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This Toronto rock band played a concert on a packed streetcar

By Jennifer Cheng| Photography by Giordano Ciampini
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Last Friday, Toronto rock band Westlake turned the TTC into the Louder Way. For four hours, the five-piece group—three of whom have known each other since they were toddlers—belted out original tunes, Beatles covers and a mini–Tragically Hip set on a moving streetcar packed with 80 passengers. It was their 11th annual Band on the Run Streetcar Party, which has raised a total of more than $30,000 in support of United Way. Here’s a look inside the streetcar party that rocked the rails.

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In 2005, through a United Way fundraiser draw, Westlake vocalist Peter Cosentino won a night on the town in a vintage streetcar. Right away, Cosentino dreamed of turning the party into a concert and asked if his band could play the event. They’ve repeated the feat nearly every year since and now use an articulated double streetcar.

The night before this year’s concert, Westlake loaded all their gear into the streetcar (parked at the Russell Carhouse at Queen and Roncesvalles), where eight TTC staff had removed the last several rows of seating, set up small generators and wired the vehicle to provide power for the band’s equipment. Over the course of two hours, the group used zip ties and duct tape to mount two black speakers and tape down wires for amps and microphones. Once the space was ready, they did a sound check—albeit standing still. Balancing on the streetcar as it swerves is always a challenge:

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The band always decorates the streetcar. This year, they used orange crepe paper over white lights from Dollarama. “The kitschier, the better,” says Cosentino. “Our drummer always brings gnarly Halloween props, like skulls and sawed-off hands, to add a little more zest”:

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Westlake began their set with “Underwear,” an original with a silly sing-along hook—“I need a brand new pair of underwear!"—that masks a deeper theme: the city’s taste for luxury. “There are people who can’t even afford to pay rent,” Cosentino says. “The song revisits our lifestyle and how we spend money”:

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Acoustic guitarist Louie Bettio is the band’s showman: he fell to his knees on the street to serenade a bride in a previous edition of Band on the Run. “She left her wedding reception to check out the concert,” he says. “But that wasn’t as crazy as 2008, when a shirtless man jumped onto the streetcar with his bicycle and started playing it like a guitar.” Former mayor David Miller also once hopped on and tweeted a picture of himself with Westlake:

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The set list also included “Whip It” by Devo—dedicated to a couple celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary—and “Here Comes The Sun,” which was Bettio’s “anthem” when he underwent chemotherapy about five years ago:

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Drummer Ferenc Szabo dressed up as what he calls a “lounging lizard”:

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Of course, some of the guests were in costume, too. This is Medusa:

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Here, Daenerys Targaryen and Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones:

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Guests dressed up as cowboys, clowns, knights and members of Devo were also on board (the Pink Panther, Kardashians and all sorts of superheroes have graced previous editions). These two were apple and pineapple from PPAP—that is, pen-pineapple-apple-pen, a strange single by Japanese comedian Daimaou Kosaka:

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Some of the guests seemed to have more fun messing with pedestrians than they did dancing. One particular police officer could do little but stop and stare:

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The party made a brief stop—what Bettio called “an intermezzo”—at Betty’s on King Street East at about 10 p.m. for booze:

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In recent years, a TTC mechanic has stayed on board just in case the power goes out. It’s only happened once:

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The night’s organizer, Amy Tsai, was also on board. She helped the band sell out each of the $25 tickets online in less than 45 minutes:

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Just after midnight, Westlake played their final song—a rocking original called “How’s That Feel?"—and the streetcar returned to the Russell Carhouse. Westlake finished packing up at about 1:30 a.m., and then TTC staff took over to get the vehicle ready for regular business the next day.

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