Smith Westerns – [Live]

Friday, 22 June 2012

Every year, more stuff piggybacks onto NXNE weekend. Whether it’s more shitty corporate booths blocking sight lines at Dundas Square (which is why doing a show review for Flaming Lips proved to be impossible), or invite-only parties that have nothing to do with music. This year if you RSVP’d to Jansport knapsack’s Bonfire sessions, you were rewarded with a trip to Toronto Island to drink for free while the Smith Westerns played. It sounded like a pretty good deal, so I got a wristband and got on the ferry to Hanlan’s Point and arrived so early that no one was there. I could see the taco stand being set up and hear the Mac laptop DJ starting to sound check his Scissor Sisters tracks, “Uh, I work for Vice. I’m here to DJ,” he told the bouncer as he entered the “lawn of cool.”

At 6:30pm, when security allowed us passage into the Eden of freebees, the crowd was still sparse. I kept waiting for the inevitable giant rush of people to barrel off the ferry and arrive in one thirsty mass. In anticipation of this event, I began to drink as fast I could before the trendy haircut locusts depleted the crop of Red Stripe. The venue, made by gating off a lawn next to a cottage, could not have been more beautiful; lined with trees and a small stage at the head of the space, it was very well-appointed. Making a trip to the Island, even though it’s only about kilometer away from Toronto, feels like you’re a hundred kilometers away; it’s serene and relaxing and having a band like Smith Westerns play a small show with a small crowd was a rare opportunity. The crowd was young and overly hip, the type of people who are trying hard to look like shit except all their ripped jeans are designer and their glasses are worth seven hundred dollars a pair.

Then, very quietly, lit by a setting sun and warm halogen lamps, the Smith Westerns took the stage without any announcement and began to play. They had driven all the way from Chicago and seemed awkward standing in the daylight and playing to a crowd who was more interested in beer lines and sitting in a circle on the grass than watching them perform, but they made it work. People floated in and out of the immediate stage area enjoying the music but then leaving.

The Westerns were dressed like jocks from 1993 in Bulls caps and hoodies, with lead man Cullen Omori swimming in a Hilfiger letterman jacket. All of them were wearing clunky boots of some kind. On seeing them, my first thought was, “Seriously – how cold is it this time of year in Chicago?”

The band was having a great time being aloof and strumming their jangly tunes, which centered heavily on their latest record, Dye It Blonde. With little to say to the crowd and some subtle smiles to each other as if to say, “I can’t believe we’re getting paid for this,” they hopped through “Still New,” ”Imagine Pt.3.”  “All Die Young” and “Dance Away,” saving their self-titled lo-fi opener “Dreams” for later and finishing with their indie hit single “Weekend.” The crowd did their best to clap while also holding beer cups, and the band made a quick and goodbye-less exit from the stage. After that, the crowd was afforded one more hour of free beer before we were herded out. Darkness fell and, before everyone was shuttled back to the concrete fields of Toronto, the party stayed open until the stroke of 10pm illuminated by a mid-sized bonfire and giant illuminated globes reminiscent of the party at the moon tower in Dazed and Confused.


Smith Westerns –
Toronto Island (NXNE) – 06/14/12


Dye It Blonde
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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