The last I attended I also performed- the night before I left Halifax. One year feels like a lifetime. Now here I am, ready to taste the TO scene for the first time. Black tank, black mini-skirt, and huge purple lightning bolt earrings I bought from a Halloween store. Shoes for dancing, face for smiling. The security guard obliges me to dump my water bottle, but that can be readily refilled from the sinks. Contrary to first impressions, I’m not here for sex, drugs, or even rock n’ roll. I’m here for my friends.
I’m front-stage for the tune-up. Can’t help it. Live music is more than an experience: it’s a process. A ritual, even. When Dylan asks for the vocals to be turned up, I know I’m at the right show. The Bandits jump into an energetic melody. I immediately jump too. You know music’s good when it gets you moving. You know a band’s good when you sing along for the first time. The Wet Bandits describe themselves as “basically a lot of whoas”, but they’re a hell of a lot more than that. Their three-vocal harmony is memorable, to be sure, but it’s their shamelessly poppy approach that elevates them to totally timeless. This is my music. This is what saved me when nothing else could. And it still does. When they finish, I have to cool off. I’m already slaked in sweat, and the night has only begun.
The Cathartics are ever true to their namesake. It’s been a year since I saw them perform- that very same show that also served as my goodbye. You have to see The Cathartics live. Only then will you understand. Thomas will inevitably strip down to his boxers, Becky will beat the drums into submission, and Jason (a newer addition to the line-up) will never fail to impress, if not for his rockstar sensibility, then for his awesome hair. This may not be the band I switch on for a chillses on Spotify. (I doubt the Cathartics are on Spotify, to begin with.) But for a live set, this is the stuff of magic. They describe themselves as psychotic pop-punk, but I would argue they channel all the glorious chaos of late 80s thrash and early 90s grunge. They’re a mess you don’t want to clean up. From the roar of approval when they finish their set, I sense the audience agrees. Afterward, I chill in the alley to watch new friends crack ciders, happy as ever with my water.
There was a time I could mosh all night, one big, happy bruise in the morning. Now, I’m 27. Older, and allegedly wiser. No more pulling ligaments and cracking ribs. I’ll take this set easy. Maybe stay for a few songs. Alas, Downbelows are too good. Damn their fuck-you attitude and tight-as-fuck performance. It would be an absolute disgrace to stand still. A mosh pit has duly formed; I strategically avoid it. I’ve already thrown out my neck. One injury is enough. A band this true to punk’s roots reminds me how much music can heal. This is where we purge our anger, our fear, our loneliness, and grief. We can spit it all up on stage. We can dance it all away. Al has amazing mic control. This band knows what they’re doing (not surprising- further research concludes they’ve been together since 2001.) I’m smashing my body against the weight of the world. Once-dry sweat has me soaked again.I crash my foot the wrong way. Ow. Older? Maybe. Wiser? Nah.
I’m ready to go home. Outside amongst smokes and friends (new and old), Spenser the drummer encourages me to stay for their set. He’s obviously biased in favor of his band, but who isn’t? Besides, it’s tough to follow up when you headline a four-band gig. I’ve experienced the most depressing audience depletion when my band’s come up last. At the very least, I can be another body in the audience. My sprained foot doesn’t bother me. Music can cure all ails- or at least distract us from them. Everyone in this lineup has incredible presence. It’s rare that every single member is memorable, but they are. Tyler’s a cartoon gone live, Chance is a one-man show, while Liam balances their showmanship with sexy reservedness. What a blessing to feel like you know someone just because they sang or moved in a certain way onstage. This is how art creates community. Who am I kidding? I have to dance! I’ve come this far. May as well go the whole way. Femmes always shut down the dance floor. I know because I’m one of them. We’re the first to arrive, the last to leave, and always rock harder than you’d expect. By the time the guys have retreated to the sidelines to nurse their beers and mend their bruises, femmes persist in rocking out. Spinning ‘round the confines of another beautiful dive bar, I contemplate my place in the world. How funny that I never thought I’d survive past my teens, let alone enjoy whatever came after. Life doesn’t stop at 18. Life actually gets better and better, if you have the guts to live it. In such uncertain times, all we can do is live. Get up, go to shows, talk to strangers who could become friends. We’re here, aren’t we? Why not make the best of it.
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