When I saw Arcade Fire at Massey Hall during their Neon Bible tour in 2007, I was rather irritated that I missed the opener, Handsome Furs. It was prior to the release of their debut album Plague Park, but I had a feeling anything to do with Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner would have been worth seeing. It wasn’t quite the disappointment of missing Wolf Parade play the Ford Plant, a small venue in Brantford, Ontario, but it was still a sore subject. When Handsome Furs announced they would be playing a one-off show at Lee’s Palace to close off their 2009 tour, I jumped on the opportunity to finally see them. My only previous experience with Lee’s Palace has been through the Scott Pilgrim books, so I was eager to add to the list of Toronto venues I’ve conquered.
Since the famed mural had been torn down ahead of renovations and a Big Fat Burrito franchise in the process of being put into the building, I was basically looking for a crowd of people on Bloor. Following a prior engagement, I arrived in time for the opening act’s final song. The website listing simply stated Handsome Furs was being supported by “Guests”, leading me to wonder whether that was the actual name of the band. After a rather fruitless and, in retrospect, ridiculous Google search, I decided that it couldn’t possibly be the band’s name. Either way, the unknown band impressed with a high energy synth-rock closing song. It wasn’t until Dan Boeckner thanked Germans for opening that their identity was revealed.
The crowd was clearly amped up and ready for the headliners. The mere sight of Dan Boeckner or Alexei Perry was enough to elicit cheers. Perhaps succumbing to the pressure of a full house, the show started ahead of schedule with ‘Legal Tender’, a song about “the current economic situation.” Amusing descriptions of songs’ subject matter continued throughout the night, with the best being ‘Evangeline’ being described by Boeckner as being about “Doin’ it.” This was quickly corrected by Perry, who insisted it was about “Fuckin’.” The chemistry between Perry and Boeckner added so much to the performance; being husband and wife, the “I love you” glances were frequent and adorable. I was worried the large stage would engulf them, but the duo had a presence that filled the entire room. Particularly amusing was Perry thrashing about behind her keyboard/drum machine set up, bouncing in tune in her shiny golden attire. Her backing vocals are somewhat lost in the mix on record, but they made ‘All We Want, Baby, Is Everything’ and its New Order referencing far more powerful in person. Boeckner, admittedly somewhat intoxicated, shredded like few guitarists I’ve seen before. I was amazed at how much sound came from two people.
The biggest crowd reaction of the night went to ‘I’m Confused’, which had the entire floor rocking in joy. In spite of rumours to the contrary, ‘Handsome Furs Hate This City’ was not about Toronto, it was instead dedicated to my former university home of London, Ontario. Bang on, Handsome Furs. It was at this point that one overeager concert-goer decided it was time to traverse the stage and leap headfirst into the crowd. Laughing, Boeckner commented that they weren’t playing ‘Even Flow’, forever dooming himself to hearing Pearl Jam requests until the end of his career. Following a brief rest after ‘Radio Kaliningrad’, they emerged for the inevitable encore with a brand new song, despite Perry’s reservations that she might screw things up. Despite being previously unheard, this new song was by far one of the highlights of the night. Following a transcendent performance of ‘Dead+Rural’, Handsome Furs bid goodnight to Toronto for a second and final time. As always, there was a vague disappointment at the songs that weren’t played, chiefly ‘What We Had’ and ‘Sing! Captain’, but by the end of the night I was simply filled with joy after opening this early Christmas present.