Polvo / Versus / Soft Copy Lee's Palace, Toronto ON August 13

Polvo / Versus / Soft CopyLee's Palace, Toronto ON August 13
Few Toronto acts were as well suited to open this bout of '90s alt-rock resurgence as Soft Copy. Short and lean, their songs are built on the strength of Andrew McAllister's oddly tuned guitar and catchy vocals, his playing anchored in the Sonic Youth school of dissonance and tempered by a knack for unearthing moments of shimmering beauty. Despite a tight rhythm section, rarely do the band stray from walloping 4/4 time. Likewise, there was little variance in dynamic range or tempo in the songs included in their opening set. The audience was enthusiastic without fully losing their shit, and Soft Copy were clearly stoked to be playing with two of their influences.

Returning to Toronto after a lengthy hibernation, Versus opened with two beautiful quiet pieces sans drums, establishing the heavy focus on vocals swapping and harmonies with elegant violin accompaniment. Later, the group employed a substitute beat maker, Soft Copy's Paul Boddum, who was tapped to man the skins in the absence of a drummer on new father duties. But you could barely tell that this was Boddum's first waltz with the band, as they broke out a set of sleepy, mid-tempo rock with pleasing Pixies-light harmonies and occasional bursts of rousing edge.

Polvo woke any snoozers immediately, hitting the stage in towering form. Introductory jamming slowly morphed into "Fast Canoe," the opening track of their seminal 1996 album Exploded Drawing. The sound balance was fantastic, save slightly buried vocals, which works fine for a group who put much greater emphasis on instrumentation and bizarre song structure.

In a move of respect for their audience, Polvo played the closest thing to a greatest-hits show they could, drawing on fan favourites from the mid-'90s apex of their career and highlights from 2008's reunion album In Prism. Most tracks were padded by extended intros, displaying the group's jaw-dropping musical prowess and obvious joy of pushing rock boundaries. By the time ferocious standout "Beggar's Bowl" ended, minds were clearly being blown.

Drummer Brian Quast absolutely killed the newer material he was involved in and enhanced the hell out of classics like "Feather of Forgiveness" and "Bat Radar," which the band dished out after an aborted attempt to play the gorgeous guitar ballad "My Kimono" from '93's Today's Active Lifestyles.

Following an hour of unrelenting, hard-rocking creative precision, Polvo treated the thrilled crowd to a dynamic two-song encore. It's great to have Polvo back, especially in an age where grit and complexity are seldom joined in such experimental virtuosic fashion.