Review: Hungry Lake, Friends of Foes, Alma Cassels, and Noble Oak @ The Silver Dollar – Toronto

It’s November in Toronto and obviously pretty cold outside, but even the threat of winter itself cannot stop the concert-goers in this city. Tonight I’m going to see Friends of Foes on their Eastern Canadian tour. Supporting them will be Hungry Lake, Alma Cassels and Noble Oak, all from Toronto. Hungry Lake will be closing out the show, because they are local and Friends of Foes are super nice guys. Hungry Lake just put out ‘The Overpass’, a solid studio album that has been getting a lot of praise over social media, so it’s needless to say I’m pretty stoked for the tunes ahead.

This is my first time at the Silver Dollar Room. It is dark and intimate, long and narrow. The stage is lit up with rotating red, green and blue lights which make everything look a little hazy at first. I like a good hazy rock show, so I settle in, albeit a bit late from trying to find parking.

As I arrive, Noble Oak is playing his final few songs. I really enjoy listening to his music, and what I am able to catch live has an attractive sound. Blayne, a blogger who caught the whole set, had this to say about Noble Oak’s performance: “In a set lasting 30 minutes, Noble Oak combined smooth, tropical background texture with live riffs from various synthesizers, his guitar, and his voice to create a sonic space that was somber, yet upbeat. Songs ranged from soulful to danceable synthpop and back again. “ You can see his full write-up on Noble Oak HERE.
Alma Cassels are up next. They describe themselves as: “Refreshingly different indie rock from Toronto” and I would say the description is pretty spot-on. Their sound is groovy and reminds me, at times, of Cage the Elephant. Their set is warm, upbeat and dreamy and helps to loosen up those of us still half frozen from the weather. My favourite track of their set, ‘Chinchilla’ is a dreamy dancing tune and lead singer, Cameron, implores everyone holding up the bar to come dance in front. As usual, it takes a few brave souls to loosen everyone up and by the time Alma Cassels share their funky take on Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’, people are definitely dancing.

Next to play are Friends of Foes from Saskatoon, SK. They are currently on tour performing songs from their 2013 album ‘Chronophobic’ and some new material that sounds really exciting. The moment Celeste Nicholson starts to sing you get the feeling that this is a band to watch for. Her voice is beautiful and melodic, kind of like Amy Millan’s, and I feel it compelling to move closer to the stage and just lose myself in the music. Anthony Nickel, the bass player straight grooves for the entire set with the nicest smile on his face. He is an absolute pleasure to watch and very talented; the whole band has a great dynamic. Their interaction is so genuine and you can tell that they really enjoy making music together; it is so endearing that I feel closer to the band because of it. They take us through their set with track after track of sweet but substantial indie-pop, blazing through with standout tracks like ‘Youth’ with Nicholson beating away on a drum which produced a sound that extends past the walls of the Silver Dollar and has me excited for the future of Friends of Foes. If you like Stars, Chvrches, Florence and the Machine or Rah Rah, you will love Friends of Foes. I hope they come back soon.

Now it is time for Hungry Lake. There are so many people in the Dollar now that it is getting difficult to walk through the crowd. You can feel excitement building in the air and I get the sense that the performance is going be something really special. I share in this excitement myself having listened to little else but ‘The Overpass’, Hungry Lake’s new album, for the past two weeks. Right before Hungry Lake takes the stage, a musician/producer from another band says to me “Joe (Thomas, the lead singer) is going to be the next Neil Young.” I tell my friends to remember this performance when we are traveling to see them headlining a festival one day. They start the show with ‘Leaside (10am)’ which is such huge song and fills the Silver Dollar up with their fuzzy folk music. Right from the first chord, it is evident that Hungry Lake is a great live band. They play so well together that it is often difficult to isolate which instrument is making what noise because not only do their instruments play together in perfect harmony, they also throw in countless experimental sounds that make their performances stand out from other folk-rock bands I have seen recently.   The 5-man band is joined onstage at times by musician friends Vale Abbot and Rebekah Hawker who provide sweet supporting vocals and jam along with the band. The stage looks nice and full with all seven people on it – it seems to properly reflect the big sound of Hungry Lake. Speaking of big sound, Joe Thomas can SING. There is no appropriate string of adjectives I can present to properly convey how magnificent his voice is, so please, just go see him live.

The folks of Hungry Lake are so creative that they play totally different versions of their own songs live. On their album, ‘The Overpass’, ‘The Chemical That Ate This City’ is a spooky, acoustic track, so when the full band starts playing it, I have trouble placing it at first. This live version is incredible; it has so much energy and is like a completely new song. It strikes me that this is why Hungry Lake is such an amazing band to see live. I really enjoyed everyone’s focus – there are no amateurs in Hungry Lake.

They play some songs from The Overpass and some new tracks that sound very promising but, at times, are too big for the low-ceilinged Silver Dollar. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy the intimacy of the room and proximity to the band but I feel like these new songs should be played in the mighty outdoors and I really hope Hungry Lake makes it out to some festivals next year.

Toward the end of their set, they turn on something called a Thingamagoop. The Thingamagoop is a handmade, analog + digital synthesizer you control with light and you can use it to make robot sounds. I know it is a Thingamagoop because I saw it in Hungry Lake’s Band on a Couch video and asked Joe Thomas about it. You can watch a noisy video about one HERE. So if that’s not already one of the coolest things I’ve seen at a live show, the guitarist then plugs it into his instrument and just goes crazy on it. The sound produced is just insane and at this point, people are looking at each other with open mouths and widening eyes. I start thinking ‘why aren’t they closing with this?’, but I am about to find out why.

‘Pretenders’ the final song, is actually two songs in one. It is an entire song, a country folk-ish song, with beautiful but sad lyrics that are honest enough to make you feel a bit uncomfortable, as good lyrics often do. Just when you think it’s over, it becomes a progressive musical tornado that everyone in Hungry Lake just completely shreds to pieces. It is the perfect song to end a show and everyone present seems to agree. As soon as the music stops, I remember the band mentioning that this would be their last performance for a while because they are going to start working on a follow-up album immediately. I feel happy knowing these new songs will be recorded soon but I’m also really sad that I wouldn’t get to see them live again in the near future. I can’t wait until their new album is complete so I can go to another Hungry Lake show.


Follow updates from Hungry Lake here.

Review by Heather Cook | @Outroupistache1

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