Live music in mid-July has a tough time. The air is thick with festival memories and summer playlists. Everyone is rocking that favourite song in their heads. How do you keep up with all that competition? Well, you step on the stage at the Horseshoe Tavern on Friday, July 18th and play a killer set. And that is exactly what Elsa, The Shilohs, and the Fresh and Onlys showed up to do.
The opening locals, Elsa, played steady jangle pop that could have rocked a little harder in different directions. At several moments in their set, I felt the weight of the Cure’s wake threatening to pull me under — I needed something to stir it up, and it just never came. But that’s not a big complaint compared to the impressive ability of every member of the band: in terms of precision, the performance was flawless. And they admitted the material was freshly minted at the start of things — the wheels are still a little squeaky. I’m looking forward to seeing things develop for these guys.
Things changed direction with the first out of town appearance of the evening. The Shilohs look like a classic rock and roll band. Singer/ guitarist Johnny Payne was decked out in full Jan and Dean style 60s surf get-up. Guitar squeal-meister Mike Komaszczuk looked like he’d stepped off of Teenage Fanclub’s bus, long, curly hair connoting dirty guitar shredding. And drummer Ben Frey and bassist Dan Colussi had the tour blinders on, heads ducked down into their work, having seen it all and knowing there was more ahead.
The music these four gentlemen produce together is stunningly arranged, and a perfect fit for the gritty stage at the ‘Shoe: alt-country swells of twang and shuffling drums accompanied diplomatic dual vocals (shared amongst the three string players). At many moments, Payne appeared caught in an eddy of pure song, unable to stop shaking from one leg to the other, while Komaszczuk kept to his conservative, string scattering place at the back of the stage. The performance was impressive. The album is even better; did you know it was recorded at the excellent and now non-existent Mushroom Studios in Vancouver? Well, it’s true.
Before The Fresh and Onlys took the stage, I stumbled downstairs to tend to the ever-constant side effect of a great Friday night. Several girls were clustered round the green room. “You mean this isn’t the bathroom?” Chuckles from the band members inside. By the time I got out of my anything but green room, everyone was sitting down together, having a Toronto-San Fran summit. The easy camraderie continued upstairs when it was revealed that it was singer Tim Cohen’s birthday. A song was sung. Cake was served. Then the band played its newly-released record House of Spirits front to back.
The Fresh and Onlys are a solid, temperate psych operation, capable of swaying with the best of them. Just check out “Animal of One” to see for yourself. Their presence on stage is mystic and dream-like. “Dream Girls,” one of the newest tracks gets my top vote.
Lots of hum-worthy material came out of the evening. If I felt left out of the noise of Friday by the end of the night, that’s only because I wasn’t entirely ready to lay back and let the good vibes stroll. I wanted something heavier. Don’t you wish you could leave your baggage at home sometimes and just enjoy the music?