“A new hope for rock & roll”. That’s what NME called Tricky Woo in an ecstatic review of the band’s 1999 album Sometimes I Cry. At that point, the only other Montreal indie band to receive a glowing endorsement from the legendary publication was Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Montreal, of course, eventually burgeoned into a vast, internationally celebrated music scene. But in the late 90s, being recognized outside of the city, let alone outside of the country, by one of the world's most important music publications was a big deal. Also a big deal was that the record was number one on Canadian campus & community radio that year, and that the scrappy garage rock band earned a Juno nomination for it; although they were unimpressed, and didn’t attend the awards gala. More their speed was being recognized by releasing a single on legendary garage punk label Estrus Records - home of The Mummies, Mono Men and many other artists that initially inspired them - the following year.
The accolades for “Sometimes I Cry” had come fast and furious, at a time when Tricky Woo, three albums into their run, was imploding. The end of the last century was still a lean time for rock & roll bands and, arriving where they had, from where they’d come, had chipped away at the inner-workings. Although a broader seismic movement was beginning to rumble (the White Stripes were recording their debut, The Hives were prepping their breakout second album, The Strokes were having their first jams), the full on bum-rush to push rock & roll out of the gutter for that final early-aughts victory lap was still a year off. Around the turn of the millennium, Tricky Woo’s ascent peaked just a little too soon before the zeitgeist caught on.
Formed in 1995 by art school friends Andrew Dickson (vocalist/guitarist) and Sasha Roiz (drummer/vocalist), Tricky Woo was conceived as part tribute to the pantheon of rock, part conceptual art. Influenced by early rock & roll, British punk, Crypt and Estrus Records, the band were relative lone wolves within the city’s tiny garage rock scene, and outright reviled by the “grunge hangover” bands that made up the majority of Montreal’s musical landscape at the time. Amid the arm-crossing, chin-stroking introspection of post rock, Tricky Woo was exciting, a celebration, a kaleidoscope in a sea of grey and flannel.
The trio, which also included bassist John Fazakerly, began by playing only in unconventional venues like pizza parlours, art galleries, lofts and porn theatres. By combining the duck-walking antics of Chuck Berry with the sexually unhinged freak-show allure of Lux Interior and the “play guitar with your teeth” showmanship of Hendrix at Monterey, Dickson’s fiery and menacingly misanthropic performances earned the band a reputation for incendiary live shows.
In 1996 Tricky Woo released “The Claw”, their first 7”, an ultra lo-fi, garage punk record with infectious pop sensibilities. The single and the band’s growing live reputation caught the attention of Montreal’s infamous Vice Magazine, who were inspired by the band to start the short-lived SSG Records (a tip of the hat to legendary SST Records).
As close to a pure garage rock record as the band would ever make, TW’s debut LP “Rock & Roll Music Part One“ (SSG, 1997) is a focused collection of breathless rock & roll nuggets and ear-worms. Drawing on inspirations like Chuck Berry, Duane Eddy, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, and a pinch of glam via Alice Cooper for good measure, it was a perfect snapshot of Tricky Woo’s early sonic M.O.
That same year, they expanded and intensified their sound by enlisting 19-year-old guitarist/songwriter Adrian Popovich. Now a quartet, the band’s music evolved beyond garage punk, moving towards a sound and live experience more evocative of a supercharged MC5. As their live reputation grew, so did the band’s following outside of Montreal. A series of particularly wild shows, culminating in an R-rated performance at an industry showcase at Toronto’s 360 Club, in which Dickson infamously stripped down to nothing but his microphone, led the band to a deal with Hamilton’s independent Sonic Unyon Records.
Bassist Eric LaRock joined the band for their second album, and Sonic Unyon debut, “The Enemy is Real.” Indebted to The MC5, Rocket From The Crypt and Am-Rep’s Lollipop, the album is a mixture of shattered glass guitar tone and acid-tongued sonnets, exuberantly invoking the vision of what they saw as “future rock & roll”. Songs from the album found their way into episodes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Dawson’s Creek,” which brought increased exposure and sent “The Enemy Is Real” creeping up the campus & community charts. Tricky Woo spent the better part of that year zig-zagging across North America, playing with bands like The Demolition Doll Rods, The Make-Up, Murder City Devils, Nashville Pussy, The Makers, The Supersuckers, New Bomb Turks and Sonic Unyon label-mates The Mooney Suzuki.
1999 was a zenith moment for the band with the recording and release of “Sometimes I Cry.” Joined by drummer Patrick Conan, Tricky Woo created what would be their defining cult masterpiece. The album married eyeball-bursting technicolor artwork (by frontman Andrew Dickson), with riffs borrowed from everyone from The Stooges to far less likely inspirations such as Uriah Heep, AC/DC and even Aerosmith. Embracing massive riffs, fuzzed-out space-echo guitar workouts and bad-vibe lyrics (spanning electric orchards, fields of fire, and falling out of clouds), the band veered away from garage rock towards a weird, maximum energy kind of acid punk; something like Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum played at 45rpm. The album was a cannon shot of joy that announced Tricky Woo's existence to those who didn’t know and left its mark on a vast array of Canadian artists, including DFA1979, members of Broken Social Scene, Stars, The Dears, The Stills and Priestess.
After what was inarguably their peak, Tricky Woo pulled a drastic about-face, fully abandoning garage rock and any semblance of punk, just as the sounds they had been mining a couple of years earlier began charging to the cultural fore. “Future rock & roll” was now happening, but Tricky Woo was already over it.
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