[20 December 2004]
The Opera House in Toronto might sound like a venue that has upholstered seats, great sightlines, and a cozy atmosphere. Unfortunately, that would only be the case if it was 1919, but the old place still has warmth to it. Although it only holds 500 to 600 people, it’s been the sight of some memorable acts, including the Strokes’ first Toronto gig opening for Doves. Anyway, Mad Caddies decided that this would be the spot for their live album. And the ska punk group led by singer Chuck Robertson spends an hour going through old favorites, new tunes, and a consistent party atmosphere on these 19 tracks, beginning with the instrumental “Intro”. It sets the stage for some fine horns, finer guitar riffs, and a drumbeat that keeps it all together. Thankfully, the crowd isn’t completely erased from the mix, as their hoots and hollers can be heard every so often in the high-octane “Macho Nachos”. The horn section of trumpeter Keith Douglas and Ed Hernandez on trombone adds a good deal of color to the Social Distortion-like tune. With horns!
“How you guys doing? We’re the Mad Caddies, thank you very much for coming out!” Robertson says before launching into “10 West”, a hopping, punchy, ska-tinted tune that brings English Beat to mind if Dave Wakeling occasionally played surf guitar. Another catchy tune is the bizarre, New Orleans ragtime-meets-Celtic punk of “Leavin’”. Here, Mad Caddies start off with a few notes resembling “When the Saints Go Marching In”, but then up the ante with a rollicking rock/ska/punk flavor. “Weird Beard” sounds like Green Day’s tune about self-pleasure by Tre Cool. But Robertson comes off more like a jazzy, lounge-like pirate as he talks about the Jolly Roger. “Contraband” is definitely a rocker, as they let guitarist Sascha Lazor have his way throughout the tune, especially with some strong solo work. But the highlight of the first half has to be “Monkeys”, which Robertson says is an older one. “It’s kinda dumb but it’s a good time!” he says, before the horns pipe in with a ragtime, vaudeville feel. You almost get the idea that if Woody Allen started his career now, Mad Caddies would be in business for the next 40 years doing the score for his opening and closing credits. The tune then goes into a slow, sultry dip as the listener envisions a stripper at a stag party.
One lowpoint is the medley of older songs, with “Days Away” bookending the track. The middle portion features “The Bell Tower” and “Popcorn”, but the medley doesn’t really do much for the album. Coming across more as a breather, the effort isn’t that energetic and sounds ordinary at best. “The Gentleman” gets things going again with an infectious beat and Robertson giving his all while spewing the lyrics out in near record time. Having seen the band live, songs like “Villains” resemble a rendition of the score for The Godfather if done by a punk version of the Muppets. This is quite evident on the great “Last Breath”, which seems to exemplify all the Mad Caddies’ strong suits, despite coming off a bit like No Doubt minus the sex appeal. The crowd sings along for “Mary Melody”, while Robertson does some nifty whistling. He also dedicates the subtle reggae groove-riddled “Drinking for 11” to a pregnant lady who couldn’t make the show.
The homestretch includes the brilliant melding of ska, ragtime, and punk on “Road Rash”, which seems to personify the band’s greatest assets. Ditto for “Silence”, a faster, rambunctious ditty that will have heads bobbing or limbs flailing! Overall, the Mad Caddies show on this album that they make for a fun, if bizarrely entertaining band.