Iggy & The Stooges / The Raveonettes / Wavves / Surfer Blood / DD/MM/YYYY / The Soft Pack / Mini Mansions / De Staat / Queen Kwong / Burning Boyz @ Yonge & Dundas Square, June 19th 2010 in Toronto, Ontario
I got to Yonge & Dundas Square just before noon, and there were some round tables and patio chairs set up, so I cracked open a NXNE copy of NOW and got right to the Q&A with Iggy Pop.
Still overcast and gloomy, around quarter after, the Burning Boyz (a group of ten-year-olds that promised their own interpretations of old rock classics and even reinventions of some contemporary material) started their sound check, and I left my seat to make my way up to the stage. The sound check guy said, “drums, mic” and as if in a display of sarcasm over the formality of the entire process, their drummer got right up in the mic and said, “I like dinosaurs.” Sound Check Guy laughed, and I knew I was in for a good time. These kids killed it for an hour, pulling off originally executed covers of tracks like “We Will Rock You,” “Very Superstitious,” “Hey Joe,” and “Seven Nation Army” (complete with a slide guitar solo). They even brought out a cover of the theme to the 007 movies with one of the dirtiest bass riffs I’ve ever heard. When the crowd cheered these guys on, it wasn’t a nod of sympathy – the Burning Boyz earned it.
The photo pit was packed for Queen Kwong’s set, which was good planning on the media’s part, because Carré Callaway gave them all she had. At points it was as if the photographers were hypnotized by Callaway’s hair. I can only imagine how many close-ups were taken of her screaming into the air, her hair dancing chaotically around her head in throes of passion – if there was an insect or any other entity within a two-foot radius of her head, it better have feared for life. If she couldn’t exterminate such pests with her hair, she probably could have done it with her voice. Even away from the mic she could carry sound; it was as though she had a megaphone implanted in her throat. One fan in particular displayed his appreciation for Queen Kwong’s set when Callaway told the crowd the band was going to play a couple more. Out of the mass he shouted, “How about a couple three?” to which Callaway laughed and said “A couple three? Ok I think we can do that…”
Next up was De Staat. By then the clouds had parted and the sun had come out as if with the combination of the Burning Boyz and Queen Kwong’s set, NXNE’s free concert had earned the approval of Mother Nature. Within one song, I thought, if Christopher Walken makes a trip to Holland, De Staat is the band he’s going to want to see; with more cowbell than the Blue Öyster Cult could ever offer, they sounded the way Queens of the Stone Age would if they were injected with some fulltime electronic effects, Josh Homme got a deeper voice and in his singing became consistently cheerier and more enthusiastic about his lyrical subject matter.
When multi-instrumentalist Rocco Bell broke out a theremin, the small crowd that surrounded the stage for this treasure from Holland seemed entranced, as if dominated by the influence of foreign sorcery. To be sure, for anyone unaware of the theremin’s existence, its presence instantly becomes an object for fascination. It involves no physical touch, emitting sound based both on the user’s hands’ proximity from the base of a vertical rod and from the rod itself. Employing it like a secret weapon, Bell waited to break out that toy until the last song, and it stole the audience’s captivation for the remainder of De Staat’s set.
After De Staat’s set, I made my way over to Queen Kwong’s merch booth and set up an interview with Calloway, which we did five minutes later across the street in O’Keefe Lane. Right towards the end of our conversation, Mini Mansions had started their set, so when our conversation was over I headed back to the stage.
A trio of instrument flip-floppers that always kept their auxiliary tools close at hand (and sometimes right on their backs), Mini Mansions is a band that weirds you out like you just witnessed a surrealist car crash and makes you move your head to every peculiarity of their sound (and there are a lot). As if in an act of sonic anesthetization, Michael Shuman would paralyze the crowd with a psychedelic guitar introduction and then carry the rest of a song standing up, playing a minimalist drum-kit that prompted partnered dancing and a swaying mass. For me, their re-imagination of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” was like a synesthetic tie-dying of the original hit. I felt like I was on a checker boarded New Wave island surrounded in every direction by an ocean of ever-changing colours, waves brushed with the vibrancy of 1979.
When they were done, I left Yonge and Dundas Square to find a washroom across the street in the Eaton Centre. It’s not a place I frequent on my trips to Toronto, but since I didn’t see any Johnny-on-the-spots I went there and tried my luck with the consumer-friendly Sistine Chapel. This “minor” detour made me late for The Soft Pack.
When I finally made it back, I found that a large portion of the crowd – which earlier in the day had cowered at the cloud coverage – had taken to seeking shade in the square and finding a good place to sit down and lay back while The Soft Pack did their thing. By then it was past four o’clock, and feeling four hours of standing was a lot, I joined in this practice. Not much of a stage theatrics band, I felt like this would suffice anyway. I coveted the back supporting chairs and umbrella shaded comfort of the seating in the beer gardens to the left of the stage, but not willing to pay ten bucks a drink, I avoided that awkward conversation and sat on the ground. There was still some sway-dancing going on in the small crowd in front of the stage, but I felt like this band was perfect for situations like my own. The Soft Pack is chill out music, the kind of thing you want a lawn chair and a cooler to enjoy properly.
Eventually The Soft Pack got off the stage – maybe a little bitter about the crowd response – and DD/MM/YYYY got on. The crowd for this band was a head bobbing and foot stomping horde, feet pounding the ground weirdly in sync with a sound that made you feel like you were in some avant-garde space station of an entirely different galaxy. With dual drummers and keyboard technicians that played opposite one another, I felt like the performance I was watching was more a struggle between band members to communicate with each other than a concert – members engaged in a kind of tribal sound-speak that involved shouting one syllable at a time while methodically hammering their respected instruments.
Surfer Blood came on and the crowd got back into a sway-dancing fix. DD/MM/YYYY interrupted that with their more spontaneous sound, but I was convinced that whoever was in the ranks for Mini Mansions and The Soft Pack had made sure they stuck around to catch Surfer Blood on time; rocking back and forth was not an option, but a way of life for these people – they were born to sway, and Surfer Blood would know it!
Next up was Wavves. Fucked Up’s Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham introduced these guys after Surfer Blood’s set, saying that the second “v” stood for “voluptuous,” and if you are of the opinion that time is money, you would have agreed with him. These guys seemed rich on time – that is, they were certainly in no rush to get off the stage – perhaps in no rush to do anything.
Quoting Pauly Shore one-liners between every song, I could feel the patience of the crowd evaporating – with crowd numbers growing at an exponential rate, it was getting to be quite the mob. I should say here that I have no qualms with the great and powerful Shore, but if you’re a stoner surf-punk band that happens to be opening for a band like The Stooges and you try to steal the show, even the most drug addled and sun drunk crowd member will be on the verge of endorsing the same level of maturity and authority as the clerks in the convenience store scene of Encino Man.
In modern times, perhaps it was their perpetuation of the lazy, spaced out stoner stereotype that earned them the indignant crowd they faced. Either way, with songs that made you feel the way you do on joy rides, I was having trouble understanding why they didn’t stick to their music—such a commitment alone could have sustained a friendly crowd. C’est la vie.
Between Wavves and The Raveonettes’s sets, it became very apparent that garage punks Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo had made quite a name for themselves in Ontario’s capital, as the stage technicians were receiving hollers as they prepped the stage for the Danish duo. That was confirmed when they got on stage with some extra stage presence (The Raveonettes often borrow help to deliver the sound they want to broadcast) and practically the entire square cheered to let the band know they’d been waiting. While they combined elements of folk guitar and airy trance sounds or trip hop drum beats with Cure-reminiscent guitar and near-whispered lyrics, the crowd responded by making the atmosphere a little hazier, as a thick cloud of pot smoke meshed with the fog from the band’s fog machine in front of the stage. When Wagner shot out a distorted guitar bend and the strobe lights responded I just closed my eyes and let the colours in my eyelids play with my mind. It was like driving down a highway in cottage country, the light making its way between the trees for the brief moments you spent passing it; delivering you to some completely different level of alertness.
With hundreds of late comers filtering in throughout The Raveonettes’ set and still more coming, once Pink Eyes got off the stage, saying farewell to the crowd presumably to find himself some space to watch the band from and the bumper music initiated, premature mosh pits ensued.
This is the part of the night where you take your wallet from your back pocket and stuff it far down one in the front. You trust no one, and try your damnedest to hold your ground. About six rows of people from the barrier in a crowd of thousands, I was playing a game where I had my territory—meager as it was—and I wasn’t going to give it up, no matter how much another person might have felt they deserved it. This one guy, he got his right leg in front of my left one, trying to wedge his way in front of me from behind me to the left. You just make these people feel awkward, and they leave you alone. I didn’t look at him – he kept trying for about a minute and I just kept all other possible entry points covered – and then he stopped, extracting his leg probably the most miserably lame experience he’d had in a long time.
Only into the first song of the night, at the climax of “Raw Power,” Iggy leaned over the crowd right in front of the barrier. I was still pretty close at this point, and I could have taken a decent picture if it weren’t for the tempest-like conditions of the pit.
It’s hard to imagine finding anyone you know when you’re in the heart of Toronto’s biggest mosh pit in forty years, but within only two songs I had run into four old friends – some of them people I’ve known since elementary school. These interactions were short, and they all went the same: we grabbed one another by the shoulders, shaking each other like we’d met in some old war, yelling out opposing names and then “Iggy Pop!” and as if satisfied with each other’s upbringings and consequential musical bents, parted – within seconds engulfed by the beast that was the pit.
After “Cock In My Pocket” – The Stooges’ fifth song of the night – Iggy took a break to address the crowd. “Now… now… now… I feel lonesome. I want the entire crowd on the stage! Mathematically impossible, but through the power of emotion! You, you in front come here. Don’t worry about the bouncers, they’re cool. Come on. Come on, let… let ’em up. Come on, we need dancers… wild Canadians. Do we have any wild Canadians in the wings? come on!” And the band broke out into “Shake Appeal.”
If I have heard a better incitement of pandemonium, my memory certainly failed me then, as it does now. When he said “Mathematically impossible,” he might as well have said “morally impossible.”
As far as I can tell, the only physically possible way for a human being to bypass a mass of fans in order to make it over a barrier and onto a stage is by way of Ye Olde Crowde Surfe. The thing about crowd surfing is, it only works when there are people to keep the body afloat, and under normal conditions, it’s easy to find that leg-up that will get you above the crowd. However, when The Stooges, various inebriants, and a three-minute song are all factors facing a sea of thousands who were just told to get on stage with the aforementioned godfathers of punk; the altruism of the concert-goer is hard to find: forget finding a leg up, let alone people with enough care to sustain your buoyancy.
I myself tried to get above the crowd, but I failed for the reason I have just described – there is not much reasoning to be had with a mob.
By the time “Shake Appeal” was over, there were about fifty fans making their way off of the stage. Iggy let them get off the stage and dove right into “1970.”
I stayed in the pit up until “Death Trip” and then I had to get out. I’d seen a water fountain to the right of the stage earlier in the day and the only thing I wanted above Iggy Pop was water, so I went for it. I was fully aware it might end up being a long wait, but when I got there I saw that there was no line and I took the time to fill up a water bottle. “Death Trip” didn’t end much longer after, and then Iggy announced that the band would play a ballad, so when they got to playing “Open Up and Bleed” I continued my break from the pit. When finished that song, the band got off the stage and I swore under my breath. “These guys better play an encore” I thought, “there’s no way they end a show on a ballad.” Sure enough, the crowd cheered, and they got their just desserts.
The Stooges played through “Loose,” “Fun House,” “No Sense of Crime,” and all the while the pit seeming completely revitalized. But, having announced just before “No Fun” that the band would be playing its last song of the night, a whole new level of mayhem ensued.
“No Fun” was infamously covered by The Sex Pistols as their last song ever performed just before their breakup in 1978. At the end of that performance, Johnny Rotten laughed at the crowd, saying “Ahaha, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Good night!” but I have a hard time believing that anyone present for The Stooges’s own performance of the number left anyone feeling cheated. I felt like everything had come full circle.
Iggy had the last words, “Well ladies and gentleman, and children of all ages: it’s been fun, it’s been real, and now: I gotta go get drunk! So let’s hear you sing along with me…No fun! No Fun! No fun…”
Search and Destroy
Cock In My Pocket
Beyond the Law
I Got A Right
I Wanna Be Your Dog
Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell
Open Up and Bleed
No Sense of Crime
(Originally published by Truth Explosion Magazine on June 20, 2010)