Editorial: Amber Waves
Photography: Joseph Deogracias
It’s 11:10p.m. and we’re currently lost in a tsunami of sweaty people, our bodies colliding like wreckage on the open sea. It’s wild and uncontrollable and perfectly fitting.
After all, Brody Dalle is holding court on stage and like the Pied Piper of the fairy tale realm, her song compels us.
But let’s rewind first to the start of our night in the increasingly claustrophobic space of the Horseshoe Tavern. It’s a Wednesday and Canadian Music Week is kicking into high gear with a trio of acts serving as sonic acceleration. Opening the evening are The Box Tiger, the Portland-Toronto fusion of a group that has been steadily building a faithful following on both sides of the border. In a set built primarily around last year’s brilliant Set Fire, Sonia Sturino leads the proceedings with a calm poise that stands in sharp relief to the riffs pouring out of the speakers. In an audience clearly there for the main attraction, there is the initial hesitation: who is this band? Are they good?
By the time the band is rocking through single “Set Fire To Your Friends”, I’m no longer one of the few fans in the room. The audience eagerly consumes the soulful vocals and catchy pop-kissed indie rock filling the room. “You’re fucking amazing!” one girl calls us. The crowd is hungry for more, swaying and nodding along to new tune “The Hive”, vicious single “Knives” and a stunning version of “Hospital Choir” — the best I’ve heard it. The energy is on, the switch engaged.
But this is hardly surprising to me, given the following artists like Brody Dalle draw. As Dalle’s recent collaborator and Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson told Drowned In Sound in the lead-up to her band’s latest release:
I feel that in the Nineties when we first came out there were a lot of different types of women being heard in the mainstream. In the last ten years all it has been is women singing pretty ditties and showing their titties. …Plenty of pop music. Plenty of catchy, all-singing, all-dancing girls out there, but there’s not really many agitators or provocateurs or women in disagreement with what’s going on.
Second opener Kennedy Cult may not boast a powerful front woman, but they’re all about artistic provocation. From the faceless visage of the assassinated president on their drum kit to the undercurrent of thinking harder and questioning everything in their lyrics, there’s a distinct flavour of punk beneath a sheen of 80’s new wave. It’s raw and gritty beneath the surface, literally pulsing in the bass lines and singer Ryan Kennedy’s throat. The interwoven horn solos accent the songs, making them bolder, brighter. I’m not certain whether I want to dance or mosh, but I definitely want to pay attention. Highlights include “Alibi” and opener “Bad Habits” — tracks that particularly capture the old meets new and evolves vibe of the band.
The volume of crowd chatter hits the proverbial eleven as Brody Dalle takes the stage. Unassuming and in no need of an extended introduction or welcoming riff, she’s off and running through “Rat Race”, one of several tracks from last month’s Diploid Love in the set. From out of nowhere, two guys run and slam their way into the centre of the mass of fans and the circle widens in earnest. They become the spark for a four-alarm fire of fans, spirited on by the trademark rasp and cutting lyrics of the former face of The Distillers.
Speaking of… it is when Dalle launches into the first Distillers track of the night, “I Am A Revenant” that the above tsunami is in full control of the masses. Joseph — no stranger to rock but certainly a mosh pit novice — makes like the Borg and happily assimilates, jumping and grinning after stowing the camera for safety. And while Dalle may have resisted putting her name proper on a post-Distillers release until now (instead adopting the moniker Spinnerette) because of feeling unsure, there is no sign of hesitation or second guessing now. She demands we surrender and dance to her tune, because she is a powerhouse vocalist, a rare breed these days, and she is not taking your excuses, fuck you very much.
I got the feeling I can break
I love anything bad standing in my way
You’re the reason I can stay
And fight you to the death…
The set is a perfect balance of past and present, carefully feeding the needs of the old guard and new: new track “Meet The Foetus/Oh The Joy” is nestled snugly between Distillers tunes “Dismantle Me” and “Sick Of It All”. With a winking dedication to Rob Ford, she barrels through Spinnerette tune “Ghetto Love” and the crowd roars in approval. Somewhere, Ford’s brother is trying to spin this into a positive campaign song, I think, and still, I move.
There’s a part of me that wonders at the juxtaposition of my showcase choices to open the festival. From Nirvana to a legendary female rocker inspired by them, it would seem I’ve been wandering in my teen years these days. Maybe it’s because there’s a critical piece of the puzzle lacking in the current music scene. Maybe that’s why two young women beside us drove five hours for last night’s show.
Where are the women who truly rock? If you asked the Horseshoe last night, they’ve been hidden in the Underworld. But like Persephone, they’re emerging from the shadows, louder than before. They will have their time to surface and reign once again.
Brody Dalle’s Diploid Love is available now and worth every penny. For an immediate fix, check out Brody’s collab with Garbage, “Girls Talk” and our gallery below.