Photos by Randall Vasquez
The Sunday crowd at the Danforth was a bit of a mixed bag, a good representation of the three, pretty disparate acts performing that night: Dilly Dally, MUNA and the main event, Grouplove. First on stage was Dilly Dally, a Toronto-based grungey punk band that many in the crowd were here for. A local favourite, Grouplove’s Andrew Wessen described them to me as “a mix of Niravana and Hole”, and while that’s a high bar to meet Dilly Dally are pretty damn close. A highlight of their set was a cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself” that was as just about as un-Drake as it could get, bringing a dark scream atmosphere that somehow suited the lyrics perfectly. Next in the eclectic mix was the L.A. band MUNA, a woman-centric pop ensemble, if you can even call it pop. Their sound mixes pop with something more momentous, each track seeming like it needed a movie to soundtrack immediately. The lead singer, in her long, formless black dress, was like a priestess holding court, and their stage presence and energy was exceedingly polished and confident. There’s no question in my mind that they’ll be back in Toronto soon, headlining their own tour.
Right off the bat, Grouplove made it clear this was not going to be your average show. A full on 8 Mile-esque hype man came on first, the likes of which haven’t been seen since that rap battle you went to in the 90s to prove you were ‘hip’. It was shocking to the point where I was wondering if there was a third opener, but no, out came shirtless drummer Ryan Rabin who banged out an opening solo as the other band members filled the stage at full energy. They opened with “I’m With You” from 2013’s Spreading Rumours, featuring both colourful lights and colourful hair on leads Hannah Hooper (red) and Christian Zucconi (green). They physically threw themselves into the music, bending over onto their guitars with every beat, not quite head banging but “body banging” doesn’t quite have the same ring. Next was my favourite “Good Morning”, sung beautifully by smiling Hannah in a leopard print cat suit and Christian in a long floral dress. Christian ran all across the stage, constantly straining the mic cord as far as it would go. This restriction led him to jump into the audience for a quick crowd surf, unable to hold back anymore.
The atmosphere was no holds barred fun. There was a childish sense about it, not in the music or skill level or even age of the crowd but the unrestrained happiness that flowed from the band to the audience and back. The room shook with synchronized clapping to the beat in “Itchin’ On A Photograph” while Hannah embraced it at the edge of the stage, arms outstretched and smile wide, beckoning the crowd closer. In “Traumatized”, Christian points a finger at Hannah while singing out the lyrics “she is my only one true love”, a momentary treat for fans who know of their relationship and happy addition of baby Grouplove last year. During the 2011 hit single “Tongue Tied” the crowd screams eagerly at the opening chords and the band embraces the energy, Hannah even going as far as to walk off the stage and into the audience, singing and dancing with fans. “Cannonball”, from their new album Big Mess, is a bit of a departure for the group. Hitting on a deeper, more classic rock sound, guitarist Andrew Wessen takes on lead vocals. Though it’s decidedly different, Hannah and Christian still add harmony in the chorus, tying it back to the classic Grouplove sound.
During “Borderlines and Aliens”, a baseball-clad bro beside me encourages strangers around him to dance and sing, enthusiastically screaming out every word. No one minds. It’s perhaps the friendliest show I’ve ever been to, each person letting go of pretension and self-consciousness to live in the moment together, cheesy as that sounds. Later, Hannah gives a short speech about how easy it is to get down about how shitty the world is, but lets us know that “there’s also good news, and good shit that’s happening, so welcome to your life fuckers!” The crowd begins to jump as “Welcome To Your Life”, begins. The song is unmistakeably theirs, every bit the hopeful hippie-esque intensity people so love them for. It’s hard to believe they can keep so positive in times like these, but it turns out even these beacons of light are effected: “Everything’s so fucked up in the United States, it’s nice to get out,” Christian says. “If some bad shit goes down in a few days we’re fucking moving here.” The reaction makes it clear that they are more than welcome.
They end with fan favourite “Colours” and the crowd erupts. I can’t help but shell out $35 for a band shirt after the show, not only to display my appreciation for the group but also to commemorate the night. Concerts bring us together for a common passion but it’s not everyday you feel such positivity from every corner of a space, and I feel silly for being doubtful when reading reviews calling Grouplove “the best live band”. Are they my favourite band I’ve seen live? No. Is it one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, taking into account music, crowd, and absolute fucking joy? It most definitely is.