Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"You guys are rocking but...

The feedback from the guitars is deafening. I listen to it, soak it in, waiting for it to start.

Tis, tis tis, tis the high hat goes as Kiel, my drummer, my band mate, counts us into the song. The entire band erupts into a cacophony of noise, the driving rhythm barely containing our energy. Nervous energy, adolescent energy, creative energy, positive, negative, even sugar produced energy is rushing through my veins.

I feel ecstatic.

A smile is being painted goofily across my face, hung just alittle off-center. That kind of smile comes about when my feelings of happiness overflow beyond the capacity of my facial muscles to control it. It is a smile that cannot be ended by any means other than its own pre-destined death. This particular smile did not get to live for long.

Oh no

Travis, the singer of our band, is forgetting the lyrics of the song!

Oh no!

Travis is stopping singing all together!

OH NO!

Travis is apologizing to the audience for forgetting the lyrics of the song!

This is me, playing my first live show in a band. It is now not going well. And now my smile is dead.

I had asked and asked and asked until my family finally gave in and bought one for me. It was an all-black Samick P bass guitar with spilt pick-ups. I loved that bass from the second I saw it. I knew I would never give it away. I know I am going to spend the rest of my life with this guitar. I named her Morgan and together we joined a heavy metal band to become famous.

Let me give you a quick rundown of our group dynamic. The band’s name is Woodrow. The origins of the band name are unknown; it has simply always been Woodrow. The lead singer is a five foot, 235 pound, red-headed bowling ball shaped kid named Travis. He doesn’t even like heavy metal, but loves being in the group regardless. Next is a muscle-bound blond guy named Kiel, who is the drummer and owner of practically everything in the band. Kiel is amazing drummer and he knows it, giving me a 10 minute long drum solo the first time I met him. Josh is the guitarist and self-proclaimed front man of the band, despite his unwillingness to even engage in the simplest of guitar solos. Finally there is 14 year old me, 100 pounds soaking wet with a blond wisp of a mustache that I had carefully cultivated since grade 7.

Woodrow is playing at Christmas in the park. I had only joined the band yesterday. We had a full two hours of practice before they let me know they had a show to play the next day. I was completely onboard of course, because, like I said, I wanted to be famous. And here was my chance.

It being Christmas in the Park, naturally the stage was going to be set up outside, which was experiencing a blizzard here in the middle of winter. The entire band was wrapped up in coats, gloves, and toques to keep warm. The only people in attendance were my faithful grandparents and a small group of teenage girls I didn’t know huddled together. After Travis had consulted the lyrics, we again kicked into the only song we could play together. It was a cover of “My own summer” by the Deftones and like every good band we played it LOUD. The second go through felt like a success, despite my cold-ravaged lungs barely being able to choke out the back-up lyrics.

As we finished our song a middle aged man came from behind the stage, armed with an insincere smile. “Hey, you guys are rocking….but could you turn it down? I own the convenience store across the street and you’re driving away some of my customers. Thanks, keep on rocking boys!” He tells us, before patronizes us with a peace sign.

A peace sign? We are a heavy metal band and we got a peace sign? This will not stand!

The band members all look at each other and we know what to do. We turn our amps up even louder and announce to the “roaring” crowd of eight that we are going to play an encore. Since we only knew one song, we played “My own summer” again. This time the song went even better and I was able to regain my goofy slanted smile; only this one has a longer expiration date.

As we ended the one song show, with the whole band soloing out of sync with each other to a crescendo, there was a polite smattering of applause and my grandparents snapped a picture. When we shut all the amps down, the band jumped off the stage and joined the small group of girls who had watched us. They hated our music, but stayed around anyway to talk with us. As we tried to impress these girls, I could hear my grandparents in the background, snapping more pictures. We were not famous and probably never would become famous. But we rocked for a brief moment in time, in the face of resistance trying to turn us down, even if he was just a store owner. And that felt pretty good too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two Nights in the Thunder Bay Scene

The city of Thunder Bay does, contrary to popular belief, have a music scene. However, it is not dominated by one genre of music like many other cities. Punk music was everywhere in Los Angeles during the 80s, Seattle’s grunge music took over the world in the 90s, Nashville seems to have always been a country town, and now Toronto is stealing indie rock from Montreal.

Not Thunder Bay.

No, the Thunder Bay Scene is a melting pot of different music. At any given show in the Scene, old punks will be rubbing arms with young metalheads, indie kids will be drinking with blues and funk fans, and the rap crowd will be hanging out with everyone. I believe that is because despite having 109,140 people, Thunder Bay still seems to have a small town, working-class attitude. That type of mentality, although praiseworthy in certain aspects, does not cultivate the arts, particularly the innovative and experimental ones necessary for the development of a co-ordinated and cutting edge music scene. Because of this, there are very few respectable venues for new bands to play at, so the various sub-cultures all have to exist in very close quarters. A concert on the weekend at one of the few music bars will showcase a punk rock group, a black metal act, a rap crew, and an acoustic hippie jam band to end the night.

I went to two shows recently and was able to marvel at the unique structure of the Scene in T-Bay. The first show, on a Thursday, had some good friends of mine performing. The opening band, the Fat Uglies, was a Jimmy Hendrix-flavoured blues trio. The second band, Party at the Moontower, was an upbeat rock-ska band. It was the third show for the Fat Uglies and the first of the year for Party at the Moontower. Talking to one of my friends beforehand, I could sense his nervousness.

“Eric,” I said as he swore at a knot in his patchcords, “stop being such a snapcase. Grab a beer and chill out.”

“Sorry dude-man-bro, I gotta keep solid for the show, I don’t want to screw up,” Eric replied, before he went back to work on his rig. As the bar slowly filled up to a respectable 40 people, many familiar faces from other concerts I had attended had showed up. There was Beard-o, lead guitarist of Rock Truck, a popular local metal band. He was named Beard-o because he had an impressive fire red beard that covered nearly half of his slight 5’5 frame. In the corner of the bar was the Blonde Mullet Man. A staple on the music scene, his bleached blonde mullet flows gracefully over his old school leather jacket and tight torn blue jeans. Right in front is Thunder Bay’s peculiar version of groupies; a group of girls (and one, either extremely lucky or unlucky, man) who, despite attending many concerts, leave immediately after the shows are done, leaving bands to wonder what happened to all their loudest fans.

Although both bands were nervous, both go on to put on amazing shows. The Fat Uglies win the crowd over with their amazing covers of Jimmy Hendrix, with Eric ripping the solo of Purple Haze behind his head. When Party at the Moontower took the stage, they immediately jumped into the air and kicked into great rock action. During the final medley of Party at the Moontower, I looked around. The entire crowd of dissimilar sub-cultures was moving to the music. They were enjoying the shameless communal bond that concert-goers experience with each other. No one laughs at you when you are singing along at a concert; they join in. After Party at the Moontower finishes its final crescendo, leaving only the sweet hum of feedback, they give shout outs to the various minor celebrities that the Scene has to boast and leave the stage. The audience shouts back its approval, even the groupies quickly say “You guys ROCK!!!” before scurrying out.

I was convinced by Eric later that night to go to the Webster Death CD release show the following day. I said “no” at first, but my rocker heart betrayed me and I consented to go the next day. Webster Death was celebrating ten years in the rap business and was releasing a new CD in commemoration. When we finally arrived, late because of the blasted Thunder Bay Transit bus passed us by the first time, the party was in full gear. A half-dozen rappers were taking turns free-styling on stage, spitting out rhymes with an eloquence that I wish I could steal; or at least borrow for times like these when my brain blindly clutches for an adequate phrase.

I see Webster Death mingling with the crowd. Beside him is Grimace, his faithful zombie butler. I’m not kidding. It is a hilarious gimmick, all due to Grimace’s ability to never break character. He remains always creepy and silent. Eric sees Beard-o and we walk over to chat it up. Barely being heard over the thundering beats, I ask him how a metal head like himself feels like at a rap concert. “F**king great, ain’t nothing better goin’ on” Beard-o replies, making me feel stupid for even asking.
Webster Death strides towards the stage suddenly, with Grimace in toe. Death grabs the mic and states that he loves everyone in the crowd, he is happy to still be making music after ten years, and that he is completely wasted and will try his hardest not to mess up. Webster Death immediately kicks into his set, becoming a larger than life figure, a giant spewing deadly lines of street poetry. During his entire energetic, terrific set, Grimace stares blankly into the crowd, dances melodically, and performs a amazing magic trick. This great performance is made more impressive when I learn later that Webster Death has played 2 sets already and planned to end the night singing for a metal band called Red Devil. So Webster Death shed his rapper fa├žade and unleashed his metal demon, playing another equally energetic and fantastic set. You would have never known he was stinking drunk.

The night ended great, as it usually does when spending it in the Scene. We end up talking alittle bit with the bands, then head home with our fellow fans for an after party. The party ends up reflecting the Thunder Bay Scene, rappers talking with rockers, metalheads talking to blues fans, indie guy making friends with the folk lovers. It’s hard for counter cultures to make it in places like Thunder Bay, so they need to all stick together in order to survive. But it is not really just about surviving, as I begin to hear some acoustic guitars and singing over the party drone, but thriving, trying to create a succession of good times, that culmination of entertaining events that is referred to as a scene.

Party at the Moontower plays their next show on the 29th at Jack’s

Webster Death plays his next show on Halloween at the Hunger