Celebrating the release of their new album, “Before the Collapse of the Hive,” The Stephen Stanley Band hit the stage at The Redwood Theatre in Toronto with the muscular vitality of a band fully aware of the potency and astounding power of the songs they were about to launch on a strong turnout of appreciative fans.
Stephen Stanley, a founding member of the legendary 90’s Toronto band Lowest of the Low, seemed to have a smile glued to his face throughout the lengthy show. Joined by three Chris’: the extraordinary lead guitarist and vocalist Chris Bennett, Chris Rellinger on bass and Chris Brown on keyboards, backed by powerhouse drummer Cam Pyziak, the musicians soared through a set comprised of the album tracks and favourites from their previous releases.
Guest singers Suzanne Jarvie and Kate Fenner backed on a few numbers. By night’s end the crowd was dancing and enthusiastically cheering, song after song. Fenner, along with Chris Brown, opened the evening with a haunting selection of songs, most notably a shattering rendition of Fred Neil’s 1966 opus, “The Dolphins.”
Chris Brown served as producer, engineer and keyboardist on “Before the Collapse of the Hive,” and in 2017 on Stanley’s “Jimmy & The Moon,” and is himself an eclectic sonic designer. On stage, the keyboards strengthened the chord progressions, allowing Bennett to literally blast off in his solo work, while Stanley concentrated on delivering a powerfully energetic vocal performance.
It is important to note that “Before the Collapse of the Hive,” Stephen Stanley’s third studio album released last month via Wolfe Island Records, must surely be considered one of the best for 2023. “It’s an album brimming with raw, unflinching urgency, steadfast observation and soul-searching storytelling that highlights Stephen’s immediate world: those he loves, and those he’s lost” to quote the album’s publicity notes. More than that, it is a work from a master songwriter reflecting on the tumultuous historic inflection period we seem to be living through, delivered with elegance, verve, and intimate poignancy.
Presented live, the songs take on a whole other dimension. Rocking, relentless, peerlessly performed and immediately danceable, The Stephen Stanley Band revved up the engines to full, challenging any thoughtful listener to take note that the message Stephen is sending out in these songs is meaningful and necessary.
Starting with “Here Comes that Rain,” “Hornets,” and “Winnipeg Gun” from the new album, the band switched off onto some older material, including a dynamic, absolutely breathtaking version of “New Westminster Taxi Squad” from “That Thin, Wild Mercury” (2003), with Bennett’s blistering guitar solo ricocheting off the rafters. But it was the incomparable handclap and drum solo intro of “The Ballad of Lou Room” that grabbed the whole audience, clapping and joyfully singing along.
Stephen’s recent single release and album opener, “Chase that Devil,” closed the show, fittingly and perfectly, shaping the song into an anthem, with the audience resoundingly chanting along.
Photo Credit: Album Cover (Artist Website)