Published Aug 30, 2018When LVL UP released their third album for their then-new label Sub Pop in 2016, it was a last-ditch effort to keep things going. The band had collectively decided to break up if they couldn't get a label like Sub Pop to release Return to Love, after previously self-releasing its predecessor, Hoodwink'd, on their own label Double Double Whammy.
As it turned out, Sub Pop were fans and gave them just what they needed. Positive reviews poured in, they toured with Cloud Nothings and (Sandy) Alex G, and Fader even honoured them with a feature titled "Meet LVL UP, The Brooklyn Band That's So Good No One Will Let Them Break Up."
Yet, instead of building on that success, it appears that LVL UP have adopted the "all good things must come to an end" motto. After seven years of the van-to-stage-to-strange-apartment-floor lifestyle, the New York indie rockers have amicably chosen to go out on not just one but three high notes, with a plan to release a new single called "Orchard," reissue their out-of-print debut album, Space Brothers, and embark on a month-long farewell tour.
Returning to Toronto for the fourth and final time, LVL UP were ready to say goodbye, and part of that process was paying it forward to a band that could carry the torch next.
Chicago's Lala Lala are another distortion-fond indie rock act that recently signed to Sub Pop's sister label, Hardly Art. With a new album out next month, they made the most out of the opportunity by charging through a set that found pink-and-pigtail-haired singer/songwriter Lillie West commanding the stage with her cheeky lyrical wit and a great story about tossing her wallet in the trash.
Live, Lala Lala's use of synths, drum pads and sampler added some welcome textures to their driving guitar rock and gave them an added allure. In keeping the spirit of the tour, they closed out the set with an unexpectedly playful cover of LVL UP's "Nightshade."
When LVL UP appeared, they wasted no time demonstrating what they do best: blasting out all of those short and sweet fuzzed-out jams they've written over the years. The key to their songs has always been having a three-headed vocal strike force in Dave Benton, Mike Caridi and Nick Corbo, a trio of distinct voices that interchange after almost every song.
"Hope you don't mind, but we're really trying to cram as many songs in as much as possible," they announced, after running through a quartet of songs including "Nightshade," which they noted Lala Lala also performed. "We weren't gonna play it, and then we put it in there first."
From there it was a mishmash of material from their other albums before they politely asked, "Do you mind if play a bunch of Space Brothers songs now? It's more like a Space Brothers suite in three movements," they added with a laugh. Bookmarking it with urgent burners "Roman Candle" and "Apocalyptophobia," it was a proper lesson in how well this band paces their sets, adding slower jams "Alabama West" and "Third Eye" in between. After the seven-song mini-set, they acknowledged their relief: "We made it through it!"
Introducing recent single "Orchard" as "our last new song," the near-four-minute swansong felt like the longest one of the night, though any emotions too intense were quickly erased with the heavy sludge attack of "Five Men on the Ridge."
Bassist Corbo then began reminiscing about their time in Toronto. "The first time we played here was at Izakaya Sushi House," he admitted, before telling a Toronto-related anecdote about writing the song "Angel From Space," which involved getting "super baked" in Toronto and watching Frozen Planet at a friend's house.
After playing the apropos "Closing Door," they briefly left the stage, only to come back for a few more songs and even take some requests. "This is really awkward and embarrassing," they admitted. "We are really trying to milk it up in here."
Unfortunately, LVL UP may not leave the kind of legacy that gets them written up in the annals of indie rock history. However, for one night they were the most important band on Earth to a roomful of fans that are sad to see them go. At least we'll forever remember this gig as the bighearted going-away present it was.