Toronto’s own Teenanger kicked off what would become a riotous night at the Phoenix last Wednesday with an awkward first date of a set— the kind of meeting that starts off with throat-clearing and too little eye contact but ends with the fervent promise to call again, soon. Though they currently have a home on Telephone Explosion records, their set didn’t have a lot if incendiary power to it, but was instead a slow burn. They started off a little wide-eyed on the Phoenix stage, as though intimidated by the mostly impassive and head-nodding audience, but soon hit their stride. While the tone of their songs recorded, especially on the punchy and pugnacious Frights, is one of impudent anger, is a live setting they come across much more endearing and positive. After all, they weren’t starting a fight so much as starting a party, and once they found their groove, their sweet, hot songs were perfectly suited as a palate cleanser for the night.
Brooklyn, New York’s K-Holes took over the stage next, and exuded both more energy and more confidence right off the bat. Heavy lidded and resplendent in bright gold pants, singer Vashti Windish was a sinuous and mesmerizing presence as she shared vocal dudes with guitarist Jack Hines and played the tambourine or maracas. Sara Palmquist’s squalling, rippling saxophone performance was also a highlight of the set, at once point prompting the audience to demand that the sax be mixed louder. Their set was a great mix of manic, frantic energy, perhaps best embodied in the breathlessly disgusted “Rats,” and unpredictable sensuousness. Their set was a highlight in a night filled with excellent performances.
Next up were Ex Cult, garage rock warriors from Memphis, Tennessee. The group formerly known as Sex Cult before they were cease-and-desisted caught the eye of Ty Segall when they performed at SXSW last year; not only would Segall go on to produce their self-titled debut, but also brought them along on his current tour. It is easy to see what attracted his attention: Ex Cult have an infectious, almost anxious energy that comes to them very naturally and makes them an itchy, electrifying live band. Their sound is impudent without being overly aggressive or confrontational, just brimming and overflowing. There is plenty of squeal in their sound, moments of joyous noise that seems like they cannot be contained, and their cover of “No Fun on the Beaches” was particularly grin-inducing. It was during their set that casual bopping evolved into a full-on dance party on the floor, with the first brave crowd surfers beginning to make their appearances.
The one let-down of the night came in the form of time management. Up until this point, the set clipped along at a lively pace, with well-executed turnovers, so that Ex Cult ended well ahead of schedule at 11 p.m., a welcome fact considering that this was a Wednesday night. However, Ty Segall opted not to take advantage of the time afforded and instead allowed the audience to wait out almost the full hour, starting mere minutes ahead of his scheduled midnight set.
Of course, all was forgiven as soon as Ty Segall took the stage and began to play. Captivating and charismatic, Segall unites some of the best qualities of polished garage rock and DIY punk, retaining a wild unpredictability that can also be tamed and lacquered to a gleaming clarity. Due to his prolific and varied output, it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect from Segall aesthetically, but this set was a great balance of almost feral energy and polished class. The set began with the one-two punch of “Thank God for Sinners” and “Not The Doctor,” during which Segall made it clear that he planned to channel a kind of energy somewhere between limb-flailing hardcore and classic rock cool. While the set was heavy of tracks from his latest solo album Twins (his third in 2013), the show also featured a number of Ty Segall Band songs, including “The Tongue” and “Wave Goodbye.” The set lasted less than an hour in total, but left the audience a sweaty, exhausted and wholly satisfied mess.
Natalie Zina Walschots is a poet and music writer based in Toronto, Ontario. Her second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press this spring. You can follow her on Twitter at @NatalieZed.