KMA2987 SLCR #346: Thrush Hermit (October 4, 2019)
“Wanna do something stupid?” is kind of how I live my life, though I usually don’t put it in words quite so directly.
Here’s what brought us to this point:
1. This spring, Mika graduated with her Business degree following six years of night classes while still working full-time. Six years may sound like a long time but I assure you it’s longer than you think.
2. When Mika was 17/18, she never got to see Thrush Hermit because they only played in bars. After she turned 19, the band announced they were breaking up – but at least they’d be playing one last farewell tour first. And then lead singer Joel Plaskett got seriously sick and the band had to pull out of their own farewell tour. The tour went on with scheduled openers Flashing Lights and Local Rabbits, and she still went and enjoyed it, but she never did get to see Thrush Hermit.
3. 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the Thrush Hermit album Clayton Park. Round numbers lead to vinyl re-releases and nostalgia tours.
And so we made a stupid decision to book a long weekend in Toronto to celebrate the end of school and set right what once went wrong. A celebratory decision, to be sure, but a stupid one that was made only stupider when Thrush Hermit added western Canadian dates shortly after we’d booked our flights. We could have just gone to Amigo’s. But why stay up way too late at Amigo’s when you can get up way too early to fly to Toronto instead? Besides, Toronto has Steve and Audrey, and (temporarily) Aaron and Cindy. And sharks. And tonkatsu, though I never got any.
The trip got stupider still when contract negotiations between my union and my employer went to hell at the behest of our beloved Premier, who mandated a two-year wage freeze followed by a 1% increase in the third year – almost too generous. We went ahead with the trip with “labour disruptions” looming, and in fact, I went on strike the day of this show. Neither of us felt the best about leaving with this over our heads, but the hotel, airfare, and concert tickets were paid for well in advance, so we decided to put it out of our minds and enjoy ourselves as best as we could. I’m doing a fine job of that, as you can tell.
But! That’s not what this is for. This is my place to write about concerts that happened weeks ago, as best as I can remember them, which usually isn’t that well.
We flew into Toronto the day before the show and spent most of it asleep. We’d woken up around 3:00am to catch our flight, as it was the only direct flight from Regina to Toronto; the other options involved leaving at a reasonable time, flying to Calgary, hanging out in the airport all afternoon, and then flying to Toronto. This came two days after driving to Saskatoon, seeing Elton John, and driving home, getting to sleep after 2:00am. So our sleep schedules were shot, is what I’m saying. We woke up after supper time, went out, ate crepes, came back, and went to sleep again. They were very good crepes.
We spent the afternoon of the day at the show at the AGO, looking at art until we’d seen so much art that all art looked like all other art. When it was time to head out to the show, Mika got to experience her first-ever subway ride. She outed herself as a tourist by enjoying the experience. Unlike me, who outed myself as a tourist by pointing to the sandwich shop when someone asked me if I knew where the subway was.
The show was at the Danforth Music Hall, which is where Steve, Audrey, and I saw Ben Folds and yMusic about three years ago. I remembered the general size of the place, and East Bar and West Bar. I did not remember the floor being so slopey. Steve (who used to work there) said it used to be a movie theatre (when he used to work there) so that makes sense. It does make for a long night of standing, though.
There weren’t a ton of people there when we arrived, so we took a spot nice and close for the openers, Bunny. What is with these bands and their hard-to-Google names (he asked, in order to goad CRZ into replying “From Toronto, it is Bunny (bunnytoronto.bandcamp.com)”)? This was fine, the very definition of an opening act that I enjoy but struggle to have anything to say about it. I found the vocals kind of got lost in everything; the dude had a high voice (think Andy Shauf) and it kind of got lost in the mix. Actually, “Andy Shauf singing power-pop” is probably… not super accurate as far as descriptions go, but that’s what I’m going with.
Somewhere in here, the place got packed. Like, hard to get to the bathroom packed. Harder to get back to near where you once were packed. Text your wife and make her wave her arms around because otherwise you’ll never find her packed. I think it sold out (or came very close), but I think Ben Folds sold out (or came very close) too and I don’t remember it being nearly so wall-to-wall. For all the people, I will say the jerk ratio was quite low. There were just a ton of people there and they were all excited for Thrush Hermit.
The lights went down, a little sign that read “ROCK & ROLL” lit up, then it went out and a big sign that read “ROCK & ROLL” lit up, and we were underway. As always, I was amazed that one of my stupid plans actually came to fruition. Everything worked, everyone was well, and there we were. And… it ruled? Yes. And I am not the target audience here. While Mika has long since turned me on to Joel Plaskett’s solo stuff, I really haven’t spent any time listening to Thrush Hermit. I listened to all of Clayton Park once through earlier in the week, which was good, because the main set was the whole album played all the way through. They killed it and the crowd was into everything. Me too, and it’s not like I’d been waiting 20 years to see them. From the Back of the Film and The Day We Hit the Coast were particular favourites, thought that could be because I knew them best from Mika playing them in the car.
Mika suggests that I mention that Ian McGettigan balanced his bass guitar on his chin twice, but didn’t spit fire. Which kind of makes it sound like he was alone in not spitting fire. I didn’t spit fire either, but somehow that’s not noteworthy.
Toronto being the centre of the universe, I’d hoped that we’d get something a little special with our show, and I wasn’t disappointed. For the last song of the main set, Before You Leave, they were joined by two members of Local Rabbits, Pete Elkas and Ben Gunning. I was already on board with our decision to not back out and just go to Amigo’s instead, but if there were any lingering doubts, this sealed it. Not only something unique on this tour, but a nice callback to that original show that didn’t quite happen.
Before the encore, Mika ran (or really, slowly slogged through people) to the washroom, where she overheard someone’s kids. Not sure whose. Someone in one of the bands. The kids were ready to go home, as Dad had been there since soundcheck. I guess having a dad in a band isn’t cool anymore, if it ever way.
They played five songs for the encore: Strange to Be Involved, On the Sneak, French Inhale, North Dakota, and Patriot, before closing with a reprise of the show-opening From the Back of the Film. I didn’t know these ones as well – really, only North Dakota sounded familiar to me, though Mika assures me most of them were singles, and she’s probably played all of them in my presence at one point or another. Didn’t matter that I didn’t know them. They were great. This was all great.
Of course, my opinion isn’t the one that matters here. In her Instagram post, Mika declared the show to be “so awesome” and it occurs to me that this whole review is just a novel-length retelling of her photo caption.