Review by Natalie Zed, Mares photos by Adam Wills
I thought I hated the Shop below Parts & Labour; I have since discovered that I hated the Shop in the winter. There’s no way to stand comfortably with the bone-chill of frozen concrete all around you, burrowing into your joints. Even packed with people, sour and sweaty, nothing felt right. Now that summer is here, I’ve softened towards it somewhat. It’s well ventilated, for a basement, with decent bathrooms, and although it’s still a concrete bunker, the warmth makes it less hostile. At the very least it’s no longer a place I dread or that actively combats the performers on stage.
Venue quibbles aside, this was an excellent show, from start to finish. There was no dead weight, no wasted time, and all the sets were tight and punchy the whole way through. It was also a well-curated show; the bands all complemented each other well and were as cordial and respectful offstage as they were vicious on.
Godstopper served as openers and performed what was unquestionably the best set I’ve heard them play. I was present at their first few shows, which were strange and abrasive, but showed a great deal of promise. Tonight it was clear that their promise is starting to develop. They are a much tighter band, more confident in their material and much more rehearsed. The sweeter passages stand out in contrast to the noise. They played a new song, with an incredibly catchy, throbbing chorus: “she’s so much smarter than me, she’s so much smarter than me…” They’re working hard, it’s paying off and that’s great to see.
Milwaukee-based Enabler performed next, spitting acid from the very first notes. They play a caustic slurry composed of metal, punk and hardcore, and very quickly had me sold on their apocalyptic sound. Their tone is characterized by buzzing bleakness, a sort of gut-sinking, droning wail in the low end that the guitars and vocals slice through. I really liked Eden Sank To Grief (and not just because of the Robert Frost reference) and seeing them live only made me more of a fan. After their set, the comment that I heard over and over from the crowd was how tight they sounded, which is particularly impressive considering that bassist Amanda Daniels just joined, former guitarist Ben Willkommen (from American Heritage) is helping out for this tour and drummer Robby Wright is filling in since new permanent drummer Andy Hurley is on tour with another project [Fall Out Boy – da Ed]. With all that shuffling and restructuring, the music remained brutal and precise, which should be commended.
Toronto, ON’s Vilipend provided direct support. It’s always a little odd reviewing them from my position, which is not from the reviewer’s usual professional distance, but from a place of intimate investment. That said, I think we should all be intimately invested in the music we review — casual distance creates cruelty and detachment. Full stupid love is the only way to do anything, really, and I am in full stupid love with Vilipend. The band are in serious fighting shape after recording their very-soon-to-be-completed debut full-length, Inamorata. They had also fully prepared for two mini-tours, one to the wilds of New York, and another out to Arsonfest in Winnipeg. Then their van passed on and all road dreams were halted until a new van could be purchased and much debt accrued. This ended up being great for the audience, however, as we were treated to a vicious set from an already frightening band that had even more aggression to work out than usual. They brought a surgeon’s precision to the violence of their instrumentation and an anguished vocal performance that lashed out at the crowd. Vilipend are something I will never get tired of.
Mares of Thrace began their headlining set well after midnight, when exhaustion and reverb tied lead weights to my joints, and this physical drag suited the weight of their music perfectly. Mares have done extremely well since I first saw them lay into the stage at Rancho Relaxo almost exactly a year ago, including having their debut full-length, The Moulting, being declared the best Canadian metal album of 2010 right here on Hellbound. The attention they’ve received has not only been deserved, but they’ve carried it with an incredible amount of grace. The doom-lady duo have taken their exposure and used it as motivation to become even better performers. Their sound, even at its most droning, is now more elegant, the explosions of energy more accurate and precise. They have retained an organic roar to the music, especially the immense “General Sherman,” which evokes blood pounding through a body. Their live show has lost none of its passion and added greater clarity.
Somehow it was after two a.m. by the time Mares were loading the last of their gear into their van, and Vilipend shouter Christopher Gramlich and I were waiting for the streetcar. The last thing Stef and Therese (the lovely Mares) would see as they pulled away from the Shop was the Gramlich’s alabaster-white bum as he mooned them.