by Michael Thomas
As a well-known lyric from a song by the night’s headlining act goes, “We’ve got so much love, we’ve got so much love.” Indeed, Toronto seems to love west-coast bands. The mania of a Dan Mangan performance in Toronto never fails to excite Torontonians, and it’s obvious that Toronto was very excited to see another successful British Columbia band, none other than Said the Whale.
There were two opening bands, the first being Charlottetown, PEI band Boxer the Horse. I’ve given the band some fair attention on the blog, and for good reason. Both albums of theirs, French Residency and Would You Please, are stellar, and I was happy to find out that their live performance was just as awe-inspiring.
In short, the band is a treat. One would think that they’ve seen enough bands with two guitarists, a bass player and a drummer, but Boxer the Horse have a unique energy. They’re kind of like a harder-rocking band out of the Beatles era. Those who saw the show might have seen it in the way lead singer Jeremy Gaudet composed himself when he wasn’t strumming his electric guitar. He rested a hand on his hip like a gentlemen.
The band played a set that consisted of mostly songs from French Residency, though there were two older songs in the set, the delightful “Mary Meets the Pilot” and “Sketch Me a Glove.” Some of the highlights of the newer material was the Ramones-esque “Bridge to the U.S.A.” (which the band apparently wrote while going down the Don Valley Parkway) and the oh-so-articulate “Community Affair.”
What pleased me the most is how receptive the audience was to them. More often than not, when a large crowd has gone to see a well-known act, there’s a high tendency for at least one crowd member to yell “Who are you?” There were no such ignorant remarks here, and this gave me a lot of peace of mind to enjoy the set.
Chains of Love, a Vancouver band, came up next. I had heard the name around before, but this was my first time seeing them live. The six-piece had a great sound, one that definitely got the crowd going. The drummer of the band was the most fun to watch- he was an absolute maniac. During the band’s second song, the drummer dropped (or threw; I don’t know how intentional the drop was) a drumstick, and without missing a beat (literally) grabbed another and continued on.
The lead singer, as well as the backup vocalist/guitarist both looked very, very cheerful, and their enthusiasm was infectious. They even asked the audience to give more applause for Boxer the Horse twice during their set. The only criticism I had for the set was that the vocals were often hard to decipher over the noise, but I don’t think people were necessarily listening for lyrics.
After what seemed like way too long of a wait, Said the Whale took the stage, and they unfortunately were hampered by technical difficulties as soon as they started. Something was wrong with Nathan Shaw’s bass, so guitarist/singer Tyler Bancroft spent a minute chatting with the audience. He jokingly said after “We call that one ‘Said the Whale wastes a minute of your time.'” They opened their set with the Little Mountain track “Heavy Ceiling” and played two more tracks before Shaw’s bass issues were finally resolved.
Once the band got going, they really got going. Time didn’t seem to flow for me as I listened. Said the Whale plowed through a lot of material, playing almost all of Little Mountain and a whole bunch of Islands Disappear tracks.
What astonished me was how devoted the band’s fans were. Little Mountain at the time of this writing has been out for little more than a month, and it looks like Said the Whale’s fans seem to know almost all the lyrics by heart already.
As for the tracks, they were stellar. Older songs got the crowd going nuts (I swore someone was going to faint when the band played Taking Abalonia favourite “The Light is You”). I sometimes found it hard to believe that fans were reacting to Said the Whale the way they would react to a rock and roll act, but that’s exactly what happened.
There wasn’t a whole lot of talk between songs, and that was fine. Said the Whale already have a very large body of work and it allowed them to plow through longer songs like “Big Sky, MT” which they then segued into “False Creek Change” from Islands Disappear. “We Are 1980″ was another big hit with the crowd, as was “Lines” from the New Brighton EP.
Other highlights included the intensity of “Hurricane Ada” which became even more intense watching the band play it live. They also played a rousing “Out on the Shield” which I recorded and you can see below. Other singer/guitarist Ben Worcester demonstrated an innate ability to make people applaud without fail- he even name-dropped two people during the set, the latter of which designed his awesome-looking guitar that looked like a hardwood floor.
Said the Whale finished off their set with “Loveless” followed by “Emerald Lake, AB,” both which had the audience singing along heartily. When the band came back for an encore, it was first just drummer Spencer Schoening and keyboardist Jacelyn Brown, who did a very moving rendition of “Seasons,” Little Mountain‘s closing track. We had since never seen Schoening sing, so seeing that was a treat. After that, the full band was back on stage, first singing “My Government Heart” followed by another song that made the crowd absolutely nuts- “Goodnight Moon.” The crowd knew every word during the slower first part, and as soon as Bancroft began madly strumming the ukulele, the whole crowd was jumping up and down, and the stage was suddenly filled with other musicians for a spectacular finish.
It’s always nice to see when a band can rouse a crowd the way Said the Whale can, and this band will always have a host of devoted fans to see them every time. Bancroft even commented a little on how crazy everything has been for Said the Whale- in 2007, the band played a sparsely-attended show at the Horseshoe Tavern, and five years later they sold out the Great Hall. That certainly says something.