The Burning Hell at Lee's Palace, Toronto (May 28, 2009)

The Burning Hell are Canadian Indie Rock’s best kept secret. Mathias Kom and his clan of musicians (over 10 at last count) from Peterborough, Ontario have been creating quirky, dark and self-depricating pop tunes for a few years now. I was first introduced to them in February 2008 through their album “Happy Birthday” which has several memorable tunes on it, including “Grave Situation, Pt. 1” about a woman that comes back from the dead to take revenge on her cheating lover.

The band, on that album features Kom on very low vocals and ukulele with the assistance of cello, drums, glockenspiel, trumpet, omnichord, keyboards, guitar and bass and a perfectly placed lap steel among other things that I may be forgetting. I listened to that album so much that I think I have memorized just about every line on every instrument and all the lyrics. I almost don’t need the recording anymore, as I can just recall it in my memory. That being said I was quite thrilled when I was in Toronto this past March and found their new release “Baby” without even looking for it. Apparently it had been put on the shelf a day or so before it was to be officially released. Most likely I was one of the first people to hear the new album, which is probably odd being that not too many Canadians have heard them and I’m an American. That is beside the point. I think that everyone should hear this band.

“Baby” is a bit of a departure from the very dark sounding “Happy Birthday”, but I welcome the change. The songs are brighter and more upbeat with more ensemble work (and more chords!). Mathias writes and sings in a style that is vibrant, with lyrics that take unexpected, and often funny, or at the very least ironic, turns. “The Berlin Conference” is about exactly that, while “Grave Situation, Pt. 3” and “The Things that People Make, Pt. 2” pick up where the other songs left off. It seems that Mathias likes to develop upon previous ideas. This doesn’t mean that the songs remain sounding like their counterparts from years past, rather the new style permeates and the songs receive an updated treatment.

I was, obviously, very familiar with their work by the time I saw them at Lee’s Palace. Lee’s is a great room, with the potential for a rather large audience. The stage is large and up very high, separating the band from the audience by hoisting them up above our heads. There isa large space in front of the stage, and probably not a bad spot in the house. I have had the opportunity to see only one other show at Lee’s (The Bicycles “Oh No, It’s Love” CD release) and that was amazing and memorable, so coming back was great. This show was kind of strange in that The Burning Hell were, to me anyway, the headliners. That wasn’t really the case though. The show was actually a CD release for Polaris Prize nominated band Dog Day, and there were 2 opening bands that went on before them. The Burning Hell took the stage at midnight, AFTER Dog Day had finished their set.

The Burning Hell at CMW 2008
I did buy Dog Day’s first album on the Itunes store and I have listened to it a few times, but I didn’t feel as though it was really that memorable. I prefer the work the singer did with Burdocks, and I listen to them more regularly. Dog Day’s set was not very exciting at all, and could not hold our interest (I was there with my girlfriend), so we decided to go outside for a walk for a bit after about 3 songs. When we went outside we ran into Mathias who was nervously standing outside waiting to load in. We had a brief introduction and said that we were looking forward to their set.

When they began Lee’s was rather….not full. I was disappointed. How could a band that writes such amazing and smart tunes not be filling places like this on a regular basis? After starting their set with a few new tunes, including “Baby” opening “Old World” they returned to more familiar territory, to me, with songs from “Happy Birthday” including “Everything You Believe is a Lie” and “Grave Situation, Pt. 1”. The set was full of energy, with a very excitable keyboard/glock player on stage right, a trumpet player that looks like he came off the set of “Braveheart” and a great guitarist and bassist in the back. There were a lot of people packed onto that stage.

Mathias’ singing alternated somewhere between preacher and conversation as he rattled off his lyrics of broken meter and too-many words per phrase. He rally takes authority up there on stage. It’s obviously great fun to be on stage and he is not afraid to let it show, even if he is dressed very proper in his sport coat. It’s all about juxtaposition. Here is a man of average build, dressed nicely in a sport coat, playing a ukulele, and singing in a low, serious baritone about things like dinosaurs, love (“It’s like a trailer park….”) and upbeat tunes about the world coming to an end. All of which are full of catchy hooks and wonderfully tight harmonies and rhythm section.

The show was wonderful and the end came with a nice surprise. The Burning Hell will be playing at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on June 18 with King Khan and Barbecue Show. I will definitely be there, and hopefully more of Toronto will be represented in the crowd. There is one thing that I hope doesn’t happen again at the show at the Horseshoe: the very strange guy that skulked around the area in front of the stage and scared everyone. He make several strange gestures at my girlfriend and I, searched around for half-empty beer bottles to drink from and then smashed them on the ground when he discovered they were empty, harassed a girl toward the front of the stage (and then took beer bottles directly off the stage) and lit up a smoke in the middle of the crowd. I needed to retreat to the side of the stage for fear of my girlfriend or myself getting stabbed by him. It was rather disconcerting that nobody at Lee’s saw him and stopped him or was out there to do anything about it. It took away from the great music that was happening on the stage. I won’t say that this ruined the show, by any means, but I was nervous through a lot of it. Good thing I will have the chance to see them again soon.

Here are the videos I took at this concert. “Grave Situation, Pt. 1” featuring the very excitable glock player I mentioned earlier, and the grand finale that starts with Phil Collins’ classic “In the Air Tonight” and concludes with “The Things that People Make, Pt. 1”.  Please enjoy.