Tripping the life fantastic

Oh, how the Constantines rock thee.

The Canadian-based five-piece, whose 2005 release Tournament of Hearts (Sub Pop Records) is still turning heads and blowing out speakers, is quickly on their way to becoming a “have you seen ______?” band.

As in: have you seen the Constantines rock your socks?

A mix of Ragged Glory-era Neil Young, The Boss, Fugazi and Motown, the Constantines put on a live show that is all furious wonder.

With lead singer/guitarist Bry Webb’s soulful, nearly hoarse voice belting out lyrics on top of a raw, thick collection of guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, the Constantines have plowed through Portland each time they’ve played here.

And they’re coming back for more.

“It’s a pretty big jaunt for us,” Webb said. “We’re starting off in Canada, playing Sasquatch, then heading to Europe and then back to the West Coast. It’s cool.”

And while Webb sounds laid-back and relaxed, having just walked the streets of Winnipeg, don’t let the casual air fool you.

On stage and on record, he’s an animal.

In fact, it’s a shame that the Constantines are still buried beneath the rubble of bad rock that currently permeates the airwaves.

Despite being on a major indie label, receiving nothing but good press and always drawing a strong crowd when they tour, the band seems to fall below the radar in the rock-talk world.

It doesn’t bother Webb.

“I wouldn’t shy away from selling more records,” Webb said. “But we’re on a good label who are nice to us. We can play anywhere we want. It’s fine. And I’m more concerned with the creative side anyways. I’m just more fulfilled to be writing songs than to be worrying about the other stuff.”

To keep that creativity at a peak, Webb has had to make some minor changes to his life lately.

“I just moved to Montreal,” Webb said. “I live with my girlfriend. I love Toronto and there are things that I’m already starting to miss. But I just needed more space. I’ve got to have space to be able write and create and live.”

It’s an interesting point, especially when you examine the lyrics that Webb so passionately sings.

Coloring the three LPs that the Constantines have released thus far is a world that seems to have been plucked straight out of a 1950s noir film.

And in that film, the leading male is reading a Raymond Chandler novel.

Desperate lovers, desire, weapons, a hint of violence, rage, love and an unkind, uncaring world mix and mingle. There is no reconciliation. And nothing is ever held back.

It’s a world on fire. And everyone is either struggling or making love.

“It’s funny,” Webb said. “Because I actually grew up in small towns. But I think that I always used to fantasize what it would be like to live in the city. To have this seedy underworld. And then, when I moved to Toronto, I saw it. You’re anonymous. And there’s this exposed underbelly that is fascinating.”

Drawing from images of the down and out, Webb is a master at piecing together jarring scenes that always seem to be one piece away from a completed puzzle.

And lately, he’s been trying to trump himself.

“I’m experimenting with writing out of character,” Webb said. “I’ve got this new song, that’s still being worked on. I was walking the streets of Toronto one night and I saw a bagpipe player playing on a street corner. And while he’s playing, three cops pull over a guy in a hatchback. Then they start to beat him. And the whole time, the bagpipe player just keeps playing.”

Classic Constantines.

But there’s a twist.

“I’m writing it from the cops’ perspective.”

Fine stuff from a man who puts Neil Young and Tom Waits at the top of his favorites list.


The Constantines will play the Sasquatch! Music Festival on May 27 with a whole slew of other cool bands. Then they’ll rock Portland proper with Oakley Hall on June 7 at the Doug Fir.