Sheer Mag Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON, September 2

Sheer Mag Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto ON, September 2
Photo: Matt Forsythe

Born out of the Philadelphia DIY punk scene, Sheer Mag have taken to a '70s rock spirit — from their angular retro logo to their big and crunchy guitar riffage — while carving out their own refreshing and unpretentious niche and rejecting classic rock's sleazy self-indulgent mentality. Without any social media presence, talk of Sheer Mag's potency has spread by word of mouth in the last few years alongside the release of their trio of debut EPs (I, II and III) proving they are one of the most rawly talented rock bands in 2017. The five-piece brought their energetic live show to a sold out audience at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on Saturday (September 2) night.

Starting with "Meet Me In The Street," the anti-establishment lead track from their just released debut full-length, Need to Feel Your Love, Sheer Mag's gut-punching quadruple guitar attack led by Kyle Seely was immediately attention-grabbing. Their firm grip held effortlessly through the entire show, whether on crowd favourite "Button Up" from their second EP, or on the combative "Turn It Up". The greasy-haired Kyle and his brother/bassist Hart Seely looked and sounded like they came straight out of a time machine from the '70s with their glistening mustaches.

Sheer Mag's guitar noodling never felt excessive or too long, with each song spending about three or four minutes going from point A to point B on a crooked but calculated path and executed with obvious intention and sharp precision. Really, Sheer Mag's propulsive music is a neatly tuned muscle car carrying the real star of the show — frontwoman Tina Halladay, whose guttural yowl borrows from both punk rock's snot-and-snarl attitude and soul's liberating release. Her socially conscious words, co-written with rhythm guitarist Matt Palmer, matched the power coming from the amps.

From gentrification on the scrappy "Fan The Flames" to voter disenfranchisement on the jangly "Expect the Bayonet," Sheer Mag covers many societal issues under the band's aesthetic of lo-fi but finely sculpted power pop. Halladay knew when to strain her voice to make a point, and then ensuring to give the crowd a sincere sneer with her signature hand wipe to the mouth after every almost every line to really get her message across.

In a live setting, Halladay has exceptional range that isn't quite captured on the band's gritty, blown-out tape-style recordings. On the lustful, disco-tinged "Pure Desire," Halladay was the dominant focal point, showcasing her ability to both growl and cry at the same time. During the encore, Halladay thrusted her voice to perfectly match the wailing guitars in the chorus of Need to Feel Your Love's title track.

The band finished their set in just under an hour, closing with the first song from their debut EP, "What You Want" in which Halladay asks "What you want? What'ya want me to do?" For those who are saying that rock music and the guitar is dead, Sheer Mag took that mantra and crushed it with their wholesome and resilient riff rock — this is what the entire crowd and Sheer Mag's growing fanbase wanted them to do.

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