Canadian hardcore music comes to Kelowna
Photo credit and copyrights to Shane Collins & Gonzo Okanagan
April 26, 2022 | 7:00pm
We pulled into the parking lot of Kelowna’s curling rink and doves of young punk rock enthusiasts were outside, smoking. On the stereo, I had the song, GATEKEEPER blasting as we pulled in. Heads turn. In my mind, I’m rolling onto the scene in some muscle car. In reality, I’m the old guy now, wearing a metal shirt that’s fitting a little tighter than it used to, rolling onto the scene in my SUV.
We park and walk into the arena. I see the show’s promoter, TERENCE SMITH. He recognizes me and welcomes us with a smile and a fist bump.
“I think I saw you at the last show over at DOC’S in 2019.”
He smiles as he places a band around my wrist. “I promoted that show, too.”
“Last time, the crowd went absolutely bananas and toppled a tower of speakers onto me.”
He nods his head and stamps my wrist. “Well, better luck this time. Have fun. I’ll see you in there.” He pats my shoulder and I head inside. We’re a bit late. Sadly, we missed STASIS and IN THE ARENA. Their drum set is being taken apart as we walk into the venue.
I see some familiar faces. It’s nice to be back to the live show experience. I see people smiling and shaking hands. More and more people flood into the small venue. I look around. It’s curling memorabilia everywhere. Awards. Trophies. Photographs. I see poutine on the menu. Molson Canadian is being poured at the bar. “This is about as Canadian as you get, right here,” I say to myself as we find a table, way in the back. Some friends come over to our table and we chat for a while. Then, the lights dim and COMEBACK KID takes the stage.
There is no shortage in the talent of the Canadian hardcore scene. ANDREW NEUFELD, lead singer of COMEBACK KID, comes out screaming and belting his lyrics into his microphone. Fans here run up to the stage and scream out the lyrics along with him. Andrew has a habit of holding his microphone out for people to sing into. I wonder if anyone has smashed their teeth doing so?
Beers arrive at our table and we toast to another night out. Live music truly is back. The beer is cold and it slides itself down into my belly as I eye up the merch table. “Excuse me,” I say to my friends as I step across the aisle and approach a lovely young woman. She is selling the wears of the CANCER BATS. There’s hoodies and t-shirts and hats and records and even cassette tapes. In blue felt pen, stenciled onto a torn piece of cardboard, the tape’s advert reads, ‘Cassette tapes for your shitty car. $5.’ I buy a shirt and as I stand there I ask the young woman if the band comes back to sell the merch. I explain I’m writing for Gonzo and would love to chat with one of them. She tells me she’ll ask one of the guys.
I return to my table. Everyone is antsy to get into the pit and as beers are finished, I get a tap on the shoulder from a tall man wearing glasses. He looks oddly familiar to me. “Are you the guy asking for an interview?” I look over to the merch table. The woman gives me a smile and a wink. “Yes, yes I am.” I recognize him from my set of photos from that show back in 2019. My friends step away from the table and head towards the stage as MIKE PETERS, drummer of headlining CANCER BATS, sits down and joins me.
I ask him how it feels to be back and playing music again.
“It was a unique experience, this whole pandemic. There’s been a lot of growth. It’s an incredible feeling to not only be back playing but to be coming back to our roots and playing small clubs like this.” He nods his head to the small venue, one of many picking up the demand for hosting live music. “We started out playing in small venues and it’s come full circle.” I explain to him how there seems to be a surge in smaller venues trying to get live acts to come in and play. “Our whole tour has been like this. Small, intimate settings.”
“What kind of changes have you seen in how crowds seem to respond to your music?”
“I’ve seen a lot of love and a lot of passion from our fans. Maybe the two years of a shutdown pent everyone up and now it’s time to let loose on the dancefloor.”
We talk for a while about life on the road and about the new band members added to the band. “What kind of change do the new members bring to your sound?”
He nods his head towards the stage, grinning. “You’ll see soon enough.”
“In the COVID era and with prices rising everywhere, does touring stress you out?”
“It can be daunting, for sure. Any of us get COVID and we’re shut down again. Just like that.” He snaps his fingers. “We’re just starting to break even with the investment of everything from the album, the tour itself to paying off our merchandise. I have a wife and two young kids at home. We’re walking a very fine line. It can take its toll.”
“Is it worth it?”
He smiles. “Absolutely.”
“So, what’s next for you?”
“Festival season is starting. We’ll head out to the island then we head out through the Kootenays and then to Alberta. We should have a little down time then we’ll be at it again.”
We shake hands and I thank him for his time. I make some notes then head into the crowd with my camera. I photographed the rest of COMEBACK KIDS performance. It’s a big applause and rightfully so.
The energy is high voltage and as the stage is reset, the CANCER BATS take the stage and I see what Mike was talking about. The new guitarist of FEVER 333, STEPHEN HARRISON, is along for the tour and his heart is definitely in it. This guy leaps so high into the air he nearly hits his head on the ceiling. The band lights up the crowd with their new banger, ‘RADIATE’ and it gets everyone jumping.
As usual, I have to hold on tight and get right into the thick of things so I can get my photos. I angle my camera both low and high and as I put my camera right in the face of frontman LIAM CORMIER. He screams right into the microphone, directly in front of me. I don’t know how else to capture the ferocity of someone singing like that. There is simply no other way to show just how explosive this music can be. When you come to a show like this, you get to strap in and hold on tight. It’s a heavy explosion of energy and sound. Like saddling up to a scud missile, the CANCER BATS obliterate the senses with the heavy, distorted bass and the pulverizing output of their power cord ensemble. At one point, the crowd forms a spinning wheel and everyone rotates around and around. Someone is knocked down and hands reach for them immediately. There is a collective effort to look after one another and the dancing goes on.
By the end of the evening, that familiar bass line comes through the speakers and they begin their cover of BEASTIE BOYS epic SABOTAGE. Everyone goes ape shit. It was reminiscent of when I was injured 3 years ago during the same song but this time, I stayed on my feet and instead of having speakers toppled over, I was able to jump into the crowd for a surf.
Canadian hardcore veterans COMEBACK KID and the CANCER BATS in a curling club, downtown Kelowna really was a blast from the past. It felt like old times and even though we all get older and it ain’t no secret we don’t bounce like we used to, well, the energy of being in a crowd fills the heart with all the juice you need to enjoy the experience. And that’s what it’s all about. Just like in life. It’s all about the experiences we’re fortunate enough to have. Live music is something special. No matter what kind of music you’re into. It’s damn good medicine and it’s best taken live.