Flames Central, Calgary | October 30, 2014
A secret memo went out to all participants to wear black; black shirts, black pants, and shoes. And to accessorize with black: black toques, black bandanas, and leather. The occasional suit, dropped from a nearby office tower cruised the edges of the scene with a brightly coloured shirt, but was soon lost in the black.
The Headstones, dressed in black as the memo requested, blasted through “Losing Control” as their energized opener with the numerous television screens surrounding the stage, including the rear projection screen, displaying
the H-and-snake logo, spinning and twisting to match the band’s own motion. This rapid-fire machine gun delivery would define the night. No chance for reflection, live in the moment and stoke the fires, yet the thought of losing control was not part of the game plan. The song’s title an antithesis of the band’s performance.
Hugh Dillon, singer and harpist, was contained intensity. With his edgy demeanor and focused glare, he swallowed the audience whole from the onset and held them until the last crashing chords of the night. Staring intently at one audience member with a look of pure disgust and shifting quickly to the next with a warm smile and a hand slap. Then, stepping back to center stage to call us “you mother fuckers” with a wry smile on his face–a term of endearment or a statement of scorn? Or both?
Tapping the inside of his arms to raise the veins, Dillon looks like a conjurer conducting a spell on his own body. Summoning a dragon to the fore to best, or die in the process. It’s all or nothing.Shifting into “When Something Stands For Nothing” without so much as a gasp for air, with the crowd following closely behind and eagerly singing along, the band’s tight rhythm section of Tim White on bass and Dale Harrison on drums built a strong and vibrant bottom end to Trent Carr‘s tearing guitar riffs. Headstones are a band of energy, engaged like a machine where each member relies on his band mates to be solid, but expressed like the sparks from a Tesla coil, straight out and sharp.
The summoning continued with “finalanalysis”, “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”, “dontfollowtheleader”, before slowing to “Settle” and letting everyone’s heart catch up. During this frantic thunder, Dillon walks the barrier table between the first and second levels of the floor with mic stand held over our heads while a calm roadie struggles to keep the cable free of hands and heads. Dillon, intent on watching the crowd, trusts the darkness to sustain him while panning our faces as a series of moods play over his face. It’s no wonder he’s been cast in so many tormented and psychically scarred roles for television. That face reflects the sturm and drang of a age and when it zeros in on you, it’s more than just intimidating, it’s a little frightening.Dillon engages his microphone and stand like a serpent, wrestling with them in a fight for supremacy, twisting and turning them into odd configurations,
then casting them down. When the mic hits the stage there isn’t the expected humming whomp, but a punishing crack, like the first millisecond of a thunderclap; an expression of defiance. And when one serpent is bested, he moves to White’s and Carr’s mics, taking control even as they’re singing, then abandons them, leaving the diligent roadie to bring order to the hardware chaos.The intensity of the performance is the grail for the Headstones. The songs, well-crafted gems walk the line between brutal punk noise and well-honed arena rock, crafted with enough nuance and dynamics to capture the thoughtful listener and enough power and rage for the old punters to thrash about with the exacting rhythms. Headstones songs are riff-heavy, but there is enough space for the often cynical lyrics to escape and for the melodies to dance above the black. The rest of the show included, “Three Angels”, “Absolutely”, “Smile and Wave”, and of course, “Fuck You”. The set concluded with “binthiswayforyears” which appropriately could be sub-titled “willbethiswayformore”. After a short departure, they return with “SOS”, the ABBA song adrenalized for the new millennia with a tongue-in-cheek delivery.
After the song, Dillon screams, “Fuck, I love being in this band!” He rides the storm, he rides the dragon, he rides the blackness. Yes, the colour is black, in the lyrics, the fashion, and even in the humour, since one is never sure where the sincerity ends and the send-up begins.
The band caps the night with “Cemetery”, then quickly leave the stage while the instruments drone on in the blackness and abruptly stop. This show’s done and dusted, buried in the parking lot behind the venue, but we all know it will rise to scream again.
Photos by Chad Maker.