Well my goodness. Touring season has come around once more for all the good little Canadian indie rock bands. And that season is summer. Not many Canadian bands take their lives in their hands to tour this vast country in a van while it’s frozen over from October to April. I remember well my only winter tour experience. There will never be another. That’s the bargain I made with God on the Salmo-Creston pass in mid December a few years back.
But how could it ever be winter, here in the warm, sunshiny sidewalk patio land of Toronto? June is a lovely month here. Not oppressively warm yet, still breezy, and the people joyfully cavort in shorts and t-shirts. We are here, the Parlour Steps, to embark on a great adventure. Two weeks away from all places and people familiar to attempt that noble feat, the Indie Rock Band Tour. Indie rock means, you are on your own. No limos, no private planes, one van, five people, depending on the kindness of friends and strangers to loan us their living room floors for sleeping.
We arrived in Toronto during North By Northeast, an enormous music festival that takes over the city. We were there to pick up our rented gear and van, throw our fates to the winds, cast off, and start playing shows in southern Ontario and then down into the U.S.
Tom-tom guided us faithfully to Long & McQuade for our first stop, guitars, amps, bass. Tom-tom, the small GPS device that clings gracefully to the windshield with her delicate suction cup always knows where to go. Mind you, it does take the thinking out of navigation. You never get to know a local area better by memorizing street names and landmarks. You just dumbly turn right and left when Tom-tom tells you to. Still. Sometimes it’s just better and more efficient and faster to do what you’re told and not think too much.
From Long & McQuade we were off to Coll Audio Warehouse for keyboards and drums. When I saw our rental van for the first time, when we were picking it up at the airport I thought, I am going to be playing one keyboard only on this tour. It was a minivan. A very nice minivan, with 4 doors that opened smoothly, air conditioning, and individual heat controls. And lots of cup holders, that unmistakable sign of soccer-mom luxury. But a minivan nonetheless, a vehicle that could not possibly hold 5 people, a drum kit, 2 keyboards, 2 guitars, 3 amps, a bass, and all our bags. I’ve been playing a handsome double stack of keyboards onstage since 1996.
But I knew that this time around, I would only have room for one.
I chose the smaller keyboard, the one I usually just use for synth sounds. So now all I would have to do is figure out how to play all my piano, rhodes, and organ parts on it and how to combine that with my synth parts. On the plus side, setup and teardown time would be way faster.
We wrestled all the gear into the van, and it was crammed. And we didn’t even Rob our drummer yet. He was going to meet us for the first show in Ottawa. And so we had a night to spend in Toronto, a chance to see some NXNE bands before traveling to Ottawa the next day. Back to the mansion to change clothes and get ready for a night on the town.
As I mentioned, we were hoping and depending on some friendly people to let us crash at their place while we were on the road. Indie rock also means no money. Or, definitely not enough to stay in hotel rooms every night. Upon our arrival in Toronto, we really lucked out. Caleb had arranged for us to stay with his boss. Who lives in a mansion. Which seemed to catch us all by surprise a little. We pulled up in the middle of the night, having come from the airport. Tom-tom guided us to an unremarkable, narrow side street. But I could see the houses getting bigger and bigger. ‘You have reached your destination’, said Tom-tom in her calm businesslike voice and lo, we were parked in front of a gigantic house. Broad steps leading upward to a tall ornate door, past a double garage. A black suburban parked in front. Caleb knocks, James answers, we enter.
Into a vast living room with soaring ceilings, two oversize brown leather couches, two soft sage green recliners, with an enormous hassock in between them. A large bay window containing a real tree, and facing us the biggest mirror I have ever seen. Enormous gilt gold frame, heavy and ornate it appears to be the same size as the massive couch it is mounted behind. There is heavy, dark wooden furniture. A few, tasteful knicknacks.
No clutter. A fireplace, with one pristine log resting precisely on a neat bed of ashes. Small lamps on either side of one of the couches throw their soft light to the mirror, which is gently caught and spills all over the dark wood floor and thick Persian rug. James, who is not accustomed to staying up till 2am on a weeknight (as he is a normal working person, untainted by indie rock) gives us a quick tour. ‘I have a shoe problem’, he says calmly as we walk through the lower level of the house, the floor of which is covered with hundreds of pairs of skate shoes and runners. Past a home theatre, then upstairs to the guestrooms. Of which there are three. In each guestroom there is a flat screen TV with satellite cable mounted on the wall, what I would guess to be cherrywood or dark oak dressers and nightstands, and a queen size bed with ridiculously high thread count linens. I am quite dumbfounded and having trouble reconciling these sumptuous surroundings with the idea of “being on tour”.
All the guestroom doors open onto a small landing. This became my favorite part of the house. Unnoticed at first, there was a gorgeous skylight that contains a beautiful, sparkling pattern that looked like it was etched in a thin line of diamonds. By day, she was a regular skylight. The pattern only appeared at night. I spent a goodly amount of time bent backwards, gawking upwards openmouthed at that skylight over the next couple of days. Where the ceiling would have been, had the skylight not continued upward, there was a row in recessed lighting that glowed softly orange at night. Everywhere there was thick crown moldings that looked as if someone has pressed a fork into thick icing. If this was any indication of what we were in for on this tour, by golly everything was coming up roses.
We had a little while to chill out before heading back downtown to catch some bands. They napped, I went for a run. Nice neighborhood, I thought. Be nice to see it up close. I set off. I wonder why no one else is out, I mused. In Vancouver no matter what time I run there are always other runners out. I took a few steps and was drenched in sweat within seconds. The air is thick and hot in Toronto. Like trying to run through warm soup. Now I understood why there was no one out. They were probably running on treadmills in climate controlled air conditoned gyms. Smart people.
And so we ended up downtown having dinner with our booking agent. At a club where a few years back I played a show during which a guitar player (I use that term very loosely) took out his cock while onstage in a desperate attempt to force people to pay attention to his band. Didn’t work, which should give you some indication of the quality of the band. And the cock.
I saw a lot of bands while we were in Toronto. Pack AD, Warren Flandez, a crazy banjo player called Old Man Luke, Rosetta A, Matt Mays & El Torpedo. I caught an amazing show at the Horseshoe, probably the biggest show of NXNE. Hundreds of sweaty people packed into a low ceilinged room with several unsteady ceiling fans that looked as if they would fly off their moorings into the crowd and decapitate us all. Loud music. Cold drinks. Good times. Eventually Caleb and Julie and I headed back to the mansion.
Rees elected to stay and keep making new friends. That boy has the stamina of a true extrovert which I envy greatly. I wrote the address of where we were staying on his arm so he could find his way back, and off we went. On to Ottawa the next day for the first show.