Thursday, December 6th, 2007
Before we begin, if you didn’t live in Southern Ontario or Western New York state in the early to mid ’90s, then you’ll need to read this for this post to have any sort of context.
I was excited when I heard about The Lowest Of The Low being tapped to kick off the month-long 60th anniversary celebrations for the Horseshoe Tavern, having rediscovered my passion for the band earlier this year (see above linked post) and certainly liked the idea of seeing them again for the first time in over seven years. And when I received an email on Monday night from new Low member Lawrence Nichols thanking me for the August post and mentioning that this would be the band’s final ever Toronto show – they were disbanding again and for good this time – it certainly gave the evening an extra sense of occasion. And for me, who was more than a little bitter about the fact that they broke up the first time around barely a week before they were to play my university, it was a chance to be there – properly – at the end of it all.
Opening up were Songs From A Room and My Shaky Jane, two local outfits that hearkened to earlier times. The former, despite their Cohen-inspired name, were more a meeting of ’70s proto-metal hard rock and ’80s American post-punk/hardcore while the latter were more straight ahead, classic party rock with an animated live show and rather generic tunes made more for entertaining than inspiring.
But with all due respect to the support, we were there for the Low. After a warm introduction from CFNY’s Dave Bookman, host of the Nu Music Nites at the Horseshoe for the past fourteen years and Jeff Cohen, owner of the Horseshoe, the Low took the stage to rapturous applause and thus began the long goodbye. And though I’m sure many were expecting or hoping for a pure nostalgia night, the Low were not going to oblige – I’m sure that a large reason behind their dissolution was to avoid becoming an oldies act and they were going out on their own terms. Not even half of the main set came from Shakespeare… My Butt or Hallucigenia, but drew more from 2004′s Sordid Fiction and presumably both Ron Hawkins and Stephen Stanley’s solo material (Hawkins just released a new solo record, Chemical Sound). The balanced the old and new out via the two encores, but it was obvious that the band held their reunion material in as high regard as their older stuff and while it obviously didn’t resonate as much with me as the songs I played to death in my salad days – I certainly wouldn’t have minded one more rendezvous under the Carlaw Bridge or a final plea to get Henry a new pair of Docs – I could totally respect that.
And though it had been many years since I saw them last, I was amazed at how ageless they appeared. If you were to compare the three original members onstage with the photos of them circa Shakespeare, you would not believe that fourteen years had passed. And they were still as entertaining and sharp onstage as I remembered, cracking wise between songs, ad-libbing lyrics and only occasionally getting sentimental about the farewell. I don’t really remember if they were a terrifically tight band back in the day as I probably wasn’t paying that much attention to such things but what they lacked in precision – I suspect they were pretty well lubricated by the time they went on – they more than made up in pure energy.
Though their official final gig is this coming Saturday in Buffalo, this was the real goodbye, the grand finale. Buffalo is just epilogue. Playing in the bar that’d been like a second home for them for so long to the hometown fans who’d took them to the top (relatively speaking) in the early ’90s, mourned them when they went away and welcomed them back with open arms at the dawn of this century. Toronto infused every note, every word of their songs and this was Toronto saying thanks and goodbye. And it ended the way it should have – in celebration, not sadness. Maybe there were some tears in the crowd when the last notes of “Eternal Fatalist” rang out and the band took their bows, but there were far more smiles. It’s tempting to think of the Low as a band that could have and should have done greater things if they hadn’t imploded, but forget the “what ifs”, they DID do great things, write great songs and finished up on their own terms, even if Hawkins’ Telecaster wanted to give up the ghost a couple songs early.
So to Ron, Stephen, David, Lawrence, Dylan and also John – wherever you were – thanks, and goodbye.
Stephen Stanley posted a post-show note on the Low’s forum and while I’m not surprised in the least, I’m still a little disappointed that there appears to have been no media covering the show whatsoever.
Photos: The Lowest Of The Low, My Shaky Jane, Songs From A Room @ The Horseshoe – December 4, 2007
MP3: The Lowest Of The Low – “Bleed A Little While Tonight”
MP3: The Lowest Of The Low – “Subversives”
MP3: The Lowest Of The Low – “Gamble”
MP3: The Lowest Of The Low – “The Dogs Of February”
MP3: The Lowest Of The Low – “The Unbearable Lightness Of Jean” (live)
MP3: My Shaky Jane – “The Books That She Carries”
MP3: My Shaky Jane – “Dark And Bright”
MP3: My Shaky Jane – “Youth”
MP3: Songs From A Room – “A Schooner Is A Sailboat”
MP3: Songs From A Room – “Left Versus Right”
Video: The Lowest Of The Low – “The Last Recidivist” (YouTube)
MySpace: The Lowest Of The Low
MySpace: My Shaky Jane
And not to overlook the other part of the event Tuesday night, namely the kick off of the Horseshoe Tavern’s 60th anniversary party, NOW has rightfully devoted the cover and most of the music section of this week’s issue to the history of the venerable club (links to individual stories down the right side), The Toronto Star solicits some venue stories from the owners past and present, The Globe & Mail chats with their barkeep and JAM! also pays tribute.