Border towns are a wonderful thing, at least those that dot the highways and plains along the 1,500-plus miles shared by the US and Canada. Proximity to Southern Ontario granted those of us who grew up in Western New York with access to shows like The Polka-Dot Door when we were kids and Degrassi as we got older, but most importantly, it allowed us access to music essentially unknown by most listeners further south than, say, Pittsburgh. So on this Thanksgiving Day for my friends to the North, I’m thankful for the music you’ve given me–bands that fill stadiums in Buffalo and across the provinces but play intimate venues in the DC area and elsewhere in the US far away from the border.
Thanks also to the bands for traveling down this way. It might not be easy and the US is a notoriously “tough nut to crack,” as I heard from a few of you this past week, but you do have fans who are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to come out to shows and lend our voices to your efforts.
The Glorious Sons, “Lightning”
I love these guys. Winners of a radio station Battle of the Bands-type contest in 2013, the five-piece band from Kingston, Ontario, are gaining some traction in the States thanks to a recently completed string of shows, including a set at DC9 in Washington and the Rock Allegiance Festival outside Philadelphia which surely earned them new devotees. Brothers Brett and Jay Emmons are joined by Andrew Young, Adam Paquette and Chris Huot for some good old-fashioned rock, played with energy for days and leaving audiences with a sense of wonder– given his unbridled movements and wild, hair-flying gestures as he smashes around onstage, how as Brett not given himself a concussion yet? Ask him and you’ll get a smirk and a nod of acknowledgment. These guys give it everything they’ve got and then some. Their Contender tour kicks off in Winnipeg this week and shows are selling out across Canada. Check them out and thank me later.
The Trews, “Hold Me in Your Arms”
Another band led by brothers, this time Colin and John-Angus MacDonald, joined by Jack Syperek on bass and Gavin Maguire on drums, The Trews are originally from Nova Scotia but make Toronto their stomping grounds these days. One of the best guitar solos I’ve ever seen came from a show at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto in April 2014, when John-Angus went on a seven-minute tear reaching every corner of the stage and ended up behind the drum kit as the sold-out crowd went wild. Insane. But what makes this band special is the lyrical flexibility and the range of emotion in the band. From lighthearted songs like “The Power of Positive Drinking” and “Ish and Maggie”– one of the great singalongs in recent memory–to “Sixty-Five Roses,” “Highway of Heroes” and “Gun Control,” The Trews has great social commentary sprinkled among the riffs.
Dan Mangan and Blacksmith, “Mouthpiece”
Ok, apologies for repeating this song, but ohmygod have you heard the intro here? A hypnotic swirling vortex of goodness followed by that voice. And the song just builds. And builds. And builds. Holy hell. Literate lyrics and screaming passion, Mangan’s a force to be reckoned with and a songwriter who paints lush portraits. He’s also one of the artists behind the #ImagineOct20th movement, but I’ll leave the politics out for the moment. Mangan’s embarking on a short solo tour through Western Canada starting in November and it’s well worth the trip to check him out if you’ve never. Brace yourself.
Arkells, “Come to Light”
A relatively new musical love of mine, Arkells are just fun. Fun to watch, fun to listen to, fun to sing along with at the top of your lungs in the car. That’s not meant to be an oversimplification–these are hardworking guys from Hamilton who change things up mid-concert to fit the mood of the room, jumping into the crowd of a few hundred fans this past Friday night in the DC area to play an acoustic version of “Book Club” just because, then jumped back onstage with members of opening acts Secret Someone (an incredible group out of Brooklyn with harmonizing skills that would put anyone who uses Autotune to shame, or at least should) and Yukon Blonde (!!!) for a cover of Rod Stewart’s “Young Hearts Be Free Tonight.”
This one goes back to my high school days, but it’s still a great song from a great band that’s recently gotten back together for a new album. “Silver” is one of those tunes that always got cranked in the car, especially in the fall, along with “Machine Punch Through” from the same album (though the latter is more driven and aggressive but lacks some of David Usher’s soaring soprano we get here). For some reason I don’t quite understand, they’re always linked with The Tea Party (also recently reunited) in my music collection.
And now that I’m feeling a touch nostalgic…
What a voice. The Winnipeg-based band was everywhere in the mid-to-late ’90s and their fourth release, Silent Radar remains a great listen. I’m not qualified to call myself the biggest Watchmen fan here at Geeks and Beats — that honor goes to our own Vanessa Azzoli–but I do love their music. For those days when I’m feeling a bit homesick, their tune “Any Day Now” makes things a little better, even though it’s not the happiest song in their repertoire, and “Say Something” is a great song for driving on an open road.
The Tragically Hip, “At the Hundredth Meridian”
Including this one because I’m pretty sure that even though we WNYers know the “buffalo” mentioned in the song is the animal and not the city, it gets shouted especially loudly in concerts. Plenty has been written about the Hip and the love border towns have for the band, so there’s no need for me to wax poetic.