Don Kerr adjusts his mic, eyes taking in the crowded bar. The sparkling silver tinsel that adorns his bass drum glimmers in the low light.
On some invisible cue, the two men flanking Kerr – one holding a bass, the other a guitar, both wearing brightly coloured jumpsuits – stand a little straighter.
From their permanent spots in frames on the wall, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro gaze on.
This is, after all, Castro’s Lounge – a politically themed bar where hundreds of photos line blood-red walls; also present are Leonard Cohen, Joseph Stalin, Anne Frank, Mahatma Gandhi. The list goes on.
“We’re going to play a song,” Kerr says with a grin, and the room erupts in cheers.
The band Communism graced the stage at Castro’s for the first time in nearly three years on April 6 – figuratively, because there is no raised performance-platform in the small east-end venue. Bands play on the floor by the front window, level with the audience.
The show – an upbeat mix of Communism originals with covers of popular disco-era and 80s music – marked the band’s first time performing at Castro’s since before the release of its new album, Lovespeech.
It was also the band’s first appearance there in its new iteration: Kerr was joined by Mike O’Brien on guitar and Jason Haberman on bass.
With the small bar packed to standing-room-only well before the start of the show, Castro’s was evidently a venue ready to feel the love.
A special connection
“I love their energy,” said Michaela Bosworth, who attended the show, during a later phone interview. “Not just in terms of the tempo of the music, but the attitude that they have in terms of trying to entertain people and bring lightness to everybody’s life.”
Self-described on their Twitter page as “a wild, psychedelic, high-tech, low-tech livestream dance party of anthems for togetherness in this unprecedented time of converging social emergencies,” the band’s “attitude” is quite deliberate.
“The whole point of it is to spread joy,” Kerr said during a later interview. “We’re trying to make people come together and be happy and see the power of people just getting together and feeling love and connection – in any venue.”
Watch Communism perform at Castro’s Lounge on April 6:
“My favourite thing about Castro’s is how it doesn’t make any sense how great it is,” said Kerr. “There’s no stage, there’s people walking in and out while you’re playing, the streetcars are going by … but I think that room — it just brings all the fun people out, and they have a great time.”
“I think it was one of the busiest shifts I’ve ever worked in my career at Castro’s,” said Maddison Bird, the venue’s assistant manager and bartender of nearly five years.
“I tend to find that they [Communism] bring everyone together,” she said. “It’s not just an older crowd or a younger crowd. It’s anyone who seems to be there just absolutely loves them.”
The venue made an impression on Communism’s newest members, too. “Castro’s last week was definitely the most fun I’ve had playing in the band,” said bassist Jason Haberman in a subsequent phone interview.
“There was this sort of, special, nostalgic feeling that I got when I came to Castro’s – and it was my first time there,” he said.
A smooth transition
When asked about his integration into the band, Haberman, who has played with Kerr and O’Brien in other musical projects, including the band Ocean Potion, said the process had been completely natural.
“In terms of our friendship and our love for each other, it’s very easy and supportive,” he said. “We all just respect each other so much. So, we get a lot done in terms of, like, energetic connection.”
Bosworth, who has been a fan of Communism since the band first started performing at Castro’s in 2015, said she hopes they are booked more regularly.
“I felt that the two new band members are starting to gel really well with Don Kerr,” She said, “Because the other times I had seen them they were still kind of new… But it’s always a great show.”
Read more from the Toronto Observer:
- How music lessons unified teachers and students in a time of isolation
- East York Jam Fest to go live for first time
Back on stage, O’Brien’s in the groove and Haberman’s worked up a sweat. Kerr’s drumsticks are a blur as a group of teenage boys jostle for a better view from the doorway, and a pair of middle-aged women steal the front of the teeming dance floor.
Communism got what it came for.
*Disclaimer: The author of this article has been an employee of Castro’s Lounge for nearly five years.