Treble Charger guitarist

Bumpkins for Bumpkins

Treble Charger
with Transistor Sound & Lighting Co. and Cool Blue Halo
The Starfish Room
Vancouver, B.C.
Saturday, June 21, 1997

Review by Darren Gawle
Photography by Todd Duncan

The advertising said the show was to start at 10. The tickets said the show was to start at 10. So why, if it's 10 minutes after 10, are Halifax's Cool Blue Halo finishing the last chorus of "Spark-O-Matik," thanking the audience and announcing that Winnipeg's Transistor Sound & Lighting Co. are up next? The show was moved ahead an hour, that's why.

Seems that Treble Charger's A&R people (apparently) invited some A&R people up from Seattle to see the band and still get home in time for their beauty sleep. And what would it matter to music biz folks from Toronto (the center of the known universe and the place where the sun shines out of Moses Znaimer's ass, didn't you know?) if a bunch of bumpkins in Vancouver didn't get to see a bunch of bumpkins from Halifax? The market opportunities of Vancouver for Cool Blue Halo pale in comparison to the wide open pastures south of the Peace Arch for Treble Charger.

Transistor... bassist (Word around the audience that did catch Cool Blue Halo is that they weren't anything to write home about, but, having just purchased their Kangaroo CD, I'd like to have formed an opinion firsthand.)

And just when you're considering a repeat performance of the War of 1812 so that we can watch Hogtown burn again, along come Transistor Sound & Lighting Co. At first, you'd consider suing the Transistors for fraudulent advertising, with all of two living room lamps at each side of the stage for "lighting," but then from the gloom comes the sound of Bowery Electric wrestling Pavement for control of Syd Barrett's soul, with Mac McCaughan on vocals. Songs don't last more than a few fleeting minutes, but the electric ones pack in more essence of rock than a hundred Alice-in-Stone-Temple-Offsprings, and the acoustic ones revisit the curious mixture of innocence and menace of the crazy diamond himself, without sounding as crappy. The Transistors also earn extra points for: a) bringing their own soundman to add treats like tremolo on the vocals, and b) playing a 1972 Korg keyboard which looks more like a switchboard. This could be the best thing out of Winnipeg since... er, well, I'll let you know.

Treble Charger bassist Treble Charger, for those of you who don't listen to CFOX, are four young men from Toronto who play (wait for it...) guitar-oriented power-pop. We may need more power-pop bands the way women need men (i.e., the way a fish needs a bicycle, allegedly), but at least Treble Charger raise the standards of the genre somewhat.

This is mostly due to the sublime "Red," a wistful epic which is one of the best Canadian-written songs ever (differing opinions can be sent to the usual address). At least four years old, however, "Red" is still being foisted upon us -- this time by BMG -- as though we didn't "get" it the first time; as a result, the beauty of the song may end up being debased by our over-familiarity with it.

Treble Charger guitarist Not that Treble Charger aren't capable of writing other quality tunes: current single "Friend of Mine" and "Stupid Thing to Say," if not quite as good, at least show that there's more where "Red" came from. And, as their set drags on with an increasing number of older, idiosyncratic indie-rock numbers, you get the impression that Treble Charger's move to a major label may have upped the ante in Greig "Friend of Mine" Nori and Bill "Red" Priddle's quest to mature as songwriters.

But, then again, a move to a major label does entail some serious compromise: Vari-Lights? Remarks Bill: "Jeez it's hot up here... stick around, I'll be serving hot dogs and kebabs in a minute." I seem to recall Daytona getting a blast of shit from a Toronto A&R rep once over their smoke machine and jewel lights; apparently "smoke and mirrors" didn't wash with Toronto's sophisticates, and Daytona was told to save the light show for the "hicks in Saskatoon"... and Vancouver, presumably.

Treble Charger seem poised to really take flight and become one of the few Canadian bands that you won't be embarrassed to admit you like, provided they can resist corporate rock's exhortations for more "attitude." But, then again, what does a bumpkin from Vancouver like me know?

First published in Drop-D Magazine on July 5, 1997

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