. : : October 6th, 2011 : : .
Wakey!Wakey! made their Canadian debut at a free indie showcase set at the Horseshoe Tavern a year ago (and I was there to tape it!). Unbeknownst to the promoter, the band was actually somewhat established and had a decent draw — but was only given the second-to-last slot on the bill, and a short twenty-minute set. The room emptied out before the final band, myself included.
It was wonderful to finally see Wakey!Wakey!, even if it was the first show on the tour and the band hadn’t gotten fully gelled again, but a twenty-minute set was but a mere amuse-bouche. The set was crammed tight with great songs, but there were so many more I left wishing I’d heard.
When the band announced a year later they would be returning for their first headlining gig north of the border — at the Drake Underground, nevertheless — I was excited. So excited, I bought my ticket ahead of time, something I rarely do for smaller venue general admission concerts.
It turns out the rest of Toronto might have different priorities. Not only was the evening of the Wakey!Wakey! concert scheduled for the Ontario provincial elections, but it was also the season opener for local NHL team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. As if that wasn’t enough, they were playing against their long-standing rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. So, yeah. Anyone who wasn’t out voting and couldn’t afford tickets to the game was undoubtedly glued to a bar stool or a living room couch with unblinking eyes fixated upon the idiot box.
Meanwhile, a small, polite crowd of mostly young women managed to tear themselves away from what was clearly A Very Big Deal, and congregated with me at the Drake Underground in anticipation. I may have not been the only one in the room a bit taken back by the lack of band set-up on the stage; we later found out that only front man Michael Grubbs and back-up singer Tanja Buziak had made the trek across the border. By the end of the night we would leave knowing that, while maybe the whole crew didn’t make the trip, we were treated to the heart and soul of Wakey!Wakey!.
The crowd was quietly reserved — even Grubbs teased the crowd for a “tame at best” response — but it stands as the only show I’ve seen yet at the Drake where the crowd pressed adoringly against the the stage. Maybe they were self-conscious about making too much noise in such a small crowd? But they definitely were there to see Wakey!Wakey!, and the duo went well above and beyond what anyone could have expected and hoped for.
Grubbs admitted after the show that he “never plays this long”, but thought he’d kick the tour off right, and put on an extra special show for the Toronto crowd. After opening with a beautiful rendition of 1876: The Brooklyn Fire, Grubbs set the mood for the night by playfully bantering with the crowd about songwriting in the buff. Yes, this would certainly be a casual affair; Grubbs interspersed his heavy songs (more often about break-ups with cocaine-addicted floozies than you’d think!) with rambling stories and jokes that kept the faithful crowds unflinching attention.
But as fun as these tangents were, the star of the night was always the music. The crashing crescendos of some of the more cinematic tracks, such as War Sweater and Brooklyn never failed to impress, but were also balanced by the tender moments (ie. Light Outside, Dance So Good), fun covers, and the chaotic delivery of Take It Like A Man. We were also treated to a couple of brand new songs that show potential.
Even at an elongated set of over an hour, I must admit that I still left wishing they’d played another song or two (Car Crash, anyone?), but Grubbs and Tanja proved they didn’t need the full band to follow up their previous appetizer with a greatly fulfilling entree. Here’s hoping that next time they make it across the border, they get the proper welcome they deserve — with a packed house, ready to partake in the feast.
The recording turned out brilliantly, with an exception of a weird drop out during Square Peg Round Hole, and is a must have for fans. Although the duo isn’t as dynamic without the full backing of a band, it’s definitely an intimate performance that may also compel those less familiar with the band to check out their fantastic War Sweater EP and Almost Everything I Wish I’d Sid The Last Time I Saw You LP, both of which get frequent rotation here, and both of which are available through the fine folks at Family Records.
02. 1876: The Brooklyn Theatre Fire
04. Square Peg Round Hole
05. War Sweater
06. Light Outside
08. No Rain [Blind Melon] [tease]
09. Blame You [abandoned]
10. Blame You
14. Girls Just Want To Have Fun [Cyndi Lauper]
16. Feral Love
23. Dance So Good
25. Take It Like A Man
29. Almost Everything…
Thanks to Wakey!Wakey!, specifically Grubbs, Tanya Buziak, and the Drake Underground for a real treat.