By Chris Dagonas
Last Tuesday night, your favourite “Trenches” member Nick Setacci and I attended the Givers concert at the Drake Underground. Opening for them were Brooklyn, NY trio Yellow Ostrich.
Perhaps like some of our readers, I had no idea who these bands were. Nick is more “on the scene” than I am, I freely admit. But when he suggests a band, I usually make time to give them a listen. And when he says tickets are only 10 dollars, I’m down to catch their live show.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Drake Hotel: It was built in 1890, when Parkdale was one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in the city. For a long time, it was considered one of the grandest hotels in Toronto. But starting in the 1960s, when Parkdale began to see an influx of drug users and other seedy characters, the Drake Hotel’s reputation turned to one where a cheap thrill could be found for a good price. This legacy lasted for about two decades, and as the neighbourhood continued to evolve, the Drake became a punk bar, a rave den, and whatever else the locals demanded. But in 2004, the Drake re-opened as a beacon for the vibrant artistic community springing up in Parkdale and along Queen West. Art shows, live music, film screenings all became part of the reinvented Drake Hotel, and as a city, we are the better for it.
We started our night on The Drake’s rooftop patio, Sky Yard, where we were greeted by a friendly server and a nice cool breeze. We both had the Drake Burger, which I found to be well constructed, topped with cheese, bacon and a “Russian dressing” (no veggies sadly) and served with hand cut french fries. Not the best burger in town, but certainly respectable.
Doors to the venue were supposed to open at 8, but by 9 there was a line snaking its way up the stairs and into the Drake’s lobby. I suppose sound quality comes first, but it is still a bit disheartening to be left waiting. Despite the exaggerated waiting time, the show was actually quite excellent. Also, Nick made me order a Michelada (a Mexican beer based caesar-type drink, with Corona, tabasco and worcestershire sauces) and I could barely get through half of it. Music he knows, drinks he does not.
Once inside the Underground, couch and standing room spots filled quickly and the crowd had a lively feel to it. Yellow Ostrich took to the stage around 10, and from the get-go they brought very high energy and a superb sound. Multi talented Jon Natchez (formerly of Beirut, Okkervil River and others) was the highlight of the group, bringing the addition of trumpets, saxophone and keyboard to the group’s indie-pop sound.
With the venue filling quickly and the crowd buzzing from Yellow Ostrich’s very solid 45-minute set, Givers took the stage around 11. They hail from Lafayette, Louisiana, they repeated frequently, but have a unique sound separate from other southern rock-blues-folk rock groups of that region. You may know their song “Up, Up, Up” from the “FIFA 12” soundtrack or from “Glee”, but Givers have much, much more to
give offer. Lead vocal duties are shared between Tiffany Lamson (who also beat the SHIT out of her drums and tambourine) and Taylor Guarisco, each getting their own opportunity to shine on different tracks. The highlight of their set was “Noche Nada”, an upbeat, at times almost frantic tune that had the crowd clapping and jumping along with the band. Much like Yellow Ostrich’s Jon Natchez, Givers’ Nick Stephan also can jam on a few different instruments, including the saxophone and yes, even the FLUTE!
All told, this was a top-notch show at a cool, intimate venue. Yellow Ostrich have just released their fourth full length album, Strange Land, and touring with bands like Givers and Of Monsters and Men surely will open their sound to new audiences. Meanwhile, Givers are about to hit Lollapalooza later this summer, and it’s unlikely you’ll be catching them in a small venue like this for a long while. Their trajectory, for the foreseeable future, is up, up, up.
 I sure did. I play a LOT of FIFA.