NXNE 2011: Tomboyfriend @ The El Mocambo by Adam Bunch

Tonight the Tomboyfriend House Cabaret! plays the Little Red Umbrella Variety Spectacular at the Holy Oak Cafe. (Facebook invite here.) To get you in the mood, here's the review we wrote of their North By Northeast set back in June.

THURSDAY - Where were you? Maybe I'm not one to talk; three weeks ago I hadn't even heard Tomboyfriend yet. But now I burn with the fire of the recently converted and so, on Thursday night at midnight, I was there. I was upstairs at the Elmo, that bizarre hybrid of dance studio and rock venue (where children's charity jazz-dance classes are haunted by the ghosts of the Rolling Stones and that fabled night they stole our Prime Minister's wife away). But as we waited for the band to go on, the wall of studio mirrors reflected an empty room back at itself. (You were in bed, I suppose, choosing sleep over greatness. Or down on Queen Street, bathing yourself in the irony of a 21st century set from Men Without Hats. I'll hope, though, that you were simply oblivious, as naive as I was three weeks ago, that sad, neglectful creature who hadn't discovered this band yet.)

So when Tomboyfriend — the band that released one of the best albums of the last year, the band that got more "likes" on CBC Radio 3 last week than any other artist, the band that earns ink from Spin and the New York Times, and, hell, even appears in quasi-fictional form in strange quasi-fictional novels — when that band took the stage, well, there were nearly as many of them as there were of us. A crowd of artistic misfits in make-up and funny hats crowded behind instruments and microphones, costumes stained with fake blood. (Counting among them, I should mention, a little red favourite author of ours, Bonnie Bowman, the first writer our site ever interviewed.)

Since you weren't there, we had our party without you. Tomboyfriend's music is a glammy echo of the best of the '70s, of the New York Dolls, the Velvet Underground, the B-52's, and pretty much everything that ever happened in the heroin-addled artsy heyday of Max's Kansas City and CBGB & OMFUG. Their lyrics are dense and poetic and playful, littered with the half-digested remains of a pop culture diet, the kind of literary collage of references and re-appropriation that will take a listener years to unpack, but brings titans like Nick Cave and Dan Bejar immediately to mind.

Frontman Ryan Kamstra, looking something like a zombie and an accountant and a clown, struck out alone into the black emptiness in front of the stage, filling it with rock 'n' roll and the convulsions of a possessed ragdoll, while the cast of characters behind him banged out songs off their inspired debut, Don't Go To School.

We drank and danced and laughed. But it will be more fun next time, when you're there too.

Photos by Adam Bunch

More of our coverage of NXNE 2011 here

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at adam@littleredumbrella.com.


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