Review: Alexisonfire dropped a surprise single then played a surprise Toronto show

The constantly reuniting St. Catharines band played a pair of mini-concerts, at House of Stombo and with Chastity at the Rec Room

ALEXISONFIRE with CHASTITY at the Rec Room, Friday, February 15. Rating: NNN

When does a surprise Alexisonfire reunion stop being a surprise?

The St. Catharines post-hardcore band dropped a new single Friday called Familiar Drugs, their first new track in 10 years, and celebrated with two mini-performances. First, they played a Facebook live stream from the House of Strombo and then crashed Chastity’s sold-out show with Greys and Casper Skulls at the Rec Room.

Familiar Drugs is a classic sounding Alexisonfire song, with a muscular groove, beauty-and-the-beast double vocals and a core riff that’s definitely amphitheatre ready. (Handily, they also announced a concert June 15 at Budweiser Stage, on sale Friday, February 22). It’s ostensibly about falling back on old habits and with its release the band itself surrenders to a familiar pattern – despite announcing a break up in 2011, they just can’t seem to stay away for long. There was the 2012 “farewell” tour, festival dates almost every year since, four sold-out shows at the Danforth Music Hall in 2017, plus a steady sprinkling of releases from EPs to box sets of music from the vaults. 

Few bands can exist so comfortably in this space, between active and retired. Do the members even need Alexisonfire anymore? Dallas Green has his commercially successful City and Colour project. Wade MacNeil plays with UK punks Gallows, scores films and video games and put in four years as a host on 102.1 the Edge. George Pettit has his own band Dead Tired and works as a full-time firefighter in Oshawa. Jordan Hastings has been drumming for Billy Talent. Chris Steele’s a barber. Apparently, though there’s still some familiar drug in this particular project, a high these five guys can only get by ripping into 2006’s This Could Be Anywhere In The World one more time.

Before launching into their six-song House of Strombo performance, the band huddled in mock sports team prayer and dedicated the set to “moments.” That seems to be the M.O. here – no promises for a full-scale reunion or even a whole album, just dropping in with a new present for fans, grabbing a hit or two off the AOF energy bank, then disappearing again.

For Whitby’s Brandon Williams, the Rec Room gig was a full circle AOE fanboy moment. Like many a kid growing up in the towns around Toronto, he listened to a lot of Alexisonfire records. But with his own band, Chastity, he now finds himself in a mutual admiration society with his one-time idols, who personally picked his gig to make their live debut of Familiar Drugs.

It’s easy to imagine them digging Chastity’s 2018 album Death Lust, a catchy mix of emo, shoegaze, grunge and hardcore that taps into the same suburban disaffection Alexis build their own anthems on. Live, Williams delivered his death songs with both heartfelt earnestness and rock star showmanship. Chastity also roused a mean moshpit, which turned out to be a nice warm-up exercise for the audience – half of whom had gotten word Alexisonfire would be showing up, half of whom were genuinely surprised. No one in the room seemed more pumped than Williams himself, who jumped on stage with the band at one point to rally the crowd in a singalong before stage-diving into the arms of his people.

It was all over fast – just three songs – but don’t worry, malaised youth of the GTA – if Alexisonfire don’t come back for a while, go see Chastity. They’ll fill your voids. 

@nowtoronto | @LiisaLadouceur

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