Joseph & the Mercurials / Saturns Bite, Toronto, ON, February 15

Joseph & the Mercurials / Saturns Bite, Toronto, ON, February 15
Photo: Shannon T. Boodram
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Toronto's newest punk palace, Bite, almost sets the tone entirely for you: it's retro-pub-styled picnic area surrounded by paintings of half-dead women right off of Sirenum Scopuli had its toque-sporting 20/30-somethings bouncing off the walls before the first kick drum. But apparently the opening act for Joseph and the Mercurials, Saturns, didn't feel it was enough, adding their own Party Packagers-esque strobe-lit skull centre stage as their R2D2-masked drummer thrashed about to a decent set reminiscent of a very early Oasis.

The first time Joseph W. Salusbury hit the stage he was dressed in all-black leathers and instructing the stage hands to remove the gels from all of the lights. The next time he appeared he brought the four Mercurials and revealed a rather dramatic all-white wardrobe change, which, admittedly, was dampened by the sole, bulb-yellow floodlight chosen in favour of coloured ones.

Neil Rankin struck his bass and before it could fill all corners, Salusbury belted the haunting intro of their commercially successful "I Want What I Want" to the crowd's delight. By the second verse, Tanner Helmer, the intensely awesome violinist/ukulele player (yes somehow he managed to stunt-double the former instrument as the ladder throughout the show) joined, and then the place felt 10 times smaller all at once. What came next was an exciting exhibition of musically enriched unreleased materials, hallmarked by the high-energy whistle track "Violent Femmes" and Ian McPhedran's complex drum line in "L/PS."

If it weren't for the Shure 55SH centre stage, perhaps expectations of the sound wouldn't have been so high and therefore it may not have seemed so distractingly bad. And while the '50s blue-eyed new wave charisma could be felt in his presence, Salusbury lacked the approachability in his focused gaze, which rarely diverted from his microphone. All in all, though, it was an intriguing showcase of Salusbury's impressive vocal range and the Mercurials' daring five-piece arrangements. Yes, the set had a couple of chinks but luckily none devoid of rookie charm.