CANADIAN LAW FORBIDS the sale of Aquafresh toothpaste--at least according to Bill Sullivan, proprietor of the 400 Bar. Or at least that's what he said to me two Saturdays ago, when I went down to the West Bank to scout Twitch, the latest contestant in the RPM Band Challenge.
I'm not sure what exactly offends our neighbors to the north about the wondrous dental hygiene products we offer to share with them--something about the chemicals involved in the production of the toothpaste, or maybe the dyes. Don't ask me; I'm no specialist in international relations. In any case, Sullivan says Canadian punks of his acquaintance get off on the tri-colored paste (and who wouldn't?) and used to ask Sullivan and the bands he was touring with to smuggle a few tubes across the border. (An important distinction here: Though it is illegal to sell Aquafresh in Canada, it is apparently not illegal to transport it across the border for personal use, and you will not be stopped at customs. I think. If you get busted, don't blame me.)
A harsh country apparently, that Canada. Of course, there is a trade-off: They may be lacking in multichromatic toothpastes, but they do have socialized medicine. Then again, they also have Celine Dion, who seems dangerous enough to one's enamel that you'd think Canada would be stockpiling all the fluoridated defenses it can amass. But I'm not going to go off on that tangent. No, I am all smiles and back-pats these days. I'm not even going to gripe about the price of beer at the 400. I admit it freely: I've been cranky lately. Friends, enemies, and disinterested strangers alike have all called me on it. No doubt you've noticed it yourselves. Fortunately for Twitch, my sense of humor has thawed over the past week. Amazing what happens when you detect a few extra seconds of daylight at the end of each afternoon.
Anyway, I wasn't at the 400 to chat with Bill Sullivan and his brother Tom. I was there to see Twitch, and let me add that, even if I hadn't learned this Canadian trivia, it would not have been a wasted evening. Twitch frontman Ciaran Daly intrigued me with two fairly clever e-mails. The first missive, sent way back when this Band Challenge thing was just starting, responded to a column in which I foolishly discouraged local musicians from trading their bodies for good reviews, and arrived under the header "City Pages critic squanders opportunity to sleep with Twitch." The second let slip a professed distaste for Kid A and included a heartening, "I even find your slag-off pieces entertaining." Never let it be said that I am averse to sucking up (as long as it's handled tastefully, of course.)
Twitch is a four-piece outfit with Kevin Baltus on guitar, Kara Kendall bowing away at a violin, Erik Siljander pummeling a drum set, and Daly on bass. A lanky lad clad in baggy black with Lennonish features and floppy hair, Daly sings with a slight British accent and possesses an edgy sense of humor that comes off as unduly harsh from the stage. At one point, when Baltus retreated to the back of the stage to change guitars, Daly quipped acidly, "Kevin's a prima donna. He doesn't like to play the same guitar for too long."
"Actually, I broke a string," Baltus shot back in a genial tone.
An able guitarist, Baltus could stand to cut loose a bit--too often, he sticks to the rhythm, which keeps the arrangements sparer than necessary. The results can slip into resembling expert, but still standard, bar-band funk. Sturdy as the band's hooks can be, the group sometimes pushes the songs toward an overreliance on melody alone. Perhaps that's why Kendall hacks away so mightily on the woven sheepgut--aside from the vocals, she's the only trebly sound coming from the stage.
But the best songs here are exceptional. By way of introduction to "Sorry Now," Daly announced that a friend has insisted this number is an Oasis song. Unsurprisingly, "Sorry Now" is also the lead track on Twitch's new self-released album, Maintain Radio Silence. The closest competition comes from "Undertow," whose hook phrase, "It's a lot like being sad, you know," sounds plaintively quizzical. The song's fiddling, meanwhile, has a herky-jerky lurch that recalls Camper Van Beethoven.
Apparently, prior to the arrival of Baltus, Twitch employed a metal-inspired guitarist who shredded sounds all over the place to no particular effect. Or so Tom Sullivan told me. Also according to Tom, they have hardier toilets there in Canada. "You can flush a brick down those things," he insists. You can learn a lot at the 400 Bar.
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