We Are the City / HIGHS / Snoqualmie Rivoli, Toronto ON, November 12

We Are the City / HIGHS / Snoqualmie Rivoli, Toronto ON, November 12
Photo: Michael Thomas
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We Are the City, HIGHS and Snoqualmie make for a highly effective combination. While their sounds vary, all three bands share a fondness for tempo changes and sudden swells of volume. It also helped that all three bands know each other well, a fact that the two opening acts mentioned several times before the night's big headliner came on stage.

Snoqualmie was a logical choice for an opening act, as frontman Blake Enemark was a temporary guitarist for We Are the City. One could certainly hear echoes of the band in some of Snoqualmie's material, which often featured quiet, almost shoegaze-y moments and ferocious instrumental solos, often in the space of one song. While Enemark and company were bashful while bantering, as a unit they often let loose with little to no indication. More impressive was that the show was the band's second-ever gig with their current lineup. The set consisted of mostly first-album material like "The World Voice," but also included an Attack in Black cover. After a few songs, they had won the audience over.

Next up was HIGHS, a Toronto band that seem destined to go places quickly. Their sound draws from African music (heard especially in songs like "Summer Dress" and "Mango") and injects it with pop sensibilities in the form of pristine harmonies and sudden tempo changes. Doug Haynes, Karrie Douglas and Joel Harrower shared vocal duties fairly equally, with Douglas a particular treat to watch as she moved between her keyboards and occasionally a floor tom. Their restless energy was clearly infectious, as it didn't take long for the audience to respond with raucous cheers and applause, and even a sing-along during "Nomads." Just when it seemed like they couldn't top the busy forward momentum of "Summer Dress," HIGHS ended their set in dynamic fashion with "Gold," a number that had three of the five members pounding away on percussion.

The mostly unsung hero of the night was the soundboard operator, who managed a perfect mix for all three bands. There is something to be said for being able to hear and understand vocals when a band has a complicated instrumental setup.

We Are the City came on next, and their performance shook the Rivoli, both literally and figuratively. Whatever equipment they used had a deep and present rumble, acting as a physical manifestation of the emotional gut-punch that is their most recent album, Violent, which made up most of the set. They started off their set with "Baptism," which quickly demonstrated Andrew Huculiak's prowess on percussion. Soon David Menzel's guitar came in, followed by Cayne McKenzie on vocals and a slew of keyboards.

What was most striking about the performance was the sheer precision with which all three members moved. This isn't to suggest that they're automatons — rather, with every move, whether it was pounding a drum or strumming a chord, the guys made it seem like that note would be the last. McKenzie moved like a man possessed when not singing, especially during songs like "Legs Give Out" and "Dark/Warm Air," which had Huculiak taking main vocal duties. They spoke little between songs, allowing the music to do the talking.

Their final two songs were an effective one-two punch, starting with "Happy New Year," one of their more upbeat numbers that quickly elicited huge cheers. They closed the set with the intense "Friends Hurt," which began with an extended electronic loop before taking the shape it takes on the album.

The set, which ran a little under 40 minutes and consisted of ten songs, seemed far too short, considering the band had the audience in the palm of their hands throughout. The audience yelled for an encore but didn't receive one, though a few fans still persisted when the house music began to play.