A rainy Toronto night always makes me feel like home, especially when going to see a Vancouver/Victoria hometown band. If I were at home, I would easily have a large group of friends going to the show with me. Here in TO, I’ve been asking around since the show was announced and I could not find anyone who had heard of them. So, I was pleasantly surprised that The Zolas show had sold out and was eager to meet Toronto’s Zola’s fans.
Unlike Vancouver, Toronto has a plethora of quaint music venues. I have passed by Lee’s Palace probably almost daily for over a year and yet never realized it was a concert venue/dance club. I immediately headed for the merch table to get my hands on a copy of their latest album, Swooner. Unfortunately Swooner isn’t sold on vinyl (yet?) so I had to settle for a beer at the bar before winding my way to the front of the stage. Heading to the far left or right front of the stage and cutting in from there seems to always allow me quick access to the front. I have no idea why others have not figured this out.
Luckily, the first three rows of fans were also quite short so I had perfect visibility and just enough space to dance around a bit. I also easily found two of my tall Vancouver friends in the crowd. The three of us reminisced about seeing The Zola’s play at the Vogue Theatre with The Dudes and talked about home. None of us were familiar with Swooner, (released March 4, 2016), so we were hoping they would highlight more of their second album, Ancient Mars. Given my experience at their last show and how much I love their first two albums, I was bubbling with excitement as I waited for them to take to the stage. I had also heard that their November show at the Imperial was incredible and I couldn’t wait to see them live again.
After a lot of smoke machine and sound, the duo-turned-4-piece band opened with a burst of synths and danceable beats, reminiscent at times of 80s indie pop. Despite lacking familiarity with the opening songs on their set, the energy was high and the dance party was immediately in full swing. Of their new songs, ‘Get Dark’ is easily my favourite track. The song references Toronto’s Parkdale bar Pharmacy, King streetcars and that “home feels so far away.” I particularly enjoy their enunciation of ‘To-ron-to’ (instead of ‘toronna’). Clearly they are not from the Six and their enunciation makes me smile every time I hear it in the song. They followed this track with another single from Swooner, ‘Fell in Love with New York.’ Given that Toronto is often called the ‘New York of Canada,’ the pairing of the two tracks also made me smile. (Sidenote: I listened to Taylor Swift’s ‘Welcome to New York’ a lot when I first moved here so lyrics referencing moving to the big city and of how big city life can leave you both lost and found holds a special place in my heart). The audience seemed to know all the words to ‘Fell in Love with New York’ which I found quite impressive for a newer single. Just as I was beginning to wonder whether or not they would play songs from their other albums, they announced a throw back. I was expecting something from their debut album Tic Toc Tic (2009) but it turns out “old songs” for them are actually anything other than their newest release. Nonetheless, they played the majority of their second album, Ancient Mars (2012), and their three song encore included two of my favourite tracks: Observatory and Escape Artist. I was excited that they played Marlaina Kamikaze from Tic Toc Tic and overall, I was enamoured with the crowd. I am convinced that the entire sold out crowd at Lee’s Palace were die hard fans, likely with Zolas lyrics tattooed on them. It was incredible to experience such a dedicated group of fans rhythmically clapping in time to the music (with little coaching) and singing every single word to every single song. If I could have changed one thing it would have been the sweltering temperature inside that venue but ultimately I left sweaty, tired and speechless from 90 minutes of pure dance and sing-your-heart-out fun.