Last night (June 11) in Toronto was the Main Ingredient presentation of Jesse Boykins III at Revival Bar on College Street. Rolling stoned along Ossington Avenue, backtracking from a ‘green P’ across from the Exclaim! offices, where I had ditched my father’s car, I looked to the sky: storm clouds. I trudged along, weary of the looming darkness, and paused a beat when I reached College. Down the road I could make out Revival, a relatively new venue with a brick front. As I went to the cross the road, avoiding the slick streetcar rails, I somehow caught a whiff of an open sewer. Only when I reached the interior of the club did the stench begin to fade, and even then, the impression lingered.
Upon entering the club, the girl selling tickets directed me down a flight of stairs into a lounge-like room that was really the cellar, but was being used as a holding cell of sorts. This was not where Jesse Boykins III would be performing tonight. With my nerves already on end, I walked up to the bar with the intention of buying a beer. But there was no bartender. I scoffed momentarily at the facts that were aligning themselves in my head: One, it was 10:30, 30 minutes prior to Jesse’s alleged set time, and we weren’t even in the real venue yet. Two, if I had paid for my ticket, which I didn’t, it would have cost me $20, or as the advertisement read, more money after midnight. So, that means, $20 to stand in a cellar and not drink beer, or, (perhaps) $30 or more to come at midnight and still be early for the show. I shook my head profusely as the bartender came on duty, and then purchased a Budweiser for $8 including a $1 tip (pushing my hypothetical sum to $28).
Come 11:10 the doors at the back of the cellar finally opened, and everyone in the room was led up a flight of stairs, through an atrium, into the main concert hall, which was more or less the size of a high school gymnasium. I took a seat along the far wall, where there were leather benches, and proceeded to observe my fellow concertgoers. I promptly concluded that you could tell everything about a person based on what they were drinking. At the bar across the room, there were the loners, White Belts, and caucasian people. They were drinking Stella Artois: trying to fit in. Beside me on the leather benches were one brand of hipster, mostly black or brown, nursing rum and cokes while they browsed their favorite blogs and Twitter accounts in the candlelight. The third group, which would arrive later on, were the would-be artists. Upon making his ‘entrance’, hand-in-hand with a beautiful girl, a black chief in a denim jacket and burgundy trucker hat gradually made his way over to where I was sitting. He gripped his Budweiser (low-brow meets high-brow) and addressed the girl next to me, who wore an afro and a funny hat like Bob Dylan. “You know, everyone’s here because they think it makes them cool,” said the black chief. “You see, he doesn’t even have a band set-up.” The chief motioned towards the stage, where there was a laptop set up in place of musicians. The chief sneered, then he asked the afro chick whether she would ‘bounce’ with him.
After nearly two hours of waiting, and enough anticipation to permanently dishearten a small child, Jesse Boykins III climbed onto the stage just after 12:30, to a generous applause from the 300 plus fans. Under the lights, Jesse’s attire resembled that of Jimi Hendrix – clad in a tribal headband, skinny purple slacks, layer upon layer of distressed fabrics, and of course, his signature hair. Pushing his so-called ‘Romantic Movement’ of Soul, Jesse skipped any and all exposition and jumped straight into an energetic and passionate set. According to my correspondence with his on-road manager, Saint, Jesse performed songs, “Amorous (Afta 1 Remix)”, “Back Home (Mermaids & Dragons)”, “I Can’t Stay”, “Her Throne”, “B4 The Night Is Thru”, “Tabloids (Machinedrum Remix)”, “Plain”, and “Show Me Who You Are”. If I had to pick a standout, it would probably be “Her Throne”, Jesse’s latest collaboration with DJ, composer, and sound designer, Full Crate. The record seems to embody Jesse’s musical inclination as of late, which is heart-wrenching soulful lyrics combined with bass-friendly, space-age soundscapes which recall early Y2K garage music. In a nut, Jesse has assembled his own brand of soul by arranging the remnants of any flower-power ethos still alive in New York City, alongside the sparse computer vibrations championed by most new blog sites. Which is why, for good or ill, Jesse appeals so insatiably to hipsters. In a culture so caught up in its own narcissism, any musician, artist, or plain punk who is confirmed by ‘the system’ becomes a totem in the eyes of the blogging public.
And so, upon the conclusion of Jesse’s set, which included a powerful encore, I did not have the gall to stick around and enjoy the rest of the party. After all, it was not my place. Instead I blew off a post-concert interview with Jesse himself, and retreated back to my car to go look for food. As I cruised down along Shaw Street, one or two blocks over from Ossington, heading South, I purposely caught one last glimpse of Revival. Under the moonlight – the storm had since passed – people still lingered around the entrance, going in and out to keep tabs on their friends. I rolled down my window and took in a deep breath… It still stunk like sewer. So I hit the gas and got the hell out of there, abandoning the idea of food altogether.
In retrospect, I regret not sticking around after the show to meet Jesse… if only to ask him which kind of drink he prefers… if he prefers one at all.
Words by Peter Marrack