Friday, January 01, 2010

Review: Constantines 10th Anniv. w/ Ladyhawk, Julie Doiron @ Lee's Palace.

To celebrate 10 years as a band, the Constantines put together a mini-tour, including 3 official shows and 1 secret one in Toronto. They brought along some of their favourite bands to play with them: John K. Sampson (from the Weakerthans), Attack in Black, Metz, Oneida, Tropics, and the ones I saw on Saturday, 19 December, at Lee's Palace, Julie Doiron and Ladyhawk. That was the last show of the tour, and it felt like an extra-special celebration.

Julie Doiron was first up. I'd last seen her sell out Lee's of her own accord in what turned out to be one of the best shows I saw all year. She was once again joined by the Baird brothers, Jesse on drums and Jay on bass, and occasionally Will Kidman from Constantines on extra guitar. (Shotgun Jimmie watched on from the audience.) Julie and her band were in fine form. I liked a new song they played, one that sounded like "The House of the Rising Sun" but with different lyrics. The most noteworthy part of their short set for me was the small group of female super-fans around me. "She's so cute," squealed one young woman to her companion. Later on, the blonde one whipped out a harmonica and played along. Julie noticed; it was weird. But the drunken duo disappeared once her set ended. I was glad for it: their dancing involved bumping into me rather more than I cared for.

In the middle spot was Ladyhawk, a band I'd yet to come across. I was worried I might not like their sound before they even got on stage when I suddenly I found myself surrounded by men who kept referring to each other as "bra." (It took me a moment to understand what on earth they were talking about.) And then the band appeared. The bassist had long blonde hair, the kind that looks best when its owner is rocking out. See? The lead was in a tie-dye shirt of sorts. An odd choice, but perhaps an homage to their sound. Their set showed off a musical range from classic rock to early and mid 90s grunge to alternative. Not exactly my cup of tea, and a smidge repetitive at times, but they certainly had their enthusiasts, including Julie, watching and taking photos just off-stage. Bry and Dallas from the Cons crashed the set, joining the band to sing backup "ooh oh ooohs" during the penultimate song. (My friend Rochelle got a picture of that.) So, you know, it was a fun time.

By the start of Ladyhawk's set, Lee's Palace had filled up nicely, and once they were done there was no moving for me, for fear of not being able to make my way back to the front row. I usually like to be right up front during concerts. That way, I can see what's happening on stage and have a much better sense of being part of the show than if I was standing way back, having to look over taller people's heads to catch a glimpse of the musicians. Since the shows I go to tend not to be feasts for the eyes, it's important for me to be able to see the players; otherwise, I'd probably get bored. For Constantines's set, I was standing in front of keyboardist Will, a good spot, I was told, to keep clear of the moshers. As it turned out, it was a brilliant vantage point to watch the goings-on on stage.

It was clear from the get-go that Constantines elicit the kind of response I rarely see at concerts. (I tend not to go to big-ticket ones, though.) By the time the band played "Young Offenders," with its shout-out refrain "Can I get a witness," the concert was feeling like a religious experience. All around me people were pumping their fists in the air and singing along. Soon enough there was moshing just to my right, and mostly by people who didn't look old enough to have known the band when they first started. When bassist Dallas Wehrle tossed his ski mask---he'd been wearing a full-face white balaclava---into the crowd, there was a bit of a scuffle. A few minutes later one crazed female fan, already drenched in sweat from dancing and ramming into people, had it, holding it tight.

The Constantines played for more than 2 hours, including a 4- or 5-song encore. Julie Doiron sang lead vocals on one tune, and Jennifer Castle sang and swayed to one, too. The first encore song featured Leslie Feist. (I admit to being impressed at having Feist performing a few feet away from me, even making eye contact a couple times!) Proving once again that this concert really was a celebration, before launching into "Nighttime / Anytime (It's Alright)" vocalist Bry Webb asked for his mother to make her way onto the stage. Mid-way through the song, there she was beside me, asking Rochelle how to get up there. We told her, but with the sea of excited people all around, she decided to plant herself on the dancefloor just beneath him. When the song ended and it was brought to his attention that she was there, he told us how it was his mom who'd shouted "turn it up" when he played the newly-recorded song for her. And so the recurring, shouted refrain was born. Neat. Not to be outdone by their fans, the band was really ripping it up that night. Will Kidman's keyboard stand looked oft-abused to me, but so too were his organ and synth. A couple times during their set the organ on top fell to the ground near my head as the entire setup crashed. Upon failing to get everything working after losing the organ a second time, Will gave up and threw the organ to the ground himself, leaving him unable to play one of the encore songs.

Man, being in a rock band looks like so much fun.

Not being familiar with very much of the Cons discography---shame on me, I know---I felt more like a spectator than a participator through much of the concert. But if that's gotta be the case, this was the show to be at: the energy of the enthusiastic people around me, the voyeuristic feeling I got out of seeing Julie Doiron (sitting on the floor just off stage) lose her shit to "Young Lions," being jerked back to reality when Will's organ crashed two feet from my head, and, well, finding myself really enjoying new-to-me songs recorded over the past decade was pretty great. Highlights for me included "Subdomestic" and "Soon Enough." Looks like I got me some record-buying to do.

Photo credits: mandrs has more shots of this show. Thanks!

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