Hello all, and welcome to my North by Northeast coverage for this year! I’m aware that the festival has actually been going on for a few days at this point, but the music doesn’t really start until Thursday, and while I would have liked to go see some of the film festivals and other events peppered throughout the first few days of the week, the final days of my summer school course didn’t exactly permit me to do so. But now I’m all done, so the rest of the festival is mine – and, vicariously, yours.
The headlining shows are held at the main stage at Yonge and Dundas Square, and true to form, Thursday was the “punk night” of the weekend – Bad Religion this year. I, however, could not make it to this show. I had a gig at my dad’s office for an open house party he was having, where I made an inordinate amount of money playing jazz standards and consuming large quantities of hors d’oeuvres and booze for two and a half hours. Whoever said you can’t make money as a musician is bullshitting you; you just need to find the cushy corporate gigs. Granted, it’d probably be too hard to live off of, but I got paid the same amount of money for a couple hours of doing something I love that I would from a whole week of honest work. For a 21-year old musician who lives with his parents, that ain’t bad.
I wasn’t too broken up about not being able to see Bad Religion – it would have been nice, but I’ve never been a huge fan. They have a few great albums, have remained good despite their growing age, and their influence on a form of music that I love deeply can’t be understated. But they’re generally a bit too same-y for my taste and I didn’t care for the openers so…meh.
I originally thought I wouldn’t be able to cover the night at all because I was supposed to play another gig with my band New Stems (plug plug plug) right after, but that got cancelled so I made my way downtown. My plan was to hit Lee’s Palace at midnight to see Protest the Hero – but then I found out Bran Van 3000, the hitmakers behind “Drinking in LA” were playing, and I became very conflicted. It’s not like I know anything about them, but that song is awesome, and Protest are based in Toronto so they play here pretty often. Decisions, decisions.
After checking for where the Bran Van show was, I discovered that they weren’t on until 1, and that I’d have to subway to get there so as not to lose my parking spot for the night. Not wanting to have to figure out a way back to the suburbs after subways were done running for the night, I decided to go with my original plan – Protest the Hero it was.
Here’s the thing with that band though – while they may be absolutely incredible, the bands they usually play with are…well, shit. And the fact that it was a showcase for HeavyTO, Toronto’s mostly-bad metal festival, didn’t leave me feeling optimistic. The unfortunate truth about Protest the Hero is that they tend to be lumped in with horrible metalcore acts, despite not being part of that genre at all. I suspect the reasons for this are that A) metalcore bands are speedy and technical in a way that is, at least on the surface, similar to Protest’s, though markedly less complex, and B) Protest the Hero have breakdowns in their songs. So, wanting to avoid the openers as much as possible I killed time at my sister’s place until a quarter to 11, as she lives a mere 5-minute walk to Lee’s Palace and I figured, despite myself, that I should catch at least a bit of the opening act. Just to see. Just to write about.
Still, so I decided to waste as much time as possible on my walk, so I went into a BMV and started looking for cheap comics. Except I frustratingly couldn’t find the comics section, even after looking at the second floor, so I resigned to my fate and made my way to the venue, scowling at myself that it was only 11:10 at this point.
And wouldn’t you know it, the band on-stage was…a shitty metalcore band! Yay! They were called Obey the Brave. They had a muscle-bound singer rocking a Fred Durst look – baseball cap included – and a bass player with an asymmetrical haircut wearing an ill-fitting tank top. They constantly felt the need to put up the metal horns throughout their set. Any band that does this incessantly is probably not worth your time – it’s a very self-conscious thing to do, like the band needs to constantly reassure themselves and the audience that they ROCK and don’t you guys like ROCK and don’t we ROCK so hard that you just want to go to your room and ROCK and please like us we’re trying really hard up here. They played really forgettable metalcore music. I left after about 5 minutes.
But I still had almost an hour to kill before Protest the Hero were on so I roamed the surrounding area, ducking into a small used book store. They had a nice graphic novel section and good prices – Brian Michael Bendis’s Jinx for 11 bucks, natch – but while I couldn’t think of a better way to kill some time than to grab a beer with a sweet comic in hand, I also knew that having to carry that comic at a show would not have been a great experience. I left regrettably and stepped back into the BMV from before, finally finding the comics section – there was a mostly-hidden staircase leading to a third floor, which was devoted to comics and sci-fi things. I browsed for a while and, after realizing that I had a car parked nearby that I could drop off my things at and that I had a bunch of money now so I may as well spend some of it, picked up two things for 20 bucks – a collection of American Splendor, one of my favourite comics series ever, and a trade of Marvel’s Strange Tales series, in which they gave a bunch of mostly indie creators free reign over the Marvel universe. This results in some absolutely batshit-insane short stories. It’s pretty cool.
I got back to Lee’s just as Protest finished setting up. Vocalist Rody Walker walked onto the stage to thunderous applause and they proceeded to bust into a song from their latest album Scurrilous. The set was fantastic – this was my fifth time seeing them, but my first since that album came out. That record is still really good but I don’t like it as much as their first two and was worried that they would skew heavily to that material. Luckily, I was wrong, and the set was split pretty evenly between Scurrilous and Fortress, with two songs from their debut Kezia thankfully shoved in there as well. Rody is the biggest improvement these days – his vocals have improved with every album, but he’s infamous for being inconsistent during live performances, turning the more difficult vocal parts into screams and wearing out his voice early on. This is not the case anymore – whatever he’s been doing to get better in-studio has also made him a more competent live singer, and he was pretty much “on” for the whole set, staying faithful to the diverse vocal parts he’s laid down on each of PTH’s album. And his stage banter is totally hilarious. As for the rest of the band, they’re in absolute top form right now. They had a bit more stage presence in the Kezia days – I remember at least one really awesome synchronized jump during “Nautical” the first time I saw them – but watching their fingers blaze through speedy tapping sections and chunky time signature-bending riffs with ease, bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi smiling excitedly throughout, is more entertaining than even the coolest rock star moves.
So I’d call my first day a success. Check back tomorrow for a look at a super-secret record label BBQ and a Parlovr show!