The New Gospel

Yves Tumor @ History Concert Review

The excitement I felt to finally see Yves Tumor in the flesh ran high. Having not been able to catch them during their tour last year, I made it my mission to catch them during the To Spite or Not to Spite tour. It also helped that the album they’re touring, Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds), ridiculously long title aside, is excellent. While not entirely reaching the heights of their previous release, Heaven to a Tortured Mind, it’s a fantastic collection of abrasive yet psychedelic art rock bangers. As an album that, prior to the show, already contended for my album of the year, the tour, has heightened my appreciation. If there’s anything these songs demand more, it’s to be seen live.

Flash forward to May 9th, the night of the concert. I arrive two hours before the doors are set to open, and the line is already packed. A bit of a surprise to me since checking prior to my arrival at the venue, the event had not sold out yet (albeit barely). However, if anything, it's a testament to the devoted and varied fanbase accumulated by a highly distinctive and niched act. An eclectic mix of people waiting, diverse colours of dyed hair, dressed in chic leather jackets and ripped fishnet tights. “Diverse” is also a nice word to describe the representation of the crowd, and not just by dress. It's such a joy to see other people of colour express themselves and represent alternative and marginalized communities that go unnoticed in  everyday life. To be amongst droves of those I could identify, especially as a solo concert- goer, is a blessing

The tour consisted of a double opener lineup with a rotating slot that alternated between electronic duo Frost Children and the Drain Gang affiliated oddity, Nation. The latter was on the docket for the night and by their appearance alone, their abnormality became evident. Bright red shoes, a tie-dye shirt and shorts combo, topped with a red puffer jacket made Nation stick out but not always in the most flattering way. In pairing simplistic lyrics on top of sparse, atmospheric techno, I can appreciate Nation’s attempts to hype music. They danced around to their own beats with skill and grace comparable to Michael Cera doing his best Austin Powers impression. However, it unfortunately doesn’t really translate into amping up the crowd. With the occasional cheers for the awkward dancing, the crowd was mostly still. I do hope that the next time they appear in Toronto, they crystallize their odd nature into a more enjoyable experience.

Going into a completely different direction, however, is the second opener, New York indie-rock band Pretty Sick in their first appearance in Toronto! Diverging from the EDM of the previous act, Pretty Sick’s set is just pure jams. Punchy guitars and drums paired together the lead singers subdued vocals and confessional tone. It’s reminiscent of similar recent 90’s indie rock pastiche bands that have been on the rise in the indie spheres lately, like British darlings Wolf Alice or Toronto’s own Alvvays. The contrastingly high energy from Pretty Sick’s set lightened the mood and better prepared the audience for the main show. If (like me) you enjoy either or those acts, then definitely give Pretty Sick a try. I definitely have a new act to peruse through on Spotify later.

Finally, out of a smoke filled stage materializes the star of the hour, Yves Tumor (formally known Sean Bowie). Dressed in a spiked jean jacket with no shirt underneath, white boots, and a dazzlingly bejewelled necklace, their appearance demanded attention. The fervour became accentuated as the band nosedived into the opening track of Hot Between Worlds,  “God is a Circle." Massive LED towers surrounded the stage, enveloping the audience in a glowing red frenzy. The rapid blinking matched the disorienting intensity as Bowie started chanting the track's repeated refrain “same old dance” as the audience roared back. An eye-catching and exciting display of what’s bound to be a memorable night.

The momentum of the crowd’s excitement continued into the second song of the set, “Echolalia”. While subdued in its own right, the sensuously groovy beat roused the audience into jumping. I find myself joining in on the fun too, singing along to the track’s many oh’s and ah’s, a performance providing an entrancing rendition for an equally entrancing song. The subsequent banger, “In Spite of War,” saw the crowd imitate Yves’ bombastic delivery as lyrics of craving dangerous intimacy are belted. Everyone was letting some anger out in shouting the song’s repeated phrase “everyone told me you were a freak!” Equal parts of joy and catharsis drive the audience into an affective hysteria.

It is by the time we get to “ Gospel For a New Century,” the first cut from Heaven to a Tortured Mind, that I clue in how much the audience is hypnotized by Bowie’s showmanship. In every sense of the word, they are a rockstar. With a simple swipe of their hand they manipulate the crowd, cheering as loud as Bowie desires. They slide away from one side of the stage to the other, leaving the hungry audience desiring more. While Bowie provides little to no banter in between tracks, they maintain an inviting presence. “Crushed Velvet” in particular showcased a cheekier side to the star, shimmying their jacket to create a playful atmosphere as they repeatedly sing “I feel my best when I’m dressed in all crushed velvet.”

This magnetism isn’t solely isolated to Bowie’s stage presence however. Their backing band is equally deserving of praise. A lovable sense of style is, as I’ve continually exemplified, the quickest way to my heart and the band passed the test with no exceptions. Bowie’s antics were charming but I was equally entranced by their guitarist Chris Geatti, who effortlessly worked the crowd by effortlessly having the time of his life. They work great individually, but best when together. It was a joy seeing Bowie getting up-close with Geatti and having fun with one another on stage. Even if their intimacy and tension was palpable enough to make you want to yell “get a room already!”

The pre-encore set concludes with “secrecy is incredibly important to the both of them,” a cut from their 2021 EP The Asymptomatical World. Bowie gets off stage and starts singing as close to the barricade as humanly possible. It became a frenzy of frantic hands grasping towards Bowie in an effort to really get up and close with them. The magnetic allure of touching, potentially feeling their sweaty skin, being up close and personal with a bonafide rockstar is so intoxicatingly attractive. Wishing so badly to be the lucky person at the barricade that Bowie decides to grasp the hand of. As Yves covers the face of Geatti in a cloth and kisses him, they subsequently fling the cloth off into the crowd, a supposed end to the set. As Tumor disappeared backstage for the encore, Geatti continued to shred, finally entering a point where I’m envious of both his position and his ability.

The night ends with a triple banger extravaganza, a now shirtless Bowie emerging from backstage to give the fans a last hurrah. The encore began with “strawberry privilege,” possibly the most underrated track off of heaven to a tortured mind. It almost seemed like a false sense of security as it transitioned to grandiose swells of “ebony eye,” Hot Between World’s ending track. The bombastic nature of the song and the overwhelming grandeur of the performance would’ve made the track a stellar closer for the evening. A true showcase of a visual and auditory overload. 

But of course, that couldn’t have been the finale. The set rightfully had to be ended off with the act’s most well known track, the delectably jamming “Kerosene!” In a defiant display of the song’s popularity, Bowie feigns ‘forgetting’ the lyrics of the track and prompting the crowd to sing in their stead. The track culminates in a head banging sing-along as the crowd yells out the chorus line “keroseeene” at the top of their lungs. A strong overload of the senses compared to the previous track, especially as the song ends off with one of the more electrifyingly intricate guitar solos. The night finally comes to its end, as Tumor blows a flirty kiss to the adoring audience. I’m still a bit disoriented, processing the sheer energy I just experienced this evening. It becomes clear I’ve witnessed something spectacular but my head more coherently wondered “where is the merch table again?”

I’m glad to say that my experience seeing Yves Tumor has lived up far beyond my expectation. They are their own tour de force, delivering the grandiose rock star experience when headlining stadium tours are lacking. A mix of psychedelia and bangers perfect for a live audience. As truly one of the most exhilarating concert experiences I’ve had thus far, I will eagerly await for them to rock Toronto once more.