Monday, October 24, 2016

A night of both new discoveries and familiar faces

I made a few new discoveries on Saturday night while venturing to a little known to me part of Toronto for what was billed as a secret show featuring Dex Romweber, Catl and the Zakary Miller Band.

The first revelation was the venue, Garagenoir. I’d never heard of it and there was very little information about it online. Even Romweber’s booking agent apparently didn’t know where it was, and I was given two different addresses for it. It turned out they were both correct, as they were for the same building, but there were entrances on two streets: Dupont Street and Campbell Avenue.

Zakary Miller Band
Upon arrival at this office/industrial building, I was told to go to the second floor and follow a long hallway. I was expecting a warehouse space but instead I had to go up another short flight of stairs and then into what looked like a recently renovated space that could have made a nice office or apartment. There was another short set of stairs leading down once I got inside the main room, and this is where I first laid eyes on Miller and his four-piece backing band. Instead of looking up at a stage, the 50 or so patrons who paid $15 to $20 for the gig looked down at the entertainers.

Miller and company played old-timey sounding songs with electric and acoustic guitars, tuba, trumpet and trombone. It was loose and fun and reminded me somewhat of Pokey LaFarge. It was my first time seeing Miller and will likely be my last for a long time since he’s moving from Toronto to Canada’s east coast.

I’m much more familiar with Catl, which I’ve probably seen more than any Toronto band this decade. I’ve never been disappointed by a performance, and that streak continued Saturday. Guitarist Jamie Fleming and drummer Sarah Kirkpatrick play stripped-down juke joint blues with high-octane punk energy. And even though they’d just returned home from an American tour the night before, they exhibited no signs of road fatigue.

Kirkpatrick is singing more while still smashing her snares with abandon, while Fleming continues to slink around while producing jaw-dropping licks that take you back to the American south — if it was all hopped up on amphetamines.

Dex Romweber
Catl set the mood for Romweber, a singer and guitarist who’s been a staple of the southern United States alternative music scene since forming the Flat Duo Jets with drummer Chris “Crow” Smith more than 30 years ago. The influential lo-fi psychobilly duo broke up in 1999 and Romweber has continued making music on his own and with his sister (and former Let’s Active drummer) Sara since then. But his Toronto appearances have been few and far between, so this was my first time seeing him.

Romweber was on his own this time, playing in support of his new Bloodshot Records solo album, Carrboro. I’m not as enamoured with it as I was with the previous Dex Romweber Duo record, Images 13, which was my fourth favourite album of 2014. Still, it’s a solid record and Romweber has a way of mixing rock, country, rockabilly, blues, jazz, pop, surf and straight-up ballads to create a soundscape that’s all his own.

Decked out in dark shades that gave him a bit of a Link Wray look, Romweber and his shorter than normal guitar entertained a small but appreciative audience that included local musicians Ian Blurton, Sean Dean, “Classy” Craig  Daniels, Dave Kiner, Steven Bromstein and Jeff MacNeil, who were sipping on Steam Whistle pilsner that was brought in for the occasion. 

Since I was seeing a Bloodshot artist, I showed my support and further fortified myself with the contents of my Waco Brothers flask.

It was a mellower than expected set, but one in which Romweber was able to showcase his crooning and finger-picking skills with songs including “Blind Man” and “Paradise,” even if he did seem to be treating the gig as a public rehearsal by repeating parts of songs he said he wasn’t satisfied with the way he initially played them.

There was little talking between songs until, inexplicably, Romweber put down his guitar and sat down and talked about a mental breakdown he had. He got up and sat down again while telling this story, which had unsettling racial overtones, for several minutes. While it may have been cathartic for Romweber, it obviously made some audience members uncomfortable — and I saw a couple of people walk out.

Romweber then picked up the guitar and began playing again as if that previous interlude had never happened. The room was so cozy that he sometimes moved away from the microphone and you could still hear every word. Romweber performed a few more songs and then ended with an extended guitar solo that amped up the energy but was primarily played with Romweber’s back to the audience.

Dex Romweber and Sean Dean
Romweber’s set clocked in at less than an hour. On my way out, I took a photo of him with Dean, who has played several shows with him over the years as the bassist for The Sadies.

While the neighbourhood is pretty desolate as far as nightlife is concerned, luckily Boo Radley’s pub was across the street. This was another first for me, but I liked the atmosphere, the bartender and the Henderson’s Best that was on tap, and MacNeil and I struck up a good music conversation with a young regular.

It was a nice late autumn night so, after the bar closed, I had an enjoyable 90-minute walk that got me home around 4:30 a.m. It gave me exercise, fresh air and time to reflect on what I’d experienced and discovered in the preceding few hours.

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