On the release of Kitschenette: The Best of the Dishes (Bullseye Records 2002)...

"Few of Canada's contributors to punk-era musical history have received their proper due, but the lack of recognition awarded iconoclastic Toronto sextet the Dishes seems downright criminal when one is confronted with the singularity of vision and sheer wing-nut ambition displayed by the songs collected on Kitschenette. Drawing on the Dishes two seven-inch EPs, 1977's Fashion Plates and 1978's Hot Property, and a 1977 concert taped, bizarrely enough for TVOntario, this belated career over-view transcends the sketchy quality of the recordings to hammer home just how much the unapologetically arty Dishes accomplished before their rapid implosion. The band's upfront use of keyboards and sax, and its willingness to get a real groove on cuts like Somebody Get Down (Do the Housework) and Fanmail from Some Flounder gave its rubbery punk-funk jams a Roxy Music-careering-sideways-into-the-Stooges quality beyond domestic comparison."
Ben Rayner, the Toronto Star, March 16, 2002

"The long-overdue Kitschenette retrospective of Toronto art-punk innovators the Dishes is finally ready, and it’s an impressive package. Along with tracks from the group’s two sought-after EPs, 1977’s Fashion Plates and 78’s Hot Property, the real reason to get this is a boisterous 77 live performance documented by TVOntario (!) that captures the Dishes flailing and screeching away at their angular best. Rating: NNNN"
Tim Perlich, NOW Magazine, February 28, 2002

"The Dishes, a six-piece led by singer Murray ball and sonwriter guitarist Scott Davey, were never punk — their songs were far too complex. But music scenes were much more flexible in 1977, and the Dishes had a punk-style DIY ethic, which, along with their ambitious musical ideas, media savvy, and tongue-in-cheek performance art shtick, put them at the top of the Toronto scene. Picture Roxy Music with less polish, more humour and songs about Farrah Fawcett, CB radios, and the Fred Victor Mission."
Mary Dickie, EYE Magazine, February 21, 2002


Hoist a fur-lined teacup now and toast a new CD of vintage recordings from the corner of Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue, circa 1977: Kitschenette: The Best of the Dishes.
At the northwest point of that intersection today, homeless teens with spike-collared dogs swarm around a McDonald's. Kitty-corner, on the southeast, designer people sip designer caffeine and nip next door for gritty urban wear: "Look, this shirt is only $400!" Across the stroll stands the Horseshoe, still a musical landmark, but for a nine-month burst in 1978, according to legend, Canada's greatest club ever, hosting everyone from Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor to the then-unknown Talking Heads with the Dishes as the opener.
Bitching about gentrification on Queen West at this point is about as cogent as complaining about it in Yorkville, which, believe it or not, people once did. But the Dishes disc, part of a Can-rock archival effort by Bullseye Records and The Canadian Music Encyclopedia, can't help but peel back years like dermis on an autopsy table. There will be bitter and sweet retrospect on Monday at the release party (the Beverley Tavern, 240 Queen St. West, 6 p.m.). The Dishes, you see, take credit for "starting" Queen West.
What came before is mysterious now, but I gather that for 40 years, the main musical drag in Toronto was Yonge Street, dominated in the seventies by Rush, Max Webster and other bushy-haired hard-rock hosers. Unwanted on that voyage (though kindred spirits Rough Trade managed to squeak in), the Dishes -- the Davey brothers on drums and guitars, Murray Ball on space-oddity vocals, Ken Farr on bass, Michael Lacroix on Ornette-on-E-Street sax, and later Glenn Schellenberg on cosmic-cheeze synthesizer -- wandered down to the discount-shop wasteland that was Queen West and finagled a gig at the Beverley.
The Bev was a seedy tavern, but art-school students used it as a watering hole, so there was a ready-made tiny crowd. The Dishes took up residency. The audience started more bands (the Viletones, the Diodes, Martha and the Muffins, the Government) and annexed more bars (the Cameron, the Crash 'n' Burn, the aforementioned 'Shoe). Gravity shifted. Flash-forward 20 years and presto, designer boutiques and punk-rock pooches.
A music-art-performance-fashion scene bloomed, with conceptual art trio General Idea as its patron saint, and from what I can tell, it did more than anything to kick the stodginess out of olde Toronto. It also inaugurated our endless jockeying for the tiara of Ms./Mr. Most Cool. Half of Toronto's art institutions, and many other tacky scams, are its spawn.
But that's the tale often told. What were the Dishes besides scene-makers? Not punk rock. They were egghead exhibitionists, decked out in uniforms, hanging laundry lines strung with doll parts, bashing out rough remodellings of David Bowie and Roxy Music. Ball's fake English accent is a barrier you have to pass to enjoy Kitschenette, but it blends well with the general out-of-sync wall of fractured, frenetic sound. They wrote smart songs about boring businessmen and Japanese movie monsters and CB radios and politics and love (my favourite being the refusé-romantic Monopolies are Made at Night) -- and even smarter songs about food.
Murray Ball was the chef at Peter Pan when it was a new-wave hangout, and later became a club and restaurant entrepreneur. Drummer Steven Davey is now Toronto's best food critic, dressing up his dining narratives in Now weekly with characters like the Literary Device and the Poncey Pseud, and backing up culinary points -- "Like Joan Collins's shoulder pads, tall food refuses to go away" -- by measuring his meal's altitude with a ruler. (Other Dishes are now book distributors, forestry scientists, movie-sound artists and psychology profs.)
On tunes like Beginning with Breakfast, A Tale of Two Plates and Chef's Surprise, the Dishes took full advantage of the down-and-out artist's intimacy with food services. Like Duchamp getting hairy with ceramics, they transformed mundane objects and found the surreal in the stale, goofy or grotesque, however dingy or chipped some of it sounds today.   The artist who can sing not just for but about his supper is the same sort who can hear potential in a singer who can't exactly sing and a guitarist who can't exactly play. It's the eye that can spot a dilapidated tavern and imagine a boho wonderland. The band's best slogan back then was, "The Dishes: Already a Household Word!" In the city they helped invent, they deserve to be.”
Carl Wilson, the Globe & Mail, Thursday, February 28, 2002 

What they said then...

“Sparks gone punk."
Circus Magazine

"The Dishes have not even surfaced as high as the underground. Theirs is avant-garde rock, very media-inspired and very media-prone. This sextet is so sneaky it can even get you to listen to songs with titles like I May as Well Be Marcus Welby.”   
 Peter Goddard, the Toronto Star

"Too good and intelligent to be called punk."

R. Baegga, Toronto Entertainment Weekly

“If you are given to creating mental images while listening to rock ‘n’ roll, Hot Property — both the song and the EP itself — would immediately conjure up scenes from a 1965 black and white TV where the horizontal hold was malfunctioning. One special word must be given to the Dishes’ sax player Michael Lacroix who, on this record, has discovered sounds Ornette Coleman never dreamed of. This must be a break-through of some sort.”

Peter Goddard, the Toronto Star 

“Witty, sophisticated, mocking and socially conscious, the Dishes may pull the rest of Toronto’s sad, limping scene behind them.”

Paul McGrath, the Globe & Mail

"More whacko artsy-fartsy than punk, the Dishes are as clever and funny looking as Split Enz in their own reserved Canadian fashion...avant-garde malarky..."

The Georgia Straight

"With sweet sounds a la Ricky Ricardo, the Dishes are decidedly the easy-listening flip-side of Canadian punk."

Bonnie Hurowitz, Miss Chatelaine Magazine

"Artiste punkers, the Dishes' lyrics are clever and mildly satirical, and their stage wear includes short hair and straight pants, white shirts with skinny black ties."

Tom Hopkins, Macleans Magazine

"If parents are afraid of their kids getting involved with punk groups like the Ramones, direct them to the Dishes."

Markham Economist

"The Dishes, one of the major art-oriented bands, have a cabaret approach to punk. Their performances are built around carefully developed themes and motifs. They play to West Side Story with the sound turned off, lip-synch to Gary Lewis and the Playboys and dress like civil servants."

The Vancouver Province

“Toronto’s new wave band, the Dishes represent our fair city in Winnipeg tonight at the opening of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. They will be part of the 1984 Miss General Idea Rehearsal Pageant. There will be no pageant, you understand, only the rehearsal. Murray Ball, the Dishes’ lead singer, will sing a song called Hot Property from a ladder, where he will be in hip boots and fireman’s hat and cape. During the song, he will reveal his street clothes, a pink sleeveless top that buckles under the armpits, orange pants with buckles from knee to knee, and an assortment of chains which hold his mid-section together. A great deal of money is being spent for the special effects: they plan to burn the entire set for the show to ashes. Winnipeg will never be the same again.”

Gary Dunford, the Toronto Sun

“The Dishes’ Kitschenette concert at OCA saw the stage hung with laundry and strewn with mannequins posed and costumed as exhausted housewives ironing. They were introduced by a drum majorette who dropped her baton. The songs, too, are normal in the extreme. At least, the song titles are. Murray Ball has a remarkable voice — closer in timbre to a saxophone than a human of any gender — and a great stage presence, like a David Bowie doll that’s been wound-up too tight.”

Lorne Macdonald, the Varsity