Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Day They Hit The Coast...Once Again...

The hype surrounding the early through mid 90's Halifax music scene is an interesting phenomenon. Most of the buzz was initiated and perpetuated by writers and fans in areas outside of Halifax. Sure it was probably hard for the bands and the local fans not to get caught reading their own press here and there, but it seems hard to believe that anyone locally decided it was a good idea to coin the scene as "the next Seattle". To be truthful, the bands that made up that core period of sweet feedback tinged lo-fi guitar pop actually made music that holds up much better than the major label muscle grunge coming from the Pacific Northwest.

So who better to remind us what a special time the musical early 90's were in Hali than the mighty Thrush Hermit. They were always the hard rock Halipop band, even before they evolved into a full on big chord crunch machine. The vocals were occasionally twee and the hooks were 100% pop, but there was always an under current of Kiss and AC/DC dying to get to the front of the song. Regardless of which sound era of Hermit one prefers, few die hard fans objected when the boys announced some time ago they were getting back together for a reunion tour some ten plus years after their amicable split and almost eighteen years after they formed. Last week the tour kicked off, and this past weekend the lads celebrated two sold out nights at the Paragon in their hometown. This die hard was on hand for the Friday show and was especially giddy...but without the drugs.

Perhaps the Saturday night show was different, but on Friday the 30 something scenesters seemed outnumbered by the 20 something Plaskett fans who were smart enough to do their Hermit homework and see what the hype was truly all about. The evening kicked started with a blazing version of "Radio Blaster" from 1994's Smart Bomb. This signaled to old schoolers that the whole catalogue would receive full recognition, and man did it ever. The first two ep's, my personal favourites as indications of the purest Hermit sound to these ears, were covered almost in full. Amazing to hear songs that were recorded and played previously with such loose abandon now done with a tightness and finesse the band was developing into '99, but without over polishing the very vibe that made the songs so lovable back in the day.

Time has served songs like "Hated It", "French Inhale", "Patriot" and "Pink Is The Colour" very well. The band seemed to even embrace that period much more openly than they did in their final years when perhaps overplay was settling in or their instrumental prowess was taking front seat. Regardless of what songs the guys were blasting through, they genuinely seemed to be having a lot of fun. The hometown crowd seemed to inspire their good spirit and remind us that these guys started young and still really are not very old. It was cool to see them so youthful, but with a poise almost twenty years of making music will give you.

Even with a strong representation of material from up to and including 1997's Sweet Homewrecker, the show stealing tracks were largely from 1999's Clayton Park, with "From The Back of The Film", "Violent Dreams" and "The Day We Hit The Coast" ranking perhaps the highest. Always described as the band's pinnacle, the album also speaks to the material the younger more prominent demographic at the show would likely identify with most. When the riffage from these songs hit the air, the youngsters went effing bananas. These guys became really focused on becoming better players and tightening their sound on CP, but with some additional years and maturity, they sounded like a well oiled machine on Friday. I lost track on my mental tally, but I'm almost certain they played every song from Clayton Park. Those songs, with the extended instrumental jams and twin guitar leads, are still clearly their faves to play live. Me, I still prefer their brilliant three minute tin can pop songs.

The odd album out, much like was the case, at least commercially, back in the day was Sweet Homewrecker. They were fair to its material, especially in a 2+ hour set including two encores, but the reality is it was never a fan fave for some reason. Personally, I prefer it to Clayton Park and was happy to see them capture about six of its fourteen songs, most notably of course "North Dakota" which continues to kick as much ass as it did ten years ago. Rob Benvie even alluded to the album's poor sales. Perhaps if Elektra had put some energy behind Thrush Hermit rather than Third Eye Blind they wouldn't have seen their artist roster dwindle to all but non-existent. I suppose "Semi Charmed Life" was a better bet to make them more cash than "On The Sneak", but it also marked the period in the 90's when majors stopped trusting their a & r staff to pluck cool young bands with rock solid songs, in favour of quick hits and and short term vision.

As consolation, I like to think Third Eye Blind couldn't sell out two nights straight at the Paragon because our arty little indie rock town prefers their rock occasionally pitchy, but almost always endearing, genuine and heartfelt. That's why Thrush Hermit are one of the best Canadian bands of the last twenty years.

Well that, and the great big neon "Rock & Roll" sign.