Young Empires, Bravestation, and others play The Horseshoe.
In the confusing realm of musical sub-genres, it could best be referred to as dance-rock. Or electro-pop. It’s so hard to tell anymore. But whatever it’s called, you’ll know it by the chest-pounding kick of the bass drum that doesn’t seem to flag even when the singer announces “a slow one.” Or the incessant hiss of the hi-hat propelling a rolling bass-line. Or the snaky guitar runs blending seamlessly with the shifty, echoing synths and textures that are now often played through the newest of instruments: the MacBook. That’s why the kids packed into the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern this Friday night: to catch a bill of well-matched talent in a showcase of a unique sound.
That’s not to say that the bands all sounded exactly alike. Within every musical sub-genre, there are, of course, more sub-genres still—an endless rabbit hole of classification. Paradise Animals kicked the evening off with a moody, even tortured, variation on the theme. To a slick beat and bass groove, singer Mark Andrade crooned in a deep lamenting baritone, as if he wanted to get people dancing, but also have them feel a little bummed about it. As the crowd filtered in, the Toronto quartet played a solid set consisting largely of songs off their new self-titled EP, and managed to set a tone for the rest of the evening.
Montreal’s HonheeHonhee brought punk rock energy to the show, suitably punctuated with guitar freak-outs and “whoa-oh-whoa” sing-alongs. The amply bearded Greg Halpin yelped his vocals with a halting urgency, and fellow guitarist-vocalist Stefan F.-Gow, himself dapperly mustached, matched Halpin’s fervent enthusiasm throughout. There was a pervasive sense of fun during the performance, embodied by a few extended guitar face-offs and the rarer—but far more theatrical—back-to-back interlude. Halpin seemed genuine in proclaiming how grateful the group was to be included on the bill, perhaps sensing the commonality in the entire line-up’s repertoire. At one point he announced that the show was, in fact, their new bass player’s first one. The natural chemistry and camaraderie on display make that claim seem unbelievable. (As do some older photos on the web.)
Preparing to launch their first full-length, Toronto’s Bravestation hit the stage right around the time the place was reaching fire code capacity. In a workmanlike fashion, they got down to the business of creating a densely layered and ambitious variation on whatever the theme of the night had become. While the rhythms remained lively, there was an added dash of drama to the recipe, carried by the versatile lead vocals of bassist Devin Wilson. Early on, “Clocks and Spears” sounded like it could almost have doubled as a mission statement, with its plodding bass washed out in occasional cascades of shimmering synth.
The band announced with a hint of trepidation that they would be playing quite a few new songs, and these seemed to reflect some further sonic experiments. “Signs of the Civilized” showed an expansion into tribal drums, with Jeremy Rossetti exploring the further reaches of his drum kit while Andrew Heppner unleashed a barrage of Eastern-tinged flourishes from his keys and laptop. They closed out their set with crowd favorite “White Wolves,” which saw Derek Wilson’s understated guitar runs leading the charge through a deftly packed three-plus minutes of crafty, indie-rock goodness. Shouts of “encore” were left unfulfilled as the group shuffled off, as unassumingly as they had arrived. No doubt, leaving the room wanting more was satisfying to them. They have an album release coming up, so there will be plenty of time to satiate listeners in coming weeks.
A fitting culmination to the evening, Young Empires—on hand to release their debut EP Wake All My Youth—closed things out with dynamic aplomb. The group tore through a raucous seven-song set. Singer Matthew Young was noticeably amped, interacting well with the warmly receptive crowd, at one point calling for the house lights to be turned down while he provided portable lights to those near the front. After introducing the song “Beaches,” Young’s voice took to soaring heights, and as he passionately wailed about “the way your body moves,” there was the collective feeling that he could have been singing about any of us, or all of us at the same time. It may not have been the deepest of sentiments, but it matched perfectly with the band’s bombastic spirit.
The group briefly left the stage, but barely had any time to catch their breath before returning for a two-song encore. “Enter Through The Sun” turned out to be the ideal closing track—equal parts Bloc Party and The Cure. Afterward, throngs of bleary-eyed hipsters went out into the early morning to search for a suitable after-hours spot. There was no way that anyone was going to be able to get any sleep after the pulse-pounding showcase they had just witnessed.
Photos by Colleen Lam.