On December 30th, ten thousand people gathered at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario. We came together to say goodbye to some of the dearest friends we have ever had: Alexisonfire. They were Southern Ontario’s golden boys, and they had given us ten years of unbridled energy, power, and above all, heart. It was going to be an emotional ride, and it was clear from the tension in the air, that nobody quite knew what to expect. Would the band embrace a now-or-never approach to the show, knowing that they would likely never take to the stage together again? Or would they be subdued by a sense of relief that it’s all about to be done with? Would they be able to keep up their energy for a two-hour long set? Exactly how many songs would it take George to lose his shirt? Yes, it was a night of complexities and anticipation.
Fittingly, the only opener for the night was Moneen, a band who have been alongside Alexisonfire since their inception in St. Catharines. I have never been a huge fan of Moneen – I respect what they do, they’ve just never hooked me – so I spent a good deal of their set in line for merch. If it makes Moneen feel better, they sold out of the poster I wanted literally as I approached the table and began to open my mouth. The few songs I did manage to catch were delivered well and with a strong helping of fun. They wanted Alexis to be sent off with a party, and it was clear in their enthusiasm. And for a moment, it worked. As they played ‘The Passing Of America,’ they had the whole stadium chanting along with them and throwing fists in the air, but as soon as vocalist Kenny Bridges gave a sincere thank you to Alexis for all of their support over the years, applause and screams gave way to the solemn remembrance of why we were all there.
When Alexis hit the stage, it was clear that they were going through some heightened emotions as well. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say that they were all a bunch of downers; it wasn’t so much a sadness, as a clear sense of humility and reflection. After a brief instrumental introduction, George tore his shirt off (so, less than one song then), grabbed the mic and said, “We’re Alexisonfire and this song is called ‘Young Cardinals.’” And with that, we were off.
I would love to say that they tore through a two hour set with flawless accuracy and brutal ferocity, ending their career with the best show they had ever played, but that just wouldn’t be true. In reality, it was something of a microcosm of their career. Every song showed signs of the journey they had taken – for better or for worse – and to be brutally honest about it, Dallas was the measuring stick. I love Dallas Green. I really do. But you could really tell which songs he liked playing and which he did not. When it came to the new material (Old Crows/Young Cardinals and some of Crisis) it was clear that Dallas was in the zone. He had a degree of sincerity in his voice and a swagger in his stage presence that just didn’t show up when he tackled the songs from the meat of their career (Watch Out! and most of Crisis). Songs like ‘Boiled Frogs’ and ‘No Transitory’ took clear back seats to ‘Born and Raised’ and ‘Crisis.’ Now, now, before you get too Internety on me, I’m not saying he was bad. He wasn’t. At all. But he was definitely inconsistent. He just didn’t look like he was enjoying himself on a lot of the older tracks.
As for the rhythm section, they were holding it together much better. Chris Steele spent the first half of the show in the usual form: dancing, rolling, pointing fiercely at the audience, and doing essentially anything but playing the bass. He only shifted gears when the concert reached the one hour mark and he realised that he was a human being, not a short circuiting dance-bot, and he slowed down. Interestingly, he had lost the beard and hair that I had been associating with him for years, and he looked significantly less like a drunken homeless man while doing (literal) action rolls across the stage. Jordan Hastings provided solid drumming and certainly looked to be having a good time.
Lead guitarist and third vocalist, Wade MacNeil, showed exactly why Gallows were so eager to bring him on board. His vocals have gotten much stronger over the years, and he is still one of the most punk things I have ever seen. His delivery on ‘Drunks, Lovers, Sinners and Saints’ was phenomenal and his guitar playing was always steady. In one particularly endearing moment, he took his mic and said, “I didn’t know how today was going to go. I didn’t know if it was going to be sad or a party. But what I really feel, now that it’s happening, is proud.” And it showed. He attacked every song with love and affection.
And then there was George. He’s all heart. He always has been. He made a similar speech to those that he made on every stop of the farewell tour, stating that “this is not a fucking funeral. This is a celebration.” But this time, even he seemed to be unable to keep that in mind. He had ups and downs, much like Dallas, but they came across as bursts of good old fashioned rocking and subdued moments of wishing that it didn’t have to end. He didn’t seem bored, he seemed sad. But he soldiered on, and did a damn fine job. Unfortunately, I think he was held back a bit by the venue – Alexis has never been a very good stadium band. George is most comfortable when he can prowl the front of a stage like a puma, giving crazy-eyed stares into the audience before growling at them. When you give him a monitor to stand on, he ends up largely stationary, and his energy levels noticeably drop. Or maybe he’s just getting old? Or maybe he was just sad? I don’t know for sure what it was that seemed a bit off about George that night, but I do know that he looked fucking magnificent sitting at the keyboard, hairy chest and protruding belly glistening in the lights, as he hammered out chords with one hand and gripped the mic with the other, on ‘The Northern.’ In moments like those, he was his old self, and it was damn nice to see.
On the whole, the concert was pretty damn good. Emotions were clearly running high, but the overall quality was still one of the best performances I have ever seen them put out. The set list was stupefyingly long for a band with such a high demand of energy, but they made it through all 24 songs without ever really slowing down. The lowest point of the night was ‘No Transitory,’ which was played inexplicably slow and seemed to lose its sense of timing in the verses. The highlight of the show was ‘.44 Caliber Love Letter,’ which saw the tightest chemistry of the night. Everyone was really feeling it, and the multiple vocal tracks came across brilliantly. They almost looked like their younger selves, while sounding like their newer ones. In fact, all of their songs with layered vocals were top notch.
In truth, the highest point of the night for me was the encore. After such a long set (and one that ended with Kenny of Moneen joining them to sing ‘Accidents,’), I really didn’t expect them to come back. But sure enough, they saddled back up for ‘Pulmonary Archery,’ ‘This Could be Anywhere in the World’ and ‘Happiness by the Kilowatt.’ As their final song drew to a close, each member disintegrated into fits of destruction. Wade taped his guitar to the front of his amp and pushed the stacks over (very nearly killing Chris, who was writhing on the ground, mere inches away from the point of impact), George snapped his mic stand and repeatedly smashed the instrument itself into the ground, and Dallas hurled his guitar into the back of the stage. Amidst the shattered remains of their instruments, all five members came together and embraced each other. There were tears, from both band mates and fans. They turned to the audience, gave a wave and a bow, and walked off stage for the last time.
Ultimately it was a good send off. It was complex, emotional, and far from perfect, but it was heartfelt. I hope that each of the boys goes on to have successful post-Alexis careers, and to be honest, I imagine that they will (after all, Wade and Dallas already were). But what I hope most of all, is that they know that we loved them as much as they loved us. They took what was essentially a non-existent scene in Canada and gave it life, and not only in the underground – they took post-hardcore music and brought it to the mainstream without turning into a pop punk band. They were the first band with screamed vocals that I ever heard played on a major radio station, and they performed on the country’s biggest national award show. That may not mean much to people outside of Canada, but I can assure you that it was. Watching them play at the Junos in 2007 was like seeing into an alternate reality. They provided an important page of Canadian music history, and we are sorry to see them go.
Heading For the Sun
.44 Caliber Love Letter
Drunks, Lovers, Sinners and Saints
Charlie Sheen vs Henry Rollins
Born and Raised
Water Wings (and Other Poolside Fashion Faux Pas)
You Burn First
Keep it on Wax
Dog’s Blood (with Oliver Mitchell from Johnny Truant)
Accidents (with Kenny Bridges from Moneen)
This Could Be Anywhere in the World
Happiness by the Kilowatt
Images received from www.thespec.com & vancouversun.com
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