June 21st, 2007
By Sal Hassanpour
It’s very likely that the last time I was on Toronto Island was in the 1980s. I admit it, I’ve missed Björk – as well as all those Broken Social Scene performances – but not being a trustafarian explains the rest of my absence. So when I hear that Matt Cully’s great experimental weekly, Poor Pilgrim, was coming out of a two-month hiatus to celebrate the Summer Solstice by placing different Toronto-based bands in various locations around Centre Island like some kind of live-music Easter Egg hunt, I was happy, not only for the night’s return, but for the excuse to hobble, prodigal-like, back to the Island as well. After bumping into a friend from school and helping them locate a cell phone, I board the ferry. That first meeting was prophetic. Granted, bumping into people in Toronto happens all the time, but like the island on Lost, by the end of the night, the coincidences seemed a bit surreal. More on that later. Onto the performances!
Island Pier is located on the other side of the Island from the Ferry Docks, and that’s where the first band is playing and depending on who you ask, they are called Tender Years, or Dollars and Taxes. Or they go by their names, Ian and Simone. When asked, they said One Hundred Dollars. As I stare at birds trying to glide against the wind in vain, people are already cracking out their windbreakers.
Simone’s drawling voice and Ian’s acoustic guitar picking fight against the wind, as they spin songs about migrant workers in Leamington, Ontario, picking tomatoes for Heinz, being queer in the rural Prairies, and how great giving blowjobs are. In short, they’re everything I was hoping for from the Bruce Peninsula concert I attended a couple weeks earlier, in terms of old-style folk music that speaks of everyday, material problems and concerns.
Next to Snake Island, a point on the island so small that the wooden bridge linking it is literally off the beaten bicycle path. Except that the performance of Toronto indie-supergroup Awesome (incl. members of Wyrd Visions, Jon-Rae and The River and Niff-Dee) took place UNDER it, in troll style (seriously, check the pictures for proof).
Having arrived early, I picked a spot directly across from the band, while most stood atop the bridge, busy staring the sun down. Paul Mortimercy plucked a slow, melodic and meditative drone on his acoustic guitar as the other two members, when not plucking spinets themselves, jammed cellphones into the guitar box, recording the few seconds of captured sound into a bargain-bin, battery-powered sampler and thus colouring the warm guitar hums with gentle noise. Staring at a swallow’s nest tucked under the bridge or the ducks busily filtering through the algae with their bills with Awesome’s soundtrack emanating like a slow fog, it was as much of a sublime an experience as would be possible tonight.
Jennifer Castle I last saw at the Bruce Peninsula concert, but it turned out that was only half the story. Performing on a darkened Ward’s Beach, it was almost all a capella – not too mention unplugged. Much more so than on the Peninsula, then, Castle treated us to a display of her remarkable voice. The sky darkened almost immediately, and so her rhythmic swaying and snapping quickly disappeared from view. Eventually two bright flashlights provided Castle with enough light to accompany herself on an acoustic for the final numbers.
Next to the entrance to the Ward’s Ferry dock is a lamppost, blaring down a strong pure yellow light onto travelers waiting for the boats. It’s there that Feuermusik, the duo comprised of bass clarinet/saxophonist Jeremy Strachan and drummer Gus Weinkauf, play a set of wild and woolly instrumental jams under the monochrome glare, fueled with punk impulse and inspired with modern jazz’s dedication for musical expansion. It’s a blast.
And on the final Feuermusik note, the ferry blasts its horn, signaling the end of the best concert experience of the year, never mind that it was arguably the most unique in my gig experience. While the crowd steadily grew during the night, I’d love to think that the next time round even more people will come out. Check out their myspace and don’t miss out next time ’round.