And now a brief and incomplete history (in 92 words!) of Canada’s rock bands invading the United States: Leonard Cohen did it ominously. Joni Mitchell did it acoustically. Neil Young, artfully. Steppenwolf did it on a magic carpet. Bryan Adams did it annoyingly with white-washed jeans (how we try to forget “Summer of ’69”). The Crash Test Dummies did it while humming creepily. Morissette and McLachlan did it Lilith style. Lately, Godspeed You! Black Emperor does it with psychedelics and Hot Hot Heat prefers synthesizers. Touring with Ryan Adams (no relation), the Stills are doing it ambitiously. And now, a band called the VaGiants is trying to do it, hopefully.
Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba (the genesis of other northern rockers, the Guess Who?), the VaGiants are attempting to join the ranks of Canada’s rock elite and unleash their brand of raucous Motor City-fed rock on America, and eventually, the world. And, from the opening staccato guitar riff on “Hotbox,” it’s easy to posit that the VaGiants are chomping at the bit for the chance.
But, eagerness doesn’t always mean effectiveness. And despite the VaGiants effort to, well, totally rock, their 2002 debut Short and Hard is an album from a band who is still establishing its footing.
The VaGiants press release tells me that J-Rod Godriguez (Joanne Rodriguez) aspires to reach Tina Turner’s vocal style. In those aspirations, she falls somewhat short. She resides more comfortably in the realm of contemporaries Lisa Kekaula (the BellRays) and Rachel Nagy (the Detroit Cobras).
Two cuts showcase J-Rod’s promising skills. The first (one of the catchiest on the album), “Nice and Easy,” combines J-Rod’s wailing (“Shut! Yo mouth”) vocals, an unabashed AC/DC riff, and MAMA’s (Chris Bauer) caterwauling drums. In three minutes forty-three seconds, “Nice and Easy” establishes the blueprint for Short and Hard, which is this: play the guitars furiously, drum until the wheels fall off and howl.
The second example occurs five minutes and thirty seconds into “Alright,” when the VaGiants slip into a ’60s soul stance. Awash in reverb and popping vinyl affect, J-Rod nails the mournful vocals, while updating them through an injection of rock-club wantonness.
Taken as a whole, the VaGiants sonically resemble the BellRays. That being said, whether it’s in J-Rod’s gravelly voice (the megaphone she preaches through on “F.U.B.”), or ‘Ol Dirty Craiger’s (Craig Bjerring) manic MC5 (but not quite) guitar work, the VaGiants provide a cocaine kick the BellRays lack.
As the title suggests, Short and Hard is just that. The album just crests the 30-minute mark, and along with the sizzling guitars, the production of the album is also rough. A slight hiss accompanies each track (Are they aiming for an Iggy and the Stooges Raw Power on vinyl feeling … I suspect, yes), which may (and probably should) bring the listener to consider the five-year or so cycle of ’60s garage revivalists (it is a quite a tenacious genre, isn’t it?).
To sum up, Short and Hard demonstrates that the VaGiants have good potential, though they realize it only slightly on their first LP. Whether they continue to produce their own records and mature or are introduced to a good producer and mature, get them some exposure outside of Winnipeg (they really want this, as the Web site announces) and their lifespan may prove to be long and hard (I couldn’t resist. . . . Come on, they’re the VaGiants).