Vivian Girls / Crystal Antlers The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON May 8

Vivian Girls / Crystal Antlers The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON May 8
Perhaps aware of widespread prejudice against singing bass players (sorry, Geddy Lee), Crystal Antlers' vocalist Johnny Bell infrequently sings, instead usually opting for a visceral yell. During an opening slot at the Horseshoe, the technique served his band's oft-hectic sound well, particularly during a frenetic first half.

A sped up take on "Andrew" saw an oversized rhythm section pounding, hammering mallets on bongos and sweating through a Fugazi T-shirt. Although, Crystal Antlers aren't a post-hardcore band. "Until the Sun Dies Part Two" had a psych-indebted keyboard, exposing the combo's California roots; incidentally, never underestimate the power of a bonus cymbal. However, Antlers faltered slightly as the tempo slowed midway, especially on "A Thousand Eyes," which turned the fiery combo into a bar band with ill-advised Afghan Whigs leanings. Thankfully, by the finale, hyperactivity returned.

Juxtaposed with headliners, Vivian Girls, the Antler's uneven show would seem a tour de force.

Vivian Girls' problems began from the outset as a last-second sound tweak, replete with playful "check, checks," portended problems to come. On disc, the trio's lo-fi approach has an inherent charm, sounding like the Ronettes fed through a Ramones filter and woven with subtle hooks. Although, for this show one of the muddiest mixes in the history of soundboards hampered the outfit's understated, shiny dirt punk.

Despite technical shortcomings, the band managed a few impressive moments. Notably, "Second Date" finally isolated a pretty guitar line. Also, Ali Koehler's stomping drums frequently rose above the fuzz, providing a much-needed sonic focal point. Furthermore, "Wild Eyes" was an enchanting, echo-laden selection and its haunting lyrics profited from the buried guitar.

Still, moments of promise - as well as a stellar debut LP - amplified the set's shortcomings. Ultimately, it was a staid gig that didn't realize its potential.