There are bands who sound best on record and bands who sound best live. Listening to the Golden Dogs’ sophomore effort, Big Eye Little Eye,, you can’t help but think the Toronto quintet is one of the ones who sound best live. Now, that’s not meant as a slight against the record. In fact, if anything, it’s meant as a compliment to the band as a whole. They’ve made their name in their home and native land thanks to the sweat-fueled pop music rampages they call live shows—and even with the release of this very same record north of the border last year, it seems that it’s still those live shows that everyone wants to talk about when they talk about the Golden Dogs.
Now, we all know that plenty of bands have tried to capture that kind of live energy on record before—and failed miserably. Playing a show and recording an album are practically two entirely different art forms, arguably as different as, say, theatre and film. Just because you know how to put on a great show is no guarantee that you’ll be able to translate those same songs onto disc—and it makes for the greatest challenge Big Eye Little Eye faces. So it’s not surprising that the album’s best tracks are the ones that most successfully accomplish that feat. Lucky for us, for most of the record’s forty-minute running time, the songs come fast and furious.
One song after the other has a tight but gritty feel that has the Golden Dogs sounding as if they could have been recorded right off the stage of one of the dimly lit Toronto bars where they have cut their teeth. The fourth track, “Saints at the Gates”, leads the charge. It’s a dark, raunchy take on the ubiquitous spiritual “When the Saints Go Marching In”, reworked to make it an original tune about the joys of, you guessed it, playing live. The heavy stomp of Taylor Knox’s drums mix with salon-style piano and distorted guitars. Horns wail in the distance. A crunchy bass drives things forward and Dave Azzolini’s vocal leads a full-out sing-a-long chorus for the catchy refrain. Without ever even having seen the band live, you can tell that it’s the kind of song that would tear the roof off any downtown bar in any city on the continent. A few songs later, they’re back at it with a rollicking cover of the Wings b-side “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five”.
Because of how well those, their rawest tracks, go, the songs on Big Eye Little Eye that try for a more polished sound are mildly disappointing. On tunes like “Run Outta Luck”, the Dogs trade in the guttural thump of Knox’s drums for a more electronic sounding beat. The results aren’t bad by any means, but they aren’t nearly as fresh as the rest of the record—a few steps closer to the derivatively bland dance-rock fare you can hear coming from a hundred different bands these days.
It all combines to create the impression of a band which still has some room to grow on record, but must undoubtedly already has an incredible live show. Even if you haven’t seen them in person before—and I have to admit that I haven’t either, though I’ll now be sure to the next chance I get—you can tell just listening to songs like “Saints At the Gates” or “Construction Worker” that the Golden Dogs are sure to be a sight worth seeing. If you’re a fan of raucous, raunchy indie rock records, then Big Eye Little Eye is the album for you. If not, keep your eye on your local club listings; if this album is any indication, their live show is something that no one would want to miss.
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