F***ed Up At the Great Hall in Toronto on Tuesday
Thirty minutes into an orderly riot, the sweat marks on the front man's underpants began to show. Damian Abraham, a load of a man, had discarded his shirt and was down to long, sagging shorts. He is bearded and balding, with a gut and man-breasts that are almost freestanding from the rest of his hairy body. He's a B-cupped Bluto, if that helps.
At one point Abraham stopped singing/barking/yelling long enough to hoist himself onto the low balcony that collared the small hall, as the Toronto band with the coarse, unmentionable name pounded away on the burly chord progressions of its hard-rock opera David Comes to Life. He hollered lyrics pugilistically as he circled the second storey, eventually making his way down the back stairs onto the stage, where the three guitarists, one drummer and bespectacled female bassist went about their churning business.
Imagine the Who going WrestleMania.
"This is my favourite Toronto show ever," Abraham proclaimed, not far into the set. "Or is it too early to say that?," he added. Words from my mouth. Like the crowd-surfers and self-conscious stage divers in the room, the likable Abraham seemed determined to establish a blockbuster mood and to will a wild momentum unto this concert – a benefit show (for the legal defence fund of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake) that featured strong opening acts the Sadies, PS I Love You and Quest for Fire and the front-to-back playing of the quintet's acclaimed conceptual album of this year, the aforementioned David Comes to Life.
The brilliant, anthemic record, judged disc of the year by the U.S. music magazine Spin, is a four-part, 18-song, 78-minute conceptual piece. The narrative involves a love tragedy, anarchy, hopelessness, labour misery and redemption. Abraham's microphone wasn't working for the first few songs, but even when the problem was fixed his guttural shouts were indecipherable.
Are surtitles an option, or do we assume the audience knows the words? Or does the music – sublimely punk and fierce, with affecting ebbs, flows and counter melodies – carry the plot enough: "All we need is for something to give, the dam bursts open, we suddenly live. The boot off my throat, life is returning; the boot off my throat, let's all emote."
The crunchy piece The Other Shoe offered a chanted refrain that was at once disheartening and euphoric: "Dying on the inside, dying on the inside, dying on the inside.…"
At one point, Abraham declared that this was the band's peak, and that years later we'd all look back at this moment in the group's career and see nothing but slow decline after the first 10 years.
I would suggest that if Abraham and company were contemplating it, the demise is probably already happening. The group's Chemistry of Common Life won the 2009 Polaris Prize; if anything, David Comes to Life is a step up in game. Perhaps this is what culmination looks like.
And so, it probably wasn't too early when Abraham said this was his favourite Toronto show ever, but too late. It's hard to imagine the group eclipsing itself at this point. But, as Abraham shouted at the end of Truth I Know: "What survives is what's passed down – I have my legacy, and I am proud." Rightly so.