Ah, the Kathedral. For years, it’s been our city’s Freak Mecca. A place where leather-clad ruffians could go on a Wednesday night to hack a butt with a homeless guy, catch an offensively-named hardcore outfit, or act a fool in general. A local watering hole that mohawked miscreants could take refuge in and call home. Like Cheers…for punks.
Thursday night, then, was something like a series finale for the venue, as hordes of cone-studded scalawags crammed inside its grimy, storied walls one last time for a free show entitled “The Night The Kathedral Dies.” Though it wasn’t officially the spot’s concluding event—The Big Bop’s got a couple more gigs tonight for metal purists and MDMA-lovers alike before it closes for good—it was undoubtedly its final dollop of shit-kicking punk rock. Coordinated by John Tard, ex-lead screamer of Toronto’s self-proclaimed ‘asscore legends’ The 3Tards, the evening featured some of the nastiest local punk practitioners ever to grace that soiled, sticky stage.
John Tard (sans his famous goatee) and the Terrorchargers lay waste to the Kathedral one last time.
If you managed to get inside, then it was great fun. From the anthemic thwack n’ skank of the momentarily-reunified Heatskores to the horrorbilly twang n’ bang of The Matadors, the tunes sounded boss (thanks largely to longtime Big Bop fixture Jake the Metal Soundguy). Tard even debuted his new band, The Terrorchargers, whom he introduced by spraypainting their moniker on the soon-to-be-razed stage wall. Their balls-out punk n’ roll set induced much stein clinking and head bashing, but was void of the kinds of antics that made the 3Tards such relics of Kathedral folklore. (You know, like that time they paid Beetlejuice of The Howard Stern Show $4000 to travel to the venue and tattoo his name on Tard’s chest live on stage).
If you didn’t manage to get inside, then you were one of the many punk youngun’s flooding the corner of Queen and Bathurst, patiently enduring freezer burn weather for a chance to bid adieu to your beloved purple all-ages behemoth. Beavershit crazy, right?
“Well, you’ve gotta’ dissect what a punk rock kid is,” explained Tard prior to the show. “I’m proud to say that I was one, and when you’re a punk rock kid, you do everything you can to stand out. There are so many people in your environment that can’t relate to you and hate your music. Everything about you sucks…It’s not an easy path. The easy path is to go with whatever’s popular. Punk rock kids, they take these fucked up paths and it ends up being real difficult for them. Well, when you put a location like the Kathedral together that’s friendly to them, it’s like fucking home base. Even when shows aren’t on, you’d see them lined up all over out front. It’s a place where you can feel comfortable.”
Now, with the Big Bop closing up shop and Queen and Bathurst gentrifying before our very eyes, Tard’s worried Toronto will be without a haven for the misfits. “Some of the more generic, factory-made rock n’ roll venues we’ve got in the city now, you walk in them and everybody’s looking at each other like ‘your hair looks fuckin’ way cooler than mine, and my fuckin’ jacket is more expensive than yours, and I’m drinking margaritas and you’re having beer.’ Toronto right now’s a fuckin’ nightmare. It just seems so fabricated. Whereas the Kathedral, like Jesus, could you ask for anything more ground-level?”
But there’s a faint glimmer of hope for raw ‘n’ real underagers out West, where Big Bop manager Dominic Tassielli plans on opening a new rock venue. Tard, who’s had a close working relationship with Tassielli since the early oughts, has been privy to the details and decided to hip us to them. “I was actually the first to vist the new venue he just purchased,” he revealed. “Now that’s it’s public, I can talk about it. He got a place out at the Dundas and 427 area, and it used to be an old establishment called Bert N Ernie’s, but it’s huge. He’s calling it ‘The Rock Pile’ and he’s turning it into two clubs. He’s completely gutting it; there’ll be about an 800 capacity venue with one main stage and a second venue in the facility that’ll hold about 200, and that’ll be for hardcore punk and shit…It’s got a patio for 200 people. For smoking? That is unheard of.”
Easily accessible via the 401, 427, and QEW, The Rock Pile, which Tard predicts will open in April, should be a boon for the GTA’s show-starved suburbanites. Still, it ain’t gonna bring back the Kathedral, a venue Tard believes will be remembered as Toronto’s CBGB’s. For many bands, including the 3Tards, it’s been the only approachable, unpretentious venue out there willing to foster obscure aggressive acts and young talent when no other place would. Now, with rising rent prices and property taxes in the area, it may be the last Mom and Pop music hall of its kind in the Queen West.
The Big Bop’s notorious wall of tattered photocopied posters.
“I would’ve never in a million years thought that [Queen and Bathurst] would’ve had a Starbucks on it,” remarked Tard. “I believe it to be the most notorious corner in Toronto history. And now, I believe the heart has been torn out of the city. All the roads led to that Kathedral corner. Even if you weren’t a fan of music, you always got a chuckle out of going near it. Because you never knew what you were gonna’ see. Like full-on 3-on-1 homeless fights or who knew what the hell else was happening over there.”
Losing that corner to a loft furniture space is downright depressing. But then again, who’s to say the condo crowd can stop the Bop inside of us?
“What’s funny about that corner is the Kathedral is notorious for getting hit with spraypaint left, right, and center. Now they’ve got this furniture store going in and that’s gonna be a tough corner to keep clean, because every punk in the city is pissed off.”
Photos by Joel Charlebois/Torontoist.