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The Shanks: Minimalist Musicians, Maximum Rockers

16 Jul
The Shanks. Photo Credit: Delikt Shots.

The Shanks. Photo Credit: Delikt Shots.

The Shanks are a Toronto rock band hellbent on reviving the glory  of ’70s arena rock. This bold duo consists of Ian Donald Starkey and John David Brumell (stage names Pistolwhip von Shankenstein and Colonel Crankshaft, respectively), and they only need a bass guitar, drums and Ian’s filthy vocals to bring back the rock ‘n’ roll fever of past decades.

This may come as an unlikely eventuality, considering the heaps of unsuccessful classic rock revival bands. My go-to opinion in such cases is, “If you are playing vanilla rock ‘n’ roll, without interesting time signature changes, progression or a blues/jazz augmentation , nobody cares.” Music evolved for a reason, so unless you are a Queens of The Stone Age, or more recently In The Whale, don’t bother.

What I find interesting about The Shanks is their acknowledgement of rock’s stagnancy since the band’s inception. From the beginning, The Shanks have made their way by cutting half of the usual instruments out of the lineup, thereby letting would-be virtuoso try-hards have their own, separate manhood-measuring competitions. Really, the only thing that The Shanks need to carve their own path to (rock) stardom is the sheer size of their balls.

I came to this conclusion after watching their recently released (and curiously titled) “German Heavy Metal Girl” music video, as seen here:


It’s extremely well produced, full of subliminal synchronizations between the song lyrics and the actions on screen. There even is an implicit plot for the viewers to unravel, as the song was based off of a short story. I actually am of the opinion that the director, Scott Montgomery, should officially join the band. Scott has worked on all five of The Shanks’ music videos, and had a huge hand in creating their conceptual identity while turning the music video into something major record label-worthy.

For a band that was formed on a farm in Mono, Ontario, my first question was, “Where are they getting the money for a production of this level?” Then I opened The Shanks’ Bandcamp and it became abundantly clear where they were cutting costs: none of their albums sounded properly mastered.

It is here where I realized that The Shanks are multi-media entertainers, more specifically, not strictly musicians.

Colonel Crankshaft of The Shanks. Photo Credit: Delikt Shots.

John David Brumell a.k.a. Colonel Crankshaft of The Shanks. Photo Credit: Delikt Shots.

When I was a kid, one of my favourite TV programs was MuchMusic’s Video on Trial.

It was the only thing I watched on MuchMusic, because I held a deep disdain for 97% of what was passed off as music. For those unaware, the premise of the show was that five random comedians, musicians, and entertainment insiders were forced to watch five random music videos and provide their personal (dis)approval in the form of sardonic commentary.

This was a vicarious experience for the viewer, with a touch of comedic bias and flair. Regardless of whether the  song was bad or the artist was controversial, if the music video was entertaining, it would get unanimously positive feedback.

This is where I feel The Shanks make their strongest claim to stardom,  as seen in “German Heavy Metal Girl”. They are building rockstar class status as entertainers, as seen by their photos of success in Europe.

Photo Credit: Delikt Shots.

Ian Donald Starkey a.k.a. Pistolwhip von Shankenstein. Photo Credit: Delikt Shots.

Sure you can argue that American culture is held on a pedestal in Europe, but the photo above is proof that: 1) The Shanks are true old school rockers, and 2) They clearly play killer, over-the-top theatrical shows.

It’s easy for one to play armchair Nostradamus in regards to the success of others. The true way one can objectively measure success is seeing whether you met the your goals when the project was started. Have The Shanks managed to resurrect interest for party-era rock & roll, with only a bass guitar and a drumset? The proof is in the photo above.

If you are interested in listening to more of The Shanks, don’t forget to check out their latest album, Surfing The Lexicon, released last year.

Check out The Shanks!

Official website.





Author: Alex Slakva


Canadian Music Week Concert Review: Black Box 10 Year Anniversary @ Adelaide Hall, May 8th, 2014

9 May



Last night at Toronto’s Adelaide Hall, independent music label and talent company Black Box Music held a special showcase in honour of its tenth anniversary. Of course, surviving ten years in the music industry is nothing to sneeze at, and as was expected the Mississauga-based promotion filled the set with some of their most well-known bands, along and a couple of hot recent pickups. As one of the more exceptional features of Toronto’s Canadian Music Week 2014, this set was a must-see, and of course Canadian Content Machine was there to take it all in.

Longtime Black Box signee and Edmonton standout Ten Second Epic was the nominal headliner on the strength of their farewell tour (and last ever show in Toronto), while fast-rising Kingston stars The Glorious Sons–we featured them here last month!–were penciled in only two weeks earlier. Appearances from Lyon, The Provincial Archive, Seas, and Living with Lions further stacked the showcase, and DJ IV, Classified’s favoured record spinner of choice, kept the crowd bustling between sets. If that wasn’t enough to draw the picky Toronto crowds in, Black Box also promised a certain, very special guest–though it shouldn’t come to a surprise if one follows the list of names.

8:00 pm – Seas

Seas. Photo Credit: Ian Stanger

Catching the tail end of their opening set, we just managed to snatch a few listens of indie rockers Seas. With a hometown crowd in their favour, the Torontonians looked to grab more attention on the strength of their latest release, Fade Out Into The Night. Frontman Chris “Hippy” Hughes, he of the sizable brown dreads, paid earnest attention to each word he sang as the band ended their set on grand waves of fuzz. Fade out into the night, perhaps, but certainly on the right notes. Hopefully, in the future we will check out a complete set from the meditatively dazzling band.

9:00 pm – The Provincial Archive

The Provincial Archive. Photo Credit: Ian Stanger.

A very new addition to Black Box–only 48 hours, to be specific–Edmonton’s The Provincial Archive certainly made the right choice in travelling over to Toronto and playing a brisk, propulsive set that certainly made their new label proud. Dabbling in a bit of folk there, a bit of punk here, a bit of indie everywhere, the foursome got the steadily-increasing crowd moving with snappy tunes like “Trading Thrills” and “Common Cards”.

Lead singer and guitarist Craig Schram deftly navigated the set with his probing, reedy vocals, a cross between Colin Meloy and Brian Molko. Schram’s timid thank-yous in between songs did no disservice as he modestly introduced songs about economics and such, creating one of those shows where you just feel smarter after listening. The band still has some trekking to do; they’re hopping on a plane tonight to kick off their European tour.

10:00 pm – Lyon

LYON. Photo Credit: Paul Steward.

LYON. Photo Credit: Paul Steward.

As Lauren Malyon took the stage, the two-floor venue was starting to look nice and full. All the more people to enchant, for the woman known as Lyon absolutely commanded the stage with a delightful, entrancing set. A lot of hype has been building for the Toronto native, as the self-described “small town girl who fell in love with the big city” released her first EP Indian Summer last year to much acclaim, to the point that it is getting a re-release this August.

Suitably, Lyon’s set upped the expectations for her future even more, as she graced the stage with her winsome vocals, alternatively haunting and uplifting, while displaying her multi-instrumentalist talents with the keys and violin. The backing band did their part too, all contributing to a wistful set that still mastered a slight edge, which certainly fits when all the songs focus on the unwanted subject of heartbreak. At least tonight, the crowd had their hearts soar instead.

11:00 pm – Ten Second Epic

Ten Second Epic. Photo Credit: Candace Elder.

Ten Second Epic. Photo Credit: Candace Elder.

The sudden appearance of many patrons in the younger demographics signalled the arrival of the night’s frontpiece, Ten Second Epic. And while many of their diehard fans happily sang along with hyperkinetic vocalist Andrew Usenik, the whole affair wasn’t without a touch of sadness. Indeed, this was the last show that the Edmonton five-piece will ever play in Toronto, as they mark their final tour together across Canada.

Usenik, though still looking he could be fresh out of middle school, cannily remarked how strange it was for the 12-year-old group  to be considered the experienced vets. But it could only be a well-travelled band that could run through staples like “Welcome to Wherever You Are”, “Old Habits Die Hard” and “Count Yourself In” with such intensity and expert timing, not to mention the devotion apparent in the crowd, hanging on to every last memory. While many pop-punk bands of the 2000s quickly fell by the wayside once the new decade dawned, Ten Second Epic fought on, found new successes overseas in Europe and Japan, and certainly won the right to a grand farewell. As far as last shows go, the Albertans couldn’t do better.

12:05 am- And your Special Guests….Classified with Mike Boyd!

Classified, with Mike Boyd.

Classified, with Mike Boyd.

And as the Edmonton five-piece were rightfully allowed to go a bit over their allotted time, things became a bit more noticeably active backstage. As DJ IV returned to his perch above the stage, Usenik introduced the special guest as none other than…renowned hip-hop artist Classified! With fellow Nova Scotian and Black Box signup Mike Boyd in tow, the More-East-than-East-Coast rapper immediately took control of the venue, directing the crowd through ’90s hip-hop classics as well as a couple of his own hits like “3 Foot Tall”.

The surprise set wasn’t without a couple hiccups though, with some sharp mike feedback and perhaps a few too many drinks on Boyd’s part. Though incongruous it may be to place the hip-hop act between two hard rock sets, Classified proved to be an effective MC and hype man for the remaining bands on the showcase. One of which was about to take stage…

12:45 am – The Glorious Sons

Brett Emmons of The Glorious Sons.

Brett Emmons of The Glorious Sons. Photo Credit: Paul Steward.

“How y’all doing RIGHT NOW, Torunna?”

These are the words Brett Emmons would call out time and time again throughout the blazing set The Glorious Sons put forth, and it did not once get old nor unwelcomed. Though their set’s start-time was a tad delayed, once the Kingston band started up they turned it all the way up to 11. It was loud.

And nowhere was the rock n’ roll spirit more encompassed than Emmons, as he pushed everything to its sheer limits. The long-haired, whisky-soaked vocalist didn’t want the audience to just do a callback, he wanted them to “spit back in his face”; he didn’t say the band will go quiet and then loud, he bellowed “it will be fucking quiet, and then HUGE”; he didn’t just get on his knees and screamed his lungs out, he got down and attacked the stage with his fists and stabbed it with a mike stand. When the band took water breaks, they were swigs of Jägermeister straight from the bottle.

Whenever Emmons threatened to blow out his vocal cords, guitarist Andrew Young was there to take over lead vocal duties on squealers like “Oh Baby”. And whenever the band threatened to veer too wildly, it was brought back on course through the steady rhythm section of bassist Chris Huot and drummer Adam Paquette.

Though, perhaps the band also needs a official repairman and medic on standby; by the end of the set the entire stage was quite trashed with broken stands strewn about, and Emmons has a bit of a bloody gash on one of hands. While one may wonder at the beginning why Emmons’ choice of shoes seemed to be a pair of rapidly deteriorating mocs (brother and guitarist Jay chose to eschew footwear entirely), it certainly made sense once the the singer started pushing himself around the stage like an epileptic blood-crazed ritualist . It was a miracle that Emmons didn’t impale himself on a guitar head.

The Glorious Sons.

The Glorious Sons in the midst of their stage-destroying set.

During one of the band’s more intense moments, the stage was visibly being pushed downwards to the point that hundreds of dust speckles were thrown up into the air and into the overhead spotlights. It is not unreasonable to say that The Glorious Sons’ effect on the Adelaide Hall was quite like a ferocious hurricane, both musically and physically.

Speaking of musically, The Glorious Sons delivered on the hits they promised, with thick cuts of hard rock like “White Noise” and “Mother” finding their place among the audience’s scorched minds. Between-song banter was also appropriately hilarious, as Emmons chose to lead into their song “Shapeless Art” and its refrain of ‘nothing dies easy’ with a story about a man being eaten in his Honda Civic by an angry bear. If the band wanted a more material representation of that mantra, they should have chosen Emmons’ hat, which could never stay on his head for more than three seconds despite being futilely placed on his head again and again.

Overall, the set was the definitive high point of the night, and had all the requisite ticks for a legendary rock show: bar drunkard clawing for the stage and subsequently getting wrestled out by a beefy doorman and a fellow in a cowboy hat, someone (possibly a Black Box employee?) climbing on stage to questionably put their life in danger, and, of course, a cover of “Hound Dog”. The Glorious Sons are going to be a big deal. Well, they are a big deal already; you just need to pay more attention to. this. band!

1:45 am – Living with Lions

And what better way to close out the showcase than with some nice and friendly hardcore, in the form of Vancouver natives Living with Lions? The tattoo-clad band brought out a similarly-inked audience to the fore, an audience that finally got the chance to break out and mosh after a long night of waiting. In between blistering stabs of punk, band frontman Stuart Ross made sure to give props to the dedicated group of no-sleepers as well as Black Box’s full decade of being in business.

Living with Lions proved to be a suitable end to the night, as Black Box Music’s 10th Anniversary Showcase highlighted the very best (and loudest) of what the company had to offer. Though it was marred at times by uneven sound mixing, the overall show was a well put together production that displayed some very fine Canadian music. With an excellent closing show by a veteran band in one hand, and some promising new talent in the other, it seems that the folks at Black Box will already have to start planning their 20th anniversary show.

Author: Nathan Christie