Tuesday night was a good time to be a fan of British music in Toronto. Electronic duo Disclosure settled into a sold out show at The Danforth Music Hall; 19-year-old singer-songwriter Jake Bugg played to the Sound Academy; and TOY made their Canadian debut (as part of their first ever North American tour) at the Horseshoe Tavern.
Formed in 2010, the five-piece were on this side of the pond in support of their 2013 sophomore record, Join The Dots. For Toronto fans, it’s taken a while for the band to venture up our way. Some false starts – including two previously cancelled appearances – have kept us patiently waiting.
I had first heard of the band following appearances at SXSW last year and have increasingly heard mention of them following the release of their second album. Their self-titled debut, put out in 2012, seemed to barely make a dent in North America, however –falling by the wayside in the increasingly popular shoegaze/psychedelic market.
But attention to the band is warranted, as their show at the Horseshoe Tavern would prove. Taking to the stage and looking and acting ever bit as you’d expect them to (think: all black ensembles, skinny jeans, long hair, plenty of rock star posturing, and fairly limited stage banter) TOY started things off with the lead track from their debut. “Colours Running Out”. It launched what would become a recurring theme for the night – an assault of guitars from Tom Dougall and Dominic O’Dair, spiraling instrumentals, and an interesting added dose of electronics from the band’s lone female member, Alejandra Diez.
Throughout the night, it was Diez’s work on synths and keys that separated the band from the typical sound of shoegaze, cutting through feedback and adding unexpected melodic lines.
It didn’t take long for the crowd to warm up to TOY’s delivery, audience members soon shouting at the band to turn up the volume. They obliged – and also seemed to pick up a spare bit of energy from the request and enthusiasm.
Musically, it’s safe to draw comparisons between TOY and fellow English band The Horrors – and not just because of the latter’s endorsement and the pair’s frequent touring together. As TOY’s debut single “Left Myself Behind” built up, audience members began surging forward. It wasn’t a total mosh, but there were certainly enough punk elements to the band’s attitude and delivery to get people excited.
On record, they’ve embraced a more polished sound with Dougall’s vocals coming off much cleaner and brighter. Live, his approach to the microphone was more laissez-faire. At times, this bordered on flat – but it also appeared that the band was quite self-aware of this, offsetting his vocals with frequently shifting instrumentals.
They also knew how to keep things interesting. Just when you thought you had TOY figured out, they dropped in a completely unexpected guitar line and managed to end songs in an entirely different place from where they started – as they showed in “Dead & Gone”, another track from their debut.
“Fall Out Of Love”, the album-ender on Join The Dots, also had a drastically different start and end. It began rather ominously – Charlie Salvidge on drums and Maxim Barron on bass providing the introduction – before morphing into a full-on guitar-wall. They followed this up with “My Heart Skips A Beat” and ended with the titular “Join The Dots”, forgoing an encore in its place. The last number would feel almost at home on a Tame Impala record – if not quite so vigorously delivered.
It will be interesting to see how much of an embracement the North American market will give to TOY. Frankly, it could go either way. There’s ambition with this band and it’s all presented with a fairly brisk, down-to-business approach. Their Canadian debut was certainly impressive albeit not entirely perfect. But with this kind of music and sound, it doesn’t necessarily need to be. Heading forward, they’ll just have to work on keeping momentum up.
Thanks to Collective Concerts for media access.