The Wooden Sky live Toronto

Toronto welcomes home The Wooden Sky

The streets surrounding the Bathurst and Bloor area played an important role for Saturday night's homecoming of Toronto's The Wooden Sky, who not only concluded one of my personal favourite days in recent memory, but also delivered a stunning and energetic performance for a sold out crowd at Lee's Palace.

Not to stray too far from the show at hand, my afternoon actually began at one of my favourite record stores in the city, Sonic Boom, which hosted a free in-store session with Wooden Sky's tour partners and Vancouver's own, Yukon Blonde. Sonic Boom, who was collecting canned donations for the Fort York Food Bank, was on their A-game sound-wise, allowing Yukon Blonde to rock the crowd with, honestly, the best performance I've seen in the basement venue.

After a quick stop for dinner, followed by some pre-show drinks at the Beer Station, it was off to the freshly painted Lee's to see opening act, These United States. All the ingredients seemed to be there for them: a filled venue, energetic crowd, and decent tunes, but for some reason they failed to connect with me. Perhaps it was frontman Jesse Elliott's slurred stage-banter or the fact that each song was indistinguishable from the next? Whatever the reason, the audience did seem to enjoy the show, but I wasn't completely captivated by the danceable country rock twang.

Yukon Blonde was up next and, by the end of their opening song "Rather Be With You," accomplished what the previous set could not; demanding the crowds attention and almost forcing people to move and groove. The guy behind me asked who the band was before they hit the stage and, judging by his reaction, it's easy to see why Yukon Blonde continues to become increasingly more popular.

Talking with guitarist Brandon Scott after the show, he confessed that he preferred the sound at Sonic Boom and, after hearing both sets, I agreed with him. But that's not to take away from Lee's Palace at all, especially after hearing incredible renditions of "Brides Song," crowd favourite "Wind Blows," and personal favourite "Loyal Man." In fact, Yukon Blonde put on a worthy show-stealing performance, it was just unfortunate that they had to compete with the Wooden Sky.

Three paintings backdropped the stage, illuminated in the middle by bright lights spelling out THE WOODEN SKY. They opened the night with the title track off their first record When Lost At Sea. Frontman Gavin Gardiner summed up his feelings on the night announcing to the crowd, "We've been on tour for months and months, and I can't tell you how good it feels to be home in Toronto." It's safe to say we all felt the same.

Their set featured a couple new songs, "Angelina" and "Lay Your Body Down," which sounded great but do need a bit of ironing out when the boys hit the studio. "The Late King Henry" was dedicated to all the band's family members who were in attendance and also had the entire audience singing at the top of their lungs.

The Wooden Sky was joined on stage by the members of Yukon Blonde and These United Sates, concluding their time on the road together with a beautiful rendition of "Something Hiding For Us In The Night," which featured a bevy of musicians singing out and banging on a plethora of drums. Stage dives, hugs, and plenty of thanks to their hometown preceded the boys exiting stage right.

But the night was far from over.

The packed Lee's Palace was relentless with their applause, which brought the band out for an encore that featured "North Dakota," but not before announcing they'd be playing an additional performance in the alley beside the venue. The audience quickly poured out of Lee's gathering in the appropriate location and after a fifteen minute break, armed with acoustic guitars and banjos, Gavin Gardiner, Andrew Wyatt, Simon Walker and Andrew Kekewich took to the alley off of Bathurst and Bloor to perform the special set.

"Oh My God (It Still Means A Lot To Me)" and "Oslo" were heartfelt singalongs, framed by the audience's visible breath in the cool air and Yukon Blonde's celebratory sparklers. And, just as I was leaving for the night and headed back down the alley to Bloor, the musical mob began to follow me, being lead by the Wooden Sky and pouring out onto the street for an impromptu dance party and one last song. Hundreds of people blocked honking taxi cabs; moving together and singing into the night sky. It was one of the most sincere moments I have ever been a part of at a concert. Their album is called If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone, but I think I speak for everyone who was in attendance Saturday when I say: welcome home Wooden Sky.

Words by Travis Caine. Photography by Dave MacIntyre.

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