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

Johnny Marr Live in Toronto and Interview with Iwan Gronow

Johnny Marr at The Phoenix in Toronto, October 19th 2018

The hardest ticket to get of the last two years in hand thanks to the kindness of others, we make our way to Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre early, a place rich in 80s and 90s history for us, one which offers a variety of experiences depending on what time you arrive and where you plant yourself and how you manage those first moments. The merch table is a blur as we attempt to “coolly” gallop the hallway into the main venue and manage to secure a spot at the front, where our photographer will shoot the first three songs from the crowd. There, the best front crowd we’ve seen in years gathers amiably, shoulder to shoulder, no pushing, like it’s indeed our youthful days again, when nothing could sink our spirits, floating on Doc Martins’ indestructible souls before the British bands that were all we cared about.

But we never saw Johnny Marr or The Smiths, back then. And no one we know in this city ever did, either. It’s the stuff of legend.

The new era of Johnny Marr’s music and the band he’s built over a decade or so is like everything the uber-cool and laid-back iconic guitarist has ever done in his musical life over the decades: seemingly effortless, but the end result of a lot of hard work built upon a foundation of an innate and original talent. Now on his third solo record, Call the Comet, the singular guitarist whose sound is the most identifiable in the history of British Indie has grown into the front man he always could have been, but perhaps preferred not to. Timing is everything, and no one knows that more than a brilliant musician.

Marr has launched his solo career with care and grace, something much missed and sadly devalued in the world of music today. Seeing his 2014 Toronto show for second solo album Playland, jaws around the room dropped to find what a spectacular live singer he was, something neither assumed or even needed when one can play and compose like he does, and with the music he’s given us. On the long wait for his return, the music, band’s vocabulary, and vocal comfort level has grown exponentially on display tonight, as evidenced by the current setlist, now equally divided between musical periods past and present, Smiths and Electronic songs sitting comfortably next to the solo material, each fitting astoundingly well together. A Johnny Marr show could take many turns through the projects he’s been part of since The Smiths era, all of which would be welcome and interesting (The The, Modest Mouse, Billy Bragg to name a few) but this tour is (coolly) about centering and grounding the Johnny Marr narrative in the larger musical landscape. On that front, Marr has always mostly let the music do the talking while other artists noisily clamored for control of a recent history which is much misunderstood. Those in the know will observe the delightful and just slightly pointed inclusion of the beautiful “Getting Away With It” in the set tonight, a song slowly decoded by fans who wanted to know more about Marr’s point of view on then and there and them.

An issue near and dear to our mandate at DISARM is to question and correct the accepted idea that music from certain eras and genres is “classic” and important while others, particularly the 1980s and 1990s, is just “retro” or trendy. And dismissed as unimportant. This lie persists well past the onerous commercialized Baby Boomer tripe of our youth that devalued classic music for my generation, and into the now-retrospective period of narrowly and cynically defined nostalgia for our beloved 80s, one that is continually reduced to terrible wigs, completely silly wardrobes and one or two perfect songs they don’t deserve. Almost no one gets it right (I’m looking at you, Stranger Things and 13 Reasons Why). While The Smiths enjoyed the precarious & fraught position of media darlings in their brief ascendancy in the early 80s, and a universal mourning period followed (of the kind the media loves even more than christening “Best Ofs”), the social media age has flattened and reduced so much understanding about a generation’s art form into memes – the lowest form of humour, commentary and contemporary fandom.

The greatness and originality of the music made by The Smiths (in an incredibly short period) is untouchable but is something hard for outsiders to place in today’s faux nostalgia which never could make commercial fodder of this music, these artists, or indeed, an entire youth culture movement that extended into the early 90s.  To those of us self-raised on it, who’ve followed the work of Johnny Marr through to Electronic, his guest appearances across music and through to his formalized solo career of today, there are almost no words to articulate the joy of music that says what we struggled to as teenagers, silently supernova-ing inside, hearts breaking daily, that scored our operatics on the front porches of our suburbias, as we spun, untethered, out into whatever of the world we could afford to see, understanding so little about the specifics of British life but knowing innately what it meant to dance our legs down to the knees alone in upstairs rooms of ugly houses in nowhere places, and to want to flee.

Johnny Marr’s music was and is the sound of mobility despite what you might have been given and resistance in the face of oppression. He holds the guitar as lightly as a key, one that unlocks everything inside a generation, and now, a next generation who has been raised right.  There are mothers and their grown daughters in this crowd, singing along to the words old and new. It is a joy to see. Marr arrives on stage without fanfare, launching immediately into “The Tracers” followed breathlessly into “Bigmouth Strikes Again”. And therein lies the tone of the evening. It’s all here, it’s all good, and it will all be present. This is not a man who has ever liked to be idle, a man with much to say (musically), and much to do, a bundle of controlled, directed energy, a light in the darkness. The only nostalgia is that your teenage self feels healed note by note, no longer sad and reeling, but here, alive, mere feet away, and so is he: relevant, alive, soaring vocally and musically creating sounds no one has ever been able to imitate, that are his very own language that we think belongs to us because it was long ago imprinted upon our psyches. Artists who take care of themselves and their art only improve with time, and this is an artist in his prime, free of baggage and full of life.

Marr’s band for the past few albums and years is a tight, fluid unit, made up of long time friends and musicians who’ve worked together for many years: Iwan Gronow on Bass, Jack Mitchell (both ex-Haven) and Doviak on guitar. They look just right, and they sound like a unit. Doviak switches to keys to allow us to die and return as ghosts for “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me” among others, and Gronow (who gave us an interview which follows this report) handles backing vocals. As expected, recent single “Walk Into the Sea” is an expansive, anthemic tune, and there are subtle shades of The Smiths in the new record, because why wouldn’t there be? Johnny Marr is as much The Smiths as anybody, perhaps more.

Johnny’s closing words to us are “We win.” And what more needs to be said?

During Johnny Marr’s Toronto tour stop, bassist Iwan Gronow took time out before soundcheck to chat with us about the new album and the tour, which will now embark on its UK leg to close out the year. Asked about how the group came together, Gronow told us that Marr had produced music for his previous band Haven, which also included drummer Jack Mitchell, and they had worked together as far back as the period when Marr had joined Modest Mouse in the mid-aughts. The collaboration developed organically, and the group worked quickly to put together Johnny Marr’s second solo record Playland, which was partially written and recorded on the road. An impressive three years was spent touring Playland. With Call the Comet, more time was taken building the project (as the band was off the road). This is evident in the layered sounds and the big ideas explored on Call the Comet. Gronow confirms what we’ve always believed as listeners and fans “Johnny’s always looking forward.” And, as we would find out that same night “singing better than ever”, a fact never in doubt but nonetheless astounding to hear first hand because most artists can sing well or play well but few can do it all, well, at once. Gronow describes the new music perfectly: it’s “cinematic” a “complete sound” and the live show is getting tighter all the time, in that push and pull that only fellow musicians with their perfectionism that sails over our heads understands. Gronow is enjoying both the new music that he’s been part of building as a band and “the back catalogue”, a term I mull over while being gobsmacked by said catalogue in a rousing, riveting, two hours that sees our own underappreciated (but maybe gradually more appreciated) quiet genius Kevin Drew take the stage (a surprise since he was also at the New York stop) for a duet on “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want.” By the show’s four (!!!) song encore, we’ve had the big celebration we’ve dreamed of forever, we want nothing more than to do it all over again, but we know we’ll keep it close to us as the best intimate show we’ve ever seen in our lives.

With special thanks to Johnny Marr and Iwan Gronow.

Jacqueline Howell

Photos: Dave MacIntyre

We Were Promised Jetpacks Live at Lee’s Palace, Toronto

After an opening set by Swanes, Edinburgh Indie rockers, We Were Promised Jetpacks, hit the stage of Lee’s Palace in support of their fourth and latest release, The More I Sleep The Less I Dream.  The 4-piece played a healthy dose off the new album, which was well received by fans, many of whom spent their Saturday evening in a maelstrom mosh pit that formed in the centre of Lee’s from the opening song until the closer, despite its decidedly more mellow pacing than previous releases.

Front man Adam Thompson’s signature quiet-then-loud vocals were in excellent form as he deftly stepped back from the microphone and then inched forward to achieve the incredible crescendo never tearing his gaze away from the back of the room.  Michael Palmer and Sean Smith provided the near frenetic scream of guitar and bass throughout, and Darren Lackie’s impossibly frantic yet controlled drumming kept it all together.

Highlights of the evening include new songs “Hanging In”, its lyrical style and pacing reminiscent of Manic Street Preachers, and “Make It Easier”.  Before closing the night, Thompson thanked the Toronto crowd and explained there would be no encore, not because they weren’t grateful to the audience, rather they didn’t believe in doing them and instead choose to leave everything on the floor in one go.  The night ended with a ripping version of “Ships With Holes Will Sink” from 2009’s debut album These Four Walls, and “Repeating Patterns” from the new album.

Dave MacIntyre

Graham Coxon Live at the Mod Club, Toronto

Graham Coxon, the guitar player and founding member of Brit Pop giants Blur, performed his first ever solo show on Canadian soil last week at the Mod Club.  Armed with only a pair of guitars, one of which was played for a single song, and a pedal board, Coxon created a feeling of intimacy that felt more like watching a friend play songs in his living room than a night out in a rock club with one of the most accomplished musicians to come out of England.

Appearing shy and uncomfortable, Coxon opened the evening by announcing he had had no idea why he agreed to even do such a thing as a solo tour and that at the time, the dates seemed so far away and nothing to worry about.  His dead pan humour and delivery had fans laughing throughout the evening adding even more sense of personalization and intimacy than the stripped-down setup alone.

The character transformation that occurred when Coxon began to play was instantly perceptible.  There was no discomfort or awkwardness evident when he began to strum.  Watching a master of his craft this close up and without the distraction of a band was a marvel to behold.  Making use of pedal loops, Coxon played off his own strumming to create elaborate layers of guitars and even percussion recorded and looped from slaps off the guitar body.

The majority of the setlist was made up of Coxon’s work as a solo musician, of which he has released an impressive eight full-length studio albums.  Highlights included “That Someone Ain’t You”, “Don’t Believe Anything I Say”, and “Brave the Storm”.  Blur fans were treated to versions of “Miss America” and personal favourite “You’re So Great” during the encore.  A fantastic version of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” was also performed.

The Mod Club was Coxon’s only Canadian date on this tour but fans in the United Stated can still catch the tour until the final show on October 1st.

Dave MacIntyre

Willie Nelson, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sturgill Simpson: Outlaws

Outlaw Music Festival

Sunday Sept 9th, Budweiser Stage, Toronto

With: Willie Nelson, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sturgill Simpson, and Terra Lightfoot.

By Jacqueline Howell, Photos by Dave MacIntyre

A full roster of a one-day music festival is slightly less full today as there are a couple of line up cancellations in the form of Willie Nelson’s two sons: Particle Kid (Micah Nelson) and Lukas Nelson + Promise of the Real, who elsewhere serves as Neil Young’s band (and are incredible.)

There’s some disappointment expressed by eager fans. Country music fans really know their artists, and many, who travel from far beyond the GTA for such an event, are here for all of it. Committed, loyal. These are becoming throwback values. The loss tonight becomes a different kind of benefit, perhaps, as Sturgill Simpson and Tedeschi Truck band both add layers and embellishments to their sets that make any quibbles go away. These artists are immersive and diverse and can roll with changes. A lot like the man at the head of this thing, the legendary Willie Nelson.

There’s no escaping for my generation that it’s a time for seeing legends and favourites while we can, and we are extraordinarily lucky to be able to see Willie perform at the age of 85, here at the best larger venue in town. The line up for Outlaw is well-thought out, even though different than the U.S. leg (which includes Van Morrison.)

Sturgill Simpson is here to stay. He’s a dynamic, fresh country and roots music player and delivers a stellar set which shows off his formidable range as a musician. Simpson, who has been correctly compared to Waylon Jennings, is regular fixture on the live music scene, and a highly memorable one.

A friendly couple sitting next to me gives me the rundown on Tedeschi Trucks Band which adds to the enjoyment of the exciting road show they bring. Working musicians with their own bands, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi met and decided to marry and form a band together. They weren’t going to fire anyone as part of this union, so they told all the members of both of their bands that they could stay on if they wanted to. The result is spectacular rather than cluttered: two well-oiled machines multiplies into an ever-growing system of musical life. There are fourteen people on stage wearing their talent with ease. Two drummers. A horn section. So many singers that take a moment to shine over the course of the show that it’s astounding, each different than the last, enhancing and playing off Tedeschi’s own honeyed, honest one. There is room for everyone, a real family, the ones some of us only dream of.

TTB, in demand all summer as the word has spread across North America about their three records and their live show, play for us a new song they’ve been breaking in on the road, called “Shame”. Here, shame, that heaviest of words, is taken out, faced, allowed to get air, attacked and conquered. It is revelatory. It is like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard, and as a writer who happens to be immersed in the sticky work of delivering a first book of personal coming-of-age writing, I’ve spent a lot of time with that word. The catharsis is real. Derek Trucks, a prodigious guitar player who cut his teeth with The Allman brothers (where his late uncle, Butch, a founding member, played drums) is astounding to watch, and the quiet, palpable chemistry between Derek and Susan as they play together or stand back to appreciate each other’s artistry is the most romantic thing I’ve seen in years. Obviously, my photographer and I are now fans for life.


Who but an icon could follow what we’ve just seen?

Willie Nelson takes the stage as darkness falls, and our eyes cannot believe it. It is surreal to see a figure you’ve looked at on record covers since childhood, that we associate with parents and grandparents, the old eras of sugarplum Christmases and memories of loved ones passed. He’s got Trigger, his fixture of a guitar, and we can see it’s worn through with love and untold strums and miles. The sight alone is enough to rock all of us who are first timers. Nelson had been quite ill earlier in the year, bouncing back, as reported by his family, once he had some rest in the dry heat, his wellness affirmed by the sounds of him picking up his guitar again. In short order, Willie Nelson throws his cowboy hat and a bandanna to the crowd and sheds his sweatshirt for a basic tour T-shirt, at his age, on a cold, windy waterfront, outdoor stage, because he’s an effortless bad-ass and always will be. He’s wiry, strong, and feels permanent. He is as he’s always been, seeming as if he’s among the last of something we’ll always need: braided, smiling, earthy, cool.

Nelson, who needs to thank nobody, gives a nod to Hank Williams with the classic “Jambalya (On the Bayou)” and his great friend Waylon Jennings with “Good Hearted Woman”. His own brand of outlaw-activism (and his continued cool with the youngsters) is represented by his lively songs “It’s All Going to Pot” (which is a song he originally did with the late great Merle Haggard) and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” which is good fun and a pretty great idea.

“Little Sister” Bobbie, who plays a mean piano, may be little, but she’s Nelson’s older sister at 87 years young. She’s been with Willie Nelson’s band, Family, since 1973 and has had a storied career in her own right. The audience is told that Bobbie Nelson has recently been inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame.

Willie Nelson’s band is that current day mix of family and younger guys who bring some new energy to the set up. They follow his lead as he meanders like a story teller, in and out of songs that he can blend together in his unique way. It is humbling to see the man who wrote Patsy Cline’s signature hit sing “Crazy”. It is awe-inspiring to hear the much covered, perfect, “You Were Always On My Mind”, a song most closely associated with Elvis, who we lost in 1977, be sung by the man who originated it, for us, tonight. Tears are shed, again. Tears for the lost, tears for the living, tears of gratitude. Here is a crowd not afraid of a little wild weather, behind us, a row of four elderly folks, each with canes, who are more connected to their music than most 30 year olds of today are or ever will be. There’s time for a tear for whatever will be for music, when we lose the last of the legends who are irreplaceable, who have few challengers with the stamina, talent and grit to do the leg work anymore. But we’ve seen some of them tonight. So we cheer and leave it at that.

Erika Wennerstrom: Sweet Unknown in Toronto

By Jacqueline Howell

Erika Wennerstrom, the formidable voice behind mid-2000s success story Heartless Bastards, has also embarked on a solo project under her own name. Touring in support of Drive-By Truckers, Wennerstrom brings music from her just released album, Sweet Unknown, to life on the stage of Toronto’s Mod Club, a two-level club venue that offers nothing but solid sight-lines, is barrier-free and is wonderfully intimate (in the best sense of the word).

One cannot hear the Heartless Bastards’ 2009 hit song “The Mountain” without it leaving an indelible impression. Released at a time of sparking diversity in the new century’s first decade, the radio was full of real musical voices playing real instruments again. There were buzzy amps and raucous guitars, androgynous-sounding singers from all over the world getting major attention, and a sense that the indie ethos was here to stay: for every band that produced scores of hand-clapping imitators, there was a burst of new ideas, new sounds and new moods created from places as unexpected but welcome as New Zealand  or Cincinnati. In other words, the flyover state was no more: the future was finally here.

While it’s uncomfortable to admit a nagging sense of longing for 2009, it’s authentic. Rapid-fire technology changes and digital distractions mean that since 2009, time has flown by, inviting us to altogether give up on the traditional way we ought to receive music and make it meaningful to our lives. 2009 music is still fresh, but so much noise, news and static can lead to a disconnect in the very real relationship needed for fans and artists. What’s important about real music made by real musicians, of singers as emotive and skilled and yet natural sounding as Wennerstrom, who can imbue “oooh”s and “whoa”s with as much truth as inside a biting line of poetry, is their out-of-time-ness and resistance to musical fads and trends. Real music has always risen above – not below – the commercial drag of its particular era. Heartless Bastards, across five solid albums, sounded fresh in the new Millennium because it was, at that moment. But it was really classic, timeless, for it was real music. The “new music” was – and still is – suspended somewhere in the realm of indie rock, garage rock and country rock – the genres that never give up their instruments and always keep us rooted to the earth. Keep us honest. Bring us back when dark forces dominate the charts. Speak to worldwide audiences on primal levels.

There is a full band supporting the solo material, a well-rounded sound that is full-bodied yet leaves more room for vocals and words to shine than perhaps the Heartless Bastards did when we saw them in Toronto some years ago. At that moment, vocals were regularly mixed a little low, full of cool ambiguity and mystery. Now, the clarity of voices is needed in this world, in a time where ambiguity colours every news headline. Our artists are still saving us from deafening, un-artful noise. Voices who can and will soar with clarity in the face of this are to be treasured.

Tonight, one of the most spectacular voices in rock music today (ever) sings a tight set including brand new songs “Twisted Highway” and the intimate “Extraordinary Love” which take on introspective, personal themes. Diehard fans of the Truckers on their double-digits in concerts nod approvingly and get into the music which is loud, irresistible and gently powerful. In between songs, as well, Wennerstrom reminds us to love ourselves (underscored with a song called “Be Good to Yourself”) and to consciously practice love: timeless, poignant messages that always feel more resonant coming from a lit stage and a trusted voice than the one inside our heads. We don’t ignore such messages when we are out listening to spectacular live music brought to our door. Instead, we cheer.

Erika Wennerstrom is currently on tour with Drive-By Truckers throughout the U.S.

Photo gallery by Dave MacIntyre



Wolf Alice Live at The Danforth Music Hall

London 4-piece Wolf Alice visited Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall on Friday night and delivered an inspired set of infectious alternative rock.  The band have been touring in support of their critically-acclaimed September 2017 release of Visions Of A Life.

Dave MacIntyre

Beliefs Habitat LP Release Show

Beliefs Habitat LP Release Show by Jacqueline Howlett

Jesse Crowe hits the stage without introduction and the first words that erupt are “Catholic Guilt…” and we are paying full attention, ears peaked like German shepherds. The mood of the song is dark, powerful, hinting at storms but, today, controlled. Many of us connect deeply with these themes, raised as we were on belief systems that promised we’d be “cradled all the way to hell…”.

The opener feels stripped down, maybe because the vocal is more foregrounded than in much of Beliefs’ first record, Leaper, but is actually sonically rich, ambient. “Divided Youth (only lovers)” seems to climb into these themes once more, playing with the notion of “divinity”, prescribed behaviours, and self-empowerment “I am not what’s in front of me. You’re not what I am gonna be.” The late in the song subtle chord shift suggests that yes, the I, here, will indeed have the last word. Will win. The best interrogations of religion and its messages are clever and the best among them are this artful: able to channel some of that pomp and drama of the church into Post-Punk forthrightness, requiring no trickery or superstition to wield real power.

We are here for Beliefs highly-anticipated album release (shared with Odonis Odonis), in this chillest of rock music rooms in Toronto that feels more authentically like downtown New York than Manhattan did last we checked, the room is full of people, and shortly, will fill with smoke that drifts in the changing lights making strange and beautiful clouds. Crowe and Josh Korody are often out of sight, as just one step back makes them disappear in the fog. They are accompanied tonight by two friends to round out the sound of the new album live, which takes a tour down dark hallways and evocative imagery. There’s the right amount of gloom for us die-hard Post-Punk fans who always await just such a return to musical form to a great age of rock music.

There are moments of electronic-led beats, but not of the dull new century kind we’ve grown used to. The old kind. The kind that is now a proper throwback to our younger selves, who are still here, waiting to pick up the beats our younger selves thought were the future. There’s still time. You can move to some of this music, you can sway, but you probably are mostly riveted to what this band wants to let you see up there. And at home, you’ll want to lay back, to think. Spend time with this new music and have a conversation with it. Pick out the lyrics, decide what it is to you. Like we used to. This album is what we call good news.

Beliefs, Habitat, (2017) Hand Drawn Dracula Records.

(Our recent album review for Habitat is here)

Photos by Dave MacIntyre


The Afghan Whigs: In Spades Tour. Love, Loss & Power

By Jacqueline Howlett

The Afghan Whigs take the stage in Toronto at the ambient, refurbished Opera House like it was theirs. For it is. The stage set up, all the usual amps & instruments and a few water bottles, is a lot more aesthetically pleasing than the typical rock club show. The amps are all white, lit in a pleasing way, and adorned with some fine art in black and white that mirrors the album artwork for their latest album, In Spades. But this is decoration with a special purpose. For this tour, this show, and this season, is to tour the record, but at least equally, to celebrate their much loved and missed guitarist Dave Rosser, who died in June 2017.

The Whigs are a band whose fans know their history and feel a deep connection. One whose return in 2011 after a decade away signaled a personal resurgence ahead of the larger, global one we are still holding out for in emotive, lyrical, deeply musical, powerful rock of the kind that made the 90s (and this band) a marvel to behold. They bring their past with them, their legacy, their growth & their mastery and so do we, if all we have is our applause and our attention. And when they hurt, so do we. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this much electricity in a room. It is certainly very rare, even among the addicted; music writers. Here, tonight, are waves, and shifts, and everyone is riveted. The rare person who does not hold up the social contract around flash photography is roundly shunned, and given a proper dressing down in a way that makes the heart flutter like it does when you hear fearless candour, I actually cheer. And for certain, we are in the presence of a powerful, fearless leader in Greg Dulli. I am just feet away from his work space. Anyone this close had better learn the rules quick or leave. Or deal not just with Dulli, but all of us.

Dave Rosser’s passing is, naturally, foregrounded tonight. Or maybe, not naturally. Some bands take a path that is quite different up there as they must deal with these terrible losses with an almost superstitious “don’t say Macbeth” way of warding off their dead friends or a fear of some sort of band curse. Many older musicians are fraught, bowed by the heaviness it can create, the air it might take out of the room or of themselves. But not The Afghan Whigs. They shake that shit off with an athletic ease. Tonight, star QB Greg Dulli foregrounds the story of Dave’s passing from the outset, adding a true air of poignancy to the melodies, adding another layer to the rich power of the poetry. It is very real. Very raw. Very noble. Very effective. For the best gigs are always a trip to church, and tonight it’s a special one. Fans along the tour hold up signs for Dave. They are acknowledged, thanked. Dulli tells us early on that the band was just here last May, with Dave. By the end of June, this sweetest, kindest, funniest, most talented man was gone. This is a stark reality that too many of us relate to in any crowd at our age. The man to my left, at my side, escaped death this year. We are both very keen to raises our voices and our applause for Rosser. And so the album art, the lighting, the mood, is thoughtfully designed, speaking to someone like me who looks for little signs, clues and silent cues. Tonight, the stage is rich with them. And then there’s the music.

Afghan Whigs are 8 albums deep spanning nearly 30 years. It’s a rich time to be a fan of bands of their vintage (man, it’s our vintage too and we are all aging well) when they are in the sweet spot of choice and ease, and can have a little fun sorting through hits, deep cuts, b-sides and newer material fitting side by side in this out-of-time musical moment of the messy new millennium. I don’t need to tell you that the band has always had a way with a cover song too, with a mastery of the room that means almost nothing is out of bounds. There is room for surprise, laughter, shifts of dramatic mood. Tonight in Toronto, there’s a heavy weighting on the new material, a mark of confidence that only the most self-assured bands can pull off without the weak but buzzing wrath of the internet and its vocal minority of bores who like to keep score. They seem to have been driven off tonight in the strong wind of The Afghan Whigs.

Powerhouse Greg Dulli is one of those multi-talented visionaries whose intelligence is visible, and who misses nothing. Producer, songwriter, and leader, Dulli has been prolific over the years inside and outside The Afghan Whigs including as the lead vocalist for “The Backbeat Band”, a supergroup that included Mike Mills, Dave Grohl and Thurston Moore who created music for the film Backbeat, a biopic about the Beatles. He’s also done some acting turns and more interesting quietly cool collaborations than I can list.

But on to the newest project: In Spades gets a terrific helping: “Arabian Heights”, “Demon in Profile”, “Into the Floor”, “Light as a Feather”, “Oriole” and “Toy Automatic”. From Do to the Beast we get “Algiers”, “It Kills”, “Matamoros” “Can Rova” and “Parked Outside”. All the records get some play. Old and newer weave together cohesively, expansively, masterfully. But the centerpiece of the show, coming about halfway through the main set, is the spare, gorgeous, feels like it dropped out of a ceiling in the 90s but with today’s polish, “Can Rova”. It’s “a Bonnie & Clyde thing”.

This song was a favourite of Dave Rosser’s. And tonight, and on this road, it is his song. We don’t catch this, maybe others do, but his amp and area is set up just in case he wants to drop by and join them. And there’s such a stirring, you have to wonder. You have to wonder if the light and power of music can do almost any miracle on earth. You have to marvel that music IS our healer, our teacher, our comfort, our side-effect free antidepressant, our rage soundtrack, our mood setter, our caffeine, our rubber to the road anthem, our therapy. Ours. And I realize here tonight, that should you live long enough, any love & heartbreak song can be converted cleanly and profoudly into a dirge, a lament, in time. It’s a revelation. And it happens here:

“If I’m uncivilized child, that’s okay
You gonna see me light a fire some hot day
But you don’t see me
You don’t see me
You don’t see me
I can’t see you anymore”

This is the song that is a diamond even among the songs out there of its type. It’s an anthem. It starts from almost a murmur, builds to a cry, and can shape-shift to be a defiant call, a lament, or a celebration. All within four minutes. All of this, the masterful shifts of mood through the generously full show, the surprising bursts of cover songs, the weaving of Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” into “Can Rova”, the meaningful moments of remembrance for the lost (including our own, in our quiet way) the near misses, the close calls, the weight of life and the persistence of love carried on these chords, all means something. He is as in control leaning over the room balanced on one foot as an athlete in flight. It moves me so. It moves the gears in my head, my head that lives for moments like this and are rarer than love.

“If all in vain I call your name
As though the end was near
A slow decay, a sad refrain
And then I disappear

We leave tonight
Ain’t nothing but the stripes”

And since I’m a lifelong melancholic, who loves to mourn not just the specific person of the moment, and feels the still fresh ache of the person at my side (who almost was taken by illness), and the moms and the grandfathers and the dreams and the beloved pet, I’ve got room inside this experience to become wracked with all that angst that a band this grand, that has no doubt achieved and traveled and bent the world, is not at the echelon we all know, along the tour, that they deserve. This song, in a just and fair world, in that window where Alternative and Rock music rightly last reigned, would be a number one. Here, at the Opera House, we get a band and a show that could slide onto Glastonbury’s big stage with ease, and fill that space all the way up. Can flex to make The Opera House feel like a stadium. Could light a match and turn this whole Titanic music has been feeling like in the biggest and most hollow stages right around that iceberg and clear on to America. This is the work of genius. Too goddamned often, nearly always, unsung. It means, though, that I get to have my Dancing in the Dark moment I’ve always longed for, and will never forget: Greg Dulli comes and leans directly over me at a certain point to ask “How you doin’?” mid-song.

A music geek goes through this turmoil and rages inside without missing a beat or a note of this jaw-dropping show. In fact, pinned to the very front of the stage, my photographer and I, always lucky to be here, do not leave our post for a moment. This resurgence of the bands that came to the fore around that exciting time of 1990, the end of the century, the music of half a century maturing and growing, diversifying, electric, sensitive, and learned, were so special. But never mind movements and scenes that half the time were some record company’s wet dream that just as easily swept aside brilliant acts from the wrong city, and can take no credit for the self-made, the stoics, the survivors. The kings whether in absentia for periods or not. Tonight and this tour and the perseverance and fearlessness of The Afghan Whigs is simply a master class, the proof of what we’ve always been raving about, that we were almost starting to forget, that we’ve always needed.

The Afghan Whigs are Greg Dulli, John Curley, Rick. G. Nelson, Jon Skibic, Patrick Keeler.

Rest in Power, Dave Rosser.

The Afghan Whigs play tonight, October 27th in New Orleans, at Voodoo Music + Arts Festival. (Tour info)

(The writer apologizes for the lateness of this review due to unforeseen circumstances. The photographer was on time, even early.)

Depeche Mode Global Spirit Tour Toronto

Depeche Mode played Toronto’s Air Canada Centre tonight in support of their newest album Spirit. The epic in scope Global Spirit world tour, for the legendary band’s 14th release, hits Toronto and Montreal before embarking on an extensive tour of American cities throughout September and October. America is theirs (British as they yet are) and they have a unique significance even among the very few 80s New Wave bands that have succeeded in that make-or-break place, historically documented in the essential concert album and film Depeche Mode 101 (which was filmed and recorded, famously, in Pasadena in 1988).

In this part of the world, 2014’s Delta Machine tour is well-remembered as rivaling their best, even among die-hard fans that never miss a tour. The band is so endlessly energetic and vital, leaving it all on the stage and with such an enviable back catalogue of what are now called “bangers” (but are really stacked with just the most operatic, grand, vivid synth rock music) that a visit with them turns any night, any city, the most soulless stadium, into a living place of worship where music shows its fullest power. They left us, back in 2014, changed, shattered. Lifelong fans, carved in stone. We are so happy to have them back. Don’t miss them. Canadian fans in the west can still catch Depeche Mode at the end of the U.S. leg (late October) when they return to Vancouver and Edmonton.

Photo Gallery by Disarm’s Dave MacIntyre

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