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City seduces creatures of the day Add to ...

Why must club shows begin so late at night?

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs reign over the famed post-post-punk scene in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, N.Y., where nightcrawlers and coke snorters cavort till dawn, so it's amusing to picture them in a concert -- tomorrow at the Phoenix in Toronto -- where the doors open at 5:30 p.m.

My unruly mind leaps to an Empress's New Clothes scenario in which uber-chic singer Karen O performs at some outdoor county fair, her Lestat complexion a white splotch lost in the noon light, as yappy dogs and toddlers answer back to the tantrum yelps that fill her shrugged-off, tunes.

Not to scare you off entirely, though. Opening band TV on the Radio also hails from Brooklyn, but this trio's musical address is a thousand floors up. The credit goes especially to singer-lyricist Tunde Adebimpe, whose stylings touch on art-rock, folk, barber-shop and rhythm-and-blues, yet land in parts unknown. Imagine OutKast turned inside out, to reveal the teeth under Hey Ya's smiling surface -- a shadow theatre about love, race and politics that melts private into public, night into day. Perfect for early evening, yet how often do we get that choice?

"The present folly is late hours," Horace Walpole once wrote. "Everybody tries to be particular by being too late, and as everybody tries it, nobody is so."

That was in 1777, when nightlife as we know it was being invented. Until the previous century, entertainment in Europe took place in the daytime, at events like the medieval fairs. But in the Baroque era, celebrations began to be lit by torches, lanterns and fireworks.

Illumination itself was entertainment. The appearance of artificial sunshine under the moon was a festive reversal, an aristocratic indulgence in which the flickering of flames and the play of shadows dissolved the ordinary into druggy abandon. But mainly it was to prove how free you were of obligations the next day.

Gradually, as Wolfgang Schivelbusch describes in his social history of lighting, the middle classes "tried to distance themselves from the petty bourgeoisie and the artisan class in the same way. The later one began the day, the higher one's social rank. Consequently everything began to happen later and later."

By the mid-19th century in Paris, for instance, as any Balzac or Colette novel will remind you, fashionable people would be out to the opera until one in the morning, move on to a cabaret or a brothel, and head home in coaches at dawn, passing the labourers trudging out to the early shift.

So if going to a concert requires that you flip your metabolism into reverse overdrive -- waiting all evening for a band that doesn't show up till it's technically the next day -- blame the age-old pact between entertainers and the leisured types who tug their strings. Artists still position themselves not only outside but above the workaday; aristocratic affectations remain seeded in what you could call the workanight.

Rock stars and club kids, those kings and queens of darkness who never rise before noon, navigate the headlight-streaked map of the city's inverse hours like sherpas bopping through the foothills of the Himalayas. The risk is that their music may portray romance and parties but less often the toil, tedium, tidying-up, voting or going-outdoors elements of life.

Meanwhile the ones unacquainted with the night only get more so. One of the squirmy highlights of the BBC comedy series The Office is a work-team excursion to the local dance club. The characters try to throw off their usual repression, but achieve only regression and utter incompetence in the art of hanging out.

What results is a cruel economy of manners in which the working stiffs get stiffer and the cool get colder.

This weekend, though -- appropriately enough on that mutant leap-year day, Feb. 29 -- comes an event to break those habits. For the release of a 24-band compilation album, local handcrafted-CD label Blocks Recording Club ( http://www.blocksblocksblocks.cjb.net) presents a Sunday show that begins at 10 a.m. and runs until 5 p.m., with a break for lunch.

The thesis of the disc is in its title -- Toronto Is Great. Just so. But in a standard midnight indie show, that argument could dissolve in a puddle of beer: How can you celebrate a community when you've cut off relations with its diurnal self?

So instead, the sun will grin down -- as much as it can at Cinecycle, in a back alley off Spadina Avenue -- on Les Mouches, for example, an extraordinary amalgam of easy-listening folk, jazz noise, humour and same-sex eroticism. Les Mouches' April album You're Worth More to Me than 1,000 Christians (also on Blocks) promises to outdo even its recent Blood Orgy EP for tenderness on auto-destruct, a Sunday-morning sound despoiled by midnight debris.

Mouches singer Owen Pallett is a member of the Hidden Cameras, and many of the others here also have been linked with that "mild-mannered army" -- Barcelona Pavilion, Phonemes, Matias Rozenberg and the Blankket (who literally do turn Hey Ya inside-out) -- as well as the downtown weekly Wavelength series (Lenin I Shumov, Magnetars, Hank, Picastro).

Some seem like temporary goofs and others like proposals to last -- but they are more than enough cause to bring back that town fair, for the renaissance of a city that lately seems to be lit from within.

cwilson@globeandmail.ca

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeArts

 

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