A Decent into Madness in Pursuit of a Good Show
The Following is being posted without any edits or proofreading. Writing this was stressful but necessary to work out some of the residual stress, and by the time I was finished, I was just tired. Please accept it the way it is.
It had been over six months since the last time I’d been there (and several years since the time before that), but Toronto was no less familiar to me than it had ever been. As my Greyhound rolled into the city, I was surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds from my childhood. I didn’t grow up in Toronto, but my dad lived there for many years, and I’d spent many holidays—summer, March break, and even the occasional Christmas season—with him. Growing up, Toronto was my second home, a place where I could spend time with the father I didn’t see nearly enough for my liking. A city I could never live in, but one I was always happy to visit.
However, visiting this city since he passed away has been a very different experience. For obvious reasons, it took me years to come back—I was 23 when I watched him die in a hospital room here, and hadn’t mustered the emotional strength to come back until I was 27, my age now—and now when I come, I see a different side of the city than I did as a child being led around by his dad. The last time, in January, I went bar-hopping as I celebrated my recent birthday, after which I took a long and reflective walk through old neighbourhoods I remembered from my youth. Now I was here to see Deftones play at the International Centre in Mississauga.
It wasn’t the first time I’d made a quick trip here to see a concert, only to return to my regular life the next day, contented and under-slept. In 2010, I’d made this pilgrimage to see The Dillinger Escape Plan, Darkest Hour, and Iwrestledabearonce perform at The Opera House, only to be back in class at 9:00 a.m. the next day. This time, I had to be back at work a little later (at 11:00 a.m.) but I was also older, less able to function on very little sleep. But I felt equal to the task.
Pulling into the city, I found myself hungry. I’d had a quick breakfast at my usual Starbucks in downtown Ottawa, where the day was cold, grey, and wet, before boarding, but now I was absolutely famished. I remembered hearing of a pizza place called Maker Pizza, and found myself Googling it before the bus had even pulled in. It was only a 20-minute walk from the bus depot, the weather was beautiful, and my legs (which prior to being tucked into a tight bus seat for six hours had taken quite a beating in the gym) were screaming to feel the blood flowing through them again.
Maker Pizza is hidden on a little alleyway in Toronto’s Chinatown. In the pre-Internet days, it was likely the kind of place you’d never find if you didn’t already know where it was. The building looked like it might have once been a garage—a large, plain, white room with a large table occupied by a family, and me, eating a pizza called Apocalypse Cow: mini meatballs, parmesan, pepperoncini, red onions, roasted red pepper, basil leaves, and olive oil on a bed of mozzarella and tomato sauce, the crust adorned with sesame seeds, served to me by a man who looked like he could easily have been Jeff Goldblum’s son. My hunger abated by an exceptional pizza, I struck out once more into Canada’s biggest city.
My next destination was provided by a friend: Sonic Boom Records, which was, amazingly enough, five minutes away. A beautiful record shop with no real equivalent in Ottawa, it had a massive selection of vinyl, along with books, knick-knacks, and more. It was all I could do to walk out with only the three records I did: Cursed’s III: Architects of Troubled Sleep (a reissue with gorgeous cover artwork by John Baizley of Baroness), MF DOOM and Madlib’s Madvillainy, and Saul Williams’ MartyrLoserKing. It took some will not to grab a used copy of Jane Doe by Converge (vinyl editions of this are rare), but the fifty-dollar price tag helped.
A fair bit of shopping done, I was ready to make my way to the venue. I figured that with Toronto’s public transit system, the place must be easy to reach. I was terribly wrong, and this is where things began to get complicated.
After following Google’s directions, buying a TTC day pass and riding to Union Station, I made my way to my connecting bus, only to find that it belonged to a different transit network—GO Transit, which ran coach-style buses between Toronto and its suburbs. Another 15 dollars later, I’ve got a two-way ticket to Malton station, hoping rather ignorantly that I’ll be able to use the GO bus to come back. More on that later.
After fighting through traffic that turned what was supposed to be a 25-minute ride into a little over an hour, I disembarked and followed the small collective of people in tight jeans and band shirts—they must know where the venue is. We reached a large convention centre—The International Centre, at long last—and as the rain pelts down, we ran from door to door trying to get inside to no avail. Finally, having nearly circled the whole building, we find Entrance 5, where a massive line has formed around metal partitions. The line seemed to have been organised with the sole intention of making people wait in the rain as long as humanly possible. By the time I was finally inside, had been frisked by security, and allowed into the massive hangar where the concert was taking place, I was cold, wet, dehydrated, and fairly miserable. But I was here.
With a new t-shirt in my backpack and a lemonade in my hand, I make my way close to the stage to catch the second band (I had caught only the tail end of the opening act). Refused is a Swedish hardcore band with socialist leanings I’m passingly familiar with (I once bought one of their records more out of curiosity than anything). As a live act, they’re… well, they’re something, alright. Musically talented enough, though vocalist Dennis Lyxzén certainly had some things to say. His statement, two songs in, that any band without a political message is just worthless noise and entertainment, was beyond arrogant and self-aggrandising (“Look how important we are compared to other bands!”) and what started out sounding like a condemnation of rape culture ended up coming across more like a high school boy whining about how creepy girls find him. But their set was short and sweet. It was finally time to see what I came here to see: Deftones.
Deftones are the first band I ever went to see live in concert, 10 years ago when I was 17. They’re also one of the only bands I liked then that I still like now (and probably the only one that I actually like more now). They were here in support of their new album Gore, though interestingly enough, the played only two songs from the album. After opening with “Rocket Skates” (a personal favourite of mine off of 2010’s Diamond Eyes) they played “Acid Hologram” from the new record, and then later on, the title tack. For the bulk of their set, they seemed interested in showcasing tracks from Diamond Eyes and 2012’s Koi No Yokan. “You’ve Seen the Butcher,” “Swerve City,” “Beauty School,” “Rosemary,” and more were played, along with older classics like “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” and “Digital Bath” (the latter being possibly the first song in my life that I identified as being sexual in nature without a video to sex it up).
Towards the end of the set, they started to delve deep into 2000’s White Pony with “Knife Prty,” “Change (in the House of Flies),” and “Passenger;” they closed out the night with a similar hat trick pulled from 1997’s Around the Fur: “My Own Summer (Shove It),” “Rickets,” and their last song, “Headup.” Apart from hoping they’d play more off the new album (particularly lead single/opening track “Prayers/Triangles”), I couldn’t be more pleased with this set list, and they brought it to life with calculated ferocity and passion, showcasing the knack for juxtaposing sweet melodies against crushing riffs and rhythms that makes their sound so unique. I was happy I’d come to see them play—but my happiness ended then and there, as my return journey began.
The Long March Home
Outside the venue, I could finally get a signal on my smartphone, and I once-again consulted Google to figure out how to take public transit back to the Greyhound station. Only, it turned out, that despite it only being 11:15, there was no way in Hell to get to the station by 12:45, when my bus was scheduled to leave. So much for a return GO bus ticket, or a TTC day pass—money down the drain that was, and not the last instance of it. Looking over my options, it seemed that an Uber was my best bet. I called, it came, and it seemed I was going to be on my merry (yet expensive) way. See, I didn’t want to miss my bus because there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it home in time for work if I did. The fact that I was spending more money trying to make it home in time for work than I would make at work the next day was a painful thorn in my side, but it wasn’t just about the money. It was about being responsible; I said I’d be there, so I’d be there.
However, my anxiety about the situation worsened once inside the Uber, as traffic in the International Centre’s parking lot became so impassable that we legitimately didn’t move for over twenty minutes. Even once we did get moving, the going was slow, and by the time we reached the bus depot, the fare was double what I’d expected ($86.82—I feel nauseated just thinking about that). But we were there, and on time, so I could breathe a sigh of relief.
And then several sighs of frustration on the verge of tears, as the Greyhound was delayed by over an hour thanks to a late connecting bus from Buffalo, NY. I spent over a day’s earnings just to make it to the bus station in time, only to discover I could have been an hour late and still made it home… the dramatic irony was maddening. As we finally took off, I drifted off to sleep with my noise-cancelling headphones and lullaby renditions of David Bowie, only to wake up, horribly uncomfortable, as the album ended. My sleep was uneasy, and as I put on lullaby album after lullaby album, I found myself waking as each one finished, all the way to Ottawa, where, after a very sleepy cab ride, I finally got in my front door, only to not be sleepy anymore at all. (I eventually got an hour or so of solid sleep, and went to work.)
What Did We Learn, Kids?
So what did I learn for all of that? Well, I learned where to find an amazing pizza in Toronto (well, at least one more place to do so, anyway). I learned about a great record shop. I learned that I never want to go to a concert in Mississauga, especially at that particular venue, ever again, no matter who’s playing. And I learned that I might be a bit too old to be running back and forth to Toronto in such a short time frame, especially by bus. That next time I can save money by actually going to venues in the actual city and not in a neighbouring suburb (like my cheap, fun trip to Montreal to see Chelsea Wolfe, or the previous Toronto trip to see The Dillinger Escape Plan). That if I never ride a Greyhound again, I’ll be happy, and that I’ll make an active effort to never ride one overnight for as long as I live. That maybe it might be worth it to plan my next trip so that I can stay for a day or two, with somewhere to crash (I’ve got friends in most major cities in Canada, and there are always hostels).
It was a stressful trip, and I barely pulled through the anxiety in one piece. But I made it, I did what I’d gone to do, and I learned from it. So would I take it back? No. I’m glad I did it, and my next trip will be better for it.