Photo By Andrew Clowater
Friday, September 24th, 2021
El Mocambo, Toronto, Ontario
By Keith Sharp
Two anniversaries converged on Friday, September 24th and 25th when Michael Wekerle’s sparkling renovated El Mocambo Tavern celebrated its 50th year as Toronto’s prime music venue by inviting Montreal’s The BOX for a two-night engagement. The band is celebrating their 40th anniversary as a unit. The resulting combination proved to be magical.
Although attendance each night was limited to 190 patrons due to Covid restrictions, the positioning of tables on the main floor and the plush balcony seats created the effect of a luxury dinner theatre and The Box were ideal hosts for this intimate soirée.
The Box were particularly animated for the Saturday performance which was taped for a future livestream broadcast by Sessions and their entire set was recorded by El Mocambo Records for a possible live album.
Launching with “Must I Always Remember” and “Carry On”, their traditional set openers, The Box capitalized on the venue’s pristine sound system with frontman Jean Marc Pisapia and his support vocalist Isabelle Lemay instantly engaging their audience.
They then performed their latest single; “Hey Little Rock Star” before Pisapia explained that the band was going to perform a more eclectic, progressive set of material before launching into their “Greatest Hits”. This allowed the band to display just how instrumentally talented they really are with Tracks like “So Beautiful” and “Hell On Earth” presented complex arrangements delivered by fill-in keyboardist Jean-Phillipe Bouffard, guitarist Francois Bruneau and bassist Dan Volj with Bruneau and Volj then engaging in a duelling guitar scenario on “Temptation” before hugging each other at the end of their sparring session.
The Box concluded their more intense set with “Inside My Heart” before engaging the audience in a spirited sing-along to “Crying Out Loud For Love” which continued with the crowd also singing along to “My Dreams Of You”. After the spirited “Dancing On The Grave”, The Box performed their very first single “Walk Away” which led to an amusing interaction between Pisapia and a member of the audience (Alex) who was seated in the balcony which literally hung over the stage. `Alex’ informed the band that “Walk Away” (a song about everyday life) was his daily mantra when he worked at Bombardier in Montreal – comments which segued perfectly into the band’s next song, “Ordinary People”
During the Friday evening set, Pisapia’s announcement that their next song was their signature tune L’Affaire Du Moutier elicited a loud scream from a lady seated close to the stage. So Pisapia sang the song directly to her and then stepped down into the audience so she could sing along to the song’s chorus, no doubt checking off an item on her bucket list.
The Box then closed their regular set with their mega-hit “Closer Together” before returning with drummer Martin Lapierre providing a brief drum solo before they launched into a playful “Checkmate” before concluding their encore, with their cover of Men Without Hats “Safety Dance” which solicited an appropriate response from a large section of the audience.
A sparkling, re-furbished venue that provided an El Mocambo Experience matched by a band clearly having a lot of fun and benefitting from a superb sound and light system provided all the ingredients for two outstanding evenings of entertainment.