Having shows in one’s place of residence seems like such a big deal to most people. To an old fart like myself, going to see a band play in a basement or living room is as natural as going to see a band play at some place where overzealous security goons get way too familiar with my family jewels before I’ve even got through the front doors and where I’m expected to hand over money on top of the advertised price because a bartender with Grand Canyon cleavage just executed the arduous task of taking a bottle of beer or water out of a refrigerator. That’s just a couple of whines about clubs. Is it any wonder it’s sometimes preferable to attend a show in the admittedly cramped confines of someone’s house? Granted, it’s not the most orthodox way to experience “going to a concert, man” but some people still don’t and never will get the appeal, as is evident via this paraphrased exchange earlier during the day of Protestant’s Toronto debut: Mrs. KSP: What are you doing tonight? KSP: Going to a show in Toronto. Mrs KSP: Who’s playing? KSP: A band from Milwaukee called Protestant. Mrs. KSP: (After religious denomination jokes) Where’s that happening? KSP: I dunno, I think it’s in someone’s house downtown. Mrs. KSP: What?! You’re going to drive all the way to Toronto to see a band play in someone’s house? KSP: Yup. Mrs. KSP: Do you know the people who live there? KSP: Nope. Mrs. KSP: So, you’re going to go see a band in some stranger’s house?! KSP: Yeah…Hey, how long have we been married? Mrs. KSP: A long time. Why? KSP: Just checking because you’re acting like this is something new. You know it’s not your first day here, right…?
Sure, one of the negatives of going to a house show is that it sometimes feels like you’re intruding on some close-knit group of friends which kinda adds to the weirdness for already-socially awkward folks (like yours truly), but it’s all about seeing the band(s) I want to see, not trying to infiltrate some dumb social clique. In this instance however, Soybomb is unlike most other house shows I’ve attended or played in my time.
First, the setting. Located in one of the hip parts of downtown Toronto – which likely means once every inch of remaining space is swallowed up by condos and coffee shops and the area is fully gentrified, chances are Soybomb's residents will be priced out of here in a couple of years – the place is an open-concept, loft-type apartment with high ceilings situated on top of a cycling shop. There’s a small half-pipe in what would normally be the living room and truth be told, this place is bigger than some clubs I’ve been to.
Second, there’s a "fully functioning" PA with speakers mounted on the wall behind where the bands play in the flat of the half-pipe with a small mixing board. They even play tunes between bands. With ample room, a BYOB option, though you could apparently purchase limited amounts of libations and vegan baked goods, this place is cool as shit, reminiscent more of a cozy VFW Hall than most venues you could care to mention. Yes, most people in attendance already seemed to know each other, but I can’t say there was any hostility directed towards first-time attendees like you sometimes experience at small gigs elsewhere. Not that this was “small” by any means for a house show. There were at least 125 people here, though that may seem “small,” it’s not really “small” if you know what I mean. Which I hope you do. I did run into Mike from Villipend and the irony of crossing paths with him at a house show in light of this made me regret not cracking jokes about him scouting for a new place for him and his lady to lay their heads.
Let’s not forget that Soybomb is relatively clean, especially for a place that hosts punk/hardcore shows and bands. Trust me, I’ve seen and played in some horrific punk houses in my time - places that would probably need to be put under the sort of impenetrable concrete tombs they buried Chernobyl's reactors under before being demolished to make sure nothing untoward got into the atmosphere – and this place is the Royal Palace in comparison. Why, I remember a house in Tulsa that had the blackest toilet bowl I’ve ever seen on a white toilet and then there was the additional challenge of playing a show while trying to avoid stepping on the dead birds that happened to be on the basement floor.
Anyway, on to the matter at hand. Poor planning on my part meant that I ended up sitting through a couple of the opening bands. Maybe I’m a jerk for saying that, but I checked out the three openers on J. Bennett’s Interhole and knew I wasn’t going to be into any of ‘em, so I attempted avoidance tactics but failed miserably. Upon entering, I was confronted with two bands aping all that’s popular in extreme music as of late and having it loosely regurgitated as you could imagine: the D-beat part goes into the grindcore part which goes into the black metal part then the sludge part which is all fine and dandy if that’s your thing (and you like your music horrendously out of tune), but it’s not mine. So I sat back – more like did my imitation of holding up the wall – and watched the respective bands friends' loose their respective shit and prove that, no matter how shitty their bands are, they have friends who'll have their backs in any situation.
When Protestant take to the, erm, flat, it’s encouraging to see that they’re a quartet of mid-to-late 30s dudes. There’s probably something about a connection between underground music and DIY culture “lifers” to be written about here, but I don’t feel like getting all philosophical on anyone’s ass. I already knew Protestant as an balls-out awesome band from the Tragedy-His Hero is Gone-but-catchier school, but it added a little more to my experience knowing there’s some other advanced age action going on in the room. It was even more encouraging to see that they played with twice the energy of a band half their age. First thing worryingly tall bassist Jesse Smith does on the opening notes of the first song is leap an additional seven feet in the air, landing his epic punk rock jump on the slope of the ramp, almost snapping an ankle and taking out a couple patrons with his headstock in the process. The other members are no slouches either; drummer Brian Morrison’s face contorts into this half-orgasm, half-the guy from the cover of Vulgar Display of Power look as he blasts and anchors the material from their new Reclamation EP and the Stalemate album. What else is notable is how full and crushing they sound despite playing through less-than-top notch PA speakers and not even having everything mic-ed. They just plugged in, turned up and played and blew everyone the fuck away.
Afterwards, while scanning their merch – yes, there’s enough space for a merch area for all the bands performing – a conversation was struck up between them and I on the topic of being old, which then gravitated to other old guy topics like the original Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High TV series, cane and walker comparisons, the debate over glucosamine supplements versus aspirin for relieving joint pain and singer/guitarist Cory von Bohlen’s amazement that as old as I am, I still wear a size small (not all of these subjects were actually discussed – see if you can figure out which ones were).
There you have it: my long-winded of saying Soybomb awesome, Protestant awesome, go buy their music and, if you’re in the Toronto area, keep an eye out for any upcoming shows at this kick-ass venue.