Ex-Boyfriends double-team Calgary

Local veterans deliver two 12 inch platters of rock ’n’ roll goodness

“One time when I was in the Puritans Vlad [the bass player] showed up wearing shorts and a fanny pack” recalls Michael Paton guitarist for Calgary’s The Ex-Boyfriends. “I was like ‘Vlad you have to go home and change your clothes. You have to. Someone paid a cover charge to get in and you owe respect to the person who paid $8 to not wear fucking shorts and a fanny pack.’”

Clearly Paton and The Ex-Boyfriends really get the whole “rock thing” from concept to execution. I’m speaking to them as they play a bill that features two other bands and an old-timey burlesque troop. TXBFs face a mixture of party-hearty regulars Stampede-clad tourists and a certain amount of indifference. Singer frontman and local legend Don Djewel Davidson indulges in his patented punk rock antics; swinging from the lighting truss lying Iggy-like on the floor and tearing through the bemused crowd dragging his extra long mic cord behind him.

Davidson’s been known to perform in a skin-tight see-through body stocking. His voice is raw relentless and apparently not for everyone. A large hairy man knuckles up to the merch table. “That guy who’s up there singing. Is he their regular singer?” “Yeah!” That doesn’t seem to be the answer he’d hoped for. Pawing through seven years of the band’s CD and vinyl offerings he asks: “Does he sing on all of these?” “Oh yeah of course!” He grunts and walks away perplexedly shaking his Grizzly Adams head to the backbeat.

At this point we should probably mention TXBFs formidable rhythm section. New bassist Alex Arsenault has come to gel with drummer Dean Martin and forge the tight driving foundation the Davidson-Paton material requires. Arsenault seems like a natural fit for the band — when he auditioned he did his homework and learned nearly 20 TXBFs songs — but he almost didn’t get the job running afoul the band’s rock ’n’ roll fashion sense.

“He was dressed like a complete dork. He almost didn’t get the job because he had a ball cap on. I only want to see a kid wearing a ball cap when he’s playing ball” says Davidson.

“Or driving a multi-axle truck” adds Paton.

Paton and Davidson decompress post-set and discuss their new double vinyl opus. “I think CDs have really fucked up albums” says Paton. “They’ve made them way too long and wanky. A record should be 10 or 11 songs.”

To the Lowest Bidder goes a bit above that featuring 14 fierce originals and a pair of covers. Although it rocks from start to finish there’s a fair bit of variety veering into R&B territory and industrial-strength bubblegum. There’s even some keyboards and acoustic guitar. “We didn’t load it up with filler” says Davidson. “Most CDs have a lot of filler.”

TXBFs approach to songwriting is somewhat unique. Paton brings in fully realized carefully arranged musical compositions to which Davidson adds lyrics from his copious notebooks. To hear them intellectualize the process it sounds somewhat academic — almost anti-rock ’n’ roll. Paton disagrees.

“The songs are all very well thought out and meticulously composed” he says. “If you can bring a sense of energy and chaos to them once you get onstage and start letting it out things are gonna happen. I don’t see anything antithetical about it at all. I think it’s a happy marriage.”

Although Paton does most of the heavy lifting — he even takes care of the band’s graphic design — the bulk of the attention still focuses on Davidson’s punk rock personae.

“Don does things that I can’t do” Paton admits. “I’m not a great lyricist. He can be a frontman I can’t. I have played shows and gone to the bar afterwards and gotten a drink and some guy next to me says ‘Hey that last band was great’ and I’ll say ‘Thanks’ and they’ll go ‘Why were you in the band?’”

For his part Davidson seems content to let Paton do the lion’s share of the talking interjecting only occasionally. Tonight he’s wearing a natty if slightly sweaty tuxedo. I have to ask: “Is the see-through body stocking permanently retired?”

“No” says Davidson. “Just saving it for a special occasion.”

What would be a sufficiently special occasion to warrant that? Davidson thinks for a second and then grins. “When we play Michael’s wedding” he says.

Paton sits up feigning shock.

“Well I was gonna get married but it’s definitely not happening now” he deadpans. “It’s all off.”