It started casually at Tim McCready’s house party, a NXNE party at a house, attended by the coolest people I’ve ever seen in my life. A guy wore brown chord shorts and a blue jean jacket without a t-shirt. That shit was sick. Of course he was a musician. Rule of thumb, when someone has tattoos up their legs, assume they’re in the band.
Spoke to a singer/actor/server about human hardwiring, history, and of course the Pizza Underground. Ate two pulled pork sandwiches.
Hustled to Massey Hall to see Barr Brothers and Spritualized. BB was deep, with serious roots in blues. The lead player switched from a nasty J-45 to banjo, to a couple other guitars that were sexy and curious. The room is so fantastic, acoustics and atmosphere, but it makes the band sedated. Maybe complacent. My guess is it’s intimidating, and you’re less inclined towards risks. Gorgeous music, but very mellow and to be honest I fell asleep for a bit.
Spiritualized was busier, people were pumped. I could tell they were a tight group, but given the hype for the show, being staged Massey and from what my friends’ reports, I didn’t fall in love with this group. No disrespect.
I biked west to see Reggie Watts when a curious thing happened—ten feet in front of me a car crashed, the driver fled, someone ran after him in hot pursuit. “Police, don’t run,” but he ran. It was a plainclothesman running down Queen, his gun drawn. He spoke into his walkie talke, “suspect has a gun.” Then they were gone! Meh. When I lived on Crawford there were fatal shootings on the Queen and College end of my street, so I’m an old hand at this. No, it’s always unnerving, and I needed beer. I debriefed with the cyclists and pedestrians around me, took a few deep breaths. Sirens descended from everywhere, they taped off the street. I messaged a friend en route to Reggie Watts to say Queen may be fucked due to what I had witnessed, but she actually saw the cops at her end apprehend the guy. Good! Between us we saw the start and conclusion to crazy shit.
Biked to Dufferin and hopped on the street car repurposed for the Reggie Watts show, with speakers and lights. Now, nobody thinks, “a concert hall is nice, but he’d really thrive on a streetcar.” It’s hard, it’s narrow, and people are rammed. Almost nobody could see him. The atmospheric novelty was real, though; streetcars are usually a scene of great horror, and this shift created a palpable vibe. I was near the front but my view was obstructed. I could see his huge hair, of course. It reached the ceiling practically. The sponsor was some stupid company called Squirt, whose business idea is ruining the taste of water by squiring flavour into it. Watch this become hugely popular.
Naturally Reggie made a lot of jokes about squirting, and the squirting chants were funny. He did his patented beats and keyboard freestyle singing over top. He had serious fans aboard. The route was Dufferin to Maccaul. What’s cool was the people aboard the car weren’t the only ones to experience the show; we pulled up next to other streetcars and laughed at the shocked faces looking in at our vehicle, tricked out with lights, screaming people and Reggie Watts. They paid $3 to board a much inferior streetcar but they seemed happy to spontaneously see it at all. It was not just amusing or thrilling, but profound too. A moving concert, travelling through the city!
Inside the crush I could barely see much less talk to Reggie, but once outside I walked to where he was and saw him puffing a joint. I smelled weed inside, but figured it was fans. I thanked him and shook his hand while he smoked a joint inside a TTC streetcar—a moment I won’t soon forget. I hate the gawking and bragging about sighting celebrities, as if seeing a person who will never remember you is an accomplishment, but this was fuckin’ cool. It’s rare for me that an artist I’m so in awe of is alive.
When the streetcar reached its destination, hordes took pictures. Near me were two rabid fans I figured had been on the streetcar, but it was just dumb luck they happened to be standing there when Reggie appeared from nowhere. “Only in Toronto!” they said. I responded, “Ya, and New York and LA and…” but I took their point. This is happening in Toronto, and it didn’t use to.
With my bike stranded at Dufferin I walked to the Horseshoe and saw Spoon, but it was rammed and it wasn’t my show. Had some beer, then street meat. Here I came upon Perfect Pussy, a band from Syracuse, not some ideal street hussy. They told me fans at their show were pissed because they only did a few songs, but someone had blown the bass amp—it wasn’t their fault! I told them I’m a writer and I’d set the record straight. The technical difficulties were beyond their control, leave Perfect Pussy alone.
It was 3am so I decided might as well pop by the Silver Dollar en route home. Great decision, saw the best band of the night. JPNS GRLS, pronounced Japanese Girls, from Vancouver. They had it all: technical skill, balls, personality, energy. Fuck they were good. It’s the opposite of the formal Massey Hall vibe, the band just raw grinded, sweated it out. Nothing conservative or rigid here. Again, no disrespect for the musicians I saw at Massey, but when a talented band in a small venue is doing the right things to really trying to make it, you see and feel it, and it’s irresistible.
The guitar player had fast hands, great tone and control. The front man had a great voice, big range, and non-stop energy, not easy in the 3-4am timeslot. They played structurally sophisticated songs with breakdowns and several different sections, but the shit just rocked. It was their third NXNE show, and they said this was the best by far. I totally believe that.
For those keeping track, I saw concerts staged in Massey Hall, a backyard, and a streetcar, met Japanese Girls and Perfect Pussy, saw an armed police chase and Reggie Watts smoke a joint inside a streetcar. Yet the highlight of the night was the piss I took once finally home. I really had to go.
(Photo and video courtesy of Zach Gayne)