Perhaps the most telling aspect of Bonne Aparte’s performance at the Cake Shop was what happened afterwards. Through a doorway that leads into the venue’s crowded backstage area, the band’s bodies draped themselves over cluttered shelves, panting as they poured water over their sweat drenched heads—as if they had just brought themselves to the brink of death and pulled back at the last minute. Technical excellence was not their forte, but it almost didn’t seem as if there was room for it. The four-piece roared through the Cake Shop’s basement with unabashed gusto, fueled by machine gun drums and belching distortion as they passed. What was left was a shell of a band, seemingly waiting for everybody else to catch up.
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Romweber’s approximately rockabilly set alternated through solo drunken-songwriter segments—nonchalantly strummed on a retro black guitar, quite possibly modeled after one of Dali’s melting clocks—and duo performances with a drummer. Unaccompanied, he had a vaguely Elvisian swagger which was tolerable, if a little long winded—and in any case, that’s arguably a necessary evil; how else does one learn how to write good roots-rock tunes? This may seem unlikely being that he’s the titular figurehead, but things only took off once his slight elder sister Sara took to the skins. Romweber likes real distortion, the kind that comes from a complaining amp instead of a piddling little orange pedal, but even that can be trumped by the chaotic glitter of manic cymbals reflecting every which way. It’s like Meg White syndrome, but more competent. Is that an oxymoron?
Singer Ebony Bones, nee Ebony Thomas, and her backup singers seemed to arrive on a direct flight from Bedrock per their Flintstones-esque outfits and oversized Wilma Flinstone necklaces. They even used empty beer bottles as percussion instruments in their opening number. In fact, everything about her and her supporting cast suggested ostentatiousness and exaggeration. Her guitarist wore some type of Indian headdress and no shirt while one of the keyboard players dressed for a masquerade ball while sporting his own oversized chain. But in trying to prove herself larger than life, Bones’ music quickly became caught up in that same fictional existence, unable to relate on an emotional level and instead serving as yet another animated dance-punk beat to get down to.
Her shtick also meant playing ringmaster to her personal circus, which involved yelling, “Make some noise New York!” every two minutes and making every instructed dance move (“move to your left…right…”) seem revolutionary.
The backing band was tight, however, allowing her to control the throttle with relative ease, quickly sending the band into its next frenzy each time. Most of the songs had some sassy theme, like “I’m Your Future Ex-Wife”, “Love & Boredom”, and “Don’tFartOnMyHeart”. But with all the gimmicks added on, it still couldn’t disguise her and her backup singers’ frail and dissonant live singing.
If No Age had Canadian cousins they would be The Carps. The Toronto-based duo had distortion and rhythm flowing through their veins, coaxing the audience for more energy and more applause with each song. Still, the Carps were clearly the loudest in the room, Jahmal Tonge pummeling his drum kit with Neil White jumping throughout the rest of the stage with his arresting yet fluid bass.
The No Age comparison mostly ends at emotion, the decibel level, and number of members. Otherwise, The Carps are on their own. Singing soulful R&B-like melodies over underlying churning bass and bludgeoned drums, Tonge seemed to exert as much control over the group and its resulting sound as did White—an unusual thing in any band of any size. In “Compton to Scarboro”, both staged, while playing their respective instruments, a dramatic reenactment of a convenience store robbery gone awry, with White tragically falling to the stage in death. Most surprising was that the audience couldn’t keep up with The Carps’ perpetual energy and rhythm. They seemed genuinely tired. But the insatiable beat was the group’s inertia, powering them through their set like a deafening locomotive, full speed ahead, only partly slowing down to point out the sights along the way.
There’s something to be said about spending over 20 minutes to set up a set of flashing L.E.D. lights for a five-song set, one that was squeezed into an already tight lineup at that. Some artists, however, rely more heavily than others on a well-crafted image and persona to present their music and themselves. The two are, in fact, symbiotic. Thus it was appropriate that Cory Nitta, producer and vocalist, had possibly the most contrived outfit imaginable while still trying to pass for exactly that: An outfit, not a costume. All spandex and Mickey & Minnie tees aside, his music matched the already contrived tone set forth by being pretty much entirely pre-recorded. Just hit play.
Adding a live drummer and guitarist to enhance his electro-pop sound was a good move. The drummer was relatively in sync with Nitta’s post-programming execution, and the guitarist’s Cornflake-crunchy distortion added a much-needed tactile layer to the sound. A backup singer also flanked Nitta onstage, but looked noticeably out of place, as if his friend had signed him up for a talent show performance he did not entirely condone. Nitta himself was the eccentric stage-personality needed to match his eccentric image and sound. He jumped all over the tiny stage, pulled at his face and was constantly immersed in flashbulbs while singing “Hey Alligator”, among other songs. All this energy led to an anticlimactic end when he realized he had already performed his last song. I guess everything wasn’t programmed ahead of time.