It was still quite quiet when I found myself at Sneaky Dee’s. There were just a few knots of people – even a young pair on an adorably awkward first date – perched on barstools and chatting, waiting of the Young Lions Club showcase to begin. I had originally drafted an ambitious and geographically broad plan for the night that would have had me biking from the Beaches into deepest Parkdale and back again. At the last minute, I decided to play the gourmet instead of the gourmand, and sample the night deeply instead of trying to take in a vast smorgasborg. I planted myself at one of the tables in Sneaky Dee’s, nursed a beer and decided to watch a single night ebb, flow and unfold.
And I will admit, I had some ulterior, and quite frankly anthropological motivations to my decisions to camp out and watch a single showcase as well. I go to so many metal shows these days that I sometimes forget how other music events play out. Will the indie rock crooner call for a circle pit? Is the keyboardist likely to shower me in beer? Part palate cleanser and part observational experiment, I wanted to remind myself of what most people think about when they picture a live music experience.
The first band to hit the stage were Toronto’s own easy-going, slovenly indie rockers Cousin. A single song into their set, the band took a “duct tape break” to patch up a busted guitar strap (the band would later remark on their Facebook page that they ended up breaking all three guitars during their set), which ended up setting the tone for the cheery, off-the-cuff DIY quality to their set. Toying with spoken word passages and even the occasional bit of brass support in their set, Cousin gave the distinct impression that they were muddling through and having a great time. They have a much more solid idea of who they are in terms of musical theme than they have a grip on their aesthetic, but listening to them wander and explore on stage was strangely pleasant.
Next up were Vancouver’s In Medias Res, who stayed true to their names and began their set with a sense of visceral immediacy, with a throbbing baseline that gave way to shimmering, almost psychedelic tones. The band achieve a solid balance in their live sound between dreamy, trembling melodies that shift and change in the ear, and strong, pulsing rhythms that anchor the songs. The band members themselves add to the immersive quality of their performance by appearing wholly absorbed in the music, employing deep, slow, swooping headbanging that looked almost meditative.
Toronto’s Mark Andrade was up next with his new jack-of-all-trades project Paradise Animals, a conglomeration of many musical influences and a collaboration between many of Andrade’s talented friends. Paradise Animals is by nature a schizophrenic project, the percussion flirting with rock at one moment and chatting up a distinctly funk-flavoured bassline the next. Because it is so chameleonic, this is difficult music to properly snuggle up to. There were moments that I loved, and then others that would cause me to drift away. It was interesting, however, to engage with music that constantly asked the listener to pick it up and put it down again as it changed shape, not worrying that the listening experience was not completely immersive.
By the time Brooklyn, NY four-piece Bear Hands started their set, Sneaky Dee’s, which had been gradually filling up, now felt positively claustrophobic. The tightly packed atmosphere suited the band well, as their jangly, strangely joyous indie reinvigorated the energy in the room. There’s a hand-clapping, sing-a-long quality to their music that makes an audience want to move, and having a room packed with eager bodies for Bear Hands to inspire suited the band perfectly. Between Dylan Rau’s distinct voice and the dynamic, playful drumming, they made this show feel like a party.
Beloved Toronto indie rock band Dinosaur Bones may have been greeting my steadily rising energy, pouring a buttery, mellow vibe over the room with caramel smooth melodies and Ben Fox’s sweet, mellifluous voice. Full and bright with shiny moments, punctuated by their warm, uplifting guitar tones and sparkly, somehow effervescent cymbals, their songs embody a kind of worldly optimism edged with the barest gilt of melancholy. The dark elements of their music is presented with such a delicacy and deft touch that is is hard to guard against until they’ve wormed their way into your heart.
I was hoping to camp out all night and see Sheezer at 3 am, but after Dinosaur Bones’ set I officially threw in the towel and began the long, damp, windy bike ride home. Shocked out of my cocoon of warm, woolly indie rock, it struck me that the show had left me just as drained as if I had been to a metal show, but in a different way. Whereas a great deal of metal functions on the premise of creating all all-out aural assault, indie rock is a lot sneakier about what it takes from a listener. In a metal audience, you expect musical violence, and you arm yourself accordingly, fully prepared to engage in a good-natured battle with the band and your fellow concert goers. It is the band’s responsibility to overcome that resistance and pummel you into submission, to draw a certain kind of reaction out of you. With indie rock, it is far more insidious, a subtle drawing and wringing out of emotion that can steal all sorts of reactions from a listener who leaves themselves unguarded. I need new weapons for this listening experience.