A (failure of a) Night with Sex With Strangers

I’ve come to see Sex With Strangers because I love them. Jimmy and I arrive at the Railway Club just before 10 p.m. and it’s already packed. We can barely push through the entrance, let alone make it to the bar, cramming through this mass of human warmth, wiping my snot unintentionally on some dude’s expensive winter coat.

Jimmy bumps into me. “This place sucks for watching shit. Either way you’re in someone’s way.”

Four bands are on the bill and none have played. The first band, Streetlight, has their gear all set up and ready roll. The Nearly Famous banner is splayed across the back of the stage. They’ve used a hippy van as the logo. It’s a pleasant touch.

Anyway, Jimmy and I move to the back venue. People line the narrow artery between the front/stage area and the back/bar area. The tables are full, the walls are lined, it’s dark and it smells funny. The Railway Club is not an appropriate place to check out large-crowd events. The bar is located in the middle, and it’s a big one, isolating the stage from everything else. Only 100 people at the absolute maximum (and that’s without breathing room or anywhere to put your elbows) can watch performances, while those sitting at the back of the bar can’t hear/see anything – which makes things difficult for a tardy music reviewer.

But whatever. We get a beer at the very, very back of the bar, where the only seats are available. It’s actually not part of the bar at all, but another bar within the bar. The band starts. We can hear them on the P.A. It’s lackluster, so we make our way to the front. No room. We head out to the smoking area – the final vestige of a once-tolerant smoking society – and catch the band from there, watching them through a smudged window. I can see fuck-all and that’s about it.

“I can see the neck of the bassist from here,” Jim says. “It’s a lovely neck.”

Streetlight is peppy and smooth but the purity of both adjectives is muffled through the window. The guitarist bounces and wiggles whilst playing. It’s positive music but I can’t pay attention. Some dude hops over the fence at the edge of the smoke pit. He falls to his knees and scrambles inside, cutting through the crowd before anyone should be able to see him. But I saw him.

The smoke pit isn’t cutting it. I need to hear the band in order to fulfill my responsibilities. There’s a mediocre spot along the artery leading from the front to the back of the bar, beside a man dressed like a pirate with netting hanging off a black cloak.

“That guy better be in one of the bands,” Jim says. “Otherwise, he’s just weird.”

Agreed.

The people around us are musing about Streetlight:
“They sound like Modest Mouse.”
“They sound like Velvet Underground and Modest Mouse.”
“Everyone sounds like the Velvet Underground.”
“And like the Chili Peppers.”
“Didn’t someone say Modest Mouse?”
“Also apt.”

Streetlight finishes so we head to the back of the bar. We drink Guinness. The next band comes on, apparently, but we miss it completely because we’re discussing AC/DC. I can kind of hear them, though – an ascending bass-line coming through the speaker, barely audible over a group of Mexicans speaking loudly beside us. They kind of sound like the B-52s (the band, not the Mexicans) but I could be way, way off.

Two hours in and the people keep on piling in. Everyone’s stationary. That pirate fellow in the strange drapes still hasn’t gone on stage. Seems he is just a weirdo…

My reporting is not going well. I’ve shoved my way to the front of the venue but high tables are set up in the middle of the floor, taking up necessary crowd space. Parlour Steps are playing. The music is quirky hipster stuff, nothing worth remembering (sorry guys, I know you try hard). I have nothing more to say about it, this night’s no longer about the music. They have a cute bass player with Lisa Loeb eyeglasses. White people in trendy clothing are trying to dance but it looks (and feels, based on the lady in front/on top of me) more like writhing. People bump my elbows and I can’t write a thing.

Jimmy’s a sloppy drunk and I’ve had enough. I heard once that Radiohead was heckled while playing at the Railway Club, back in 1993. I have a feeling it had nothing to do with the music – it was because no one can fucking move in here and it had probably escalated the same way it would with 47 chickens locked in the same wire cage.

And that’s what I feel like in here – just one chicken. Forget Sex With Strangers – I’ll catch ‘em somewhere else.

-Steve Smysnuik