At a rodeo - open air, brown dirt, grandstands, a gathering storm in the distance. Soft music over the bullhorn speakers. I am there to see a performance an artist named Toy Hawk, known for their large scale spectacles and gender fluidity. The audience is expecting a grand display but the stadium is empty - there are none of the typical things you'd expect, just empty bullpens. We take our seats and the performance begins. Toy Hawk appears on the jumbotron - they are dressed conservatively in a button-down shirt, calm, broadcasting from the announcer's booth above, surveying. They are a person of color, they are extremely good looking, they are poised and in charge. We are told that this performance will be a little bit different than their other work, to adjust our expectations and to grant the event patience. Then we are told that a performer will be randomly selected from the audience. It is at this point that the spotlight - white and hot - flashes on me. I hear it turn on with a click that reverberates through the stadium. I am instructed to follow the spotlight which leads me down through the grandstand, up over the railing and out onto the center of the arena. Toy Hawk tells me that I am to serve them tea, that I will find everything I need in the library. I feel everyone's eyes on me - hundreds of expectant faces - and I nod Toy Hawk's direction. I am overwhelmed but I understand, more or less, what is being asked of me. The spotlight leads me toward a ramp that slopes underground. I realize that, beneath the stands, is a hidden track where bulls and horses can run before the rodeos. It's blue and harsh with industrial, fluorescent light, but Toy Hawk, I understand, has filled this track with hundreds of bookshelves, artfully arranged and full of books, antiques, photos of Toy Hawk's childhood, wax fruit, gilded mirrors, etc. Ornate but weathered in a way that is befitting of a rodeo stadium. It's brilliant. Toy Hawk continues to speak to me over the PA system, calmly asserting that is time for tea in-between lines of poetry. Their voice is calm but insistent and I feel the silent anticipation of the audience above me - the fact that they cannot see makes my apprehension even worse. I begin by circling, frantically looking for - what? teacups? a kettle? I sprint. Desperate, I begin taking books off the shelf, thinking that perhaps a tea set is somehow hidden behind. One book I try to remove is in fact a lever. Discovering this, I begin frantically, violently clearing the shelves looking for more levers. As I continue to break shit, I realize that I am playing the part of the enraged bull. Toy Hawk encourages me, I hear the audience murmuring, I click the final 6th lever and a shelf opens, revealing a dark and cavernous room beyond the track, under the center of the stadium. At the center, dimly lit, is a small coffee table holding a full tray of tea and sweets and a narrow, white, spiral staircase leading up and back out into the dirt above. I run to the tea, feeling free from the incredible anxiety that has taken hold. I pick up the tray - it is heavier and fancier than I first thought - and approach the spiral staircase, only to realize that it is impossibly small, comically tiny. Anxiety returns. I put down the tray and try to wriggle my way inside the staircase but it's no use - I am far too large. I push and I push, getting more and more worked up, panting and fearing the worst, wondering what the spectators up above must think. Remembering that I am the bull, I ram my body into the stairs, I kick at them, I grab them and try to rip them apart. Finally I realize that the outside of the staircase will hold my weight. I balance the tray in one hand and climb, feeling like a swordfighting hero, and emerge into the arena with applause and thunder in the air. Toy Hawk thanks me for the tea. Then I wake up.
This is a beautiful, sonically stunning record and is the perfect antidote to the depressing, troubled times we find ourselves in. Knishkowy’s finest songs immersed in layers of stunning guitar work and stellar musicianship from all involved. Clearly made with love, and filled with it. Kevin Tarn