Monday, May 24, 2010

Cole's Most Intense Live Song Experiences

While the past couple of years have been fairly uneventful for me on this front, I have actually been fortunate enough to be present at some very awesome rock shows. It's something I really miss and hopefully I'll be getting to a new one soon.

But for today I'm going to fondly look back and celebrate moments from some of my concert experiences that stand out for their intensity. I've decided to make the list about individual songs rather than entire performances. Having seen the likes of A Perfect Circle, Finger Eleven, Silverstein, Alexisonfire and others who are known for having a heavy or aggressive edge within nearly all their songs, it seemed best to do it this way.

5." Stereo" - Watchmen, September 2001, Dalhousie University SUB, Halifax
This was one of the many Frosh Week events going on when I first arrived at Dal, and as I didn't really have any real friends at this point, I went alone. Just a year beforehand, I'd been at the same venue to see Moist - the only time I would ever get to see my favourite band live.

I was no huge fan of Watchmen but it definitely seemed worth fourteen bucks. And it was. I was in the very front (to save time I'll tell you right now that was I was up front for ALL of these shows [note: as it turns out, this saves absolutey no time afterall]) and, as this was actually a wet/dry event, nicely removed from the annoying drunks who only take up valuable space during these shows and yell out stupid things.

The highlight was of course the rocker "Stereo", coming about six songs from the end of the fifteen song set (including one encore). It's by far their most aggressive and catchy song and they're well aware of it. I can't recall which song directly preceded it but its final notes were drawn out into a long rumble of feedback on the guitar that ever-so-gradually morphed into the opening notes of "Stereo". The crowd and I sensed the shift even before it officially switched over and the electricity in the air ramped up.

Daniel has one of the most powerful voices I've ever heard in person and he was flawless all night - he didn't make much of a departure from how he sings the song on the album but certain songs just don't leave a lot of room to mess around with vocally. If you're familiar with Watchmen, then you know that most of their songs feature a much more understated guitar sound and "Stereo" requires a little pedal work to achieve its raw, almost scratchy tones.

I was jumping and so was most of the room. (the wet side was kinda lackluster)

4." Walk With You" - '77 Impala Special, May 1999, Centre 200 lobby, Sydney
No, they never had a record deal and you most likely have never heard of them, but that couldn't keep '77 Impala Special from rocking my socks off for this "reunion" performance anyway. The show was something called "The Long Wall" featuring about a dozen popular local bands and an album with a compilation of songs contributed by said bands was sold there. My sister, who accompanied me, bought one. I would sort of regret not picking one up myself but oh well.

The talk of the show was the final set - '77's first performance together in almost three years. Two thirds of the band, including frontman/guitarist Harry Doyle - Cape Breton's very very very very poor man's Kurt Cobain - were part of another band called Tilted (a different drummer) and their similarly titled song "Burn For You" was on "The Long Wall" cd but I think it was really '77 people were excited about seeing.

While there weren't even a hundred people in the room, everyone that was there knew the song by heart. I recall that just before they got to it, they called some friends onto the stage to perform a cover of Sarah MacLachlan's "Sweet Surrender" (incidentally, my favourite song of hers) that had everyone whipped into a frenzy by the time the first distinctive chords of "Walk With You" came screeching off Doyle's guitar. The bridge is simply an earlier verse repeated louder and with more emphasis (kind of like that part in "Monkey Wrench" by Foo Fighters) and we all screamed ourselves hoarse singing along. Good times

3. "Weapon" - Matthew Good, September 2002, Citadel Hill, Halifax

One of the factors that worked against some of the bands I mentioned in the intro from making this list is that I saw all of them at large venues, usually outdoors with a crowd of upwards of twenty-five thousand people. I've always found that intensity is lessened in these situations while it can be maximized in more confined locations with smaller audiences. But here is this list's one exception.

This was part of Edgefest 2 and I caught a few of the other bands performing the day before. But the big story was Matt Good, who had just gone solo after the breakup of Matthew Good Band. With my girlfriend of the time in Halifax to visit me, I didn't quite get to see as much live music as I would have under normal circumstances. But she was MY (what I mean by this was that she knew me well and was cool with my fervent passion for live music - not that I, um, owned her and she did as she was told. haha) girlfriend after all and knew that I wasn't going to miss Matthew Good. I paid through the nose to get her a ticket and took her along.

To her credit, she was great. I held her hand and dragged her through the massive crowd until we were in the front (even when I arrive late I get where I want) and while we watched lesser bands (I think Big Sugar was there) I agreed to stand behind her with my arms around her. It is a nice thing to do after all.

But when the main event finally began and I heard the drum intro to "Generation X-Wing", I excitedly extricated myself to freak out.

The set was amazing. Since Avalanche was months away from release, all songs performed were MGB songs and I heard pretty much everything I wanted - from" Carmelina" to "Everything is Automatic" to "Symbolistic White Walls" (show closer) - but about three songs from the end, Good told us that the next song would be "something new". I wasn't really expecting much, to be honest.

But then the slow buildup began and after about a minute, I knew I was in for something special. It actually takes the song two full minutes to get past the intro and the main riff to kick in. And kick in it did and we all went nuts. I'm pretty sure at the point of that drum fill just before the beginning of the outro, my head exploded. I really have no idea how I'm alive right now.

2." Numb" - Holly MacNarland, September 2005, Marquee Club, Halifax
Probably the most surprising entry on this list. My lack of enthusiasm for female vocalists has been well--documented over the years. But MacNarland is the best I've ever seen. By far.

Still, I figure it probably does shock you that I've included a song by an artist who I don't even own any albums by. [Does that sentence make sense? I've tried to re-word it several times.] Stranger still, I didn't even have any plans to attend this show, but thanks to my ties to folk superstar, Craig Cardiff, who was also on the bill (as was Emm Gryner, whom if I made a list of sexiest performances, would take up four of the five spots, with the other going to David Usher), I got in for free.

I'd love to talk about the entire show, but since that doesn't fit this list, let's skip to the headliner. When MacNarland took the stage I was amazed at how powerful and commanding a presence she was - have you seen this woman? She is fairly pretty but not exactly a bombshell and she is SMALL (coincidentally, so is Gryner). But there is nothing small about her pipes. The opener was "Water", one of the about four songs of hers that I was actually familiar with and probably the best vehicle she has for her amazing voice. From that point on I realized that I was going to enjoy her performance every bit as much as I had Gryner's (I was a fan of hers and knew lots of her music). But on to "Numb".

I can't say exactly when it was played but it was towards the end as is most fitting, I suppose. I've already used this phrase but again the best way to describe the first few moments of the song was there was an absolute tingling, electric pulse in the air. Clearly, I wasn't the only one who'd been anticipating this number.

The opening acoustic chords elicited a huge cheer. MacNarland had spent most of the night not moving around all that much but here she let it all go, prancing from one end of the stage to the other, leaning forward to touch our hands (yes, I touched her) at the lines "you can't see when i'm not listening". The snare had been loosened to the point that it sounded like a gunshot and I felt every beat reverberate right through me. The slowed-down bridge really accentuated this, with everyone following her lead, jumping as she sang "wake up dead man, can't you see i'm starving?". The rest of the song from that point on came like a well-organized blur - if you don't know what I mean, I don't know if I can really explain. Every instrument stood out and played its part, with MacNarland's voice flowing above it all - "i feel better" - wavering and straining just as it should, but never breaking. I should have been exhausted when it was over but instead found myself charged for the rest of the night. I dearly wish I could see her again.

1. "Levitate" - I Mother Earth, February 2000, Savoy Theatre, Glace Bay
Several months earlier, back in the summer, my friends and I had already seen IME play at UCCB (that's what it was called then and that's what I'll call it now) and it was a truly amazing performance. It was the closest I'd ever been to what I considered to be a "big" band. I'd seen The Tragically Hip two years earlier but that was an arena-style show (even though Centre 200 ain't much of an arena) and besides, I liked IME waaaaay more.

I recall that my friend, Paul, had said something like "Why should we see them again? We just saw these guys." Now I can't even remember if he wound up going. But nothing was going to stop me even though I had reservations about the venue. The Savoy Theatre is, well, a theatre. A stage in front of seats. There's even a balcony. It's a wonderful place for plays and musicals and certain kinds of concerts. But I just didn't know if it was going to work with IME. I didn't want to sit down.

But when Halifax curiousity, Arlibido, who'd I'd always liked, took the stage, sit I did. Most of the crowd did except for a gaggle of teenage girls who rushed the stage, enamored by Arlibido's bassist. I watched curiously. What was security going to do? Turns out, they did nothing. Hell, I can't even remember seeing any security. How cool is that? (Trust me, it's not like that at the Savoy anymore). Unlike a place such as The Marquee, there is no barrier at the Savoy. There's nothing between the front row and the stage but space. I made up my mind quickly that I wouldn't join the teeny-boppers but that as soon as Arlibido finished their set, I would run up front.

I met no resistance and simply pushed past the annoying girls until I was touching the stage, slightly to the right side. My friends were at first reluctant to follow but soon they and lots of others relented and came up. Suddenly there wasn't space between the seats and stage anymore. I comfortably laid my arms on the stage and tried to keep calm while we waited.

I hate to just skip past the whole performance to the end but that's where "Levitate" came - last song of the night on the third encore (the first consisting of two songs with the other two each having one). But I feel that all that explanation about my positioning was necessary - afterall, not everyone who reads this list has been to the Savoy.

The show was probably twice as good as the UCCB performance if not even better than that. The set was much longer, I was even closer to the band and it just seemed that they were even more into it. They wanted Glace Bay to REMEMBER that they'd been there, damnit. And we did.

By the time the final encore began I'd already lost my voice (during the ending of "Shortcut to Moncton" - "this is a song about the east coast", said Bryan Byrne). But when he screamed "Feel heaven!" I somehow found it again. There's not much I can say about the actual song. It's heavy, fast and aggressive. It has breakdowns where everything stops then quickly snaps back to full speed and volume, it has SPITTING. Byrne, who I had a HUGE boy-crush on at the time, exuded boundless energy, as did the rest of the band and the accompanying percussionist. It also didn't hurt that they had one of the best light shows ever. By the end, Byrne had climbed the tower of amps in the stage's left side (my side - I touched his leg!), sung from there, before jumping off for the finish.

I was sixteen. I Mother Earth were probably my second or third-favourite band in the world at the time, I had lots of friends, some of whom were with me at that moment, I had some money to buy a band t-shirt, I had to go to school on Monday but that was ok - I went out into the cold Glace Bay night smiling and practically skipping. All was right with the world.


RyHo said...

Man, that IME show was amazing. Did they have the extra percussionist at both shows? I seem to remember an extra guy at the Savoy show, but my memory isn't like yours. I just remember it being mind-blowing.

Matt Good at the Savoy was an interesting experience because no one showed up, so it was extremely candid.

I'd say my fave show at the Savoy was David, but F11 make a close second, and IME make a very close third, as well.

Awesome list!

Cole D'Arc said...

thankyou. yes, they had the percussionist both times. That IME show was the best thing ive seen at the Savoy. it helps that ive seen David four other times. The best time i saw him was probably the third time, which was at the Marquee in 2006. Never go to see Finger Eleven except as an opener. there's still time though.

Shane Patenaude said...

Ah, Cole, the master storyteller. Reading this makes me long to go watch a band rock out. I've sadly been to too few shows and concerts.

I agree with you that in most circumstances, smaller venues offer a more intense and fun vibe. I recall watching Bif Naked and having a blast with you back in the day. The most intense and fun performance I've seen was Billy Joel last year in Seoul. I may not have been in the front row, but I was singing along at the top of my lungs and having the time of my life.

Cole D'Arc said...

shane> yeah, that was a crazy one. All-ages venue the AFTERNOON after the normal show. Full credit to the bands (Bif, Out of Your Mouth and Social Code) for really putting their all into even though they must have been tired. It was fun rockin out with the kids.

Remember when they got some of them up to play the instruments and they did Goth Metal?

i plan to see WEEZER in July!

Sam said...

I remember Arlibido playing a show in Lunenburg and the bassist having a similar gaggle...

brian said...


I used to have an mp3 of "When I Walk" I got from a friend from the east coast over a decade ago. I lost it when that computer died years ago.. do you know of anywhere I can get my hands on it? I still sing it to myself and would love to share it with friends who've never heard it!

Cole D'Arc said...

brian> holy crap, really? so i guess i remember the title wrong (When I Walk sounds right now that i'm saying it)

unfortunately the only copy i ever had was on a tape my sister owned. i will ask her if she has any recordings on cd that could be ripped.

wow, we post stuff on so much material on this blog, i never thought someone would recognize one of the most obscure things referenced here. crazy.