Death From Above 1979’s Secret Toronto Show: A Review

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[Correspondent Gilles LeBlanc was there to see DFA 1979 and the New Pornographers. Photos are by Fernando Paiz of Capa Photography. – AC]

A SONIC BOOM OF A SECRET SHOW

For more than 60 years, Honest Ed’s has been one of Toronto’s most distinguishable landmarks. Or is that one of its biggest eyesores? I can’t begin to imagine how much electricity those light bulb-filled signs have sucked out of the city…

Sadly, like several things in “The 6” these days, a storied and colourful history can’t even buy a Pumpkin Spice Latte. The real estate Honest Ed’s is sitting on, however, can fetch a pretty penny; the entire complex at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst was officially sold last year and will be completely redeveloped. Sonic Boom, arguably the finest purveyor of vinyl LPs as well as CDs and DVDs in T.O., are one of the victims of this economic progress, moving out of Mirvish Village and into their new digs at 215 Spadina. But as a proper sendoff to the block’s music legacy, the good folks at Molson Canadian decided to clear out the space, offer up free beverages and hold a pop-up show as part of their extremely innovative “Altered States” series.

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Now, if you’re going to strip somethinglike Honest Ed’s/Sonic Boom down to its bare bone essentials, there’s really only one local band suitable enough for such an event. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or think the El Mocambo is still a viable concert venue just because The Rolling Stones once played there, you know that Death from Above 1979 are alive and kicking after…well after a good decade of mystery and uncertainty. With the release of the punk rock duo’s second full-length album The Physical World, it is safe to say singing drummer Sebastien Grainger and bassist/occasional electro keyboardist Jesse F. Keeler are an active entry again. (That is, as safe as can be in DFA 1979’s screeching, mosh-filled existence.)

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So on the night of September 26th, a few hundred lucky wristband winners were crammed like records in milk crates into the now-vacant Sonic Boom to celebrate a small piece of what makes Toronto great. It served a dual purpose by also acting as Death from Above 1979’s final warm-up before they embark on a 38-date European and North American fall tour. Last Gang Records labelmates The New Pornographers helped warm up the audience, although truth be told, the lack of any kind of air conditioning took care of that. They were short a member in Neko Case, but the other seven musicians on stage appeared to be in good spirits, cruisin’ their way through cuts off latest album Brill Bruisers. The Larry Flynt of the group, A.C. Newman, even quipped how the only “swill” they accept is Molson Canadian Cider. While his New Pornos play perfectly acceptable power pop, you could tell almost everyone was saving their alcohol-fuelled energy for DFA 1979.

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All the pent-up emotion in Sonic Boom seemed to spontaneously combust the moment Grainger and Keeler started into “Turn It Out” from familiar old favourite You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. For the next hour or so, it was one punishing song followed by another; even DFA 1979’s best efforts to slow things down with their near ballad-y “White Is Red” was met with crowd surfing. By the 2-song encore of biggest hit “Romantic Rights” and The Physical World’s title track, the straggling survivors on the former record store floor had formed one of the largest circle pits I have seen in my 20+ years of concert-going. Good thing the Molson girls in red had stopped serving hors d’oeuvres!

Yeah, Toronto may lose a little of its identity when Honest Ed’s permanently disappears. I for one am not happy how venues with music pasts to brag about like the aforementioned El Mo and Kool Haus are destined to become condos, but I’ve come to learn that out of sometimes unfortunate circumstances, awesomeness can emerge.

See? Change CAN be good!

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The New Pornographers-4 The New Pornographers-8 The New Pornographers-9

 

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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