SPIRIT OF GIVING: MUSIC FOR MOSHING

You better watch out!
One of Toronto’s rising hardcore bands dons St. Nick’s gear today at Sonic Boom, all in the name of charity

JOSÉ LOURENÇO

Special to The Globe and Mail

December 15, 2007

Last January, the four lads and one lady of Toronto hardcore-punk darlings Fucked Up appeared on MTV Canada for a live taping that ended in pools of blood and $2,000 in damage.

"We did the [MTV Live] interview and no one in Fucked Up put a lot of effort into that interview piece, and then we got up to do the show and the kids just start trashing everything," says vocalist Damian Abraham, a.k.a. Pink Eyes. "And I pulled the blade job, where I cut my head and bleed a little, but I must have hit a vein or something because I’ve never bled that much in my life. I was just covered in blood.

"I don’t think the sound people and the people who had to clean up the blood were too stoked on it, but everyone else there was happy with the performance. They asked us to come back and play again."

How to top that first appearance?
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"Next time, I’m gonna have to set myself on fire."

As we converse at his cozy home Mr. Abraham asks if I would like a cup of herbal tea. I decline and sip from my water as he squeezes a measure of Billy Bee honey (from a honey bear) into his mug.

Anecdotes like the one that opened this piece fuel portrayals of the group as harbingers of disaster, but such stories don’t define them. If you visit the massive independent music retailer Sonic Boom (512 Bloor St. W.) today after 3 p.m., you’ll see the softer side of one of the harder bands our country has produced, complete with Mr. Abraham dressed as Santa Claus, leading his cohorts in a free, all-ages, in-store performance and raising money for a charity that helps women with mental illness.

Today’s event also serves as a release party for the band’s 21st seven-inch single, David Christmas, a charity record featuring multiple guests from major independent acts, as well as Nelly Furtado and, nearly, Arrested Development star David Cross. How does a hardcore band, unknown to your average mainstream music listener, attract such talent?

Simple. Aside from the doing-some-good angle of the project, the band is well into its transition from Canadian underground heroes to artists of broad renown. To legions of long-time fans, they’re the most important torchbearers of hardcore in Toronto. To new recruits, releases such as this past summer’s 18-minute track Year of the Pig (an organ opus set against the backdrop of the Robert Pickton trial), have them mentioned in the same breath as acts such as the Feist-spawning Broken Social Scene. Polaris Prize-winner Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy, the Arcade Fire) worked with the band on its 2006 double LP, Hidden World, it’s played music festivals such as SXSW, Osheaga and Pop Montreal and, of course, it made MTV Live history on an episode it split with hardcore legend Henry Rollins.

Local tales will grow taller after today’s release of David Christmas. The A-side, about the birth of the band’s personal lord and saviour (a shadowy, possibly fictitious Svengali named David Eliade), is in the grand punk tradition of the holiday song – Mr. Abraham name-checks the Ramones’ Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) as an example of the form – and the B-side is his band’s take on Do They Know It’s Christmas, featuring a motley mixture of over-the-phone and in-studio contributions from James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Cole Alexander of the Black Lips, Shenae Grimes from Degrassi: The Next Generation and many more. Oh yeah, and did I mention Nelly Furtado?

The Promiscuous Girl happened to be recording in the same studio complex as the band and enthusiastically agreed, on the spot, to help the worthy cause.

All profits from the 1,000 copies of David Christmas, selling for $10 each, will go to George Herman House, self-described as "a transitional housing and life-skills program that supports women who are living with mental-health issues." An 11th-hour inspiration – "We had the idea for doing this B-side at 3 in the afternoon and we started recording at 5" – every artist invited took part.

Not everybody, however, returned the band’s call in time.

"David Cross called back the next day," Mr. Abraham says. "He was like, ‘I wanna record for that record.’ I said he should have called last night, and he was like, ‘Well, you didn’t give me much notice.’ "

"We didn’t plan this long enough in advance," adds Jonah Falco, the band’s drummer. "It was literally a Christmas miracle that everything happened on time."

The germination of today’s ambitious happening was somewhat less divine.

"Damian was in here shopping one day and I pretty much begged him to do [an in-store performance]," says Sonic Boom’s creative maven, Tim Oakley. "We started bouncing ideas off each other and it became this huge event with purpose and meaning."

Mr. Oakley designed and built the set for the show, and his pride in the North Pole/Santa’s Workshop theme is justified. The vintage snowman and winter cottage that the band will take to the stage are highlights, but particularly impressive was the zombie reindeer. Mr. Abraham, who will hold court in this northern kingdom in his Santa suit, says he is willing to take photos with fans who dare sit on his knee.

Today’s show is the third in Sonic Boom’s ongoing in-store performance series, with previous appearances by the Sadies and Jose Gonzalez. Fucked Up, live, is of course a much different beast than those soft-strummin’ acts. Some of the same fans who enjoyed themselves at MTV’s Masonic Temple could show up. Is owner Jeff Barber concerned about the possibility of damage?

"We’re doing this for the kids," he replies. "It’s no charge, all ages, and I hope that they’ll be respectful in return.

"I want people to mosh, obviously, but I’m a little nervous about that.

"Worst-case scenario is that all the money for charity actually goes to repairing Sonic Boom."

The only sure thing about the event is that it will be well attended, with hundreds of confirmations on Facebook. Those who want to see the show should arrive early – especially because Sonic Boom is providing (again, for free) 150 numbered, silk-screened show posters signed by band members. Thankful fans and attendees, if they care to give something in return, are encouraged to bring non-perishables for the food bank.

"It’s a good way to take advantage of everybody being aware of us right now. It’s always in danger of becoming exploitative," Mr. Falco says. " ‘The band with the swear word in its name, the singer bleeds, he’s a misanthrope jerk, they hate each other -’ "

"Well, that’s all true," Mr. Abraham points out.

"It’s all true," Mr. Falco continues, "but it seems to be the most prevalent thing, so we thought we’d kinda throw everybody for a loop. We’re actually really nice guys."

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