For over thirty years, Lee’s Palace in Toronto has been the home of some of my favourite shows, especially from the stoner rock scene. Monster Magnet, Fu Manchu, Nebula, Electric Wizard, etc. So, when the Elder, Ruby The Hatchet and Howling Giant rolled into town last night on a perfect evening of sunshine, light breeze, and bustling patios, my expectations were really high.
Ruby The Hatchet
Lee’s Palace, Toronto – 31 May 2023
Words: Sunil Singh
Photography: Melanie Webster
Let me be more specific. My expectations for New Jersey’s Ruby The Hatchet were really high. Even though they have been around for over ten years, they only came onto my radar within the last few. And it only took a few listens for me to confidently anoint the band as one of my favourites in the last two decades.
It was an early show time, so that, in combination with getting our way downtown and wanting to have some pre-show drinks, basking in the sunshine meant that we would miss the opening band. Sometimes you have to make these tough calls. Spoiler alert: there were no tough calls to be made on this gorgeous May evening. The night was meant to be only for one band.
What happened tonight had only happened once before, where the supporting band, Ruby The Hatchet, blew me away so much that I had nothing left for the headliners, Elder. And, just to give some context, I LOVE Elder! But, I have also seen them a few times, and anyone who has seen the band can set their watch to them only delivering musical excellence. So, maybe that had something to do with all my energy being wonderfully depleted by watching Ruby The Hatchet tear up Lee’s Palace like a tornado rolled through. That tornado has a name. Jillian Taylor.
By the time the band hit the stage, Lee’s Palace was close to capacity and was beginning to heat up both literally and figuratively. Before Ruby The Hatchet started their set, each band member, predictably, was making last-minute adjustments to their instruments.
Let me say it now before I forget, the synergy and connection between all band members is special. You can feel the musical communion they have with each other without even a single note being played. There is an Allman Brothers vibe of cohesion and confidence.
So, what was Jillian Taylor doing? She was stretching as if one might before running a race or doing something physical. Well, those were the reasons. To throw her whole body around for close to 60 minutes, fearlessly, emotionally, and seductively. She is stoner rock’s Tina Turner, using every part of her body, from her fingertips to her hips to her legs, to dance and vibrate with the primal and polished raunch that is Ruby The Hatchet.
They opened with Thruster, from their brilliant 2022 album, Fear Is A Cruel Master.” Yes, opening songs should be high energy and kick off the evening in top gear, but “good god damn” (an actual song from them and one of my favourites), did they not blow the roof of Lee’s Palace with that opening salvo of hot as hell rock and roll.
The whole band is already on point, and Jillian Taylor is singing and moving for her supper and tomorrow’s hangover breakfast. My sister, who was standing beside me, nodded with an approval that only indicated horns up on both hands. One song in, and rock ‘n’ roll in all its grit, grease and glamour is being delivered handsomely.
Deceiver only doubled down on the sorcery, with Taylor’s vocals–often in harmony with the drummer Owen Stewart, now becoming an obvious anchor to the show.
The band has no spare parts. The collective soul/energy of the band is an amalgam of all the other complementing band members. Taylor and Stewart centre, vocally and physically, the band. However, there is much charisma and power in the flanks. Keyboardist Sean Hur has an attitude and style that is a cross between the Jon Lord of Deep Purple and Vincent Crane of Atomic Rooster. Bassist Mike Parise not only holds things down in the rhythm section but bangs his head and smiles with the perfect exuberance of the band’s energy output.
Finally, guitarist Johnny Scarps balances everything out by playing with a steady and serious delivery that is almost Steve Hackett in nature, but smiling as though the first six Sabbath albums are playing in a loop in his head. All these ’70s references are honest because the band just oozes the magic and mysticism of that decade and refashions it all to sound fresh, buoyant, and urgent.
So when the band skipped lightly into the ’80s and pulled out the Quarterflash cover of Harden My Heart, a nostalgic lightness was gifted to the entire audience. Even the hardcore Elder fans were smitten with this random inclusion.
Inasmuch as Jillian Taylor is a fiery combo of Vince Neil moves and Stevie Nicks aura, the true power of her voice, for me anyways, is felt most on the slower numbers. 1000 Years, which was dedicated to all the women in the audience, is a song that should be filed under “dark romanticism”. The longing that grips the song from beginning to end penetrated more deeply hearing it live.
Whoever was in charge of the soundboard did a masterful job. The show was loud, heavy on the bottom, and vocals always on top. Even before the final two songs of the night, I felt something, alluded to earlier in the review, that I had not felt since 2000. Ironically, also at Lee’s Palace when San Francisco’s short-lived Zen Guerilla opened for Nebula.
Nobody loves Nebula more than me. In fact, I just listened to a 2-hour playlist recently on a drive. But Zen Guerilla played such a scorching set that night, it made it almost impossible for Nebula to take the stage. They ended up playing a kickass show, but I was emotionally wiped out by Zen Guerilla and primarily by their lead singer Marcus Durant, who had to be an alien creation with his vocals/stage presence of Manic Street Preacher meets Elvis on cocaine meets Jim Morrison.
Which explains why and how Ruby The Hatchet stole the show without the show actually being over.
Last Saga and Amor Gravis closed out the night. Both songs pulled effortlessly on my heartstrings. In fact, for reasons I cannot still reconcile, my eyes began to well up at various points in both songs.
There is something about the tonality of them that transported me to a place and time that intersects with childhood, romance, and simplicity.
Unsurprisingly, the energy of Jillian Taylor and the whole band just continued to rise, almost pleading with the audience to keep ascending with them. Taylor’s vocals have that special gear to punctuate songs with an element of soaring. That we did. Almost an hour later, it was over. I don’t smoke, but I needed a carton of cigarettes to express my satisfaction with seeing Ruby The Hatchet. Most great rock bands are better live. The greatest are transcending/spiritual in their live performances.
Elder, I still love you. Your show sounded heavenly, even as I sat outside reflecting on what I just saw. And, if the night could not have gotten any better, I hung out with the band and talked about music, writing, connection, and community.
The perfect evening weatherwise became the perfect evening music-wise. It just doesn’t get any better than seeing Ruby The Hatchet firing on all five cylinders of rock and roll splendour, pounding out their infectious, mystical sound with wild abandon. One moment you feel like the whole band is paying homage to Judas Priest, and then the very next, it’s some deeper cocktail of ’70s psychedelia and Fleetwood Mac vibes.
Intense, intricate, and imaginative. Go scoop up their entire catalog and see them live if you get a chance. Nothing short of being blown away will be what will be in store for you!