My friend Russ had asked me to find something interesting to do for his birthday, and after checking my e-mail, I found out that Therapy? from Dublin, Ireland was headlining the North By Northeast Festival in Toronto. With a few phone calls and e-mails, we were on the press list, as Therapy? was actually the first band I interviewed as a young journalist: I had discovered the band at 12, but was never old enough to see them in clubs. For my 21st birthday, I interviewed Therapy? at the Eureka Tavern in Cleveland, Ohio, and they’re then cello player Graham said something that literally clicked my entire journalism career into place: “if we’re really you’re favorite band since you were 12, and you can sit and interview us like normal people, then couldn’t you just as easily interview the president?”
To say the least, Therapy? has always held a special place in my heart. So as soon as we were given the green light, and I mean this was only a couple days notice, we packed up the car for the drive from Baltimore, taking a “short cut” through the Pennsylvania mountains by following a thin red line on a map – not my idea – that put us a few hours behind schedule. Friday morning, we pull into the Niagara Falls around 7 a.m., making a quick drive-by, as it was $12 just to park the car and we did not have time.
We were able to find a nice $2.99 breakfast special to power us up. The Canadian bacon they passed off as ham left something to be desired. Still, it was decent, even if the falls water left our brakes not working well.
When the brakes were dry and our bellies full, we zoomed upwards. Somebody had told us about coffee shops in Hamilton, but we never found our way to them, the closest we would be able to find was a rasta club in Toronto that wanted to charge a cover to let us come in and smoke weed. Not having enough to roll one with, we passed that opportunity as well.
The Holiday Inn on King Street was the heartbeat of the festival. Checking in, we were cast aside by one young fellow in partial drag, but that allowed us to bond with some of the worker girls who tuned us into events. The one girl tried to convince me to sit in on the interview with Peaches, touting that she tours with NIN, but though I loved the title to her hit song, I didn’t really think that the rest of the music held up to the expected title of it.
Besides, we had stuff to do, like sleep, so we checked into the Best Western a few blocks away, called for a wake-up call and never received it. This was a little more than annoying, because we missed the Feminist Porn Awards, which I really wanted to check out, and it also made us miss the interview that everyone forgot to mention to me was scheduled for six p.m.. Around ten, we mosey over to El Macamabo, only to find I forgot my camera battery, so we show back up closer to eleven where I ran into Andy.
The lead singer of Therapy? had remembered me from the previous interview, and suggested that we meet up after the show, so we settled in. Only one song I did not know, one that was not released here in the States, dancing around brought me back to the teenager mentality, as it did others. There was a whole group of us singing every song, dancing around happy.
I was a tad upset to not see Graham, after his great observation to me, but Therapy? was a three-piece to begin with, and even though Fife was not on drums, Neil made an awesome addition to the band, a perfectly great fit. The thing I’ve always liked about Therapy? was that they’re always trying something new, some new little tweak, going through all the range of music. Emotions are reflected, weaving a patchwork of life with funny faces and a mouthful of spit and beer showering all over the stage, power packed vision.
After the music, while listening to a local band that was fairly decent, we met up with Andy and manager Richard, discussing times to meet up for the interview that should have already happened, agreeing on the Holiday Inn on King, squeezing in talk time before the interview with Rob Halford. Andy has a wonderful sense of timing, even if I don’t, and the next morning, he caught us in the lobby, inviting us across the street for a round of Corona. I typed with Russ asked some questions, all of us laughing hysterically, but we kept an eye on the time, as none of us could bear to miss Rob Halford.
Wrapping up the interview with the unicorn and yogurt questions, we trailed across the street to watch the interview, sitting in the back of the room like misfits, drinking beer, yet sitting with rapt attention when the chat began; Kids In The Hall’s Dave Foley snuck in to stand directly behind us. Rob saw him trying to sneak in, calling attention to him, and as the interviewer brought us gay issues, Rob suggested that everyone should try being gay for a day, something I would later do in his honor for gay pride. While I tried to transcribe everything on the laptop, Russ snuck around like a cat trying to snap a few pictures, and the Therapy? guys drank attentively.
My constant typing wound up catching the attention of Marcus, lead singer of a local band and owner of his own database company, who would later guide us around the city a bit as we looked for the films showing later. Of course, our waiting to all get pictures with Rob Halford made us miss the movie about CBGB’s in the late 70s, we were able to catch “About A Son.” This movie made band Nirvana live up to its meaning of transcending death.
“About A Son” was the only film we caught as part of the festival, but it was eerily enough, for it was the voice of Kurt Cobain, recorded during his interviews for the biography “Come As You Are,” hearing a friendly ghost. Visualizations along with his own voice showed not family album style stuff, but pictures of his home towns in the current day, sunsets and scenery. Though there was great photography, colors matching the tones of what he was talking about, it was designed to let people focus on his own words.
From his fall into heroin to his living with a girl who’d care for him, he gives his own opinions on his life from beyond the grave, true Nirvana. Courtney took charge of making things happen for him, not letting him be pushed around or simply being complacent with life, truly his life partner. Hearing his observations on fame and friends was truly heart wrenching.
With a bite of food from Little Italy topping off our Vietnamese breakfast, I felt sluggish leaving the theatre, almost like I couldn’t leave. Russ convinced me otherwise by pointing at the time, so a quick change of pace led us debating on which acts to see, and while I really wanted to check out Lesbians on Ecstasy, just to see if they lived up to their name, we opted to see Tara Sloane, the former lead singer of Joy Drop, an old time favorite. By the time we hoofed through the gay district, we only caught the last three songs, but we did get to see her belt out “American Dream Girl” and a cover.
During the last song or so, I noticed that J from Dinosaur Jr. was standing next to me, and we said brief hellos, as I’d also seen him when I was first checking into the event for press and at the Therapy? show, so I gave him a book and wanted to ask about the equipment that was stolen last year, but I waited and asked his press agent, not wanting to bring up heart ache, only to find out that nothing has been recovered from the robbery. Hopefully my book will put a bit of a smile on his face when he reads it. Books were also handed out to Rob Halford, the Therapy? guys, Tara’s guitar player, and the bass player from the other headliner Urge Overkill.
Was I the only one who did not realize that Urge Overkill sang that song, “Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon,” giving me flashbacks to Juliette Lewis, her dancing around in that one movie: you know what I mean, right? If you don’t, too bad, just rent all of her movies until you find that scene. Trust me, with titles like “Natural Born Killers” and “Kalifornia” – a movie that does have a Therapy? song in it – under her belt, you’ll be entertained.
Okay, so after Urge Overkill, we had to pack up, and I guess we missed most of the 450 bands at the 40 clubs, but I had fun, even if I missed the dog show, because we did see hookers in action and talked to the bums. Hitting up the beer store and picking up a few Cuban cigars on the way out, we did make another drive-by past Niagara Falls, seeing all the tourist attractions in full bloom while following out the royal highway 420 to home. Toronto might not be as corporately recognized as Austin’s SXSW, but if you want to find some off-the-wall stuff in a laid back atmosphere, being around bands you never heard of from across the globe, then this is where it’s at, just as much, if not more, going on to keep you more than amused.