Gig Review: Patti Smith and Her Band at Victoria Park

I never actually expected to see Patti Smith live, let alone see her live twice in the span of nine months. I also didn’t expect that one of those shows would be in New York City and the other in London. Life has a funny way of realizing dreams that you didn’t even know existed, and it’s a wonderful feeling to allow those unexpected visions to wash over your body like slow-rolling waves. To stand in awe, watching someone you adore go through the motions that made you want to follow them. To immerse yourself in a crowd, faces lit up and hearts full of love, and to feel the unity that only comes along with collective experience. All of those boxes got ticked when I saw Patti at Victoria Park on Sunday night, and I’m planning on holding onto every one of those feelings as long as I possibly can.

I bought tickets to this show as soon as it got announced. I was on the credit card information page before I could even fathom what my hands were doing, my heart moving my limbs rather than my head. Back then it felt ages away, and I was in a state of both shock and denial when I boarded the coach to London on Sunday morning. It was only once I stepped onto the festival grounds that reality began to settle in, my body ignited with electricity and anticipation as I weaved my way into the crowd. And then she was in front of us and there were tears in my eyes and my voice left my throat and all I could do was watch while the woman on stage somehow managed to change me all over again.

As if the sheer fact of seeing Patti Smith wasn’t enough to kill me, she started off her set with a reading of “Footnote to Howl” by Allan Ginsberg. The incessant repetition of Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! felt like a recognition of the holiest parts of every member of the audience and of Patti herself as she stood there channeling Ginsberg’s words, reminding us all that The world is holy! The soul is holy! Everything is holy! Everybody’s holy! I lost my breath for a little while, my mouth hanging open as I took in the scene before me: Patti’s grey hair hanging over her shoulders like a cloak, her brown boots pressed into the stage, her hands holding open a clipboard, a sticker pressed onto the back that read “Howl if you love City Lights Books.” She is as devoted to those who guide her soul as I am devoted to her, and all of that seemed to be boiled down into this singular moment at the beginning of the concert.

After the poem, the band plowed into ‘People Have the Power,’ a track that is decades old but doesn’t show any signs of losing its relevance. I made desperate attempts to sing along, but all I could really do was cry, and I eventually resorted to watching Patti do what she does best, my eyes swimming with tears and my face certainly displaying a rather insane array of emotions.  I managed to scramble out a few lines of the chorus, every member of the crowd standing with their hands in the air and their voices screaming words of revolution, and I have never felt anything more whole or unified.

‘Summer Cannibals’ followed, and it felt heavy and perfect. Patti hangs onto a golden fountain of youth, all her anger and passion and emotion coming out when she performs, and it was incredible to watch. She then played ‘Citizen Ship,’ another song that remains politically-charged and remarkably important, and the shift in energy was palpable as we all listened to her words, facing the truth of the lyrics and spinning the track into a call to action.

The force of her message didn’t stop there. The entire performance was laced with meaning, and she was preaching to the choir as she spoke and sang to the crowd. Her cover of ‘Mind Games’ by John Lennon was followed by simple words urging us to “make love, not war.” All our voices seemed to rise a little while we chanted Love is the answer and you know that for sure, every member of the crowd riding the high of kindred spirits and messages of love and peace and community. She played ‘Beds Are Burning’ by Midnight Oil, too, and the takeaway was always the same – that we can’t remain stagnant anymore, can’t continue to stand by while the Earth goes up in flames, can’t keep our voices quiet when we all have things that need to be heard.

The set was rounded out with a trifecta of tracks that will likely never come close to being topped. My jaw dropped when the first chords of ‘Pissing in a River’ wafted over the speakers, and I lost myself in the song as I added my voice to the air above Victoria Park, screaming an endless mantra of Come back, come take me back along with the rest of the crowd. She then moved into ‘Land’ and ‘Gloria,’ and my world shrank to that single moment as London was bathed in golden hour light and Patti played my favourite song and I got to sing along. The band left the stage after a final admission of Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine, and I stood in place for a moment before turning and making my way out of the festival, another shred of my heart left suspended above Patti’s body.

I am left in constant awe of the effect that Patti Smith has on me. The way she speaks up, pulling words out of her mouth that allow the followers at her feet to find freedom and creativity and light. Her movement on stage, how she dances just to feel something, her infectious gestures thrumming through the crowd as we all begin to mirror her. Her mistakes and fumbles and the unapologetic nature with which she backs up and does it all over again just because she can. She holds nothing back. When she’s there, she’s all there – her body and her soul and her emotions and light and love. And it’s all endless, stretching on into the future and never seeming to disappear.

Patti shows up, for herself and for the world. And people come out in droves for her, following the trail of light she leaves across the globe. She is purposeful and she creates meaning and she calls, loudly, for the members of every crowd to be and do the same. She wants to lift people up, and she does, she always does. Days later, I still feel the glow of her energy around me, but I feel my glow, too, and I’m sure I’ll feel that for weeks to come. She exists in me just as I exist in her, and I will always be grateful that I get to experience that in real life, throwing my entire being into a physical connection with a woman whose footsteps I will follow until they disappear.


Gig Review: The Vaccines at Alexandra Palace

I have sat down to write this post one million times. I wanted it to sound swishy and read like poetry. I wanted it to perfectly describe how it feels to see your favourite band live, encapsulating every nuanced feeling in only a few words. I was hoping it would write itself, uncurling onto my document fully-formed and perfect. Despite the countless attempts and the breaks and the dancing around to The Vaccines’ best tracks, none of that has happened, and I still feel like my heart is about to cave in on itself whenever I think about last Saturday night. The point is that I finally saw The Vaccines, and although it’s cliché and overdone, the show was ninety minutes of perfection and I never want to go back to the life I lived before it occurred.

The Vaccines have been my favourite band for over six years, and I’ve waited just as long to see them play a headline show. In 2013 I was graced by their presence when they opened for Mumford & Sons at a Toronto gig, but a constant stream of missed connections and age restrictions and festivals that were close but not close enough resulted in half a decade without them. It was a very, very happy coincidence that I ended up studying in England while they were in the midst of touring a new album, and the serendipitous nature of it all is not lost on me.

I’ll admit that there was a lot riding on the show at Alexandra Palace. I arrived at nine-thirty in the morning and proceeded to spend the next nine hours waiting for a coveted space right at the barrier. The time passed quickly and it felt like seconds before I was standing in the massive venue, my skin prickling with excitement and my heart pounding louder than usual. Opening acts whenyoung and Dream Wife were entertaining and well-versed, but it wasn’t until The Vaccines waltzed on stage – to ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA, no less – that the night truly reached its peak.

There isn’t a feeling that comes close to the electric rush of being graced with the presence of a band you adore. I made every attempt to wrap my head around each singular moment, but thirty seconds of their show was enough for me to become consumed by the monumentality of what was happening right in front of me. They pummelled straight into ‘Nightclub’ before I even had the chance to process their physicality, and it didn’t take long for my body to respond to the melody, my mouth opening around the words as if it was second nature. After that they went straight into ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra),’ and ‘Teenage Icon’ completed the trifecta of hard-hitting opening tracks.

Once The Vaccines got started, they didn’t really seem to stop. There are moments that stand out and moments that made me forget my own body and moments that took my breath away, but for the most part everything blurred together in a dance that resulted in a near-constant state of pure, unadulterated joy. The band played as if it was a life or death situation, and the audience responded in a similar way, raising themselves up on the arms of others and hoisting friends onto shoulders and singing and dancing until it felt like that was all we had left. I was pushed against the barrier and I woke up the next day with legs littered with bruises, but none of that seemed to matter when my favourite band was right in front of my playing all my favourite songs.

While I was caught up in the unfathomability of it all, The Vaccines went ahead with full force. Justin took his rightful place as a bona fide frontman, falling to his knees and sending his arms out in wide swoops and making eyes at every member of the crowd. Freddie played his heart out and Arni held us all steady with perfect basslines and Timothy and Yoann made making music look like freedom. The band shared glances and smiles, five faces plastered with genuine looks of disbelief that I’m sure matched the expressions staring back at them.

The set went on in a perfect progression of tracks, an artful mix of fan favourites and new songs that are already working their way into a boundless number of hearts. ‘Wetsuit’ and ‘All In White’ turned the venue into a ten-thousand-strong choir, enthusiastic voices mingling in the atmosphere of Alexandra Palace while the band stood back in awe. ‘20/20’ and ‘Out On the Street’ and ‘Norgaard’ were bright bursts of energy that brought out the best in all of us. ‘A Lack of Understanding’ had me belting out my favourite lyrics – Is this everything you always hoped that it would be? – and answering the question with an unwavering, wholehearted yes. ‘I Always Knew,’ AKA my favourite song in the history of the universe, left me teary-eyed and breathless and hopeful. It was a lot all at once, but the feelings seemed to flow through the crowd as a whole, all of us experiencing a communal release in the form of words screamed at the top of our lungs and limbs flailed around in a flurry of awkward dance moves.

My opinion on The Vaccines is not unbiased. It’s based on years of admiration and of hanging onto their every word. It’s wrapped up in the emotions that bubble up under my skin when I play their songs. It’s attached to the fact that they’ve been part of the very fabric of my being for years. They help me understand who I am, they bring me the purest form of joy, and they are a band I’ll hang onto for the rest of my life. They show me the kind of art I want to make and they demonstrate the kind of ruthless determination that I want to exhibit at all times. Combine all of that with the magic that was their performance, and it would be hard for me to say that it wasn’t perfect.

Time was suspended on Saturday night at Alexandra Palace. The world stopped moving, my heart stopped beating, and the lungs beneath my ribs held their breath. Every second felt like a massive weight across my shoulders, and yet the entire thing felt like absolute, undiluted freedom. It was simultaneously the most monumental and most ephemeral thing I’ve ever experienced, and that somehow made it matter more than anything.

Even four days after the show, I am still waking up with stars in my eyes. Still listening to the songs on repeat, still pulling new thoughts and feelings and words out of my veins. I’m spending my days soaking myself in the afterglow of the gig, attempting to hold it under my skin so that I’ll be lit up forever. I’m talking about it all as if it pulled the Earth out of orbit, walking through life feeling as if I’m floating. I’m deeply inspired and I feel an intense renewal of passion burning through my heart and I want nothing more than to feel like this forever. It is not an everyday feeling, not a normal sensation, and definitely not something I want to rid myself of. It is effervescent and palpable, and I want to relish in it for as long as I can.

It takes a special kind of band to make their fans light up like glow sticks. To pinpoint exact emotions that are felt by everyone and to build up the courage to say them aloud. To speak directly into the hearts of thousands and thousands of outsiders and dreamers and wanderers. The Vaccines don’t do that for everyone, but they do it for me, and for that I will always be grateful. I’ll hold their flag proudly above my head until the day I die.

Album Review: Ex-Directory EP By Spector

I’ve loved Spector for years. They’re a band that knows how to capture the discomfort and confusion and agony of being a young adult, and they do so without sugar-coating or idealizing any of it. Every single one of their tracks expresses emotion in a poignant and intelligent way, all of them with sharp lyrics like Heard he was your rock, does that make me your hard place? and If you weren’t on my mind, I’d have no mind to be on. Bands like Spector are good company to keep when you’re moving through awkward periods of change and growth, and maybe that’s why I’ve held onto their music for so long.

With the release of their newest effort, an EP titled Ex-Directory, Spector is following through with the themes they know and love. Clocking in at just over ten minutes of music, each track is short and to the point. The songs feel like paintings or short films or tableaux, four tiny glimpses into a big, chaotic life. Despite how quickly it’s over, the EP feels full. A quartet of tracks is more than enough for the band to get their point across.   

Ex-Directory’s first track, ‘Untitled in D,’ was released last December. Despite its late release, it became one of my favourite songs of the year. The song takes Spector past teenage angst and onto the verge of real adulthood, discussing the disappointments and setbacks and confusion of growing into a new form of existence.

Following ‘Untitled in D’ is ‘Fine Not Fine,’ which wins the prize of my favourite song from the release. The track is an anthem for those of us growing up and finding our footing in the age of the Internet, drawing inspiration from emotions and thoughts expressed on social media. From the outset, it’s clear that the song is as truthful and intelligent as every other Spector release. Opening with the line And I’ve never been myself, I just follow orders, it’s instantly relevant and relatable. Each verse expresses another conflict, and the chorus is built on a simple but impactful repetition of I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m not fine. 

The EP then moves into ‘Local International,’ a track that seems too smooth to be the vehicle for lyrics about navigating relationships in a world that feels like it’s falling apart. Like every other Spector song, it’s catchy, but it’s also pertinent and hard-hitting. The band has somehow managed to wrap human connection up in words about globalization and capitalism, a combination that seems to project the realities of a life that we’re all trying to adjust to.

‘Wild Guess’ rounds out the collection, leaving listeners on a melancholic but hopeful note. It’s the slowest track on the EP, and the one that feels the most like love. The lyrics are dripping with longing and hesitation, the kind that comes with meeting someone you’d probably like to have around for a while. It’s layered and intricate, and the repeated insistence of Don’t ask me who I’m trying to impress, just take a wild guess is enough to make me swoon.

I like when bands release new music that shows off how much they’re progressing, but also how much integrity and soul they’re retaining, and that’s what Spector has done with Ex-Directory. The tracks are impressive, the lyrics are honest, and the whole thing feels like a refuge for anyone struggling to navigate a world and a life and a body that seems to change with every passing second. The EP is proof that Spector is alive and well, and that maybe we’re all alive and well, too. Finding the life that lives inside your chest is hard, but it’s worth it, and I hope that one day soon we’ll all be standing on rooftops, filling our lungs with air and proclaiming how much we love what and who and where we are.

Track Review: ‘Mistake’ by Middle Kids

I am a creature of habit. I love music with every fibre of my being, but I don’t always (read: rarely) deviate from the genres and bands and songs that I know I like. I listen to The Vaccines and Patti Smith and The National as if they’re my lifeblood, and although I would happily do so for the rest of my life, I figured I should start making the effort to get to know something that’s a bit out of my wheelhouse. This promise happily coincided with the release of Middle Kids’ newest single, ‘Mistake,’ and I happened to see an article about it just as I was searching for new listening material. Needless to say, it took one listen for me to be hooked, and I’m not planning on playing anything else anytime soon.

Middle Kids are a three-piece band based out of Sydney, Australia. Last year they dropped an EP overflowing with great tracks, and their debut album is set to be released in May. If ‘Mistake’ is any indication, I’m sure it’ll be full of songs that tug at your heartstrings and make you want to scream life’s praises all at once. I am really looking forward to it.

‘Mistake’ is the kind of track you can’t really ignore. It’s strong, rhythmic indie-pop, glorious and demanding. Lead singer Hannah Joy sings with drama and emotion that can’t be duplicated, evoking a sense of urgency and need in the listener. The lyrics are truthful and bittersweet, speaking of faults and errors that can’t be erased once they’ve been made. The chorus is a spectacular expression of feeling, and if I ever saw the band live, I’m sure I’d be standing in the middle of the crowd with my hands in the air and my head thrown back, singing along with all my might.

This is a song that my heart feels drawn to without any explanation, one that I want to share just because it is undeniably good. Teenage me likely would have scrawled the lyrics – “It was charming/the way we danced around the truth,” or “You’re standing out in the rain tonight/Like you’ve got something to say to God” – into notebook margins or inked them into my forearm in an act of identity creation. It’s addictive and magnetic and human, and I can’t wait to see what else Middle Kids have to offer.

Middle Kids’ debut LP, ‘Lost Friends,’ is set to be released on May 4th.

Track Review: ‘I Can’t Quit’ by The Vaccines

It is not news to anyone that The Vaccines are my favourite band. They have been for nearly six years, and this is not a fact that’s going to change anytime soon. I wear their merchandise as if it’s surgically attached to my person, their records exist permanently on my turntable, and when I was eighteen I got the name of one of their songs tattooed on my bicep. They are the longest and happiest relationship I have ever had. I’m stuck with them for life.

Because I am so heavily invested in this band, Wednesday afternoon found me sitting cross-legged on my bed, wearing my oldest band t-shirt, and anxiously listening to BBC Radio1 for the premiere of their newest track. I have done this multiple times, from the debut of ‘Melody Calling’ to the first play of ‘Handsome,’ and at this point it’s pretty much a sacred ritual. I feel weird if I don’t get to perform it at least once every few years. I was in my element.

I expected ‘I Can’t Quit’ to be good. I love everything The Vaccines have ever done, and at this point I automatically send praise and adoration their way whenever they release something new. What I didn’t expect was to hear it and have my entire world shift into a space that is largely better than the one I was in before. There is something indescribable about the return of your favourite band, but this was that feeling multiplied by a thousand.

The track marks The Vaccines getting back to what got them started – catchy pop tracks less than three minutes long with lyrics that you can’t help but belt out at the top of your lungs – but it’s also a step forward into territory that somehow feels brand new. The song is inherently different to anything they’ve done before, as if the band is moving forward and surrendering to the music the universe is telling them to make while also fulfilling their own desires to evolve as artists. I knew The Vaccines could write a perfect song, but this is even beyond that.

The Vaccines have always offered me a reflection of myself. What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? feels like the perfect representation of the emotions I find myself flitting between. It fluctuates as I fluctuate, lives and breathes and lets itself be whatever it is at that moment.  Come of Age gave me an album full of angst-ridden tracks that got me through the most angst-ridden parts of my adolescence. When I’m fed up or in a bad mood or confused out of my mind by where my life is heading, it’s the first record I think to put on. English Graffiti is experimental while still sounding distinctly like The Vaccines, and it’s a nice reminder that doing something new is not necessarily a bad thing. Although ‘I Can’t Quit’ is only the first track we’re hearing from Combat Sports, it’s already continuing the trend of mirroring my being back to me. I entered the year with the fiery spirit of determination bubbling up under my skin, and the new track is a three-minute repetition of a mantra. I really can’t quit, and apparently neither can The Vaccines.

I realize that I am overwhelmingly biased. Nothing I say has any basis in reality, because all my thoughts are coming straight from my heart and bypassing my mind on their way out. But sometimes a feeling is all you need to go off, and ‘I Can’t Quit’ makes me feel unstoppable and free and in alignment with everything around me. I have been listening to it on repeat for forty-eight straight hours, and I will likely choose to continue this habit for the rest of the foreseeable future. What I know for sure is that this is a spectacular track, and my excitement for the release of the full record only increases as time goes on. The Vaccines have gotten somewhere really good, and I want to be there too.

Gig Review: Wolf Alice at The Danforth Music Hall

I always get antsy before a concert. Always. I have lined up for hours at the end of November to get a good spot at Julian Casablancas. I have waited outside a venue for an entire day even though I had assigned seating. I have attended concerts just for the opening act, sitting through a headliner that I don’t necessarily love just because my favourite band was playing the previous slot. No situation ever makes it easier, and I am always overflowing with excitement by the time I get into a venue. The reality of finally being in the same space as an act, of them walking on stage after an excruciating wait, is something special. It shifts the whole world for an hour or so, twisting the truth so that all that exists is you and the act in front of you. The importance of the event and the days leading up to it and the anticipation that bubbles over while you wait all adds up to a very specific kind of suspense, and I simultaneously love and loathe the feeling.

Counting down the days until you get to see a band live is one of my favourite rituals, and as the date gets closer, things usually get easier. Wolf Alice, somehow, was the opposite. I spent the week before their Danforth Music Hall show listening to My Love Is Cool and Visions of a Life obsessively. I read all the lyrics and watched all the interviews and had an awful lot of one-woman bedroom dance parties. The day of the show went by painfully slowly and mostly involved lying on my bed watching their tour documentary and mulling over whether or not it was idiotic to wear a slip dress on the first of December just because Ellie always wears them. I made copious amounts of tea and sang at the top of my lungs as the caffeine raced through me. I sat in Pizza Pizza and jiggled my leg while I watched Charlotte eat. And then finally, finally, we walked into the venue and my heart knew it could slow its beating, and I returned to my brand of normal. The opening act walked on stage and it all kicked off and I found some sense of calm, until Wolf Alice graced us all with their presence and my universe was turned upside down once again.

Wolf Alice is the kind of band that you don’t really grow tired of. I listened to their debut album, My Love is Cool, on repeat the fall I started university, and it will always remind me of that time of transition, dipping my toes into strange waters and seeing what could come of it. Their second effort, Visions of a Life, hit me slowly, but once I understood the magic of it I could barely pry myself away. They’re a group that makes sense to my heart – their untethered glory, their poignant way of expressing the entire spectrum of human emotion. I often feel like I run parallel to them, or maybe their past stories are my present ones, and it’s something special to be able to relate to a band in such a way.

The first thing I need to mention is that they stepped on stage while Patti Smith was blaring over the venue’s speakers. When I saw Patti in New York City in September, Wolf Alice was the last band we listened to before parking the car and making our way through the metropolis, and this was nearly the reverse of that. It seemed kismet, and from that very moment I knew how special the following hours would be.

They began with ‘Heavenward,’ a song that is heartbreaking in its lyrics and yet somehow hopeful in the melody. It was the perfect start, and looking around me to see the entire venue mouthing along to the bridge in a shallow chant of I see you dancing on, you dancing on, was a powerful first moment. The second track, ‘Yuk Foo,’ stood in harsh juxtaposition to the opener, but the transition from a glowing ballad to an all-out, anger-filled punk song seemed to sum up the feelings of the band – and of the audience – in under ten minutes.

The four of them mixed tracks from their first and second releases, fitting them together in a puzzle that felt like one of the best setlists I’ve ever experienced. Nearly a third of the way into the set, they played ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ and ‘Bros’ back to back, and I felt my heart drop to my feet in an instant. The former is perhaps my favourite track of the year, and hearing it live and attempting to keep up with Ellie’s effortless muttering of the lyrics is a moment I’ve made every effort to burn into the skin on the back of my eyelids. I often spend concerts picking out the minutes or seconds that feel like they’re only for me, and that song is what did it this time.

They went on to play ‘Silk’ and ‘Lisbon,’ their movements practiced and nearly second nature. A few songs later they barrelled into ‘Beautifully Unconventional,’ a song with a chorus that holds my name and yet another moment that allowed me to block out the rest of the world and hold space for myself. My mouth opened against the lyrics (Hannah! She lives! She breathes! She’s beautifully unconventional!) and a smile came out with the words and my heart swelled to ten times its usual size. Sometimes I forget that music makes my heart stop and start, and this felt like both.

Afterward they went into ‘Sadboy,’ an honest, lilting track and one of my favourites from the second record. The first few verses make you want to rock your hips back and forth in a steady rhythm, and the bridge comes in like a call to arms, expressing emotions every one of us has felt. It’s nice to feel the energy of a crowd shift and a thousand people join together to sing I was waiting, waiting for anything to happen, waiting for love?, I was just waiting for this not to hurt.

The final trio of tracks rounded out the show in the most satisfying way, and yet I still sent a silent prayer to the heavens that Wolf Alice could stay onstage and I could stay in that venue until the end of time. ‘Space & Time’ is frustrated and anxious and I connected with it the very first time I heard it. There is unparalleled honesty in the lyrics – I hope my body gets better, do I mean my body or my mind? I hate the word “forever,” I hate the word “change,” I just need time – and the whole thing felt like a much-needed release. That rolled into ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ and ‘Fluffy,’ the band ending on the highest note they possibly could before heading offstage. They returned minutes later with ‘Blush’ and ‘Giant Peach,’ an encore that had me reeling. I really could not have asked for a better gig.

Wolf Alice is the kind of band that breaks down walls. Yes, they’re performing for the crowd, and yes, they’re the artists, and yes, this role is something they’ve had to work for. But they feel like they’re part of the same entity as the people watching them. They turn an entire venue into one living, breathing being. Lots of shows make you feel like you’re just watching something, but it’s even better to feel like part of it, and Wolf Alice does the latter effortlessly. Bodies pushed against mine and Theo danced for the crowd and Ellie yelled with everything she had in her. I screamed until I couldn’t force anything else out of my mouth and I watched Joff shred through guitar solos and Joel sit at his drum kit and do what he’s good at. I felt like my lungs expanded at the same time as the bands’, like my heart beat through the same rhythm and my blood pumped through my veins on the same magnetic frequency. I could live my whole life feeling like that, and I’d say yes to seeing them again in a second.

Gig Review: Little Boxer at The Rivoli

I haven’t been to a concert in what feels like forever. I went to Field Trip at the beginning of June, but even that was nearly two months ago and the festival high is long gone. The constant cycle of recording and releasing and touring mean that a lot of my favourite bands end up playing shows at the same time, but that also means that there are long, long dry spells that seem to stretch on forever. Needless to say, I think I breathed an audible sigh of relief a few weeks ago when I stepped into the light-strung backroom of the Rivoli to see Little Boxer perform.

I adore this band. I have to admit that I’m not really a night owl and I don’t often make it out to a lot of local shows, but when the stars finally aligned and Little Boxer invited me to their set, I jumped at the chance to see them live again. They don’t feel or sound or look like a band that plays in tiny clubs – they’re a group that should be playing fairly hefty venues, a band that wouldn’t look out of place at The Opera House or The Phoenix. The four-piece walks onstage and fills the extra space with a brass section and a keyboard player and some kind of magic thrums in the air before they even begin to play. When the first song starts, things get electric, and there’s no turning back.

Little Boxer create a rare feeling that allows for both intense intimacy and sweeping expansiveness. There’s a sense of grandeur to their set, a practiced way they have of interacting with the crowd, a sense of camaraderie between them all that makes the audience feel like they’re being let in on their lives. That extends to the way the tracks come across, too, and every song feels like an inside joke or a vulnerable conversation at midnight or a secret that you only share with the people who are closest to you. It’s all raw and real, but it’s also the most fun you’ll have on a Saturday night in a bar in Toronto.

The group’s set list was pretty damn perfect, a selection of songs that blended the slow and steady tracks with the big ones that fill the entire room to the brim. It’s nearly impossible for me to choose a favourite – I love “Problems” and I love “Dementia,” but I would be happy listening to any of them on repeat forever. With names like “Downtown Girls,” “Hungry Poets,” and “Shot in the Dark,” there’s something there for everyone, and I guarantee you’d hear one that sounds like it was meant for you. To top it all off, they finished off the set with a cover of Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and I sang and danced along like it was the last night I had on earth.

I don’t really think Little Boxer needs any more explanation, because their music is overflowing with personality and their shows are bursting at the seams with it. They play like they were born to do it, they put their heart and soul into everything I’ve seen or heard them do, and they’re the kind of band that you know is never going to back down. They’re a group that’s here to stay, and I couldn’t be happier about it.