By: Dan and Patrick Grant
Back on October 2nd and 3rd, one of Toronto’s seminal bands blew the doors off the Danforth Music Hall.
Celebrating the tongue in cheek ‘11th anniversary’ of their punishing breakthrough album ‘Shine A Light’, the Constantines, who never disappoint, absolutely annihilated a room full of people who got everything they were looking for and more.
I’m both pleased and ashamed to say that I attended the first show. Pleased because it was with local musician, Same Page contributor, little brother and Constantines gusher Patrick Grant. Ashamed because, well, it was my first Constantines show and now I regret not seeing them as much as possible in the past ten years. Before, during and afterwards, we talked about the band itself, what they’ve meant to us and what exactly makes the Cons so special.
PATRICK: The first time I saw the Constantines was about nine and a half years ago. It was April 9th, 2005 in a special all ages afternoon show at Lee’s Palace with the Weakerthans and C’mon. I went with two girls who were way cooler than me and I was trying to be way cooler than I was the whole time. The logic for attending what was my first Lee’s Palace concert experience was because we all very into “Left & Leaving” by the Weakerthans. Listening to that record now, I have feelings of bad nostalgia, teenage embarrassment, and a general wish that I’d made different choices.
DAN: That’s funny to me because even though you’re the younger brother, due to their hiatus (the band last toured in 2009) this was actually the first time I ever got to see them live. They rose to prominence in the city while I was living away and by the time I got back, they were gone. I had no idea what to expect from the show. I only knew them from their albums and from word of mouth. I almost saw them in Brantford once, at the legendary Ford Plant (RIP) but it fell through for some reason.
Pat: Yeah and the first show, for everyone I think, is like a body blow. I remember that we came in right at the end of C’mon’s set to a howling Ian Blurton. It was a pretty amazing feeling to walk out of the nice bright April afternoon sun into this dark hole of rock n’roll. I remember walking around, looking at merch, feeling pretty awkward and out of place.
Dan: I think I had a similar teenage experience at a Sum 41 show at the Phoenix. I am embarrassed.
Pat: I kind of wish I’d bought one of those classic Cons tees with the slanty orange font on them, but alas, I did not. The show was a flabbergasting experience. I was particularly amazed by how the band could have a frontman in a kenora dinner jacket alongside a bass player wearing a bellaclava and angel wings. I wish I remembered the set list, but I don’t.
Dan: That’s what the internet is for, bro! Almost exclusively, I think.
Pat: It looks shorter than I remember. Some big tunes in there though.
Dan: Definitely. “Insectivora” never fails to sonically cave in my skull. Especially on the record, when the horns come in during the songs last minute or so. I’ll always remember the first time I heard Shine A Light in its entirety. We were driving back from the cottage, just you and me and you said, ‘Man, you need to listen to this’. I think it was like 2008. Just a total mind blow and the horns on that song clinched it for me. Do you remember if they had horns at the show? Should I say the word ‘horns’ again?
Pat: No, I don’t think there were horns. I can’t say whether I’ve ever seen them with a horn section. Likely not. I was surprised this past year at Field Trip that they even employed backup singers (one of whom was The Weather Station). They did a fine job but ultimately the Cons don’t really need any musical additions outside the core group.
Dan: The sheer scale of the sound they produced is something I wasn’t totally ready for, considering there was only five guys on stage. The Danforth is a pretty big room, but they filled every spare iota of it with power. Just absolute fury from every instrument, something that’s the staple of any powerhouse live band. Pearl Jam comes to mind. I realize I’m gushing but I’m being honest. I’ve seen most seminal ‘live’ bands at one time or another and the show was right up there.
Pat: I’ve seen the Cons a bunch of times and every time they seem to improve, which is the way that it should be.
Dan: But is also pretty rare, if we’re being completely honest. (And why wouldn’t we be? We don’t even know you.) I can remember my best friend Craig, who attended Guelph University, telling me about them way back, probably in ’04 or ’05. The band is from Guelph and Shine A Light came out in 2003, the same year he started there. They were around town quite a bit and he caught them a few times. We feasted on the same stuff in high school – Neil Young, Zeppelin, The Band – and he was constantly telling me to go see them. He even sent me some of their stuff, which I listened to on Kazaa or Limewire or whatever and I really dug it, even then. I was a fool Patrick! A fool!
Pat: At this last Danforth Music Hall gig, I think I leaned into you probably five drunk times and eloquently slurred, “This is the best live band Canada has ever produced!”
Dan: It might have been like 12 times, but hey, it was your birthday. Still I remember being surprised you were so matter of fact about it. But then, as the show went on, you can see all the call and response interactions with fans, the furor with which each new song was received – the core fans were hardcore. They knew everything that was going to happen before it even did.
Pat: It’s a fairly subjective claim, to be sure, given that we produce a lot of music that’s just gangbusters. I believe it to be true. Moreover, I think their “reunion,” or whatever you want to call it, is resonating so heavily with all the hip kids in town for good reason. So many of the great/middling/new rock bands that adorn the review pages of Exclaim! and NOW owe a good amount of their sound to a lineage that is vindicated by the Cons if not directly spawning from them.
Dan: What’s the saying? Oft imitated, never duplicated? That said, their influence is easy to see. Few bands harness the power/melody combo like the Cons. That’s the luxury when you have Bry Webb singing 90 percent of your songs; you’ve got options. Look at a newer Toronto band like July Talk. Softer to be sure, but they try for a similar dynamic; Slow builds with gentle lyrics, followed by power. But the feat is so difficult to achieve they had to employ both male and female singers to get there! It’s rare to find a band that is so versatile that it can really say it has its own sound. The Constantines have that in spades. It’s part of what makes them so much fun.
Pat: Their influence is definitely far ranging among bands in the city. Some of the good ones are Greys, Metz, Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Pup, Liver… the list goes on. Their music, well received to begin with, seems to have gotten better with age and through the mirror of their descendants. Nobody remembers how underwhelmed we were by Kensington Heights when it came out when they absolutely crush “I Will Not Sing A Hateful Song” live.
Dan: Another Pearl Jam similarity; wanly received studio albums followed by tooth loosening shows. We just need Bry Webb to do the soundtrack to an Emile Hirsch movie and things will start to get weird. Anyway, I guess the point of all this is that for as loved as they are, the Constantines still manage to elude the radar of some people. If you’re a music fan under the age of 35 in Ontario, you’re probably familiar to a degree. If you’re anywhere else, it’s hit or miss. If you haven’t treated yourself to a show or a record, just do it. It’s chaos in the best way imaginable.