First Rate People // Lee’s Palace // 19.07.13
First Rate People opened with their single “Dark Age,” which got the crowd jumping to the oh so catchy chorus, ‘I wouldn’t hurt anyone younger than me.’ It’s a strange and beautiful line, in sync the atmosphere of the night.
It was also immediately apparent how well the band works together as a collective; early in their set, Jon Lawless held his mic to the sound hole of Anna Horvath’s acoustic guitar, becoming her personal amplifier. She thanked him after the song; Lee’s was getting cozy.
“We have a lot of friends—including you guys,” said Jon, right before introducing Mary Cassidy. Her trumpet added a jazzy undertone to their set, while her being brought onto stage like that signaled the musician-fluidity of First Rate People (& Friends). It became hard not to compare the band to Broken Social Scene, both bands with an ensemble of musicians cluttering the stage but never the music.
Anna was especially talented at taking quick sips of beer and being right on cue to start singing again. Even when it wasn’t her turn to sing, she would often lean away from the mic and sing anyway. Her energy seeped into the crowd, and more than once throughout the night, I heard audience members comment on her bubbly stage presence.
After every song, there was a zealous crowd response that humbled Anna, even though it was completely deserved. At one point, the audience even cheered out her name, and she remarked that it sounded like a ‘summer camp talent show.’
She sang solo for a few songs, with Patrick Morrissey on bass. She said, ‘this is weird guys, this is fucking weird… I never thought I’d play at Lee’s Palace… Also never thought I’d play with a fog machine behind me.’ Her songs were pretty and delicate-sounding, like the tone of her albums Easy and Panelling (released under the name Merival). She played one particularly lovely song called “Keeping You Out,” though I’ve had no luck finding a recording of the song.
Going back to First Rate People material, Jon said, ‘Here’s an oldie for you,’ and they played the opening track of It’s Never Not Happening (2010), “Orion.” Also on that album is the track “It’s Never Not Happening (Pt.2),” their live version prefaced with a shout out to their hometown of Owen Sound and met with cheers.
The banter between Jon and Anna also kept the night entertaining. He said, ‘This song is for everyone that couldn’t be here. I know, that sounds sad.’
So she said, ‘That does sound sad. Everyone that’s ever thrown up at a party! That’s better!’
They also played “Funny Games,” a song with a killer chorus—“I could turn on the bright lights, then turn ‘em back off / Just to prove that I’m still in your life”—from Someone Else Can Make A Work Of Art (2011).
Jon and Mary then played “Carolina.” It was their ‘Toronto debut’ of a track that has also been recorded for Play AMBY A Song. Throughout the song, there was just a quick second of overlap between their lines, until they finally sang together, ‘So over it I thought you’d know.’ Everything was perfectly timed, with a nice transition from echoes to harmonizing that kept that audience entranced.
First Rate People also previewed their new single for everyone at Lee’s and played a well-loved track off of It’s Never Not Happening, “Girls’ Night.” They closed the set with “Someone Else Can Make a Work of Art,” the titular track off of their 2011 album. It was super cozy at that point, with Anna and Mary sharing a mic (so close their faces were nearly touching) and Jon instructing us to “Go give someone a hug.”
Then, “I hope you enjoyed this weird thing that we did.” I don’t think there was anyone at Lee’s who didn’t have a good time, watching this group of musicians make Lee’s their palace, jamming like it was a friend’s much-loved basement rehearsal space, safe from the wicked storm pissing on Toronto. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing First Rate People live, you can find their music here, and take a listen to Mary and Jon’s new single (“Make It Do”) here.
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