What’s better than going to a concert? How about going to a concert, with a bunch of your pals, to see Death From Above (who have risen from the grave)? And not only do you get to hang out with your squad, and see this great band live after all those years in hiding, but to go, FOR FREE! That my friends, is a great night.
As part of the Aurora Illumination series, this free show was put on at The Phoenix Concert Theatre, a Toronto staple in the indie world, with DFA as the headliner. Okay, now what is Aurora exactly? The ads read “Music. Culture. Cannabis”. Here we have an all-Canadian cannabis company throwing what could only be a cool and unique kind of show; good vibes all around. To score free tickets you had to enter into a lottery and pray to the Ticketmaster Verified Fan Gods that you were selected to partake. A few days before the show, I was in, and I was excited. Aurora will be sponsoring 20 concerts total this summer across Canada. Next up is Calgary on June 11th with Tash Sultana and Caveboy.
Back to the first of two Toronto shows. Walking in we were all handed a white Aurora bracelet with absolutely no explanation. As soon as we walked into the main space of the venue, they lit up a bright, pulsing sky blue. It was beautiful, and creepy as there were hundreds of people wearing the same bracelet. By time my friends and I got our act together, we reached the Phoenix in time to catch Teenager’s last song. It was a little out there, the lead singer dressed in jeans with a t-shirt tucked in and a voice that was a little garbled, quite possibly from the venue’s sound. The crowd definitely wasn’t at a maximum at this point, but they still showed some love for this group as they ended their set. It was clear who people were here to see, with swarms of DFA t-shirts among the antsy crowd. As with most shows, we have no idea how long it’s really going to take for a band to get on the stage, and this was no exception. Anticipation was building as everyone was playing with their bracelets and cheering every time a roadie graced the stage to set up. We had to wait a dramatic 45 minutes between these sets.
The Phoenix was hot-as-sin. Immediately walking in, the mugginess hit you. There was a slow influx of people arriving by the time we showed up. The faces in the crowd felt like home to me. A real rock crowd. A bunch of big dudes with piercings and cool girls with dreads and tattoos peppered among the metal heads with their long hair and the bros – who have a solid taste in music. For a band that I basically grew up with, I wasn’t surprised at all to see the age difference in the crowd either. What I was happy to see was the amount of people wearing ear plugs. Safety first.
Check out the Teenanger video for their single “The Night Shift”.
Before the show continued, we headed upstairs to take a seat and take in the scene. There was the VIP area taunting us with a delicious meat smell (tacos, of course). And some fortunate souls essentially blocking our comfy view of the stage. If you’ve ever been to the Phoenix, you know it’s hit or miss when you head upstairs. There was smoke everywhere, and it was almost comical not to know what was coming from who or where. For a concert put on by a cannabis company, and a rock concert in general, it was no surprise to see and smell people lighting up. What made it even more special was that in 2018 people could smoke e-cigarettes and vape pens in addition to whatever weird smoke effects the promoters had in place.
Finally. DFA. In the flesh. They didn’t hit the stage until almost 10:30, but we were ready. The bracelets jumped and flickered and flashed as the first few bass drum kicks set in. The “Illumination” part of the concert making all the more sense. The heavy sound was a blessing to this hungry crowd and even though Sebastien started off a little shaky, a little squeaky, he found his footing as the crowd helped him along singing every word of “Nomad” off the 2017 album Outrage! Is Now. Plus the lights were still cool. Blues. Yellows. Oranges. Reds. Whites.
As they dove into “Virgins” keeping with the thumping drums and heavy guitars we all know and love, I was reminded of Twisted Metal, the video game. Nostalgia at it’s finest. DFA ripped through a few more songs (piquing interest with a distinct cowbell in “Moonlight”), before Sebastien said anything to concertgoers. He took a moment to take in the crowd and thank us, and the bands for being there. He reminded everyone to be nice and not grabby, but from what I could tell from my perch above, this was surprisingly tame crowd for a rock show.
By “Always On”, I don't think I was the only one getting sick of the damn bracelet. I tried not to let the enormous amount of waste detract me from the incredible energy DFA was putting into their set. There were a few times where the vocals were being drowned out, but so much of the music relies on the instrumentals that there definitely wasn’t anyone upset about it. Sebastien had a killer outfit to boot, an all-white suit, no shirt underneath. Before “White Is Red” he joked about his bad’ass but totally impractical blazer given how hot it was that night. Even telling us he refused to take it off until the paramedics would have to cut it off his heat overloaded body. We took this time to come down from our perch and check out the rest of the show from the floor.
You should “Never Swim Alone”, unless it’s to watch this video.
Playing the title track off their last album, Sebastien emerged from behind his drums for “Outrage! Is Now”. This was one of two special moments he would indulge us with for the set. Heading back to his kit, he apologized for not making a whole lot of sense, everyone of his last brain cells being used up keeping on his blazer.
Finally sharing what the new DFA is all about they played “Freeze Me” for us. If you’re seeing a band for the first time, just take a look around and see what the crowd is doing. Singing along? Probably a hit. Cell phones out taking photos and videos? Probably a hit. Losing their minds? Definitely and hit, and this is exactly how it went down for this one. Slowing it down and bringing us back to 2004 we got to hear “Black History Month” in the flesh. Outside of the fact that this was and still is an amazing song, the nostalgia for my friends and I created a special moment that we shared with the crowd. We got one last hit in with “Trainwreck 1979” before the duo vanished from the stage.
The crowd did not skip a beat, chanting “DFA! DFA!” all over again and like clockwork they jumped back on stage to give us more. Sebastien jokingly singing a riff off “Welcome To The Jungle” to make us laugh. FINALLY we get “Romantic Rights”. We all lose it, Sebastien commanding the stage, free from his drums for that second moment I alluded to earlier. This time a mystery drummer took a seat at the throne, who turned out to be Eliza Enman McDaniel of The Beaches. It was sweet to hear afterwards how proud of The Beaches Sebastien was, boasting about them being on a recent sold-out tour.
“The Physical World” ended the encore and as DFA played their last few riffs you could feel the satisfaction in the room. Sweat pouring off the band, and more importantly the crowd, as the last few crowdsurfers took their chance. You could instantly hear the buzz of the fans as the lights came up, and now we could see the fate of some of the bracelets that were abandoned during the show. It was an immense relief to walk out to the cool night, but bittersweet that the show was over. This is one people will be talking about, at least until we can catch DFA again.