There was a friendly east coast versus west coast vibe going on at the Phoenix on September 23 when the California band Radical Something opened up for New York alt rapper Matisyahu and his touring band, Brooklyners Dub Trio on Matisyahu’s Built to Survive tour. Unlike bicoastal rivalries from a few decades ago, this one was all brotherly love and trading around some serious skill. But as with any contest, formal or informal, one performer took the crown and it’s there to stay — for now, at least — in New York.
Shortly after the sun went down, the west coast trio that is Radical Something (Alex “Loggy” Lagemann — lead vocals, guitar; Josh “Josh Cocktail” Hallbauer — lead vocals; Michael “Big Red” Costanzo — bass, guitar, keyboard, percussion, backing vocals) opened things up with a hugely energetic vibe. There was no halfway effort for these guys, opening act or not. Instead, they stormed onto the stage at the Phoenix as though they owned the place and tore the roof off the venue.
Radical Something is one of the few bands to enthusiastically wave their background in the air like a badge of honour, unabashedly proud of being from California. It’s reflected in their song choices, too, with offerings like “Be Easy” and “We Were Just Kids”. Although lead singers Loggy and Josh Cocktail thrash around the stage like hard rockers, the former in a ’90s slacker tank top and the latter with grunge era long hair, their music has a decidedly uplifting bent to it. It’s light, fun and breezy, but with enough of an edge that you know you’re not at an Aqua or Beach Boys concert.
In opposite contrast to that is Matisyahu, who has a more sober and almost spiritual tone to his shows. Hair shorn close to his head and clothes hiding his lanky figure, Matisyahu combines reggae, hip hop and beatboxing to come up with a style and sound that is distinctly his own. You can hear a lot of Bob Marley in his music, but there’s a hardness to it that speaks of more depth. It’s clear he’s after music that speaks to something deep within us, and you can understand that either by listening to the music for clues or watching how he carries himself on stage.
Backing up Matisyahu was the Brooklyn band Dub Trio: Dave “DP” Holmes (guitar, keyboard), Stu Brooks (bass, keyboard), Joe Tomino (drums). They’re a bit of a polemic act because if you like dub music, what they do with their respective instruments is quite amazing. But if you’ve never understood what all the dub fuss is, then you’ll have a hard time making sense of what’s coming out of the speakers. But even if you’re not a dub fan, it’s hard to deny how good these guys are at complex rhythms and time signatures.
Sure, you could have gone to the movies on that Tuesday night and spent a lot less, but the cinema will always be there, playing the same films day after day. But for those who wanted to break away from the mold and experience the diversity in Toronto’s music scene, it was hard to think of a more apt place than the Phoenix.