It was just about 10:30 p.m. on a chilly Wednesday night in Los Angeles, and Toh Kay (a.k.a. Tomas Kalnoky, lead singer of Streetlight Manifesto) was about to take the stage for a solo show at the Bootleg Theater. Past the bouncer, through the room with the bar that sold Coke in glass bottles, and into the back room that is usually re-purposed as a movie theater (complete with theater-style chairs and a make-shift projection screen), I found a seat in the dimly-lit room not knowing what to expect. Tomas had done solo shows like this before with acoustic versions of Streetlight songs, but he had also recently put out a recording of Dan Potthast covers, so I was unsure of what I would be hearing that night. In front of the theater-style chairs and three rows of folding chairs sat a crumbling black leather couch, a guitar, and a single microphone stand.
Before the show started, a group of people walked by me and asked if I knew what was going on. I asked if they knew the band Streetlight Manifesto, and they replied no. As more people entered, I heard that same question asked by others. Surely this was not the kind of show that people just showed up to, not knowing anything about the performer; with hardly any promotion, I had assumed that only Streetlight fans would show up, but I was wrong–not a single seat was empty and many people had to stand near the entrance. The lights dimmed and Tomas, wearing his customary red-striped shirt but without his trademark cap, stepped up to the tiny makeshift stage.
In a one-and-a-half-hour set that can best be described as "far too short", Tomas skillfully strummed and picked at his guitar strings and gave classic Streetlight Manifesto and Catch 22 songs a new life. Switching up the melodies and slowing down the pace, it was bizarre to hear songs that are normally so intense be played in such a chill way. But the audience loved it, softly singing along and loudly applauding at the end of each song. Tomas appeared a bit nervous in front of the crowd, which was evident by the way he would mess up a song and restart, or the fact that he needed lyric sheets for songs that he had written when he was 14. But by the end, he told the audience that that performance was the most fun he had had on stage in years, and the crowd loved every minute of it, yelling out their favorite parts of songs ("It's not my fault!") or whistling/singing out the horn parts.
In the set, Tomas played mostly Streetlight songs, with the majority of them coming off of his Somewhere in the Between album. He also threw in a few Catch 22 Keasbey Nights songs like "Sick and Sad", and telling the story of how he wrote that song after writing a letter to a girl when he was 14 and never getting a reply back. There's been speculation about a certain line in a Streetlight song ("If you hate me so much / then stop singing my songs") about whether or not it was about his short time fronting Catch 22, but he made this clear when he briefly stopped playing at that line and sarcastically asked, "Are those guys even still around?" The crowd laughed loudly at that. He also played one short cover that I didn't know (mostly because Tomas himself didn't know the lyrics and "na-na-na"'d all the verses) and then seamlessly transitioned into a slow but awesome-sounding song that no one in the audience had ever heard before. When he finished playing, he revealed that that song was an unfinished Streetlight song, and that he had once tried it out in Germany and a kid asked if his band could cover it, which annoyed Tomas because the band who wrote it hadn't even released it yet. He even threw in a fan-favorite Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution song, which I think the crowd sang the loudest.
He also talked about how his band is no longer invited on the Warped Tour, and told stories about his suicidal college years and his run-ins with some skinhead club owners ("the bad kind, not the 'good' kind"), and after leaving the stage, he returned for an encore and he told us that all bands pee in bottles before coming out for their encore. He mentioned how he will never play songs like "Mrs. Butterworth" or "Supernothing" because they are "awful songs, and really embarrassing" and that he hoped the Gimp cassette would never get released on the internet. Overall, the night was a really laid-back and chill experience, albeit a bit too short and I left with a new appreciation for songs that I had already heard hundreds of times before.
Set list (not in order and maybe missing a few songs):
- A Better Place, A Better Time
- Here's to Life [cut short]
- A Moment of Silence
- We Will Fall Together
- Would You Be Impressed?
- Watch It Crash
- Somewhere in the Between
- Forty Days
- Dear Sergio
- Sick and Sad
- Giving Up, Giving In [only the opening guitar bit]
- What a Wonderful Life
- untitled, unfinished Streetlight song
- The Big Sleep [the last song of the night]