The Lowest of the Low (LOTL) is an iconic Toronto band dearly loved by a city that they dearly love. When they play a show on home turf, it’s always an event. The fans came out Friday night to the first of two shows at Lee’s Palace on Bloor St., packing the intimate venue to bursting.
Many arrived early to watch show opener Willie Nile. At 67, Nile is of the old guard, a lifelong folk-punk-rocker. A contemporary of the 70s era CBGB’s crowd, he managed to transport the audience to another place and time. His punk rock music is message-positive; his attitude all rock n’ roll. He dedicated The Innocent Ones to those who died in Brussels last week stating, “I believe in the human race; we can do better.” He and his four-member band entertained and charmed the crowd with their spirited tunes, including Life on Bleeker Street and a call and answer number called Hell Ya. Nile himself looks like a skinny Lou Reed with a vintage Lyle Lovett mop of hair. Everything about him seeps cool. He hails from Buffalo, NY and has a fondness for Toronto, which came through loud and clear.
The Lowest of the Low (Ron Hawkins, Lawrence Nichols, Stephen Stanley, David Alexander and Dylan Parker) graced the stage at 11 o’clock with all five members dressed in black pants and matching red shirts. There is something endearing about a band of musicians that wants to look like they are a band of brothers, even after 25 years.
The first songs warmed up the crowd and gave them a dose of the hits they came to hear. This allowed the band to play a few new tunes – some of theirs and a couple from singer Ron Hawkins’ latest solo effort. All were well-received, but the energy in the room rose when Hawkins invited the audience to sing along wiith So Long Bernie. Never has a song about a murder sounded more cheery.
There were several shout-outs to the Toronto’s East-end throughout the night. All the band members grew-up in the area now known as Leslieville, and the references to familiar city streets and landmarks pepper their lyrics. Fans rejoiced in lines that mention the Carlaw bridge or Bathurst Street, which is mere steps from Lee’s Palace.
LOTL is not an overtly political band, but their leanings are evident in some of their songs. Hawkins made a barely veiled reference to his dissatisfaction with the outcome of a “certain trial” then dedicated Beautiful Girl to those raising “strong daughters and compassionate sons.” (Note: former radio-personality, Jian Ghomeshi, had just been acquitted of sex assault charges.) Most of the setlist came from the band’s masterful 1991 album Shakespeare My Butt. The album is widely praised as one of the best Canadian rock records of all time and the songs have not lost their lustre. Fittingly, Andy Koyama, who produced that pivotal album was in attendance. LOTL rounded out the main set with Bleed a Little While Tonight – a perennial crowd favourite.
The party was not yet over. The 5-song encore started with a cover of the Jam’s A Town Called Malice, an early pre-Low tune called In the Blink of an Eye and Eternal Fatalist. Hawkins and Lawrence Nichols then played a perfect version of Subversives – just guitar, harmonica and voice. The last song of the night was Rosy and Grey, a song that begs to be sung by everyone in the room – and it was… even the naughty bits!