“Nobody gets out of this place without singing the blues.”
I can’t help it: I’m a product of the 80s and when I see the Silver Dollar Room, I start humming “Babysitter Blues”. Props to those who understand me. For those who merely know that the Silver Dollar Room, one of Toronto’s longstanding live venues, is a haven for gritty blues dusted with smoke machines, you missed a fabulous night of it recently. In celebration of their EP release, Toronto band The Honeyrunners took to the stage and demonstrated that the spirit of the greats will live on in the new generation of soul rockers.
Kicking off the festivities were The Pick Brothers, a Toronto trio of fraternal funked-out soul musicians who, by their own description, are feeling out their own sound among their many influences. Rotating roles mid-set (two of the brothers swapped drumming detail), they bring serious enthusiasm and playful stage banter to the stage. Their sound reminds me of a blues garage jam band — the guys on your block who whip out their guitars and bang on garbage cans at a summer BBQ with gusto.
While the band demonstrates moments of songwriting flair, particularly when they allow their compositions to sprawl out and play, the trouble is that the straighter numbers seem to fall a little flat by comparison. One also has the sense that the band has yet to define its voice, and that lack of cohesion born of a lack of calling card creates a bit of a jarring sonic experience. There’s a lot of potential in the band; I’d like to see them really soulsearch and pinpoint what makes music theirs and embrace their own twist on the genre.
By contrast, The Honeyrunners know their sound and deliver a solid mix of original tracks and fitting covers that nestle neatly between their own gems. Their own bio speaks to musical alchemy, a term I can get behind as a summation of their melding of indie rock, Motown soul, and dashes of the funk Red Hot Chili Peppers punch their own tracks up with. Live, they’re a tight four-piece layering keys, riffs and bam-pow drums to keep toes tapping and hips in sway (and not even a broken foot can keep their drummer down — that’s hardcore, friends). There’s just enough retro vibe to impress without ever sounding dated: see the delicious “Jet Set” or “Spirits” for the epitome of this.
To understand the melting pot of influences, one need only examine their repertoire of covers for the night: The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”; Sloan megahit “Money City Maniacs”; The Band signature track “The Weight”; The Black Keys’ “Tighten Up”; and of course, classic rock staple “Black Betty”. Old and new, united by the blues.
Perhaps what heralds The Honeyrunners’ success more than anything is their genuine exuberance and passion for the craft. When Dan Dwoskin isn’t belting lyrics and mashing keys, he’s flushed and thanking the enthusiastic crowd, filming them with a passed iPhone or speaking to the key to indie survival:
The CDs can be free, but come see the shows. We need it… Fuck, it’s nice to get out of the basement! *laughs*
Indie music’s survival is a symbiotic bond between listener and artists. Labels, PR agencies, even lowly blogger reviews – none of this shit matters as much as that core relationship. Stellar bands like The Honeyrunners are building it; it’s our responsibility to come out and bear witness.