by Bryce McNeil
When the roof is low, the mood is rowdy, the people are sweating and you’re playing in a “tavern” not a “bar”, I think rock and roll. Such was the atmosphere surrounding the much-awaited House of Rock exhibition at the Seahorse in Halifax on February 14.
With a show that was as much a reflection of pensive rawk anticipation as it was of the great talent that once graced 129 George Street, the House of Rock set to represent itself in full force from stem-to-stern. Surely in other locales, the ECMA and record label bigwigs swung gracefully from show-to-show never once mussing up their hair and/or outfits. But this would not be a “musical soiree.” What it would be was an onslaught of Capers (remind me of why it ain’t called “New Sydney”?), rambunctious dancing and, of course, the free flow of various lagers.
The mission began with the Prince Edward Island contingent, led off by Windom Earle. When last this author had spotted WE, the enigmatic Stephan MacLeod was sporting a cast and rocking the Steelworker’s Hall in Sydney with the help of no less than eight other people at Gobblefest 9 in October. Alas, an early start and diminished roster assistance assured that this would not be repeated. Nonetheless, the early crowd was still moved by WE’s self-described “big beat pop art” stylings. This weekend, WE were also wielding the finest in caricature wear: a shirt bearing Mr. MacLeod himself “throwing down” with cast in full effect. For those that don’t take your music too seriously, this act is definitely your cup of tea.
The PEI doubleheader capped off with sometimes pop, sometimes psychedelic Eyes For Telescopes. Charge this writer with being guilty of being previously uninitiated to this act live but through word-of-mouth and tracks heard here-and-there, my expectations were high. Those expectations were met and then some. Besides its lead singer winning my heart, the group kept the uptempo pace set by their peers. Yet this was accomplished not at the sacrifice of a very laid-back vibe, it is that gift of being able to produce music that can either relax or move you. Indeed the audience was not yet ready to thrash but needed to keep their feet moving and this band followed through on that goal – playing a tight and rhythmic pop music that’s pleasing to both discerning and mainstream palates.
The representation shifted much closer to home as Halifax-residing / HaliBreton originating foursome The Burdocks hit the stage. I have to admit that there was a somewhat odd feeling of attending a show where drummer Sean MacGillvary is only asked to play once. I’d thought that laws had been formulated to prevent that but apparently I was wrong. As word has it, the lineup went through some minor gear adjustments the week previous and perhaps this was for the positive as they came out loud and boisterous. Mixing some old and new and capping off with the popular “Curse of the MacDonald Bridge”, the sloppy edge of the group came across less sloppy, more edge. Though they’d modestly be inclined to disagree, I’m sure.
The Burdocks had shifted the mood from upbeat to upbeat & loud and at this point, the rock and roll tension became noticeable. Bodies began moving around faster and my staunch sobriety became more and more an anomaly. Perhaps in an attempt to remind people of civility, the storytelling/songwriting of Colleen Power was brought in to entertain us. Catchy melodies and talent aside, Power’s greatest gift may well be her stage presence. A beautiful Newfoundlander with a sense of humour is hard to dislike, after all. She managed to keep above the noise with full band in tow and gregariously engaged the crowd between tunes. See here, kids, rock can be friendly!
With each set, the crowd swelled more and it hit its peak ‘round midnight (or 12:30, who’s really looking at the clock when enjoying great music and the company of great friends?). And when CBLocals Slowcoaster hit the stage, the aforementioned civility began to crack. The revamped lineup – minus (temporarily) Devon Strang and plus Darren Gallup and Port Citizen’s John Holmes – hit a renaissance point this weekend. They would enliven the atmosphere of ECMA’s 72 Hour Jam 24+ hours later, and about 24 hours after that kick start a to-that-point-placid afterparty at the Delta Halifax.
But on this night, not only was the band in fine form (sticking mostly to newer tunes, especially from the newly minted “Accidents and Excuses”) but the audience participation was also at a fever pitch. The bodies were moving, the fans were screaming and before anyone knew what had hit them, bodies began surfing about. Some landed more gracefully than others as my now beer-soaked Rock Ranger shirt would attest. What was especially noticeable about SloCo this weekend was their lack of relent: the downtime between songs practically non-existent and the pace never lagging.
One would think that the crowd might want recovery time after such an event but the activities went from surfing to thrashing about as St. John’s Lizband celebrated 10 years of great melodic rock. The quartet warmed up the night previous before a small but appreciative crowd in Sydney with an extremely comprehensive and smooth set. The band demonstrates a strong sense of knowing which tunes suit the throng they play to: no set is automatic, they cater to the crowd without the slightest bit of pandering. They were ready and able to keep this crowd on its feet. Frontwoman Liz Pickard also made no secret of her politics, aiming the 1995 released “Motherfucker” squarely at George Dubya. Ironic given that the floor did resemble a warfield somewhat, but a good-natured one.
More spirited thrashing was yet to come but people needed some time to stop the light moshing while remaining upright and mobile. Enter Mark Bragg, the smooth alt-country-cabaret-rocker that Tom Waits would approve of and Paul Westerberg would share a beer with anyday i.e. a Seahorse Tavern kinda-guy. I have to admit that I was skeptical that the seemingly now seek-and-destroy audience would stick around for a mix of mature songwriting and swaggering showmanship. But lo and behold, they did and the Black Wedding Band showed the fine form that would be duplicated on national television that Sunday night.
With everyone seemingly unaware that the time was past the second hour, a trail of great music (and a trail of empties) behind us, Sydney’s rock heavyweights Rock Ranger made sure that the show would close furiously. I dare say that the audience was reduced not by displeasure with the rollicking set – which focused primarily on material from their soon-to-be released album recorded with Ian Blurton – but rather by the survival of the fittest element that developed from the moment Jay Smith struck his first chord. Much bruising and bumping resulted and the crowd was too unstable to allow for any surfing. Not that bodies didn’t fall abruptly nonetheless. The trio was allowed no time for extras or encores; disheartening for the virgins to Rock Ranger live I met who craved a dose of “Old Faithful.” So Jay, Mike and Dan did what they do best: kick out the riffs, blast through the solos and give it 100% all the way. It is a thing of beauty when a form of entertainment meets its proper medium and here in a crowded watering hole at an ungodly hour, Rock Ranger was in its element.
With the yelling and hollering and pushing and dancing and revelry that had been seen, there was certainly much cause for reflection and celebration. Alas, Contrived was already in the middle of a set downtown, leaving no time to stop. But such was appropriate for the show we had witnessed, which had been fast-paced, non-stop and full of adrenaline. Old friends met, some new friends made, some artists melodic, some artists jangling, some stayed cognizant, while others remembered not a thing the next day…..yeah, a typical rock show. But maybe this time with the volume a little louder.