Tales Of Mighty Zeus: Behold The New Toronto Gods Of Rock!

A couple of weeks ago I told you that I had been intrigued by some online music I’d heard by Toronto band Zeus.

Zeus (L to R) Carlin Nicholson, Rob Drake, Neil Quin, Mike O'Brien.

Well last night, I went down to the Cafe Du Nord here in San Francisco to catch something they’re calling The Bonfire Ball, a kind of rolling thunder revue comprised of Zeus touring with fellow Toronto songwriters, and Arts & Crafts labelmates Jason Collett and Bahamas.

Sadly, last night’s San Francisco show was absent Bahamas (a/k/a guitarist and Feist accompanist, Afie Jurvanen) who we’re told had “a funeral to attend.” Apparently, he’ll be back in time for dates in Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC (consult this link for tour dates). Bahamas’ album, Pink Strat comes highly recommended FYI. This audio only YouTube clip of “Already Yours” proves him to have a laid back sound reminiscent of a couple of other favourite Canadians, Ron Sexmith or Daniel Lanois. I’ll try to catch him live if he comes back through here.

The night was far from a loss though, as the rest of the tour team put on one of the most musical shows I’ve seen in a while. The loose jangly ghost Big Star was hovering in the room, Jacob Marley-like, regardless if any of the band members had intended it. Somehow, it just seemed like the Chilton mantle, or the torch (or whatever we’re calling it) has safely passed to the another generation of guitar-based sad young men. I really like Jason Collett’s stuff, (here’s a link to info about his new album  Rat-A-Tat-Tat), and have for a while, here’s a video he made for his song he played last night, “I’ll Bring The Sun”:

Things get really cooking when Collett is backed by Zeus, playing The Band to his Dylan if you will, the result is a kind of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco like meshing of rustic 70’s rock (Nilsson, The Band, with shades of Bob and even a dash of Robyn Hitchcock) that blows away most of the Brooklyn beard bands I’ve heard this year. These are all accomplish, but no show-offy, players who each know how to leave tons of space and lay out whenever they can, yet when it’s time to fill the gaps, I’d swear I was listening to vintage, Fragile era Yes. (Maybe it’s the fact that regardless of who has the bass on a song, Zeus always employ a mildly overdriven bass sound played with a pick!)

The set was structured so that, throughout two hour set, Collett would frequently relinquish the stage to Zeus, so they could showcase songs from their excellent new disc Say Us (Arts & Crafts) which came out last month. I heartily recommend it.

The band is comprised of  Mike O’Brien, Carlin Nicholson, Neil Quin who all sing and switch between guitars, bass and keyboards, with Rob Drake on drums (although even he jumped on the synth for one song last night). According to the Arts & Crafts website, the band recorded Say Us at their own Toronto studio and had it mixed by Robbie Lackritz, who worked on recordings by Feist.
Here’s a clip Zeus made for the song “Marching Through Your Head”

Zeus have a lot of what it takes to be my new favourite band, and certainly the Onion AV club had it partly right when they said that this music will appeal to fans of Sloan or The New Pornographers (AC Newman et al) but I also hear the handmade quality that made those early Nilsson records or Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” era recordings so cool.  There’s so much good stuff here, you should really check it out yourself. And did I forget to mention the cover tunes? Man, they did a stellar version of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” with Drake replicating the drum machine sound on real actual drums while maintaining Minogue’s dark danceable authority. But the most unexpected and brilliant moment was how they breathed rocking life into the later Genesis hit “That’s All”. I noticed a clip on the YouTube of them doing this at the Dakota Tavern in Toronto, forgive the audio quality, but this clip suggests one tenth of how much fun it was.

For more information about Zeus, Jason Collett and Bahamas go to the Arts & Crafts website.

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