Men I Trust Kept It Small in Toronto

History, October 5

With Twin Shadow

Photo: Alex Hudson

BY Alex HudsonPublished Oct 6, 2023

Men I Trust have managed to rack up many millions of streams without the support of a record label or publicity team — but, in case you were wondering, they aren't one of those algorithmically famous bands who only have fans on TikTok, since they managed to absolutely pack History for the first of two nights at the spacious venue.

If Men I Trust are a case study in how to make it big without the support of a major label, opener Twin Shadow is surely the opposite. Like a lot of listeners, I lost track of him around the time he released his brick of a Warner debut, 2015's Eclipse. On this night, he certainly sounded a lot different than I remembered, playing acoustic guitar with only a keyboardist to back him up, but he was warmly likeable, and the bittersweet version of "Tyrant Destroyed" closed the set tenderly.

From the opening moments, Men I Trust's performance reinforced their status as low-key DIY champs: as the four-piece backing band played the goofy instrumental overture "Fiero GT," singer Emmanuelle Proulx arrived on stage and picked up her pale yellow Stratocaster, only to have the guitar strap instantly come loose. After a momentarily awkward spell of re-strapping and tuning, things were back on track for a run of opening tunes from 2019's Oncle Jazz.

Men I Trust's grassroots success can't quite be explained by their live show, which, accomplished as it is, leans into their understated mellowness rather than zhuzhing it up. The five-piece were primarily back-lit and barely moved on the large stage; the semicircular screen behind them was less about adding to the visuals and more about making the stage a little smaller, and the performance lacked the multimedia displays of likeminded dream pop bands Beach House and Alvvays.

The funky rhythm section remained surgically in the pocket, while Proulx cooed her feather-soft vocals from under a Mac DeMarcore ballcap pulled low. I couldn't really see her eyes from under the brim, but evidently, she could see just fine, since she stopped the show twice to alert security to fans in distress, including pausing "Serenade of Water" with a reminder for everyone to stay hydrated.

What little flashiness the night offered came entirely from guitarist Jessy Caron, who capped off "Always Lone" and "All Night" with long, meandering solos, his left hand gliding on the fretboard with a deceptive ease that seemed practically effortless. During a new, yet-to-be-titled song, Caron contrasted the usual prettiness with screeching delay pedal noise, as Proulx promised the band would be taking some time off after their tour to record a new album.

After a long medley of song fragments, with each new passage earning cheers from the warm but fairly sedate crowd, Men I Trust inspired their only sing-along of the night with "Show Me How." It's by far their most popular song, and yet it's nowhere near their catchiest melody, best groove or most memorable lyric; as ever, their popularity remains difficult to explain. Their signature hit was far exceeded by the song immediately after, the insistently thrumming "Say Can You Hear," which closed the main part of the set.

Men I Trust don't yet have the presence to match the large stages they now play — but encore-closer "Billie Toppy" gave a little hint of what they might become, with its metallic blues surge and unfurling '80s pop choruses adding an edge to their soft-focus sound. Certainly, they write the tightest dream-funk grooves in the business, and if they can transfer some of the right-hand virtuosity into their stage show, that will be the cherry on top of an already-formidable band.

Latest Coverage