Around 11:30 p.m. last night, it became highly improbable, in a rain of ice cubes, that the the Stage would ever again host anything akin to the Bruise Cruise kick-off party. The Design District venue, with its slightly upscale, living-room-like vibe, most often hosts jam fusion acts and New Orleans-type brass bands. Sure, these shows get packed — but it’s highly unlikely they involve a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd dancing atop furniture and creating an accidental sticky rain of Sailor Jerry rum.
Last night’s pre-cruise show featured four bands playing aboard the ship, which departed to the Bahamas today: the Soft Pack, King Khan and the Shrines, Thee Oh Sees, and cruise alumni and locals the Jacuzzi Boys. It was exhilarating because it was largely uncomfortable and sometimes even bordering on the unsafe. The Stage is an indoor/outdoor venue, with a garage-like main room open to a patio, but torrential rain meant a crowd packed to near physical capacity inside, sweating on each other in a steam bath. Add in bands known for getting crowds rowdy, and for the main part of the evening, the club felt like a pressure cooker.
That critical mass started around 10 p.m., when King Khan and the Shrines took the stage. Khan himself, a paunchy, Indian-Canadian rock and roll freakazoid, most recently performed in Miami this past fall with his outfit Tandoori Knights. In fact, he seems to pass through town at least twice a year, always with a different backing band.
The Shrines are the best among these. Besides Khan, there are seven of them, including a whopping four-piece brass section — and to add to the global confusion, they’re all German, assembled during one of Khan’s sojourns in Berlin. Together, they play a rollicking style of keys- and horn-driven rock and roll that comes across as crazy and as amphetamined out as Little Richard in his heyday.
Khan took the stage in a feather headdress, gold cape, bone necklace, and no shirt, instructing the audience, “I want you all to freak the fuck out.” They obliged, as he proceeded to shred through an hour set, dedicating almost every song of his set to somebody or another. There was a shout-out to the Gonzalez family cooking Latin barbecue in the club’s patio, a song “for all you fat girls out there,” one for the late Jay Reatard, and one for Khan’s brother, who was happily dancing in the audience. The peak was clearly the number “I Want to Be a Girl,” an ode to gender envy and confusion that found the Jacuzzi Boys joining in for vocals and tambourine, and the Shrines’ baritone saxophonist wading into the pit.
That madness was just a teaser for the follow-up, a set by the criminally underrated Oh Sees. In a word, it was pandemonium, as frontman John Dwyer shrieked his way through a set of gleefully sloppy, garagey rock which soundtracked an environment of barely controlled chaos.
This particular musical micro-world is a haven for ex-punk and hardcore types aging gracefully old and weird, and the sudden explosion of loud and fast guitar meant an instant pit, many of its participants hovering around 30 or above. This would have been a great time to wantonly punch someone in the face with few consequences, but luckily, nobody seemed to take advantage. Though there was adult crowdsurfing and dancing galore, things stayed civil. Whether purposeful on Dwyer’s part or not, the last couple of songs skewed slower, which seemed to calm things down.
With that exhaustion out of the way, though, a large chunk of the crowd started to trickle out, especially as the minutes past the start time for Fucked Up continued to tick away. Though the Toronto group was scheduled to begin at midnight, Damian Abraham and company didn’t take the stage until 12:50. They played to an, uh, hardcore contingent of fans who, despite the extra space, crushed further towards the front.
Abraham’s “crazy frontman” reputation precedes him, so he’s got a lot to live up to. Yes, he tells inappropriate stories, crushes things, climbs on things, and slowly loses clothing over the course of his set. But rather than seeming contrived, it feels more like a pathos-ridden exorcism. His show is something like that of so many self-deprecating comedians — he cracks the jokes and criticisms about himself before you do.
With that, his shirt was gone by halfway through the first song, as he swung his portly middle toward the front of the crowd, inviting fans to squeeze his stomach and chest. That kind of intense touching and squeezing would continue throughout the rest of the set — how Abraham doesn’t drop-dead of a million bodily fluid-borne diseases is a medical miracle.
The songs themselves are bracing, don’t-give-a-shit, proper d.i.y.-style hardcore punk — yet they hide a soft heart. “The Other Shoe,” for instance, as Abraham explained it, is “about being on the cover of a magazine, and then finding out your dad has colon cancer.” “I Hate Summer” sounds funny, but uses humor to mask weight shame. If you made eye contact with Abraham — which was pretty easy to do — it was easy to catch that performing clearly brings up some deep shit for him.
Luckily, if you didn’t want to dwell on that, there was enough other theatrical stuff to focus on. He shed his shirt early, and his shoes, socks, and even shorts quickly followed, leaving him in just a saggy pair of boxer briefs. In these, he ran into and out of the crowd, even rolling in the lake-like puddle that was now the club’s outside patio. “That water out there smells like sewage,” he warned when back onstage. “Do not lie down in it.”
At other points, he crushed beer cans on his forehead — which now boasts a Wesley Willis-style head-butting callus — and, to bartenders’ open-mouthed, motionless reaction, even climbed atop the bar. Swinging its light fixtures around and stomping barefoot, the performance pretty much cemented that this was both the first and last time Fucked Up would ever play in this particular venue. Those who stuck around were lucky to witness it, and get one of Abraham’s random sweaty bear-hugs afterwards.