Dixie’s Death Pool and friends deliver a night of trippy weirdness at the Rickshaw
Dixie’s Death Pool
At the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday, May 19
The proprietors of the Rickshaw got it right with their latest set of upgrades. Concertgoers who walked into the theatre on Saturday evening found the bulk of the seating area partitioned off with black curtains, transforming the spacious venue into a comparatively intimate, nightclub-sized room. This configuration (which the Rickshaw is now using for smaller shows) meant that lurking in the back was not an option, and onlookers had nowhere to go except for the floor directly in front of the stage.
This was to the advantage of the local acts on this triple-header bill. Although there were never more than a few dozen people in the room at any given time, the cozy surroundings encouraged the early-bird audience to work its way up to the barricade at the front by the time opener Dirty Spells got the show under way.
The seven-piece clearly didn’t coordinate its outfits, as bassist Doug Phillips wore cutoffs and a denim jacket while violinist Emily Punchkickdance had donned an understated classy black ensemble and drummer Bryce MacLean limped on-stage with nothing but crutches and a pair of tight black underwear to conceal his nakedness. Still, their peculiar dress sense didn’t seem to turn off the fans, one of whom was yelling “Awesome!” before they had even finished tuning their instruments.
Dirty Spells sounded every bit as chaotic as it looked, which was by no means a bad thing. The scorching “Manic” paired a blaring saxophone with ominous psych riffs, and “Hangover City” was a charming and unrepentantly poppy garage-rock romp. The group still needs to work on its stage banter, and the gaps between tunes were a little awkward, but the polite crowd broke the silence by yelling comments like “I enjoy your band” and “More of the same, please.” It wasn’t the mosh pit Dirty Spells deserved, but it was doubtless appreciated.
Shortly before Shimmering Stars took the stage, singer-guitarist Rory McClure grabbed the mike and told the soundman, “If you could put as much reverb as possible on the vocal, that would be great.” He got his wish, but the liberally applied effects didn’t remedy the pitch problems in the trio’s shaky three-part harmonies.
The band’s distortion-soaked AM-pop numbers garnered a lukewarm response from those gathered, and only the blog favourite “I’m Gonna Try” seemed to earn the chatty crowd’s attention. McClure certainly didn’t endear himself to followers of the headliner when he said that he was “excited to see Dixie’s Death Pool—whatever the fuck they’re called”. Shimmering Stars’ recordings are strong enough to suggest that the band is worth keeping an eye on, but this wasn’t the group’s night.
Before Dixie’s Death Pool began its set at around a quarter to midnight, the stage lights were flipped off, leaving only the soft glow from the lamps that had been arranged amid the instruments. This created an appropriately moody atmosphere for a performance marked by pattering jazz grooves and oddball avant-folk numbers that morphed into bloopy, freeform washes of ambient sound.
As always, the six-member lineup was led by Lee Hutzulak, who has been the project’s mastermind for more than 20 years. He spent much of his time hunched over the guitar that was laid across his lap, pausing occasionally to coax electronic squiggles from the effects units beside him.
The frontman and his collaborators didn’t offer much in the way of charisma, but they made up for their lack of stage presence with kaleidoscopic visuals that were projected onto the screens at either side of the stage. This added an extra trippy dimension to wonky noise experiments like “Beach Beneath Pavement” and the closing “Sunlight Is Collecting on My Face”. These weren’t quite as invigorating as Dirty Spells’ psychedelic ragers, but they ended the night with a wholly welcome mind-fuck.