Illuminati Hotties heat up the Horseshoe

Packed house welcomes west coast beach vibes

Who: Illuminati Hotties
Where: The Horseshoe Tavern, 370 Queen St. W., Toronto
When: Wed., Mar. 2
Vibe: Young and artsy; cool without any pretension. A talented bunch of rock musicians ready to take on the world and capture the hearts of many, one crowded, dimly-lit bar at a time!
Highlight: The sound of a sold out crowd chanting “Love me, fight me, choke me, bite me,” the bridge to MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA — wonderfully cheeky!

Outside, the winter wind is whistling through the city, but inside, it’s practically balmy. Los Angeles indie rock band Illuminati Hotties brought the beachy vibes across the border and into the sold-out back room of the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. Toronto’s live music scene has had its fair share of fits and starts this past year, so it’s heartwarming to see the latest round of venue re-openings met with overwhelming enthusiasm.

When I arrive at the Horseshoe, there’s already a palpable buzz about the place. Some concert-goers are taking an early smoke break while others have a game of pool on the go in the front bar. I have to wait for someone to make their move in the game before I can walk around and avoid getting jabbed with a pool cue. In the back, tables are packed and a crowd is quickly forming. The space is dark save for the blue and red hues coming from the stage lights. The venue’s iconic gold glitter backdrop peaks from behind a scrim that reads “ALL RIP’RS” in Top Gun font.

The Top Gun theme continues as Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” blasts through the P.A. while the California four-piece takes to the stage. Wasting no time, they launch into a powerful, energetic set. There’s crashing cymbals, guitar solos and a rousing round of call and response. The night feels youthful and carefree and not just because most of the audience appears to be under the age of 35. Sonically, the tracks are reckless the way rock music should be but, lyrically, between the catchy oohs and ahhs, is honesty and vulnerability.

Illuminati Hotties is spearheaded by frontwoman Sarah Tudzin, whose talent is undeniable and stage presence illuminating. She wails in different tones within the same song, like a voice actor switching between characters. Between songs, she chats with the room. We learn this is the band’s first ever Toronto performance — Tudzin has never set foot in the city before. She shares her amazement over the snow and our ability to continue about our lives in the harsh weather. Where she’s from, life would come to a halt at the first snowflake. Stage banter comes easily and several audience members yell out thank yous and kind words.

The venue also welcomes New York City’s Pom Pom Squad and the U.K.’s Fenne Lily. Pom Pom Squad’s ripping rock is perfectly balanced by Lily’s gentle folk. Overall, the evening is perfectly curated, right down to my $6 gin and tonic. There’s no doubt all three artists will be welcomed back to the city with open arms.

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