By Natalie Zed, Live photos by Laina Dawes
Look, Toronto, I’m sure you had your excuses. Some of you were out of town; others were under the weather; others, I am sure, decided to patronize one of the other myriad events happening on an early summer Saturday night in the city. Maybe some of you even decided just to stay out on the patio, drinking, because this show was too early and you were too cool to be bothered. Whatever the case, you missed out on something genuinely special.
Purity Control began the show with one of their notoriously short, blistering sets. These Toronto, ON-based maniacs play difficult, granular music as fiercely as they can. They throw their instruments and bodies around the stage as if seized, or possessed, by a larger, violent force. Because their music is abrasive and difficult (though still extremely enjoyable in context), they limit the audience’s dosage to just a few songs, which is perfect. They’re intense sprinters rather than distance runners, musically speaking, and I like it.
Vilipend have a reputation to maintain. The band have become notorious in Toronto and beyond for putting on live shows that are vicious, to the point of being threatening. I’m always amused by the wide berth the crowd gives frontman Chris Gramlich these days — several feet in front of the stage remained empty for the duration of their set. Not content to rest on the laurels of their bloody reputation, Vilipend continue to up their game. Instead of physically attacking the audience (which always remains a possibility), this performance was an emotional assault. Playing primarily new material off their upcoming full-length, Inamorata, Vilipend left everything on stage, every ugly, bleeding scrap of suffering they could dredge up for our entertainment. As someone who has seen Vilipend perform a number of times over the past year, this show was something special.
Tombs’ performance fully cemented the fact that this show was a rare experience, that we in the audience were privileged to be a part of it. I’ve been listening to their latest album, Path of Totality, and enjoying it immensely, but I was still unprepared for what they were able to unleash. Their live set is much more aggressive than their recorded music, more ragged in its emotional register, yet technically precise. As a three-piece, they’re stripped down to the bare essentials, but still manage to produce an absolutely towering sound. Vocalist/guitarist Mike Hill (formerly of Anodyne) is another performer who leaves everything on stage, and Andrew Hernandez (drums) and Carson Daniel James (bass) play just as hard. I’ve never before encountered a blackened sludge band that played live with so much sheer heart and who also were so utterly satisfying to listen to. The next time Tombs come to town, Toronto, you’d better pack the venue.
A Storm of Light provided a performance that felt more like a denouement than a revelation. Their set featured a heavy visual component, in the form of projected videos that drenched the stage in light. It was quite lovely, which is unsurprising considering that vocalist/guitarist Josh Graham is the visual artist for Neurosis. A Storm of Light strike a strange middle ground between aggressive hardcore and ambient rock, and I had a hard time fully immersing myself in their sound. It struck me that they’re the kind of band that release albums that grow on you with time, and I want to give their recorded material a try after seeing them live. It was almost a relief to be somewhat under-whelmed by their set after being so shaken by the other acts on the bill, to experience something that left me merely lukewarm instead of on fire.
This was a great show, Toronto, and far too many of you missed it. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, but hopefully you’ll smarten up and start giving brilliant, heart-rending shows like this more of your time.