Rusty Preview Their New Album Live at The Horseshoe

Checkerboard floors. A glittery red HORSESHOE sign that is shorthand for music itself, not to mention countless happy hours in Toronto for music lovers far and wide. A stage that has been stomped upon by the best across decades, from its deep, true tavern roots to the ascension of full-throttle Canadian rock and roll, woven together by Canadian folk and alt post rock cowpunk etcetera (and, nearest and dearest to us) waves of our own bright and shiny alternative scenes. By god, there’s now a discreet (believe it or not) A&W automatic ordering kiosk next to the mile-long main bar, not far from a cookbook of Elvis’ favourite dishes. This is how you do it, Toronto. Change nothing unless it’s to add some late-night food to a classic experience. Don’t gentrify. Don’t sell out, man. Thank you, Horseshoe for still existing. It’s Saturday night in Toronto. Summer has just landed in our laps this week and it’s a cooker of an evening. Our very own early 90s wall of noise-smart alternative heroes, Rusty, are here, leading the charge, as if to personally support our deep, years long dream for this music that saved the world once to do so again. As our beloved “90s bands” have reformed around the world, more people are recognizing the demand (and need) for authenticity, heart, rawness, and analog truth, A.K.A. real music. Superheroes everywhere have been coming out of retirement. Some heroes fly Porter airways from Sudbury.

And so, Rusty’s great return is happening, though what should not be unusual and special, is today: community effort. Community sensibilities. And stadium love. Rusty is at home at the ‘Shoe, and it eases everything tonight. It’s the first time they’re playing music from their upcoming new album in public, and it feels as intimate as what those Much “Intimate and Interactives” of another age strived for. We were too cool to line up with kids to see visiting rock stars, then. And we sure thought such things would continue to be. Now, there’s only Strombo’s living room keeping such flames alive (beautifully). Music devotees with long-running podcasts and indie magazines. The true blue. Those who know are here in this room and are always in the room when Rusty plays a gig. And this room feels, tonight, like someone’s living room. The band is working out their set list as they go, getting comfortable, hilariously carefree, or, maybe, laughing like champs through the creation-in-process that is new music. Canadians will laugh through any kind of stress and entertain you while we sweat it out.

The band starts with some beloved tunes from Fluke, all of them seemingly itchy to play the new stuff, and, happily, the crowd is the right kind, eager for both. This crowd and this band are not nostalgic, anymore. Some of the songs are not finished, we are told. For one, we get a terrific “excerpt”. Guitarist Scott McCullough declares, grinning “Let’s just play every damn song on the fuckin’ album!” Singer Ken MacNeil watches the faces, warming up. He says the new songs make them feel young. The old songs make them feel old. “We know we’re old, though…” Once the new songs are given air and the crowd is rolling with them, Ken relaxes into the early material again, in his element, the years falling away from all of our faces and hearts, forever young. This is the great power of music.

It’s the best Rusty show we’ve ever seen, including when we were young and life was simpler. And it’s half-full of tunes we’ve never heard before, along with the rest we know by heart. “California” still (and forever) will break your heart with its poignancy. Its prescience. It’s urgency and its grief for humanity’s brutality and chaos. “Wake Me” is forever a love song to us who choose to interpret the lyrics innocently “will you pull my cuff?” means just your 90s’ frayed long-sleeve t-shirt sleeve. It is a beautiful bit of poetry. If I fall asleep. If I fall awake. It’s still (forever) “so groovy to be dead” because goddamn it, we are still standing, thanks to pure grit and hard graft. On both sides of the stage. There’s no pretension with Rusty, just pure rock and roll. And that is as important of a message today as any other. Many of the boys in the room lose their shit to the show’s closer, the one we heard the most, maybe, on the radio and Much when those things were alive / glorious: “Misogyny”. This band always had something for both the boys and the girls. Something unifying, something powerful and, as it turns out, unkillable.

The onstage banter tonight is hilarious. Rusty are real, and they are the real deal. They rock. Jesus, why weren’t they Canada’s own Cult? As big as? They are that good. They are better. We whisper to one another, staying mostly quiet as we’re front row. None of that. No regrets tonight. Tonight is tonight and the past is gone. This music is timeless and beautiful and here, current, alive, and as good as ever – by contrast to what rules the charts, our music was and is and will always be Godzilla over a miniaturized, toy-like Tokyo. Whatever. We’re glad we know better, we were there in the 1990s and we are all still here now. And aren’t we lucky to still be alive / here? For so many reasons. And this is, even, the future. This is the first new record in 20 years from this always should have been world-beaters iconic immense band. They’ve gone and done it. They’ve done it the new old way and the new way, through technology. Their Pledge campaign has served to remind fans and the industry what’s important and what can be done with a little support for musicians. We hope the industry is listening. The Toronto scene, the other Canadian scenes. The title has changed, and will be revealed soon. Whatever they call it, it’s incredible, fast, punky, rocking, young again, fresh. It fits, hand in glove, with the songs we’ve all been singing word for word for years and years. It’s important, it’s actually intimate and interactive, and it’s news. Get on it.

Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Dave MacIntyre

RUSTY RETURNS with Dogs of Canada

By Jacqueline Howell, DISARM editor

The early 1990s renaissance continues as even our personal wish list is coming true here in Toronto.

Rusty, whose 1995 debut album, Fluke, was one of Toronto’s best entries into the burgeoning early 1990s innovative Alternative boom, recently announced their new album, Dogs of Canada, their first in 20 years, is nearing completion.

Fluke, an album still cherished by Rusty fans worldwide, is full of blistering rock music that bleeds originality and feels spontaneous, urgent and empowering. Sharp, young, musicians that came of age in 1990 were steeped in rock, punk, glam, eighties post-punk, and indie. These self-taught marvels brimmed with energy and were capable of creating new music forms. Most have been overlooked and overshadowed by the reductive corporate-strangled labels nobody wanted, (such as “grunge”). The 90s was full of good music of the last real youth movement that has sharply failed to flourish in the (corporate-strangled) new age. Rusty was among the best of this music made anywhere in the world.

Rusty’s debut has a song called “Misogyny”. This word is more common today but was not a common conversational or musical topic then. The band’s ideas were grand, theoretical and important – but if you didn’t feel like intellectualizing, they also rocked really hard. This casually-brainy, effective rock music is a mark of the greatest Canadian bands. Rusty were also fused with a then-new snowboarding culture, worked with cutting edge video director Bruce La Bruce, and were a bright part of a cool new Canadiana. But like other iconic (underrated) artists, Rusty’s ideas are translatable, global, universal:

“She moved down to L.A.
She met a dude, okay.
He sawed her head off with a knife,
Now she’s gone away.

California’s nice.
It snowed there once or twice.
Bullets fly across the sky.
The path is smooth and tight.
I caught one at the bus stop.
I said: “Hey man, I’ve been shot.”
I felt the warm blood rolling down,
Now it’s gone away.” – California

As the world cascaded open with social media’s borderlessness and lack of filters, brave people who risk their hearts for true engagement and connection face daily stories like the ones simply, bluntly, told in the song “California”. Every day. Are faced with what to do with this knowledge. How to live, how to cope. How to help? What to do? There’s a laugh but no catharsis from a meme. That’s what music is for.

And in 1995, a song like “California” (and “Wake Me”, and “Groovy Dead”) was more than what social media is today. It was a young person’s newspaper. It blew away 60 Minutes with decibels; it drowned out stale TV and radio debate with something clean and true. “California” was a beacon of a generation waking up to the world, to hard truths, to an unsanitized version of terrible events as they happen. Women were attacked, and killed, brutally, by men who they loved and trusted, or men they met through bad luck. Women still are. Regularly. Innocents catch bullets at bus stops, not just in L.A. anymore, amid a local gang war in a particular cross-street but anywhere, in the wrong-place-wrong-time reality of U.S. out of control gun violence. At school, attacked by fellow students, in a pandemic of violence now. Reportedly there are more guns than people in the U.S.A. today. Are we safe yet?

“California” is also a dichotomy: it is stunningly beautiful. Like all of Fluke, it emotes the rage of a generation who inherited this world and were not going to sit idly by listening to people reminisce about the 1960s. Corporatized nostalgia is a handy way to keep us from action and resistance to whatever we are told is “now”. Now is forever. Singer Ken MacNeil’s throat stripping delivery is relentless, sincere, empathetic; his vocals full of anger, fear and love. “California” speaks about disconnection, of indifference as true horror: “Hey man, I’ve been shot.” This line sounds like a gunshot victim is being ignored, in public, unseen, hit with a smooth tight path of darkness that is possible not just in public but in private. There are no safe spaces. We knew that, once. Were galvanized, organizing against the darkness. It is a Canadian perspective of negotiating our frail border and the world; of travel; of meeting interesting, beautiful people and seeing them leave and face awful fates beyond our reach. It is post-modernity that we are stuck in, lost in now.

Will you wake me up? Will you pull my cuff? – Wake Me

That’s what the era’s music captures, and one reason why it will not be cast aside, is still needed, and why our greatest bands are returning to us to fill a void in the very heart of culture and music in 2018. Despite label help or support. We were supposed to have jetpacks, not emojis. We’re backsliding, overwhelmed by the rapid changes of tech and communication and the disappearance in leadership in both things, so we make our own. New records. Raise funds. Mount tours. Rebuild community. The next era of Rusty is going to be a hell of a party.

In the 1990s, we all raged and rioted inside and in our music-loving way in the crowd, believing our intelligence and enthusiasm could change the world, who certainly must be led by the young people as it always is. The music changed everything then and had limitless potential to continue to. What happened in the back half of the 90s and post – “Y2K” was a deliberate and destructive assault from a dying, exploitative music industry against everything indie: from Kurt Cobain’s regularly misunderstood truly subversive and revolutionary (good) ideas: against homophobia, sexism and hatred;  to the many bands who promoted and created a world of gender equality in music on world stages that made everyone money and made everyone who believed in this progress happy. The music labels, that had contempt for their artists, customers, and tech innovation itself, pivoted whiplash – fast to belly buttons and boy bands, machine music & artists they could control totally. It’s been a cold war ever since. And not just an indifferent war on underexposed bands; Canadian bands who’ve always struggled to traverse and be heard and seen in a vast country, (never mind beyond it) and the Indie world that, at the moment, has no choice but to stay underground. It’s been a long cold war on real music itself. Innovation, new ideas, big ideas, pauses to question violence, misogyny, purpose, survival and new sounds made by instruments have lately been labeled as unimportant, even dying. But real, challenging ideas rarely, if ever, come from puppets owned by dominant music brands, the “music” which dominates public space and most entertainment now. This corporate backlash happened precisely because 80s & early 90s emerging bands were so important, so innovative, and so grown up. So independent and unreliant on the actually dying industry that ate itself. Alternative music by its very nature is wild and cannot be broken.

We link Rusty to this argument because they are a perfect example of this entire story and the “trends” around what has gone down in the last two decades. Because we’ve loved them for 20 years and have never stopped listening to them. Because they’ve stepped back to the fore since 2011 with occasional gigs and tours losing not an ounce of fire, life and passion. Because they’ve worked quietly for two years putting together demos while juggling regular lives and families. Rusty deserved more and better, even at their height. They were and are important whether you’ve heard of them or not, whether you are nostalgic about them (and then) or not, whether you may even be a real music fan who understands there is nothing nostalgic about art because art is timeless. Hey, we all pine for our youthful energy, but what has happened to music and the chances of independent artists to break through and to grow and to stay and earn their way is way more painful than nostalgia. The truth is very different. And darker. All this great music must be heard out loud and in full and sat with and listened to from track (song) one to ten to really get or know. Slow down. Think about what is missed. What was denied. What is owed to our generation. And what can still be.

Rusty during their 2011 reformation show in Toronto. Photos by Dave MacIntyre

%d bloggers like this: