Toronto, ON – Nothing quite says Canadiana like Toronto’s Legendary Horseshoe Tavern. The Horseshoe Tavern opened its doors in 1947 and quickly became a roughneck restaurant/bar. It became home to local bike gangs, but also recently arrived Maritimers (people from Canada’s East Coast) who quickly asked the owner to build a stage so the regulars could perform their music. And thus, legend was born. The venue has seen some of the greatest come through its doors. Country artists like Willie Nelson and Hank Williams and Canadian Folk/Country giant Stompin’ Tom Connors. Stompin’ Tom played a record nine weeks of sold out events at The Horseshoe and released a live recording along with an eventual film release of the concert that was filmed in 1970.
The late 70s and early 80s saw bands like The Police, Talking Heads and The Cramps play the intimate venue, and they never stopped from that point. In fact, some of the world’s biggest bands have played “secret” shows at the 300 seat venue. If you were lucky enough to happen upon the venue on those given nights, you would have seen The Rolling Stones, Billie Joe Armstrong and even the Foo Fighters.
Canadians are a quietly proud bunch. Our country has raised some of the world’s best musicians (e.g. RUSH), and some of the world’s most popular artists (e.g. Justin Bieber), but nothing also quite says Canadiana like our beloved, homegrown talent. Band’s that perhaps didn’t quite make it as large abroad as they did here in this country. Musicians like Stompin’ Tom Connors, The Tragically Hip, and 54-40.
54-40 was formed in Canada’s West Coast Province of British Columbia in 1980. In fact, the band played their first gig on December 8, 1980, the very same day that John Lennon was murdered. It was this same night in 2022 that 54-40 and The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern teamed up to celebrate the venue’s 75th birthday, as well as the 42nd Anniversary for the band’s very first gig. It’s the first night of 3 as the band plays a 3 night engagement.
As a photographer, I selfishly enjoy having a photo pit to shoot from. Specifically for reasons as encountered on this night. The venue was completely rammed, wall to wall, front to back with fans of the Canadian alternative rock band. There was literally no real estate to move around and freely shoot the show. It was going to be a challenging night. Despite having free range to photograph the whole show, I wasn’t sure how much coverage I would actually get. The standard theme this year at any show I have attended is that all these gigs have been full to capacity, bursting at the seems. This night as one in the same!
Just ahead of the band making their appearance, a stage hand brings seven glasses of whiskey and places them around the stage, one for each of the musicians and backup singers. I get an immediate feel that the band is ready to party and the crowd is going to be in for a treat. The lights go down…. Here we go!
Lead singer Neil Osborne appears on stage with the wildest, craziest hair I’ve seen in a long time. The band opens up with “Here in my House” from their 1989 release Fight for Love. I get a sense off the start that perhaps the band has already been into the sauce a little bit as they celebrate this milestone. Or maybe they’re just damned giddy to be here with the rest of us. The crowd immediately starts dancing, and singing. Yes, confirmation, it’s going to be a fun evening.
After three songs in, Osborne raises his glass to the crowd, and the venue and salutes. “Here’s to 75 years!” It’s quite a milestone. One that the crowd and myself are proud to be a part of. Osborne continues on and tells the crowd that it’s been a year since they’ve visited our great city and he says, “We’ve missed you”. With that, the band rolls into their 4th song of the set, “Miss You” from the same 1989 release Fight for Love. Throughout the evening, Osborne did a fantastic job of rolling his engaging discussions with the crowd into the next song. As an example, after “Miss You”, Osborne chats with the crowd a little more and tells us that the next couple songs will be from their album Trusted by Millions. He points to his wild hair and says “This is my haircut”, and yes, onto their track “This is My Haircut”.
According to the lead singer, 54-40 were signed in Los Angeles, but despite being Canadian, they never got much play here. Not until Canadian VJ Ericka Ehm, from our Music Video Station MuchMusic started playing the band’s videos. In fact, they never hit our country’s largest city of Toronto until 1986.
After the band’s 10th song of the evening, they head off stage leaving singer/guitarist Neil Osborne on stage himself, with just his acoustic guitar in hand. He starts to strum the introduction to the band’s hit song “One Gun”. He sings the first stanza, and the crowd picks up the chorus. It’s another common theme throughout the evening as the crowd frequently took over the job of lead vocalist singing “Give Peace a Chance” (in honor of the anniversary of the great John Lennon’s passing), “I Go Blind” (a song covered by Hootie & the Blowfish) and the final track of the evening “Love You All”.
By the end of the evening, I had gotten all the coverage of the band I was going to get, so I planted myself at the side of the stage to take in the rest of the show. The whole venue was dancing from the opening track, and they never stopped dancing and singing through the whole set. They clearly had a fantastic time during this show. It’s magical. It’s contagious. It makes me wonder about music. I find it strange how so many people get it, yet so many people don’t get it. What I mean is, a band can have a smaller following than your arena pop/rock artists yet their adoration is limitless from those that follow them. What do they see, and hear, that others don’t? Why doesn’t everybody else get it? I guess it’s not ours to know the answers. It’s just to have a great time for ourselves. And that’s what was had at The Horseshoe Tavern on December 8, 2022.
Here in my House
Nice to Love You
Lies to Me
This is my Haircut
I Love Candy
Radio Love Song
Keep on Walking
West Coast Band
I Go Blind
Love You All
(Easy to Love)
Showdate: December 8, 2022