One of the many side-projects of Canada’s indie superstar group Broken Social Scene, Apostle of Hustle just might be the best, based on their incredible new album, National Anthem of Nowhere (QRO review), and incredible shows like the one they had Monday, June 11th at Mercury Lounge. Thanks to a month-long residency in the Big Apple, the show on the 11th was just the first of six-count-‘em-six concerts the band is playing in New York in June (and the first of three straight Mondays at Mercury Lounge – QRO venue review). Apostle singer/songwriter Andrew Whiteman would be a natural draw just based off of being the lead guitarist for BSS, but that’s where the Hustle only starts.
Looking like a younger Tom Waits, and acting like a much friendlier (or much higher…) one, Whiteman was a winning frontman who took full advantage of the cozy confines of Mercury Lounge. His various hand gestures and expressions were funny without being slapstick, his maracas shaking and matador-like bandana waving exuberant without being over-the-top. He made describing the Cuban word for “your lover has basically gotten super-drunk, smashed the bottle, with all the shards, crawled down your throat, found your heart, and acted like a rabbit, stabbing in every direction” funny, as well as reporting the “tragedy” of how his tambourine rolled perfectly in line to knock over his glass of red wine. And there was his pièce-de-résistance, the image he wanted the audience to have in their head during “Fast Pony for Victor Jara”, in case they got “bored” during the mostly instrumental number:
Here we have the fresh-faced pony express rider, he’s seventeen years old, apple-cheeked; he’s ready to go. So he wakes up in the morning, gets on his horse, and feels the saddlebags on the horse, and they’re big and full. He opens one of the saddlebags on the right-hand side and it’s filled with the best Tampico marijuana that could be possible, and on the other side of the saddlebags, reaches deep and it’s just jam-packed full with Washington’s best MDMA [ecstasy], highest quality possible. So our pony express rider takes liberally of the MDMA [makes chewing face and sounds], he gives some to his pony – because he’s equal opportunity – and then they ride out onto the beautiful plains.
The next scene is the Hollywood version where he’s yanking on the reins, and the horse it up on its two hind legs, and does that beautiful spinning thing. And then we see closely that the pony express rider, in his left hand he’s holding the bloody and bleeding severed head of Stephen Harper [Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister], and in his right hand is the bloody, bleeding head of George Bush.
We don’t know what our pony express rider’s mission is, but we wish him well.
This isn’t to say Whiteman’s words stole the show (though, admittedly, there was no way “Fast Pony for Victor Jara” could live up to that introduction…). Apostle of Hustle opened the set in relatively traditional fashion, with the first two tracks on National Anthem. But those first two tracks are the record’s stand out singles, “My Sword Hand’s Anger” and “National Anthem of Nowhere”. “Sword” started a little muffled and low-key, but that is its way, lulling the crowd in, even as it gets bigger and bigger. “National” is the band’s most Broken Social Scene-like song, with its encompassing guitar aura and modest-yet-melodic vocals, but this time, one gets to hear it in a small club, not a large, overcrowded major venue (and they only need three people to do it all, not BSS’ double digits).
Mid-set, Apostle largely jumped back in time to their debut release, 2004’s Folkloric Feel, but just as Folkloric isn’t as good as National Anthem, neither were its middle-of-the-set songs, like the title track or “Kings and Queens”, quite as strong as the National ones at the beginning or end. But an exception must be made for “Baby, You’re In Luck” – and not just because drummer Dean Stone stepped up to the front to play (and sit on) a cardboard box. Coming after “Fast Pony” (the sole National song in the Folkloric run), “Baby” was in some ways it was the more appropriate partner to Whiteman’s pony express rider speech, with its slow, sad, Cuban sunset echoing from its first words, “Last night, I got your letter / It weighed as much as a feather / Your words fly off the screen / Saying shit that you don’t mean.”
That spirit of Havana was back again with National’s “Chances Are”, an upbeat, rollicking ‘saloon’-type number that was a curious – and curiously appropriate – follow-up to Whiteman’s spoken description of Cuban heartbreak. But that’s Andrew Whiteman for you: laughing where others might cry, dancing where others might stomp. And that only makes his slower, rawer emotion that much more powerful, like on “Baby”, or the haunting “Chances” follower, “The Naked and Alone”. Apostle of Hustle had an encore break after “Naked” – of all of about thirty seconds, all spent on stage. “Jimmy Scott Is the Answer” may have been a little too slow and sweet for an encore return song, but the group brought the house down with an incredible performance of “Haul Away” (or, as it was justifiably written on their set-list, “Haul Ass”). Easily exceeding its delivery on National Anthem of Nowhere, “Haul Away” live had a macho, Latin American working-class feel and power, which could castanet its way into any gringo’s head – or soul…
Andrew Whiteman’s Apostle of Hustle might be the best fix out there until the next Broken Social Scene performance, or at least until BSS singer/songwriter Kevin Drew’s ‘Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew’ tour (and maybe over that as well) – And one can catch the Apostle in much more intimate environs. But to only say that would be to sell the Hustle far short, as Whiteman’s engaging personality, Cuban influences, and dance-ability married to tragedy, might just be the bigger – and better – reason to be there. We don’t know what our apostle’s mission is, but we wish him well.