Guerilla Toss at Bar Le "Ritz" PDB, September 15th 2019

Sitting in the back of the room in Montreal’s Bar Le Ritz PDB, I got the perfect picture: a crowd full of hipsters, multi-colour lights swirling, and five musicians performing in perfect tandem. Accompanying them was a projection which included collages containing images of, for one, their Samoyed altered by psychedelic visual effects. 

A Guerilla Toss show is more of a ritual than a performance. The band wants you to party and dance, but they make sure you listen to the broader message. Lead singer and violinist Kassie Carlson uses her love of poetry and literature to compose lyrics that tackle serious topics such as depression and mental health. 

“There’s a poetic element to the lyrics,” said Carlson. “People I look up to are Patti Smith and Bob Dylan. I enjoy wordplay, rhyming, saying things with double meanings.”

The musicians showed a wide range of skills; some went to study jazz, but they go beyond their musical background to experiment with various styles. 

It’s hard to categorize Guerilla Toss. If you lend an ear to the shouting vocals, the electric violin and the retro synth, you feel transported to a time reminiscent of shoegazing with sounds disappearing into space. With the other ear to the percussion and the strings, it feels like a garage band session with professional jazz musicians. 

“It started off as a skronky band,'' said Carlson about the evolution of their sound. “We listened to a lot of The Slits, Sonic YouthJames Chance and the Contortions. At first, we were inspired by the no-wave sound.”

On their recent album Twisted Crystal, the band displays their transition into neo-psychedelia. They experiment with punk rock, noise rock, art rock, psychedelic rock, and electronic music. The sound is aggressive, yet playful. The vocals are dry, yet engaging. The synth, played by Sam Lisabeth, follows strange musical patterns, most specifically to create buildup during the musical transitions. The base is groovy and fun to dance to, maintaining the tempo. The guitar, played by Arian Shafiee, sounds with lots of reverb, creating tension for the listeners. Yet the stringing is sharp and engaging.

It’s the music you play when you’re emotionally exhausted and you just want to go out and party your worries away. The live video mixing and analog VHS mixing used during the show hugely enhances the experience. Willie, their visual technician, takes as much space on stage as the musicians. He knows just when to blast the lights and cue the fog, taking us along on the band’s intergalactic journey. 

“We’re trying to make a colourful environment to enhance the experience,” said Carlson. “Willie has a launch pad and mixes the visuals live based on the mood of the music. It’s a great way to mix art with music.”

When the show was over, I felt like I had taken part in the most intellectually stimulating rave of my life. I could still hear the electric synth ringing in my ear and the light projection playing in my mind as I walked home on a quiet Sunday night. 

Jean-Philippe Giroux is the host of Hidden Gems, a show focusing on artists outside the realm of popular music in Canada. It plays every Thursday at 3:00 PM EST.