There is no way that yet another duo of eighties worshippers performing at a corporate chain venue such as House of Blues could be all that remarkable. We’ve been here before. Heck, if you were in Boston last month, you could have literally seen another 80s-worshipping duo, also from Canada, also playing at House of Blues.
We’ve seen it done in basements, art galleries, and illegal loft shows. We’ve seen it done more dangerously and more urgently. If you’re about 54 years old, you may have witnessed “electronic body music” and darkwave when the movements were actually invented. It seemed that Toronto’s Trust, one such eighties-inspired band, could not possibly be any good, especially in such a polished setting when they played House of Blues on November 27.
First off, there’s that band name. You have to be kidding, trying to take yourself that seriously and expecting us to do the same. Besides, how can we do just that when lead singer Robert Alfons partakes in photo spreads like this?
In the live setting, Trust is a trio, which hardly adds to the stage presence, to have another handsomely androgynous mannequin (Carolyn Gordon) stand perfectly still behind singer Alfons, and next to his collaborator, Maya Postepski. Alfons greedily eats up the scene and there hasn’t been a pompadour this high and a v-neck this deep since Jason Priestly had a nightmare where Morrissey conducted a seance next to Jimmy Dean’s grave. Okay, perhaps that was my nightmare (and it wasn’t a nightmare).
When it comes to the hair and the clothes, I get it. Play it up. Alfons has certainly got “it.” Annoyingly so, does this guy have it.
Trust was unceremoniously wedged between a middling new Saddle Creek band called Icky Blossoms and a middling old Saddle Creek band called The Faint. Icky Blossoms appropriated this iconic image of the late Darby Crash for their Facebook page. That’s something of a war crime in the world of popular music, though of course, the strongest punishment consists of an “Oh, no, you didn’t” mental note from some overly canonizing music writer.
Then there’s the Faint. Judging by the audience, it seemed to be mostly men in their late twenties, largely committed to traditional relationships and working office jobs, who are now desperately hoping that their girlfriends never ask about that one night they got a little “crazy” and wore eyeliner to a party at Texas A&M Commerce in 2002. That’s sort of how the Faint sounded too. The musical version of that. At one time slightly weird, at least for the era, but now just a little dated and conventional. They certainly had a hand in pushing popular music back towards its infinite eighties obsession and synthesizer lust, and I will always readily admit the importance of their influence in that regard. They just never rock as hard as they promise or get as strange as their image suggests.
At one point, Trust singer Alfons is asking for “more reverb” on his vocals, which seemed both excessive and extreme. This band was given rivers, lakes, oceans, and seas of reverb by the generous sound-person. It wasn’t enough for him. He dances like a person for which there’s never enough. Never enough drama. Never enough fog. Never enough attention. The lights can’t be bright enough. Or actually, they can. The one moment that found Trust seemingly retreating toward a more subtle aesthetic was the lights. Alfons asked that they be turned down. Then the stage is entirely dark and this gloomy sexuality bit becomes inversely gratuitous.
They even have a track called “Candy Walls,” when they know fully damn well that Sheena Easton has a controversial 1984 hit called “Sugar Walls.” Sheena Easton is no Darby Crash, but it’s still a little obnoxious. There’s even another band called Trust, for crying out loud, something which seems to bother a lot of metal-heads on YouTube.
On anything approaching a slower performance or a ballad (such as the aforementioned “Candy Walls”), Alfons rocks back-and-forth like a softly weeping infant nearing a tantrum’s end, a move that would sink a lot of acts and have a lot of audiences shrugging or heading to the drink line, in order to settle in for what they actually paid to see.
In fact, the band, their music, their cover art, and everything about them comes off like an obscure knockoff who happened to release one flexi-single in some forgotten zine from thirty years ago. Like something you find on accident when you were searching for something greater. This could happen either online, or as I found them, at a music festival in Austin earlier this month.
Taken merely at face value, you could say the band is unoriginal, childishly melodramatic, and ridiculous. And yet, everything stated here is exactly why Trust put on one of the best shows I saw this year. When they get to the closest thing they have to a hit, a foolishly titled dance number called, “Sulk,” I am finished. It’s been playing as the pointlessly morose soundtrack to my life non-stop ever since.
Image: Trust’s Robert Alfons, performing at Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, TX. November of 2012. Photo by Andi Harman.