Tombstones In Their Eyes – Maybe Someday

When listening to a record for the first time, I can usually tell within the first thirty seconds of song one if I’ll want to hear it through, skip to song two (or deeper) in search of the chords and vocals that will connect with me, or stop it and never look back. There are also occasions when song one gets repeat playback because it’s so good. And then the same happens with song two. And song three. Music lovers understand this “Eureka!” moment.

Maybe Someday by Tombstones In Their Eyes was my 2019 “Eureka!” moment.

Comprised of John Treanor (vocals/guitar), Josh Drew (guitar), Mike Mason (bass) and Stephen Striegel (drums), Tombstones In Their Eyes is a band from Los Angeles that appeals to fans of psych, noise, shoegaze, alternative, and even sludgy doom metal. James Cooper, an old school friend of Treanor’s now living in New York, is also considered a member as he helped start the band and works with him on song creation. The band released a number of EPs, including 2017’s Fear which was my first introduction to their signature melodic yet crunchy sound, and 2018’s Nothing Here.

On November 15th, 2019, Somewherecold Records released Maybe Someday, and what could be described as a well-polished, cohesive collection of gritty psych-infused noise rock songs.

There is an immediate feeling of immensity on album opener “Open Skies” and the tangibility of this “bigness” caries throughout the title-track and “I Want You”, amplified by the swirl of guitars and the drone of Treanor’s ethereal vocals.  Bass lines and drums are clean and not overstated, effectively complimenting and driving forward the wash of sound enveloping them.

“Down In The Dirt” has a decidedly sludgier feel to it that fans of Philadelphia’s Nothing will appreciate and is a personal favourite, of many favourites, on the album.  Coming in at just shy of six minutes, it’s best played loud, with eyes closed and head bopping.

When listening to the “The One”, it’s not at all surprising that Treanor listed Electric Wizard as one of his favourite bands in our 21 Disarming Questions interview. It’s a dark and heavy stoner rock song, yet feels not at all out of place on Maybe Someday. Like “Down In The Dirt”, it pushes the six minute mark, but I’d welcome an extra long extended version of this one.  It’s that good.

Another shift in direction happens on “I Believe”, the most upbeat song on the album and closest to a “traditional” alternative/psych song before we slow down and slide back into the fog of “I Can’t Feel It Anymore” and “Up And Down” that fans of The Black Angels will surely enjoy.  We leave Maybe Someday with “Dreams”, an aptly-named soundscape of surreal fuzzed-out guitars, vapory vocals and keys.

Tombstones In Their Eyes manages to interlace so many sounds into Maybe Someday without defining the album as any one genre nor lose the mood set out from the album’s opening notes.  It’s a perfect balance and pace and warrants repeated play through from start to finish.

You can get Maybe Someday from the Somewherecold Records Bandcamp page on CD and digital.  Coming soon to vinyl.

Dave MacIntyre

Peter Hook and The Light Live at the Danforth Music Hall

Peter Hook and the Light’s tours have grown with a clear sense of devotion and a work ethic that won’t quit, since hitting the world stage seven years ago. You’ve had to be there, and there could mean so many places where long time fans feel the same way: devoted to the New Order catalogue unfolding sequentially through each tour, and gobsmacked at hearing Joy Division’s music live after so many years, in all its urgency, grit, and singular power.

One cannot help but note the storied career of Peter Hook while the usual suspects – Toronto’s best music fans – who by now finally mostly know each other, against local custom – wait and discuss competing biographies and tours with the devotion of British football fans. For this is our football. Our only sport: music and its peaks and troughs, tragedy that courses through this story’s origins and even us kids like a marble vein, and the resistance to grief that New Order invented out of ashes, their improbably going ahead to New York in full shock and despair (and commitment) and discovering the saving powers of early dance club music, which they absorbed fully into their blood stream and packed in their duffles home to England, is like Camelot to us 80s kids. There is no story like the New Order story, and while it’s often sad and feels so public and yet personal to millions, it never, ever gets boring, in large measure thanks to this man and what he’s lately built.

Tonight Hooky has brought us Technique and Republic, as well as a full separate closing set of JD songs. The set list feels raw and new, considering they’ve been touring it for months elsewhere and our stop is almost at the extreme end of the run. Lead vocals are traded off between Hook and (Monaco band mate) Pottsy, who has added much to the show since he joined, with his better-than-the-real thing Bernard Sumner vocals that thrill and delight some very tough customers who memorized every note decades ago. There seems to be a few moments of confusion about who and when sings which parts, but no matter – these shows, songs, instruments, and Hook’s sheer will never have rust on them and never will, and their authenticity is always so refreshing to see that it works. The format Hook has chosen for these yearly tours is a risky one: instead of playing the tried-and-true hits, of which New Order has so many, and perfecting a formula that might be an easy one, he starts over each time with an intention to recreate full albums and see where the night takes the band.

Full albums were never arranged to be performed live at all, and not in album order, that trend that has become the (no doubt maddening) formula in the recent years of our formative music’s live resurgence. Technique is one of New Order’s very best let it play albums, but unfortunately for this writer its tracks are light on signature Hook bass lines and truly blinding moments of euphoria that we’ve become so spoiled to enjoy this close for some years now. It’s an addiction, the best kind. And we are used to getting so much of the pure stuff. It’s not a point of pride to say one misses the Substance tours, as nothing on earth can compare to that playlist, culled as it was from the best and most popular of a decade that shaped our very heartbeats and lives there still. And no real fan stops there.

Because the moments always happen. Second song “All the Way” hits in brand new ways, with its clear, pure poetry, written by a young man that resonates more with years on us:

It takes years
to find the nerve
to be apart from anyone
to find the truth inside yourself
and not depend on anyone

A surprising highlight of the evening is the rarely (if ever) played “World in Motion”, helped quite capably on guest vocals (we hear) by a mate of the band’s young son (well done, lad!) And while the crowd dances and bops and hollers for allsorts, there’s one particular glowing moment of private joy where we stand, in the form of “Regret”, which is a song that sparked love that is now in its 25th great year. It is a monument for just us two, who’ve been closer than we ever could have dreamed to this legend and now stand swaying at the back of the room.

The music of classic Technique and better than you may remember Republic is all much missed and holds up so gorgeously. The Hook shows over these years of true graft that new and hungry bands should envy and aspire to have seemed to build a solid group of us returners as well as continuing to awakening new/old fans who were under the misapprehension that our music was from a bygone time and lives only in YouTube now. This, friends, is not nostalgia at all, not a blip, but offers powerful encouragement. The word of Hooky’s stunning shows has spread so delightfully in the old-fashioned manner – hand to hand and word of mouth, that it’s become something of a resurgence of the immediacy of our 1980s culture itself, hard as that is to quantify. You had to be there.

Jacqueline “Forever and a Day” Howell

Rev Rev Rev – Kykeon

Italian Shoegazers, Rev Rev Rev, have released Kykeon via Fuzz Club, a crunchy 10-track album that is as much a marriage of doomy metal and psych as it is a reverb drenched Shoegaze album.

Kykeon moves along slowly, but threateningly giving it a lava-like quality; sludgy, thick, deadly and unstoppable.  Tracks “3 not 3” and “Sealand” are great examples of this.

There are a few lighter moments. Mid-way track, “One Illusion Is Very Much Like Another” dials back the abrasive fuzz in favour of crisp guitars and unsuppressed vocals, as does “Summer Clouds”, but the menace is still there, barely hidden beneath the surface.

More “metal” moments include “Gate Of The Dark Female” that could pass for a Black Angels/Sleep collaboration, which is never a bad thing and album single “Clutching The Blade”, the fastest of Kykeon’s songs that has an early Smashing Pumpkins vibe that will guarantee repeat listens.

Kykeon is a perfect record for those that enjoy a band that can mix genres without losing cohesiveness.  Psych, Doom, Shoegaze and Alternative all play their part to keep the record fresh and interesting throughout all 10 tracks.

Buy Kykeon on CD and vinyl from Fuzz Club HERE or digital download on Bandcamp.

Dave MacIntyre

Ride Live at The Danforth Music Hall

Ride takes the stage at Toronto’s jewel, the Danforth Music Hall, like visiting old friends. This is one legendary British band who never forgets us, not in the period of recent global shoegaze resurgence or once they began recording new music again in 2017, with return visits on both album tours since. This venue feels a bit like a secret, where so many great British bands we could largely only long for in the 1990s as we pored over back pages of NME and Select magazine, have found their way regularly in recent years.

They enter to “R.I.D.E.” beginning a nineteen song set confidently with two more brand new ones: the shimmering “Jump Jet” and the infectiously jangly, harmonious and optimistic “Future Love”, rounding out their opening set with the eternally fresh, still urgent call to creative soul action: “Leave Them All Behind”, its extended outro firmly setting tonight’s musical mood. We are in for a treat, with classics and new tracks seamlessly mixed, a range of moods and sounds blended together with mastery, and all of it united by Ride’s iconic harmonies and tight-as-a-drum rhythm section.

The new record (the band’s sixth) is the extremely well received This is Not a Safe Place, their second new album in two years (2017’s Weather Diaries was their first since 1996’s Tarantula). Six new songs are played tonight, including one for the very first time (“End Game”). There’s the blistering, driving and psychedelia-tinged “Kill Switch” the exciting driving dance beat of “Repetition” and “Shadows Behind the Sun”. “Eternal Recurrence” sounds as if it could have emerged from any era of this band, and all the new music is stunningly impressive. It is the sound of a band – still united today with all four original members – who still have much to say, who won’t be pigeonholed by genre, era, or scene – the hallmark of true artistry.

The rather foreboding yet presciently titled This is Not a Safe Place speaks to this precise moment of late 2019, at the close of the first twenty years of a new century, so far from the defiant optimism of the 1990s we remember. The title suggests: Don’t get too comfortable. Stay alert. Be ready to move. It seems to connect to 2017’s Weather Diaries, then a darkening global moment when we were, perhaps, still looking for signs mystical, tribal or elemental, to save us. Ride’s new message is received clearly by the realest communities, global ones, a people united by music, values, critical thinking ability, and taste. Music is still a powerful form of protest, of rebellion, and of activism. It shakes us awake from the 24-hour news scroll, and fortifies our spirits for the daily onslaught, the next bad headline, or the gloom that’s come to rest on our shoulders too permanently. This album and its messages are sure to top the best of lists for this year as well as inspire both emerging bands and Ride’s contemporaries alike to create something new, urgent, and fearless in 2020, in defiance of all the noise.

The rest of the set is judiciously spread across the strong back catalog, including: “Chrome Waves” “Chelsea Girl” “Twisterella” “Drive Blind” and “Vapour Trail” (custom designed to ricochet you like a DeLorean back to whatever age you were in 1990).  The crowd may not be too familiar with the weeks’ old new album yet, but they are committed and enthusiastic throughout. It is always heartwarming when lager louts don’t push forward for just their favourite old song, but a crowd settles into some sort of harmony for two hours. It is the ideal, and somehow, in the alchemy of rock and roll, it’s influenced by the artists themselves.

Shortly after the show, the band casually reconvenes at a nearby pub, itself a local institution that still welcomes new and traditional music to its small stage. Here, music talk is avid and casual, all barriers removed, as Ride’s harmonies still run through our heads and a few keen-eyed fans suss them out for a shy hello. The band are gracious, chill, and the epitome of cool, standing right there at a neighbourhood local, at ease with all of it: life, music, us, and the road, their home away from home.

Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Dave MacIntyre

Matty Fest at RBC Echo Beach: Stellar food, Legendary Music and Chill Late Summer Vibes

Who says summer is over? Not everyone runs on schedules based on the school year. Some of us follow the beat of music, searching for chances out-of-official season to hit beaches and enjoy the unique experience of outdoor music festivals for an extra hour, a day, or a few weeks. Some tireless souls even find a way to juggle both things.

In Toronto, RBC Echo Beach famously rolls that dice for a few weeks into late summer, the outdoor concert venue sitting adjacent to the Budweiser Stage and the water’s edge of Lake Ontario. Here, visitors from spring to fall get to feel the night breezes and an amped-up lake effect rarely found elsewhere in the city, where sounds bounce off high rises and music fans walk gamely through a street and off-road map that only locals and event-goers know, the shortcut of a lifetime of trips to or through Exhibition Place, and the streetcar crawl vs. walk internal debate of recent years’ traffic snarls, all of it worth the teenage nostalgia accomplished only by wandering around in the dark on the last fumes of a beer buzz in your home town.

Matty Fest sprung from Chef Matty Matheson’s parties in the Toronto basement of his iconic restaurant Parts and Labour.

A festival that is equal parts food and music (and Matty) this year’s Fest featured The Wu-Tang Clan’s 25th Anniversary, Descendents, Gogol Bordello, Danny Brown, and Toronto’s own METZ, as well as a roster of food offerings from Toronto’s varied restaurant world (and beyond). The line up has grown over the years, and in the city’s declining corporate festival scene, stands out this year as remarkably astute. Each of these artists is completely different, cutting across geographic boundaries, eras and genres, but somehow the effect is a cohesive whole. The cohesion today comes from quality of performers, execution of the event (details big and small) and keeping it as simple as possible. We are back to grassroots, and we need to rebuild in the model of Matty Fest (and recently suspended TURF and Field Trip as well.) Each of today’s artists are here to kill, and the crowds at the main stage lack the usual churn of other festivals. People in this crowd are here to stay and want to see it all, with their kids on their shoulders and their last days of summer, for the nights have already grown cold.

Matty Matheson takes the second stage for remarks late in the afternoon, before the big acts begin their sets. He is a shambolic delight, and among the ramble which gives us a chance to rest in some shade for a time, you should know that “this whole festival is brought to you by the brokenness inside of you” and his caveat: “I’m not a stand up com-goddamn-edian.” No, he’s a magician. Matty Fest 2019 quickly becomes a historic day and a fest to look forward to in future years.

Danny Brown shows what one man and his own urgent sounds can do, in the beating sun (all while, he says, working against the abundance of barbequed ribs “too much good food….they expect me to rap?!”) Brown’s laughter is infectious and one of a kind. He laughs “AHEE HEE HEE HEE…” and is the greatest sound. The mix tape phenomenon who emerged in 2010 still has all the fire he is famous for, BBQ notwithstanding.

Gogol Bordello entered the music world with something so strange and firmly outsider-ish, but was quickly embraced by the world with their musicality, spirit, raw energy, and intimate folky-ness that only seems apparent years after seeing them the first time (then, in a steaming, over-packed club). It is only now that we hear the fully realized phenomenon that they are the closest thing to The Clash we post-punk kids will ever know, and they are stunning. They come out today performing at notch “11” and never turn down the momentum, from “Start Wearing Purple” to “Alcohol” which feels like a gorgeous dirge for ones own spirit, to the only line I write down as if it was my own: “Letting my inner saboteur run loose!” In this set up, the outer edge of stage left turns out to be the only route in and out of backstage, and to see these colourful creatures pass by us to and from stage while everyone else is unaware of them becomes a highlight. You might not expect singer and dynamo Eugene Hilz to touch you gently on the back passing through the crowd politely, but he does, and so my night is made.

No well-rounded true festival bill is complete without at least one true punk legend. Descendents have it all, honed since 1977 California. We hear their influence down the years, in a range of sounds of almost any subsequent band who claimed the word punk.  Their songs are short, furious, and angsty.  Timeless. Headliners Wu-Tang Clan have the entire site flocking to the main stage as the night grows dark and cool. They start the show with three Wu-Tang related film trailers: now that’s a move. Their video, light show and eclectic soundbites create the biggest spectacle of the night, as the headliner is supposed to do. Most of the original members are in attendance, along with the son of the much missed Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and people hop fences from VIP to get into the mix as they oughtta do.

We sampled food from around the site which seemed to be a big draw with healthy lines everywhere and a great mellow accompaniment to a family friendly day of music in the perfect breezes of September by our too-often underutilized waterfront. Our favourites were a jambon sandwich from The Swan and an unbelievably satisfying crispy fried chicken sandwich from Five Point Hot Chicken which serves traditional Nashville hot chicken, beautifully spiced and seasoned (834 Bloor Street West). The Fest prioritized minimal packaging, less waste, and aimed to sell out of all food, rather than be stuck with unsellable food. Leftovers were planned as donations.

A popular choice was the boxed pizza from Maker seen carried across the site in boxes, an ideal option for sharing with families or groups. Matty Bucks made the day a fun, immersive and “CNE” like experience, as we had a budget to spend on food (having already stocked up on bucks) and so made sure we used our budget and ate, something sometimes forgotten in the journalist’s rush from photo pit to pit and between stages.

After a recent trip away that was a logistical mess from an event attendee perspective, Toronto’s norms seem refreshing and almost nurturing. After all, if you are going to splurge on painful big stadium prices for cold tall cans of beer, said can better be swimming in ice water in the Canadian fashion, and sold by ample vendors scattered across the site accepting both hard currency and plastic. Furthermore, this should all be accomplished without wasting time away from the music in long lines. The sellers at Echo Beach are efficient and yet friendly. They kindly point out the water refilling station behind you, for later (which are manned, a luxury).

Echo Beach is a wondrous site for smaller festivals, with its cozy layout and clear paths that make the visitor feel welcome and reduce disorientation. Not to sound like a bore, but you forget about niceties like clear and useful permanent or temporary signage (in a semi-unfamiliar place you might visit once a year) until you visit another place and find yourself wandering a foreign golf course, feeling like a written off stray golf ball in pursuit of a restroom (or the supposed to be clearly marked spot you’ll need later to find your friends when the wifi inevitably fails.) Time is money. Time is now set times, we all run on them like we are crew, once we learn the hard way after missing too many acts due to time mismanagement in best forgotten festivals prior. Time is precious in the fleeting hours of September summer, with threatening gray clouds today of a kind that have blown out past festivals at this fully outdoor venue, and here at Matty Fest every single one of us knows it. We look to the clouds like demi-gods ourselves, one baleful glance each, and they move aside, scattering a few drops at intervals but obeying our collective deep need for one more day like this, for once.

We are now in a world of at least three generations of families born after Rock and Roll, and the young families of Toronto who breathe music have their children used to the flow of such days already. It’s a new and beautiful era for music festivals. Where my era’s children had only the Santa Claus Parade or Firecracker day down at Kew Beach or historic forts as places to sit on their dad’s shoulders, today’s babies have the air traffic controller headsets in candy colours, the correct rock t-shirts and the roll-with-it ability that we strived for against our parents’ suburbias and normal dinner times as burgeoning punks and post-punks, once. Now, families define themselves, vacations are as varied as places on the map, and kids under 12 can attend festivals for free (whereas many rock gigs were and still are 19+ in Toronto.) It’s great to see. It’s great to know about, and you gotta get there next time you see a poster.

Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Dave MacIntyre and Jacqueline Howell


Danny Brown

Gogol Bordello


Wu-Tang Clan

Lowest of the Low – AGITPOP Release Party at The Danforth Music Hall

Lowest of the Low AGITPOP Record Release party, Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, May 31.

It’s a spring Friday night in Toronto and the Music Hall is packed full of Lowest of the Low fans. People who know this band’s 1991 debut record word for word. We’ve grown up with it. It holds a very special place in our Toronto memories (and beyond) and it has the power of great, singular music to transport its fans back to our younger selves. Not a few of us are here with the same ones we’ve been listening with since the 1990s, when bands had lots of time to bake, albums were played until they became our own anthems, and time moved slower.

Shakespeare My Butt, is, as the irreverent title suggests, an energetic twenty-something that’s equal parts bookworm and upstart. It was not common at the time for Toronto bands to take pride and ownership in this city, still then, deep in its insecurity complex and far too susceptible to American and British media, music, and notions of what cool was. But Lowest of the Low did that. They sang about making out late at night on Bathurst Street. The simple drunken joy of a tin of beer at the east end’s Only Café (a legend, already, back then and an institution by now). The Carlaw bridge appears. These are not references for the tourists, they do not pander to the American radio market, and they mean nothing to people unfamiliar with our neighbourhoods. They are community references, and references now belonging to fans of this band.

The album is Canada’s own George Best, the much-lauded classic Indie British record by The Wedding Present from the same period which documents, in sometimes excruciating detail, the cycle of first love through open-hearted, ripped from a diary verses. Both albums took hold of their respective cultures.  Shakespeare My Butt is an edgy album, featuring a then very bold use of profanity and frank talk of sex, both things that fuel young lives.

Bands with iconic albums slow-brewed over our formative years have an uphill climb when releasing new music today. There will always be the nostalgists, the “play the hits” louts. But the release of new music for our important 1990s (Canadian) bands is a big milestone today, and one well worth celebrating. The set weaves old and new rather seamlessly, with a lot of thought given to the set list and where to place the sure fire hits. But the Low needn’t worry. The new material is wholly their sound, still full of activism, boldness and the gritty love of those in need that their band name speaks to, with a well done accompanying video display that weaves historic civil rights march footage with the contemporary and the local, as seen as a backdrop on “The Barricade”.

Friends are brought out, filling the stage with a horn section and a bongo drum player. Guitars are swapped madly as the band runs through songs with the same energy as the records, and with Ron Hawkins in the rarest of voices, one ever-clear and unchanged across 25 years. A wonderful moment comes when Hawkins places his microphone in front of a woman in the crowd to ask her to tell us a story. She doesn’t hesitate. She’s ready. She mentions back in the day, CFNY 102.1 The Edge, hearing the song they are kicking into, having gone through a rough time and how it helped her through it. It’s a perfect soundbite of a story we all can relate to. Ron lays back on the stage, the microphone above his head, like he’s at home on his bed in that time travel world of last century on a long distance call over a cord stretched from one room to another. He looks utterly at home. He says speaking of CFNY…

Dave Bookman’s death of last week is still right under the surface of this city’s skin. Hawkins says some perfect words up to the rafters and beyond about Bookie, that he’s here, that “we’re just gonna keep on doing what he would do until he tells us to stop”.

The Low demonstrates that they still have their finger on the urgent pulse of what matters. Tonight the front row (in our end of the room) is solely comprised of petite, devoted women, who get to see and hear a rallying cry from one of our clearest voices for their rights, which are being challenged as we speak, even in 2019, half a century after the civil rights movement.

And it’s a fight that needs to be fought at every corner, even in rooms as friendly and warm as this one.

All standing room rock shows bring out the possible tension being shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, in an unregulated area which relies almost totally on non-dickish behavior. Here, as in past Lowest of the Low shows, the room is quite an even gender mix (more than in many rock shows). One complete star of a fan is at the barrier on crutches. You gotta love music fans with all your heart. But one man emerges, looking to “good-naturedly” push and bully his way to the front. He is large, and uses his size to get his way, along with an uncomfortable jocularity. For we are not all jocks. We all have the right to enjoy a show in our own way. Majority rules, I guess, and in this part of the room (which happens to be the front row, stage right) there are quiet couples and women giving each other reasonable space. Until one man elbows, high fives and points his way to the front during, predictably, one of the hits. He even pats a stranger on the head. He’s alright when people go along with his ploy to push in front of others, the oldest trick in the book to the seasoned gig goer, but when he meets any resistance (even being ignored) he turns ugly. He disappears halfway through the show, a relief.

Tonight’s show closer is the melodic, honest sing along, “Rosy and Grey”, which talks about the simple pleasures of life on the margins / for the young. The fleeting freedom of the EI check (Unemployment benefits / “the dole”) meaning one can pay for a round of drinks. Regrets and reminiscences. The cheeky line about oral sex which is part of a couplet that is actually one of the most romantic in Canadian music history. This is The Lowest of the Low. The album became a phenomenon because their punk sensibility and fearlessness about their content broke through and said what everyone was thinking, told the truth about what young people (and hell, older people too) were doing and how we were living. And it holds up today, is enshrined as a classic album, as much as contemporary music ever can be in this country, these days, by a bands’ own bootstraps and the goodwill of fans willing to buy a box set.

Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Dave MacIntyre

The Twilight Sad in Toronto, May 16th 2019

The Twilight Sad: Toronto, Velvet Underground, May 16th, 2019.

The Twilight Sad have returned to Toronto with their latest album It Won’t Be Like This All the Time. 

The Sad have built a fanbase here, as elsewhere, over many years, playing the circuit of gritty rock clubs and halls that we are damned lucky still exist. They’ve played the big stages, having opened for The Cure across their massive North American tour in 2016 (locally headlining Bestival Toronto that year). We first caught the Kilsyth band in 2010, as part of an exciting bill of up and coming Glasgow bands that were gaining wider recognition. At that time, the riveting stage presence of James Graham was something this not-yet-writer found overwhelming. Long distant, then, from the happy days of similarly sized concerts from bands who came over from the U.K., I was rusty, out of practice. It turns out I had been asleep. If I’d ever been at front of stage in my youth in the 90s, an alcohol and convivial haze was half the point, the precise memories sketchy and full of youthful blank spots. And stadium shows, pre-big screens and big sound, were wishful thinking, all of us sitting in the cheap seats, light blue plastic they were, all of us thrilled just be be there, at all. None of the nuances of performances, nor even full confirmation these were the same people from our posters, was really possible.

So seeing The Twilight Sad on an intimate stage before a passionate crowd was something I wasn’t ready for in 2010. Graham’s stage presence is by now, famous to all who’ve been in those rooms and festival fields. But I’d never been around (or close enough) to see an artist give it all from his marrow, eyes white and rolled back, body possessed, clothes melted, singing from somewhere primal, somehow looking good doing it, but doing everything that repressed cultures are told will get you labeled. I lived in a land defined by measured lawns of puritanical social codes and tall poppy syndrome. I had forgotten (never seen up close) that true art and bloodletting performance is rare, special, what music fans wait for or may never get to see. That they aren’t something of flat, priceless images from the 1970s, you-missed-it, New York. But in 2010, I had not yet learned to hold myself un-self-consciously in a crowd with full ease and abandon, even alone, not needing liquid courage anymore, finding my religion in the chords of our few stalwart, saintly poets who miraculously return to us year after year, despite airports and border patrols having not one art-loving bone in their entire structures. I hadn’t swayed, eyes closed, beyond the need for visuals, photos unnecessary, phone away, in a place of transcendence that artists build with their audiences, each of us a vital part, a temple constructed and dismantled in 90 minutes anywhere the bus can take them, or us.

Now, Velvet Underground, a former nightclub / bar haunt of ours, has been refurbished and decluttered as a central downtown site for excellent club-sized gigs, and is run by people who still value links to important bands from overseas. I’m ever aware of the history of even this new paint, our limited and fragile Toronto landmarks, and the great fortune that conspires to enable this lifestyle at all, when there is a movement in the corporate, corrupted media arena that tries to convince all of us who know better around the world, that guitars and real music made by hands and voices is something dying, retro, uncool or obsolete. It’s all lies. Rock and Roll still has enormous, incorruptible power to threaten the establishment no matter how the establishment shakes its ass or how much smoke and mirrors they trot out to soulless arenas. We go on.

En route to this gig, The Twilight Sad updates their fans on their tour from the road. A necessary cancellation due to illness for the lead singer means doctor-ordered rest for two days, in order to be able to make Toronto’s show. Then, the airline loses essential band equipment. At the gig, Graham, a man of few words but much sincere feeling, tells us that the band were the guests of Border Services for three hours today. Getting to Canada is not easy, and the bands who make the effort mean more to us then ever.

Now to the gig. Due to unavoidable delays we arrive midway through Kathryn Joseph’s set, regrettably, as it’s clearly not to be missed. The crowd of The Twilight Sad fans is silent, respectful, enraptured at this lone figure curled over her keys performing her award winning debut double album Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled. Toronto Bros have been chased out of town with pitchforks: this is why we (forever) need more female representation up on our rock stages. Joseph commands the room with a syrupy voice full of life and heart, her evocative, clean lyrics repeated until I see the story unfurled before me of this specific love, this pain, this universal dirge we must grapple with as humans. No talking is permitted by strangers who’ve adopted a code unusual for Toronto gigs, a single, withering dirty look as effective as a young mother to her child was, in my day. It’s impressive in every way. This is her atmosphere, one made by music alone, and it is a perfect complement to the Sad. Joseph is a fellow Glaswegian and support for their whole tour. Don’t be late.

As expected, James Graham emerges in full physical force, perhaps front loading his energy in case his still very ill throat and body lets him down later. He touches his chest like you do when you need your nana-nurse, and yet his vocals never flag, causing worry amongst a devoted crowd who care about him even more than their night’s entertainment. He’s earned it over years of hard graft, and great music. The set is a full one, as the rest of the room drips sweat in the strange mid May humidity of Toronto that swings up and down by 25 degrees in a few hours. We know and empathize with persistent flus and colds around here, and we aren’t even trying to sing.

The set moves through seven songs from the new album It Won’t Be Like This All the Time and finishes with an emotional wallop: “Cold Days From the Birdhouse”, followed by a cover of Frightened Rabbit’s “Keep Yourself Warm” in honor of the late Scott Hutchinson, a friend whose death rocked his community of fans as well as his music family. We must all keep ourselves warm. We must keep each other warm. Alive. It is a war cry against the darkness we must fight. The final song of the gig, “And She Would Darken the Memory”, which has been in the set since 2007, is a mic drop moment of modern music that tells everyone that real music is the farthest thing from dead, like many great and organic art forms has just been badly treated by an industry. But music is not an industry. And so, in free-fall, the music that can flourish now is only, ever, art.

This band, back in 2010, was too big for the stage I saw them on, in my town that I believed then did not let people stand to their full height (or reach beyond it). They gave the same, major performance and sound that would enable them to fill The Cure’s massive stage as support for the massive, historic 2016 North American tour, a record-breaking route that carved a map like a joker’s smile, taking a continent to church in three-encore sessions. By then, the Sad were more than ready. And they are still perfect on the rock club stage where fans get the best of both, like it was a private party. This band can do anything and has only grown with the opportunities they’ve been given – for how do you not learn from the best, and the biggest changes? The Twilight Sad is a band now in full flight, who must be seen live at every opportunity. Nobody moves from their spot. Most of us have a perfect, tight view, even eye contact. Shouting distance. Trust.

Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Dave MacIntyre

Disintegration: For The Ages

By Jacqueline Howell

Thirty years later, Disintegration is both transformative and transcendent. The chronicle of a break down and survival has grown with us into a uniquely life-affirming artistic statement.

DISINTEGRATION, as is the fashion these days, is celebrating an anniversary. Or is it a birthday? With passing time, with invented mini-holidays for all and sundry, and with the ease of online, free of the discomfort of the “Happy Birthday” song, we celebrate these milestones of new classic records.

We fans celebrate them wholeheartedly. Disintegration’s anniversary is couched within the larger anniversary of The Cure themselves: a band at the milestone of 40 with no signs of slowing, a band with a face unlined and gaze still sharp, and one with a voice THE SAME as ever, as clear, even singing in the same youthful key. The Cure’s legacy is not bronzed and flattened, rather, it’s a vivid one, an event in defiance of time, age, and expectations. The Cure’s recent milestones have been marked in their own way. Conceding to the rare public spectacle, there they all were at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (providing a mini concert and even an unlikely, endearing meme for forever fans and casual observers, both). Celebrations more personal included Robert Smith’s curation of Meltdown Festival in London last summer, followed shortly by the legendary concert (/mini festival) in Hyde Park in July (filmed by Tim Pope for a future feature-length concert film) which saw 50,000 of us singing entire verses like football chants while the intro notes were still issuing into the shimmering heat wave atmosphere. Among many other cues, a DISINTEGRATION fan will never hear a stray neighbourhood wind chime the same way. It sets off “Plainsong” in our hearts.

None of The Cure’s 40th Anniversary events have been anything other than what feels appropriate for a band immune to branding, hype-resistant, stoic and incorruptible, whose genre is CUREMUSIC and CUREMUSIC only. This band, like few others, has moved into the difficult digital and downright messy social media age with their own unique take on grace. There are only rare, gem-like all-caps updates from on high. Occasional, mannered calls for pressing issues of the day. Do vote. Tour news, sent out just once, needing nothing more. The communiques are never mundane or shallow – and so millions choose to read them as personal correspondence.

April / May is the traditional season of new Cure releases, so we’ve had a lot to mark and celebrate along with the 40th. It’s also the time of year that the band’s founder celebrates (or ignores, for all we know) his birthday. In my home, we’ve re-named Record Store Day Robert Smith Day, as it fell on his birthday last year. And these last few have been special, so we’ve got to celebrate what we can, don’t we? We’ve lost too many artists we’ve loved blindly and fully, their lyrics tattooed across the skin of countless fans, their tours embedded in the fabric of countless lives, names out of songs bestowed upon a generation of babies, so many artists at once an indelible part of us, yet gone too soon, often painfully, even brutally. It seems everyone knows loss first hand now, as well as the universal pall of the Black Star, or a Firestarter, impossibly, extinguished. So we must rally for ourselves and our allies and our few worthy heroes like never before, with deeper context than rock and roll music was ever meant to carry, and especially, far beyond the industry’s low expectations for the too often dismissed post-punk “80s” which was called then “new wave” or dismissed by sneering critics as “haircut” music. Through all of this roller coaster of life we met The Cure’s music. And in the years since, we’ve continued to find new facets of The Cure, and prismatically, ways to understand our own lives.

Reeves Gabrels and Robert Smith of The Cure at Riot Fest, Toronto

DISINTEGRATION is, reportedly, an epic journey through early-mid life crisis. Is this common knowledge? From reliable sources?  From the source himself? Or have we intuited it? I’ve only ever taken liner notes as plain fact. You feel it, though, it permeates the work, with an urgency: an artist nearing age 30, having worked a lifetime already building this strange, beautiful creature, faced with his worst critic, the one inside, and pivotal questions both artistic and personal – ones not so different than the turning 30 moment that keeps us all awake. Do I marry? Have a family? Is love lasting? Is my best (work / life) behind me? Why do I feel so Goddamned old? What am I meant to be doing, if not this?

DISINTEGRATION came after a marathon run of albums and increasingly endless tours – at an output beyond the layperson’s comprehension- since the band’s formation in 1977. It marked a private breakdown not seen by us in the crowd, in the world: fans, devotees, Walkman owners. We were not consumers then. Not users. We scrambled for concert tickets- then just $15, tour T-Shirts and programs if we were lucky. We bought records or tapes, whatever our suburbias supplied us with – only looking at picture discs and imports. Music press was sparse in my part of the world, and we pored over any interviews and photos we could find, then, so limited and intriguing. There were never live photos of The Cure, just some studio things we cherished like fine art, sketched and tried to replicate, hung on the wall. A still from a TV appearance. The one with the flowered house dresses. This band was vividly alive in their Tim Pope-directed videos, a full carnival, and immense on the record. But on the wall, they were still, inbetween. A mystery. We were not the armchair quarterbacks and all-knowing experts fans claim to be today. We did not hold scorecards or make demands. Who would hear us? We were mannered. We waited, we showed up on time, we wore out vinyl discs, then tapes, and finally CDs.

My generation (at the time of DISINTEGRATION, angsty teens with our own sheen of faux-cool) had no inkling, then, that our beloved artists got depressed. There were only heavy metal car crashes and the sad slow death of Karen Carpenter, haunting in life and death, for reference. Despite what outsiders might say about our so-called “gloomy” music, we interpreted it correctly: as cathartic, as artistically profound, as art. We didn’t imagine young, strong musicians as ill, or that they might be white knuckling through addiction and withdrawal. We were naïve pre-Behind the Music VH1. No one knew how many musicians were wrecked from the pains of the road, or cratered occasionally with boredom, loneliness, and artist-torments they suffered, maybe cold-turkey, to enable creation itself. That the realest, who leave it all on the stage night after night, too-often burn out, the downside of making it. That fans turn on artists in their necessary evolutions. Even this band who mined and explained the depths of despair, hallucinogenic love / lust / pain / anger / the madness of young feelings to us, were miles and layers far away from our experience. We never thought to explain their significance to ourselves, and if we had, it would have included embarrassing-still baby-fat-cheeked words leftover in our vocabularies from the 1970s. Words like “magic.”

England, to Canadian kids, was just an imposing land mass. The Cure was an impenetrable entity. Our small reality was as detailed as veins, and as unremarkable. But we grabbed on tight to this music. It was our version of beach party music. We liked how it changed the air in the room like no other music. It was, like no one else, romantic and cinematic, befitting our dramas. It said what you weren’t supposed to say if you were a good girl or boy. It said it plainly, openly, bravely. It said it angrily, coldly, sarcastically. It showed us that even if our own diaries met their correct fates of being ripped up regularly, that such a thing was worth sharing when done artfully: with a twist, with a beat, and with a purpose. We were moved. Changed. Radicalized towards independent thought and authenticity which is not necessarily pretty, but is also beautiful in its way.

Reeves Gabrels at Bestival, Toronto

We knew from DISINTEGRATION that raging out musically was cathartic, and cool. The Cure asserted their firm place in the world by saying “we are allowed to be dark and messy and we demand to exist, whether you like it or not.” And there was no like, only love. We’d never heard such authenticity before that was our music. The Cure’s sounds and worldview was, by now, both an intriguing puzzle, and somehow touched us at our small, suburban knotted cores of still-malleable, still fragile self-identity. We were the five percent of the culture who connected with outsider music, innately and unconditionally fell in love with a few men in makeup, and dropped our beliefs in daddy-knows-best for something more sideways, eventually leading to our own voices. Post-Cure, we didn’t need the radio anymore to tell us or reflect back to us what was good. This music was passed, in Toronto, hand to hand, or experienced live more than through the radio or MuchMusic, (our MTV). We were casualties of end-of-the-century religious upbringing, first-children–Dr. Spock- experimental kids, or midlife and publicly obvious “accidents” of illogical middle-class unions. We were all a sausage roll away from English or Irish (or both) roots. Yet, we were disconnected and felt rootless. We never visited those places. Our elders did not look back. But something called to us. Something not touristic. We were, like our first role models at home and school, quietly sad, innately raging, and good actors. The Cure, and DISINTEGRATION found us at the exact moment we needed them, articulating something wordlessly brewing in us, and the world, shaking something loose.

Still from the best South Park episode ever: Mecha Streisand.

Ever since the South Park kids shouted to the planet that “DISINTEGRATION IS THE BEST ALBUM EVER”, capping a first-season episode (1998) which featured a very game Robert Smith himself going with the flow, it seems easy to imagine that this assertion has always been a globalized, accepted truth. This is not so. What South Park did was remarkable. It took something that felt like a secret code of the underground and shouted it from prime-time television, signaling the first anniversary of sorts for this or any modern record, then a precocious nine years old. The Cure, always workhorses, found much outward success before and after DISINTEGRATION, a record which might have been intended as a sign-off but instead would engrave their legacy among fans, young bands, and artistic souls the world over, and thankfully not the mainstream. The Cure, and DISINTEGRATION, would yet remain stubbornly apart from the terrible machine of the industry and the desperation of the encroaching digital age. They were still too weird for the boring and the mass market, and up to then, most of their music had suited only “College” radio in North America. They were, then, always cool and never overplayed. “Friday I’m In Love” broke that format forever, signaling to us fans that they could, if they wanted, write a hit justlikethat, too. The Cure would never don wacky costumes at the behest of some slimy advertiser, let their most profound song sell soda or luxury cars, appear as a school dance band on a teen drama to embarrass us all, or otherwise get cozy with the unbeautiful, crummy world of marketing. They undoubtedly turned down legions of offers that would have compromised their time and ethics. And ours. Instead, the music of DISINTEGRATION turned up very occasionally and somehow perfectly. For no reason at all, Adam Horovitz’s character in cult classic Lost Angels (1989) careens down a road in the Hollywood Hills, taking his mother’s car and sealing his fate to be committed to a mental facility, to a sliver of “Fascination Street”. That song and its appearance in film is curious as an American-only single that was a big hit on Alternative radio across North America. It’s a great song, a ramble, one that let the wider world know this was a band of skilled musicians that could do mysterious things with guitars.

It happened just like other people’s Beatlemania, only without the mania. Our manias were the underground kind, the buried under-pillow, repressed, dark sort. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that one can see the painful teenage crises that were innocently dark, like the depths of DISINTEGRATION’s journey. That the kids we were, were not alright, at all, but treading water, who dodged curses and serial killers and cars with indifferent, alcoholic shrugs. Liquid courage. Drunk words, sober thoughts. We never fought but we slammed, we threatened, we railed. We scribbled. We prayed, still. Most of us made it out.

In between albums, The Cure went to their private lives (I presumed, in “The French Countryside“, for some reason) and we went on with our own micro dramas. Having spent our youth immersed in The Cure, DISINTEGRATION, while immense and addictive, was just the latest bounty in a solid run of our life’s soundtrack. We loved KISS ME, KISS ME, KISS ME just as much. The TOP, too. The dark early trilogy we fell into after HEAD ON THE DOOR, my group of friends’ entry point. STANDING ON A BEACH kids. After DISINTEGRATION, WISH (a treasure) would feel like a natural progression. DISINTEGRATION’s legacy that has vaulted it past most of the entire era’s offerings as well as other Cure records in the public imagination happened just as organically as the fact that we’ve all grown up together, still here, still listening, still connecting. It helped that they were never playing against anyone but themselves and their demons.

Simon Gallup at Bestival, Toronto

DISINTEGRATION, like classic literature, is a record that you can pick up all these years later and find that it crackles with the same electricity as ever (if not more). We change, it waits. It’s for all who recognize that records over 45 minutes long have at least twice as much pressure to be great, that they  are risking the wrath of all critics, but pay long odds. For we are not frustrated children anymore, enjoying a healthy outlet for our anger and pain, navigating hormonal waters and Romeo and Juliet recreations (only with anemic endings). We are tired now. We’ve seen all sides of love, that thing you can never bypass if you are human. We’ve been hurt in ways that may leave permanent scars, that can’t be junked like an old yearbook. We’ve made vows that we’ve intended to keep, Lovesongs, gone all in. We’ve known the spider-nightmares with no adult to shake us safe from, because we are supposed to be the adult, now. We’ve grappled with homesickness, prayed for rain, swam in the sea, and maybe know too much about how to drown. We’ve lost people who didn’t beat back the monsters under the bed, outside us, within, that can come to threaten any one of our tender brains. And too many of us have lost the irreplaceable: mother. The dog. Or the one person who always saw you as the child full of promise you were supposed to be. The losses are unfixable. We can only go on.

DISINTEGRATION is a record for happiness, too. It’s the rarest of records. For those past the turmoil of their youthful ways, their wrongheaded ideas of home life, who’ve found some peace, there are few pleasures greater than listening to “The Same Deep Water as You” hand in hand with your long-time love while it storms outside. There comes a point in life, a well earned, battle-scarred day, when you might breathe a sigh that you no longer miss the kiss of treachery, and can simply marvel at the bareness of all this feeling spun into wax so many years ago that will outlive you all, and that you know will be timeless. That maybe the best band of your time is only now being fully understood, written about more deeply, with perspective, at last, its inimitable music styles at least tentatively attempted by the new new wave of young bands who know that nothing will ever replace the guitar or the drum. That the only lasting, worthy voice must be singular and not one remade by A.I.

DISINTEGRATION held teenagers and adults aloft and made us feel better. It was healthy. It was lengthy. It was just right. It has a rhythm that is one perfected by The Cure alone, one that drives writers to try to translate this gift into their prose and always will. It’s the sea itself. It’s a great wave. It rolls in. It creeps out. It sweeps, and it rocks. There is happiness, and there is despair. Back and forth. Refreshingly, startlingly honest. There’s the unspoken: but then he speaks it, he murmurs it, he screams it, he shakes it in the light and transforms it into something tolerable. Then shimmery. Then pretty. Then no longer afraid. Suddenly, even anthemic. It’s still magic. Not cynical sleight-of-hand. Not cheap, threadbare, charlatan trickery, but real magic. Alchemy. Sorcery. Witchcraft. The dark contrasts cleanly with the light, in perfect balance, and there is nothing more beautiful.

The Cure are playing select festivals this summer and a new album is in the works. 

The Specials Encore: Well-Turned Out

By Jacqueline Howell

The Specials, by now an institution to those who know, reached their first number one album on the music charts in the U.K. in February 2019. Fans who do social media the right way are still sharing pictures, excited as kids at Christmas, of the new album being played on their turntables. We’re among them. The band’s extensive spring U.K. / Europe and U.S. tour will sell out as it always has and as it has, emphatically, since the band reformed around 2010. The tour will include several days in Coventry, where the band formed. They will kindly visit the U.S. and Canada, as they always do these days. And make no mistake: in a time of bleak, dystopic, machine-made pop music crafted from smoke and mirrors designed to obscure that today’s pop music acts are product mascots miming and dancing looking like lost pageant children, The Specials’ spectacular reception, rumbling as it has for some months through the authentic underground, quietly building momentum, finally broke through at just the right time, in a matter of otherwise bleak, midwinter days. It’s historic.

It’s no accident that The Specials first record in 37 years, Encore, is so successful and has been embraced so fervently by a generation (or two) who live unconditionally: who love things sincerely, waving them like flags, or not at all. The unequivocal success of The Specials’ new record is real, gritty, and pure. It’s not the result of ads and expensive handshakes, a contrivance of some branding genius somewhere, ensconced in a cool but lifeless concrete supervillain lair, who needs only his thumbs to influence the world for good or ill. It’s the opposite of things we’ve grown used to in music, trends that we suspect, that make us mistrustful of all media messages, while our critical thinking abilities and voices are regularly shouted down by thoughtless social media commentary that dominates so much public opinion. The success of The Specials in 2019 is (remarkably) the same as their success of their first records and tours: the result of hard graft, talent and something even rarer, an incorruptibility. Once again, we are seeing the rareness of originality rising to the top, and being embraced when it’s found. Only later does it seem inevitable or easy. Only from a distance. The ingredients of the new Specials record are the markers of genius that we’ve gotten rusty at recognizing because we are rarely offered it, point blank, no strings attached, in this new century that promised us so much more.

Lead single “Vote For Me” came out of the dark one day, sounding very reassuringly like The Specials of old. Terry Hall has always told us the truth, sounding fearless and confident, and detached in a way we all strive to be. “If we vote for you, do you promise / to be upright, decent and honest / To have our best interest at heart? You understand why we don’t believe you / You’re way too easy to see through / Not the best place to start.” YES. YES. YES.

Isn’t this what we’ve all needed? A crisp voice of reason, from a time, place, memory of when we had true musical outsiders we could trust? Where a dance beat and even a trombone could merge with punk rock’s ethos and whatever was coming next at the end of the century, telling us kids that things were dark, but we would still dance, resist, fight if we had to, and question what we were told by whichever grinning wolf sat in power? Thatcherite early 1980s Britain was full of turmoil, pain and glorious rebellion that was carried on music as much as anywhere, and maybe more. The Specials ducked in and out of taverns and working-class towns and down dark winding motorways in those days of emerging, to find out some people didn’t dance, but only ever threw bottles to express themselves. The Specials tenacity is well-documented, but as a reminder, they encountered seething, vile racism, out in the open, the violent kind, which made being a band like them dangerous, and yet, they sang, played, fought, resisted, and looked a million. There was no one else like them then. There’s still no one like them. Today’s political leaders have led their nations into darkness again, and the questions raised by The Specials in the late 1970s and early 1980s still ring out. Only now they, and we, have follow up questions. New sounds. More ammunition.

Encore is full of moods, ideas and painterly colours with pretensions. It’s a mature work, one that sounds like the organic evolution of this band. With a fairly short, tight and perfect back catalogue, the new record has been made with the attention and patience maturity brings. No need to repeat what was done before. No obvious label pressure to pander to pop or dance hooks (hell, they invented and adapted new kinds of hooks in popular music worldwide.) With a nod to the founding members’ divergent pasts, they’ve remade the Fun Boy Three song “The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum”, which deserves to be bopped to by new audiences. The inclusion of a Fun Boy Three song also points to the reality of the divergent paths the bandmembers have taken over the years, heading off any silly criticism about then and now and members’ departures. It’s a dark world, in which we have all lost too many, too young all the time. The fact that Terry Hall, Horace Panter and Lynval Golding are still here, and still here (making & performing their music on a global stage), is, as recent years’ concert-goers can attest, worthy of skanking your knees down to nubs.

Encore draws on the different musical styles that make up The Specials’ unique and genre defying bouillabaisse, with call backs to Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker’s music, as usual, spun with just an acid, British, twist. This band is still keenly in tune with not only the particular cultural concerns of Britain, but of the planet, too. Travel and life beyond the journey of a band grounds Encore firmly in the present moment, with authority to speak on the deepest concerns of today (as ever, with style): gun control. Black Lives Matter. Feminism, particularly in re-centering of the “I” of who has the mic and the power, a bold and sincere statement from a historically all-male band.

Which brings us to “10 Commandments”. The song features Saffiyah Khan, the activist who famously stared down an alt-right man while wearing a Specials T-shirt. This tune is a spin on Prince Buster’s “Ten Commandments”, in which the subject, women, are instructed how to behave.  Buster’s ten commandments have been remixed and remade in a kind of call-and-response.

“The Life and Times of A Man Called Depression” takes an insightful look at its subject. Terry Hall has been open about his depression as well as throwing support behind awareness campaigns in the U.K. Here, The Specials take another clear-eyed look at a subject that has too long been the subject of shame in families, in the workplace, and in the arts, where we demand of ourselves and our entertainers to be “on” at stage time, to perform and to give those waiting the time of their lives no matter what illnesses people are dealing with behind the scenes and outside of the 90-minute window of a gig. Depression among musicians seems, to us as journalists and music fans (first) to be a pressing issue deserving of consideration in the demanding world of entertainment. We need our artists well, and to get to retire, and to have private lives that are balanced with all they give us.

“He stands accused of being socially inept
Some say rude, aloof, devoid of any real truth
He lives in a world of self-doubt, self-pity, self-loathing, self-harm…”

Depression is an urgent subject for artists to become more vocal and honest about, as we’ve lost too many beloved artists in recent years to depression and its tragic outcomes. A song like this will no doubt hit home to so many, as well as affording a moment of empathy for our artists themselves.

The remarkable Lynval Golding steps into a bigger vocal role on Encore. He masterfully re-interprets The Valentines’ “Blam Blam Fever”, his authentic timbre ringing with the all the divergent experience of a Jamaican-born boy / now mature man living in America, a country of pain and strife today, much of it based around abuses of power and senseless gun violence. These themes continue into the very personal “B.L.M.”, in which Golding shares his life story through three countries and the casual, cruel brutality of racism he’s encountered along the way. His story is poignant, painful and clear: Black Lives Matter. Golding uses his warm voice and his platform to point to an ugliness that follows people of colour across time and space, that must be seen and called out with no quarter given, (including by everyone who hasn’t experienced it, as allies).

And so, we listeners and lifelong fans get to feel part of a brand new chapter, a continuum that started back in 1977 with a call for “black, white: unite”; the look, feel, style, and deeper messages of a sound and a loose philosophy called “two-tone”; the band who made it fashionable to be radical, peer over our hedgerows and borders, shake shit up. The Specials did this all while subtly giving glimpses underneath the well-turned cuff of a sharp suit, those unseen, countless, painstaking stitches, the labour that makes something as straightforward as fabric into art. The Specials will take this new music, blended with their classics, and their solid arguments on the road, as ever, facing down difficult subjects with the grace, power and euphoria of music.

Twitter: @JacksDisarm

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Live with Cigarettes After Sex

When I told a work colleague that I had never been to a Nick Cave show, the reaction was immediate and in all caps.  “YOU HAVEN’T SEEN HIM LIVE?”  Followed by “Oh Man.  He’s the best.  He really plays to the front of the audience”.

What I didn’t quite understand at that time was how much he played to the front of his audience.  I had always assumed Cave was a stoic performer that put on a quality music and vocal performance but kept audience interaction to a minimum.  A “thank you” here and there, then on to the next song.  Maybe it was his tall, slender and always immaculate appearance that gave me that impression, but I couldn’t have been more off the mark.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds walked out to an anticipation-filled crowd at the Scotiabank Arena Sunday night.  The venue was set up to be more intimate than a typical arena show; the stage was moved forward to the centre-ice line in front of a standing-only floor space, the upper seating decks closed, so there wasn’t a bad sight line in the place.  It was also the last night of the Skeleton Tree tour, so an added electricity was in the air.

Starting off with “Jesus Alone” from 2016’s Skeleton Tree, Cave stepped over the gap between the stage and a surprisingly narrow catwalk, so he could get up close and personal with the front row worshipers.  And as lithe as a cat on a fence, he moved along clutching the hands of adoring fans while he sang and locked eyes.  So, this is what my colleague meant about playing to the front of the audience.

On stage, The Bad Seeds were a marvel to behold as well.  Warren Ellis can pull sounds out of a violin that rival the best heavy metal shredders and does so with a manic fever on stage that immediately switches to an absolute calm while he blows grief out of a flute and makes your eyes well up.  It’s a roller coaster ride in every sense.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds performed a mesmerizing two-and-a-half hour set with too many highlights to reasonably list, but personal stand-outs included “God Is In The House”, “Shoot Me Down”, and the gut-wrenching “Girl In Amber”.  During the quieter moments, I was both shocked and impressed by the respect of silence paid to Cave.  These are dedicated fans here tonight.  No chatter heard in an arena?  Complete attention paid to the man on stage. It’s wonderful.

Opening the night was El Paso’s, Cigarettes After Sex.  Enveloped in dry ice, the three-piece led by Greg Gonzalez, played an ethereal set of dreamy ambient pop songs including “K”, REO Speedwagon cover “Keep On Loving You”, and “Affection”.  Gonzalez’s hypnotic vocals mixed with swirling shoegazey guitars and deep bass chords made for a nice precursor to the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds experience.

Dave MacIntyre

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Cigarettes After Sex

%d bloggers like this: