By Jacqueline Howell, photos by Dave MacIntyre
Checkerboard floors. A glittery red HORSESHOE sign that is shorthand for music itself, not to mention countless happy hours in Toronto for music lovers far and wide. A stage that has been stomped upon by the best across decades, from its deep, true tavern roots to the ascension of full-throttle Canadian rock and roll, woven together by Canadian folk and alt post rock cowpunk etcetera (and, nearest and dearest to us) waves of our own bright and shiny alternative scenes. By god, there’s now a discreet (believe it or not) A&W automatic ordering kiosk next to the mile-long main bar, not far from a cookbook of Elvis’ favourite dishes. This is how you do it, Toronto. Change nothing unless it’s to add some late-night food to a classic experience. Don’t gentrify. Don’t sell out, man. Thank you, Horseshoe for still existing. It’s Saturday night in Toronto. Summer has just landed in our laps this week and it’s a cooker of an evening. Our very own early 90s wall of noise-smart alternative heroes, Rusty, are here, leading the charge, as if to personally support our deep, years long dream for this music that saved the world once to do so again. As our beloved “90s bands” have reformed around the world, more people are recognizing the demand (and need) for authenticity, heart, rawness, and analog truth, A.K.A. real music. Superheroes everywhere have been coming out of retirement. Some heroes fly Porter airways from Sudbury.
And so, Rusty’s great return is happening, though what should not be unusual and special, is today: community effort. Community sensibilities. And stadium love. Rusty is at home at the ‘Shoe, and it eases everything tonight. It’s the first time they’re playing music from their upcoming new album in public, and it feels as intimate as what those Much “Intimate and Interactives” of another age strived for. We were too cool to line up with kids to see visiting rock stars, then. And we sure thought such things would continue to be. Now, there’s only Strombo’s living room keeping such flames alive (beautifully). Music devotees with long-running podcasts and indie magazines. The true blue. Those who know are here in this room and are always in the room when Rusty plays a gig. And this room feels, tonight, like someone’s living room. The band is working out their set list as they go, getting comfortable, hilariously carefree, or, maybe, laughing like champs through the creation-in-process that is new music. Canadians will laugh through any kind of stress and entertain you while we sweat it out.
The band starts with some beloved tunes from Fluke, all of them seemingly itchy to play the new stuff, and, happily, the crowd is the right kind, eager for both. This crowd and this band are not nostalgic, anymore. Some of the songs are not finished, we are told. For one, we get a terrific “excerpt”. Guitarist Scott McCullough declares, grinning “Let’s just play every damn song on the fuckin’ album!” Singer Ken MacNeil watches the faces, warming up. He says the new songs make them feel young. The old songs make them feel old. “We know we’re old, though…” Once the new songs are given air and the crowd is rolling with them, Ken relaxes into the early material again, in his element, the years falling away from all of our faces and hearts, forever young. This is the great power of music.
It’s the best Rusty show we’ve ever seen, including when we were young and life was simpler. And it’s half-full of tunes we’ve never heard before, along with the rest we know by heart. “California” still (and forever) will break your heart with its poignancy. Its prescience. It’s urgency and its grief for humanity’s brutality and chaos. “Wake Me” is forever a love song to us who choose to interpret the lyrics innocently “will you pull my cuff?” means just your 90s’ frayed long-sleeve t-shirt sleeve. It is a beautiful bit of poetry. If I fall asleep. If I fall awake. It’s still (forever) “so groovy to be dead” because goddamn it, we are still standing, thanks to pure grit and hard graft. On both sides of the stage. There’s no pretension with Rusty, just pure rock and roll. And that is as important of a message today as any other. Many of the boys in the room lose their shit to the show’s closer, the one we heard the most, maybe, on the radio and Much when those things were alive / glorious: “Misogyny”. This band always had something for both the boys and the girls. Something unifying, something powerful and, as it turns out, unkillable.
The onstage banter tonight is hilarious. Rusty are real, and they are the real deal. They rock. Jesus, why weren’t they Canada’s own Cult? As big as? They are that good. They are better. We whisper to one another, staying mostly quiet as we’re front row. None of that. No regrets tonight. Tonight is tonight and the past is gone. This music is timeless and beautiful and here, current, alive, and as good as ever – by contrast to what rules the charts, our music was and is and will always be Godzilla over a miniaturized, toy-like Tokyo. Whatever. We’re glad we know better, we were there in the 1990s and we are all still here now. And aren’t we lucky to still be alive / here? For so many reasons. And this is, even, the future. This is the first new record in 20 years from this always should have been world-beaters iconic immense band. They’ve gone and done it. They’ve done it the new old way and the new way, through technology. Their Pledge campaign has served to remind fans and the industry what’s important and what can be done with a little support for musicians. We hope the industry is listening. The Toronto scene, the other Canadian scenes. (You can still pre-order & support the new album here). The title has changed, will be revealed soon. Whatever they call it, it’s incredible, fast, punky, rocking, young again, fresh. It fits, hand in glove, with the songs we’ve all been singing word for word for years and years. It’s important, it’s actually intimate and interactive, and it’s news. Get on it.