Scene Analysis: Buffalo vs Toronto

Last Tuesday I went to the Antiflag/Casualties show in Buffalo... for good old times' sake. It had been a while since I ventured out of Toronto for a show and I found that I had completely forgotten what it was like. The scenes were as different as Billy Talent and Billy Joel.

Immediately I felt the acute pain of alienation as I realized everyone in line was well under 18. Moms and dads frowned at the sight of me, wondering if their kids would still have spiky hair at 24. Teens and pre-teens looked at me in awe as if I were a museum relic, amazed that I've been listening to punk rock since before some of them were born. I bit my lip and digested that sinking feeling, "I'm getting old!" There are shows like this in Toronto but I couldn't remember the last time I was surrounded by such an enormous populus of teenagers with little representation in my age bracket. There are also 19+ punk bars like the Bovine Sex Club in Toronto, which is unheard of in a quaint scene like Buffalo where most shows are all ages, at skateparks or over/under clubs. I looked at the vast sea of kids and hoped they'd grow to truly understand the culture and avoid Hot Topic like the plague.

Security was another astounding situation in Buffalo. In Toronto, better have your ID ready... and if you're not from Toronto then you'd better have some credit cards, social insurance cards and student ID to prove you didn't purchase your fake license from Yonge Street. At events like Wakestock, moshers get scolded and every once in a while you see a troublemaking hooligan escorted away. In Buffalo, kids were smoking pot right outside the doors, gulping down beer with big X's on their hands and even running up onstage to be a star! At one point, at least twenty kids had gang-rushed The Casualties, grabbing at the mic like rabid dogs while somnambulist security shined flashlights on kids to discourage crowd surfing. Antiflag tried to ignore the two kids that hopped onstage during their set but you could see the whole kerfuffle was making them a bit uncomfortable and it seemed an early end to their set was inevitable unless the periphery was secured again. (Thank God it was!)I couldn't help but think, This would NEVER happen in Toronto!

The building itself made The Horseshoe look like a monolith! Somehow they packed 500 kids in there like sardines. The double bars and split-level floor segregated the audience and made for an awkward time navigating around. Claustrophobia was a very real fear but there were no spots far from the stage since the venue was so small. This little hole in the wall called The Buffalo Icon left a dissatisfying pain in my brain and ringing in my ears.

Yet by the end of the show, I felt like it had been one of the most emotionally satisfying concerts I'd seen in a while. When Antiflag took the stage, every single fist was in the air, every mouth was lipping the lyrics, the whole room was a sea of jumping bodies and passionate souls. Even at big events in Toronto, it's almost impossible to get everyone actively involved. Typically there's a solid group with their arms crossed and that distasteful "impress me" look spread across their faces. Since I moved to Toronto, I noticed that this vibe had even infected me in subtle ways. I had thought maybe I was just growing out of the need to be in the middle of the moshpit action, I had paid my dues and I was now just here to watch and observe. But I definitely felt engaged by Antiflag's riotous performance in Buffalo and with everyone equally passionate about the messages and the music, I was comfortable letting my slightly icy exterior take a break for the evening. Having grown up in Buffalo, I found that shows were always a release of frantic energy. Many bands cite that the suburbs have a rowdier scene than downtown. Perhaps in smaller cities with nothing else to do, concerts truly are their only hope for entertainment and outlet for the frustrations of living amid mediocrity.

To say one scene is better than the other would be absurd but it's an interesting experience to venture out into the rest of the world and reevaluate your city's scene.

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