Two nights of sweaty rock

The Guelph-bred Constantines “were born to live: to lust, to work and to love in fear, chaos, disorder and boredom.”
The Guelph-bred Constantines “were born to live: to lust, to work and to love in fear, chaos, disorder and boredom.”
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of subpop.com
The Constantines head to work this Thursday and Friday at the Grad Club, and they intend to shine their light on the audience.
The Constantines head to work this Thursday and Friday at the Grad Club, and they intend to shine their light on the audience.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of subpop.com

It’s Saturday night at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern and the place is absolutely crammed. The Constantines are headlining the second of two sold-out shows with The Deadly Snakes. Mid-way through their set, the band launches into the title track from their 2003 sophomore release and everybody knows what’s coming. As Whil Kidman plays those single keyboard notes towards the song’s thundering conclusion, every single hand in the bar is raised high, united in faithful submission to The Cons’ pulverizing poetics.

Lead singer Bry Webb stares back at the congested throng with intimidating intensity, surveys the crowd to make sure there are no stragglers and with one look, assures us that we’re all in it together ... just before he leans into the mic with his gravelly growl and brings the house down.

With that in mind, Thursday and Friday are gearing up to be more than just some party as The Constantines prepare to unleash their riotous rock ’n’ soul revolution on Kingston with back-to-back jacks at The Grad Club in support of their latest record Tournament of Hearts, a celebration of the ostensibly simple qualities of work and love, while exploring the inherent mysteries contained therein.

Maybe The Grad Club’s cramped quarters will remind The Cons of their humble house party beginnings back in Guelph, when they first expressed the hunger of a generation and inspired all the lonely souls of the Cigarette City to unshackle their hearts, embrace the night and dance, dance, dance.

The Constantines were raised on Fugazi, but schooled in Springsteen, ’cept they weren’t born to run—The Cons were born to live: to lust, to work and to love in fear, chaos, disorder and boredom. They revel in basements, barrooms and back alleys and emerge only to spew lusty, working-class anthems.

“Make your love too wild for words,” they told us three years ago before retreating again into Neil Young’s bosom.

With 2003’s Shine a Light, the intrepid young lions learned about far more than mere survival as they eclipsed any expectations set by their jaw-dropping debut and destroyed all concerns of a sophomore jinx. So spent by the end, they could only howl at the moon.

And it was only five years ago that The Constantines sought the death of rock and roll—and in doing so, actually saved it—giving voice to the young offenders, the rejects, delinquents and punks, looking for any willing witnesses to their thrashing, firebrand assault.

But with Tournament of Hearts, The Cons are calling out to the operators, the workers, the vigilant people. They’re bringing their lovers to the rooftops and calling on others to smash their alarm clocks and join them.

“I know Bry [Webb] was thinking a lot about what it means to work, and to do work,” guitarist Steve Lambke told the Journal by phone. “Because some of us are at the point now where we’re not really working jobs anymore and when you come from a working-class background, that’s a really strange adjustment to make,” he said.

“You start thinking, ‘Wow, this is really what I’m doing right now,’ and it just feels wrong somehow.

“I mean, you have responsibilities and stuff, but they’re sort of intangible.”

Originally from Guelph, The Cons moved to Toronto four years ago and have since firmly embedded themselves in that city’s thriving music community.

Lambke spoke of the veritable renaissance that’s been going on in the big smog the last few years.

“Even compared to when I moved here four years ago, there’s so many more shows and so many more bands—bands that I think are really exciting,” he said.

“I feel like there’s such a healthy community in [Toronto] right now and there’s so many places to play and so many supportive networks of people,” he said.

“I think there’s been a lot of really important groundwork laid by some very dedicated people.” Lambke mentioned Wavelength—a weekly pay-what-you-can concert series where The Constantines and Broken Social Scene, among countless other bands, played early gigs—and the Blocks Recording Club as examples of Toronto’s community-based scene.

“These people have worked really hard to create an environment that’s conducive to playing new and interesting music,” he said.

“It makes it easier to be in a band when you’re part of a community that’s really interested in and excited by what you do.”

Three Gut Records—the indie label home to the Constantines, Royal City, Jim Guthrie and others—was another major player that reflected the city’s communal ideals. The tiny label, run by Lisa Moran and Tyler Clark Burke, was responsible for releasing some of the country’s most exciting music of the last half-decade, and was equally revered for the familial way in which they operated.

It was thus a bittersweet day this past autumn when Tournament of Hearts, The Cons’ highly anticipated third record, marked the final release for the beloved label.

While Three Gut will still be carrying The Cons back catalogue, Lambke said the band isn’t yet sure how the next record will be released.

“It’s still way too early to tell,” he said.

He did say, however, that the end of Three Gut doesn’t signal anything of the sort for The Constantines.

“I’m proud of the records we’ve already made and I just want to keep working,” he said.

So, when The Constantines head to work this Thursday and Friday at The Grad Club and they shine a light on you, be sure to raise your hands high over your head and submit to all of the rock and roll demons that lurk within.

Your tortured soul will thank you for it in the morning.

Young hearts, be free tonight.

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