While the stereotypical term “bar band” might hold pre-conceptions for some, my expectations of what a bar band is were shattered on August 28 when Patsy and the Muscle took the stage at Downtown St. Catharines’ own Merchant Ale House.
Often times, I have found that the term “bar band” in general refers to a group comprised of a few depressing middle-aged dudes, with pony tails, blue jeans and scruffy facial hair. They often seem disgruntled to be playing wherever it is they’re playing and sometimes they take out their frustrations on audience members and their requests. This is the image my mind conjured while I made my way to the bar.
Merchant Ale House, however, is not one of those divey bars that bar bands dred playing. Sometimes it’s cover bands, sometimes bar bands, and sometimes it’s something else all together.
Patsy and the Muscle is, in a purely literalist definition of the term, a bar band. The band consists of brothers, Matthew and Patrick Vandersluys; they play mostly bars, they play pretty much all covers, and they have day jobs. That being said, these guys clearly love it and do not fit the stereotypical bar band depiction given above. Consisting of brothers Matthew and Patrick Vandersluys, Patsy and the Muscle plays local bars, clubs and stages, while bringing with them a resonating energy and enthusiasm to their music.
When I talked to them about their music the brothers said they “like getting up there and being in front of the crowd [and that] playing music is easy … it’s fun.” The band is all about “having a good time.”
Through the course of the night they took requests from the audience, brought a woman from the crowd up on stage with them to sing The Beatles’ “Come Together” and talked to me about their lives and their music. Matt made it very clear that they love music as well as “getting to interact with people.”
“You get sweaty and it’s fun,” said Patrick. While both brothers have other jobs in addition to a young family, they continue to play music out of passion. “It’s just fun playing music, and it’s relaxed. What other job do you get to be the life of the party? … Why wouldn’t you love it?”
The night was relaxing and musically impressive. Patsy and the Muscle pride themselves on accurate and sweet vocal harmonies, and for the majority of the show it was truly a highlight. I found myself very impressed with their technical skills and ability on all of the instruments that they played. Pat switched back and forth between a Djembe, harmonica and an acoustic guitar, while Matt played his acoustic guitar and a mandoline.
When you have a group of multi-instrumentalists, you always run the risk of shoehorning in some of the different instruments and styles. Patsy and the Muscle stayed successfully clear of this issue. Any time a band members switched instruments, it was for a clear purpose, and it made an evident improvement to the song that they were going to play.
The crowd was very receptive to the music all night long and the venue was surprisingly full for a Sunday night. When Pat played the Djembe on any song, especially on “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers, the audience lost it. There was shouting heard across the bar and I could feel everyone, at the very least, tapping their toes and shaking their hips.
This musicality and stage presence comes from playing in Patsy and the Muscle for “almost eight years,” said Pat. They “grew up with music, took piano lessons as kids, and then [they] both played guitar in high school and that’s when [they] started playing in bands,” elaborated Matt.
Given Patsy and the Muscle’s fairly unique attitude towards being a bar band, I asked them what their favourite tracks to play live are. Pat told me that they “like some of the more unique ones, like ‘Diamonds in the Soles of Her Shoes’.” Their favourite songs are the ones that they really want to learn, working them out together, and those ones are the ones that leave them the most intrigued.
When asked what they didn’t like to play, the answer was unsurprising: “I don’t like ‘American Pie’ and ‘Brown Eyed Girl’.” Later though, Pat continued, “Van Morrison’s amazing … he’s got a huge repertoire.”
The brothers would just rather cover less popular songs by the same artists, songs that they “haven’t all heard a million times”, and songs that Patsy and the Muscle isn’t yet tired of playing.
Matt adds that despite this, if someone calls out one of those songs, “it makes people happy so we do it.” Matt mentioned as well that some songs they love and get requested all of the time, like “S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats, they’d prefer not to play because it just doesn’t sound right on two acoustic guitars without ten people clapping in time and a horn section.
That being said, all-in-all I highly recommend catching a Patsy and the Muscle show whenever you can.
Kostyn Petrunick, Arts & Culture Editor