tom smith | make green bay weird | july 2017
Previously on Make Green Bay Weird:
I was writing about how impressed I was with The Smugglers in Vancouver and how I was going to see them in Toronto in June. My mission to Toronto (codename: Glorious) was a smashing success.
My journey began with a 6:40 a.m. flight out of Green Bay that connected in Minneapolis and from there landed in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, before 1 p.m. Toronto time. Like Vancouver, Toronto has a nifty train to take you downtown. Union Station was my destination and from there, on foot, to find the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. This year the Horseshoe is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The Horseshoe at one time many decades ago was a regular stop for the cream of country and western music. Later on in the '70s, bands such as the Dead Boys and Suicide graced their stage. The Horseshoe Tavern was also a regular stop for Mint/Lookout recording artists The Smugglers. This show, which transpired on June 16th, 2017, was one in a series of reunion shows for The Smugglers to help promote the book release of “Dirty Windshields: The Best and Worst of The Smugglers Tour Diaries" by Grant Lawrence. Grant of course is The Smugglers dynamic, supercharged, suave front man. So I'm getting ahead of myself here because I've just exited Union Station.
You may remember me mentioning last month that since I have no type of cellular device it makes finding places interesting. I just decided to immediately walk up to three construction workers and ask where Queen Street West was, and they were more than happy to give me directions. On my way walking to Queen Street I must have looked like some rube that just fell off the rutabaga truck because I kept looking up at the tall buildings. When I did find Queen Street West it took me a while to figure out if I was walking in the right direction because I swear to the Lords of Kobol the businesses did not have their addresses on their buildings. When I finally did find one with an address I still had to walk for a while to find a second one to see which direction I was going. Of course I was walking in the wrong direction, which was a good thing because it afforded me the opportunity to see Old City Hall, which has a number of huge gargoyles coming off the building big enough for Batman to hang out on.
From there I continued my quest to find the Horseshoe Tavern. Luckily for me it was super hot and the sun without a cloud in the sky was beating directly down on me as I'm dressed all in black. The black t-shirt I was wearing was current NXT Champion Bobby Roode who is from Toronto. So I'm walking around in the hometown of Bobby Roode, NXT Champion, wearing his t-shirt for 16 hours and not one person says anything about it. Not even one. I thought WWE Heavyweight Champion Jinder Mahal (who I hear is from Montréal), the modern day maharaja, was being disrespected, but this is ridiculous. Perhaps it's a lack of proper respect for the NXT belt in Toronto or perhaps a lack of familiarity with the belt. What I propose is the next time the Toronto Blue Jays or the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Toronto Argonauts win a world championship Triple H, instead of shipping them some WWE championship belts, sends them some of the belts of his beloved NXT.
I arrive at the Horseshow Tavern and it being a dimly lit bar, not in the bright sun, it was quite the welcome reprieve. Walking in it instantly reminded me of many taverns in Wisconsin with that great worn in bar atmosphere. You can tell that the Horseshoe had been around for 70 years. Great music playing from the stereo, one of the first songs I heard was the Dirt Bombs cover of the Phil Lynott song “Ode to a Black Man." I figured before I take a look around the place I better quench my thirst with some delicious beer to which the friendly and informative bartender (Rick I believe his name was) was able to provide. The bands booked at the Horseshoe play in a back room that is decently sized with a stage whose dimensions are perfect for a rock 'n' roll venue. Tables and chairs for those not standing or dancing.
The patrons of the Horseshoe made me feel right at home and offered engaging conversations on subjects ranging from music, politics, current events and the Canadian Football League. First time ever I was able to say to a Canadian citizen that my big problem with the CFL these days is there is now only one team with the name the Roughriders. I then learned that when there were two teams named the Roughriders one was the Roughriders and the other was the Rough Riders. I was surprised no one remembered when "Rocket" Ismail as a Toronto Argonaut stomped the head of a Calgary Stampeder. I was also informed that no one in Canada remembers the brief failed expansion of the CFL in the United States. I of course remember it well because Forrest Gregg, who as an NFL player, a Packer great and a NFL Hall of Famer, the man who Vince Lombardi once called, “the finest player I ever coached," and head coach of the Packers from 1984-1987, was the head coach of the Shreveport Pirates, a United States CFL expansion team. I met Forrest Gregg once when he and his son, Forrest Gregg Junior, came into Galaxy of Sound in the Port Plaza Mall looking for the 45 of “Bop" by Dan Seals. Even in the '80s, Forrest Gregg was still an intimidating presence.
I'm happy to report that Toronto also has delicious sushi within a very short walking distance from the Horseshoe. I guess I've installed a new tradition that when I see The Smugglers, I have sushi before the show. For those keeping score at home, I rank the Vancouver sushi higher. The times The Smugglers played Green Bay at the Concert Café were all previous to Green Bay actually having a sushi joint, which means I have to double down on my vow to have The Smugglers play Green Bay again so we all can have a sushi dinner before their performance.
In Toronto, as in Vancouver, The Smugglers had three opening acts. Also at both shows Grant Lawrence did readings from “Dirty Windshields: The Best and Worst of The Smugglers Tour Diaries." The reading he does involving Neko Case in Smugglers lore should be enough alone to make you purchase this book. The first band of the evening was the New Enchanters, featuring members of the Leather Uppers and the Riff Randells, were an unexpected surprise that blew me away big time. Their set of toe-tapping garage punk that was all killer and no filler flashed me back to the first time I flew somewhere to see music, which was Estrus Records Garage Shock in 1999 in Bellingham, Washington. I was just as impressed with the New Enchanters as when I saw the Von Zippers at Garage Shock. Up next was Vancouver's Needles//Pins, who I saw with The Smugglers in May. They once again put on a totally rocking set. I chatted with them that afternoon and they're also good people. Needles//Pins will be making their Wisconsin debut Friday, August 11th at the Bremen Café in Milwaukee. The band after Needles//Pins, Duotang, I was no stranger to. I had set them up twenty years ago at the Concert Café. Duotang's show at the Café has kind of gone down in Concert Café lore as one of people's favorite shows ever there. That show was on a weeknight, the attendance was awful, the weather was dreadful and the fun was off the charts. I remember us moving the couch at the Café in front of the stage, which lead to a sensation of seeing the Jam in your living room. Duotang were just as great as I remember them, and for all the fans of the Figgs, I think you would be fond of this band.
Talking to Duotang later that evening I was pleasantly surprised that they have equally fond memories of that Concert Café show, discuss it frequently and have a cassette recording of it. Their drummer, Sean Allum, said we had a discussion on AWA wrestling that night. Last but not least, the band that has made me travel to Canada twice, The Smugglers hit the stage at the Horseshoe. The Smugglers who are besides Grant Lawrence on vocals, are David Carswell and Nicholas Thomas who both supply the turbo charged guitars that power the band, Beez who keeps it all together on bass guitar and Graham Watson keeping that steady beat on drums. Once again The Smugglers, as they did in Vancouver, came out and owned the stage as they dazzled us with an ultra-energetic set of pure rock and roll bliss. I must confess I was ecstatic when they added a song to their set they didn't do in Vancouver. That song was “Pick 'Em Up Truck," which they did as a favor to me, and they played a blazing version of it. Thank you, Smugglers, for that; it made the trip extra special.
So Tom, was it worth going to Canada twice to The Smugglers? Yes it was, because rock and roll never was this fun.
Live long and remember the Shreveport Pirates.
By the way, I charged the entire trip to Toronto to Mr. Underhill's American Express Card.
--Banner image by Aaron Rubin
Since 1984, when he first began selling records at Galaxy of Sound inside the Port Plaza Mall, Tom Smith has been part of the Green Bay music scene. Promoting his first show in 1986 and hitting his stride with the Concert Café (1995-2001), Smith continues to promote shows in Green Bay. He first honed his journalistic chops while serving as a student DJ at WGBW, interviewing such icons as Motörhead and the Ramones. Today you can find him championing live music and managing The Exclusive Company in Green Bay.