The first thing you see when you enter the place is wood. Lots of wood: the floors, the pillars, the wood panelling on the walls. And you notice that around each pillar is a little ledge where you can place your drinks. Or elbows. Pretty handy if you’ve had too much to drink and holding your head up becomes a bit of a challenge.
I handed my ticket to the guy at the entrance and asked about the seating. Don’t laugh. The ticket indicated a seat number, so I wondered where mine was.
He looked at me, puzzled. “Well, there is seating up on the balcony but …you’ll have to go up there right away if you want to score one.”
I went up, and found a bunch of cushions, some of which were pushed up against the wall. After grabbing a glass of wine, I plunked myself down on one of them and waited for the band to hit the stage.
The main attraction was a group called “Cat Empire”. It has nothing to do with cats. I have no idea why they chose that particular name. Maybe because it’s distinctive; hard to forget.
I had seen these guys on one of our early morning TV news and variety shows in Toronto. They were outstanding: they had a beat that wouldn’t quit, and the band played a variety of instruments, and there was just so much joy you couldn’t sit still while watching them. It had been a long time since I’d seen a band that good. After watching the show, I purchased as many of their albums as I could and downloaded them to my iPhone.
So when I heard they were playing at the Phoenix in Toronto, I jumped at the chance to buy a ticket.
Sitting there, in the dark at the back of the balcony with my wine in my hand, I wondered at the lack of enthusiasm and atmosphere in the place. There was music playing over the speaker system but it was nothing special. I even recognized a few of the songs from years ago.
Finally, over the sound of the music came the sound of a live guitar. The guitarist strummed the strings from the bottom to top – and that seemed to catch everyone by surprise. The dull murmuring stopped as everyone waited to hear them start up.
I didn’t recognize a single one of their songs.
Plus, there were only three musicians on stage: a guitarist/singer, a bass player and a drummer.
I thought to myself: “what the hell is this? Are they ripping us off?”
The more they played, the less enthused I was about staying there. None of the songs were catchy; I figured maybe it was because the main singer wasn’t there to lead them. Maybe he was sick. Maybe they signed a contract with the place and were just giving the minimum requirement.
I went downstairs to see them from a closer vantage point. The crowd was mostly quiet between songs – although there was some polite clapping at the end of each one. I grabbed another glass of wine and wandered over to one of the posts. My elbows needed a rest. Seemed like a good idea anyway.
The more that gosh-awful band played, the more disappointed and disgruntled I got. I looked at the clock and realized that if I left the place right then, I’d have a chance to hit the gym and get a workout in before it closed for the night.
As I turned that thought over in my head, the band played their lost song. I looked at the clock again. They had played for exactly forty-five minutes. I nodded to myself. They had fulfilled their contract, and we were totally ripped off. I downed the rest of my drink and put the glass down, and got ready to leave.
It didn’t look like anyone else was leaving.
I frowned and wondered what the heck was going on.
And then it hit me.
We had been listening to the warmup band.
I grinned at my stupidity. Evidently, I need to get out more.
Of *course* there was a warm up band. The fact that no one was the least bit warmed up meant nothing. They were there, they had a job to do, and they had done it.
I smiled and shook my head, and went back to the bar for another glass of wine (and a bottle of water).
Cat Empire took the stage.
Oh. My. God.
As much as I enjoyed them when they played on Breakfast Television, they were *miles* better in person. I couldn’t believe how great they were.
The whole place shook as everyone jumped up and down and danced to their sometimes reggae, sometimes rock, sometimes tango beat. Everyone was grinning and the band themselves were rocking out like there was no tomorrow. The pianist did a solo. The trumpets blared out their top notes. The singers did the same. The drummer did a solo. The singer got on the bongo drums and the music played on and on……. There was no let-up, and no intermission.
We all stayed on the floor and danced like there was no tomorrow. There was no thought of going back to the bar for drinks or for sitting down. You don’t pause when a dynamic party of this intensity is under way. You simply can’t. You stay where you are; you sing with the music and you move your feet and your ass to the rhythm.
I wondered how strong the floor was; you could feel the timbers straining beneath your feet.
There was a beautiful blonde girl dancing next to me. We shared thoughts between the songs. Really, there wasn’t even a notion for romance though – the music and the joy of the band was just too great, and neither of us wanted to miss a single note. We just stayed there and danced and sang and enjoyed the tremendous music together. It was just too much. (Of course, I’m not entirely stupid: I did ask her for her number after the concert, and she gave it to me. So there’s that).
I walked a long way after getting out of the concert hall, with my earphones on, listening to more of Cat Empire.
It’s been a while since I was on such a natural high.
If they ever come to your town, I highly recommend you go see them. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
P.S. I tried to embed one of their songs called “Hello Hello” but they’ve disabled it. If you look on Youtube you’ll see it there. Have a listen. It’s worth it.
Update: there’s even a better review, complete with pics, which you can find here: Cat Empire Review