The story of how I recently missed seeing Preoccupations playing live in Toronto, Canada, began in Amsterdam in 2009.
At the time, I was particularly struck by the energy with which Women’s drummer, Mike Wallace, attacked his task. The band were clearly having a good night.
Women broke up in October 2010, reportedly after an onstage fight between brothers Matt (vocals, bass) and Patrick (vocals, guitar) Flegel.
On 21 February 2012, Women’s guitarist, Chris Riemer, passed away in his sleep. Matt Flegel and Mike Wallace then formed the nucleus of a new band.
Perhaps unfortunately, they named their new band Viet Cong (also four guys, none of them Vietnamese). The band sounded pretty similar to Women, although with maybe a little extra edge.
Then Viet Cong rebranded themselves as Preoccupations. They began pursuing a musical trajectory that I was slowly beginning to appreciate. They released a self-titled album in 2016 and a second album, New Material, two years later.
In early 2018, to prove that I still had that indie ‘edge’, I booked a ticket to see the band. They would be appearing at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern on Queen Street, Toronto, in April 2018. Coincidentally, I would be in town for a conference. Our two worlds were destined to collide.
I arrived in Toronto and checked into my lodgings. Then a freak snow event laid waste to the entire downtown area. In my jet-lagged state I stumbled around the Queen Street/Kingston Market precinct for two days. Mostly freaking out at the blatant and open drug use.
Perhaps I’ve been living in Sweden for too long. But at various times, I found myself crouching, terrified, in my hotel room. The guests across the corridor screamed at each other, causing management to call the police and evict them.
“Edgy enough for you now?” I asked myself.
I didn’t what time it was. And I couldn’t even identify the safest way to evacuate my room. You know, should some wastoid break the feeble lock on the door and make a lunge for my hair gel.
On the afternoon of the gig I walked down to the Horseshoe Tavern to find the soundcheck was in progress.
I was sitting in the almost-empty front bar, watching Canadian basketball and listening to Preoccupations playing in the other room. Then the music stopped.
The lead singer, Matt Flegel, walked out the front door, presumably to smoke a cigarette. He’s the solemn-looking guy walking along the beach in the ‘Disarray’ film clip. No Tears for Fears-style big furry jumpers here, thank you.
He gave me a look as he went past me, almost as if to ask, “Why are you here?”
It was a good question.
“Well,” went my imaginary reply. “I’m actually the Publications Manager for the only intergovernmental organization with the sole mandate to support democracy worldwide.
“I’m in town to attend the Creative Commons (CC) Global Summit. I’m hoping it will give me some ideas about how to ensure that our knowledge products—which are informed by most excellent editorial and design principles—are read and enjoyed by the greatest number of people possible.
“But my musical tastes are still quite edgy, really, and so I thought I’d come along to your show tonight. What time do you think you’ll be onstage?”
Back in reality, after finishing my beer, I trudged through the foot-thick Slurpie detritus of the snowstorm, now into its third day. I was headed for a drinks session organized as part of the CC conference, down by the lake.
They had a serious bar tab going there, including spirits. I lost track of time talking to young creative types about CC licences, Mongolia and the commons. I was one of the last to leave.
By the time I stumbled out of the lakeside bar it was approaching 11pm. I skated, once again, through that merciless slick stain of freezing sludge. Back to the Horseshoe Tavern. Only to find that Preoccupations had finished their set 15 minutes before I arrived.
I sat at the bar and ordered a very cold gin and tonic. I consoled myself with the fact that I had at least heard them play, if only for a few moments, and only during a soundcheck.
In hindsight, maybe I should have followed Matt Flegel out the door that afternoon. I could have chatted with him for a few minutes. I mean, I’d only travelled halfway around the fricking world to see his band.
Who knows, maybe we would have hit it off.
Given the title of the song, ‘Disarray’, it’s not as far-fetched as you might think.