L.S. Dunes - Live In Toronto (Cover Artwork)

L.S. Dunes

Live In Toronto (2023)


The anticipation is palpable waiting in line outside of the Opera House in Toronto for the L.S. Dunes show on July 13. We’re not even inside the building but the atmosphere is already electric and humming with excitement. Someone has brought an acoustic guitar and has turned the stairs near the backstage entrance into a makeshift stage. A group of people carrying a cardboard cutout of beloved Dr. Seuss character the Lorax are making their way up and down the line handing out paper suns, stars, and other assorted shapes that will turn the light from any phone flashlight orange. We see Toronto-based rockers and show openers PONY enter backstage and we see tour manager extraordinaire Kent Jamieson exit. And then we started to move. With each step towards the venue entrance, the buzz builds. Before we made it into the show, I was able to catch up with Kent and we had a great talk that really made my night.

I have wanted to see PONY for quite some time now and they did not disappoint. The band really put the ‘power’ in power pop as they played a set made up of songs from their recently released second album Velveteen and one song (“WebMD”) off their 2021 debut album TV Baby. After the first two songs, lead vocalist Sam Bielanski took off their guitar and danced around the stage urging the crowd to join along saying, “Let’s dance and get your body warmed up for L.S. Dunes!” The crowd was more than happy to join in and the venue turned into a giant dance party. The skill of the band and the dynamism of Sam’s voice were on full display in all of the songs but especially on “Tres Jolie” and “Sucker Punch”. The songs took on new life as the emotion and intricacies of each one were brought to light on stage. PONY were an absolute delight from start to finish and their grungey, punky, glitter rock-infused sound was so much fun. They left the stage to cheers.

Right at 9 pm, Tucker Rule walked out of the wings and right over to the drum kit. In one fluid movement, he sat down and started up the drumbeat to “Bombsquad”. After a few beats, Travis Stever walked across the stage to pick up his guitar and he was soon followed by Frank Iero, Tim Payne, and Anthony Green. No one missed a beat as they picked up their instruments and launched right into the song. The crowd was singing along immediately. After the first chorus, Anthony held the microphone over the crowd and moved his hand over it as if he was transferring some of the spirit of the band to us. His voice alternately soared and growled throughout the song, setting the tone for what was to come and leaving us all in awe at the seamless way he switched between the vocal styles. As the band moved around the stage, it was crystal clear that this is exactly where they should be and what they should be doing. The energy and joy emanating from the stage was contagious. After the song ended, Anthony turned back to the crowd and said, “Thank you Toronto! We’re L.S. Dunes” to explosive cheers before the band played “Like Forever”. Soon after the song began Anthony was down on the floor in front of the crowd offering the mic to people near the front of the stage and hugging a crowdsurfer who was being pulled down by security. “It’s so nice to be with you in this enclosed space,” Anthony said after he made it back on stage. “Blender” was next and featured an absolutely face-melting solo from Travis. Even though we were only three songs in the vibe exchange was perfect and would continue to be so for the rest of the night. We were giving them our all and they were giving it right back.

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for “Grey Veins”. The moment the opening notes rang out, everyone went wild. The stage was lit up purple and blue creating a dreamy atmosphere and just before the chorus, the lights were white and strobing. When the chorus hit, Anthony danced around the stage as Frank took up vocal duties. Tim was moving all around the stage, bursting with energy and superb bass tone. For the second last chorus, the band stopped playing and the crowd took over. The walls were shaking with the force of our singing. I’d bet you anything that you could hear “I don't wanna kill time like it doesn't matter/You chose this instrument yourself/Stop trying to make it seem like you give a shit/You don't have to believe in anything” for blocks. The band kicked back in after that as Frank sang the final chorus while continuing to play the guitar like there was no tomorrow. Anthony jumped around the stage, Tucker killed it on the drums, Tim lifted up his bass, and Travis kept shredding.

“Here’s our new song!” said Anthony before “Benadryl Subreddit” started. He was gathered around Tucker’s drum kit along with Frank and Tim before launching at the mic stand for the powerful opening “Yeah!” Even though the song had only been out for less than a month, the crowd knew every word by heart and made sure the band knew it. The song ended with a wild light show that was in time with Tucker’s excellent drum solo. The cymbals crashed and after stopping to read a fan’s sign, Anthony introduced “Antibodies” with an emphatic “This is my shit!” Around this time, the Lorax from earlier made an appearance. The people who brought in the defender of the trees held him up and Anthony took one look and said, “Why did you bring the Lorax? Is that to remind us we’re fucking up? I’m having an existential meltdown looking into the eyes of that thing. Lower it to your feet please.” It took an additional three “To your feet with the Lorax!” until he was finally lowered. All through this everyone on stage and in the crowd was laughing and having a great time. Buoyed on by the additional energy provided by the Lorax, the band started up “Permanent Rebellion” and blew the roof off of the place. The energy, which was extremely high to begin with, tripled and if you could hear the chorus of “Grey Veins” for blocks then you could’ve easily heard us screaming "Tongue-tied, never rest/Buried in your favourite dress” into another province. It was beyond amazing. This is my dad’s favourite song and he hasn’t stopped talking about it since.

“I’ve got a tummy full of Cheezies”, said Anthony paying tribute to the adored Canadian cheese snack before “Grifter” began. The lights made cylindrical shapes that bounced around the stage and into the crowd and highlighted the magic of the song. Every single note, every single key change, every single word I could feel deep within my very being. Everyone on stage looked like they were having a blast as they brought the connection with the crowd to new heights. “One Day At A Time” was also incredibly special. The care and emotion in the words were ramped up live, especially in Anthony’s vocal delivery of “One day at a time”. The crowd erupted when “Past Lives” started and because this marked the first of their final three songs, Anthony urged everyone to “Make security work”. People were crowdsurfing left, right, and centre and everyone was having a blast. Frank did the majority of the vocals on the chorus and everybody was singing along. The feeling of that many people (including myself) singing along to “I know we can get well” was enchanting and fortifying. “2022” followed and carried even more emotional weight live than it does recorded. At one point Anthony changed the year from 2022 to 2032 and it was met with cheers. At the end of that song, he said “Thank you for keeping me alive Toronto” as the lights went down and I teared up.

The crowd began a chant of “L.S. Dunes” and the person controlling the lights blinked an orange light in time to the cadence of the chant. The lights came back up and Anthony shouted out the great job that the light person had been doing all night. I wholeheartedly agree. The lights were fun, not too strobey, and matched the songs perfectly. They were also able to achieve a very cool effect that adorned the walls with the shadows of the band throughout the night, reminiscent of the music video for “2022”. Anthony requested that the disco ball be put into service and the band closed out the night with “Sleep Cult”, fitting because it also closes their album Past Lives. The band extended the song so it lasted for almost six minutes. The crowd was “Shadoop-shooby-doo”-ing along and at several different points, the band stopped playing and let the shoobies of the crowd take over. In a reversal of the intro, the band members departed the stage one by one first Frank then Travis then Tucker. Tim and Anthony were the only two left on the stage as they brought the song (and night) to a perfect close.

L.S. Dunes is easily one of the most cathartic shows I’ve ever gone to. I laughed, I cried, I screamed, and I had an overall amazing time. I felt like all of the heavy emotions and the stress that I’d been carrying for so long had been drained out of my body. I felt at peace for the first time in a very, very long time. It was truly a special night and it was that much more special because I was able to bring my dad to the show. I know that it will be a while until L.S. Dunes are back in Toronto but I’m already counting down the days until I can see them again.