At the Commodore Ballroom on Thursday, November 14
I don’t admire whoever’s job it was to clean the Commodore Ballroom following Thursday’s co-headlining show with Hollerado and the Zolas. The evening featured frequent blasts of confetti and streamers, which helped make it a fantastic concert, albeit a rather messy one.
Part of the Straight Series, things got off to a noisy start with an opening set from Toronto combo PUP, whose intricately wrought punk songs were both punishingly loud and meticulously executed. Hook-filled standouts like “Mabu” and “Dark Days” inspired appreciative head-bobbing from the already-packed dancefloor, but it was the slow and stormy psych epic “Yukon” that earned the biggest response. By the end of the half-hour performance, frontman Stefan Babcock was drenched in sweat—a sure sign of a job well done.
Between sets, the back of the stage was hung with a massive white curtain emblazoned with Hollerado’s band name. When the four members of the Toronto band walked out on stage, three of them were neatly dressed in matching dark button-up shirts, with only T-shirt-wearing drummer Jake Boyd breaking the dress code. Their clothes made them appear modest and restrained, but this impression was quickly dispelled when they repeatedly jumped in unison during “Don’t Think” and then tore into a highlight from this year’s White Paint, the soaring power-pop anthem “Pick Me Up”.
As hyperactively energized as these tunes were, it wasn’t until the bass-driven bounce of “Too Much to Handle” that the set really took off, as the song’s final chorus was punctuated by a sudden explosion of streamers and confetti. A number of the streamers got caught in the sprinkler-system pipes on the ceiling, where they remained dangling for the rest of the night.
Soon after, during the Dylan-esque opening passage of “Fresno Chunk (Digging with You)”, white confetti poured like snow from up above, some of it getting caught in the aforementioned streamers and hanging as if it were frost. This tangle in the rafters grew with each new colourful explosion from the stage.
The most eye-grabbing moment occurred during the echoing psych coda that followed “Juliette”, when a black light was flipped on to reveal that the seemingly white curtain was actually decorated with a glowing constellation of crudely drawn stars and planets. The paint that was daubed over practically every inch of the band’s guitars and amps was also black light responsive, and this created an appropriately trippy atmosphere for the ensuing “Fake Drugs”.
Singer-guitarist Menno Versteeg and his Hollerado bandmates left the black light on for the rest of the set, and those in the audience grew more lively with each song, eagerly joining in by clapping along and waving their arms. The group rightly called the night “a fuck-load of fun” before closing with “Do the Doot Da Doot Doo”, which culminated in a jam of gleefully cheesy blues riffs and an extended drum solo.
After this giddily charismatic display, the Zolas took a more low-key approach to showmanship, opening with the slinky, atmospheric piano groove of “In Heaven”. Singer-guitarist Zachary Gray may have been feeling the autumn chill, since he bounded on stage wearing a bulky, multi-coloured scarf around his neck, but he removed the garment within the first song.
Gray and keyboardist Tom Dobrzanski were accompanied by three backing players—including Light Organ label-mate James Younger on bass, plus a drummer and an auxiliary keyboardist—and they quickly picked up the mood with the dance-rock one-two punch of “Invisible” and “Observatory”. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the tune that lifted the energy to new heights was the slow-burning title track from last year’s Ancient Mars, the song inspiring such a loud sing-along that it practically overpowered the performers, Gray backing off the mike to let the sold-out crowd take the lead.
It was clear that the Zolas were hometown favourites, since the faithful bellowed along with each word on nearly every number. Despite the largely positive atmosphere, however, Gray requested that the room undergo a “collective vibe change” after witnessing a fight near the front.
Aside from this one hiccup, the singer was clearly grateful for the strong local following, and when the fans enthusiastically participated during the start-stop clapping of “Strange Girl”, he proudly noted, “I knew my hometown would pick up on the irregular clapping.”
During an encore rendition of the cosmic space-ballad “Cold Moon”, which occurred shortly after midnight, the band borrowed a trick from Hollerado by showering the audience with snow-like confetti. The Zolas then ended the show with “You’re Too Cool”, culminating in another sing-along during which even more confetti was dumped on the room.
By that point, I’m fairly certain that everyone—even the poor custodian responsible for the cleanup—agreed that the night had been a damn good party.