Thursday night I headed to one of my favorite dive’s to see Topanga play. I had heard some good words about them on Twitter and checked out their EP (which by the way is available FREE on their Bandcamp and Facebook pages -go download it now so you can hear what I’m talking about in this review) and liked what I heard so I was curious to see if their live performance was as strong.
I arrived just as the band before them was finishing up, and the place was fairly busy so I knew it would probably be a rowdy night, but when Topanga took the stage and opened with “Oceans” people started to get crazy. I must say this crowd was one of my least favorite crowds at a show ever. Obnoxious doesn’t even begin to cover it. Two super lame dudes were headbanging right up front throughout the whole set, and I would have enjoyed the actual show much more if those obsessive attention seekers weren’t there taking attention away from this great band. At one point I think they even pathetically tried to mosh, and failed hard. Later on I had the good fortune of standing next to a couple that must have thought I was there to watch them make out and bump into me the whole time. “It’s not the band I hate, it’s the fans” is everyone’s favorite Sloan lyric for this exact reason. I hate this kind of crowd with a passion – but it’s what you’d expect to find at a bar informally known as Sneaky Disease – and I think the band actually fed off that over the top energy, so it probably worked in their favor.
Back to the music – they played “Sick N Cold” next which is a great singalong song I was more familiar with, so I was able to ignore the annoying dudes and get into the music at that point. After a few more obscure tracks they went into “Back Against the Wall” which is one of the more punk rock songs on their EP, making the crowd even crazier. They followed it up with a cover of a song that I knew the words to, but couldn’t remember who actually sang it. I later found out that it was Gob, lol! Before playing it, lead singer Stefan Babcock commented “If you don’t know this song I feel sorry for your childhood.” Gob was a pretty terrible 90s Canadian ‘punk’ band, but I too would feel sorry for one’s childhood if they didn’t have the pleasure of watching MuchMusic play a poorly made zombie video and singing “I hear you calling, callin for me out in the night” over and over again. It made for a serious nostalgia trip and the whole room was singing along.
Topanga ended their set with the most popular song off their EP “Lionheart”, and this was the one I was waiting for. The audience loved it, and the band was so adorably excited at the incredibly positive crowd reaction they received. The stage banter between the guys also made for a great show. They know how to include the crowd and really have fun on stage, which is something a lot of bands seem to miss.
As they were playing a dirty dive bar, they kept the set focused on the punk aspect of their sound. This made me a little sad as my favorite songs on the EP are their folkier songs “Fogo Island” and “Whiskey and Water”, a tune that is as gorgeous as anything Wilco or Drive By Truckers ever made. I love it. You should go download the EP if only just to hear that song, I’m serious. The fact that they bounce so easily from two opposite genres speaks loudly for the potential of this band. Throw in the fact that they’ve only been together for less than a year and there’s nothing stopping them.
It’s no surprise to me that Stefan works for my favorite label of all time – Arts & Crafts – and manages other bands. The band is marketed extremely well which has something to do with their quick rise to a packed show at a great Toronto venue. They smartly make you like their Facebook page or sign up for their mailing list to download the EP, and they are incredibly active on all social platforms, constantly engaging with fans and seeking out people like me to come to their shows. Their bio is hilarious and speaks to their strengths, and they have a clearly branded look and feel to all their pages.
Also appreciated is the fact that they are all incredibly nice, friendly guys. They want to talk to all their fans. They appreciate each and every person that comes to the shows, and make it a point to talk to you personally if they can.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the other band I saw that night, Wildlife. A great GREAT sounding band by the way. I left their set so blown away by how impressive they were – the songs were all excellent, they had incredible energy and a pulled together performance, the guys in the band switched between instruments seamlessly like pros, they ended the set with a SPRINGSTEEN cover, and they looked like a band (which seems to be where many new/local bands miss the mark until they get on a label that hires them a stylist). Sure Wildlife’s look is just a rip off of the all black wardrobe Interpol made popular back in 2004, but it’s infinitely more pulled together and classy than the dirty tee and jeans look that is so rampant in new music. So yeah, I adored Wildlife but trying to talk to the singer after the show was like pulling teeth. He wanted nothing to do with ‘fans’ and they are in no way popular enough yet to have such a ‘too cool’ attitude, not to mention the best bands never have that attitude no matter how popular they get, because it’s fucking lame.
I really wanted to write about how much I loved Wildlife, but when I think back on the night what I remember most was how turned off I was by that guy when I tried to compliment him on his music and he just walked away halfheartedly saying “thanks”. “I could be your good friend, I could be your good lover” is the main lyric in my favorite song of theirs “Stand in the Water”, but I find it hard to believe he has ever been either of those things to anyone. I’ve talked to much more successful musicians and none were ever that rude. But that said, the other guys in the band might be totally nice guys and it’s possible he was having a bad night or something, so I won’t hold it against them or their wonderful music. You can download their EP for free as well on their Bandcamp, and it’s some of the best music you can get legally for free right now so check it out. If you like Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah you’ll love Wildlife.
All things considered it was a really great show and I’m glad I had the opportunity to check it out. Both bands have received considerable play from me ever since attending and I’m overwhelmed at the sheer amount of awesome music being made in Toronto right now.