Toronto is a big wuss. This is what Im thinking as I pull up to the supermarket Wednesday night in my mothers white Volkswagon Jetta — one of the more effeminate looking compact cars Germany has to offer. I had been hearing tell of a terrible snowstorm all day and assumed the worst when I called work to find my boss had gone home early, on account of the weather. I prepared for as much, but found little trouble driving to the venue. The shows turnout would be hindered by the weather, which I suspect is Torontonian folklore for what the folks in Manitoba generally refer to as a bit of snow. The nice part was, without the standing crowd, I was able to take notes from a booth in the back and steal a generous portion of my girlfriends stir-fry.
Ryan Isojima, the bands lead singer and foremost songwriter, doesnt have the sort of stage presence that is conducive to a sitting audience. David Bowie and Mick Jagger refined this sort of performance in the 70s. I believe the main idea was that if you parade around stage behaving as dramatically and effeminately as possible, heterosexual women will sleep with you. Or at least Bowie will sleep with Mick Jagger.
Isojima crouch-leans desperately into his monitor, pressing his eyes to the heel of his palm after delivering the final heart wrenching of their song Turn off the world. The microphone sits precariously on Isojimas outstretched fingertips while its wire coils around his wrist. Ive never seen Bowie do that, but Im pretty sure Brendon Flowers of The Killers has. Isojima sounds a great deal like Flowers, complete with faux British pronunciations of certain words. Most of the bands songs have that same Killers mod brit-pop feel about them, which sounds like Blur which sounds like The Cure which sounds like, a lot of other stuff.
Two songs into The Frameworks set and I am busily contemplating whether or not their female keyboard player and occasional backup singer, Rayanne Lepieszo, is superfluous to the rest of the group. I come to the conclusion that no, she is not superfluous per se, so much as she is unnecessary. She does serve a function, but it is purely aesthetic. Much akin to that of lead singer Ryan Isojimas leather jacket, which he wears for the duration of their half hour set under sweltering stage lights. Lepieszo is noticeably not as talented as the rest of the band. Her intermittent backup vocals are off pitch, her synth lines off tempo and she is occasionally replaced by pre-recorded MP3s piped into the PA system by her laptop. My theory is shes not a musician. Assuming this much, her efforts are passable. Her M-Audio midi controller is the least expensive piece of equipment on stage by at least $800, and thats if she bought it overpriced at the Mac store. Now, the purpose of this article is not to slam Lepieszo, but rather discuss the relation between image and artistic ability.
Before their set, I make contact with Isojima in the mens bathroom. I tactfully restrain myself from speaking to him before both our penises have been put away. He invites me to sit with him and the rest of the group to hang out a bit. Isojima does most of the talking, in an aloof virtuoso sort of way. I know right away that this guy is the front man of a real band. I learn that he and guitarist Chris Graham, who is just a fucking peach in his newsie hat and claddagh ring, cowrite most of the songs. The two switch the lead vocals, but its evident that Grahams place is in the wing, while Isojima will always be center stage.
One of the more interesting moments of the short interview occurs when Isojima admits that the group takes an image savvy approach to music. Before the group had ever even played together, they had a photo shoot and a MySpace page. I concede their point, explaining that all I will remember of their opening band was a keyboard player who looked like Gary Oldmans character in True Romance. Meaning that image must be important. However, this does make me wary of their ability as artists. If a musician just wants to cultivate a certain image or look cool — and The Framework definitely do look cool — sometimes things like the actual music take a back seat. Thats how artists like Lady Gaga and songs like Poker Face come to exist.
I sat back in my booth, presumptuously believing that I had them figured out, taking my little notes — Chris Grahams voice sounds exactly like Robert Schwartzman of Rooney. You have to be a good drummer to play synth laden driven Brit pop, cause you have to be as quick as the drum machine stuff its supposed to sound like.
The chorus to the song, Wasted was the only thing that struck me as exemplary until they played a song called She thinks Im famous, a brilliant sentiment for an unsigned rock group from Mississauga. This had me call into question any pigeonholing I had been doing to the group all night long. The lyrics kick ass. Lyrics are always the first thing to go when a band is trying too hard to sound like something else, because they become hackneyed and bland. Had I underestimated them? Was I just being an asshole? I calmed down after recognizing that the song sounded a lot like Last Nite by the Strokes. Then the chorus kicked in. The keyboard melody line, though simple, was absolutely paramount to the song as a whole. It stuck in my ear to be whistled on the drive home.
Rayanne Lepieszo, besides looking infinitely better in a black sequined gogo dancer outfit than any other member of the band, turned out to be integral to their sound as a whole. Had I judged her too quickly? Am I an asshole? I listened to the words in the chorus: Its all been done before. These struck me as especially witty since the Barenaked Ladies did a song about it all being done before in 1998 and it sounded like the Strokes circa 2001. Theres no such thing as contrived in pop music, only good or bad, and this was definitely good. I am an asshole.
I wouldnt buy their CD. A lot of people will and I dont think theyll miss my patronage. I would, however, pay to see them play in a club, drink, dance and more than likely find Isojimas melodramatic stage antics to be nothing more than good showmanship.