I’m struggling to understand the wide appeal of Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker (USS). There’s nothing I’d say is wrong with them. Their YouTube output is reasonably fun and well produced, and they knew how to get the crowd moving at Isaac’s on November 8. I just couldn’t figure out what was different about them. Their releases are interesting, combining more pop-focused electronic elements with an indie acoustic vibe. They’re mellow and fun, and I can get on board with that. But anything that might have made them unique or interesting live seemed to get lost in the mix along with the acoustic guitar. That’s not to say they put on a bad show, per se. They put a lot of energy into it, and they’ve got a brilliant stage presence. It’s just that musically, they sounded no different than music coming through the speakers in between sets. Everyone else was having a great time though, so maybe I’m just a grump.
For me, the heart and soul of the evening was in the two opening acts. Ascot Royals came between opening act Nikki’s Wives and USS’ headline slot. Nikki’s Wives were a tough act to follow, but not only were Ascot Royals up to the task, they were a tough act to follow in and of themselves. Like all the best Canadian indie acts, they’ve got a unique blend of styles and sounds, evoking acts as varied as Rival Sons, Twenty One Pilots and Broken Social Scene (sometimes all within the same song). Their new album New Skin is energetic enough on its own, and you get even more of that power when Ascot Royals take to the stage. There simply wasn’t a dull moment in the whole set. They rocked hard, they got the crowd singing, and they left a huge impression on everyone at Isaac’s.
Nikki’s Wives were the evening’s opening act, and they were just as fantastic. Similarly to USS, their sound combines synthesised beats and melodies with the drama and striking power chords of arena rock. It’s a great synthesis here, and it helps them to always sound unique. For only a three piece band, they pack an incredible punch. Their guitarist helps with that by providing synthesiser and backing vocal roles on top of his powerful rhythm playing and scorching solos. He, like the rest of the members, is almost a band unto himself, so it’s no wonder how they sound so huge together. The lead singer is a fantastic performer, both in terms of her vocal prowess and her stage presence. She’s as captivating as she is talented, and it’s very difficult to not lose yourself in her performance. There’s a chemistry Nikki’s Wives have, not just with their audience but with each other, that makes their great music even greater.
But here’s the thing about Nikki’s Wives: they have a killer secret ingredient. Have you ever seen the YouTube video ‘This drummer is at the wrong gig’? It’s exactly what it sounds like, but it’s one of the most awesome things on the Internet. At first, what you see is a corny texas cover band, getting themselves into a sub-par cover of ZZ Top’s ‘Sharp Dressed Man’. Three of the four band members are about as impressive as their awful glittery yellow suit jackets. But at the back of the stage, behind the drum kit, is something special. A magician, a monster, maybe even a miracle. Even the most basic of beats is met with the full fury of this force of nature and his arms and drum sticks become some kind of whirlwind, and he takes off into a whole other plane of existence. And so it was with the drummer of Nikki’s Wives. With any other drummer, this band would still be great, but their drummer elevates them to impossible levels. Even in the slower moments of the band’s set, he hits every beat like his life depends on it. He puts his heart and soul into what he does, never missing a beat, no matter what incredible antics he’s pulling. What’s best is that he’s clearly having the time of his life. Unlike the poor Texas group of the YouTube video, he fits right in with this level of talent. He’d have been the frontman by default in a lesser group, but paired with the brilliance of his bandmates, he’s one of a long list of attractions of Nikki’s Wives. Go and see them live; their recorded albums don’t capture it. Nikki’s Wives and Ascot Royals are both a force to be reckoned with, and I hope for your sake that you’re in the front row the next time they come to your town.