I love this time of year in Toronto. It’s almost officially summer, and when the weather cooperates like it has been for the most part, there’s nothing better than walking from venue to venue when our fair city is buzzing with music everywhere.
North by Northeast closed off Yonge between Queen and Dundas for a weekend-long free street festival. About the only thing that could keep me from seeing a beautifully breezy outdoor show was the lure of scuzzy, garage punk blues a short hike north at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in the form of homecoming heroes Black Pistol Fire.
I am genuinely curious as to why the duo of Kevin McKeown and Eric Owen weren’t a part of NXNE. For an event that seems to pride itself on talent raised in the T-Dot, I would argue there aren’t many bigger success stories than BPF right now. After moving from T.O. to Austin Texas in 2010 and building a reputation of being one of the most exciting live acts you’re likely to ever see (thanks to trips back supporting the likes of Hanni El Khatib, Gary Clark Jr. and ZZ Ward), the boys finally hit pay dirt with fifth album Deadbeat Graffiti, as lead track “Lost Cause” went to #1 on Canadian alt-rock radio. McKeown thanked local stations the Edge and Indie88 “for playing the goddamn song for us” and explained how headlining at the Phoenix is a dream come true due to all the shows him and Owen had seen there, admitting however that they usually ended up passed out drunk at the back. Besides pushing the neighbourhood’s noise limits, these ‘won’t ever forget their roots’ Canucks also stretched the boundaries of what a 2-piece band can do. I would know, I’ve seen my fair share of ’em!
I’m going to refrain from using the adjective “thunderous” in describing their set, as it’s in the name of openers Thunderpussy. Very ’80s glam, NSFW-dressed foursome of females who’ve got guitars…and know how to use ’em. That’s a very weak ZZ Top reference I know; forget about being eye candy in a sexist, “Legs”-type video from that time. These Seattleites are more likely to run down any chauvinist that gets in their way…driving that cherry-red hot rod, no doubt!
The only reason I really brought up ZZ Top is because them and Black Pistol Fire both play a semblance of what could be called “blues”, although McKeown and Owen sped up the genre beyond all recognition, turning it right on its head. Over the course of a dozen extended jams, the hardworking no-gimmicks-needed pair left anyone who thought they were up for a Friday night rock workout out of breath and exhausted. But if they were like me, probably still wanting more, as it was over all too soon. McKeown wields his six-stringed axe as if it was an appendage to his arm. The only time awesomeness wasn’t emanating from his person was when the amp power temporary went out.
By only the second song, he was jumping off Owen’s drum kit, and it didn’t take me long to lose track of how many times he crisscrossed the stage (once while doing the Chuck Berry duck walk), barely pausing to solicit claps – not that the already wound-up audience needed much encouraging. He didn’t miss a guitar lick even when diving into the crowd during “Bully”. And with hair more befitting a heavy metaller, Eric Owen is an absolute beast on the skins, pounding away on them with an abandon that’s much more precise than reckless. How many other drummers can you name restrained enough to use maraca shakers instead of sticks as Owen did on “Hard Luck”?
I can’t believe I’ve never said this about Black Pistol Fire before – Their show is LIT. All I can add is thank Gawd the Phoenix had the A/C going. I’m a firm believer that rock has the power to save, but so can recirculated air!