October 5th, A Place to Bury Strangers played The Horseshoe in Toronto. Even though they’ve appeared pretty regularly in Toronto for the last few years, I’ve never managed to make it out to see them. Not this time. Armed with several sets of earplugs and a beer, I dug in at the front of the stage and waited.
Vallens came on first; their sound was what I imagine it would be like if Nirvana scored a Quentin Tarantino western. The song structures were simple, slow, full of noise, and soaked with reverb. It’s surprising sometimes how much movement and subtlety can come from simple structures. This all lent the sound an enjoyable grungy feel.
Grooms played a fast, loud set, full of intertwining guitar lines and interesting noise-filled breakdowns. Instead of a bass, the low end of the sonic spectrum was filled out by a baritone guitar, an interesting choice that made it seem like there were more than just the 3 people on stage. The baritone guitarist occasionally played a small instrument I didn’t recognize, holding his guitar up like a soldier holding a rifle during drills. Their set was enjoyable but ended quickly as they and the stagehand rushed to move the gear around the stage as quickly as possible preparing for the headliner.
The house lights went dark as smoke started to curl slowly from a hidden machine, bisected by beams shining from the many projectors placed strategically around the stage. There was a moment of calm like the moment before the volcano erupts in a disaster movie and erupt it did. A Place to Bury Strangers began to play loud and heavy, the band illuminated by several flashing strobes going off at a seizure-inducing rate. Within seconds the singer’s guitar strap had come unlodged (this happened pretty often throughout the set) and he played on full speed unfazed by the fact that he had to now also support the guitar. I tried to take a sip of my beer but the the pressure of sound in the room forced the air from the mouth of the bottle in a rhythmic pulse in time with the bass guitar. No words were exchanged between songs, just a non stop sensory bombardment. A guitar pedal was stomped and smoke poured out onto the stage, so thick and full it rolled over everything. First the band disappeared, then the people beside me. Soon I was cocooned, my world had become smoke and lights with the music screaming from somewhere beyond the fog. Shapes formed in the light, popping into existence on top of the smoke. Whether this was from the projectors or a result of the extreme sensory overload taking place in front of me, I will never know. The dark shapes of the guitarist and bassist were like shadows cast on a screen, all detail erased. Then the guitarist threw down his guitar grabbed a strobe light and began playing a strobe light guitar solo.
At the set’s end as people filtered out into the street, one man looked desperately for his shoe that had come off at some point in the mosh pit. I took that as a sign that it had been a good show. The musical theme of the night had been distortion, large amps, and high decibel levels. On my way out I noticed the band had been selling ear plugs, fully aware of the sonic arms race that their shows quickly turn into.
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Review by Tristan Johnston