On 27 May 2009 I watched a Calgary band called Women (actually four young guys) wipe the floor with an Atlanta band called Deerhunter (same) at Paradiso in Amsterdam. At the time, I was particularly struck by the energy with which Women’s drummer, Mike Wallace, attacked his task, and 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, the perhaps unfortunately named Viet Cong (also guys, none of them Vietnamese), who sounded pretty similar to Women, although with maybe a little extra edge.
Then Viet Cong rebranded themselves as Preoccupations and began pursuing a musical trajectory that I was looking forward to appreciating when, as if to prove to myself that I too still had that indie ‘edge’, I booked a ticket to see the band play live at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto in April 2018.
When I arrived in Toronto, and checked into my lodgings, a freak snow event laid waste to the entire downtown area, and in my jetlagged state I stumbled around the Queen Street/Kingston Market precinct for two days, 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 as 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, not knowing the time, or even the safest way to evacuate my room should some wastoid break the feeble lock on the door and make a lunge for my hair gel.
I walked down to the Horseshoe Tavern on the afternoon of the gig, while 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, when the music stopped.
Then the lead singer, Matt Flegel (who is the solemn-looking guy walking along the beach in the ‘Disarray’ film clip: no Tears for Fears-style big furry jumpers present), walked out the front door, presumably to smoke a cigarette.
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, in the hope that 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, to a drinks session organized as part of the CC conference, down by the lake.
They had a serious bar tab going there, including spirits, and 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 slickstain of freezing sludge, and back to the Horseshoe Tavern, only to find that Preoccupations had finished their set 15 minutes before I arrived.
I sat at the bar, ordered a very cold gin and tonic, and 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 and chatted with him for a few minutes. I mean, I’d 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.