Canadian Music Week always brings in the best gigs. Whether it’s reunions, budding stars, or just weird projects running on government grant money – you can always expect something worthwhile. This was the case on May 9th when a recently reunited Slow descended upon the Phoenix Concert Theatre with Ontario natives Single Mothers and The Dirty Nil.
Single Mothers kicked things off with a bang. The London-based punk rockers threw off harsh small-town vibes, including some alternative slow parts and more than a little angst. But, halfway through, things changed. The songs got more aggressive, and the music got bolder. All of a sudden, it was like Single Mothers threw off their teenage baggage and blossomed into the hardcore act they always should have been in the first place.
The influence of Alexisonfire on Single Mothers probably can’t be overstated. But they never sounded like a rip-off, not even for a second. The band has gone through over sixteen members (both live and touring), but it was vocalist Andrew Thomson who mastered the chaos onstage, wildly flailing like he’s being jolted with a Taser. Guitarist Peter Landi also deserves a shout out for managing not to sound redundant while playing pop-punk riffs. Great stuff. If Single Mothers play their cards right, we could be looking at Canada’s next punk sensation.
But this night belonged solely to The Dirty Nil. Absolutely everything about the trio screamed “Rock Stars,” from the moment they hit the stage. Bassist Ross Miller stalked up and down in a red getup that reminded me of the guitar guy in Mad Max: Fury Road, while frontman Luke Bentham’s jacket almost stole the show. Seriously, that studded thing made him look like the bizarre offspring of David Bowie and Rob Halford (might not sound like a compliment, but it totally is).
Fortunately for The Dirty Nil, they have songs big enough to justify this stage presence. Otherwise, it could have come off as a poseur. They followed a similar angsty vein that Single Mothers did, full of Green Day-style “Woah-oh’s” and more “fucks” than the average online gaming session. But there was a genuine sense that The Dirty Nil just love what they are doing. That’s hard to replicate.
The crowd loved it too. The first crowd surfers appeared during “Bruto Bloody Bruto” and by the time “Smoking Is Magic” started the crowd had invaded the stage, jumping off like gleeful kids on sugar highs. It was a magical performance, like something out of a movie. Just as things were getting a bit repetitive, The Dirty Nil dropped their cover of Metallica’s “Hit The Lights,” sparking an already over-enthused crowd into a whirlwind of moshing and flying bodies. It hints that we might get a heavier Nil sound sometime soon. I’m sure everyone in attendance this night would be very excited to hear it.
It’s terrible to say, but the energy levels crashed and flatlined once Slow took the stage. It isn’t really their fault. The West Coast ska-punks released exactly eight songs in 1986, and besides an infamous incident at Expo ’86 in which singer Thomas Anselmi performed naked onstage and got the festival cancelled, they haven’t done much more. Slow reunited with a full lineup tonight to play those eights songs, plus a few new ones, showing signs of life in this inert group. Anselmi, now fully clothed, tried his best, but after the riot-inducing sets that preceded them, Slow could not help feeling…. well, slow. A couple of tambourine playing backup singers gave their show a ska feel, while the saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist stayed cruelly hidden at the back. My absolute favourite was their hulking bassist, who handled his instrument like he could snap it in half on a whim. But this doesn’t replace the fact that, where a riotous crowd stood only moments ago, there’s now a group of shuffling toe-tappers. Slow have a wild reputation to uphold, but so far, this isn’t very promising.
Written by Max Morin
Photography by Gabby Rivera
*edited by Mike Milito