Hidden away in a basement apartment watching the night go by is where I found myself on Halloween night. A few good people who’d had their plans collapse like a House of Cards -a phrase that now harnesses two meanings- were primed for something to do and extended an invitation to come around the corner to The Toad in the Hole Pub. Clad in my best White Guy in a Sport Coat costume, I stood up from Garfield’s Halloween and walked over.
There were two bands playing that night, one upstairs, one downstairs. As I walked up to the building I heard a raucous bluesy twang flowing past the cigarette smokers and out into the streets as patrons streamed in and out the bar’s front door.
I walked past the inviting aroma of sound I heard from the street and to the basement. The downstairs show came at a cover charge of $5 and earned listeners a spider-shaped stamp on the wrist that, from a certain angle, looked like a cross-eyed sun.
Within minutes of walking into the music, with its brass section likely in no need of amplification, I found myself wondering about the upstairs commotion that I’d walked past on my way in. With that thought, I trudged up the stairs and, as I neared the top, the snap of Ben E. King’s ‘Stand By Me’ overtook the now faint murmur of brass that fell into the background with each step.
As I came through the entrance atop the steps, which opened up to the top floor, ‘Stand By Me’ had transitioned seamlessly first into Sean Kingston’s ‘Beautiful Girls’, and then, after one or two choruses, ‘The Monster Mash’. Already the decision to migrate North of the floorboards seemed to pay off.
The set finished soon after I entered the room with ‘Pretty Woman’ by Roy Orbison and, after the approximate time it takes to acquire and half consume a plate of nachos, the members of JIVETOWN returned to the stage for another set.
Upon the second time I saw them onstage that night they came out with a rendition of ‘Come Together’ sung with a venomous rip to the lead singer’s voice. Psychedelic flares of well-timed wah made the momentarily mistimed bass almost undetectable as they played as well as it must have sounded in the minds of Lennon and McCartney once upon a time.
They followed this phenomenal rendition with a show of Canadianity, busting out the Sheepdogs ‘Keep to Your Own’ that turned into the Ghostbusters theme song before going back to the Sheepdogs again. A timely nod to one of the great lost songwriters came with ‘You Wreck Me’ by Tom Petty, followed by what I found to be the best song of the night, ‘The Weight’ by The Band.
Once ‘The Weight’ was over, I was ready to go. My drink was empty, my nachos were stowed away in a capsule of styrofoam. At this point, I was ready for sleep. Each blink had become longer than the last and my bed had filled my voicemail box calling me.
“You’ve all heard this one too many times,” the frontman meandered between sips of beer. “But we’re gonna make sure you hear it way too many times.”
With that, a thunder of humming and boot stomping roared the start of ‘S.O.B’ by Nathaniel Ratliff and the slice of the dancefloor in front of the stage filled with people in an endless array of costumes. It seemed as if someone had opened the door to Tim Burton’s dreams and had let all the characters out for a night of dancing, hidden among the mass of costumed humans. Monsters and ambiguous creatures all gathered to dance and sing together. A clown with one giant shoe nearly danced the red out of her nose while a man with a briefcase full of fake money rained giant $10 bills onto the crowd in which at least a couple of people must have thought it strange that he’d chosen to print bills of such a modest value. The energy of the crowd peaked with each yell of “Son of a Bitch!” before falling away in wait of the next burst of the chorus. The room was electric, and the energy of the crowd was palpable.
When the song finished, the floor cleared, and I grabbed my coat. My chair was pushed in when they began playing the last song of the set; ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ by Joe Walsh. They had me again. I couldn’t leave. With music this good, I simply couldn’t leave.
At the conclusion of this last song, their set had finished and I could finally let myself leave. They promised more music and I can only take their word that it was ever played. What leaving early left me with was the feeling that I will see them play again, I simply have to.
Anywhere JIVETOWN is playing is a place worth being, if only for the night. They bring life to the music and flood energy through the room and the crowd. The basement performance had cost $5 but the show worth paying to see was upstairs.
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