This is the second of two posts. Read the first one here
Things got a lot heavier on Friday, both musically and alcoholically. Let’s just say that Saturday morning and I didn’t see eye to eye, but boy was it worth it.
Friday was an early-starter, since I was off to Sonic Boom Records to catch an early in store set by the dudes in Pkew Pkew Pkew (Gunshots), who, if you haven’t heard—and I’m betting you haven’t—are a shit-ton of fun. If you couldn’t figure it out based on their name, they take themselves less than seriously, and their sets are shout-y, hand-clapped and tambourine dominated riots. They’re what happens when indie rockers grow up on Rancid, and even though the crowd at Sonic Boom was real young and inexplicably sitting cross-legged, they were as fun as ever. From the hooks of “Asshole Pandemic” (asshole pandemic/why’s that fucking dick gotta be such a cock?) to the stomp of “Friends Don’t Let Friends Move In With Girlfriends”, their short set was a barrage of gang-vocals, synths and guitar(s) turned to eleven. The best part? I liked when Jordan (guitar) and Brodie (Vocals) high-fived with their tambourines. Yay, friendship!
Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots) – Asshole Pandemic
Up next was Bombay Bicycle Club, and that’s when the crowd got even younger. And bigger. A lot bigger, which is, I suppose, what happens when you’re hyped by NME. The band themselves looked to be about 14, and seemed a bit nervous in what was their first set on this side of the Atlantic. Since I’d never been exposed to their music before, I was surprised to hear them play a uniquely British blend of Bright Eyes and Bon Iver, with lead singer Jack Steadman ramping up his vulnerability for songs like the lyrically, rape-y “Motel Blues” and donning a banjo for some occasional stomp early in their set. Claiming that they normally play with “real instruments” and that the acoustic set-up was a product of their environment—the basement of a record store—it was easy to see why they were at their best with some oomph and energy to their tunes. When they stepped back and let Steadman wallow by his lonesome to his own, wimpy sorrows, I quickly lost interest, but was quickly won over again with the boyish stomp of “Always Like This” and “Ivy & Gold”.
Finishing my stay at Sonic Boom was J Mascis, the legendary Dinosaur JR guitarist who needs no introduction but just got one anyways. The first thing the crowd noticed about Mascis is that he loves the colour purple—his jacket? Purple. His sweatshirt? Purple. His music stand? Purple. Oh, and that music stand. That’s the second thing. J Mascis is a bit…peculiar. He’s clearly a genius, and a master on the guitar, but he comes off a little more than eccentric. He speaks calmly and slowly, his voice not so different from Tommy Chong, and he seemed to be in his own world. In front of him was that music stand I mentioned earlier, and on it, a book of lyrics. Lots and lots of lyrics. After seeing him flip through its pages, I’d wager there’s probably close to his entire catalogue worth. But the last thing worth taking from watching J Mascis live is that he’s one hell of a character and an even bigger talent. He takes his time setting up, but once he does, all eyes latch onto his ever move. For good reason, too. He started his set off with the first and second tracks off his latest album., but midway through the second track, “Several Shades of Why”, his guitar string broke. Rather than, y’know, fix it, he told the crowd to “listen to this for a second”, hit his loop pedal and switched guitars. His second guitar was the exact same model as his first. From there he carried through a set consisting of old favourites and an Edie Burkell cover, but not before sometimes switching his acoustic set into over-drive and blasting the ears of a crowd of unsuspecting but gleefully delighted listeners. He didn’t play long, and he seemed to spend at least a quarter of his set tuning his git-box, but it’s hard to be disappointed. I mean, he’s kind of a big deal.
From Sonic Boom came a bit of a delay, but within a few hours I found myself in Toronto’s legendarily skeezy Bovine Sex Club, waiting for Protest the Hero’s midnight set. It was only 9, but because it’s probably the last time the Whitby five-piece will be caught in such a tiny bar, media and wristband admittance was limited, so that meant heading over early. Luckily Molten Lava started things off right. Their motto is to the point: Four strings, three drums and two dudes, but don’t let their simple set-up trick you. They were loud as hell and remarkably good at what they do. Pinning down their sound is tricky, but it’s sort of what Death From Above 1979 would sound like if they weren’t terrible and were born out of the San Francisco thrash scene. Blaring through songs like “Shred n’ Butter,” “Seein’ Shred” and “Hunt for Shred October”, they won the sparse crowd over with their neck-snapping precision and ability to go above and beyond their simple stage set-up. Bassist Liam Bryant was a total wizard, and I’d wager he played guitar riffs better on a bass than most guitarists do on…uh…a guitar. Drummer Tristan Helgason was no slouch either, varying his balls-out drumming with some skilled interludes and hilarious stage-banter, highlighted by his dedication of one of their new tracks to the Black Eyed Peas, a song which started out with the line, and this is my best interpretation, “your music makes my blood feel sick”.
Molten Lava – Shred n’ Butter
The Pack A.D, who were up next, were not so awesome. Also a two-piece, little to nothing stood out to me about their music other than that vocalist/guitarist Becky Black had one hell of a voice and that most of their songs sounded at least a little like “La Grange”. Not bad, just not worthwhile.
Up next was Monster Truck, who were described to me as sounding like “Grand Funk Railroad if they were a punk band”. Honestly, that wasn’t far off from the truth. They made the best of the Bovine’s less than stellar stage and had necks snapping to their bluesy, organ-peppered grooves. They might not be the pride of Hamilton, but that’s only because nobody’s proud of Hamilton.
Last, but not actually, was Protest the Hero, fresh home from their trip to Australia. And they brought something back, namely exhaustion, unfortunately in Rody’s case, his voice seemed to have gotten left behind. Of course as I’ve hinted at throughout, the Bovine is one of those intimate venues, holding what couldn’t have been more than 150 people, so a few hiccups are masked by the fact that everyone’s crammed tight like a bunch of bearded, skinny-jean’d sardines. The hiccups, for what it’s worth, were few and far between. Rody’s voice was nearly unrecognisable when he spoke, but he powered through, and the rest of the band shredded through a set-list running the gamut from “old” favourites off Kezia to new ones off Scurrilous. The band was tight, too, playing “Dunsel” as easily as they did “Blindfolds Aside,” their penultimate song that was wrongly introduced as “Bloodmeat”. It’s been a long time since I’d seen Protest in such an intimate environment, probably not since I saw them for the very first time at the new-defunct Rockit back in ‘03 (Scott Pilgrim fans know what’s up). Honestly, it’s almost too bad they’ve seen such success since their early, snot-nosed years, because in spite of their finger-waving technicality and undeniable sass, they’re at their best when they can smell the pits of every one in theirs. Call it alcohol induced euphoria, but the shots didn’t happen until much later (thanks, Rody!), but it was some of the most fun I’ve had at a show in quite a long while. I was at the very front of the stage, failing miserably as a photographer but doing my best as a backing vocalist. Arms reach from London…sorry, Mark, the man behind Underground Operations and one of the people responsible for getting Protest off the ground when they were just kids, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. Now, three days later, my neck still aches and my left leg is sore from bearing the weight of the crowd behind me. Of the nearly 50 shots I took, a generous count of three turned out. I’m not sure I’d have it any other way, really. Though it seems written for me to have a microphone shoved in my face during a song I’m not hugely confident belting out (“Reign of Unending Terror”), it’s a healthy consolation to Rody jumping on my face, as he did to close out their set. With the band set to play bigger venues as the summer approaches, it was nice to have Luke and Tim’s guitars swipe by my face, you know…for old time’s sake.
You know how I said last, but not actually? Well, other bands played after, but honestly, the night became a blur faster than my Gatorade came up the next day. You live and you learn. Tequila is always a bad idea, faithful readers. Always. Without fail.