“What will we do. What will we do. What will we do – when our dreams come true?” is the rallying cry from Manchester’s PINS, whose voices, in unison, infuse each repeated line of the phrase with multiple meanings. It’s gutsy. It’s fresh. It’s a delicious throwback to a time we all want, no, need to get back to when music was always raw, alive, sly with a twist of menace, pretty and dangerous. It’s the real deal. And we are getting it on the back half of a major spring tour as they’ve worked their way from Cardiff to Austin to here.
It is, unfortunately, always worth noting when Toronto rock club show crowds allow themselves to impart emotion, enjoyment, be seen moving, or express much sound beyond the furtive “WHOOO”s that come out of the dark from people like us, answered in kind by other anonymous owls in the darkness. This is just our way in Toronto the dry. One wonders what visiting bands think. Bands out of England, from places historically known for bottling their disapproval, a nation of experts and hecklers, a land of regional identities and generations of music lovers and real night owls, ones who can hold their pints, characters bred for toughness.
In the belt-tightened economy of the live music scene today, outside of the grey concrete nothingness of mega stadiums, a place like Toronto is ever-more privileged and lucky to be included in so many “American” tours of visiting U.K. bands that one could almost weep. We are routinely presented with no less than the cream of the still thriving Indie world of the U.K. and Europe, and we are visited by the best and the brightest bands of recent years and those of tomorrow-the ones who still deserve much more love after years of grinding.
On nights like tonight, it all comes together. Jaded industry types are forced to the margins while real music fans come alive. There is no pit, no obvious security, and the boundaries of stage and and crowd are respected by mutual agreement, except when a singer sits and stands among us, at first surrounded by sheepish men who cannot meet her gaze, then by females who move in and fill in a circle around her and rock out in a way long missed in these parts.
And so faces are turned upward like old footage of the devout in far away Pentecostal churches, and we come alive for a few hours on this Tuesday night, given permission and power by the marvelous energy of five strong, talented women known as PINS. This is their first time in Toronto. The music is noisy but clean, powerful and confident. The look of the band is intense, and as wonderfully uniform as all the great bands are/were once. They are young but like the best, most galvanizing young bands ever did and still do, they’ve done their homework: visually and musically. Wow. It’s all there: Jesus and Mary Chain. My Bloody Valentine. Hole. Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Early Cure. The Ramones, even. PINS feels like vinyl sounded on headphones. They’re exciting. A real find. And PINS comes as we always knew it would, again, in Doc Martens. Clad all in black tonight, in all its best variations, in pitch perfect styles referencing the best days- when live music was mostly still captured in black and white. And what other colours do you need?
The Subways are the headliner tonight, and they bring a well honed body of work that is four albums strong (most recently, 2015’s self-titled release, along with a regular output of EPs and special issues). The Subways hail from Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, U.K. and their name is a bit of a curiosity for Anglophiles in Canada and the States as we know that the”subways” of our bigger cities is akin to London’s “tube”. But the subway of the band’s name is an underground walkway to cross a road (thank you, Wikipedia) an obvious choice of youth hangout which has a pretty universal, parent-defying appeal by any name anywhere as long as there has been skateboards and graffiti and Smirnoff in underage back pockets.
The Subways are a tight three-piece unit who’ve been around just long enough to be able to claim one of music’s highest honours- John Peel was the first radio DJ to play their single on National radio. This energetic band sounds much bigger than their number and brings the feeling of a great gang. In the Mod Club tonight, locals and visitors from U.S. border cities are treated to something ultra-rare and special in our culture that one imagines and fantasizes is the province of British pub life nightly at gigs big and small – some truly great stage banter that makes us feel like instant and forever friends. After the exciting cold shower of PINS (who dedicate their second-to-last song to The Subways), the headliners immediately make the stage their own with their unique rhythms and energy. The Subways emerged out of that great global mid-aughts movement that brought us The Strokes, The Killers, and Franz Ferdinand when corporate pop and dance music was seriously threatened for the first time in a while. And tonight’s good news continues, The Subways are still flagbearers. They still sound so immediate, youthful and fresh, and are still needed for the revolution we are fighting for in music which will not be machine made but just like this: stripped down with a great rock vocal that is timeless, one reminiscent of the great energy and irrepressible defiance of Liam Gallagher.
In between songs, and a stage dive where Singer Billy Lunn is caught and returned to the stage with love and care, Lunn regales us with pub-like fireside tales that we don’t write down because you had to be there. The band is gracious, warm, and approachable. The set is full and fulsome. The band banters with each other and gives each member their time in the spotlight, including a great drum solo-ish song (complete with spotlight lighting) for Josh Morgan. It’s the first North American trip for the band in eight years, and there is a definite, honest, and well-earned mutual appreciation society vibe. This band has traversed the open stages of Glastonbury, T in the Park, and more across Europe (2005’s “Rock & Roll Queen” was a massive chart hit in UK and North America and is an instant classic that gets a rousing response tonight, but is among other older and newer songs equally strong). You can hear this great potential in their sound even inside the walls of the mid-size Mod Club, and a definite wish is formed to see them again somewhere in the world among one of these festival crowds. Thousands of miles away from those storied fields of the great festivals, the crowd in Toronto is made to feel just as big, just as important. Rock n’ Roll with heart and grit will win. The revolution rolls on.
The Subways North American Spring Tour 2016 rolls on through May 3rd, with support from PINS (all dates). Get out there, West Coast!
The Subways are Billy Lunn, Charlotte Cooper & Josh Morgan.
PINS are Faith Vern (vocals/guitar), Anna Donigan (bass), Lois Macdonald (guitar), Sophie Galpin (drums) & Kyoko Swann (synths/guitar).
With thanks to PINS and The Subways.
PINS – Photos by Dave MacIntyre
The Subways – Photos By Dave MacIntyre