Toronto concert hall, the garrison, comes to life with Cadence Weapon
The Polaris Prize winner hosted the first on-site indoor concert in over 18 months – and it felt like a celebration, in more ways than one
Weapon cadence with MYST MILAN at The Garrison on Tuesday, September 28. NNNN
Just a day after winning the 2021 Polaris Prize, Cadence Weapon earned another honor: headlining the first garrison concert in nearly two years.
The Dundas West concert hall has been dark since the start of the pandemic, the longest break in the history of a bar that had live music almost every night. It was a modest return, but a powerful one. It was a festive evening, for several reasons.
I got my feet wet with a few outdoor concerts over the past month, but this was my first indoor show since March 2020. But walking into the garrison back room didn’t strike me as weird. than I expected – more like falling back into a heartwarming, familiar rhythm.
It’s as dark and laid back as I remember it, filled with friendly and familiar faces from the music scene. There is new lighting, but otherwise it looks and feels about the same. There are renovations going on, but not much to do. Bathrooms, for example – all single rooms behind the stage – were already COVID-friendly.
The layout is definitely different. To meet Ontario’s current reopening restrictions, the old standing room is now filled with tables, all spaced six feet from each other. The sold-out show brought together around 65 people in a hall that can typically seat around 300 people.
It felt more like an intimate comedy club or jazz bar than an energetic hip-hop show. Before last March, you would never have expected to wear a mask at a concert (they were mandatory unless you were drinking). But there was a warm intimacy to the setup, like we were all friends gathered for a casual party.
And there was Cadence Weapon, standing to the right of the stage, working her own merchandising table, throwing vinyl and soaking up every âkudosâ.
But the first performer on the reopened garrison stage wasn’t Cadence Weapon – it was opener Myst Milano. âIt’s a real honor,â they said, acknowledging the opportunity.
Any residual weirdness was gone by the time the Toronto rapper and producer finished his first song. I thought it would be weird to sit politely during a rap show, but the crowd brought in the energy in another way. People seemed very generous with the applause, often clapping in the middle of the song for a particularly good bar. Everyone took part when Milan launched a wave of arms. But it was as much appreciation as it was courtesy. It was really good to be back.
Like Cadence Weapon, Milano is originally from Edmonton. âThe meadows are in the building! they said, echoing Cadence Weapon’s Polaris statement that “the prairies have something to say.” Like Cadence Weapon, Milano is in its own right.
The artist and community advocate produces his own punchy, minimalist beats and deadpan delivery, which draws inspiration from the queer scene, club sounds and even hardcore. Milano stepped out of the punk scene and shouted out the special DIY self-confidence energy that exists in both punk and hip-hop. Playing songs from the recently released Hidden Gem Shapeshyfter, they effortlessly went from full hardcore screaming to ballroom vogue.
There was so much charisma and fire coming out of the stage that the crowd was full of energy without ever having to stand up.
That energy continued when Cadence Weapon hit the stage, which doubled as a sort of Polaris party. “Raise a glass if you have one,” he said. “I haven’t had a gala, so this is my celebration.”
He reflected on “the craziest 24 hours of my life” between the Polaris and the Garrison show, receiving messages and praise from everyone from his high school in Edmonton to politicians Josh Matlow and MÃ©lanie Joly at the producer Kaytranada “and my crazy cousin Jeff”. He thanked his partner, Toronto Star union reporter Sara Mojtehedzadeh, whom he called the smartest person he knows and a big influence on his album.
He laughed as he thought of how people all over the world were listening to his winning album, Parallel World, and thinking “that’s fucking weird,” bewildered by the Canadian credentials.
He started off with a set of songs from this album, which was recorded during the pandemic but felt right at home on stage. The booming bass production and hard-hitting Canadian grime hit my stomach in a way it didn’t have at home, and its lyricism stood out even more. Sitting at a table, you could focus on the words. When he went a cappella, there was almost an vibe of slam poetry.
You could feel the justified paranoia in his delivery of On Me, a song on online surveillance (which he followed by a preview from Somebody’s Watching Me). People have been shouting the line “My Prime Minister wears Blackface but he doesn’t really want to face Black” on Play No Games, which he also called out on the Polaris show.
His progressive, town-planning policies were refined during the pandemic, and it seemed particularly sharp in his adopted hometown. He embarked on Skyline – a critique of gentrification, travel, town planning, slumlords, camp clearing and corporate cronyism of Doug Ford in Toronto. Then he talked about what informed him: walking down Queen West during the pandemic and seeing “Weed Shop, Weed Shop, Weed Shop, Rexall, Shoppers, Weed Shop, A&W, Weed Shop. weeds, weed store. ”
And he said what he would have said in his acceptance speech if he didn’t want to keep him PG: âFuck John Tory. Fuck Doug Ford. Fuck them.
Then the jazz club vibe returned when the rapper pulled out his laptop and hosted a live band for his second set. He said he brought Cam MacLean, Mitch Davis and Susil Sharma – all musicians from his former hometown of Montreal – to play old classic Cadence Weapon songs. He almost corrected himself with Canadian humility, but then realized now that he won Polaris that he can call them classics.
There was a dizzying spirit and well-being to the songs of the live band, which had a specific angular funky. He said crowds from other shows compared him to Primus, Rage Against the Machine, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, and a more sketchy Lenny Kravitz. I felt more in a post-punk or no-wave vibe, groovy with jagged rhythms. These have appeared in new song arrangements like Conditioning and In Search Of The Youth Crew and the rebranded Unity Square. Cadence Weapon laughed at the new dances he tried, pushed and pulled by the unique grooves.
He received a huge standing ovation as he left the stage – a few people stood up, the rest not sure if it was allowed – and returned for Night Service, a Jacques Greene collaboration that compares a night at church – a secular spiritual experience. It was the perfect song to end the evening – a hymn for a congregation that has finally been reunited.
Cadence Weapon is playing Garrison again this evening (September 29). The Garrison’s ALIVE series runs until March 2022. All proceeds will go to the Unison Charitable Fund and the Artists Mentoring Youth (AMY) project.