KOBO TOWN’s Toronto dates – August 2013

by Cesco Emmanuel

You know, Toronto is a bit of a strange place for musicians. You would think that with so much going on all the time, with all the live shows, so many concerts, so many venues catering for  entertainment that people are totally into live music and supporting local bands and what have you. That ALL ‘good bands’ from Toronto must have THE biggest following in ‘T.dot’ itself and in Canada by extension.

Nothing can be further from the truth. It’s a buyers’ market with too many options, most people (consumers) are bombarded with too many choices. To build a decent fan-base here takes years. Some bands never get it until they make it outside of the city, or country for that matter. Some bands never move beyond a decent ‘bar band’ playing cover songs to survive.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a bubbling scene here, there’s always some new band to go and see, but most if not all club shows are door deals and most places don’t have a ‘walk-in crowd’, so to say that a band can exist happily here maybe a bit of a stretch. I always find clubs are a bit lazy and greedy when it comes to booking bands, they don’t work with the band to produce a great night, and put all the pressure on the band by saying ‘I hope you guys are bringing a crowd’, even it’s an out-of-town band. That makes no sense at all for a band that’s trying to make a name for themselves in a big city. Clubs need to be more forward-thinking and proactive and work with bands to build a thriving club music scene. That’s just my 2 cents. But anyway.

Unfortunately from what we saw in the U.S. it’s the same philosophy there as well.

So, it is fair to say that Kobo Town may very well be more known outside of Toronto than inside  the city.

Nevertheless, we have four shows here in the city – August 2, 8, 10, 11.

August 2 – Island Soul Festival – part of Caribana here in Toronto that happens the first weekend in August. We were playing on the West Jet stage, which can seat 1,500. We’re excited to play in-front of our people – West Indians. We’re also opening for the legendary Calypso Rose. What a performer!, at 75 she doesn’t look like she’s stopping anytime soon.

My friends – the Hurejs’ are coming to the show, and so they ‘attempt’ to drop me to soundcheck, we almost get into a confrontation with a TTC driver who was parked badly and refused to just move aside to let our car pass – I always find TTC employees by and large are so damn rude, and the irony is, because of their powerful union that protect their ‘rights’ as workers, most TTC workers have no manners at all.  It’s a transportation cartel with dental and benefits really. And the irony is, the TTC is ‘serving’ the public by being the only transit service.

Anyway, I get to the venue, and it starts to pour. Jan and Terry are there, but Drew, Don and Rob aren’t. Rob is coming in from Ottawa (a five-hour drive). Seems to be the story of our career, always a long journey before a show. One by one the guys show up, Rob is soaking wet. We get no soundcheck because of the time constraints. We did do a limited line check. The crowd is initially small because if it’s one thing West Indians are afraid of – is rain. Snow in a foreign country, no problem, but rain? No way! West Indians don’t want to get wet. Rain? Yuh mad?

But to our surprise the crowd starts to build until we have a full house. Most people aren’t really dancing, they’re just grooving in their seats. But we do get loud applause after every song. So we’re happy with that. Caribbean folk are a bit reserved at times, unless they have a lil alcohol in them and they don’t really know us, so it’s quite a welcomed surprise that they actually appreciated us to begin with.

Calypso Rose takes the stage later and the place goes wild. I’m backstage liming with a few Trini and Canadian friends talking a pack of nonsense. Usual ‘Trini’ ting I guess. Rob leaves the next morning bright and early for Ottawa. That’s the last time I would see him for the summer.

The next week we have off, so I just relax around Toronto, visit an old band-mate (Ted Diaz from BOUND), and spend the day with him, his wife and family as they all celebrate their son’s first birthday. We go for coffee after, just like the old band days – stop-off at Tim Hortons and grab a double-double and talk about music and life. It seems so long ago, has it been five years already since I last had a band in Toronto?

Has it been five years since I live in Toronto? Time has a way of just flying by when you’re not looking.

Our next show is Thursday, 8th, again at HarbourFront, but for the PanAm games publicity launch. The games themselves are happening in 2015.

The day before I go to a football game to see Toronto FC vs. AS Roma. It was quite funny, all the Italian-Canadians singing the the Italian anthem. When Francesco Totti came on the field the entire crowd rose to their feet and chanted his name. Quite the experience I tell you. Roma won 4 – 1. As expected really.

August 8th – Pan Am Games launch Band lineup: Drew, Don, Jan, Terry, Walter Mclean (drums as Rob can’t get time off work) and me

11AM – I’m at New Tribe Tattoo shop, I’m getting a touch up job done to some old pieces as well as a new tattoo on my inner arm. It is painful as hell, but the entire process is only two hours and a bit. Not bad. Jen – the tattoo artist is really good, she does a great job. Only problem is my arm is burning and throbbing constantly and I have to play later. I take some tylenol and that eases it a bit. I clean up the excess ink and blood around my arm before I leave for Harbourfront a few hours later. I take a taxi to Queens Quay. We’re playing in a small, circular area, on the back of a bedford truck. We’re playing with about ten other bands. We’re all performing one song each, sort of like a preview of what this weekend will be like. We stick around to hear the other bands and me, Drew and Don walk to the subway. I take the subway and bus back to the Hurejs’, and finally grab a shower and thoroughly clean out the excess ink from the tattoos. My arm is red and a bit swollen. Remind me why I did this again?

The next day I visit some friends after work on Dundas Square, because this is technically, my last friday in Toronto, next weekend we’ll be back in Europe. I realize that I am getting sick. By the time I reach back to Etobicoke, I’m a slobbering, sneezing mess.

August 10th – John & Richmond Street – Pan Am games – so we’re playing all-day. Four sets – from noon to 2PM and then from 4 – 6PM. Jan and Terry are in Regina, SK playing with Calypso Rose, so we’re just a four-piece today. We all miss the horn section. We initially thought it would be a great show. Tons of people passed by to and from a Blue Jays game, just not that many people stopped to hear us play. Some took in a few songs and then left. Not that I blame them, the sun was scorching. I met up with a few old Trini friends that still live in Toronto, some of my sister’s friends from way back. We grab a drink. My cousin Shireen pops by and we go grab dinner at this all vegan restaurant called ‘Fresh’. I am really getting sick now, so I order a drink called ‘Flu Fighter’, that thing was on fire, full of pepper. But I felt better after having it. By the time I get home, I am in worse shape than friday. I take two cold tablets and go to bed.

August 11th – Unionville, Markham – Pan Am games. I’m actually feeling better, imagine that! That flu fighter drink and those tablets did the trick. Drew picks me up, we’re late. But when we arrive we realize that things are running a bit late. Again we’re playing four sets, so another long day. The weather is a bit bleak and grey and we’re in the open, so hopefully we won’t soaked, but luckily it doesn’t rain. This town is so quaint. Tons of tourists, so we actually get a better turnout here than in Toronto. Jan and Terry drive up from the airport and join us on stage, well….err by the truck which was perched on some steps and together as a six-piece, we finish out the rest of the day. Walter drives me back to the Hurejs’. We crack some jokes in the car. He is quite the funny guy.

The next day I’m just home at the Hurejs’. House sitting. I have an early morning flight on tuesday to Washington and then unto London for our week of shows in Europe. So I just take it easy, pack my duffel bag, re-arrange my suitcase because when I return to Toronto from Europe I fly home to Trinidad the next day (on August 25th).

My next post will be about the second tour to Europe and all the craziness that followed…..