“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”
― Kahlil Gibran
If ever there were a time for musicians to rise up and become the catalysts for cultural unification they’ve always claimed to be, it’s now. Americans have nothing to gain by continuing to serve as collateral in a tug-of-war between two sides whose commitment to civility exists if and only if their party is in control of The White House. Because radio, TV, and the once-hallowed pages of the daily newspaper are weapons of mass division designed to frame society’s differences as irreconcilable, the artistic community should be doing everything in its power to dispel that notion. Abortion, immigration, and the “sanctity” of marriage will always be polarizing, but the power of music performed with aplomb in front of a live audience is something that people from all backgrounds should be able to agree on.
I say should, because my recent trip to Canalside to see The Trews and Arrested Development left me questioning whether or not such a scenario is any more attainable now than it was in 1968. Here was an idyllic summer night in the city with two acts worthy of being the closer yet what stood out most was how segregated the crowd became as the show played on. Politicians can preach about the need for tolerance and racial inclusivity until they’re blue (i.e. Democrat) in the face, but all that blathering doesn’t matter if citizens refuse to exit their comfort zone. Regardless of the small sample size, the fact that the demographic trended decidedly whiter once Arrested Development finished was too stark to ignore.
Granted, The Trews were added to the bill just days before the event, so the majority of advance tickets were sold under the pretense of Arrested Development performing a two-hour headlining set as scheduled. However, any excuse for not sticking around to see them when the weather was perfect and no extra fee was in place had to boil down to people not wanting to experience something different. Jimi Hendrix is considered by many to be the greatest guitarist to ever pick up the instrument, but the ongoing absence of black people at rock shows troubles me as a writer.
Not even the modern contributions of Living Colour, Robert Randolph, Gary Clark Jr., Tony MacAlpine, and Dug Pinnick have sparked a significant uptick in interest or attendance, so, while I certainly relate to people gravitating toward things that are culturally familiar, I hope to one day be at a hard rock/heavy metal show where people of all races are engaged in the collective experience.
Reports surfaced the morning after to allege that Arrested Development was informed about the scheduling snafu after getting off the bus to perform, so any frustration its members brought to the stage would have been understandable. Except there was none. They slayed the Canalside crowd with 60 minutes of uncompromising, socially conscious hip hop that was intent on making sure everyone got in on the action.
Todd Thomas, aka Speech, is one of the most underrated MCs of his generation and his command of the stage suggested that he was ready to abolish strife all by himself. The fierce trio of “Give a Man a Fish,” “Dawn of the Dreads,” and “Revolution” illustrated his knack for constructing singable melodies within a thematic framework reminiscent of Gil-Scott Heron, which is worlds apart from anything mainstream hip hop artists are shelling out in 2018. He humanized America’s “War on Poverty” in “Mr. Wendal” and turned ugliness into hopefulness for the future on “Tennessee,” both of which cemented Arrested Development’s life music as a call to action for not only black people, but the entire human race, as well.
Tasha LaRae and Fareedah Aleem each elevate the material in their own way, with LaRae powering through her lead vocals with ease and Aleem expending every ounce of energy she has to dance the audience’s problems away. Combined with Speech and One Love, the four of them create a wave of jubilation that lingers long after the roadies initiate their exit strategy. A lot of groups have come and gone since they last played Canalside in 2012, but, after their 2018 showing, it’s clear that Arrested Development is here to stay.
The Trews have prided themselves on being one of Canada’s most hardworking bands for more than a decade and Buffalo embraces them with open arms whenever they roll into town. Vocalist Colin MacDonald appeared especially driven on this night, as he and the band rewarded all whom stuck around with a 24-song marathon that should go down as one of the finest sets they’ve ever performed in western New York. Perhaps it was the way everyone converged on the stage or the fact that I hadn’t seen them since 2014, but everything The Trews did felt right.
Old favorites such as “So She’s Leaving,” “Not Ready to Go,” and “Hope and Ruin” sounded fresh when sandwiched between the soon-to-be-released gems “Vintage Love” and “The New US,” the latter of which contained a vicious take on Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” that took on greater significance in the wake of Donald Trump’s latest controversy. Guitarist John-Angus MacDonald can be a flashy soloist when he wants to be, so his licks were simultaneously saucy and serviceable depending on the needs of the song at that moment. Bassist Jack Syperek has been holding down the groove since the band formed back in 1998 and his performance here was another classic example of how integral he is to The Trews overall soundscape.
Taking it down a notch for acoustic versions of “Ishmael and Maggie,” “Sing Your Heart Out,” and “Man of Two Minds” was splendid, but the moment of the show for me was “Paranoid Freak.” I couldn’t have been the only one picking up on Colin’s insertion of lyrics from The Tragically Hip’s “Inevitability of Death” into the song’s breakdown, so I’m sure that others enjoyed the nod to Gord Downie as much as I did. When the homestretch of “Highway of Heroes” and “Hold Me in Your Arms” hit, the fans knew something special had occurred on an otherwise ordinary Thursday evening in Buffalo.
Not bad for my ninth time seeing The Trews since 2009. Not bad, at all.