Some time ago, I posted a list of the best and worst WP shows ever. But the list is from the WP’s earliest days, and there have been a lot of show stories since then. Here are a few of them.
Montreal, March 2006
We were booked to play a Concordia art party with a bunch of other bands. The show was in a space that used to be a swimming pool, which should have been my first warning. In an empty pool, the acoustics are challenging. And the show was put on by a bunch of students, who were not equipped to meet these challenges.
The set times were dramatically delayed and it was really late by the time we went on. The only thing there was to drink was some apricot-flavoured beer that a local microbrewery had donated. It was gross, but we kept drinking and drinking it to dull the boredom.
When we went on, we quickly realized that the sound guy didn’t have the faintest idea what he was doing. Each time I’d go over to him, the look in his eyes was pure fear. And I went over to him often, because I couldn’t hear anything, except at one point when a keyboard line of Kara’s floated through the sonic swamp and I realized I was singing in completely the wrong key. As a result, this show was literally a nightmare for me, as I have a recurring bad dream about performing onstage and being unable to hear anything.
Perhaps the worst part was that this was one of the best-attended shows we’ve ever played, with an audience of at least 600 art students. They were all wasted, though, and they didn’t seem to care about how horrible we sounded. Dandi Wind played after us and I went down into the crowd. The sound was pure mud, but the kids were dancing and drinking without a care.
Now, could I have done a better job of organizing something like this as a young student? Hell, no. So I don’t hold it against them. But I do have a traumatic flashback every time I see that apricot beer.
Baltimore, January 2009
As we were wrapping up our American tour, the weather in the Baltimore area was unseasonably cold. Our gig was at an art gallery on a cool little strip of town. The cold scared off a lot of people, including one of the other bands, who stormed out because they were afraid of their cymbals being damaged by freezing, which we found hilarious. People kept saying things to us like “y’all are from Canada, y’all are used to this, right?” The fact that our cold temperatures mean that we insulate buildings so that they stay warm inside in winter was lost on them.
Stacey and I got into a fight onstage during the soundcheck. She didn’t want to do the full costume change, mainly because it would have meant stripping down to our underwear in the inescapable cold. We ended up compromising by doing half the show in our winter coats then taking them off halfway. The entire audience (which was basically just the other bands) all kept their coats, hats and mitts on throughout.
After the show, one of the other bands offered to let us crash at their place and we were like “No thanks, we’ll just get a hotel.” (Some consider it bougie that we would rather spend $60 on a cheap motel than sleep on someone’s gross floor. This tour may have marked the point where I stopped caring what such people think.)
The guy was like “Um, you’ll never get a hotel.” It turned out that the newly elected President Obama was coming to town the next day on his triumphant whistle-stop tour. We were so deep into the tour bubble that we’d forgotten the historical moment we were in. So we crashed on some young students’ couch while one of the roommates played guitar and caterwauled well into the early hours of the morning.
The next day we went to check out Obama’s speech. We realized quickly we would never get into the main area where he was actually speaking, so we watched it on a live video feed from the harbour. The experience of the Obama presidency has made this moment a little bittersweet, but whenever people slag him off I often think of watching that speech and the sixty-something black man standing beside me with tears in his eyes.
Montreal, June 2009
We invited Toronto’s Hank down to Montreal to play a show with us. It was a Thursday night, which is usually a pretty safe bet. What I didn’t account for was that Wednesday was Quebec’s national holiday, so a lot of people had been partying for two days straight and were in no mood or condition to go out again. It was also the day Michael Jackson died, so there was a weird pall over the evening.
We played for an audience of about 10 people—including the five members of Hank and two weird old people who’d wandered in off the street. I really respect the Hank folks, as musicians and as human beings, and I was so ashamed that I’d brought them all the way from Toronto for such a miserable turnout. I had guaranteed them their gas money to get back home, which I had to pay out with the change float from the door.
I have to say that as well as putting on an awesome show in spite of it all, they were also a great audience, even though I had trouble summoning the WP’s traditional “stadium attitude” under the circumstances. 2009 was the 10th anniversary of the WP and it was an inauspicious way to celebrate it. I consider this show possibly the single lowest point of the WP’s career; on the plus side, there was nowhere to go but up. And we did have a pretty fun Michael Jackson dance party after the show.
Halifax, October 2005
I played at the Halifax Pop Explosion with Japanther, Special Noise and another local band whose name escapes me. By that point I was usually performing with the all-girl band version of the WP, but money and scheduling factors made it easier for me to go down and do this show solo. So the show was the road-tested, old-school costumed karaoke version of the WP, perfected over the previous few years’ touring.
Early in the set, my minidisk player broke (oh, my experiences with short-lived digital technologies!). I had a CD backup, but it was in the dressing room, so a guy from the audience gamely entertained everyone with an a capella song while I rushed back and grabbed the CD.
This was one of the only (OK, if I’m honest, the only) WP show whose audience was full of screaming girls, giving me an old-fashioned rock star ego boost. I later found out that Halifax’s student population has a disproportionate ratio of women to men, making their excitement perhaps more explicable.
I saw some old friends and made some new ones, making this night a sentimental favourite. It was also notable for being the last time I ever did the full-body spastic shake-dance during “The Trans-Atlantic Breeze”; I almost passed out and realized I was getting too old for it.
New Orleans, January 2009
Montreal to New Orleans is four days of hard driving. When we stepped out of the car, the warm air was an indescribable balm to our Canadian winter-hardened hearts.
We were staying at Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s house and they invited us to go to some art gallery openings before the show. It turns out they had just inherited a vintage limousine, which they used to drive us around. People look at you differently when you roll up to a vernissage in a limo.
As we went around to the various art shows, we started to feel intoxicated both literally and figuratively. This was my first visit post-Katrina, and the spirit of the city had changed, but was still alive with energy. As for the literal part, the New Orleans cocktail is a tall pour. Having a few drinks takes on new meaning when the drink contains more than twice what you’re normally used to.
By the time we showed up at the gig, we realized two things: one, Quintron had successfully positioned it as the afterparty to all the vernissages, and two, we were totally hammered.
The show was pretty sloppy, but so was the audience, so we were all on the same page. Also on the bill were MC Trachiotomy, 9th Ward bluesman Guitar Lightnin’ Lee, and The Bastard Sons of Marvin Hirsch, a punk band consisting of two brothers who at the time were aged 12 and 13. All in all it was an amazing and unforgettable night (with an equally memorable hangover the next day).
Chapel Hill, January 2009
A few days later, we were pretty burnt out. I’d convinced the promoter to add us to a bill; he seemed hesitant, saying that we might not fit with the other acts. I assured him that we were an equally good fit with anyone because we’re so unique, or something. When we got there, though, I realized that the other bands were folkies who were mostly still in high school.
Stacey and I got into a huge fight onstage during the soundcheck (again)—this time, I forget why. Before we played, my mind was consumed with thoughts along the lines of “Why am I doing this with my life?”
Then we played the show, and the young audience got really into it, even joining our choreographed dance at one point. Afterwards, Stacey overheard one of the kids saying “That was the best 30 minutes of my life!” And there was the answer to my question.
Toronto, September 2011
This was the release show for History of Pain. I was feeling a bit apprehensive about the show because it was almost cancelled when one of the other bands bailed out. Since I had declined to attend the wedding of one of my best friends because I’d been invited after booking the show, I insisted that it go on.
I only have a few specific memories from the night: a bunch of old friends showed up, and people actually slow-danced during one of our ballads, which has always been one of my dreams. What I do remember is coming off the stage and realizing I had forgotten that playing a show could feel that good.
Many years ago I had a job as a driver for an awards show, and I picked up the band members of a certain Canadian rock icon who shall remain nameless. As we drove, one of the guys was talking about the club show they’d played a few nights before. “It felt like we were playing music,” he said. “Most of the time it doesn’t feel like we’re playing music.” I was horrified and swore I would never be that jaded. But as much as I hate to admit it, now I kind of know what he meant. Sometimes, like on this night, the stars align—the sound, the crowd, the atmosphere of the venue, and the interplay among the band—and it really feels like you’re playing music.
Montreal, August 2014
We were booked to play the Passovah fest at 9:00. Normally such an early set time is a recipe for poor attendance, but the room was full and very supportive. Again, I don’t remember anything in particular about this show except a really good feeling—and the fact that the evening was very well curated, with a widely diverse but high-quality lineup including Maica Mia, Country and Charlotte Cornfield.
We played a short set and the audience called for an encore. I demurred, explaining that we’d been urged to play short sets to keep the evening running on schedule. Afterwards, a friend confronted me: “Your first responsibility is to the audience!” Duly noted for next time.