On Tour

We Fled Cairo: Live in Mtl

We Fled Cairo, that band with a suddenly relevant name, hit the road last night for their first show beyond the city limits. The venue was perfect: a space in a row of post-industrial lofts, nestled next to the railway tracks in a forgotten corner of Saint-Henri. They call it "The Animal House," a newer venue in this area. Its loft of mattresses is home to a handful of young men, stacks of equipment towering over them as they sleep. They pay rent by holding shows, although they are now trying to focus more on hosting artists whose music they actually like. I was told that the previous month's rave had been more trouble than it was worth.

The concrete floor was scarred and splattered with paint, ground cigarette ash, mysterious stains, the ravages of youth. The show was slow to get started, absent the typical time limit of a commercial venue. The proximity of the tracks (I counted a good half-dozen freight trains barreling past) meant that there was no need to worry about noise complaints. You wouldn't live here if you slept lightly, or if you valued silence or insulation. The prospect of playing until dawn was a given.

The boys were up first, easing their way into the set as the crowd grew. A few witty remarks, a ripple of laughter at a clever song title, and then the clocks stopped and there was nothing beyond the loft's steel door. I'm really not sure how long they played for. Every song was good, better, more. It was a constant showcase of the skill and precision that make them what they are. I saw a number of bored listless hipsters perk up as the sound unfolded, as if slowly realizing that what they were hearing was actually music. There was a certain giddiness in the room, fueled by the smell of sweat and the hanging smoke. A number of times I shared smiles with random strangers; a mutual assurance that this was indeed really happening, a realization of how fortunate we were.

The expression "blew them away," is used far too freely. It is tired and worn out, like an empty jar of peanut butter gutted by so many butter knives. We can thank the Rock industry for this, for making the force of sound the prime criterion, and plastering it over every cultural category. We can be blown away by amps or by really good edamame, films or fabric softener. The expression should be purged from everyday use, sent into linguistic exile for a few decades, re-immersed into the soup of disuse that simmers in every culture. There should be a moratorium, so that the significance of the term might be once again fruitful, and yet I would like just as quickly, in this case, to petition for an exception, an emergency decree of conditional use. There's really no other way to adequately say it. They blew them away.

I don't like to talk about music too much, partly because I think it's largely ineffectual, like writing about food. It's always interesting to read music reviews that try to describe the music in question. Such descriptions tend to fall flat; they don't really communicate what it sounds like, because you can't translate the substantive content of sound into words. At best you have vague approximations so entirely swamped with the intricacies of connotation as to be nothing more than a valiant effort at the impossible.

I'm not saying that you can't write about the evocative power of sound, but this becomes difficult when one assumes an aura of journalistic objectivity. You can also, of course, address the technical side, appraising the sheer skill of the artist in terms of beats sustained and chords progressed. I don't know anything about that stuff. I'm also always a bit wary of this kind of appraisal, this obsession with the nitty gritty of technique. What does it say about our treatment of music if the highest praise we offer is that of technical proficiency? Shouldn't we look at what it does to people?

We Fled Cairo has an appeal outside of genre. This is what makes them great instead of merely good. Their melody is a glimmer of essential humanity amidst an unnatural cacophony, the eye of the storm. It has this universal quality that gives music its power, but it is not just this. They speak to a generation raised on multi-tasking, their songs are filled with the sonic equivalent of a smash cut, abandoning riffs halfway through, intertwining and echoing. It is constant and constantly changing, static yet frenetic.

Crop Failure, from Hamilton, played next. They had more of a metal sound. I spent some time talking to the bassist, Matt, before the show. They had played Peterborough and Ottawa on their way up, impressed by the bands they had met on their way. Their mission was to meet people, network, and start playing as many shows in as many places as possible. Much has been said about the grueling nature of touring in Canada and the excellence it is said to breed; I won't bother repeating the same. By the end of their set, the guitarist had splattered his scratchplate with blood. It looked like someone had taken a can of red spray paint to his guitar. Very metal indeed.

I can't say much about Crabe. I only stayed for two songs of their set before heading over to a bar that someone has opened in an adjacent loft. They had some weird shtick with a television playing retro exercise videos between songs. They also had a stuffed armadillo as a mascot. It's not every day that you get to touch an armadillo, so there was that.

All in all it was well worth a tank of gas and a sore neck from sleeping on a couch.