PROTEST THE HERO at the Horseshoe, Saturday, January 26. Rating: NNNN
Protest the Hero have played bigger rooms in Toronto over the years, but Saturday's sold-out show at the Horseshoe was special for a few reasons.
For starters, it was the Whitby progressive metal/punk band's first appearance here since announcing that they were leaving their label to strike out independently. They've also set up an Indiegogo campaign to crowdfund their fourth album, which has already raised double their $125,000 goal.
"Thank you for your generosity," said lead singer Rody Walker to the ecstatic crowd, who overlooked the band's late start and wasted no time whipping up a mosh pit. Despite his forays into country music last year, Walker hasn't forgotten how to growl, and showed off the range that helps him stand out as a frontman.
Those hoping to discover what the new record might sound like were out of luck, since the five-piece played a set that spanned their decade-plus career. Balancing technical metal riffs and melodic choruses, they proved that no matter what comes next, they've got plenty of gas left.
DIANA and DUSTED at the Drake Underground, Tuesday, January 22. Rating: NNNN
How does a respected member of the indie rock community celebrate his or her birthday? If you're Austra's Dorian Wolf, you throw a party featuring two of Toronto's most promising new acts, Dusted and DIANA.
The former caught people's attention last year with their debut album, Total Dust, and the latter with a handful of online songs. They weren't able to sound-check before the show, but still made the most of their short sets.
In Dusted, Holy Fuck's Brian Borcherdt writes hazy, fuzzy music with vocals, guitar and sampled string arrangements. Leon Taheny helms the samplers and live and processed drums, making the project sound like four people rather than two.
DIANA lead singer Carmen Elle also knows a thing about multi-tasking. She performs with several other bands, but the 80s-pop-indebted quartet has quickly eclipsed them thanks to a dance-floor-friendly mix of synths, bass and Elle's filtered vocals. And though it was a cold night, Joseph Shabason's saxophone solos raised the temperature inside.
THE KETAMINES with SAM COFFEY and THE IRON LUNGS at Parts & Labour, Friday, January 25. Rating: NNN
The Shop under Parts & Labour is at its best in impromptu situations. When Friday's headliner suddenly cancelled, the bar threw together a strong lineup in no time. Thin sound and diminished sightlines might not be optimal for visiting bands looking for a showcase, but they don't hinder a raw, beer-spilling informal love-in.
Toronto's Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs relished the basement house-party vibe. The six-piece cultivates a garage-punk attitude but possesses a surprising dose of musicianship under the twang and slop. The oldies hooks and surf rock guitar leads seemed somewhat studied, but the catchy shouted choruses provoked audience members to jump up to the mics and sing along.
The Ketamines used to be rarities from Lethbridge, Alberta, but are becoming a familiar sight on local stages since moving here. They fit the night's atmosphere, playing fun, upbeat garage-psych throwbacks complete with brazen Farfisa organ lines and cowbell.
THE GROWLERS at the Horseshoe, Monday, January 28. Rating: NNN
As far as garage bands go, the Growlers are definitely on the more laid-back end of the spectrum. The California psych rock revivalists sound more authentically 60s than most of their contemporaries, but their most recent album, Hung At Heart, sees them branching out into unexpected reggae-inspired experiments, even incorporating some disco elements. The washes of cavernous echo have also become more prominent, emphasizing their hazy stoner vibe.
All these sonic elements were reproduced faithfully live at the Horseshoe, and it is definitely refreshing to hear a band injecting new ideas into what is essentially a retro format.
On the downside, the band has become so mellow that there was a palpable lack of energy in the room and onstage. Singer Brooks Nielsen has genuine stage presence and charisma, but he seemed distant and distracted. The room was packed with fans, but they made no attempt to summon the band back for an encore. Sure, it was a Monday night, but that's all the more reason to work harder to win over the room.