Friday, July 5, 2013

A Double Dose of The Headstones (Time warp to 1993)


My friends and I discovered Canadian band The Headstones when their song Heart of Darkness (I think that was the one anyway) was included on a compilation that had circled the university.  That was before the début album Picture of Health was even released!  I remember the advertisement in M.E.A.T. magazine at the time "get the poop before it hits the stores by winning here" or something very similar, we never won, but happily purchased it fairly quickly on it's release.  The guys had a new and fresh sound for us at the time blending elements of heavy metal, alternative and punk made for great rock and roll.  We saw them at every chance we got, becoming infected with the disease after the first show we caught.  The Headstones were great on
CD, but to be seen live was a whole other story.  They were infectious to say the least.  The force and intensity they exhibit on stage, driven by their hunger and love of the music is something that touches everyone in the audience.  Quite literally if you were in the first ten people deep at the front of the stage as front man Hugh Dillon, adorned in his usual black crochet sweater riddled with holes, most likely from cigarette burns and age (that thing was like a security blanket for him and he always wore it on stage), sporting mohawkish spiky jet black hair, was known for flicking the ends of his lit cigarettes, spitting on and tossing empty beer cups into the crowd!

Twenty years later and the boys are back with a new CD, Love + Fury.  They originally re-united and played some shows in late 2011, then starting the Pledge Music campaign to fund a new record.  I caught them then and it was clear that they hadn't lost a step.  Now the record is out and it's time for live gigs.  They set the dates Wednesday June 26th in Barrie, Ontario, Thursday June 27th in Toronto and June 29th in Alberta at the Boondock Music & Arts Festival and opened ticket sales only to those who had participated in the pledge program at first.  I jumped at the Lee's Palace Toronto show and immediately asked Wally, who while loving the Headstones albums, had somehow unbelievably missed the live experience!  I hymned and hawed at the Barrie show as well, deciding to wait until closer to the time.  Seeing them two nights in a row was a bit silly maybe, that's what we would do back in the old days of 1993-1998.  I received my copy of the new recording and at first was not wowed, perhaps as I had put too much hype and expectation into it.  It seemed to be missing the raw punkish energy and sounding a bit tinny to me.  It has since grown on me and is a fantastic album, once I got past the stigma of it and was able to hear it objectively.  The night prior to Barrie, out with a high school buddy, I learned that he and company were making the trip to Barrie for the Headstones show at the Ranch
nightclub.  They had attempted to get tickets for Toronto, but could not, either sold out or not available to the public.  That was all I needed to hear to jump on the bandwagon, purchasing my ticket on-line, surprisingly still available the morning of the event.  I was not sure what to expect from this show, not knowing how their fan base was up there, example set by tickets being available the morning of.  We headed up early, getting into town around 6:45pm and found a great place with a patio nearby for burgers and beverages.  As we sat there debating songs they would play and catching up with our lives in general, we saw Trent Carr (guitarist) and Tim White (bassist) walk by down the main street.  Too far away to say (or yell) hi, or something more witty and Headstonesish without being screaming little girls about it. Plus we'd had beers with them on more than one occasion in the old days, so the stardom "goo goo ga ga" had long passed us over.  Arriving at the venue we noticed that it is promoted as Canada's largest Country Bar, what a place to see the Headstones....fits right in!  It was a decent size and there were a good number of people milling about with beers in hand ogling the t-shirts and swag at the merchandise booth.  I saw several Headstones "H" shirts floating around and also a couple of "Pledge" shirts as well.  We easily secured a good vantage point to the right side of the stage, front row, well as front row as you can get with steel barrier fencing restraining you from the front of the stage.

The Ranch, Barrie Ontario, June 26th, 2013

The announcer/MC guy came on stage and talked for waaaay too long, flogging the radio station, Impact Live promoter and the upcoming Buckcherry show every other word it seemed.  He yakked on for a totally needless and whopping 8 minutes!  After several minutes he was back to bore us some more announcing that Riding Shotgun was the name of the opening band this evening and that they were just freshly back from L.A. where they were recording their album with Gilby Clarke.  I had the chance to listen to a song or two on line before leaving the house, but I must have had the wrong band on line.  I usually try not to be negative in a review, not being one who has the ability to play an instrument myself, but I don't have much good to say about this band with every song sounding the same and a decided lack of vocal range on the singer.  I desperately hoped that they were not setting the stage again at Lee's Palace tomorrow night and to be honest I had tuned out after a couple of songs preferring to scope out the ladies in the crowd.  I checked the time, noticing that they had been on for almost an hour, rather long for an opener and the highlight of their set so far was when the go-go dancer girls took to the platforms above the audience.  To be honest, the most impressive thing about Riding Shotgun was the spinach face goatee sported by the drummer.

At about 10:50pm a bagpiper took the stage wearing a Headstones shirt and The Headstones blasted onto the small stage ripping it up immediately with their Travelling Wilbury's cover of Tweeter & The Monkey Man.  Hugh jumped out onto the speakers right in front of me and took a harsh kick at a guy on the right corner of the stage, spitting on him as well (although I do know the guy in question, he was not with my group this evening and I wondered what he had done to anger Hugh in such a way).    Hugh's anger was obviously running high and he was intense, throwing evil cut-eye stares towards my friend.  dontfollowtheleader (yes, the lack of spaces and lower-case letters is done intentionally as it appears on the actual CD cover) was their next choice spawning the first crowd surfer at this early point of the evening.  The crowd's energy was also high, matching the ferocity of the guys on stage.  finalanalysis followed before the first album's When Something Stand For Nothing during which Hugh
broke out his harmonica as expected.  The first crowd surfer girl had now climbed her way up into the go-go platform above our heads and actually had a good vantage point for the show.  A young lady was rather ungainly clambering her way to the top of the go-go platform on the left side of the stage now, perhaps spurned on by the first girl as Hugh noticed and commented.  They ripped into longwaytoneverland next and then farawayfromhere during which Hugh demonstrated that there was no love tonight, but all fury as he ferociously kicked the monitors off the front of the stage and down onto the speakers lining the stage.  For the first representation from Nickels For Your Nightmares album they gave us Settle in which Hugh told us a story in the style of Gord Downie of another Canadian great Tragically Hip, about the R.C.M.P.  I couldn't quite hear everything, but I think he got pulled over on the way to the show tonight, seems to be the gist anyway, perhaps that explains the longer than usual set for the opener.  They finished up Settle
with Hugh making use of every spare inch of floor space on the stage and bassist Tim White lying on his back on a speaker at the left front side, while still playing furiously of course!  "Well, what do you want to hear?" Hugh asked the crowd, unable to discern the jumbled response as everyone shouted a different song at the same time, he resorted to calling out a few selections and gauging by the volume of the cheers for it.  And such was chosen Cubically Contained, the first appearance of the Smile & Wave recording.  binthiswayforyears followed, making the new album far out weigh the classic material so far during the set.  binthiswayforyears was the first new song that they wrote after re-uniting and I'd seen them play it before in December 2011 as well.  Hugh has a penchant for throwing the mike and stand as he's finished the song and tonight was no exception to that as the stage hand re-set it up for the next song, Cut.  Hugh climbed down from the stage and wormed his way along between the barrier fencing and the 
stage (about two feet of space), slapping hands with the crowd as he went.  When he got to me he shook my hand firmly and held his grip for several seconds as he continued to slap hands with the rest of the crowd nearby.  Perhaps he had recognised me from all those years ago, drinking beers with him or at the shows, but I doubt it.  More likely he saw my first review of Love + Fury which was not totally glowing, but as I said previously it has really grown on me now.  Hugh also shook my friend's hand and gave him a look that said they were cool now (I would later find out that my friend suspected the issue was caused by some dick behind him throwing a beer can at Hugh).  Hugh clambered back on stage and let us know how impressed he was that there were this many Headstones fans in Barrie and thanked us for turning up on a Wednesday night.  He told us that we could hum this next one along in our heads tomorrow when some dick-head was pissing us off in the Starbucks line or any similar situation as they tore into the expletive laden, 
raucous treat, #&%! You.  A fight broke out on the left side of the stage and Hugh berated the guys involved telling them to chill out as there were ladies present right next to them.  They gave us Losing Control (perhaps rather appropriate at this juncture) next and followed it up with Unsound, the first representation from the sophmore effort of Teeth and Tissue.  During Smile & Wave Hugh adopted a goofy tight lipped smile, cocking his head slightly to the side and giving a wave worthy of the queen herself to the crowd.  It's All Over told us that it was truly all over as Hugh smashed his mike down to the stage and they sauntered off to take a short break and I was left reeling and thinking "these guys play HARD".  They weren't gone very long before returning to the stage blasting into the fan favourite of Cemetery.  They kept it going with the wicked cover of ABBA's SOS, yes that's right Swedish dance pop band ABBA!  Hugh asked again what we wanted to hear and finally settled on changemyways before asking again and giving us Three Angels.  I cannot even count how many times 
Hugh threw the mike down onto the stage, smashing it on the ground with such ferocity.  At one point he picked it up again and it was no longer in operation, no great surprise after the abuse it had endured and sporting a smashed and dented head.  Hugh now tried all mikes trying to find the best one, asking us which one was the loudest as he screamed into each in turn.  It is certainly a full-time job to pick up and re-set Hugh's mike, I'm sure the guy was getting tired of running around the stage and this time he must have been on a break as it took him some time to get out there.  They gave us one more absolute treat and something totally new for them (well new as far as I knew anyway) and closed out the raucous set with a bitchin' cover of Motorhead's Ace Of Spades!  During Ace Of Spades Hugh could be seen behind guitarist Trent Carr at his amp animatedly cranking the dials.  This ended at 12:15am one of the best Headstones shows I've ever seen.....and I've seen a lot, can't wait for tomorrow night!

My friend, the one that Hugh kicked had this to say on his Facebook page the next morning: Craziest bloody night at the Headstones @ The Ranch in Barrie. Halfway through the first song Hugh Dillon boots me in the ribs, and then spits at me. Then a minny girl fight....then a bunch of drunks getting kicked out....then security spent the rest of the show holding the barrier back from the stage....oh ya....a little puke on the floor....girls dancing on bars and in the cages....then near the end Hugh motioned that we are ok now....LMAO......good night....and ooch!
That's just the signs of a good Headstones show my friend!

Lee's Palace, Toronto, June 26th, 2013

I awoke with my ears still containing a faint ring, generally a muted echo to them, but I was excited to see The Headstones again tonight.  This one was also to be esteemed colleague Wallygator's first experience at a Headstones show and while I was still flabbergasted that he had not seen them before I was excited and confident that he would be blown away.  Alas, early in the morning my phone buzzed and I saw that it was Wally and he would be unable to make it to the show tonight as a work commitment had arisen.  I told him to quit his job as this was more important, but he wisely failed to take my advice.  I arrived at Lee's Palace early and grabbed a burger on the patio at a nearby pub, a usual spot for me.  I seem to have a regular pub nearby every venue that I frequent prior to the shows.  Seeing a few folks pass by sporting the "H" logo largely emblazoned on their
shirts, I called out to several, asking if they knew if there was an opening band for tonight's festivities.  There seemed to be no information anywhere regarding an opener for this show and I prayed that I wouldn't have to endure the crappy noise of Riding Shotgun again.  The Lee's Palace website even listed tonight as a "private function", not even mentioning The Headstones.  A couple of folks joined me on the patio for a beverage as they, like I, waited for the venue to open it's doors.  It was great to be
around some other rabid Headstones fans like myself, including a couple who had known Hugh and the band personally.  One gentleman was also sporting a classic Headstones shirt, one that I dearly wish I still had possession of (especially as Hugh gave it to me personally, oh so many years ago).  The shirt had a large "H" on the front and said in large letters on the back "Where's the fuckin' money you owe me?" and this has become a slogan of theirs over the years.  It was great to see this classic alive and well, well it was rather a charcoal grey now instead of the original black, but alive none the less.

I entered Lee's Palace, looking up at the still weak ceiling that I felt sure would come crashing down during Airbourne last month.  I was saved and my eardrums spared as the opening band was called The Reason who opened with Drive Me Home.  They had a feel to me that reminded me of the song One Headlight by The Wallflowers with a little 54/40 and Jack Johnson mixed in, well at least that's what I was getting and it doesn't really matter as they were assloads better than last night's painful opening experience.  The third composition was from their recently released EP called Hollow and had a nice funky beat to it.  Just So You Know followed suit and the place was quite packed in now as The Reason held the attention of the rabid Headstones fans.  The vocalist let us know that they had been a band for ten years now and they have five albums under their belt, but they were working on a new project, available on pledge music (the same site that the Headstones had used to assist in funding the new Love + Fury album).  Their
project would be a documentary about the successes and failures of the band in their ten year history, could be interesting from the perspective of folks trying to break into the business.  Those Days Are Dead was next and was a great tune all around, I should have investigated the merchandise table a little closer and picked up one of their CD's.  Chill Out A Minute from their last record called Fools Come And Go led us into Where Do We Go From Here and finally the set closer with a really rocking number that I missed the title of.  Certainly this band is worth checking into a little deeper.

The floor appeared tightly packed by now and the air was hot and muggy in here.  The feel and smell of sweat was already in the air as we waited for The Headstones to take stage.  I pondered what the set would be like, would we get the same songs in the same order?  This should be a better more intimate show and I was expecting them to blow away last night's performance given that this one was not only in Toronto, but also consisted of only pledgers who supported the album's creation.

At around 10:40pm the bagpipes could be heard ebbing from the speakers, but this evening the piper did not grace the stage.  The boys entered to a chorus of huge cheers and applause from the fans packed into Lee's Palace.  Opening tonight with binthiswayforyears they were off to a raucous beginning and Hugh was playing up to the crowd, making his way out onto the small bar/railing that separated the floor from the upper area on either side of the stage singing with passion.  And there goes the first mike throw of the evening as the stand and microphone bounced onto the stage.  The Travelling Wilbury's cover Tweeter And The Monkey Man was the next treat in this already different from last night set list as Hugh grabbed Trent's mike and sang in to both simultaneously.  When he'd had enough of that perhaps, he stretched his arm with the mike stand out over the crowd as we all sung the chorus in unison.  It was evident once again that it is a full time job re-setting mikes after Hugh has tossed them by the time they got to finalanalysis.  When they play When 
Something Stands For Nothing  I still expect them to be throwing out handfuls of Double Bubble, hard, chewy bubble gum out into the audience as they used to in the old days, but I guess that gimmick has played itself out.  Bassist Tim White was already completely soaked in sweat, evidence that he plays hard with everything he has by the time they got to the fifth song of longwaytoneverland.  farawayfromhere and Settle took us to Hugh asking the audience what we wanted to hear.  He seemed to learn from last night and more or less chose Cubically Contained.  Trent switched guitars for this number and he was playing one that looked like it had many autographs on it.  Hugh addressed the audience again asking
where the folks from Ottawa were.  Apparently it was someone's birthday and they had driven all the way down for the show tonight.  Losing Control came next and was followed by Cut, both tracks from the first Picture Of Health release.  I noticed a difference in the crowd between last night and tonight.  They were basically tame down on the floor with very little pushing or any type of moshing and there was no crowd surfers, this show is for real fans I suppose being as though we are all here because we pledged and helped the album see the light with our own hard earned money.  Not like the idiots that made up last night's audience.  Hugh left the stage toting the mike and stand with him, trailing his mike cord out into the audience
on the right (my area) side of the stage.  As the crowd all assisted in feeding the cord along, he stopped about half way down the venue and climbed up onto the little bar/railing for #&%! You.  He gave the same inspirational speech as the previous night placing bets that we would be humming this tune as the person in front of us in the Starbucks line took too long to place their order.  You can see the bodyguard/bouncer's hand steadying Hugh on the little foothold as he ripped through the song.  Hugh retreated about halfway through the spirited little ditty and returned to the stage only to catwalk out onto the little bar/railing on the left side that separated the floor from the upper level matching Trent who had done the same right in front of me.  The totally awesome (I sound like a valley girl!) ABBA cover SOS appeared next on the roster as Hugh stated that they had time for two more songs and took us to Unsound, again the only
representation of Teeth & Tissue recording.  Neither night's set list saw an inclusion from The Oracle Of Hi-Fi CD however.  During Unsound they broke into something different for them again with an excerpt from Straight Outta Compton neatly placed in the middle of the song.  "Where is Ann?", Hugh asked the crowd, as a lady waved from over on the left side.  "Ann has seen over 150 Headstones shows!"  That's impressive and certainly has me beat hands down!  "If we're still doing this in the next five years, I want action figures!"  Hugh proclaimed as they started into Smile & Wave with Hugh doing his best Queen's wave impersonation again.  It's All Over was again appropriately placed as they left the stage afterwards, only to return very quickly for their encores of Three Angels and the necrophiliac subject matter of Cemetery before leaving the stage for good that night.
Another awesome show and I was struck by the though that you don't so much as hear them in concert, but you feel them.....Wally, my friend....a grievous error in missing The Headstones yet again!

The Meister

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