Absolutely Free at the JCC

Hometown experimentalists organize best pool party ever

ABSOLUTELY FREE at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, Saturday, March 8. Rating: NNNNN

It’s Saturday night and the Miles Nadal JCC’s lobby is crowded with hip twenty- and thirty-somethings toting non-practical gym bags. A curious white-haired man shuffles over and addresses the pack, “What’s going on here?” – realizing we aren’t here for Hebrew school. “There’s a rock show going down in the pool,” someone answers. He walks away with a bewildered grin.

It’s an understandable response. We’re even a little confused by the concept: experimental hometown boys Absolutely Free are playing a release show for their latest EP On The Beach at the JCC’s pool.

Will it be like after-hours pool-hopping where everyone shyly clings to the edge, keeping their pompadours and bangs dry? Or will it be pool games and cannon balls like my sixth-grade birthday party, this time with avant-pop-krautrock live in the background? Thankfully, it turns out to be the latter.

Green and blue streamers hung from the ceiling, flanking the trio and their arsenal of synthesizers, samplers, drum pad and microphone. To the right of them, a board on the wall about Purim (it’s like a Jewish version of Halloween, I’m told) partially covered by band T-shirts.

After about 15 minutes of swimming – there are probably about 60 of us in the pool and a clothed handful hanging around the deck – the band starts their hour-and-a-half set. Surprisingly, their effects-heavy electronic sound, reconfigured to exclude drums and bass, worked wonders with the acoustics. All the natural reverb, perhaps?

The swimmers splashed along as the band, situated safely on a second level overlooking the pool, and decked out in rain ponchos and water wings, eased through the EP’s two songs (On The Beach and Clothed Woman, Sitting) and other unreleased tracks. They were clearly feeding off the crowd’s energy as regular pool-party shenanigans emerged below: the classic “keep the ball in the air” game, hearty attempts at swirling a whirlpool into existence, floating listlessly on pool noodles. Even if it seemed at times like the swimmers weren’t actively listening, a roar of applause erupted after each song, and there was plenty of awkward underwater dancing.

It was great, even heartwarming, to see Toronto concertgoers having, well, fun. And who knew? All it took was a rock show at the JCC for us to come out of our shells. See you at Passover?

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