The Diodes / Johnny and the G-Rays The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON June 4
Published Jun 06, 2010Serious déjà vu time here. Johnny and the G-Rays opening for the Diodes at the Horseshoe is a bill you might have encountered in 1978. But the fact that, in 2010, they both sounded as good as (or even better than) ever made this a genuinely pleasing concert experience, not some hollow exercise in punk nostalgia.
Both bands have had sporadic reunion gigs in recent years, but for the right reasons. Neither was ever big enough to now grab big bucks by doing it all again, though the fact the Diodes flew here after playing festival gigs in Italy proves their cult following.
Johnny and the G-Rays kicked things off with a high-energy, high-decibel set comprising most of their early favourites. A killer stretch mid-set of "Every Twist Reminds," "Put the Blame on Me" and "Answer with a Lie" confirms the strength of main man Johnny MacLeod's songwriting, while his passion-filled voice retains its convincing vigor. His three comrades played with similar enthusiasm, as Harri Palm earned cheers for one guitar solo. That's something that was frowned upon in punk, though the G-Rays were never a conventional punk group. They were, and remain, one of this country's best and most underrated rock'n'roll bands.
After opening up with speedy takes on "Shapes of Things to Come" and "Time Damage," Diodes singer Paul Robinson jokingly boasted, "Thirty-three years since we last played here, and I haven't aged a day!" Wearing shades and black garb, he does, in fact, still look the part, while the rapport he maintains with fellow original members John Catto (guitar), John Hamilton (drums) and Ian MacKay (bass) was obvious.
A keyboardist helped bolster their sound, occasionally taking it into Stranglers-style territory, though it was a mite too obtrusive on the Diodes' signature tune and set closer "Tired of Waking up Tired." There's enough dynamic variety in their material to keep things interesting, as on one old but unrecorded song featuring dark references to "memories of chaos." By contrast, their cover of "Red Rubber Ball" (their first-ever single) is bouncy power pop, and equally effective.
Robinson is an animated and crowd-pleasing front-man, and was clearly having a great time. Declarations like "The Horseshoe is my favourite bar in the world" might have seemed like sucking-up, but came across as sincere. Towards show's end, Robinson told the crowd, "I'd love to say I'd be back, but this might be it." If so, their spirited take on another Diodes fave, the super-catchy "Catwalker," was a fitting farewell from a band that has played a major part in this city's musical history.