Travellers lost in the wilderness were nursed to safety through our music
March 29, 2007 7:37 AM   Subscribe

We lived a secret life, imagining a world where strange bands would give Canada the bold, expressive sound that it deserved. On the eve of the Rheostatics' final concert in Toronto, Dave Bidini pens a great essay, about where the band came from and how it all went so wrong.
posted by Flashman (30 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Bidini's article was entertaining.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:51 AM on March 29, 2007

I didn't know they were retiring. I saw them at one of their "Green Sprouts" music week at Ultrasound on Queen Street with the opener being some teenage rappers from the west called "Farm Fresh". I even got a bunch of Rheostatics hockey cards. A true Canadian band if there ever was one.
posted by phirleh at 7:57 AM on March 29, 2007

The Rheostatics were ok. I think Dave's hope has been fulfilled - Godspeed You Black Emperor! gave Canada the bold, expressive sound that it deserved.
posted by anthill at 8:02 AM on March 29, 2007

Being independent meant being weird, courageous, loyal and unfortunate. We lived a secret life, imagining a world where strange bands would give Canada the bold, expressive sound that it deserved, rather than copycat singers aping Duran Duran, Beaver Brown, Dire Straits.

Anyone up there ever hear of Rush?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:02 AM on March 29, 2007

phirleh, the Farm Fresh kids are still going... "Cereal for Dinner" is a good track to try out.
posted by anthill at 8:05 AM on March 29, 2007

Damnit! I knew I should have made an effort to see these guys in concert.

Oh well, maybe I'll catch the reunion tour.
posted by Alex404 at 8:06 AM on March 29, 2007

oops, here... mcenroe, Pip Skid, and John Smith at least were in Farm Fresh.
posted by anthill at 8:06 AM on March 29, 2007

It's a nice essay.
posted by chunking express at 8:08 AM on March 29, 2007

I read the whole piece and didn't see anything about "how it all went so wrong." It was basically "we started out in a basement, we had ups and downs, we moved out of the basement and weren't so poor, now it's over, bye!" What am I missing? Is there some secret Canadian code embedded in there that explains why they're quitting?
posted by languagehat at 8:12 AM on March 29, 2007

Thanks anthill, my buddy still has one of their cassettes.
posted by phirleh at 8:13 AM on March 29, 2007

CHRW's London Music Archive has a bunch of indie stuff from the late 70s / early 80s for download, including my personal favorite.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:15 AM on March 29, 2007

If you want more Rheostatics, CBC Radio 3 has a Rheostatics tribute podcast, punning off the album "music inspired by the group of seven".

A strange link between mcenroe's Cereal for Dinner I linked above and the Rheostatics is their song "The Ballad of Wendel Clark", Wendel being known as "Captain Crunch" for his hockey style.
posted by anthill at 8:17 AM on March 29, 2007

I had a blast at the last Rheos show I attended (during the 2004 Fall Nationals at the Horseshoe). It was "Spin the Wheel" night, where they determined the setlist by spinning an enormous prizewheel with song names written on it. The catch was, every third "song" was "tequila!" So the band did a tequila shot every so often, and by the end of the show they were so drunk Tielli toppled over in a heap mid-song--and kept playing. Canadian rock!
posted by Succa at 8:44 AM on March 29, 2007

Anyone up there ever hear of Rush?

Seeing as Neil Peart was behind the drum kit on one of their tracks ("Guns", off of Whale Music), I'd venture that the answer is yes.

The Rheos were one of a rare breed: a truly unique band. I was half-tempted to head up just to Toronto from Chicago to see their farewell show, but it was not to be. I guess I'll just have to listen to all their albums on loop all day tomorrow instead.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:57 AM on March 29, 2007

Anyone up there ever hear of Rush?

Yeah, but we wish we hadn't heard Geddy Lee.


I'm going to have to go dig out my Whale Music cassette now.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:43 AM on March 29, 2007

no, languagehat, don't think there's a secret Canadian code in embedded in there that explains why they're quitting or 'how it all went so wrong' - if there is a code, then I guess I'm not Canuck enough to see it. Quite the rambling article, but I'd expect no less from the guys who had a classic, wonderful song called Record Body Count. I always admired their willingness to chase down their offbeat vision. Rare breed indeed.
posted by rmm at 9:56 AM on March 29, 2007

I don't know these guys so can someone give me an American analog in terms of level of success, niche crowd, etc? I mean, are they The Replacements or are they R.E.M or how would you compare them?
posted by spicynuts at 9:58 AM on March 29, 2007

I mean, are they The Replacements or are they R.E.M or how would you compare them?

If they were like R.E.M. in terms of success, you probably wouldn't need to be asking.
posted by three blind mice at 10:07 AM on March 29, 2007

I mean, are they The Replacements or are they R.E.M or how would you compare them?

Someone said they sounded like the Replacements, but they'd never be the Beatles or Byrds . . . (that's a Rheos lyric . . .)

If you were to triangulate their sound, the three corners would probably be pre-Out of Time REM, Talking Heads, and maybe Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins or some of the poppier Sonic Youth stuff.

I saw them play a soulless danceteria called the Cocamo in Kingston in '94, and it was the only night I ever enjoyed the Cocamo, and I saw them do a transcendent bar-brawlin' epic-in-a-shoebox gig the following year at Clark Hall Pub, the divey engineering students' pub I worked at. I was pretty much a lifelong fan after that.

If you wanted to p2p your way to a primer (which I doubt the Rheos would much mind), I'd suggest seeking out "Record Body Count," "Horses," "Saskatchewan," "King of the Past," "Legal Age Life at Variety Store," maybe "Claire" or "Bad Time To Be Poor," "The Ballad of Wendel Clark" (all you need to know about the maddening poetic futility of the Leaf Nation), and especially their epic, Floydish nine-minute cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," which, if it doesn't render you a little goosebumpy and awed by the whole Canadian Shield majesty of my home and native land, makes you a bit less of a Canadian in my eyes.

Damn. Gettin' a little nostagically teary here. If I was still in the T-Dot, I'd be there tonight. Betcha it's already sold out, though.
posted by gompa at 10:40 AM on March 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and popularity-wise, the Rheostatics had a mid-sized cultish following, and could expect to fill a hall of a couple hundred in a small city and maybe 500 or even 1000 in a large one, and a good portion of the audience would be singing along and calling out song titles.

They (along with the Tragically Hip) were among the vanguard of the first wave of Canadian bands to achieve some success without devolving into what I've always thought of as an "import-substitution" band (e.g. Platinum Blonde = Canada's Duran Duran, Honeymoon Suite = Canadian Bon Jovi, etc.). They toured relentlessly, and they wore their Canuck heart on their sleeve in the way few rock bands had before them, and everyone from New Pornographers to the Arcade Fire owes them at least a small debt of gratitude, as they'd likely readily acknowledge.
posted by gompa at 10:49 AM on March 29, 2007

There's a nice send-off in today's Toronto Star plus another short piece by Bidini.
posted by flipper at 11:31 AM on March 29, 2007

At least the Skydiggers/Cash Brothers are still going strong and still doing their excellent Christmas shoes at the Horseshoe (at least when all the jackasses aren't yelling out "Slow Burning Fire").
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:41 AM on March 29, 2007

Christmas shows...
Christmas shows...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:42 AM on March 29, 2007

Apparently, Dave's never heard of Shotmaker.
posted by saladin at 12:04 PM on March 29, 2007

Canadian music, previously
posted by anthill at 3:34 PM on March 29, 2007

Tielli's guitars pale only to his talent as a performer.

Of all of the very few cd's I've purchased in the last 3 years (counting 4 or 5,) Martin Tielli's Operation Infinite Joy is one of the few I really treasure. How can you argue with a guy that takes Smog's Cold Blooded Old Times and ramps it up to a plateau that Bowie himself wishes he could have achieved. I cannot recommend this album enough.

The thing about the Rheostatics is that they have never been about 'the band'. They have perpetually been about something much bigger and longer lasting than the simple sum of its members. There are a handful of bands that I feel have truly created a legacy; the Rheostatics stand tall with the best masters of the art of music anywhere.
posted by isopraxis at 7:44 PM on March 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Huh. I didn't even know that Don Kerr was in the Rheostatics. I only know him from his work with Ron Sexsmith.
posted by mykescipark at 7:49 PM on March 29, 2007

Martin Tielli has great taste in collaborations... exclusively it seems with shapely singer-songwriters of the female persuasion. He added some of his signature wobbly guitar work to Leslie Feist's excellent, underrated first album, and has lent the same and much more to Selina Martin. This is a superb album too and I recommend you all to send away for it hugely and without reservation.
I only discovered it myself because this was the first song played on Grant Lawrence's second Radio 3 podcast (the stream doesn't seem to be working now buthopefully it's just a temporary glitch).
Dave Clark also plays on it, and he himself made Gordon Downie's first album (magical, probably one of my top ten faves) even more sublime than it might otherwise have been.
Canadian music owes the Rheostatics a huge tuqueful of gratitude.
posted by Flashman at 3:10 AM on March 30, 2007

Oh good it is working now... fuck I love that song
posted by Flashman at 3:19 AM on March 30, 2007

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