“Welcome to my humble abode,” uttered Ridley Bishop, taking to the stage as the first act of the evening — the venue did at times feel like being in somebody’s living room.
Toast Collective occupies a converted storefront among a collection of independent shops at Kingsway and Fraser, and the entrance is through the back, or so I was informed by scribbled note on the front door. Walking through the dark alley, I found a canopy of fairy lights leading to the door, which certainly added an air of mystique before the evening had even begun. The room itself was small and scattered with a few chairs — the high ceiling and the lazy sofas kept the space from seeming cramped, despite the growing crowd outnumbering the seats available.
Natasha Zrno (clarinet) and Johanna Hauser (bass clarinet) joined Bishop and his guitar on stage. The combination of timbres created intriguing layers of sound, with the clarinets almost filling the role of percussion, creating a beat for Bishop to play over. The talent on stage was clear to see, with sounds coming from the stage — albeit sometimes abrasive (particularly towards the end of “Breathing Machine”) — that really gave the impression that these were artists who knew exactly how to manipulate their instruments with impressive outcomes.
Next came Only a Visitor, made up of three vocals, a keyboard, bass and drums. The band provided the warmest notes of the evening, and their performance certainly garnered the best response from the audience. Vocalists Emma Postl and Celina Kurz weaved harmonies together — finding the perfect balance between experimentalism and traditional vocals — over which Robyn Jacob provided groovy keyboard playing and great lyricism. The harmonized vocal line on “Feigning Innocence” — “We went outside / We were children again / Ignoring time” — was the most memorable moment of the set, providing the ideal backing for Jacob to work with and creating a welcoming atmosphere in the room. A cymbal heavy crescendo provided an end to an impressively powerful and well received set from the band.
Following the first two bands that experimented in sounds, the night made an unexpected turn with the next artists experimenting with the concept of performance itself. Seattle-based Hunter Gather had their tour to promote their new cassette cut short earlier that day having been turned away at the Canadian border. The audience was instead treated to a set via Skype — credit going to the organizers of the event, as well as Hunter Gather themselves for setting this up so efficiently. The band’s music centred around melodic saxophone, with texture added in the form drums, guitar and bass. The second (and final) song, “Sing” showed what Hunter Gather was capable of, even with the limitations of Skype, in filling the room with atmospheric sound. The short and impressive set certainly left the crowd wanting more.
Togetherness, the final band of the night, were waiting to satisfy the room’s craving. “We’re going to be a bit louder than the other bands,” the audience was warned. And they certainly weren’t lying, as Togetherness launched into a set of explosive rock songs. They clearly didn’t lack talent, but perhaps the music would have been better suited to a different night. Glimmers of mellow pop were short-lived as the distorted guitar screeched into action again. The performance provided a resounding end to a varied and experimental night of music. The variety of talent on display is testament to the welcoming nature of Toast Collective, and long may it continue.