Toronto – If there is one thing that I hope people have taken away from my years of writing for the Panic Manual, it is this: I highly recommend that you go see the Sunparlour Players live. Judging by the size of crowds the band still gets in Toronto, either I have failed to be very convincing, or I’m just not being read by that many people.
It’s too bad, because if there’s one thing that the SPP show last Saturday night cemented in my mind, it’s that this is the best live band I know, by far.
It was a particularly satisfying evening. Not only were SPP fantastic, but the opening acts were decent (one a lot moreso than the other, but still), and my wife and I successfully managed to have our first real evening out since our baby was born several months ago. We enjoy parenting more than I can express, but I’m not going to lie: getting away for an evening felt great.
The Strumbellas were up first, a self-described “bluegrass-inspired indie rock” band that I wasn’t familiar with, but who impressed me enough that I likely would’ve bought their album at the show, if only that were possible (their debut comes out sometime in February). Inspired, high-energy stuff from this seven-piece band, who really ripped it up. You have to wonder if the energy of their live show will translate into a good record, something the Sunparlour Players struggle with sometimes, but they seem to have some interesting lyrics so that should help. A band worth keeping an eye on. They were followed by Harlan Pepper, a group of 19 year olds (or so they claim; if I were working the door, I would’ve carded them for sure) with a surprisingly retro roots-rock sound. Though they started tight and impressed with a few of their tunes, their set largely dissolved into chaos after frontman Dan Edmonds declared his guitar was “f***ed up,” at which point he switched to keys and the music switched from recognizable songs to a long stretch of solos and noodling punctuated by the occasional familiar riff and ending with a half-hearted cover of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” Not a bad set, but it could’ve used a little more coherence.
The Sunparlour Players, subsequently, started off somewhat gingerly. Their set opened nicely enough with “Runner,” the opening track from their new album, but during the first four or five songs the band was tentative, particularly frontman Andrew Penner, who seemed almost nervous to be back playing in Toronto in a headlining role after touring Ontario with the Sadies for the last couple of months.
However, five songs in the band launched into their infamous cover of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” a tune which is worth the price of admission to a Sunparlour Players show by itself. Afterwards, Penner remarked something along the lines of “that’s more like it,” and the band was back to their familiar, dynamic selves: Michael Rosenthal killing it on percussion, looking to all the world like he’s having the time of his life, Dennis Van Dine looking relatively composed on bass and keys, effortlessly driving the fast-paced numbers and slowing time for the ballads, and Penner, singing as though his sanity depended on it.
The band stormed through the rest of their set and two encores, breathing life into some songs on their new album that sound a little subdued on record, hitting only a couple of highlights of their second album, Wave North, like “O Captain” and “Point Pelee is the Place to Be!”, but really bringing the house down with the songs they played from their debut, Hymns for the Happy. “If the Creeks Don’t Rise,” “Dyin’ Today,” “John had a Bell and a Whistle,” “The Detroit River is Alive,” and finally “Talk it to Death” to end things off – these songs are the ones that sent their longtime fans home happy, even if some of them (including my wife and I) had seen them done four or five times already.
I’ll say it again: if you like live music, see the Sunparlour Players sometime. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.