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The hometown heroes finished the two-day outdoor music series with a bang and reminded us what we've been missing
FUCKED UP, LAL, FIVER, ABSOLUTELY FREE and others at LONG WINTER’S TOGETHER APART at 1197 Dundas West, Friday, September 24 and Saturday, September 25. Rating: NNNN
If there’s any band to re-energize your love for live music and make it seem like you’ve never been away from it, it’s Fucked Up.
The Toronto hardcore band were a last-minute surprise addition to music and art series Long Winter’s 10th anniversary Together Apart event. Their late Saturday night set and its modest outdoor mosh pit helped articulate a feeling that had been growing throughout the two day mini-festival. It wasn’t jubilation or appreciation (though I did feel those too), but something simpler, more elemental: normalcy. I felt like myself again.
This wasn’t my first live music since COVID started. That would be Arkells at Budweiser Stage, the first big-ticket music event of the pandemic. But this felt different. That was my first concert, this was my first show.
Long Winter set up a stage across the street from the soon-to-reopen music venue the Garrison – a big outdoor lot that will be the future site of a real estate development called the 1200. Bands played in front of a condo “coming soon” sign, which felt very Toronto. For two nights, that future condo was the site of nine musical performances, plus DJ performances, art pieces and countless happy reunions.
Tickets were $15 or PWYC at the door, and they did sell out on both nights. The two-or-three-hundred people left plenty of room in the makeshift venue still, but there was barely a fence separating it from the street. You could easily just pull up on the street to watch and listen or enjoy from a nearby patio, and many did. The bands and organizers encouraged it – this show was for the people.
The venue for Long Winter’s Together Apart series.
Even if there wasn’t much of a physical separation, there was a philosophical one. Walking in on Friday evening with the sun just starting to set, I felt it right away. Toronto psych band ROY were finishing their set, and the laid-back jams of the seven players created an instant vibe.
Status/Non-Status followed and added some heaviness to the air. The new band grew out of the former London, Ontario project WHOOP-Szo. They’re somewhere between folk, Canadian lo-fi psychedelia (think Eric’s Trip or Elevator To Hell), metal and grunge, with lyrics that ruminate on Canada’s genocidal history and leader Adam Sturgeon’s Anishinaabe roots. With a guitar tone you could feel in your bones, their music felt both welcoming and challenging – something the next band would ramp up to 11.
The show was outdoors, so it was exempt from Ontario’s recently instituted vaccine passport system, but Long Winter instituted a vaccine policy anyway. That’s not going to remove all risk, but it did let us let our guard down a little. In a big outdoor area with plenty of room to space out, it was easier to lose yourself in the music, in the experience, than at a venue like Budweiser Stage or anything indoors.
It wasn’t just that everyone was vaccinated, but that everyone was an adventurous music fan – the kind of person who would come out to see psych, country, electronic music and DJs all in the same night. It’s easy enough to stay in touch with your best friends and family, but what about your show friends, the folks whose tastes and interests align with yours enough to consistently find yourselves in the same room? It’s a sense of belonging, of community, which is something that’s been hard to replicate on Zoom. That was reactivated with each run-in, even as we awkwardly navigated whether to hug, handshake or elbow bump.
LAL have been ruminating on the meaning of community for two and a half decades – both on record and at Unit 2, their DIY music and arts community space that prioritizes vulnerable populations. The duo of Rosina Kazi and Nicholas Murray create minimalist electro-pop, which activated in a big way on that Dundas West stage. The touches of techno, dancehall, hip-hop and punk were pushed to the forefront in the fiery performance. It was a reminder that a healthy community is more than just a group of people united by common interests. It’s also about mutual care, aid and action.
Kazi was confrontational throughout, preaching passionately against capitalism, against police, against systems of oppression that marginalizes already marginalized folks during a pandemic. They challenged the audience to go beyond performative activism, beyond anti-oppressive language, and for white people to take up the fight – sometimes literally. And they challenged the crowd to come to the front of the stage and move. “Fuck this Toronto bullshit,” Kazi said, beckoning everyone towards the stage. “You’re all weird. You all showed up here. Now move.” Even with the underlying fuck-you element, it was a commanding and invigorating set and a call-to-action.
Fiver’s Simone Schmidt
That was a hard act to follow, but Fiver were a good capper to the night. It was one of the first hometown performances from singer/songwriter Simone Schmidt with their new band, the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition. All skilled instrumentalists, the band kicked the cosmic country up a notch with off-the-cuff jams that got people swaying. Schmidt got the audience’s attention by contextualizing the lyrics of Sick Gladiola as they sang it, bringing to life the poetic image of a sad bouquet of flowers on a checkout shelf.
The band’s performance, meanwhile, gave an upbeat party vibe. That continued once the bands were done playing and DJs took over, with a noticeably younger crowd sticking it out for an impromptu dance party.
By 2 pm the next day, the event got a new element of intrigue. After being turned away at the border for their planned performance at Chicago’s Riot Fest last week, Fucked Up decided to pick up a hometown gig as their first return to the stage in two years. So the band that started the Long Winter series a decade ago announced they would be closing out the show on Saturday night.
That created a noticeable buzz in the air on Saturday, and there was already a crowd forming for the first act of the night, Rogue Tenant. Patrick Joseph Grant’s slacker folk-rock fell somewhere between Silver Jews and Sonic Youth. Playing in power trio format with PS I Love You’s Paul Saunier on bass, they were happy to go on long stretches of noisy guitar squall.
The set was a bit lengthy, which seemed to truncate the next one from Absolutely Free – which was unfortunate, because the short set was one of the highlights of the weekend. The experimental mix of prog and psych-pop of their just-dropped new album Aftertouch becomes bouncier on stage with an extra emphasis on percussion. The band switches between synths, guitars and shakers, but Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg is front and centre on drums.
The next two acts primed the audience for Fucked Up with an unexpected dancier vibe. ZONES’ Derek McKeon played as a one-man band, switching between guitar and electronics (sometimes with each hand) and turning the normally zoney, hypnotic instrumental loops into something closer to an 80s Manchester dance club.
OBUXUM producer Muxubo Mohamed danced and pointed from behind her own gear, turning a solo laptop set into something fully engaging. She was having as good a time as anyone else at the festival, and it was very infectious.
It was a lot of stage-setting for the surprise headliners, but the show-starved crowd was in high spirits by the time the band hit the stage a little before 11 pm. Everyone was into it by the first guitar strums, but that’s all we got before the generator failed and all the amplification cut. (I’d been wondering why there haven’t been more outdoor shows this summer, and that kind of thing might have something to do with it.) Frontman Damian Abraham shrugged and yelled without a mic. “I guess we’ll see you in two more years.”
Luckily, it didn’t take long to get things going again. Abraham started back in full scream, and that gruff bark was the ultimate instrument of catharsis. The band has long since transcended punk genre conventions, and they showed off their touches of shoegaze, indie and even Primal Scream-esque acid rock.
But their strength will always be their anthemic, charismatic fist-pumping music, the perfect thing to break us out of a long music drought. When they busted out old favourite Son The Father, a modest mosh pit formed in front of the stage. Even if Abraham didn’t pull off his Wrestlemania jersey and go shirtless or jump off the stage, this was still a barrier-removing return to live music glory. There were grins on nearly every face.
Fucked Up at Long Winter 2021
The band ended with The Other Shoe, with everyone in attendance shouting along to a refrain of “dying on the inside.” Despite how that might look in writing, it was nothing but positive energy. Whether you were in the pit or masked and bubbled, everyone came together and the distance melted away.
The weather might soon get too chilly for outdoor shows like these, and more indoor venues – including the Garrison across the street on Dundas – are about to reopen to reduced-capacity concerts for fully-vaccinated audiences. It’s yet to be seen how those will go.
But for one night, at least, we got a really good taste of what we’ve been missing.