On Friday, DSTRCT hosted a wild show on its second floor featuring Catl, The Namedroppers and The Essential Letdowns.
DSTRCT is a divey 2-floor entertainment venue that brings together a strong community of local and international musicians alike, whose fruits cover the wide spectrum of genres available for consumption. The second floor is usually home to live bands, ranging from 6-piece metal powerhouses to solo noise-punk expressions, with folk, jazz, surf, indie rock and even beatboxers between. The third floor bears its resident DJs that provide a chic, nightclub environment that rests, but never sleeps, atop the downtown core. As a by-artist-for-artist enterprise, DSTRCT uniquely brings the worlds of local and well-known acts to one place, and allows the final product to be readily accessible to Guelph’s gung-ho show-goers. This is my first time reviewing a show at DSTRCT, but I’ve worked the doors of this bar for over a year now, and I can vouch for the loyalty of many bands’ followers. It’s a great place to support your friends’ bands, and also walk out with a comprehensive glimpse of what Guelph has to offer musically. DSTRCT is also the home of GAIN Music, who puts together a yearly festival in March (stay tuned.)
For this night only, I had the pleasure of working coat check instead of collecting cover at my usual front door post, so I was actually able to see the show. I’ve missed out on a lot of weekend shows to work the doors, but in turn I typically have the chance to connect personally with the performers and their promoters – this time, I was merely an audience member with a paid fascination for keeping coats safe. There were moments during the sets in which I wasn’t able to devote my full attention due to my duties but I was able to enjoy all that I saw.
The night started slightly behind schedule, so the first band gave us a little taste of how they can live up to their name. I’m kidding. I had an extra minute to get a pre-show smoke in. The Essential Letdowns are a 3-piece “esoteric power trash punk” group from Kitchener and Guelph. I’ve seen them before at Jimmy Jazz, when they opened for The Nasties last year, and in the different form of “Noiz a Noiz,” with whom the group shares two members.
The band ripped through an 8-song, high-energy set on the DSTRCT stage, and it only took their sound check to ignite the interest of the first few headbangers. They opened with a second attempt at a rockabilly tune they apparently tried elsewhere in October, and continued with a tribute to the punks living in Royal City that frequent events like this. Their quick-lipped tales of misfit had the audience reminiscing on their seemingly UK-punk influences, and kept everyone’s attention to their lyrics about drinking and coping with the pressure to fit in. Their general energy and stage presence was good, though at times I felt that more of the stage could have been used to express the angst that was being communicated through their songs. Once I realized that two of the three members had to remain at their mic and drums, it made more sense and I let it go. Little did I know that the guitarist would be put on the bassist/singer’s shoulders later – I think that made up for the nervousness I sensed at times. At one point frontman Joey’s bass strap fell off, in response to which he exclaimed “shit is flying everywhere” and I think that when he did it up again, it was somehow lower than before. A classic punk move was the lead into one of their original songs that invites the listener to relate to the essence of their band, roaring, “you’re a letdown too!” Among their originals, The Essential Letdowns performed a cover of Toots and the Maytals’ “Monkey Man,” which I enjoyed a lot. I would recommend checking out their three recorded releases, and if you’re looking to go to a show soon you can find them in Kitchener at Harmony Lunch on the 19th.
The Namedroppers arrived in their usual show get-up, frontman Anthony Damaio dressed in an all-white suit, sporting the red-blue 3D glasses. I hadn’t seen this band live before, but I had acquainted myself with their album, “My Funny Hypochondriac” (2018) in the process of reviewing it for a radio show I almost got off the ground. The ensemble is a wild and pleasantly boisterous 4-man-band based out of Guelph, whose style I would call Fusion “Junk,” (as in Jazz-punk.) Their bio on Facebook hits inquirers with a cold, “none of your business,” and their Bandcamp page suggests that their creations are, “party music for people who don’t have any friends.” They’ve got three albums out, the latest of which is “Uno Mas,” a 6-track sleeze-fusion farewell to their long-time rhythm section. I find this band to be especially charming, and their set did not disappoint.
Upon delivering a short and sweet intro and dodging brief technical difficulties, the band dove into a bustling 9-song set. The psycho-spinny and winding riffs took the crowd straight into the converging point between jazz, surf and desert, even catching licks of some beachyness. Anthony’s vocals are captivating in that his stylistic range covers the growls, the screeching and the vibrato of jazz while also clearly communicating the music’s message of comfortable chaos and confusion. While his sing-speak, tell-you-how-it-oughta-be lyricism was the focal point of many songs, there was heavy emphasis on the individual talents of the group, and each song had room for solos that refocused the buzzing crowd’s attention. After the concluding congratulations to the guitarist Michael’s recent marriage, the band closed off with two short songs. I was dealing with coats at this point, as well as an anonymous audience member who offered me a suggestion for how to describe this band: The Namedroppers are like a mixture of Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and “several unnamed stimulants.” We mean that endearingly, of course!
If you’re interested in seeing The Namedroppers live, you’ll find them roaming around Hamilton and Kitchener late this March. Check their Facebook page to see a bunch of 3D glasses memes and enjoy.
Catl is a rock and roll shit show duo, also meant endearingly, from Toronto. Anthony from The Namedroppers actually showed me their music on a car ride towards a Toronto show last year, and I remember trying to find them online when I thought their name was Cattle. Amateur. It’s been a while since then, and not only do I know their correct name now, I know their blues-punk music and how well they can keep a crowd engaged. Even though the couple had recently returned from a European tour, their energy and teamwork held strong, and they put on a great show. By this time, the coat situation had really picked up, but I was able to write a few things down about their performance. Sarah Kirkpatrick on the two-piece drum kit first reminded us that it’s 2019 now and invited everyone up to the front to start the year on a closer, more engaged note, and so they began. Her energy on the drums was excellent, as she didn’t seem to miss a beat. A few hiccups otherwise didn’t stop the “gruesome twosome” from delivering the wonderfully harmonized tunes. The vocal back-and-forth style kind of reminded me of Born Ruffians, another great Toronto group, blended with ruggedness of The Black Diamond Heavies from Nashville, TN, which is a mix I had never pondered before. The rockabilly vibe was strong, and with the reverb effect on the vocals, it felt like we were all being warped onto a different planet on which the civil duty was to dance. Near the end of the set, the duo instructed the crowd to sing along to their song, “Hot Baked Cornbread and Spice,” from their most recent 2018 release “Bide My Time Until I Die.” Another good crowd-engagement move. The twirling and stomping of the listeners was no where near dwindling, but they initially ended their set with an ode to cat-calling men, fondly referred to as douchebags, and then returned for an encore. The raw and roaring nature of their music left everyone full of energy, and some fans kept the dancing going anyways. If you’re curious to listen to Catl’s creations, check out one of their five full-length albums. If you’re searching for a live experience of what I’ve just described, Catl will be in Toronto on February 2nd, and for my readers south of the border, in Chicago on May 4th.
Photos courtesy of: Rachel Lee Cabeceira
–Dana CK is a writer with Music Lives and a booking intern for GAIN Music. She’s also the cover girl you see freezing through the winter months at the door of DSTRCT. Find her on Facebook (Dana CK) or Instagram (@ddanasdfghjkl) to ask about the musical happenings of Guelph.