Alexisonfire screams its farewell to Vancouver fans

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At the Pacific Coliseum on December 17

When Alexisonfire announced its Canadian farewell tour in the summer, Vancouver was initially absent from the show schedule. B.C.-based fans of the St. Catharines screamo crew must’ve voiced their discontent full-force, as less than a month later it was revealed that the Canuck portion of the trip would now kick off at the Pacific Coliseum.

It had been two years since the troupe had played town, though, and almost three since the near-catastrophic LiveCity Yaletown performance during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games left dozens injured when a barrier broke in front of the stage. With the band officially calling it quits in the middle of 2011, and its members since moving on with other full-time projects (City and Colour, Gallows), would the crowd react to the unit’s delayed last hurrah as riotously as they had in the past? The short answer was a resolute yes, but judging by the unorthodox layout of the venue this particular night, it’s possible that tour bookers overshot the estimated attendance numbers.

A general admission arrangement ensured that personal space on the floor was next to nil, but despite the sardine-pack down below, only two small sections of seating were available elsewhere, and the nosebleeds were sectioned off entirely.

Alexisonfire’s long-time touring partners and split-LP associates Moneen’s opened the evening with a short set of chunky, decade-old emo-rock tunes that still have singer-guitarist Kenny Bridges bouncing around like he’s wearing flubber-soled shoes. Though Moneen got some love for set closer “The Passing of America,” the mob seemed otherwise determined to store its energy for the headliners.

Soap opera keyboard twinkles set up Alexisonfire’s entrance, but the somber tones ultimately clashed with the excited roar of the crowd once the quintet made their way to the stage, not to mention the band’s oppressively jud-judding build up to speedy punk tune “Young Cardinals”.

Frontman George Pettit’s larynx-wrecking cries dominated tracks like “Boiled Frogs” and early-era number “Pulmonary Archery”, but the band have always relied on guitarists Dallas Green and Wade MacNeil’s backups to spice up its game. The two six-stringers’ melodious vocal trade-offs on “Water Wings”, for instance, are just as crucial to the song as their metal-tinged hammer-ons, and serve as a breather to Pettit’s relentless approach.

Green’s gorgeous, full-body tenor on “No Transitory” likewise let the group’s frontman take a break from his mike duties to hype up the crowd and rip off his athletic gray t-shirt Incredible Hulk-style, hucking the stringy remnants deep into the throng. Bassist Chris Steele, who had already run laps around the stage from the get-go, also upped his cardio routine during the song with a lightning-quick barrel roll across the floor.  

Despite the time off, Alexisonfire seemed as on point as ever, and looked thrilled to be back, if only for a few more weeks. “This is not a funeral, people, this is wake,” Pettit said of the celebration. Cheers grew louder moments later when a wheelchair-bound fan was hoisted above some friends to show his appreciation; the band responded in kind with a ripping run-through of fretboard blazer "Born and Raised."

While the set mostly stuck to the band's formula of quicked-paced and screeched verses and anthemically sung choruses, Alexisonfire also dug through the annals to yank out gloomy slow-burner “Rough Hands,” underdog anthem “We Are the Sound” and the gospel organ-spiked “The Northern” before the night was through.

At one point, the menacing post-hardcore samba “Old Crows” had the bushy-bearded MacNeil growling “We are not the kids we used to be,”  but Alexisonfire seemed plenty pleased to have a chance to examine its evolution in Vancouver one last time.

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