Concert Reviews

Speedy Ortiz with Hop Along and Casper Skulls at the Horseshoe Tavern

Photos by Daniela Tantalo

The Horseshoe Tavern has been on a roll lately booking acts that are probably too big to play there, creating an intimate yet packed environment for some great up and coming acts. For only $20 there was a fantastic double headliner bill coming through town with Hop Along only nominally opening for Speedy Ortiz as you could have had either band play last. The theme for the tour easily could have been girl fronted bands that kick a ton of ass and they had a worthy opener continue the trend.

Casper Skulls was the local act picked to open the show and while the Neil Bednis was the front man, it had another great female musician in a prominent role as Melanie Gail St-Pierre sang back up vocals and played guitar as well. The band sounded like they were birthed after listening to the Parquet Courts song Stoned and Starving, albeit with better musicianship (neither a pro or con, just an observation). The band mixed in hard trashing punk music with clean indie rock like a more focused version of Silversun Pickups, minus the screaming vocals. The nice thing about the punk rock community is if you are good the crowd will definitely get into your music to let you know. Bednis mentioned how all they had for sale was a 7” and some t-shirts but joked that people were probably just going to buy stuff from the other bands anyways. You can always tell how good a band will be by how into the music the bass player is and the level of aggression in his playing was palpable as he slapped his strings around. With a proper full length coming out in the fall, this won’t be the last we have heard of these guys.

Hop Along quietly released on of the strongest albums last year, netting an 87 on Meta Critic for Painted Shut yet most publications ignored in their year end rankings. Much has been made about the stage presence of Frances Quinlan and seeing her in person is always such a treat. I wasn’t familiar with the group until I was at TURF last year and our photographer Neil Van encouraged me to go with him to watch them play. Quinlan’s voice is like raspy harshness of Janis Joplin mixed with the aggression and pain in Kurt Cobain’s voice. Watching her live you wonder how she hasn’t completely shredded her vocal chords already as she scream yelps most of her lyrics as she stands on her toes to reach the microphone.

The band was having lots of fun on stage as Quinlan even found time to crack a joke between songs, “Why do elephants drink?” she asked a fan in the back shouted out “because you’re album is great” before she quickly replied “to forget” as the crowd groaned in appreciation. The band played more punk than rock and was teetering towards chaos as Quinlan stood stoically at the front belting out her words. Quinlan’s brother Mark plays drums for the band and almost every time he hit his ride and crash cymbals he would jump out of his stool in excitement. Toronto was apparently the last night of the Hop Along/Speedy Ortiz tour according to Frances, people started to clap and show their appreciation but we were told that we should be booing that it is ending instead. The band had some hardcore fans in attendance as they managed to sing along with almost every song. As excitement finally bubbled over a mini mosh pit erupted during the bands last song.

With a quite quick and efficient set turnover Speedy Ortiz took the stage what seemed like less than twenty minutes after Hop Along ended. The venue was especially hot, as it seems to get any time a moderately popular act plays. Front woman Sadie Dupuis asked the tech crew to turn down the stage lights, as “Hop Along was right, it is really hot up here!” Dupuis said she would make it up to the crowd as she turned on blue lights built into the bottom of her white tennis shoes. Both Devin McKnight and Darl Ferm both wore Hope Along shirts showing mutual appreciation of their openers.

The set was focused mostly on songs from last year’s excellent sophomore release Foil Deer including The Graduate early on as Dupuis’ turquoise coloured lips crooned her witty lyrics in her sparkling microphone. Half way through the set the band actually played a few new songs including one called Saint Fret, which seems to be an older solo song repurposed for the band. Dupuis was quit pumped that the band nailed the new music clearly ready to lay the tracks down and hopefully get started on another record soon. Guitarist Devin McKnight is a recent addition to the band and really elevates their shows as he seemingly can make any sound with his instrument, not dissimilar to someone like Tom Morello minus a million effects pedals.

At what would have been the three quarter mark of the show it became apparent that drummer Mike Falcone was having some issues with his kick drum. Dupuis allowed him to try to sort the issue out as she talked about all the ‘celebrities’ in attendance including everyone from Hamilton; she was jokingly upset that Drake couldn’t be bothered to show up to hang out with all the other celebrities. The band got going again, but it wasn’t working out. After a quick band pow-wow Dupuis announced that they would unfortunately cut their set short and play one more song as they launched into Ka-Prow! one of the bands oldest songs. While it was sad to not see the whole set, the band kept it tight and entertaining and left us with wanting more without overstaying their welcome. Thankfully the venue got the hint and had opened a back door at the beginning of the set making it a sweatbox due to people rocking out, not because they were standing there and breathing like it was prior.

About author

Music Editor at Live in Limbo and Host of Contra Zoom podcast. Dakota is a graduate of Humber College's Acting for Film and Television. He now specializes in knowing all random trivia. He writes about music, sports and film. Dakota's life goal is visit all baseball stadiums, he's at 7.