (Seo Woo).  Little does she know that she's inadvertently waltzed right into a veritable hornet's nest. 

As it turns out, Hoon isn't quite content with making wons hand over fist, living in a phat palatial crib and banging his hot wife.  Nope, we're barely fifteen minutes in and he's all over Eun-Yi like a fat kid on an Eggo.

And so I had my first twinge of skepticism when Eun-Yi barely resists Hoon's skeezy advances.  In caving into the whole "open robe and proffered wine" angle almost immediately, Eun-Yi quickly squanders a lot of her initiative with the audience.  Granted, Hoon's wife is a bit of a high-maintenance bee-yotch but I don't think she deserves the sort of instant rank betrayal that Eun-yi is so willing to subject her to.

Mercifully, Eun-Yi is still depicted as quite cute and likable.  She's shy, sweet, and very good at her job.  She also proves to be a marvelous companion for Nami (Seo-Hyeon Ahn), Hoon and Hae-Ra's accessory/ daughter.  I fact, the kid seems to adopt Eun-Yi as her own sister/surrogate parent in lieu of the spiritual vacancy of her own progenitors.

Amidst all the soap opera dramatics, Eun-Yi finds a potential ally in Miss Cho (Yeo-Jong Yun), the mansion's veteran servant.  On several occasions, we're meant to ponder just where this woman's loyalties lie.  Initially she seems somewhat protective of the innocent new hire, but not long after she's serving up heaping piles of steamy gossip to Mi-Hee (Park Ji-young), Hae-Ra's bloodless mother.  It's difficult to say conclusively whether or not she's motivated by a sense of duty or some peculiar jealousy over Hoon's attentions to her younger protege.

Soon rumors of the affair begin to swirl.  While Eun-Yi is dusting a chandelier she's conveniently bumped off by Mi-Hee.  The hapless girl dangles off the thing precariously for an agonizing stretch of time, but no one comes to her aid and eventually she falls to the distant floor below.  She's rushed to the hospital where, to Hae-Ra and Mi-Hee's chagrin, she's merely diagnosed with a concussion and then sent back to the mansion.  Not longer after, a revelation surfaces which immerses Eun-Yi into a whole new level of peril.

The Housemaid does much more right then it does wrong.   The cinematography is appropriately austere and director Im Sang-Soo comes up with some startlingly good set-ups.  There's a tremendous shot which sees the camera hovering just above and behind Hoon's car as it races towards the family's duplicitous holiday destination.  It seems terribly oppressive as if some subconscious weight is bearing down on the incestuous clan.

Another keen shot is almost like an on-camera split screen.  It shows Hoon standing mid-frame in a hallway at the entrance of two rooms.  In the bad-chamber to his left is his aloof, self-absorbed, wine-sipping wife amidst her dark and opulent surroundings and in the pristine bathroom on the right is paranoid, barefooted Eun-Yi, feverishly scrubbing away at the tub that Hae-Ra just emerged from.  Hoon is seen drifting incrementally in her direction.  It's a fantastic visual composition and manages to communicates a wealth of character beats without employing a single line of dialogue.           

Much has been said about the supposedly scandalous sex scenes.  Yes, there are some pretty racy sequences here, but there aren't as many as you might expect and quite often they're used to underscore character traits. For example, there's a scene where Eun-Yi is tending to duties while Hoon lounges back with his head in his hands as if it's his divine right.  The choreography is quite tastefully done, alternating between abstract, steamy close ups and completely unpretentious wide shots which really ramp up the naughty factor.  

The dialogue is uniformly matter-of-fact and quite salty.  In quite a few Asian films the dialogue can sometimes be way too melodramatic or you get the impression that something is getting lost in translation.  Not so here.  Distinct personalities emerge through the lines and we get some cool little harbingers such as when Miss Cho tells Eun-Yi during her interview: "The men in this family are really something. Probably why they're so rich."

The spicy lines are well-represented by a very capable cast.  It's a real credit to lead actress Do-Yeon Jeon for infusing what is essentially an adulterous character with so much pathos.  She's shy, retiring, humble and her scenes with young Nami feel very genuine.  Knowing that she isn't going to get much help from the script, Do-Yeon wisely sneaks in quite a few subtle tics that makes the film's operatic conclusion seem more plausible.  Having said that, I have to credit the screenwriters for giving Eun-Yi a few habitual behaviors that the less scrupulous characters can (and do) exploit.          

Jung-Jae Lee as Hoon is perfectly appointed.  He effortlessly projects the sort of egotistical, wry, self-entitled quality that the script demands of the character.  I can't recall the last time I've seen such a perfect exhibition of note-perfect douche-nozzlery in a film.  In the end it's intensely gratifying to witness his smug expression begin to whither as he begins to experience a completely foreign loss of control.

Seo Woo as Hae-Ra is impossibly gorgeous and does a fine job acting as if she's well aware of that fact.  She's not a totally loathsome character like her husband but she really seems to revel in keeping the underlings in their places and assigning the most demeaning tasks to Eun-Yi.  Although in many ways she's the wounded party here, her complicity in all the skulduggery really nullifies any sympathy we may harbor for her.  Seo Woo plays her like a vengeful, spoiled, petulant princess who's angelic countenance hides a ruthless architecture just underneath.

Proving that the rotten apple doesn't fall far from the tree, Mi-Hee, as portrayed by Park Ji-Young, is the real villain of the piece.  After all, she's the one who orchestrates the ladder accident after leaning of the affair.  What's even more interesting is that, after Eun-Yi survives the fall, Mi-Hee tries to convince her daughter to ignore his philandering because "all wealthy men cheat on their wives" and by accepting it she can "live like a queen".  In light of proceeding events and what's to come, I find this moment to be supremely disturbing.

Park Ji-Young really seems to relish this evil matriarch/Dragon Lady role.  You get the sense that everything she says and does is designed to guard her station and keep the serfs in line.  Even more so then her fictional daughter, her flawless visage is just a mask meant to conceal a nest of mental vipers.  There are very few actresses who can pull off the ironic smile like she can.

Yeo-Jong Yun's turn as Miss Cho the "seen it all" world-weary housekeeper is another marvel.  She's an interesting character to keep an eye on.  At first she seems to be using loyalty as a scapegoat when she outs the affair, but you get the distinct impression that her initial actions have very selfish undertones.  When the family starts to go off the deep end in their increasingly irrational campaign against Eun-Yi, Miss Cho becomes a tempest of conflict.  Yeo-Jong Yun does a fantastic job slowly working this turmoil to the surface, first in private and then in the film's notorious final stand.

Also worth a mention is Seo-Hyeon Ahn as Nami.  You get the impression that the little girl's parents aren't half as aware as she is about the duplicity that goes on behind closed doors.  Indeed, Nami seems to gravitate unconsciously to Eun-Yi just because she offers up a modicum of sincerity.  Despite her young age, Seo-Hyeon's performance is remarkably measured and her scenes with Do-Yeon Jeon are stellar.  It's retroactively tragic to ponder that Nami's innocent desire to confide in Eun-Yi is the catalyst for the film's brutal finale.

And its these last few scenes that really comprise my main problem with the film. They just don't jibe with what we've seen up to then.  If we'd gotten a few Fatal Attraction-flavored clues throughout the film to rationalize Eun-Yi's actions, I might have been more accepting.  Audition, with its even more vicious "out of nowhere" cruelty, was much more believable just because the screenwriters had taken the time to plant some seeds in the script that made it reasonable.  Horrible, yet reasonable.

Nevertheless, I'm loathe to cast out the love child with the bathwater.  The Housemaid is a well-shot, well-acted, well-crafted little character study/nominal thriller that manages to generate a modest amount to tension.  It's just a pity that the "What the eff?" ending seems almost tacked on just because no-one had bothered to sneak those cards onto the table earlier.        


Tilt: up.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Movie Review: "Tucker & Dale vs Evil" by Mark Rose

I first heard about this movie when I saw a trailer for it when I went to see Paranormal Activity 2. It may sound like heresy to most film fanatics but I typically can't stand trailers. I find they usually just give away too much.

But this one really caught my attention. I had a good feeling about Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and it didn't hurt that Alan Tudyk was playing one of the lead roles. He's probably best known for his role as the pilot "Wash" on Firefly.  I also enjoyed him in the British comedy Death at a Funeral (don't bother with the American remake of this because it sucks balls) and as Alpha in the short-lived Fox series Dollhouse.  It took forever for me to finally get my hands on a copy I had actually almost forgotten about it but i'm sure glad I found it.

First time director Eli Craig takes all of the traditional genre cliches, embraces them, and uses them to create a bizarro slasher flick that is one of the most brilliant and funny satires of the horror genre that I've ever seen. It's laugh out loud funny without being annoyingly tongue in cheek and it also doesn't feel the need to get cheap laughs by inserting random pop culture jokes or references like a shitty Wayans Brothers film. Picture if you could somehow mix together Evil Dead, Deliverance and Zombieland and you have a good idea of what you're gonna get with Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.

Before I continue with my lovefest here's the trailer if you want to have a peek at it:

It starts out just like the average slasher flick with a carload of horny teenagers heading out to the country to go camping and...well you get the idea. They come across Tucker and Dale (our brilliant Laurel & Hardy type leads played by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine respectively) first on the road and then at the gas station they stop at to get some beer. Tucker and Dale are heading out to check out and fix up their new summer home. Dale takes a liking to the "head hot chick" of the group of college kids and in a hilarious scene tries to talk to them but only manages to scare the shit out of them.

The plot kicks into high gear when the college kids head out to go skinny dipping.  There are unfortunately no titties in the skinny dipping which was mildly disappointing but completely forgiveable.  Anyway at the same time Tucker and Dale have already settled into their new cabin and they're out fishing in the same area.  They come across the same hot chick that Dale tried to talk to at the gas station and startle her to the point that she falls off of some rocks and bumps her head.  Tucker and Dale rescue her from drowning but her friends all think that they have kidnapped her.

They freak out and run off forcing them to bring the girl to their cabin to help her out.  She eventually comes to and is scared at first but then comes to realize that the two rednecks are just friendly regular people and not crazed killers.  Unfortunately for her friends they don't share that point of view and they plot to get their friend Ally back from them. the way that's the hot chick's name in the film she's played by Katrina Bowden who I best know for her role as Cerie on 30 Rock.

The hilarity ensues as the college kids unleash their plot on Tucker and Dale and basically proceed to kill themselves and/or each other in a great chain of events mainly around the cabin.  I don't want to spoil too much but there is an awesome Fargo-esque wood chipper scene that made me really happy.  In the end the main college kid who I just refer to as the "head douchebag" goes crazy and he ends kidnapping Ally and tries to kill her.  She gets rescued by Dale and they fall in love blah blah blah.. you already know enough.

It's a fucking awesome movie if you dig horror films, comedies or horror comedies you'll like this movie.

Here's the woodchipper scene if you want to check it out:

I give it five stars for creativity, hilarity and overall awesomeness


Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review "Pillars of the Earth" by David Pretty

Greetings, E.T. Book Club Members!

Sadly the highest praise I can give to a book lately is that I finished it.  Especially one of these five-hundred-plus-page muthas.  Although it took me awhile to read Pillars, not once did I ever cross my mind that I wasn't going to finish it.

Steven King once said that you'll know right away what kind of experience you'll get reading a book just as soon as you look inside at the layout, print size, and the author's tendencies towards dialogue or description.  As soon as you crack that puppy open you'll know immediately if it's a morale-boosting "quick flip and dispose" or a marathon slog that can either prove to be a colossal waste of time or genuine exercise in reward and fulfillment.

And let me tell ya folks, as soon as I hefted up a copy of Pillars of the Earth, with its eight-hundred pages of St. James Bible-style descriptive blocks and eight-point font, I knew this wasn't gonna be slow pitch.

And sure enough, it took me about a year to read it.  Mercifully the story is so clear and well-plotted that you can walk away from it for a bit, read three more books on the side, pick it back up and immediately get your bearings again.

Author Ken Follett hooks us right away by serving up some very likable characters and then subjecting them to the kind of of torture that should be illegal under the literary equivalent of the Geneva Convention.  Tom Builder is an enterprising mason during the rule of King Stephen in England, circa 1135.  At the start of the book we see him capably providing for his two kids and (very) pregnant wife by working away on a phat palatial mansion requisitioned by the not-so-nobleman Percy Hamleigh.

But when Tom's contract to build the house is cancelled, he suddenly finds himself without a sponsor or any savings for the winter.  He's forced to take his family on a miserable odyssey through the harsh countryside where they're subjected to the harsh elements, chronic famine and the whims of cruel bandits.  All the while he's pinning his hopes on a securing a cathedral building gig since he knows that this will keep him employed for the rest of his life and result in the production of an immortal achievement in art and engineering.  Unfortunately every crew working on existing projects seems to be manned to capacity.

Soon Tom and his brood are in dire straits (the condition, not the band).  They've been robbed blind and are edging uncomfortably close to destitution and starvation.  Things go from bad to downright awful when Tom's wife suddenly goes into labor while they're on a deserted road.  She manages to birth the child but falls victim to terrible complications.  Tom then makes the heart-rending decision to leave the child behind, reasoning that it would suffer less misery freezing to death versus slow, lingering starvation.

They don't get very far before Tom has a change of heart and rushes back to retrieve the baby but he's horrified to discover that the child has vanished.  Fearing that the baby has been carried off by wolves, Tom guides the remnants of his shattered family away from the tragic scene.    

Are we having fun yet, kids?

Yeah, so I should point out the obvious right now: Ken Follett is a sadistic bastard.  I know all good, propulsive stories need to craft likable characters and then put them into peril to retain our interest, but Follett really goes to hell with the joke here.  When an author shows the reader such abject brutality in the early goings of a book, we begin to fear that we're being led down a dark path by a lunatic.  You could call it cheap but daring film-makers like Stanley Kubrick have certainly used this tactic in films such as Clockwork Orange.  It's kind of a cheap ploy but it keeps all eyes front and center, and in this case, keeps those pages a-flippin'.    

Follett's willingness to cheerfully depict the worst elements of the human experience is really driven home in the personage of Percy Hamleigh's even more repugnant son William.  We see him lusting over Aliena, the beautiful, young daughter of a rival family.  After his duplicitous parents usurp the holdings of Aliena's honorable father, William ends up taking her by force.  Through an almost endless parade of reprehensible actions, William ends up making Tim Roth's character in Rob Roy look like Pat Boone.

In fact, it takes quite some time for the hope-stingy Follett to turn on the spigot for a dribble of promise.  Tom eventually meets a mysterious witch in the woods named Ellen and her savant-like son Jack who take pity on them and guide them through the wilderness.  Tom is instantly smitten by the exotic lass and they soon begin a torrid affair despite the fact that rigor has yet to set into his dead wife's body.  Eeeeeesh.   

Thanks to the timely sponsorship of the charitable Prior Philip (and the pyromaniacal intervention of Jack), Tom finally gets a contract working on the proposed Kingsbridge cathedral.  The balance of the book then deals with the trials, tribulations and all-around strife that results from the building of the cathedral as well as how the lives of all the aforementioned characters (and a slew of others) intertwine.

Most of the conflict comes from the political wrangling that the cathedral's announcement, construction and completion inspires in rival interests.  The fact that it's being built by people without a shred of ruthless ambition seems to infuriate the book's many antagonists, including Philip's rival, the Machiavellian priest Waleran Bigod.  When the unlikely alliance between Bigod and William Hamleigh is forged readers sense that no good can possibly come of it.          

The characters aren't particularly complicated but they are clearly defined by their actions.  They're either GOOD or EVIL and there's no room here for shades of gray.  Frankly, this is a bit disappointing, particularly in the way William Hamleigh is depicted.  He's a sexual predator, a sadist, a borderline pedophile, a despot, a pervert, a coward, and a rank idiot.   And those are his good qualities.      

Frankly, if someone as cynical as me can still maintain that the worst rat bastard on the planet has at least a few redeeming qualities, I consider characterizations like this to be downright weak.  I hate it when fictional characters do bad things just because they're so darned EVIL.  William is so one-dimensional as a villain even Follett's own characters call him out, such as when Aliena observes: "He was so evil it was hard to believe".  Indeed.

If Follett had just bothered to give the creep just a few flourishes of humanity, he could have been a successful, living, breathing creation instead of what he is: a professional literary foil.  For example: he could have been reasonably charitable to his own peasant population if only for his own political longevity and monetary gain.  But, nooooo, when a famine hits he lets them starve and suffer en masse, randomly murders them and abducts their women.

Regardless of his unchecked power, I find it impossible to believe that someone so morally and mentally bankrupt could survive very long without getting a knife in his back or chowing down on a poisoned hambone.   After all, evil doesn't mean stupid.  It's almost as if Follett is frightened that we won't despise him if he's depicted doing a single good or sensible thing.

In fact, this attitude also infects the more promising foil of Alfred Builder, Tom's eldest son.  He works a bit better as an antagonist, if only because we get a chance to see a few sympathetic sides to him as a child.  Nevertheless, when Follett needs him to start piling on the nasty he de-evolves into the same sort of unconscionable ogre that William is.

Which brings me to another point of complaint: I'm sure that there was plenty of sexual victimization of women in the Middle Ages but I hate it when writers indiscriminately use this sort of thing as a shortcut.  In my humble opinion, it's extremely lazy.  It's almost as if the writers says "Okay, how can I get readers to instantly despise this male character and sympathize with this female character? Hmmmm, I know...I'll have the male character violently rape the female character in graphic detail!  Perfect!"    

No, not perfect.  It's insulting to men and degrading to women.  I'm not saying that scenes like this should never by depicted but the cavalier way it's thrown around in Pillars kinda pissed me off.

For all the book's abject cruelty, broad stroke characterizations and the dense presentation, Follett is still a very capable writer.  His clean, clear, succinct style is conducive to plowing through reams of the book in one sitting and readers can easily pick up the thread if it's put down for a spell.

My only real gripe is the way in which he artificially pads the story.  Follett is obsessed with creating a constant stream of brush fires for the characters to put out.  Most of these spring organically out of the story but quite a few seem to come out of left field.  Instead of being a natural extension of the narrative, quite a few of these complications seem to exist solely to exhibit just how just clever or devious his characters are, and subsequently, just how sharp the author is.

Here's the pattern: the antagonists cook up some sort of evil and artificially generated impediment for the heroes.  The protagonists debate the merits (either internally or amongst themselves) of several possible solutions but end up picking the most obvious option.  The villains nullify this with a counter move.  Our heroes come back with one of the less likely solves (or one that just miraculously materializes out of left field) and they temporarily win the point.  Then another wrinkle surfaces in the same old scenario somewhere down the road making it appear as if the good guys are still no further ahead.  Repeat ad nauseum.  Aleina's back and forth battle for economic independence is a prime example of this.

At just over eight-hundred pages you can imagine how this constant emotional roller coaster will occasionally leave readers shouting "Oh, come on, now!" in response to the latest amber alert.  Say what you want about this, it certainly keep you reading on.  Personally I could have done without all the stone cutting and engineering details but I also recognize that this generates realism and trots out evidence that Follett is well researched.  Plus I'm sure there's a whole contingent of readers out there that find such divergences fascinating.  I'm just not one of them.

Although the gratuitous descriptions of masonry might get threadbare after awhile, Follett is generally quite adept with evocative description.  Whether he's depicting a busy medieval market, refugees packed into castle's great hall, or a pitched battle between two massive opposing forces, his descriptions are economic, evocative and appropriately grungy.  Of particular note is the author's frank and sometimes blush-inspiring description of sexual encounters.  If anything it certainly shows that Follett's did his homework regarding the sexual mores of medieval women.  They weren't the chaste, virginal, hapless maids that the puritanical Victorian would have us believe.  In other words: beware prudes, there's a fair amount of consensual and non-consensual humpage going on in this book.  

So beyond my ample harvest of nits I have to admit that this story is actually pretty, um, epic.  We see the tale develop slowly over several generations, and frankly, considering just how long it took to build one of these architectural marvels, it really couldn't be any other way.  Clues and story tidbits planted at the beginning of the book (including Tom's abandoned child and a seemingly disconnected prologue) actually pay off in the end.

People also bitch about the contemporary and informal way in which the characters speak.  I can tell you right now: if all the characters were running around speaking like Thor in a Marvel comic book, this book would have been an unmitigated disaster.  Follett wisely has his characters talk to one another in a modern interpretation of their parlance. That's not to say that they all sound the same; it's quite the opposite.  Frankly as long as the characters have distinct voices I really don't need them talking to one another in Middle English.

Follett has also done just enough research to allow his tale to dovetail nicely with the historic mise-en-scene.  Although Kingsbridge is a tragically fictional setting, the way the story is influenced by real historic events makes up for it considerably.  Encounters with King Stephen, Henry the First and Thomas Becket are all expertly woven into the plot.  Also, the entire novel is rife with authentic minutia of day to day life in the Middle Ages, especially where it concerns the dark motivations of certain elements of the clergy and the ruling class.

Although I may bellyache about the incessant, almost humorous, parade of disasters the characters must deal with in drive the story forward, many of them are not only warranted but they're downright riveting.      
For example, it's not enough for Follett to deny the builders of Kingsbridge cathedral access to construction materials, they actually have their quarry taken away from them by force, which, in turn, inspires an equally daring liberation.

And this is ultimately why Pillars of the Earth is a successful read.  It's propulsive, it gives us likable protagonists who we went to see prosper, and villains that are fun to boo and hiss.  It's also not afraid to go medieval on the character's collective asses (pun intended) and subject them to the most gut-wrenching peril imaginable.

Despite all the cruelty on display in the book, the overall theme (as far as I can gather if there is one at all) is that even if your charitable deeds and moral stances go unnoticed at first, eventually the big karmic wheel of good fortune will spin in your favor.  Hold on to those convictions because eventually it'll pay out dividends and punish those who seek to poison the world with avarice and pain.

Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, it makes all the seemingly irrational misery and labor spent on constructing the Kingsbridge cathedral justified in some way.  And that is strangely comforting somehow.      

out of five.  Tilt: up.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Concert Review: Glasvegas and Magneta Lane at Lee's Palace by David Pretty

MAY 29, 2011          GLASVEGAS WITH MAGNETA LANE          LEE'S PALACE         

Greetings, Seekers of Sonic Soundscapes.

When our presence was commanded by a friend who recently relocated to Toronto, naturally one the first things we did was check the local listings to see what bands of interest might be playing.  We were delighted to see that Glasvegas would be making an appearance at the venerable Lee's Palace on Bloor Street, just a stone's throw away from that other Scott Pilgrim shrine, Honest Ed's.

We were also a bit leery about the show, since the band is now touring in support of their new album Euphoric ///Heartbreak\\\ which we'd only barely had a chance to listen to.  At first spin, the album seems to have jettisoned the band's precious Clash-meets-50's-jukebox-melancholia in lieu of what I can only describe as synthetic sounding 80's-era funereal dirges.  At first impression, anyway. 

In fact the new material is so jarring that a friend of mine is convinced that the band is suddenly a bunch of "no-talent ass clowns" and has since created an "I Hate Glasvegas" Facebook page which he bade me to join in no uncertain terms.

Although the band had no way to know it, there was a lot riding on their performance that night for me.  It was sure to sway this cowboy's opinion of them one way or another.

We took the subway down to the Bathurst station, knocked down a slice at Pizzaiolo and then hopped in the growing queue in front of the multi-colored edifice of Lee's Palace.

Once inside we were both stunned by just how small the venue seemed to be.  We snagged a few Steam Whistle beers from an appropriately surly bartender ("Hey!  Whaddaya want?  Don't line up, it's a fucking BAR!") perched on some stools just a few meters away from the stage and waited in anticipation for the opening act.

While we were sitting pretty I overheard a couple of people bragging about how they'd seen such luminaries as Radiohead and Oasis in that same hallowed space and I couldn't help but feel a sharp pang of jealousy.  I was giddy thinking about how amazing it must have been to see such tremendous acts in so intimate a space.

The place was nearly filled to capacity when Magneta Lane took to the stage.  First off, thank you Toronto for having the courtesy to show up for the opening act.  Between Magneta Lane and Imaginary Cities I'm having some inordinately good luck discovering these stellar opening acts.

After strapping on (or being strapped into) their instruments these three deceptively young and innocent- looking ladies proceeded to systematically melt our faces off with a battery of hard-edged musical mastery that had everyone hooting and/or hollering.  I love it when three unassuming young women come out on stage, heft up their tools of trade and then proceed to grab the audience in a sonic choke-hold.  Here's a l'il sampler:

Pretty cool, huh?

Lead singer Lexi Valentine (Pretty cool, huh?) used her alternately lush and dreamy voice to good effect, contrasting nicely with the band's overall hard edge.  Her gutsy vocal stylings were evocative of Tanya Donelly, beloved lead singer of Belly and Throwing Muses.  The unremitting fuzz, distortion and reverb of her guitar assault actually dovetailed quite nicely with the SARS-like contagious melodies showcased by the band's tunes.

Mono-monikered bassist French (Pretty cool, huh?), looking like the love child of Gwyneth Paltrow and Soundgarden bassist Ben Sheppard, galloped through each song with angry, buzzing bass lines.  Looking spectacularly non-committal and decidedly indie throughout most of the performance, Ms. French impressed with her cool detachment, blowing the audience away from the comfortable perch of her pedestal/stage.
Of particular note is drummer/human metronome Nadia King.  I'd hate to be a bass drum anywhere within five-hundred feet of this girl, since she beat that thing like it owed her money.  If the earnest efforts of her two bandmates didn't already request the attention of the audience Nadia's performance demanded it.  Her attack on the drum kit often came in the form of thunder-clap-like double-strikes which had you reaching for a nitroglycerin tablet.     

So impressed was I by their efforts that I had to purchase their CD during the break.  I've since had the chance to give it a spin and it's a well-paced album, betraying some formative lyrics and starting out kinda twinkly in comparison to their immediate raw stage showing.  The album culminates nicely, however, with "Lady Bones", "Queen of Hearts" and "All the Red Feelings".  Highly recommended.

During the break Glasvegas lead guitarist Rab Allan and bassist Paul Donoghue came out to wow the gals manning the merch table while a nearby fan asked me to take a photo of her posing with French from Magneta Lane.  Jeez, these bands are downright mingly!

Glasvegas took to the stage under the building strains of the French (no, not that French) spoken word piece "Pain Pain, Never Again".  The looping, increasingly truncated message folded into a chorus of rising keyboards and cheers as the band emerged onto the darkened stage, illuminated only by lead singer James Allen's trademark fiber-optic microphone cord.

They segued without further ado into "The World is Yours" and the air was soon laden with Allan's heavy molten brogue.  Attired all in white and sporting dark sunglasses, acid-washed jeans, a substantial pompadour and a Andy-Warhol approved, locally-sourced banana belt buckle, Allen looked part 50's greaser, part Joe Strummer and part 80's ponce.

Allen (as well as the audience) seemed a bit tentative at first but he quickly found his comfort zone.  Say what you want, but this boy's got pipes he's clearly in his element mid-croon.  Guitarist/sibling Rab Allan cut some mean grooves in accompaniment, strumming out some frantic chordage and nattering away during the verses.  The energy and passion was immediately self-evident and this quickly colored the audience's appraisal of the band.

The stage plunged onto darkness again leaving James's microphone and cord dancing in mid-air like a long tailed spermatozoa.  When the lights came up again it was to the tune of "You", a rollicking song which saw the lead singer's vocals climb to dizzying heights, raising the hackles on more then one spine.

Once again the band was able to translate the relatively beak and spare canvas of the original studio recording into live audio dynamite.  This was particularly notable in the way new drummer Jonna Löfgren (looking like a reserve member of The Hives in her black suit, tie, dark glasses and wind-blown hair) punched up her delivery with a vicious pummeling of the stand-up drum kit.        

For a band traditionally accused of shoe-gazing these guys were actually pretty dynamic to watch.  When James wasn't mummifying himself in his mike cord or arching his spine to deliver a punishing note, he was crouching cat-like or taking a brief on-stage siesta during "It's My Own Cheating Heart", which kept all eyes front and center.

The familiar arraignment of "Cheating Heart" resulted in temporary mass hysteria as well as a spontaneous group singalong.  The electricity between the band and its adoring onlookers continued to build especially in the wake of Rab Allan's chill-inducing guitar scales.

"Shine Like Stars" marked a return to the synthier sound of the new album but mercifully the live translation was a lot more spare, immediate and in yo' face.

After thanking the city of Toronto for it's unflagging support, the band launched into "Whatever Hurts You Through The Night".  Once again this interpretation stripped away the dirge of studio overproduction and gave stalwart bassist Paul Donaghue a chance to perform double duty with bone rattling guttural base notes and some keyboard tinkering as well.  In many ways, this track feels like a B-side for their first album since it's well in step with the retro 50's sensibilities that characterized their debut.       

Midway through the song James took a moment to do an impromptu interview with front row audience member "Josh".  Between the vocalist's nearly indecipherable Scottish accent and Josh's dazed Stockholm Syndrome-style replies the stilted parley results in building-wide hysterics.  The band then crashed through the rest of the song to considerable fanfare.

"Lonesome Swan" saw the band set a new benchmark for itself.  Jonna Löfgren took the opportunity to whale the bejesus out of her drum kit again, rattling teeth and causing an outbreak of stomping and clapping in the process.

"Euphoria, Take my Hand" gave Löfgren yet another chance to shine, propelling an already dynamic tune into a hand-clapping, rollicking good time for the masses.  In fact, on the band's signature track "Geraldine" which followed, it could be argued that she gave a bit too much mustard, almost threatening to leave her band mates behind in a cloud of tempo-dust.  I'm pretty sure you can see guitarist Rab Allan pop back to her kit towards the middle of the song and implore her to mind her speed.  Throughout it all, the audience was blissfully oblivious.

Fucking fantastic.

In the rockin' wake of its predecessors, "Ice Cream Van", perhaps the most somber track on their debut album, was actually kicked up a notch.   "Go Square Go", which I always chalked up as a no-brainer show opener, also makes for a a very effective show closer as it turn out.  Most of the lyrics were shouted back to the band by the audience as they pogo-ed around in their St.Vitus-style sonic rapture.

Stirred up like angry hornets, the crowd stomped, clapped, chanted and screamed until their patrons returned to the stage for an obligatory encore.  As if in contrast to the upscale interpretation of "Ice Cream Van", the band opted to strip down the normally boisterous "Flowers and Football Tops" to a mere shadow of its former self.  If anything, it certainly gave James Allan a chance to wow the audience with another stellar vocal performance.

This version of the song was likely just a thinly-veiled extended break for the band allowing them to deliver an incredible finale.  This included a punishing version of "S.A.D. Light" which built from it's slow burn into a ballistic concussive battery.  This attitude carried over into a lively rendition of "Lots Sometimes".  Although the original studio track drum line sounds vaguely like a keyboard country beat stuck on "DEMO", Jonna Löfgren managed to pack her live performance with dazzling rolls, fills and a bombastic flourish which left everyone within earshot slack-jawed in amazement.

Although you could make a compelling case for "Geraldine" as an obvious closer, "Daddy's Gone" was more then a suitable substitute.  Even more so, I suppose, given the song's tremendous build-up as well as its sing-along potential.  The gathered were more more then happy to oblige and by the time the band played it's last notes, holstered their instruments and bade farewell to the adoring crowd you got a sence that both band and audience were happily sated.

Congratulations, guys, you did it.  Henceforth, my faith in you is now officially unwavering.

Now, excuse me, I gotta go set up my "I Love Glasvegas" Facebook page.  

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