Beach Slang The Cave, Toronto ON, November 23

Beach Slang The Cave, Toronto ON, November 23
Photo: Stephen McGill
James Alex Snyder has made no secret of his love for the Replacements, but it's a good bet the Mats — notorious for fucking around at their shows — have never Facetimed a missing band member from the stage. Yet, that's exactly what Snyder did a handful of songs into Beach Slang's shambolic set, catching bass player Ed McNulty (whose passport had expired, keeping him out of the country) in the shower.

If the call felt a bit staged, the rest of the night was anything but. Eric Slick, from openers Lithuania, filled in for McNulty, learning Beach Slang's entire set an hour before taking the stage. Snyder, announcing he was drunk, nevertheless allayed fears, saying the quartet were "ready to punch you right in the heart" before launching into "Filthy Luck."

Live, it can be a bit hard to distinguish one Beach Slang song from another — the ringing rhythm guitars tended to drown out some of the leads that help separate each track — but Snyder, wearing a sweater and sports jacket covered in punk rock buttons, and with a mop of dark hair obscuring his face, won over anyone unfamiliar with the Philadelphia group with his impassioned vocal delivery, while the converted sang along.

The band were surprisingly in sync given the situation, even while Slick took cues from guitarist Ruben Gallego. After a relatively tight 20 minutes, Snyder, who continued drinking and chatting with the audience throughout the set, announced the band had one more song left, much to the crowd's consternation.

That's when things devolved into a bit of an improvised mess. They ripped through "Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas," which they'd forgotten to include on the setlist. But long pauses between songs — where Gallego went through chord changes with Slick — tried the audience's patience, stretching the set for another half-hour.

Frustrating though the wait was, when the band played, it was hard to deny the their power, even when they weren't playing their own tunes. Fans that hung on were treated to a pair of impromptu Replacements covers ("Bastards of Young" and "Can't Hardly Wait"), Jawbreaker's "Save Your Generation" and a snippet of Bright Eyes "Lua."

Snyder botched the intro to "Punk or Lust," then tossed his guitar to Gallego while he ran to the bar to turn in his final drink ticket. Beer in hand, he returned to the stage and thanked the crowd "for liking our band. That's the sweetest thing," before finally killing the evening.

The set — a bit of mess by any standards — was certainly worthy of Snyder's legendary heroes, but where the Mats were often contemptuous and self-destructive, Beach Slang managed to convey a sense of love and community, wringing catharsis out of chaos, at least when they managed to shut up and play the damn songs.