Hello Hello

Posted: July 29, 2010 in Life

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

  1. Momma Fargo says:

    Way cool. Surprises are sweet!


    • They *are*, aren’t they? I’m still high from the night. Should be in bed sleeping but…….the music is still playing in my head. (Also, my ears are ringing too – but that’s a different story altogether). :)


  2. Abe's Blog says:

    Very nice. If and when I visit you in Toronto, you will have to take me to see them play.


  3. Douleur says:

    I love me some good music! This is why I never show up to a concert at the time it’s supposed to *start* unless I know of the warm-up band. Or..if the main act has no warm-up…they’re always late anyway :)


    • I don’t go to many concerts (I guess that’s obvious, considering the mistake I made with this one) but I’m with you on this one: I’d much rather show up in time for the band itself. They didn’t even advertise the warm-up band so I have no idea who they are.


  4. Wolfie — whiel I was reading this I was surprised you didn’t even think it’d be the warm-up act. I was laughing thinking, “he better not leave.” Ha! But I see in your comments that you don’t do a lot of concerts so that makes complete sense! Glad you stayed and enjoyed them afterall. Sounds like a great night afterall. So much better than going for a work-out!



  5. suzrocks says:

    I’ve almost made this same mistake… only to learn it was an opening act. Good thing you waited. I do love how you write. I was there with you. I like how you described the exchange between you and the lady at the show, and how it ended, That sounds like me… music first :) Going to check out this band you speak of now… XOXO


    • I’d have KICKED myself had I left as planned, only to find out later on that I had missed out on that ridiculously happy evening.

      I know how much music matters to you – how it helps to define who you are, as much as it does me. It never occurred to me that whoever ends up as…sidekick… needs to share that love of music. How obvious it is that people like us should encounter someone with that (so) important characteristic at a concert like this. Really obvious in retrospect.

      I spoke to her today. Her ears were still ringing, as were mine. I think they’re back to normal now. You know what though? It wasn’t the volume of the music that did us in. It was the screaming of the fans.

      I don’t blame them.


  6. suzrocks says:

    PS I left you a treat at that other place ;)


  7. JustKate says:

    The last concert I went to was Mercy Me, a Christian band, a few years back. It was at the Rose Stadium in Portland, Oregon and I felt like an alien. Portland Christians are weird. Okay, that’s another blog. ;)

    You make me want to get out more. There are so many cool indie bands that play around P-town; time for me to go check them out! But first, I’ll go to YouTube and give Empire Cat a listen.


    • “Portland Christians are weird”. *grin* That’s funny. *laughing* Almost as funny as my favourite weird quote of all time: in the movie “Thank You For Smoking” a sandal-and-socks wearing William H. Macy, governor of Vermont stands up in a court-type session and indignantly declares “the state of Vermont will NOT apologize for its cheese”.

      (The thing is: no one was asking them to.)

      I’ve got that quote at a signature in a few forums that I visit.

      I don’t go out to many concerts myself. So much of the popular stuff doesn’t appeal to me. But yes, it’s the indie stuff like this that gets my blood dancing. Hopefully you’ll find some great stuff in your area. If the Cat Empire visits your town, you’ll have to make a point of seeing them. (They tour a lot, so it might happen). :)


      • JustKate says:

        It’s funny but it’s TRUE. Seriously. I’m going to go downtown, wearing something organic and slightly dirty, with my hair in dreads, smoking a doobie, which I’ll pocket after taking one last big hit, then I’ll slouch into a church entirely unnoticed, and snap a few pics with my cell phone.

        After that, I’ll quick-change into an ensemble from The North Face, miraculously pull the dreads into a smooth pony tail, grab a bike and cruise on up to the next place, where I’ll buy a latte or an organic fruit smoothie before jogging in to find a seat, where I can snap a picture or two.

        Seriously, Portland Christians are unique.

        Back on topic: Portland is the ultimate indie music town, right on a par with Seattle. Pop up next time you’re in Vancouver and I’ll show you. :0)

        And now I have to check out “Thank You for Not Smoking.”


        • “Thank you for not smoking” ranks right up there with “Raising Arizona” – but then I’m attracted to the weirdly funny stuff. When I first saw the latter film, I’m pretty sure I was the only one who laughed out loud at some of the hilarious dialogue and music in that film. It was truly a magical blend of music, cinematography and dialogue – something only the Coen Brothers know how to do well.

          I will definitely take you up on your invitation one of these days when I head out west. You’ve given me some incentive too.

          You know – you don’t *have* to pack that doobie with actual pot, if you just want to make a statement. You can do a pretend doobie, and have SOOOO much fun with it. I’d love to see you in that getup. In fact, if you can convince you-know-who to get into character, I’d love to join you guys, and we could do an entire scene, straight out of Woodstock.

          Of course, none of us would sit near the back. We’d have to take the front row, or maybe the second. And we’d have to make sure not to bath for a week for doing our scene, too. Going for authentic here, baby.



  8. Just Me says:

    First off I have to say that I love BT! Kevin and Dina are great and work so well together.

    If I was going to download a few Cat Empire songs to check them out, what would you recommend?


    • I don’t think I’ve ever seen on-screen chemistry as great as Kevin and Dina. Ever. They make each other howl – and that’s always great to see. I’m not a morning person, so when I see them I can’t help grinning. The show provides a great start to my day.

      For Cat Empire, I’m hard-pressed to find favourites – I can listen to them all and never ever get bored. I suppose (if I HAVE to pick) I’d suggest:
      1) So Many Nights
      2) The Darkness
      3) Days Like These
      4) Fishies

      But really – they’re all very very good. :)


  9. contoveros says:

    Cat Empire howls it way into my heart.

    Nice tale you provided us. Will keep an eye out for them here in the States. Sounds like a group that even an old Beatles fan could get into. Thanks.

    michael j


    • Definitely! I just saw their schedule and noted that they’re currently touring around Europe. But they’ll be back – I’m sure of it.

      Hope they don’t burn out too quickly. I can only imagine the stress they go through – they are a high energy powerhouse.


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