Sunday, January 26, 2020

A night at the Black Lab

Jeff Andrew by Allan MacInnis

Jeff Andrew, between songs at the Black Lab last night, commented that he was a bit shocked to learn that some people in the audience hadn't been there before. That, I must confess, included me. (I was glad the other person he was referring to - whose not having been there before came up in conversation with Jeff and I - was someone cool, lest I feel self-conscious: that being Conrad, who plays bass in Devil in the Wood Shack and was playing mandolin for Mary Matheson last night). But what can I say? I don't get out to many gigs these days, I'm not entirely keen on exploring the DTES at night - Erika even less so - and I am reluctant to go to any venue where there seems a chance things might be run down or dilapidated. It wasn't! It was a very comfortable, safe, well-run punk space, and as Jeff also remarked, was a great place to see a live show. Better yet, my wife and I were sheltered on the walk from the car from any of the sadder or scarier aspects of the neighbourhood: Erika usually won't even come to shows on East Hastings, since she finds it really upsetting to see people shooting up in doorways, and I was once violently side-checked into a tree by a passing, raging street person in the grips of, uh, what's the euphemism these days, "emotional elevation?" Living insulated out in the suburbs, you get un-used to that sort of thing, making it even more upsetting than when you actually live in that neighbourhood, or regularly walk through it...

...But there was none of that really intense bad weirdness last night - just a few disenfranchised people socializing on the sidewalk or trying to sell things on blankets spread thereon. In fact, the only real weirdness of the night came from a dressy young woman, inside the Black Lab, repeatedly gushing over how "cool" my wife and I were for being there, telling us how we shouldn't change anything at all about ourselves (which, aside from wanting to lose some weight, we hadn't really been planning on doing, making her advising us not to seem a little odd). "I'm serious, don't change anything!"

Uh, thanks!

I mean, sure, we stood out - we probably have more debt, a bigger apartment, and straighter jobs than 90% of the people in the room, and, I mean, we were also the only married couple visible, the two heaviest people there, and two of maybe three people over the age of 40, since, a skinny dude in an Alien Boys t-shirt aside, the audience was mostly filled with a combination of arty musician-types in their 20's (maybe that's what punks look like these days? I don't know anymore). Are Erika and I now middleclass? I guess so, though that feels increasingly like what my parent's generation knew as "working class" - it ain't like we're going on any vacations abroad, folks. Did we make this girl uncomfortable? Was her gushing on us her way of dealing with that? ...We speculated about it afterwards. It seemed friendly, though, and kind of amusing, with maybe only a slight subtext of condescending.

However: great venue, great show, and like I say, being strangely gushed on is not the worst thing that can happen in that 'hood. Fun to peruse the graffiti (ample) and to see creative design elements like a shelf held up by the legs of a mannequin, which may have been secretly positioned so that anyone with their arm hanging over the edge of the shelf looked like they were reaching for the crotch (points to Erika for spotting that, when Jeff was leaning there. We didn't get a picture, though). There was a colourful 'zine library of punk, political, queer, and arty mags, for reading while you were in the venue, including Mongrel 'Zine, whom I wrote for briefly. Also, Elliot of Freak Dream (and formerly the Rebel Spell) was one of the people working, though I didn't trust that I recognized him at first and ended up feeling a bit stupid when I asked if he was, in fact, Elliot. We've mostly just interacted online for the last year or two, what can I say? (My interview with him about Freak Dream is here).

Noelle - one of the people behind the scenes - was on hand to explain a bit of the predilection punks have these days for cassette culture (which would require me to buy another piece of stereo equipment to participate in, which I have no plans on doing, thanks: thrift store cassette players are very often dodgy, and there's simply no room in the stereo cabinet for another console, all parts of which have also, note, been sourced from thrift stores). I have intentions, once I clear a few projects, to write about her band, Chaos, Disorder and Panic, get some of her stories about Todd Serious in print, and explore her insights into the city's politics and music scene, which I'm curious about, because, hey, indeed, my way of life is probably pretty remote from hers (but don't go changing, Noelle!).

Incidentally, about that one dude in the venue noticeably older than Erika or myself: it was kinda fun to remember that when I poked my exhausted nose into the Rickshaw to catch a few songs from the Adicts' spectacular set last year, I mused on Facebook that some of the kids present must have wondered who the "old guy in the Alien Boys t-shirt" was. I wasn't wearing that shirt last night, but the gaunt fella in his 60's (I'm guessing), who danced so expressively all night, was wearing that shirt, and I caught myself wondering about him who he was, then realized that... well, you get the idea. I was participating in the same mindset that I imagined directed at me that previous night. No one gushed on him, that I could see (don't change anything, old guy!), but his dancing became part of the night; loose-jointed and supple, he seemed like a jangly marionette with a superb sense of timing.

The music was uniformly great, too. I shot some video of Spencer Jo and Jeff Andrew (covering the Rebel Spell), and you can see the dancer dancing in both (one of several people who took the floor that night, I should add). I wish I'd recorded Spencer's song about class privilege - the punkiest song of the night, in terms of the ferocity of his strumming; I gather both he and Jeff will be working on new albums this spring, with Spencer flying in from Calgary, I guess, and I'm excited about both of those, though I don't really know Spencer or his other project, the River Jacks, at all (or Calgary's Martyr Index, whom Spencer covered at one point).

Spencer Jo by Allan MacInnis

I did not get any vids of Mary Matheson, but Erika and I loved her set and bought her CD. She started with a cover of Jolie Holland's "Old Fashioned Morphine," also on Mary's CDMaryonette; later, she would do a pretty awesome cover of "I Put a Spell On You," which she introduced as a Nina Simone song (it's originally by Screamin' Jay Hawkins), and another of "Heartattack and Vine," a fantastic mid-period Tom Waits song, from just before he started to go "out there," musically. She also does "Fumblin' with the Blues" on Maryonette, which makes me wonder why she opts for older Waits songs, since I think that period of his music is not so widely known among his younger fans, despite some great tunes throughout. That's part of what I was chatting about with Jeff and Conrad, actually: whether any of the sort of folk/ blues/ swing/ oldtimey revival among punks would be happening without Tom Waits. Conrad agreed that it wouldn't be. Cool that Mary has the cojones - or whatever the girl equivalent is - to actually interpret songs like these, not just cover them. It is entirely possible that she did "Fumblin' with the Blues" in her set, and I failed to clue in, since I haven't owned The Heart of Saturday Night in some years.

Mary Matheson by Allan MacInnis

With covers as fun as that, it's neat to note that the strongest songs of Mary's set were Mary's own, like "Damn Blue Eyes.' She probably did her whole EP during the course of the night, I kinda lost track. I had known of Mary's photography before last night, and pictures she took have elevated some of my interviews with Jeff Andrew, like this one, but I hadn't heard her sing before. She was amazing. A ton of enthusiasm in her delivery, and a really fun fashion sense, including the best hat of the night, and illustrated leggings (which apparently she's had for ten years, my wife learned afterwards) that compliment her tattoos in such a way that you end up wondering if the leggings are transparent and you're seeing her tats through them, or if the pictures - hot air balloons? - are in fact on the leggings, which, as I say, they are!

Erika also really liked the bumblebee patch on the back of the jean jacket of the girl who sang a song or two with Spencer Jo (whose Bandcamp page is here, by the by), and was really impressed by Jeff Andrew's keyboard player, Adam Farnsworth, who was expressive in his playing indeed, and whom we've probably seen before with Joey Only. I was glad she had a great night, was glad I had a great night, and have added the Black Lab to my list of places where I like to see shows.

Don't go changin', Black Lab! (See you again soon).

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