Headstones – [Live]

Friday, 30 December 2011

The funny thing about any band's “glorious return to active duty” is that, after the initial shock and joy subsides, that's when the real work starts; that's when people start to look past the initial frenzy and excitement of a legendary band stepping back on stage and try to gauge if, after so many years, they can still pass muster.Such was exactly the position that the Headstones – easily one of the best, most deservedly successful Canadian bands of the Nineties – found themselves in when they announced a new string of performances on November 11, 2011.

The new set of dates was booked to follow up on the success of the first series the band done in February; marking the first time the band had been on stage together in eight years.Those first few shows in February were met with a startlingly positive response and that was actually what convinced the Headstones to start thinking about actually being a band again – but that it went well was no great surprise; the tour was short, sweet, solid and hit many of the Ontario markets which had always been the band's bread and butter, like St. Catharines and Toronto. On that first string the band could have done almost anything and fans would have been excited to see it; the Headstones had been up on blocks for a while, but interest hadn't waned so the shows could have been for nothing and could have been just for fun, but it was great because the band proved they still had the chops  and the presence to get the job done. It worked and it was wonderful but, on this second tour – with double the number of shows in the foreground, a new song available (their first in years) for free download and the band having already established that they were playing for keeps – the temptation for critics would be to put whatever the band did onstage on a slide beneath the strong lights and inspect it with their perfect ways until it burned their eyes. How could any band hold up under scrutiny so close?

How the Headstones did it was to pay the pressure no mind and just melt as many faces as they were able from the start of their set to its finish – and it turns out that would be no small number.

After a strong set submitted by Toronto-bred Riot Grrl reduxers Spitfist (they have the twin benefits of being a pretty solid punk band with a singer who sounds like Sick Of Sarah singer Abisha Uhl with a mean case of laryngitus), the Headstones took the stage in their standard fashion (In recent memory, the words, “What's goin' on fuckers?” have never sounded so good or generated so much excitement from such a large group of people before) with no pomp, no ceremony and no wasted moments, and instantly reminded the sold out crowd at Sound Academy what it means to live their philosophical trifecta of “Fuck You,” Fuck That” and “That's funny” with a vengeance. From minute one, anyone watching could see that none of the band's edges had dulled with time or lack of use; bassist Tim White stalked the stage while singer Hugh Dillon and drummer Dale Harrison cajoled the audience and tweaked their adrenaline levels and guitarist Trent Carr just threatened to burn the whole mess down – audience and all – through the band's staple cover of The Travelling Wilburys' “Tweeter And The Monkey Man” as well as “Pinned You Down” and the new song, “Binthiswayforyears.”

Those first three songs marked a great start for the Headstones' show, but it would only be the tip of the iceberg. Armed with a watertight set of songs which took equally from the band's first four albums (the only inclusion from The Oracle Of Hi-Fi – their fifth album – was a cordial run-through of “Take It” during the band's encore), the Headstones showed the Toronto crowd just how a rock n' roll show should go as takes of “Something Stands For Nothing,” “Cut Me Up” and “Losing Control” were unloaded on the audience like a volley of fireballs contrasted perfectly by ice-cold configurations of “Cut,” “Cubically Contained” and “Mystery To Me.” The mix of songs in the set was great and really showed just how hard the band has been rehearsing to make these shows awesome experiences for fans and those fans, for their part, were right there to eat up anything the band laid down; no matter what the band was up for, the crowd (which ranged from about twenty-four years old – as both the band and the crowd found out together when Hugh Dillon paused and asked a girl how old she was – to just shy of fifty) was happy to take. As the set continued, the band began breaking into the big hits including “Smile And Wave” and “Unsound” as well as the fan favorite “Fuck You” before actually letting Carr torch the whole thing with a molten take of “Oh My God” complete with a tongue-in-cheek run-through of the Rolling Stones' “Sympathy For The Devil” during an extended jam in the song's bridge.

After the Headstones' sixteen-song marathon, it would have been easy enough to understand if the band was exhausted from the exertion, but not one person in the crowd at Sound Academy made a move toward the door. They wanted more and it didn't take the Headstones long to get the hint. The band barreled back onstage for a five-song encore which included a couple of the oldest songs in the Headstones' songbook (“Heart Of Darkness,” which was touted by Dillon as one of the first Headstones songs, and “Three Angels”) before slamming the books on the show with a kamikaze-flavored tantrum run-through of “Cemetary.” In that end, no one in the room could have asked for more – it was the sort of show that everyone who had bought a ticket for the Headstones' show at Sound Academy had been hoping for but, actually seeing it come out that way – better than they expected – was more than anyone could have asked for.

Headstones – Sound Academy – Toronto, CA – 12/23/11


Further Reading:

Ground Control –
Just One Song – Headstones' “Binthiswayforyears” – [Column]

Ground Control – "Headstones Restart On Their Own Terms" – [Feature]

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