“This is one of the best shows we’ve ever played” said Greg Puciato.
On a windy Wednesday night in Toronto, The Black Queen rolled through town for their first live show in our area, bringing with them New York city three-piece band Uniform and SRSQ (pronounced seer-skew); the solo project of Kennedy Ashlyn (vocalist/keyboardist of Them Are Us Too).
Early attendees in the room were sporting branded t-shirts that touched on all aspects of the band members pasts (Party Smasher, Dillinger Escape Plan, assorted industrial/extreme metal bands) but they all shared a similar feeling this evening. After four years, this was a chance to finally see Greg Puciato, Joshua Eustis and Steven Alexander performing some of the material from their two amazing albums, Infinite Games (2018) and Fever Daydream (2016).
At 8 pm, Kennedy Ashlyn walked onstage, stood alongside two keyboards and started droning along to her foreboding griefwave/dreamgaze. Channelling material from the likes of Cocteau Twins, early Goldfrapp, and Nina Hagen, Ashlyn managed to aurally grab ahold of everyone in the room as she delivered a half dozen tracks filled with pain, sadness, confusion, and beauty. By the time Ashlyn was into the final minutes of her last song, I found myself having to push my lower jaw up and close my gaping mouth, the power of her vocals and the songs’ delivery were that emotionally astounding.
Thankfully for you, SRSQ has given you “Permission” to watch this music video.
As stagehands removed SRSQ’s equipment, the stage was quickly set for NYC three-piece, Uniform. An eclectic mix of music leaked out of the house speakers during changeover; lo-fi alternative music, some undiscernable electronic tracks, some Rob Zombie... and then completely out of nowhere, a Phil Collin’s track. At this point I remember thinking “what an odd mix of music tonight” just as an overbearingly loud dirge of distortion washed over the Phil Collin’s song, essentially smothering it out. The feedback lingered for about a minute before Uniform jumped the stage and blasted their way into “The Walk,” the lead song from their latest 2018 release, The Long Walk.
Uniform went off like a bomb tonight; Michael Berdan literally craning his body into the Toronto crowd, sneering lyrics into the faces of an unsuspecting crowd. Only five minutes into their set and Ben Greenberg was sporting a broken guitar string; hardly surprising as he performs not so much strumming his instrument as clawing at it, wrenching every note and squeal of distortion out of the instrument possible while jack-hammering his head along to Uniform’s steady drum-beats.
During Uniform’s final song, Greenberg managed to destroy the remaining five strings on his guitar as their set came to its conclusion to howls of approval from the crowd. Before tonight, I had no clue what Uniform was about as a band but they certainly left an impression. Their material is angry, heavy and at times uneasy, and they set the stage perfectly for what The Black Queen had in store for us.
Uniform’s official video for “The Walk” is a fine example of Uniform’s anger-ridden, heaviness, complete with tons of distortion.
Greg Puciato, keyboardist Joshua Eustis and guitarist Steven Alexander took the Velvet Underground stage barely visible under a veil of darkness and purple LED lighting. The visual backdrops filmed by Rob Sheridan that usually accompany their performances were discarded this evening (I’m assuming due to the intimate size of the venue) leaving the band to carry the show on their stage presence and musical bravura alone.
After “Thrown Into the Dark” and “No Accusations” from their 2018 release, Infinite Games, it was pretty obvious there was something magical happening in the room this evening; the audience was singing along to the lyrics to both of these songs loudly enough that it was audible over The Black Queen’s significant mix. Puciato strode the front of the stage numerous times this evening, continuously being caressed by a sea of reaching hands that he somehow managed to grab ahold of and shake or high five as he delivered his vocals.
Joshua Eustis rocked his keyboards aggressively as he performed, occasionally standing atop a small speaker to the right of his set up and banging his keyboards in a sideways fashion while stomping his feet on the speaker. Steven Alexander’s guitaring style seemed to build like a controlled explosion as well. Alexander played the back half of the fourteen song-set rocking his guitar so violently it looked like he might pull the axe free of its shoulder strap and swing out into the audience. He’d walk from side to side of the stage and lean into the swarming crowd, his guitar body mashed into the smiling faces of the audience members directly in front of him.
“Secret Scream” is truly one of the standout Black Queen songs of all. Check out the video for the track, off the band’s debut album Fever Daydream.
By the time The Black Queen was into their set-ending songs, “Strange Quark” and “Apocalypse Morning,” Puciato had a guitar over his shoulder, Alexander was wearing a stark white feminine-looking face-mask, and Eustis had all but toppled his keyboards over. The trio pummelled the crowd for just over an hour with rapidly pulsing strobe-lights, heavenly beats, heavy decibels of distortion, and Puciato ultimately declaring that the band wasn’t sure what tonight was going to bring and that he felt it was one of their best shows ever.
I drove home from this show basking in an afterglow of tinnitus thinking what constitutes a great show? Is it a perfect sound? An ideal crowd? A technically flawless performance? Or is it merely good band/audience interaction? I’m with Puciato on the Toronto performance, the show was indeed a magical thing. I wouldn’t call it a flawless performance; some of the songs varied in sound, their live presentation differing radically from their studio versions, awash in so much feedback and deafening synthesizer pulses it could have obscured the material in the hands of lesser skilled musicians.
This didn’t matter at all. By the time the show finished, The Black Queen had connected with the Toronto crowd tonight in a manner I’ve only seen at a handful of live shows. They brought along two interesting bands for the ride and delivered a performance I’ll be talking about for years to come.
The Black Queen’s album, Infinite Games, dropped on September 28th, 2018.
The Black Queen’s Setlist:
01. Thrown Into the Dark
02. No Accusations
03. Ice to Never
04. Maybe We Should/Non-Consent
06. Your Move
08. That Death Cannot Touch
09. Secret Scream
10. The End Where We Start
11. Now, When I'm This
12. One Edge of Two
13. Strange Quark
14. Apocalypse Morning