FRIDAY — Above the ancient, swirling, buried Garrison Creek the street was empty but for a group huddled around their cigarettes, gouts of smoke swirling up above their heads, and a streetcar lurching down the rails. The rictus-shaped moon half covered by thin cirrus threw a ominous and murky glow over the building and the streetcar conductor with a face like the skin had been pulled too tight across his skull rang out the bell to warn those cutting in front that he wouldn't be stopping. The hollow shrillness echoed and the garish traffic lights burned red then green then yellow and feral cats screamed in a distant alley. A biting wind sliced through my coat and rustled the dry, dead leaves of the lone tree down the road and rooted in concrete.
Some 200 meters away is the arroyo of Trinity Bellwoods park deserted now but come warmer swells of weather will be full of life and laughter and picnickers sitting tailorwise. Memories from long dead years float towards me like ghosts. Sunburns and giddy half-drunk flirtations and sawing cicadas and the cool relief of tree-thrown shade. Scars prove the existence of bygone hurt but how do we trust for certain the memory of happiness? What memory of good-times past is etched upon the flesh?
The man at the door motions for identification and I hand him my photo health card. He studies the picture then studies my face and nods, if the image don't add up he doesn't give any indication. Stepping aside he presses the card back into my hand and I enter the cantina. Candleflames twist and dance atop the credenza and flicker then right as I lean forward to ask the harried barkeep for a gin with a splash of water. Leaving $5.25 I take rapacious pulls from the straw and stare about the room at the couples and clusters of men and woman plying one another with wit and alcohol. There is a heaviness in my bones tonight, a deep ache for ear-splitting music and a feeling that only a sound of a great enough volume can reach and nourish the core of my being.
I am a pilgrim to the Delphic altar begging for alt-rock shoegaze. I pled for the prodigal child of My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain. I yearned for heavy droning and hissing static and growling feedback. Pythia led me here to see A Place to Bury Strangers. Named for the fields where the destitute and unclaimed and nameless are laid to rest, their bodies lowered into the cold unforgiving ground to the simple impersonal words of a county chaplain who was there less for the souls and more for the paycheque, A Place to Bury Strangers implies a bleak landscape of ash and scavengers. I once dreamt of such a place, where the anguished and misfortunate dead reached up through the hard-toiled acidic soil and howled for recognition of their fates. They cried out for the Kindly Ones to call upon their kin and bring restitutions down on their heads. That morning I woke up ensnared by hooks of sadness and the enraged eyes of those indigent spectres followed me all day.
I nod at the man behind the bar for another gin. He pushes the drink towards me without expression and puts out his hand for payment. I put my money on the counter and turn towards the back of the low-ceilinged room. There are men on stage performing the ceremony of tuning amps and setting mics. One quarter of an hour went by before the players took to the stage. The impatiently waiting crowd murmered and shifted and word of Maccabean revolt sifted from person to person. Without warning or signal a thick fog begins coiling from the black space in front of the stage. It was to begin.
If my travelling through the streets of downtown Toronto had been arduous and seeped in the knee pain inspired by too-high heels, that trial had been worth the dagger like throbbing. A Place to Bury Strangers brought down on the house all the smooth vocals and rich melodies enclosed in texturized distortion and a sound as pure and deep as the taiga. The smoke shifts and the silhouettes of the musicians become austere and striking portraits in the pale yellows and toxic greens of the uplights. If only I could seal the music into my ears, stamp it on my brain. As if entranced by a black-magic sorcerer, I am lulled into a such a state that my only concern in life is to deliver my entire consciousness to APTBS. I gratefully offer myself over.
Too soon it is all over and I must return to the cold world of late spring heartbreak. The deities of shoegaze delivered and I must only take what I need to steal me towards the next concert.
Find all of our coverage of Canadian Music Week 2013 here.
Photos by Carmen Cheung.
Alex Snider is a devotee of Cormac McCarthy. She can be found on Twitter and at her nearly defunct blog.