Review by Natalie Zed; Concert Photos by Phil Miller
Most of my social interaction these days can be summed up with the phrase “watching lovely people do very strange things.” It’s one of the things I love most about Toronto: on any given night, I can attend a strip spelling bee or a pillow fight, or go to a metal show and see some absolutely killer local bands bring on the weird.
The Hard Luck Bar has undergone a small but significant renovation since I was there last. A plywood wall has been constructed just inside the main door, ostensibly in an attempt to contain some of the noise being generated on the stage. While it does help to keep the sound under control, it also keeps all of the heat in. The Hard Luck Bar is now a warmer venue that it has even been before. The fans positioned around the stage helped a little, but just about everyone who performed at this event were clearly suffering under the lights.
The first band to brave the heat was Eyeswithoutaface, whom I’d had no exposure to prior to this show. When I asked about them, a fellow audience member described them as industrial- and sludge-influenced. Having no expectations, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the set. Their sound was emotive and evocative, with lots of drone but nonetheless quite precise. Their music was defined by a sense of urgency and forward movement that served them well.
Sylvus played next, performing their first show in nearly a year. Their lineup underwent significant changes (they no longer have a keyboardist and have replaced their bassist). In response, they made a bold move and decided to recast their identity, build something new with their current lineup rather than attempt to modify songs that no longer suited this incarnation of the band. As a result, their material is all quite new; when I asked, they referred to their songs by number rather than title (song 3, song 4). They also performed an excellent cover of Windir‘s “The Spiritlord.” Sylvus embodies a lot of what I love about local bands: they provide the audience with the unique opportunity to see a band not as a static thing, but as a shifting organism in a constant state of being rebuilt. There’s a kind of intimacy to this type of performance that is unique. Playing for the first time after a hiatus is an act of bravery, as is trying out new songs in front of a live audience. The band members are all gregarious, generous people, actively soliciting feedback. And I have to say that I dig their mew material. Darcy Ibson’s vocals are impressive; I was particularly glad that he performed “The Spiritlord” as it demonstrated his range. Every member of the band has a striking physical and performative presence on stage, and I eagerly look forward to seeing them again.
Vilipend performed in the penultimate slot, and brought a completely different kind of energy into the room. This was my first experience with Vilipend; their is not music that is easy, or comfortable, or easy to sink into. It is downright confrontational and unapologetic in its violence. Their sound is also so strangely welcoming, in that it provides the audience with a potential for catharsis, an opportunity for release. The band members seem impervious to pain and injury, especially singer Christopher Gramlich, who heaves and howls and throws himself around mercilessly. I was nearly got whipped in the face with the mic cord more than once. Of course, I loved it. Of course, I would see them again.
The final band to perform were local barons of weirdness, Thantifaxath, whom I have seen twice before: once opening for Alcest (which I really enjoyed and still think of as their best performance) and again at Duffy’s tavern (where the space was small and the rest of the programming unsuited to their aesthetic). They have a solid conceptual framework, though they are clearly still fine-tuning the details. All three band members, all of whom are exceptionally talented musicians, play in full-length cloaks. Their music is tight and walks a fine line between the alienating and the intimate, and their visual aesthetic mirrors this. One of the band members, Luke Roberts, experimented with performing in bare feet, which I interpreted as an effort to determine how featureless vs. how vulnerable they want to be in their stage presence. Their development as a band is a fascinating process to watch. Thantifaxath certainly keeps me interested, and clearly value exploration over perfection. I admire them for that.