NOW Magazine: Best in Show

by Brent Raynor | originally published at NOW Magazine

I wouldn’t have thought a Saturday night at the El Mo would be the way to get me into the holiday spirit. But nicely decked out with a Christmas tree and festive decorations, the normally sparse interior of this famed club now has unexpected warmth. Guests of honour the Golden Dogs have been creating a healthy buzz in T.O. for a while, so it was no surprise that by time they took the stage just after midnight the place was near capacity and primed for the Dogs’ quirky pop.

To say they’ve grasped the concept of image is an understatement. Spotlights, dry ice, a huge white inflatable balloon and a truly hilarious shadow puppet show along with crazy dancing signalled the crowd that it was time to make their way to the stage.

Impeccably dressed and with a confident swagger, the Golden Dogs started at 10 on the energy meter and kept it stuck there for most of the night. Believing in themselves is clearly a problem these five do not have. Their promo poster declares them “the most vibrating, gyrating, intoxicating, invigorating…” and, well, at least five other things that the Golden Dogs definitely are.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Dave Azzolini belts out the vocals with an alarmingly guttural force that leaves you half expecting blood to spray out of his mouth. When he’s not at the mike, his feverish calisthenics could make even Richard Simmons blush. He’s the embodiment of rawk star, and looks almost out of place alongside his bookish cohorts, who bop to the beat while dishing out Swiss-precision riffs.

Comparisons to Wilco, XTC and the Pixies suit them just fine, yet, fortunately, they’ve found a fresh, original sound of their own. Besides, Jeff Tweedy is too busy trying to break your heart to come up with a stage persona like Azzolini, who’s closer in spirit onstage to Little Richard than either Andy Partridge or Black Francis.

While the Golden Dogs played a raucous set that had the crowd whistling and cheering, openers Showroom made it a double victory. Like the Dogs, their sound is indebted to 80s and 90s alt-pop. Any band that can get the groove and feel of the Talking Head’s “Psycho Killer” down cold is doing something right. Shit, even a cover of the Smiths’ “This Charming Man” worked wondrously well, exhibiting a magic that Marr and Morrissey have long since lost.

Also on the bill were the Bicycles, who were overshadowed by both bands that followed. While they seem to have more chutzpah than talent at this point, you can’t help but like a band that delivers every song in a high-pitched childlike chortle while incorporating synchronized hand-claps as their signature sound.

A fun night with lots of energy and great tunes.