It’s easy to commend bands when they get to the (literal) stage in their career where they’ve got production working in their favour. From light shows to an excellent mix, these shiny distractions tend to contribute to a set’s favourable outcome. The same can be said for a crowd – the swarm of sweaty bodies around you can make the mundane turn into something cult-like.
But, as is the case with many bands starting out, Los Angeles four-piece Francisco the Man isn’t at this point yet. Despite picking up positive press from the likes of Pitchfork and Stereogum in 2014, The Cave (or the venue above Lee’s Palace that typically turns into an indie kid, U of T dance party on the weekends) was woefully empty by the time I walked in – and the band was already playing.
The lack of a crowd was admittedly a little deadening, with those in attendance sat around the periphery of the room and a large swash of dance floor separating the band from the crowd. If they were bothered by it though, it didn’t show – playing through their first few numbers as if the intersecting shoegaze guitars; grounding, busy bass line; and washed out vocals were built for this sort of setting.
Response from the crowd was tepid at first – the limited Toronto audience happy to applaud but reserved in otherwise signs of life – but by the halfway mark, more people had trickled through the doors and had finally broken that performer-crowd barrier, standing and watching as Francisco the Man played songs from their 2014 Loose Ends debut.
Soon enough, the songs that sounded lo-fi and DIY became more fleshed out, upbeat, and ambitious: a sound that could easily play well to a large outdoor festival – something Toronto isn’t exactly lacking in this year.
While vocals from Scotty Cantino inched a bit too close to the whiney side of the spectrum, the majority of their material was bright and played well. The off-kilter “Big Ideas” worked because it swung for the hooks; “Progress”, meanwhile, held a lot of potential for catchy-single material but needs some refinement on the aforementioned vocal delivery.
(Side note: I also can’t profess to being a fan of the band name. As I’m sure they’re aware, it rings way too close to Portugal. The Man and I am not too sure it’s worth the comparison. But I digress.)
The band – who were making their first visit to Toronto and will hopefully be back to more people – ended with a song deep in Radiohead In Rainbows instrumentation. Again, the guitars, bass, and drum worked but the singing made it a tad too jarring. They seem cognizant of this, however, and smartly ended with an instrumental section and quick nods to the crowd as a sign of thanks. All in all, it was a good showing and I can only hope they’re able to either get on a tour with a band that will bring in a crowd or that they’ll be able to figure out their own draw for next time. Sunny, summer stages await.