Jump to content

Rheostatics Articles


Recommended Posts

At least two articles from today's Toronto Star... Post more articles if you so desire...

Rheostatics' swan song

Without these eclectic rockers - about to play their final Toronto shows - it's safe to say Canada's indie music boom would never have happened

Mar 29, 2007 04:30 AM

Ben Rayner

If there's a positive spin to put on the Rheostatics' looming retirement, it's that one of Canada's most beloved cult bands will shortly be in a position to be rediscovered.

Not that the Rheos' good name isn't well travelled in Can-rock circles. After more than 20 years on the periphery – and occasionally just inside the periphery – of the nation's cultural consciousness, Etobicoke's favourite sons are a familiar, if somewhat obscure, entity to most folks who have a passing acquaintance with Canadian rock `n' roll.

Even if you can't name a single song in the Rheostatics' catalogue, chances are you've heard the Tragically Hip pumping the band at one time or another over the years. You probably read about them in 1995, too, when the national media were briefly abuzz with news that a little-known art-rock outfit from Toronto had been commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada to compose a transporting soundtrack to its Group of Seven retrospective.

And although you probably won't realize it until someone pulls the tune out of the stacks in the days ahead to honour the Rheostatics' final two Toronto shows – one at the Horseshoe Tavern tonight, another tomorrow at Massey Hall – you've likely tapped a toe to the band's one proper radio hit, 1994's lovely "Claire," maybe while thinking to yourself: "Who does this song again?"

So maybe the Rheostatics aren't exactly undiscovered. Like many defiantly iconoclastic musicians before them, though, they're definitely under-discovered.

This is largely their own doing, of course. What the Rheos' discography lacks in stylistic consistency, it makes up for in its ability to consistently challenge, if not baffle. Short of techno and thrash metal, they've tried pretty much everything over the course of their 10 studio albums, as befits a band that would seem to venerate Rush, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot in equal measure.

The rustic folk-rock yelping of 1987's indie classic Greatest Hits and 1991's Melville would give way to the luminous pop of 1992's Whale Music and the eclectic, prog-influenced expanses of 1995's Introducing Happiness, an underappreciated tumult of big-budget studio weirdness that would end the band's brief relationship with confused American major label Sire Records.

Music Inspired by the Group of Seven was followed by the relatively straightforward, Crazy Horse-ian scrape of 1996's Mike Harris-bashing The Blue Hysteria, but whatever mainstream attention might have been regained with sporadic airplay for "Bad Time to be Poor" was deliciously squandered on a children's album titled The Story of Harmelodia three years later. The last Rheostatics album, 2004's 2067, was a concept record envisioning Canada 200 years after Confederation. A tough sell, even in Canada.

"I think maybe they're a little too good for their own good," the Tragically Hip's Robbie Baker remarked to me in 1997.

He's bang-on, really. I've had some near-religious experiences at Rheostatics live shows, cherish a number of their songs ("Aliens (Christmas 1998)" is a fave) and have always found the lads – Dave Bidini, Martin Tielli, Tim Vesely and Michael Phillip Wojewoda, as well as past drummers Dave Clark and Don Kerr – a tremendous bunch of guys, but I'm by no means an aficionado because, to be honest, sometimes I find their more freewheeling antics quite impenetrable.

This is a compliment. Bands shouldn't make it easy for their fans, and I admire the Rheostatics for parlaying their penchant for Canadiana into not just goofy ditties about Wendel Clark and Saskatchewan, but into rustic/cosmic whale music for Group of Seven paintings and cerebral song cycles mulling the future of Canadian nationhood.

The Rheostatics have been pillars of an independent scene and a model of sustainable, self-sufficient artistry untainted by commercial considerations for more than two decades. If they and their contemporaries had not nurtured our rock `n' roll underground, Canada's recent indie boom would, it's safe to say, never have happened. And if they hadn't encouraged a 13-year-old kid to start mail-ordering indie records and looking beyond Good Rockin' Tonite for cool music, I probably wouldn't be writing this today.

So, thank you, Rheostatics. We couldn't have done it without you.

Toronto's rock detritus

[Rheostatics' Dave Bidini takes us on a tour through the city's lost artifacts, A tour of the city's forgotten artifacts]

Mar 29, 2007 04:30 AM

Without sounding too much like the 2000-year-old man, my group, the Rheostatics, and I have seen lots of stuff over our 27-year tundra odyssey. This is particularly true of the evolving Toronto rock 'n' roll landmass, which we first dented in 1980 after our debut show at The Edge, North America's unforgettable live musical beacon. There were other faces, places and bands, too, some of them blurry, some of them vivid. What follows is a quick ride around the city's Jurassic stages, dressing rooms and rehearsal pits, each of them possessing their own weight in what, for us, has been an impossibly sustained, if now-fleeting, life in the verse/chorus vortex.

THE CABANA ROOM: Jimmy Scopes ran the Cabana Room. He wore a white shirt and a black tie – the reputable ex-slinger's uniform of choice – and while his knowledge of rock 'n' roll was limited to suburban bands, art-school freaks and the occasional wandering import, he gave local bands a ladder to climb, bumping you from Tuesday to Thursday to Saturday provided you weren't a dickhead, and if you could somehow rally enough friends to fill the old, mirrored lounge.

THE BEVERLY TAVERN: The Bev tasted like downtown. It was greasy, mature, seedy, and strange, and we were afraid to play there. We saw The Dave Howard Singers, Disband and L'Etranger, who made us feel self-consciously weak and skinny tie'd while showing us that the greater rock 'n' roll universe was about more than playing goofy songs in blazers borrowed from our dad's closets.

START DANCING: Because there were so few clubs booking new music in Toronto, some Scarborough kids started this New Wave concert/sock hop series held in social halls around the city. They were small affairs – so few teenagers were into weird bands back then – and it was easy to get to know everyone. These days, most evenings yield cool kids spilling out of an abundance of clubs but in the early '80s, if you were seen hanging out with someone wearing a target jacket or Gang of Four pin, you were thrown against a wall and fed your own teeth. At Start Dancing, DJs played records they'd bought that day at the Record Peddler or Records on Wheels, and bands like Mark Malibu and the Wasagas, The V-Necks and Fifth Column played. One night, a drunk driver smashed into the entrance of the Desh Bhagat community hall. That was the end of Start Dancing.

COUNTRY STYLE DONUTS: Old Orange Toronto was a shutdown town. The only place for kids to hang out and talk about what bands we'd seen that night was the donut shop across from the Citytv building. In those days, the city closed up after 1 a.m., and in spite of so much new and interesting rock 'n' roll, it was like living in a small Mormon town.

SHADES MAGAZINE: The city now supports two fat weekly arts papers and stages dual pop music festivals, but for a generation it was Shades or bust. Shades was a free tabloid with full-page black and white photos and long essays about art and rock 'n' roll. Its editor, Sheila Wawanash, gave me my first break in the word game, and when my writing appeared in its back pages, it was like getting published in the Village Voice.

RON GASKIN: Back in the mid-'80s, we followed a band called The CeeDees. Ron Gaskin managed them. I knew the band, but didn't know Ron until one evening after a Rheos practice in my parents' house in Etobicoke, the phone rang. It was Gaskin. He said that we reminded him of The CeeDees and that if we stayed together, we could get somewhere. He didn't want to manage or promote us. He just wanted us to tell us that we were good, and that we should try and weather whatever pain or poverty rock 'n' roll might bring, because there was something good there.

ULTRASOUND: Ultrasound was clean and well lit, with windows looking out on to Queen Street. We started our weeklong residencies there, playing nine shows over seven days, pretending to be The Hawks filibustering at the Colonial. One night, we were hosting "Nerdstock," a showcase event for bands we liked: By Divine Right, The InBreds, The Wooden Stars, Adam West, and Gunelbob, with Andrew Whiteman, et al. At around 9 p.m., The Rolling Stones showed up. I looked down from the chair on which I was standing and saw Mick Jagger make his way through the room with his security phalanx. In a moment of profoundly deep uncool, I pointed and shouted: "Hey, it's Mick Jagger!" Old frogmouth looked up at me, turned around, and promptly left the room.

THE DRAKE: Toronto is a great city. It's been our rock 'n' roll home for almost 30 years, and after fighting through years of relative neglect and suspicion, the music-loving mass has grown to the point where weird teenage bands from the edge of the GTA ring can draw attention after 10 shows – before, it took 10 years. The pace and tempo and feel of the city now is what '80s kids dreamed about, confined as we were to a hub – all because the late 1960s resisted outdoor patio life, all-night restaurants, cafés, busy clubs, wild artists and strange bands. In the early days of modern Toronto rock 'n' roll for instance, The Drake was the worst club in town. The downstairs room was a tomb – dark and grey and cold – while the upstairs bar – so finely decorated and cologne'd these days – was a haven for sloppy drunks and toothless women. The only time I've ever felt embarrassed by my vocation was at the Drake. One night, a scary dude with a scrabbly beard took off his shirt between sets and played "Hot Legs" by Rod Stewart continuously on the jukebox while propositioning my sister, who, I think, was 17 at the time. Those days, thankfully, are far behind.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The ballad of the Rheos

On the eve of the Rheostatics' farewell concerts in Toronto, rhythm guitarist Dave Bidini looks back at his iconic rock band's long road to goodbye


From Thursday's Globe and Mail

The Rheostatics' first gig was at the Edge in Toronto in 1980; our last gig will be at Massey Hall tomorrow.

At the Edge, we opened for a white reggae group from Kitchener, Ont., called the Customers. We didn't get along. One of the bands took an obnoxiously long time to sound-check, and then the Rheos' old keyboard player, Dave Crosby, punched the stage wall. Later, the Customers' singer blew his nose during their set and told the crowd: "This Kleenex is for the Rheostatics."

During our set, I felt an unknown force hoist me atop a set of tables near the stage, where I kicked over Coke glasses and beer mugs, creating a joyful mess. After the gig, I remember looking out at the streets around Church and Gerrard: seedy, dark and wild. To four kids who had been driven to the gig by my dad in our family sedan, it seemed too exciting to be real. The next 27 years would confirm that it wasn't.

Bands we've played with: Blibber and the Rat Crushers, the Flying Kites, the Waltons, the Inbreds, Velis Discordia, the Four Ones, the Wardells, Breeding Ground, Woods Are Full of Cuckoos, the Box, the CeeDees, Lighthouse, Rik Emmett, Saddle Tramps, the Rockaderos, Pursuit of Happiness, Violence and the Sacred, the Thought Rockets, Adam West, Veda Hille, the Rent Boys, Malhavoc, the Look People, Suffer Machine and, one evening in 1997, an unknown band called Creed, who refused to leave the stage during a media-only performance, which their record company had begged us to let them do during one of our week-long engagements. Our guitar technician, Tim Mech, discovered that they had moved our amplifiers without permission, so he walked on stage, unplugged their stuff and told them, "See ya in the delete bin!"

Creed went on to sell eight million records worldwide, but broke up with their career in tatters. Their lead singer spent much of his post-Creed career working on a concept album based on The Passion of the Christ, proving that there is a rock 'n' roll god and that he can tell a good joke when he wants to.

The first Rheostatics' drummer was Rod Westlake, whose brother built a little riser in his basement to simulate a live rock 'n' roll setting. We played songs by Cheap Trick, Triumph, the Ramones. Rod's basement was flared with street signs that his brother had pillaged, and, one afternoon, I pretended to call the police about them during a break in one of our jams. A few hours later, the cops surprised the Westlakes during dinner. That night, Rod and his dad brought my amp back to my house. He told me that he couldn't play in the band any more, and suggested we call Graeme Kirkland, who suggested we call Dave Clark.

Dave played us Frank Zappa records and let us rehearse in his basement, which barely had room for our pea-shooter amps and Dave's enormous white Milestone drum kit, which he bought because Max Webster's Gary McCracken played one. It was in Dave's parents' basement where I met my wife, Janet, who was 16 years old and swore a lot. I learned everything I needed to know about music there, which isn't to suggest that we studied chord charts or tonic constructs or how to play in 7/4 time. With our shoulders keening against each other, ears gummed to speakers, arms thrashing the air, we learned how to rock, which is all that anyone needs to know about anything.

We played clubs. Because we were underage, we had to get special liquor permits to perform. A lot of people who saw us figured that, because rock 'n' roll is an impossible life, it wouldn't be long before we climbed down into the real world, struggling like everyone else to pay the bills and stay out of jail. But while we never got rich -- in fact, we got just barely not poor -- we stayed together, defied the odds, assailed time, made a bunch of interesting records, weathered the rise and fall and rise of various technologies, survived crappy record deals, wasted good ones, and tormented, then forgave, managers, agents and publicists. In 2001, we were awarded a small crystal statue that one of us eventually lost -- the CFNY Heritage Artist of the Century, or something like that -- which brought back memories of driving to Brampton, Ont., to give the station's programmer, David Marsden, a recording of our first studio session with songs called The People Who Live on Plastic Lake, Sometimes I Feel Like an Elevator and Radio 80 Fantasy, and driving home hoping he'd play it on the radio.

He almost always did. We toured the country for the first time in 1987. The tour took three months. After surviving Thunder Bay, the rest was easy. Well, not easy. We borrowed the same sedan in which my dad had driven us to the Edge, and it nearly ended up being our chariot of death, seizing on a narrow mountain pass just east of Revelstoke, B.C. But we coasted into the parking lot of a motel, where the owner rented us a Dodge Ram Charger, which we used to scramble toward the coast. That summer, our lives were strewn across the country. We wrote our second album, Melville, then another, Whale Music, then another, Introducing Happiness. We lost our drummer, Dave Clark. The basement could hold us no longer.

Toronto changed, but we didn't, not really. You used to be able to drive 80 mph from Spadina to University along Queen Street, then park at the CITY-TV building for free before going to shows upstairs at the Beverly Tavern -- Dave Howard Singers, Disband, Vital Sines. If you played to 500 people at the Rivoli, it was like playing Carnegie Hall. If the junior artist and repertoire director from Ready Records saw you, you were one step closer to getting on The New Music, a huge achievement in prevideo days.

Being independent meant being weird, courageous, loyal and unfortunate. We lived a secret life, imagining a world where strange bands would give Canada the bold, expressive sound that it deserved, rather than copycat singers aping Duran Duran, Beaver Brown, Dire Straits. The Barenaked Ladies happened; Lowest of the Low too. The Tragically Hip knew we'd been first, but they took us on tour anyway. There was a Group of Seven record, anthems at Maple Leaf Gardens, a psychedelic children's record and Whale Music, the film; the drawer filled, but there was always room for more. Everybody wrote, everybody sang, and everybody had their turn.

Over 13 records, no one ever complained about their song count. "You know what you guys are?" my friend, Richard, once opined. "You're commie!" I argued that we were Canadian, and left it at that, because, like Canada, we weren't only one thing, one voice, one song. We were four satellites who got along, and if you listened closely or saw us on a good night, you got bit. Travellers lost in the wilderness were nursed to safety through our music; attempted suicide cases too. Once, three cops rushed into a fan's flaming wreck to rescue his tape collection. Years before that, Jake got knocked into a coma, then awoke without any knowledge of birds, chocolate or television, but singing Me and Stupid. Another time, a fellow in Florida opened his head shop to find a cracked cassette of Whale Music pushed through the door without a note. He played it, liked it, and every year, he travels north to hear us. They'll all be at Massey Hall, watching us sing until our last small burst of breath.

And then something will die.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Rheostatics rhythm guitarist Dave Bidini is the author of On a Cold Road, Tropic of Hockey, The Five Hole Stories and the coming Around the World in Fifty Seven and a Half Gigs.

The Rheostatics take the stage one last time tomorrow night at Massey Hall in Toronto (and plays a final club show at the city's Horseshoe Tavern tonight).

Link to comment
Share on other sites


One of the greatest collaborations in Canadian musical history is coming to an end tomorrow night at Massey Hall. The Rheostatics are bidding farewell to bassist Tim Vesely, who is leaving the band to spend more time with his young family and dedicate more energy to his side project, The Violet Archers. The break-up is amicable. Well, as amicable as these things can be. Custody of the Tarleks has yet to be determined.

Current drummer and producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda is also leaving the band, but the Rheostatics have lost drummers before: it is the departure of Vesely that brings the Rheostatics to an end as we know them.

Vesely, along with Dave Bidini and Martin Tielli have been together for 21 years. In that time they’ve established a reputation as one of the best live acts in the country and they've released a series of ambitious albums, including 1992’s Whale Music, which is regularly ranked as one of the top ten Canadian albums of all time. The Rheostatics are so literate, so hardworking, so resistant to selling out, and so good at what they do, that their fans tend to form an intimate connection with the band. Torontoist pleads guilty to suffering from this condition. Friday’s concert is guaranteed to be an emotional event for the whole crowd as well as a kick-ass rock show.

Tonight, a pre-farewell concert takes place at the Horseshoe Tavern. Tickets are available through Six Shooter Records. Fans who are coming in from out-of-town, or who just want to meet up with other Rheostatics fans before the show, are encouraged to arrive at the Horseshoe at 8:00 p.m. and gather around the front bar to swap stories and lament the end of an era.

Bidini and Tielli have stated that they intend to continue their collaboration in the future. Whether this collaboration will occur under the Rheostatics banner or not remains unclear, but both men have individual projects that will also be keeping them busy. Bidini is already an established writer and world-wide ambassador for The Best Game You Can Name. Tielli has a number of artistic and musical projects on the go.

As of this writing, a limited number of tickets are still available for Friday’s concert through Massey Hall’s website.

Also: CBC.ca has a great photo essay that tracks the history of the Rheostatics.

Rheostatics hang up their Hockey Skates

After 25 years Rheos to play their final date at Massey Hall

By Mark Wigmore


Like the title of his first book, it was a Cold Road that lead folk prog-rocker Dave Bidini and his Rheostatics from their suburban basements in Etobicoke, Ontario to the vast audio pathways of Vancouver's Thunderbird Stadium.

These three men and their rotating drummer have travelled the Northern passage of Canadian rock countless times, enjoying one of the most loyal followings in the Canuck music business.

No strangers to most of the clubs, theatres, and arenas in this country, on Friday, March 30th they will play their final concert as the classic line-up of Dave Bidini (Guitar/Vocals), Martin Tielli (Guitar/Vocals), Tim Vesely (Bass/Vocals) and the relatively new addition of Michael Phillip-Wojewoda (Drums/Producer) at one of Canada's most famous venues, Massey Hall.

"We don't really get nervous anymore, but it's hard not to get excited," explained Bidini in a recent interview from his home in Toronto. "Usually the venue doesn't make that great of a difference. In this case, it does."

Massey Hall, well over a hundred years old, has staged some of the biggest and most creative names in the business, and recently, the management has made the space more readily available to Canadian artists. Shortly after the appearance was announced, the band's website confirmed that it would be the group’s final performance.

The big question is why?

"Well, Tim (Vesely) quit basically. We wouldn't be breaking up if it wasn't because of that. It's been clear he was headed in that direction over the last year," a usually upbeat but now slightly melancholy Bidini admitted.

Vesely, who sings lead vocals on many of the group’s better-known songs (Claire, It's a Hard Time to be Poor), has a young family and a side-project band called The Violet Archers.

The Rheostatics were formed in the early 1980s and have released over a dozen recordings to date as well as several concerts on video. From their tongue-in-cheek first album Greatest Hits to their soundtrack for the film Whale Music, the wider released Introducing Happiness or their recent effort 2067, the quartet have never been shy about creating a concept or theme for their records.

The group paired a children's book with a recording in the late 90s and in 1995 were commissioned to create an album inspired by the famous Canadian artists The Group of Seven. More recently, Bidini's latest book The Five Hole Stories was re-written for the stage and there are plans for it to tour the country shortly. The music used? Conceived by the Rheostatics of course. The band is currently working out the details.

"Whether it's a different set of musicians with the same name or a different name, I don't know," said Bidini.

The Rheos are receiving some amazing offers since their dramatic announcement, creating a swirl of questions surrounding possible gigs in the future or even group re-unions.

"It's actually typically dysfunctional," sighs Bidini. "We don't even really know how to break-up the right way."

With their Massey Hall performance nearly sold out, the band's fan base is proving their continuing commitment to the music The Rheos make, and for some, the finality of the concert is a tough pill to swallow and hard to make sense of.

"It's like when a marriage breaks up. No one really knows the dynamic except for the people involved," explained Bidini. "Every band breaks up, and for us, we wanted to try and create the perfect scenario that would be beautiful. You don't get to plan or attend your own funeral, but we thought (by having this concert), we could possibly come to that."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...