Even though I try my best not to walk into shows I am covering with a pre-existing idea of how it’s going to go and what to expect, Thursday night’s show at the iconic underground Toronto venue was both unlike any other show I’ve seen at Lee’s Palace, and at the same time totally in keeping with the grungy, rock-and-roll vibes is it is known for.
When I arrived after having a pint next door, the first band The Alta Kakas had just taken the stage. Besides myself, my partner, the soundboard guy, a photographer, and the sassy bartender who, hilariously, could hardly be bothered to put his paper down to make you a drink, there were very few patrons in the bar…one to be exact, and with an instrument on his back, he looked to be a member of one of the other bands on the line-up.
Unfortunately, the non-existent online presence of both The Alta Kakas and Inevitable means that I can only tell you what I gathered for myself that night. While I wasn’t impressed by either band, I can tell you that between the two, The Alta Kakas left more of an impression via their beautiful and brand new-looking instruments, and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee.” They all were capable musicians as they played their soft-rock material and jammed a bit here and there, but they were obviously disappointed and affected by the turn out. The Alta Kakas did, however, try to make light of the situation by letting those of us there know where they would be to do what you do after a trying show – presumably, have lots of drinks.
A complete shift in attitude saw The Mustard Junkies show up roughly twenty minutes before their set. As I was on my way upstairs, I had to get out of the way of their incoming drum kit. Continuing the nonchalant rock-and-roll that was the epitome of their entrance, the guitarist clad in a kimono half-tuned, half-played by himself onto the stage while waiting for the drummer to join him. Their set was short and they seemed either drunk or high, as if they really didn’t care about much, and it was great. Somewhere between experimental garage rock and punk, they reminded me of Montreal’s King Khan and the BBQ Show. The Mustard Junkies came late and left early, but left a lasting impression, which the video for “G20 Protest” will give you a good sense of.
By the time Grass Grows Back took the stage, Lees had both warmed up and filled up considerably, and for the first time patrons outnumbered staff. A three-piece based out of Bradford, Ontario, these guys are a solid act and talented songwriters. Mixing up tracks like “Woman” (from their 2015 demo CD that I wore out in my car) with newer material and an awesome cover of “Hokey Pokey,” their energy and enthusiasm for playing made them the best act of the evening by far. Their screaming vocals, bluesy riffs, solid bass lines, and consistent drumming come together in a 60s-era type of psychedelic rock, but these elements also seem to make them capable of whatever sound they wish to achieve. While it is difficult to find an indie-rock band with a unique sound these days, the trio that is Grass Grows Back are one of few who accomplish it.
Coming off a high note, the final act of the evening, Inevitable, was like its earliest counterpart: regrettably unmemorable. While they were in fact the headlining band and had the advantage of the latest set on a Thursday evening, they did little to live up to the position. Another short set, the members of Inevitable played with subpar enthusiasm that didn’t do much to win you over.
Due to a lack of promotion, and hence little attendance, the bands on these evening’s line-up were at what I would say was a bit of a disadvantage. However, sometimes this is the nature of the beast, and as musicians you simply have to say fuck it and have a party on stage regardless of whether or not you are playing to two or 200 people. This is a feat that both Mustard Junkies and Grass Grows Back were graciously able to pull off, and the evening was definitely not lacking in good music.
Written by Jordan Hodgins