Concert Review: Indie88 Birthday Bash @ The Opera House

Lowell
Photo by Alaetra Graves | @GreenHair14

Toronto’s enthusiastic independent music station, Indie 88.1 has turned 1 year old, and what better way to celebrate than for them to throw their listeners a party! We have been listening to the Indie Baby for 12 straight months getting more and more involved with the city’s most talented underground acts and celebrating their successes alongside them. Announcers Brian Bailey, Matt Hart, and Candice Knihnitski of The Morning After, Carlin Burton and Brent Albrecht in the evenings, Dave “Bookie” Bookman and Raina Douris in the afternoons – what is there not to love about this liberty village station?

The evening included party hats as each guest walked in, gluten-free and delicious cupcakes, girls in party dresses (including yours truly in my fave polka-dot number), men in dress shirts and sneakers, one of my favorite street team members in a Baby Blowup Costume, and of course a PhotoBooth! In our presence that night were local artists Lowell and The Darcys and Vancouver-ite (but Torontonian by association) Dan Mangan. What a night!

Lowell floated onto a stage that was adorned with white tulle and hot blue floodlights that set the mood for her track Words Were The Wars – probably something very different than you’d expect if you’ve only known her regularly-played single The Bells. This is the first track on her debut album We Loved Her Dearly (Arts & Crafts) released September 16th and it is revealing in nature. It’s vulnerable, diverse, the layers in it expose Lowell’s impressive passion and vocal range. It was my 4th time seeing her perform and she evolves so much as an artist each time. With reckless abandon she dips off the stage into the crowd and rode on the back of one lucky gentleman during her song I Love You Money and had us “clapping like f**kers” to get it going in the beginning. This 23 year old firecracker of a woman commands our presence and we shamelessly give it to her. She lets go of all inhibitions when she is performing and while she was wandering through the crowd, she’d belt her beautiful operatic pitches at the top of her lungs directly in the face of random guests. What a high. Lowell is FIERCE. Her album is on repeat in my car and reminds me of a hot pink orange grapefruit sunrise. We Loved Her Dearly makes the sky catch fire.

The Darcys
Photo by @Indie88Toronto

The Darcys were the peak of the excitement that evening as Jason Couse, Wes Marksell, Michael le Riche and Dave Hurlow took the stage looking dapper as always. It was time. I had waited months to see them perform again – this was also my fourth time seeing them live – once being at the Art Gallery of Ontario’s First Thursday event earlier this year. Jason Couse has this incredible way with his syllables and sonic grounding to transfix anyone in their vicinity. The crowd was undivided. Starting their set with the sensually bold sounds of The Hunting off their 2013 album Warring (Arts & Crafts), the suspense between musical lines is palpable, almost like lovers that stay platonic until the absolute breaking point. The Darcys are the instigators of a love affair between worlds. Jason Couse undoubtedly has an impressively wide vocal range and, paired with the brilliant instrumentation of other tracks such as The River, Horses Fell and The Pacific Theatre and (my favorite) 747, gives a malleability to the atmosphere and heightens our awareness slowly until they let us fall.

I had an opportunity to chat with Jason after their set and when I mentioned their AGO performance in the spring he said it was a feeling of being discovered in the most authentic way – performing among a mansion of impressionistic and historical art pieces. “Some of those listeners were there for the art exhibit on the walls, others were there for them, but overall, it was a collaborative experience” – something I discuss regularly. I feel that their album Warring is a bold, artistic venture into performance art – when performed live The Darcy’s create something that is ephemeral, cathartic and emotionally beautiful.

Dan Mangan
Photo by Kelly O | @K_oh

Dan Mangan & Blacksmith were the headlining act for the gigantic Indie Birthday Bash. Mangan hails from Vancouver but has a lot of affection for Toronto. Raina Douris describes him as “a hug personified”—which is fairly accurate as he brings incredible warmth and personality to the stage. In between songs he provided us with a familiar banter that roused even the most distracted listeners. In my eyes (and ears), Dan Mangan and Blacksmith are redemptive of all the folk-rock we’ve heard lately – wrapped up in one incredible stage act. It was my first time seeing him live but I have fallen in love with his song Pine for Cedars which he performed acoustically that night when the band took a short break. Mangan also delighted us with his newest single Vessel which has backup vocals on the chorus by the one and only Dave Grohl (how cool is THAT?). The song is from the score in which Mangan co-wrote with Jesse Zubot (part of Blacksmith) for the film Hector and the Search for Happiness that premiered at TIFF 2014. Of course, Grohl couldn’t be there to party with the Indie88 fam that night, but I am certain that every single one of us there were scream-singing his part at the top of our lungs.

I am absolutely entranced by how many incredible conversations I had with all the artists that night, the new friends I made, and the feeling of bringing a tight-knit radio station even closer together at the historic Opera House. To top things off, on our way out each guest was given a loot-bag with an exclusive event poster, Indie88 swag, and Vitamin Water (to ease our hangover the next morning—thanks for thinking ahead, you guys xo). I am certain that Indie88 is as passionate about their listeners, as we are about the music that hails from our beautiful city. Happy Birthday Indie88!

Review by Stefanie Romano | @stefaloves

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