When I walked into The Replay Lounge at 10:15 I was tired, jet-lagged, ill, over-stimulated, alone, and a bit depressed. None of which is particularly conducive to a Friday night at The Replay â€“ a venue infamous for its late shows and youthful, PBR-fueled revelry. And while the tight slog through the packed patio wasn't encouraging, I soon discovered the main room was still somewhat manageable. After scoring a free cranberry juice at the bar, and a seat in booth otherwise occupied by band equipment, my mood began to lighten.
It was 10:36 when openers Rev Gusto took the stage – an exceptionally early start for The Replay. It had been some time since I saw Rev Gusto, though based on the opening gigs the band has scored lately, its stock in the area has continued to rise. While I've long been a fan of the band's pub rock and post-punk troubadour influences (Graham Parker and Nick Lowe seem to be easy comparisons to make), the band's set was far from one-note nostalgia. By incorporating modern indie pop elements, '80s-styled power pop, and even hints of timeless garage (the latter pushing the large, devoted audience toward frenzy), the five-piece was able to create a set that felt more like a well-crafted mixtape than a themed album. Predictably I was more excited by the Joe Jackson-esque moments of pop propelled by the slinking bass work of Sam Frederick. Frontman Jerry Frederick's delivery was particularly sophisticated as he traversed clean, nearly-spoken interludes, raspy rock & roll, and even to a carefully controlled crack when he pushed his limits. New song "Still There" used the first delivery paired with the funky bass to great success. While the performance lacked any grand visuals or particularly memorable banter, the room stayed packed with dancing fans throughout the band's long 50-minute performance.
There was a lengthy pause in the action as the small stage was cleared of one quintet and replaced with another. Although The ACBs are generally only a four-piece, it appears frontman Konnor Ervin has refused to release fill-in guitarist Ross Brown (The Empty Spaces, Fullbloods), despite having sideman Andrew Connor (Ghosty) back in the band. The result was a version of The ACBs that was both fuller and yet somehow more nuanced. Small touches of guitar or keyboards were now possible, granting additional sophistication to pop songs that were already rife with subtle brilliance. Additionally having both Connor and Brown's vocals joining Ervin's and those of bassist Bryan McGuire meant even richer harmonies as well. Of course it wasn't the vocal harmonies that had the crowd (including all the members of the other bands) packed in tightly, dancing, and singing along, but rather the simple buoyant beats of drummer Kyle Rausch and the impossibly trebly falsetto of Ervin. While some fans slowly began to drift away as the clock ticked past Midnight, the band began my favourite numbers such as the spritely "Record Store" and the sexy "Lover Yeah" – both from the band's latest album, 2013's Little Leaves (High Dive Records).
True to The Replay's reputation, the headlining act did not take the stage until nearly 1am. This placed the venue's 1:30 curfew and the evening's raison d'etre (a celebratory release-day performance of the entire new The Dead Girls' CD) at odds. Despite the mathematical impossibilities, vocalist/guitarist Cameron Hawk announced that the band intended stick with the plan, and then steadfastly launched into the album's opening track, "Never Erased." For a moment I was lost in the flailing arms and hair of drummer Eric Melin, mesmerized by the way JoJo Longbottom's tight backing vocals coalesce around Hawks', and sucked in by the ringing bass of Nick Colby. However as the second song started, apprehension began to slip in. Quickly I peeked at the back of the new CD to learn where my favourite songs fell in the running order. The good news: "The Beast Inside" was next. The bad news: two of my favourites ("Scare You" and "Wall of Boxes") were certainly in jeopardy. I selfishly hoped the band would skip directly to these timeless power pop compositions with their classic guitar solos and smart interplay, but the band had other ideas. Ideas like performing the entire middle section of the album, including the songs that demonstrate the band's maturation and growth. Phooey.
Just as the band looked to round the last turn, the soundman brought everyone back to reality with a gentle reminder of the time. With that information and facing the daunting ballad lying ahead (at track nine) the quartet huddled up to devise plan B. This involved cherry picking "I Feel You" (track ten), and then throwing out the rules entirely by skipping the final track, and instead closing with a raucous cover of The Replacement's "Bastards of Young." Longbottom did Slim Dunlop proud by not only nailing the solo, and ending the song in the obligatory explosion of noise, but by drunkenly beginning the song in the wrong key entirely. After Hawk shouted "That's the wrong key!" Longbottom shifted his fingers, smiled and began anew – just the sort of late-night, intoxicated, sloppy abandon that The Replay is known for. And just what I needed to bring me out of my funk.