Toronto, Canada - If you're a Torontonian, and a music fan (hell, even if you're not a music fan), then you have certainly heard of the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. And if you haven't, well we can't be friends! Just kidding! You'll just have a lot of catching up to do. You see, 2023 represents the iconic live music venue's 76th birthday. It's so crazy to me as I type that... 76 years!
Over this time, the venue has seen some of music's greatest, pass through its doors. Literal legends like Stompin' Tom Connors (this is probably one of my all time favourite references that I typically always relate to the Horseshoe), The Police, Talking Heads, Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, The Barenaked Ladies, Billy Talent, and perhaps the biggest of all, The Rolling Stones, have all had their time on the 370 Queen St. W stage.
The venue continues to bring in some of music's best talent from all over the world, but the past few years, another legendary Canadian act has appeared here, right at this time of year, to celebrate the venue's birthday. Last year, 54.40 was on hand to celebrate the massive milestone 75th birthday of the Horseshoe. And again in 2023, almost to the exact day (1 day removed), the Canadian music veterans stop by again for a 3 date sold out marathon.
54.40 was formed in 1980 in Tsawwassen, British Columbia (a small town of 21,000 people on the peninsula, south of Richmond) by the band's frontman Neil Osborne and friends Brad Merritt and Ian Franey. As a bit of trivia, the band played their first gig on the night that The Beatles' John Lennon was killed. The band released their first album in 1984, but it was their second release, the self titled 54-40, that really brought visibility to the band with their smash hits "Baby Ran" and "I Go Blind" (which was covered by American band Hootie & the Blowfish). With the success of 54-40, it was the band's third album Show Me that solidified the group as the real deal.
With 3 platinum, and 1 gold record in the 1990s, the band continued to release very solid, successful records, and they have continued to do so to today. With 14 full length recordings, a handful of compilations, and a new single in 2021, 54.40 is the real deal. Having covered their show at the Horseshoe in 2022 (for Digital Beat Magazine), it was a no-brainer to get back out to the venue exactly one year later, to do it again! This time, right here for LOUDTO!!!!
The Horseshoe was ALIVE on this Thursday evening in December, as I arrived at 7:30pm (my typical 1 hour early). The bar itself was hopping, tunes were blasting and the patrons were chatting and drinking and having a great time. The red clothed pool table was busy as usual, and the 1970s style Christmas garland that was draped around the watering hole was as nostalgic as the bar itself. I'm not certain if it was purposely planned, but it was brilliant! I loved it!!
I had got to chatting with some guys in line around me, while waiting for the curtain at the back of the venue to slide "open" to allow passage into the actual venue. With 54-40 being one of those great Canadian acts, we got to chatting about other great Canadian bands, and how many of them just never seemed to make it south of the border, despite their smashing success here in their homeland. For sure we are partial to our homegrown talent, but some of these acts go well beyond that description. These are extrememly talented musicians who write amazing music. Depite their lack of world fame, our conversation really set the excitement for what was in store.
Opening the show here was 33 year old indie artist Kandle Osborne, professionally known as Kandle. There is a special tie-in here with Kandle and the headliner's 54-40. You see, the BC native, Montreal based Kandle is 54-40 frontman Neil Osborne's daughter. With 3 full length album releases to their credit, the band opened the show after a heartfelt introduction by Neil Osborne himself, and the show was underway.
Kandle has a broad spectrum of styles, from the singer's soulful voice, to the band's melodies, and groovy rhythmic beats. It's easy to get pulled into the music, even with their own renditions of the Payolas' "Eyes of a Stranger" and Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love". Neil Osborne even gets invited out to play tambourine during the band's 5th track "Demon"
On a number of occasions, Kandle humourously poked fun of the band not having played many shows this year, not having a ton of rehearsal time, and even playing some songs live for the very first time, but you'd be hard pressed to imagine this based on their supporting performance here for 54-40.
A foggy, blue haze engulfs the stage. I take a quick look behind me to plan my photography route, and the venue is literally packed from wall to wall. Usually, some space along the side walls exist for a great vantage point while I watch the show once my photographs have been captured, but there are no pieces of floor to be had. Every square inch is occupied. The band emerges before us, and start in with their opening tack of the evening, "Baby Have Some Faith". A bright light shines out from behind. Individual, star shaped rays of light puts lead singer Neil Osborne in silhouette. Guitarist Dave Genn and bassist Brad Merrit flank either side of Osborne, and the crowd is immediately thrown into the evening.
Osborne engages himself immediately after the first track, letting the fans know that they're in for a special night, especially with this being the first of 3 nights. You see, he jokingly tells us that the band really only cares about the first night. It's the only one that truly matters and the rest are just "whatever". And they go right into "Walk in Line".
The band is solid out of the gate, but once they get into their 6th track of the set, 1986's "Baby Ran", their sound is great! The crowd is dancing, and many fans frantically get their phones out, trying to record the video. There is definitely a stigma about fans watching the show through their phone, rather than being in the moment, but I'm not sure if I buy the argument. If you literally watch the whole evening through your medium, then I agree, but I don't see anything wrong with recording a snippet to be able to go back later and review how great the show was.
As a photographer, the Horseshoe Tavern is not the greatest venue to shoot at. The lighting is typically not very good, but I've got to say, there was some great lighting happening this evening. As an example, a Dave Genn guitar solo is accompanied by green laser lights that shoot out from the back of the stage. It reminds me of the Triumph "Thunder Seven" tour I saw way back in the day. It was my first "unchaperoned" show, and I distincly remember the cool lighting. Same here during this moment, and it was a really awesome looking aesthetic. The solo leads into "Radio Love Song"and the crowd is bouncing up and down emphatically.
Neil Osborne's interaction with the crowd is perfectly timed throughout the set. The band wastes little time with time killing chatter, as they play through many of their most popular tracks, but Osborne is able to pick out time for conversation at ideal times throughout the show. Ahead of "One Gun", Osborne takes a few minutes to talk about how fucked up the world is right now, but that it's up to each one of us, each thread, to be the best that we can possibly be to make the world a better place. He knows that we've all been affected by gun violence in some form or other, but we can all change it! With the song, Osborne sounds fantastic, and the crowd joins in the fray, singing along with the 54-40 frontman.
"See what music does? It's awesome! So do yourself a favour. When you wake up, sing a song! You'll feel so much better for it!" says Osborne. And as the band progresses into "Ocean Pearl", more crowd singing, and more, straight up, plain and simple fun!!
And yes, of course there was an encore! Osborne sends a shout-out to April Wine's Myles Goodwyn who recently passed away, and in a cool polyphony, during the band's song "I Go Blind", the crowd sings the chorus while Neil sings the chorus to April Wine's "Tonight is a Wonderful Time To Fall In Love". It sounds super cool!
And finally, with "Love You All", the floor erupts into dance.
There is always alcohol flowing at a Toronto rock concert, but the fans here tonight were in complete party mode. There was a ton of drinking, and stumbling, lots of dancing, lots of singing, and a sea of smiles and happy faces. I got this feeling from my arrival to the club at 7:30, that it was going to be a fun affair. The air was just cheery and happy-go-lucky, more than I typically see.
This one was a party!!!
Baby Have Some Faith
Walk in Line
Nice to Luv You / Blow at High Dough / Nice to Luv You
Lies to Me
Radio Luv Song
How's Your Day Going
Take My Hand
One Day in Your Life
Casual Viewin' / Have You Ever Seen the Rain / Casual Viewin'
West Coast Band
I Go Blind
Love You All / What's so Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding / Love You All
Concert Photo Gallery
showdate: December 7, 2023