Published Jul 17, 2017Toronto trio Communism brought their 2016 debut Get Down Get Together to Hillside's Island Stage in what I thought was a smart twist of programming: They played for a packed crowd staking out space under the tent for the next set, a protest songs workshop featuring Billy Bragg and Sarah Harmer.
Though Communism sound nothing like the folk songs that would follow — their quirky and angular power pop owes more to rock and soul and the Talking Heads (they covered "The Great Curve" late in their set) than to Woody Guthrie — their songs are simpatico with the folksingers' message: Reminding us to "Take Care of Each Other" and to forgive one another ("Forgiveness"); they sung of missing bees ("Bye Bees") and taking aim at "Crapitalism." Their lyrics would sound a bit lecture-y if Communism weren't such a fun humanist dance party, which it is. Led by Don Kerr on drums (he plays in the Rheostatics and Ron Sexsmith's band, and has produced countless records), with Kevin Lacroix on bass and newcomer (to the band) Kurt Swinghammer on guitar.
But actually, my favourite Communism songs are the more personal ones. Kerr outro'd the band's oldest (and only?) folk-soul ballad "One of Everyone," full of group harmony "ooh ooh oohs," by saying, "See, Communism's not so scary!" "Haunt Me," meanwhile, was a bluesy plea of a love song, begging for reprieve from sexual obsession, and "Pocket Sunrise," for Swinghammer's son Ray, was about a different kind of love entirely — the kind you have for your kid.
The addition of Swinghammer on guitar shifted the show from what was always a crafty and nerdy jam into something more theatrical. Swinghammer is simply a monster on guitar, and delights in showing it, playing feedback from his amp and making even a dropped guitar strap part of the band's dynamic.