November 11 at the Commodore Ballroom
Canadian punk-flavoured rock icons Headstones brought the nostalgia of the ‘90s alternative scene back to Vancouver fans on Saturday, playing the second of two sold-out sweaty shows at the Commodore.
If you arrived early enough, you might have caught Snake and the Chain, featuring the one and only Bif Naked. It was nice to see Naked on stage rocking out again, albeit with a bit more electro-punk sound this time around. The band sounded great, and it was a good lead in to what was to come next.
The stage decoration for the headliners was of the minimalist variety; the backdrop consisted of a giant black banner emblazoned with HEADSTONES in red. The letters would change colour every time there was a healthy dousing of strobe lights, and that was about it. The Headstones' performance spoke for itself, with the band taking the stage with “For Your Consideration”, a blistering two-minute punk number from the group's latest release, Little Army. The tone was set when singer Hugh Dillon and co. followed their opener up with the classic punk rocker “Mystery to Me”, performers and audience members feeding off of each other’s energy.
Headstones' founders Dillon, guitarist Trent Carr, and bassist Tim White playing with the ferocity they had in their heyday in the mid-‘90s. Rounded out by keyboardist Steve Carr, guitarist Rickferd van Dyk, and drummer Jesse Labovitz the three veterans produced a sound was bright, explosive, and full of chemistry.
Dillon was expectedly animated, chewing his gum frantically, spitting, taking every chance to throw in copious amounts of expletives, and jumping into the audience multiple times while singing his heart out. Throughout the night he would announce things like “This is my favorite part of the whole fuckin’ country, right here!”, or “Van City I smell your weed!”, as well as commenting on the fact that Main and Hastings hasn’t changed for decades. At another point he asked “Mama, why do I stare at my screen all day?” while pretending to text on an invisible phone, continuing on with “Mama, why can’t I engage?”
In the middle of “Oh My God!”, Dillon made it all the way out to the side of the Commodore, to stand on the north bar as the band proceeding to launch into the Tragically Hip's “New Orleans is Sinking”. It was a touching tribute to one of Canada’s recently fallen heroes, and, with Dillon’s long-time relationship with late singer Gord Downie and the Headstones sharing the same hometown as the Hip, it was heartfelt and honest. That’s also a good descriptor of this show, albeit jacked up with a little piss and vinegar.
Fans pumped their fists and sang along to every word, including the new songs which sat nicely next to the classics. And classics the Headstones played, including “Something for Nothing”, “Smile and Wave”, “Unsound”, “Cubically Contained”, “Cemetery”, and the infamous Traveling Wilburys cover “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”. A ripping version of “Fuck You” amped up the energy quite considerably about three quarters of the way through the set. With middle fingers extended and devil horns hoisted high, the band’s fans screamed out the chorus at a deafening level.
Closer to the end of the performance, Dillon snatched multiple cameras and cell phones from the first row, taking pictures of the audience, pretending to throw the devices, and then laughing while handing them back to their owners. At other times, he stared intensely out at the crowd. Seriously, they just don’t make frontmen like this anymore.
The encore included a cover of “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers, played with punk attitude and speed and adding some silliness to the tone of the evening. By the end of the show sweat was dripping off the faces of the Headstones as they thanked the crowd. The crowd thanked them right back for an epic dose of ’90s Canadian rock nostalgia.