We paid $48 to watch someone do Pattycake

Lowest of the Low, 21 April 2011, Starlight Club, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; and Toca Loca, 30 April 2011, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

Last night, May 7, Lowest of the Low played Massey Hall the first time, the capper on their tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of “quite possibly the best Canadian debut album ever”, Shakespeare My Butt. I was not there. But I did see their sold-out show at the Starlight Club in Waterloo, on April 21.

The show itself, I have no complaints about. The opening act were Mick Thomas and Squeezebox Wally, an Australian duo so taken with Shakespeare My Butt  that they would play the entire album at their shows. They even made one of the songs—“Rosy and Grey”—a hit there. So there was much more collaboration between opening act and headliner than you normally get, with Lowest members joining in on Mick’s set, and Mick contributing to the Lowest set.

Lowest of the Low played the entirety of Shakespeare My Butt, in order, then came back to do various songs from their other two albums, including “Black Monday” and “The Last Recidivist”. It was fun being in a room full of people who also knew all the words to all the songs. And it was nice to hear, from singer and main songwriter Ron Hawkins, that both “Subversives” and the afore-mentioned “Black Monday” were as honest and beautiful as they were because each was inspired by women he really loved. (He explained it in a less mushy way, but that’s what it came down to.) Performances of both those songs, I found particularly powerful.

But the room? With the low ceiling and all, the music was painfully loud. I had to do the extremely cool “Kleenex in the ears thing” to survive. And with the full house, it was hot and crowded. Plus, way too many tall dudes. I had to keep moving around, trying to get a spot where I actually see the band, and not just the back of someone’s head. The crowd was very well-behaved—no smoke of any kind, and surprisingly little beer spilled. But still. I’d say I’m too old for this kind of show, but I didn’t really like them when I was younger, either.

So kind of glad I didn’t drag any friends with me to this, as I feel I would have just had to apologize. Instead, I suggest, just check out Lowest of the Low on record. That way you’ll thank me later. Maybe start with these ones:

  • “4 O’Clock Stop”, Shakespeare My Butt, the insanely catchy opening number. Lyrics may not cohere as a whole, but they sure feel right as they hurtle along.
  • “Black Monday”, Hallucigenia, as the singer regrets the effects of his depressive nature on the “sad and beautiful” Kate. “The way I am has never been too good for us.”
  • “Rosy & Grey”, Shakespeare My Butt, the most Canadian love song ever, where even “the smell of snow warms me today”.
  • “Gamble”, Hallucigenia, which sounds like it’s exactly about Buffy and Spike, Season 6, even though it was written before then.
  • “Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes”, Shakespeare My Butt, a deceptively upbeat little ditty that, on closer listening, reveals the social conscience of the band, along with their sense of humour.

And now for something completely different….

A couple years ago I wrote about attending the Open Ears festival, and the organizers noticed. So the notified me about this year’s festival, “celebrating the art of listening”. It took place at a busy time for us, but we did manage to attend one concert: Toca Loca, on April 30.

Where Lowest gave me some unpleasant flashbacks to concerts of my youth, this was like nothing I’d ever seen or heard before. The opening number was “Temazcal”, a piece for maracas and tape. So recorded sounds were played, then a live percussionist joined in on maracas. That was followed by “AK-47”, a piano solo based on the assault rifle. It was both virtuosic, and pretty noisy.

Then there was “Pattycake”. Two performers sat facing each other clapping out the familiar childhood rhythm, but at increasingly dizzying speeds, and with some variation in the original words. It was riveting, as mistakes would be—if not disastrous—at least potentially quite painful. “Repetition is good. It builds trust. Soon you come to know what’s expected.”

In the next two pieces, all three members played along to pieces composed for them, one a fusion of New Wave, Synth-Punk, and No Wave (I don’t know what that means, either), the other a love song as expressed by an industrial machine.

And finally, the “Halo Ballet”. In this one, five gamers manipulated the Halo participants into a kind of dance pattern, instead of the usual trying to kill each other. They would shoot patterns into the sky, or be stacked on one other and twirl, or leap around in synchronicity. We watched all that projected on video. Meanwhile, of course, the band was supplying the soundtrack.

Afterward, Jean commented on how we had paid $48 to watch people do Pattycake. “Did you dislike the music?” “No, can’t say I disliked it.” “Were you bored?” “Absolutely wasn’t bored.”

Me either. $48 well spent. And looking forward to the next Open Ears, where I can hopefully experience more of the aurally novel.

Also see: Lowest of the Low live at Maxwell’s.