Last night, local surf/instrumental sensations The Calrizians warmed up the newly-expanded Cadillac Lounge with some holiday cheer, spiking their set with a few Christmas classics in the spirit of the season. The sleek four-piece instrumental outfit are relative newcomers on the Toronto scene, although they tear through an impressive repetoire of material with a confident swagger that would have you thinking that they'd been playing together for years. Despite the fact that surf rock is considered a bit out of fashion these days, having seen an explosive revival in the mid-'90s in the wake of Quentin Tarantino's massively successful Pulp Fiction, only to fade in popularity by the turn of the century, Toronto has a pretty strong community of bands keeping this sound alive (if you have any doubts, check out the annual 2-night Great Lakes Surf Battle festival), and The Calrizians are one of the top torchbearers of the scene. I'd only seen The Calrizians play once before, last summer at The Dakota Tavern, and was an instant convert, so I was eager to see them perform again.
The Calrizians rock the instrumentals onstage at the Cadillac Lounge
Last night's gig was billed as "Christmas with The Calrizians", and a festive spirit was certainly in the air at the Cadillac Lounge, which has recently opened up a whole new section, significantly increasing the venue's capacity. The Calrizians performed three sets of music, with a heavy leaning on covers of instrumental rock standards, spiced up by a couple of Christmas tunes given a surfy twist. Christmas songs translate remarkably well to the surf format, and the Calrizians were game with their interpretations of holiday favourites such as "Sleigh Ride" and "Jingle Bell Rock". Anyone who has listened to The Ventures' Christmas Album or 'Tis The Season for Los Straitjackets! (two of my favourite Christmas albums!) will have heard similar surf/Christmas tune mashups before, such as The Ventures' clever fusion of "Walk Don't Run" and "Sleigh Ride". The Calrizians weren't necessarily breaking any new ground here, but they did capture the lighthearted spirit of these songs and put a nice surfy spin on some old chestnuts.
The Calrizians take care of some business at the Caddy
The bulk of The Calrizian's show consisted of familiar instrumental numbers, which they took on with considerable success. The group dress in matching black suits (and sneakers!), putting forth a slightly menacing image onstage – they look like they just stepped out of Reservoir Dogs, and took to the stage to take care of some "business." Indeed, they open the proceedings with "Surf Rider", a moody surf classic used in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, and later on in the set tackle two more songs associated with the film. Any surf band willing to take on "Misirlou", Dick Dale's ferocious signature tune, has got guts, and The Calrizians rip through it with gusto, guitarist Ben Jewer shredding with the best of 'em. Other Dale material is performed, along with several tracks made famous by The Ventures ("Walk Don't Run", "Perfidia", "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue"), and much more over three sets.
A few other memorable covers from the evening include "Apache" (a true instrumental standard recorded by too many bands to mention), "Harlem Nocturne" (in the spirit of The Viscounts), and Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet's slinky "Shake Some Evil". These guys have got some taste when it comes to selecting material, but any band doing Shadowy Men justice gets extra points in my books. Adding further character to The Calrizians' sound is Chip Snider, who contributes both saxophone and rhythm guitar. The sax component is an element that is missing in so many instrumental bands. It is really used to good effect in The Calrizians, adding a raw and raunchy undercurrent to the music, in the tradition of bands like The Champs, The Lively Ones, or twangy guitar king Duane Eddy. In addition to the above-mentioned titles, the group performed quite a few songs which I didn't recognize, either covers I was not familiar with, or more likely originals. Overall, the evening was great fun, and The Calrizians certainly provided ample musical thrills to ring in the holiday season. A tip of the hat must go to Sam, the owner and music booker at the Cadillac, for supporting instrumental groups like the Calrizians. Whether intentionally or not, this was the third night in a row of live instro music at the Cadillac Lounge, the previous two evenings featuring appearances by Ancient Chinese Secret (an all-covers offshoot of Atomic 7) and surf/garage unit The Von Drats. Cowabunga, and to all a good night!
Chip Snider blasts the sax
Guitarist Ben Jewer works out the Gretsch