Passing through the doorway into the Bovine Sex Club on the night of Friday, August 4th felt like entering a time portal back to 1969. These hallowed rock ‘n’ roll grounds were host to the final show of The Cursed Tour in which psychedelic hard rock bands Occult Witches and Tumble played seven dates across Ontario and Quebec.
On this night, they were joined by Barrie’s AAWKS and Toronto’s Sun Below to carry out a four-part sonic pilgrimage. As a line of fans assembled down Queen Street West in advance of the 9 PM door time, it was certain this would be the most attended show of the tour.
The Bovine provided the perfect backdrop for a night of heavy psych as rainbow twinkly lights spanned the walls and ceiling, and a disco ball cast a shimmer over the room, bringing every surface to life. Like a cluttered attic full of oddities, the venue was decorated by a patchwork of knickknacks and metalwork including doll heads and bicycle parts. The raised corner stage was fenced by band sticker-covered steel pipes and doused in hazy pink and green light.
With beers in hand, the members of Sun Below climbed the steps to the stage shortly after 10 PM. The Toronto stoner doom trio (or “Sativa rock” as they coined) tore into their set with their latest single “Methuselah Star”. The instrumental track opened with the bone-buzzing bass of “Acid Goblin” Liam Gray followed by the pounding pulse of drummer Will Adams who seemed truly at home behind the kit. Jason Craig filled the room with both soaring and grinding grooves on guitar. Combined, they sounded colossal for a three-piece.
Sun Below gave the audience a history lesson on “ancient doom humans” with their song “Chronwall Neanderthal” from their debut full-length. Show promoter and co-owner of the band’s record label, Ryan Hilton, could be seen nodding along proudly from the front row. Even the door guy took a leave from his post to fully soak in the surreal sounds.
The band previewed their upcoming lore-filled split with Halifax’s Earth Altar by playing the unreleased track “Gravity Tide”. The expanding crowd offered their approval with slow waves of full-bodied headbanging as the trio exchanged smiles at seeing their musical medicine taking effect.
Sense of time had become easy to lose as the set left ample room for instrumental jams and an arresting air of unpredictability. Even through long-burning 14-minute tracks like “Holy Drifter”, Sun Below kept a firm grip on the audience’s attention, and by their final song, fans were entranced enough to dance freely in front of the stage.
Each member of the band blazed equally bright, as both their songwriting and sound set-up allowed every instrument, including Craig’s vocals, to carry balanced weight. With no gimmicks or flashiness, Sun Below conveyed a clear focus on performing simply for the love of their craft.
Proving they can bring the heaviness both sonically and thematically, Sun Below’s songs offered existential explorations of the infinite reaches of space and time, and more importantly, where one can find meaning within them before our Sun inevitably burns out.
“Hell yeah”s rang out over the final chords as Sun Below humbly took their leave after achieving what Craig later described as the goal of their live shows: “to get people into the groove of it,” and as Gray added, “to get everybody on the same wavelength.”
Half an hour later, the Barrie heavy psych band AAWKS brought their doom-laced space sounds to the stage. They opened with “Sunshine Apparitions” off their debut full-length Heavy on the Cosmic which held a well-deserved fifth ranking on the 2022 Doom Charts.
Using an array of pedals and effects, AWWKS played a set that was at once both airy and weighty, akin to a combination of Pink Floyd and Electric Wizard. In the same vein, transitions between songs were marked by samples featuring lists of hallucinogenic substances and the ominous tolling of bells.
Kris Dzierzbicki delivered both vocals and lead guitar with undeniable star power and a gallop reminiscent of Cathedral’s “Ride”. Despite being newer to the instrument, drummer Randylin Babic brought the full-bodied ferocity of a seasoned rock percussionist to every kick and cymbal crash, while bassist Roberto Paraíso kept the low end at a steady chug. AWWKS painted technicolour with sound while rows of crowd members spread their arms around each other’s shoulders, swaying as one.
After the set, audience member Dean Careiro of the fellow Barrie bands Loöse and Overcrook felt that AAWKS did their city proud, expressing, “It’s nice to hear progress and what they’ve developed in the year and a half since we’ve first seen them play.”
Just after midnight, Occult Witches began their last set of the tour, marking the end of what vocalist Vanessa San Martin would later describe as “the best experience of [her] life.” The psychedelic hard rock five-piece from Sherbrooke, Quebec channelled ages past in fringed jackets and 70s mustaches drawing strong cohesivity between their look and their sound.
Occult Witches shone through tracks like “Vow” from their third full-length Mastermind released earlier this summer, with the equal parts rasp and soul of San Martin’s voice, a double guitar assault, and a high-spirited rhythm section.
Bassist Danick Cournoyer spoke comedically between songs, teaching the audience French curse words and celebrating that this night was “the most people in the venue during the tour.” Despite being cramped, fans still made space to dance along to tracks like “Ghost on the Highway” which drummer Eliot Sirois played with an impassioned urgency as if any stillness between beats or songs pained him.
Occult Witches brought a new level of theatrics to the evening during their set’s climactic ending that featured spellbinding guitarmonies from Jéremie Tremblay and Alec Sundara Marceau – who impressively played behind his head – and just enough cowbell.
As the crowd raised their drinks and cheered for more songs, the band got to revel in their final ovation of the tour. “It’s fun to play in Toronto,” Cournoyer shared after the show, “We come from a shitty small town in Quebec so we feel like rock stars here.”
By 1:30 AM, Sun Below drummer Will Adams got to reclaim his seat behind the kit, this time as a member of Tumble; a power trio who classify themselves as “heavy rock ‘n’ roll” and the final act of the night.
Walk-ins continued to pour in, vying for space in the tightly-packed crowd, as the Toronto-based band took their places on the stage they are very familiar with. With faces hidden under uniform curtains of dark hair, Tumble delivered an hour of late 60s rock revival with unrelenting energy. “Freight train” were the words Adams later used to describe their musical goal for the evening – a goal they exceedingly met.
Tumble’s vocalist and guitarist Liam Deak masterfully carried both roles; a force in constant movement, sometimes stepping down from the stage to play face-to-face with fans. Their debut single “Lady Cadaver” proved an even better experience live and showcased the gravelly texture of his vocals.
Members of the audience could be spotted with eyes closed in rapture and heads keeping time as towering bassist Tarun Dawar’s fingers flew across the strings, the rhythm seeming to flood through them like second nature.
After a celebrated cover of The Beatles’ proto-doom track, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Deak soloing on his knees in front of a wall of Marshalls, he closed the set saying, “This has been The Cursed Tour. There’s no other place we would have ended it than right fucking here.”
With his second drum performance of the evening, Adams brought just as much gusto to Tumble’s set, playing with enough force to break the kick pedal which is apparently a common occurrence for him. Contentedly exhausted, he later shared, “There’s nothing else I’d rather be tired from than playing two sets in one night.”
Even with only two songs released to date, Tumble’s connection to their fans was clearly established as a result of their frequent live shows, often at the Bovine. “There’s just something special about the Bovine,” remarked Deak in an interview that night. “We’ve played here a dozen times in the last year and it feels like home base. There were so many familiar faces and it makes it that much more special.”
Deak was pleased to share that moving out of the pandemic’s live music restrictions “the scene feels like it’s flourishing and we’re happy to be a part of it. We make music that we want to hear,” Deak continued, “and the fact that other people are catching on and enjoying it is just a big huge bonus.”
Tumble revealed their plans to return to the studio within the next month “to capture the fire that we have under our ass right now coming out of this tour and keep the momentum going. It’s so bittersweet right now because it’s over, but what a way to end it,” noted Deak. “We would love to stay on tour for the rest of our lives,” Adams added as the others nodded in agreement. Having burgeoned since lockdown from open mics to now completing their first tour, Tumble undoubtedly has more nights on the road ahead of them.
Both Tumble and Occult Witches spoke fondly of the bond they formed during their travels, Cournoyer saying, “It feels like we’ve been together for ten years.” “They were the perfect band for us to pair up with,” Adams agreed.
A common string between all four bands that night was a clear appreciation for promoter Ryan Hilton and his commitment to the scene. Tumble bassist Tarun Dawar was eager to share his impression of working with Hilton’s promotion company and record label saying, “He has a real passion behind what he does and a real enthusiasm for the bands that he works with. So every time we have a show with him, every time we work with him, every time we even just talk to him, it’s a breath of fresh air.” “And you can tell that he’s not in this because he wants to make money off bands,” added Adams, “He does this because he fucking loves music and he wants to see everybody grow.”
By 2:30 AM the show had ended, and in spite of post-tour exhaustion, the members of Sun Below, AAWKS, Occult Witches and Tumble could all be found huddling together on stage to take group photos, warmly embracing, and basking in each other’s company late into the night.