The Bicycles are the perfect band to see at Park Slope club Union Hall. The Toronto quintet’s kitschy cute shtick — all members wear blue shirts with giant B’s on them (hello, Sufjan!), there is choreographed tambourine-ing, trumpets, and twee effects — seemed custom made for the club’s downstairs performances space that resembles a reading room in a stately mansion.
It was an all Canadian evening brought to us by Mint Records, and even if only half the bands playing were actually on the label. The Bicycles are not — they’re on Fuzzy Logic Recordings — but the bubblegum melodies and nods to ’60s pop found on their debut, The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly, is what got me out to Park Slope. To go there is to dedicate the evening.
Luckily, Union Hall is a real one-stop-shop sort of place. Good beer selection? Check. Menu that includes mini burgers and duck confit sandwiches? Check. Indoor bocce ball courts? Check. Good roster of bands? Check, check.
There were other bands in the city I was interested in seeing, but I really needed to get previous night’s bad taste of Canada (the band, from Michigan) out of my mouth. And the only way to do that was hearing actual Canadians.
The Bicycles were a whole lot of fun, though I could understand if you didn’t like them. While the whole band gets turns on the mike, main wheel Matt Beckett has a voice that not everyone may like, aggressively fey, not unlike Michael Quercio of Paisley Underground favorites The Three O’Clock. (There’s an obscure reference.) But when they sang together (often), it was no problem at all and the band had enough charm to outdistance any shortcomings. If The Bicycles had played in Manhattan (and more than once) you would probably be hearing more about them than you are.
The best band I’d never heard of before were Novillero, one of two Winipeg bands on the bill. Veterans of previous other bands (they’re all well into their ’30s), Novillero play straight-up rock with a strong ’70s influence. (If you had to go for a modern comparison, Spoon or Sloan would work, but it’s not really the same.) It’s nice to see a band so in command of their instruments, having a good time, not trying to conform to any scene. I left humming several songs, all found on their new CD, Aim Right for the Holes in their Lives, which I bought at the end of the night.
The other two bands couldn’t quite compete but were nonetheless good. The Awkward Stage is the creation of Shane Nelken, who is well-known in the Canadian indie scene as a reliable hired-gun, having toured with AC Newman and many other groups from Way Up There. Their debut, Heaven is for Easy Girls, bristles with power pop energy. I kept thinking of Cheap Trick, but maybe that was just because Nelken wore a white shirt and tie.
Sparrow is Jason Zumpano’s new band. Those who have been around long enough may remember his early-’90s eponymously-named band that had two records on Sub Pop and also featured Carl Newman. Sparrow is a more chamber pop affair, with a string section and hushed vocals. Perhaps hearing the album will turn me around, but it was a bit hard to stay engaged after a very long day.
Having mentioned him twice already, I should add that Carl Newman (who I think lives in NYC now?) was in the house, playing iTunes DJ and doing a great job of it. How can you not love a set that included Dolly Parton’s "Here You Come Again" and 10CC’s "Dreadlock Holiday"?
Having rushed from jury duty home just long enough to grab a shower before racing to Union Hall to make the Bicycles 8PM set time, I was glad that Union Hall had food. But I wasn’t very impressed with their trio of mini-burgers, each with a different topping. "Angus Sirloin" it may have been but the burgers looked premade and lacked seasoning. Only the one with sauteed jalapenos had any tang or bite. I guess I shoulda got the duck.