Nearing the tail end of a 62-hour work-week, there was one thing I wanted to do above all else: relax at home and take a well-deserved nap. But hell, I can’t say I was upset about travelling downtown to catch Celtic punk legends The Real McKenzies at The Horseshoe Tavern instead. Performing alongside Piffbreak Arcade and Boids, it was sure to be a hell of a Friday night filled with punk rock spirit and lots of alcohol.
Piffbreak Arcade, a band I saw open for Mad Caddies last winter, took the stage first. They quickly warmed up the audience. Their fast-paced punk rock style got the crowd moving shortly into their set. A good amount of people looked like they were there to support the band too, which is always great to see for a local opener. Piffbreak Arcade performed a lot of material off the full-length album they recently released, and I’ll definitely be checking it out. They played a super tight set, and I’m sure I’ll soon be catching these guys live in the city again.
Accompanying The Real McKenzies’ on tour for the fifth time, Montreal’s Boids were next to hit the stage. The three-piece kept up the punk rock pace left by the previous band with an added dancy groove, which the band continuously encouraged the audience to shake their booty to. Before that could properly start, Boids had some technical difficulties with their bass guitar that they needed to address shortly after starting. It killed the band’s momentum for a bit, but they were back full force after just a few minutes, and had won the crowd back over by the halfway point. The moshing continued, and even with the group’s bassist losing his voice, Boids put on a fun show.
When The Real McKenzies finally jumped on stage, kilts and all, I was surprised to see so many young faces. Just about every other musician on stage looked half the age of lead singer and founding member Paul McKenzie. It didn’t matter, though, since they knew the material perfectly, and fit right into the mix. The band’s set consisted of original fan favourites as well as some punked-up covers of traditional folk songs. It was also my first time seeing bagpipes played live in a non-traditional sense, and really had me curious about how the fuck the instrument works. Lord knows I won’t follow through with learning how to play them, but I never smiled to the sound of bagpipes being played live before that night, so I definitely contemplated it, for at least a moment.
Paul McKenzie is one hell of a frontman who, even in his late fifties, still keeps up with the band’s incredibly high energy. McKenzie had many a story to tell. Everything from Scottish legends, to personal anecdotes were shared with the rowdy audience. Every word out of his mouth was filled with Scottish-Canadian pride. Even while boasting that his little group predates genre giants like Flogging Molly or the Dropkick Murphys, there was a level of humbleness to his bragging, almost as if he was teaching the younger generation a history lesson. A very rowdy, intoxicated, history lesson. At 1am.
The Real McKenzies to me are one of those bands with a strong core following that could never fill up a huge venue, but could continuously pack a place like The Horseshoe if they came back year after year. There’s certainly enough Celtic punk-loving, kilt-wearing, Scottish-blooded men (and women) in Toronto for it, and the turnout for their Friday night show proved that.
Written by Mathieu Perrier
Photography by Vicki Mahony
*edited by Danielle Kenedy