It's the rainiest Tuesday in May and Will Crum is looking intently at his audience scattered around The Painted Lady.
"I so want to say something really weird into the mic."
They demand it, but he can't muster it. No matter – it's unreasonable to expect minimalist blues-rock with a Jagger-esque drawl and gonzo commentary as well.
After all, there's already a lot going on here for a two-piece band without a set list. Dusky 60's garage rock and sauntering 70's punk ‘n’ roll abound, unfurled with seamless transitions, half-crazed riffs and thoughtful interludes, all backed by Daniel Hodkinson's relentlessly-steady drumming; songs not just played but manhandled into existence and dragged to-and-fro across the stage. On the Wet Lips LP the guitar revs like a motorbike, letting "Macaroni" coast around its turns while burning rubber on the straights, and channeling counterculture-era Chuck Berry through the sardonicism of "School is For Donkeys."
Crum, however, isn't advancing cute retroism. The points of reference are just bookends for what should be the sound of today: a back-to-basics tonic of dependable guitars and rugged drums for an age of exponential uncertainty and finicky bloviation – music about outsider solitude, shattered mental states, love bonds and longing and trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
Will Crum, left, and drummer Daniel Hodkinson
Three nights later and they're tramping across the west end, steaming north-east to play last at The Press Club on Dundas, their official Queen Street gig having been cancelled an hour before and now this makeshift one arranged minutes after. Wednesday’s appearance, they say, went horribly, gloriously wrong – in short, if your band is playing first and takes way too long to get ready, Will Crum may gently intervene by starting his set early while you're still on stage, which can lead to a certain amount of discord – but the optimism isn't diminished. They're glad just to be here with their sound, and to have somewhere to take it, plus a little time to talk about eclectic influences (Will: Aretha Franklin; Dan: Frank Sinatra), guerilla concerts and Bukowski reviewing The Rolling Stones (which actually happened) on the way.
It's nearly 2:00am by the time they plug-in, and it takes roughly three songs to clear the room. Tragic. Who cares, though – they don't, and the last two people in the bar, nestled almost invisibly at the back, never take their eyes off them. Will flails and wails, physically following departing patrons out the door as far as his guitar cable can take him. Daniel looks enchanted behind drums borrowed from the headliner.
This is the dog-end of rock & roll to be sure, where ghost-town gigs beckon and the pyres of past young hopefuls burn bright, but it’s also the time when desperation fuels defiance and the desire to do it for the sake of it. Sitting on the Press Club's patio, as Dan smokes contentedly and studies the night sky, Will Crum takes stock of the things in his life – decent pants; nice shoes; making a full-time living at music; a brave new record he’s proud of (featuring a sleeve designed by Daniel); Heather, the girlfriend who drifts through his lyrics and beams from the screen of his phone, waiting back in San Francisco. So no complaints, and the international rock empire could still fall to him tomorrow. Try to find something weird about that.