Every time I’m back in the Rochester area, Frankie and the Witch Fingers are there too. I was already planning a trip back to my ex-home city when my concert buddy let me know that the Witch Fingers were going to be playing a city over on Saturday night. After their electric performance at the Bug Jar in Rochester, NY — after which I was putting icy-hot on my neck in three hour intervals every day — we couldn’t miss a chance to see them again.
The venue was the Handlebar in Kensington Market. This was my fourth excursion to Toronto this year, and even though I rarely spend longer than five hours in the city, this was the first time that I felt like I was starting to get a feel for which neighborhood is which. The Handlebar, at first glance, wasn’t exactly the kind of space I was anticipating. The DJ (who later proved his chops in a big way) started the evening with some slower, folkier music, and I took a chance on a guava beer (paying tribute to my Ween roots) that I didn’t end up liking very much. My little gang and I set up shop in front of the keg of water on the counter and waited for the music to happen.
The opening act was Brenda, a local to Toronto punk act that I thought was really solid. If anything, I thought that their vocalist had a really different way of presenting the songs, unique to the garage-thing that is happening right now. This aspect of the performance was really stand out to me. I can’t exactly put my finger on what it was that made them sound a bit grittier than other psychedelic music of the moment. I’ve happily added their track “Torn,” to one or two playlists since seeing them.
The Witch Fingers set shortly after the opener wrapped up, with enough time to make small talk with a dude repping a Brian Jonestown Massacre tee. They proceeded to play mostly the same setlist that I saw them do back in August, but make no mistake – they did not play the same show.
It’s been almost a year since Frankie and the Witch Fingers have been on my radar, and I keep being reminded of how well the take advantage of the type of music they’re making. My favorite aspects of garage rock are that the songs are repetitive and sprawling, opening the tunes up to constant adaptation and never closing the book. These are the qualities that the best genres of music have, and that the best bands explore. The Witch Fingers are an epitome of this idea. The opening song of the setlist, “Work,” from Zam, was performed Completely Differently at this show than it was in Rochester. The band plays off of one another in a way that is totally palpable — I think that the expression on drummer Shaughnessy Starr’s face in this photo says it all.
And speaking of- Shaughnessy was the scene stealer of the night. “Underneath You,” is one of the Witch Fingers’ best tracks, it’s driving and energetic and captures some of the best of the band’s spooky vibes. The extended and relentless jam at the end of this version of the song was capped off by an attention grabbing performance on the drums. I never thought that in the year I saw Mickey Cavanagh play “Gamma Knife,” there would be another contender for the best drum performance of the year. I stopped headbanging and just had to watch.
Frankie and the Witch Fingers are an unbelievable act to see live. Unfortunately for us, they’re about to come to the end of almost six months of touring around the world, so it may be a minute before we all have a chance to see them again — but hopefully we won’t have to wait too long.