Matt Caughthran and the rest of the Bronx were in Toronto less than four months ago as Mariachi El Bronx, their traditional Mexican music-inspired-alter ego. But the boys brought their classic L.A. hardcore and sleazy Sunset Strip sounds, along with veteran drummer Joey Castillo (Queens of the Stone Age, Danzig, Wasted Youth), to Toronto's Lee's Palace on Wednesday night (April 12).
Without a new album to tour behind, the band delivered a set filled with solid gold hits from each of their eponymous albums.
After opening sets from Dead Broke and Dave Hause and the Mermaid, a large portion of the mostly denim-clad crowd pushed their way to the floor and up against the chest-high stage in anticipation of the main act. Casually climbing onto the stage, the band grabbed their instruments and took their places as Caughthran surveyed the crowd with his steely-eyed gaze and offering a mixture of greetings and demands, whether you were moshing in the pit or singing safely in the wings, to not hold back during the night's show.
Seemingly in an effort to show how serious he was about that last bit, the band immediately broke into "Heart Attack American," the opener from their 2003 debut, pausing ever so briefly before the vocals kicked in. It would be the last calm moment of their hour-plus set.
The Bronx have been around for 15 years, but they sounded and strutted their stuff like they were at the top of their game on this particular night, delivering a master class that any band could learn from. At the end of their second song, "Mouth Money," a stage-diver with poor timing jumped off the stage, only to fall flat on his face seconds later; but while the crowd lacked coordination and poise, the band were tight and communicative as they delivered sick riffs, pulverizing drums and pure showmanship.
Part championship wrestler, part priest, Caughthran stalked the venue like he was playing the role of judge, jury and executioner, barely breaking eye contact as he screamed into the mic and at fans, peppering the set early on with some of their most anthemic and hair-raising tunes ("I Got Chills," "Shitty Future," "Pilot Light"). He took to the floor to get face-to-face with their disciples for "Too Many Devils," then climbed onto a wooden rail and demanded their attention for "Knifeman" — definitely the band's most dynamic and punishing single from the past 10 years. They followed it with fellow third album standout "Six Days a Week."
By that point, it was hard not to notice the humidity in the air and the sweat spraying from Castillo's drumkit. But that didn't stop Caughthran from noticing a local concertgoer with a fabulous fur coat in the crowd, requesting to wear it himself as he sang the smooth, sultry and scathing "White Guilt." The venue was so sticky the singer struggled to take it off afterwards, but things only got steamier as the band raced through renditions of fourth album highlights "Youth Wasted" and "Ribcage," as audience members shot through the air or, in one instance, did handstands on the side of the stage before collapsing stiff as a board into the crowd.
Refusing to let the energy lapse, the band did whatever it took — leaning against walls, stairwells — as they played "Around the Horn," "They Will Kill Us All (Without Mercy)" and, finally, fan favourite "History's Stranglers," a song that still hits like a shotgun blast to the chest over ten years on.
"Aren't these guys one of the best bands in the world?" one attendee, perhaps rhetorically, asked a friend midway through the night.
Yes, they are, and more people should know that by now.