17 Apr MTDQ 2000s
In this third installment of the MTDQ series, I interviewed Toronto Star writer Brendan Kennedy about his time at Queen’s. Completing his Medial degree in English and Global Development, he attended Queen’s from 2003 to 2008. His memories of the music on campus consist of indie bands like the Constantines, Broken Social Scene, and Arcade Fire. For Brendan, the Grad Club stands out for its constant stream of bands from the Toronto and Montreal music scenes. Read on to find out more about these bands’ presence on campus in the 2000s!
You talked a lot about how the indie scene was very big when you were at Queen’s.
Yeah, it felt like it was a really great time to be in Kingston, to be in the middle of Toronto and Montreal because we got so many bands from both of those scenes coming through all the time. It was amazing. In the Toronto area, you had Broken Social Scene and the whole Three Gut Records thing with Constantines and Cuff the Duke. You had Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade Montreal. Even in B.C – we didn’t have bands from B.C coming in too often – but you had The New Pornographers from there. It just felt like a good time to be seeing small shows in a small town, to be in a college town that is geographically on a lot of these bands’ tour schedules.
You said that Arcade Fire played at Clark Hall Pub?
Yeah, crazy! It was like a week after Funeral came out. It was $7; it was at Clark Hall Pub. I did a review of it for the Journal, so I didn’t have to buy a ticket. There were huge lineups. The promoter booked it before Funeral had come out, so you know, they were just a small indie band from Montreal. By that point, they had blown up, I mean not blown up to the extent they are now, but there was so much hype around Funeral. There were these rumours in the crowd that Arcade Fire were maybe going to play two shows, that they were going to kick out the crowd and let a whole new crowd come in. They didn’t end up doing that. They were still schlepping their own gear back then. I remember they were sneaking people from the line into the show by telling the bar staff that they were roadies. They would hand like a guitar case or a drum to somebody in line and then get a few more people in. After seeing them live, I remember thinking they are going to be huge, and this is a show that I’m going to remember. And then two years ago, I saw them at the ACC in Toronto, and it’s just like a full stadium show. It’s kind of crazy to think about what it was like in September 2004.
You said that Metric played too? Are there any other standout concerts that you remember?
Metric played a bunch of shows. In the earlier days I saw them at Elixir – it’s on Garrett Street, a small bar. By the end of my time [at Queen’s], they had already gotten bigger. Towards my later years, they played Grant. I think toward the end, they were doing bigger shows where they like played a frosh week show or something like that. But I think in the first few years, in 2003, 2004, they definitely played Elixir. The shows I remember more are just like these crazy packed shows at the Grad Club. The Constantines and Jon Rae & The River and Cuff the Duke. These bands didn’t blow up the way that Arcade Fire and Metric did, but there was such an energy about those shows. I mean, Joel Plaskett, too, in the early days of the Grad Club. It just felt like, sometimes like the walls were going to come down. I felt like I was at the Grad Club every weekend.
Do you have any major memories associated with a particular artist or a song from your time at Queen’s?
I mean, I just remember these Constantines shows at the Grad Club. They always stayed kind of small, kind of a cult band, but they had these epic live shows. Even as they got more popular and they kind of outgrew the Grad Club, they just love Virginia Clark so much. She was the manager at the Grad Club, probably still is, I think, and the bands just loved her. Instead of going to a bigger venue, the Constantines would play two shows at the Grad Club. It’s rare that a band would stay in Kingston for multiple nights, but they weren’t the only ones that did that. I think Wintersleep did that, and part of that is just the love of the Grad Club, the love of Virginia. I just remember these wild Constantines shows, getting super drunk, to be honest, and just having an amazing time. It’s such a tiny room, and it being so packed, it’s almost like you’re on stage with the band. There were these really epic Cuff the Duke shows, Wintersleep, Joel Plaskett, those were all at the Grad Club. My memories are more so just being at the Grad Club. I remember seeing Broken Social Scene at Grant Hall. I saw so, so many shows.
I felt like I was there at a great time in Canadian music, and Kingston was a good place to be because you could see all the bands that are blowing up [in Toronto and Montreal] and you get to see them in these tiny venues. The Sadies played the Grad Club. I think it was also because of the promoters, the bookers – like Virginia Clark at the Grad Club. There was a guy named Chris Morris who ran something called Rock Crew Productions. The Kingston Punk Productions put on great shows. CFRC had a lot of people doing cool stuff. It just felt like there were always bands to see and always shows to go to. I loved at the Grad Club the bands’ backstage was the kitchen. There would always be this thing where they would end the show, go off, and they would just kind of like slink into the kitchen and then come back for an encore. They wouldn’t wait that long because what kind of pretense is there. Also, in the summer, going to Wolfe Island Music Festival.
I didn’t know that Wolfe Island had a music festival!
Yeah, in recent years, it’s become a little more intermittent because of cost reasons. It was definitely steadily every year from like 2003 to 2012, and then it started to become more sporadic.
Was it always just like indie bands or Canadian bands that they would invite?
Yeah. A lot of it was bands that had played the Grad Club in the last year that Virginia knew. Oh, because Virginia was also the organizer for Wolfe Island Fest, so it was a lot of the same bands you’d see in previous years at the Grad Club.
Was it a big social thing? Were your friends into the same concerts as you?
Yeah, definitely some of them, because I worked at the Journal, but I also worked at CRFC, so all those people were definitely into music. I’ve never had another bar like the Grad Club where I would go alone all the time, and I just knew that there would always be somebody that I knew there. And that’s something that I miss from being in university and being in Kingston, you know – it was a small enough place, and enough was going on that you could always find – I would just go to the Grad Club, and there would always be somebody there that I knew.
Was there a particular artist you could hear all over campus that was big at Queen’s in general?
I mean, it’s hard to think of a monoculture band or song. As much as I’m saying, “oh the Constantines played two nights, and it was packed at the Grad Club,” that’s still only like – even if there were different people each night – that’s like 200 people, and like how many people go to Queen’s, 10,000? I did go to Stage and AJs; I went to the usual basic places. I’m trying to think of what the big songs were. I feel like I’m not the best person to ask about that. I wish I knew. I feel like my year’s song was Don’t Walk Away Eileen by Sam Roberts, like a frosh week song, but I don’t know if that equates to everyone knowing it.
I feel like there was a weird song that people referenced a lot; it was like Muy Caliente. It was not a popular song, but somehow it became a meme before we knew them as memes on QTV. [QTV] was a TV station that was like a Queen’s TV station. They just made videos. I didn’t have a cellphone. It’s weird because I’m not that old, but a lot has changed. I had a flip phone in my fourth year, that was it. When things went viral, it was in a different way. But I do remember this like, Rico Caliente? Or Muy Caliente? But it was like a white girl singing in kind of like, I think it was mostly English, but then there was a Spanish chorus, and it was this cheesy pop song. I remember there being rumours about this girl like she had produced it herself; she was a Queen’s student maybe – I think that’s what it was. I remember rumours that she was a Queen’s student; she was rich and had paid to produce this song and video herself.
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