Photos by Ben Legere.
The Spill on George Street is one of those unusual venues that seems to change shape according to the number of people attending. You can never eyeball the capacity quite right.
Put a few people in, and it’s hard to imagine the place holding more than 30-40 people, fill it to about half and you feel like it could hold a hundred, as if the more people you add the more space swells in proportion.
It’s Friday and a Trent-based band called Television Rd is hosting a show featuring two other local acts and Billy Moon from Hamilton.
Television Rd began at Trent University’s Lady Eaton College. The three original members Dan, Dan, and Jay formed the band in early 2013 with a different singer. “We were for the most part unsuccessful, they say. “It was a really different back in those days; more pop, less punk and alternative. Ever since Duncan and Sara have joined the band, our sound has evolved radically.”
Describing their motivations for putting on this show the band says “we wanted to set up a show of our own to kick off the new school year. We usually organize and perform a show or two a month. The next one will be our CD release! October 3 at the Red Dog. It is our first CD as a band and it is indeed a full-length album!”
The show starts with another Trent University-based band, The White Crowleys, whose style is a crunching, heavy psych with a lot of instrumentals washed out in reverb.
Drummer Stuart Downie and guitarist Justin Horlick are both Trent students with the other two members (including Justin’s brother, Kaulin) based out of Hamilton.
The White Crowleys try and play at least one show per month in Peterborough, but say that this can be difficult to do when half your band lives on the other side of Toronto.
This hasn’t deterred them however – “We get all kinds of support from the community at Trent and Peterborough. There’s a lot of great musicians here, and a lot of great venues”. The band also helped by bringing along two-piece Billy Moon who are the only ones without direct connections to Peterborough.
This type of interconnectedness is something you see a lot of in these small local music scenes. The way people bring their social networks with them, the way they cross pollinate through the process of going to and from schools or travelling for work, it’s a valuable ‘surplus positive benefit’, almost necessary when so often you are booking shows with who you know, where you know.
Like Television Rd, the White Crowleys are also pitching an upcoming album having just finished recording a 2-song release, Fane Jonda, which they hope to release around Christmas.
Even one band in, the crowd is already starting to move, there’s a lot of groove amidst the White Crowleys’ densely layered atmosphere: it’s infectious. The audience is already very much alive and attentive when the hosts take the stage with their blend of punk and new wave, fronted by a very jazz influenced vocalist. At times the front rows are dancing, at times they’re hopping, and on many occasions chanting “TVRD!”
Afterwards, Television Rd would say of the event: “Really, this was as good as it gets. The place was packed before the first band even went on. We did not expect to pull such a big crowd to the Spill to be honest.”
“We had people chanting “TV RD!” and swaying their arms to our slow songs, dancing to our fast songs, clapping, singing along… it was a really fantastic crowd and they rocked the fuck out.”
The band has nine songs recorded and ready to be released on October 3 at The Historic Red Dog. This will no doubt be a very exciting night for a band that has quickly been raising its profile around town.
The next band, is two-piece, Hamilton based band (and friends of the aforementioned White Crowleys) Billy Moon. It’s an incredibly entertaining set fronted by a guy who, in looks and banter, reminds one vaguely of late-comic Mitch Hedburg.
Often short introductions lead into churning riff led dirty rock that seem to hit each note like a child stomping puddles, a sort of stylized slop, too studied and artfully dumb to be stupid (a raucous cover of Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” was a really great choice for the tone and mood of their set).
The final band are another great Trent act, “No Pussyfooting”, a garage revival-esque band flaunting sax and a sound that feels like The Nomads and The Fleshtones built a mutant in their mothers’ basement.
It’s great rock and roll that draws from a lot of different eras and just ‘weirds’ them out. The set also includes a really cool cover of Jonathan Richman’s “Pablo Picasso” but with a deep, thudding baseline and the sax solo-ing in what may or may not be improvisation (even more impressive if it wasn’t) meandering across the hypnotic repetition and weaving a sort of ‘through-line’ throughout the other song.
Perhaps the longest running band on the bill, No Pussyfooting have been around for almost 7 years, “We rip off a lot of garage bands, The Cramps, The Sonics, The Velvet Underground,” and when asked how the show went in their opinion, it’s The Spill they want to talk about.
“The Spill is great. It’s great every night of the week, it’s where I tell everyone in town to come when they ask, tonight when we got here there were people doing some poetry slam thing from 7pm-9pm and lot of them stuck around for the early part of the show, this place does a lot of great double bills here.”
Like the other bands before them, they credit a lot of the fun making music in Peterborough to the atmosphere of community. In fact, each of the three bands playing this night frequently mentioned names like ‘Tiananmen Square Dance’, ‘Watershed Hour’, ‘I, the Mountain’, ‘The Mahemingways’ etc, when talking about the benefits of living and performing in Peterborough and Trent.
It’s a remarkable reminder of just what a well-spring of talent both the city and Trent University have become.
I think it was around 2010 that whenever I would meet a Canadian abroad and tell them I was from Peterborough, I would keep hearing things like “Yeah, you guys have got a really cool scene going there.”
I never really knew what they meant, not having lived in town since 2003, but since returning I almost always seem to be ending up at shows like this- really cool bands, lively crowd and loads of enthusiasm.
It means even more to see it happening when it’s set against the seemingly ever-growing supply of ‘for lease’ signs, buboes of a decade and more of a city plagued by de-industrialization and a double-digit unemployment- it’s life forming in a petri dish of low-cost of living, diverse range of subcultures and life styles and a quality university with a tradition of attracting the slightly, wonderfully, ‘off’. It’s life growing out of the ruins of the post-war consensus and the failed aspirations of the twentieth century.
It’s hard sometimes when you realize how stark the difference is from 20 or even 10 years ago. But as one member of No Pussyfooting said, “It always seems to happen out of places like these.”
What happened tonight is something that has become more and more common, not just at The Spill, but at The Garnet, The Pig’s Ear, The Red Dog, The Underdog, Sadlier House, and probably a few more that I’ve either forgotten or just not been to yet.
Signs that despite the struggles and uncertainties that Peterborough has faced over the decades, something is happening here that makes you wonder how much longer Peterborough can really remain one of Canada’s ‘Best Kept Secrets’ before its secret gets out.
The sounds of George, Hunter, and Brock streets (and wherever house parties are still held) are the sounds of a city snapping itself out of long winter of convalescence and dancing amongst the ruins. The art of looking for something to do is still unlost at least for now, at least until tomorrow.
Every candidate at the recent debate on the arts as a part of Peterborough ‘s economic future spoke eloquently, passionately, thoughtfully, and strategically about the necessary role the cultural community played in Peterborough’s both near and long-term plans for shaking off its economic anomie. Now let’s just hope they meant it.