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Kamilah Apong and Jamie Kidd's dance outfit became the first live act to hit the Toronto club's stage during the pandemic
TUSH at Coda as part of REBOOT, Thursday, August 26. rebootmusic.ca. Rating: NNNN
If there’s a silver lining to the heavy restrictions on live music during the pandemic – aside from, you know, saving lives – it’s that venues of all sizes are booking a lot of local talent.
One of the city’s biggest clubs, Coda, has come back to life with an eight-part reopening series called Reboot that features an all-Canadian lineup and runs to August 28. The lone live band on the bill is Toronto disco-house duo Tush, who’ve been playing material off their debut album Fantast (Do Right! Music) at recent drive-in and virtual shows.
Coda has been host to DJs and producers since August 13, but Thursday marked the club’s first post-lockdown live band performance. It attracted a mix of wound-up club kids, fellow DJs and artists, and wallflowerish indie music fans.
It’s also the first standing-room indoor show I’d attended since February 2020, and the scene was pretty much what I’d expected to encounter during Ontario’s tenuous mishmash of partially lifted restrictions: hyped-up groups fist-pumping to house music (in various stages of maskedness) and more cautious masked attendees keeping a distance on the dance floor’s outer limits.
Getting in required a contact tracing and temperature check-in. The club is using the back-alley entrance off Markham due to construction on Bathurst and there was no line – just a handful people hanging out in a spacious, bare-bones patio area.
Per Ontario’s step 3 rules for nightclubs, Coda is operating at 25 per cent capacity so the space didn’t feel full except near the foot of the stage. Masked bartenders were serving drinks at the back bar, but if anyone was ordering off the newly introduced snack menu, I didn’t notice. Elevated tables and stools dotted the dance floor, which is framed by lounge areas.
Masks are required except when eating and drinking and partiers are supposed to remain physically distanced – other than the groups they came with. But it’s hard to tell who is with whom and who is grinding up against each other for the first time.
Thus, going to a club before any sort of proof-of-vaccination is required requires a risk calculation and once you are there the rules don’t exactly feel intuitive. Standing on the dance floor holding a tall can, I repeatedly had to resist the urge to pour beer onto my masked mouth.
Fortunately, Tush is the kind of act that channels disco’s origins: queer, Black, Latin and working-class party music celebrating dancing, performance and sexuality. It’s all about transporting you away from everyday drudgery, and given this COVID context, the band – vocalist Kamilah Apong, bassist Jamie Kidd, a bongo player, keyboardist and two background singers – had their work cut out.
If they were fazed, it wasn’t apparent. Apong brought the drama before she even opened her mouth, emerging in a striped bodysuit with a ruffled white collar, wide-brimmed hat with a plume of white flowers and fabric cascading down one side, plus matching heeled boots. Bathed in purple light, she immediately set about striking poses to a slow, smouldering disco bass line.
The ensuing 90 minutes were a near-continuous stream of deep rhythms punctuated by Apong’s reverbed gospeleque voice, which repeated vocal riffs and lyrical incantations with increasing vigour. The band might suddenly lock into a groove with a lithe melody reminiscent of classic Chaka Khan before flipping into a more muscular, modern house beat.
“How many times do you go the club and hear Black musicians?” Apong asked over an extended bongo solo. The crowd responded to the call-out with big cheers and were rewarded with cover of Robin S’s 90s pop-house anthem Show Me Love.
Apong is a leave-it-all-on-the-stage kind of singer, alternating between playfully self-aware poses and trance-like abandon. Tush are a tight outfit, and a rarity in Toronto as a live disco-house band. They ran through a gamut of styles, subtly changing up rhythms but with an unwavering focus on continuous pulsating energy. The climactic number saw Apong brandishing a whistle and bouncing around to an Afro-house rhythm as the backing singers waved sparkly flags.
By then, the crowd was thinning out, and though the energy on stage never waned, a sometimes murky sound mix washed out the backing vocalist, meaning the full effect the band was going for didn’t always land. The bongo solo was a highlight, and more moments where each member gets a solo riff or room to breathe could add more dynamism to the set.
Tush is less about pop hooks than emotional highs that dissolve the barrier between audience and performer. In a strange way, the era of distanced concerts may be an opportune moment for artists who can really create the kind of musical intensity that transcends physical limitations – without actually breaking the rules, of course.