In a questionable part of Toronto’s downtown core, the
Sneaky Dee’s punk Azteca sign stands out like a neon-coloured tribal beacon for those looking to escape the banality of their regular lives. Through the front door, the beatnik vibe continues with the modern-age spin being its inhabitants. Otherwise, it looks like any old raider bar you’d expect to find in the wasteland of a post-apocalyptic film. The sun goes down as people lug in equipment. The Jays fans give way to the music fans, who were practically vibrating with the punk rock energy of the graffiti-laden hub. Might as well enjoy an Amsterdam Big Wheel while you’re here.
So what can be said about Sneaky Dee’s as a venue? The site has a lot to say, but it portrays itself more as friendly “home away from home” whereas other blogs and articles stress its cultural importance. The duality isn’t surprising since it started out as a family business in 1987 before it gradually morphed into one of Toronto’s greatest punk venues. It moved from Bloor near Honest Ed’s to its current College and Bathurst location where it mixed elements of punk and adobe Mexican style in its design, presenting something completely different. You may have read about Sneaky Dee’s in the Scott Pilgrim series or caught wind of the brawl between anti-fascist group Anti-Racist Action (ARA) and white supremacist group Heritage Front. Whatever made you come across Sneaky Dee’s, it continues to be a beacon of indie music in the Toronto scene for a lot of music junkies.
Each band in this venue’s line-up shared the commonality of being an early 2000’s style punk rock band, perfectly meshing with the style. Last night kicked off the beginning of Canadian Music Week, celebrating Toronto’s best in indie music. Sneaky Dee’s brought the heat and made for a bombastic opening.
Let’s start with the first performance. We live in a world where there’s a lot to be pessimistic about, so it’s a good thing that leading band Breaching Vista holds the platform of inspiring people to answer their calling in life (outlined largely in the song unsurprisingly named “Your Calling”). They’ve got the fast-going punk rock sound not unlike SUM 41 or early Green Day, but they have their own message to convey other than “everything sucks”. Their latest album, Vera City (2011), has them unexpectedly collaborating with an African-style gospel choir band, cellist Kevin Fox, and a punk artist named Billy the Kid, proving that they’re not your standard forget-about-‘em punk rock band.
Breaching Vista hit the stage, drowned in green and blue lights, which make them look delightfully solemn. The music and the action behind the performance contrast the gloomy vibe, especially when the lead singer is pretty charismatic with his delivery and in-between comments. They did a cover of “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls which was really great. Their music is a powerhouse, making this a great choice of song. Then, in the strangest turn of event for a punk show, they did brief cover of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme. God, I knew tonight was going to be fun. Vista’s performance was sealed with a photo of the audience, marking their first performance since August.
Like Breaching Vista, Stockholm Siesta is another band you’d expect to hear in a Hot Topic. They call themselves an emo band and they certainly fall under that category. If the name of their 2015 album, Fixin’ To Be A Lot Better, doesn’t strike you as angsty, then shut up. There’s obviously a lot of self-conflict in that sentence – what the hell do you know anyway? Anyway, their sound is inspired by Pixies and they were fixin’ to kick ass last night.
While they were setting up, people were piling in. The place was pretty packed for a Monday night. Usually, the lead singer of a band has more charisma than the other members, but in this case, it’s the bassist that has the character. “We’re here to perform a bunch of lullabies for you,” he said before they collectively thrashed the drums and guitar. The continued green and blue hues contributed to the tired-sounding singing before it lifted off. The lead singer described himself as a “quiet boy”, but he can blow the roof off when he needs to. They bounced between loud and quiet within each song. It was hypnotizing and inspiring in the same vein.
The Alpacas are another unapologetically angsty band with a very tame name. They also put a little comedy in their punk music which is always a fun thing. They describe their music as “loud and quiet, fast and slow, tidy and unkempt – but above all, THE ALPACAS look to create some good time vibes and entertain an audience”. I suppose the same could be said of any band, but with that many contradictions, you can’ help but feel a little intrigued.
When they hit the stage, the first thing that sprung to mind was: “And the award for the most animated frontman goes to The Alpacas!”. Their rapport with one another is quite striking as well, further harmonizing the performance. Base and somber tones interweave with their ‘90s style and light execution.
Finally, July hit the stage with a relentless battering of sound with their song “What We Signed Up For”. They described their sound in relation to Fall Out Boy and All Time Low, and hearing them live for the first time, I can say that the description is pretty accurate. This kind of pop-rock style isn’t that common anymore in the mainstream. Sure, the early 2000’s wasn’t for lack of this style of music, but it kind of went to the wayside with artists like Beyoncé and Lady Gaga rose to prominence. It’s good to see that someone is keeping that tradition going.
The night wrapped up, and it was clear to all the patrons – whether they intended to stay for the whole week or just check out this performance – that Canadian Music Week 2016 was going to be a blast!