With large-scale concerts and expansive festivals obliterated by the pandemic, Edmonton’s mobile musical efforts have been spearheaded by individuals in recent months.
John Armstrong’s Front Porch Block Party series and Scott Putnam’s Get Away Gigs have satisfied the thirst for blues, folk, jazz, rap and rock, among many other musical styles and dispositions. And on the punk side, Courtnei Albright of Fluid Entertainment has fanned the flickering flames, teaming with Phil Davies to put together The Backyard Headbangers Ball on Saturday.
It originated as many great ideas do, sitting around a campfire three weeks prior to the event when Gord Rhoades, lead guitarist for Above & Below, mentioned to Albright “I just miss some live music.”
Her response? “Let’s throw a show.”
“You can’t throw a show before snow.”
“I bet you I can.”
And she did just that, beaming as she recalled the conversation and basking in everything around her Saturday night.
“It was a huge obstacle making sure the show was COVID-safe, and we made sure every single regulation was met,” Albright said, bussing a limited number of participants to and from an undisclosed private location, setting up hand sanitizing stations, and enforcing social distancing to ensure the event’s only infectious element was the energy.
“I wanted to make sure that everyone could kinda feel normal for a second while maneuvering through everything 2020 has given us.”
The labour of love also benefitted from a killer lineup, including 15th Brigade, Apollo Spitfire, The Rubber Bully’s, Above & Below, Bogue Brigade, and Grandpa’s Medicine.
Reifer Madness was originally scheduled to perform but couldn’t attend, replaced by skate punk slingers Tooth&Nail, whose supporters brandish black T-shirts with bright yellow labels that proclaim “I’m a whore for Tooth&Nail.” That statement might cause condescending looks from the general public, but barely a batted eye among those predisposed to punk.
“I wanted bands that would get people excited for live music,” Albright said. “I’m really grateful for their help through this, and the bands were really excited to get back to their fans. It’s really nice to give back to a community that was craving it. There’s a huge amount of positive energy here, and that’s all I wanted.”
The forecast called for gusting winds that never blew, allowing some of Edmonton’s best to gather against a beautiful backdrop of yellow leaves and faithful fans. And the excitement was evident in the high-energy performances on display Saturday.
Apollo Spitfire battled through lead singer Troy Cormier’s broken guitar string and an AWOL drummer, with Rhoades hopping on the skins as a last-minute replacement.
“We have a new drummer with us, so you can call us Apollo Tipsfire,” Cormier quipped during a smoldering set that saw his hat hit the stage moments into nearly each song.
Rhoades took it in stride afterward, while guitarist Keith Phelan — who shredded through most of the performance with a lit cigarette — downplayed the fill-in role in pure punk rock fashion, noting, “We play thrash, I just need a one-two.”
The Backyard Headbangers Ball served as the first gig for Above & Below, where Rhoades was back in his familiar surroundings showcasing Terence Theissen and Justin Linklater’s dual vocals.
Bouncing off the monitors and hurling themselves around the improvised stage, the duo left listeners craving more of their metal-infused sound. For a sampling, check out the video for Left Behind.
The Rubber Bully’s also experienced some technical issues, with lead singer Darren Cikulak busting a couple guitar strings that halted momentum.
However, the hiccups were trivial in comparison to the halt caused by the epidemic. The band — featuring Cikulak with Morrissey Johnson on drums and Chad Hunt on bass — hadn’t played since appearances at Blakbar in February and Moonshiners in March, and had another show lined up at The Buckingham before the plans were squashed.
But according to Cikulak they “kept writing new songs and forgot the old ones” during the break, compiling a new album called Empirical Disaster that’s set for release this week, featuring a “heavier, more mathematic” sound.
They were followed up by hardcore behemoths Bogue Brigade, who had the crowd swirling after the sun went down, propelled by a set that included all-out bangers Destiny Calls and Ghandi.
Sounding tight after an extended layoff, thanks in part to Logan Ware’s sound mixing wizardry, the performance was as epic as anything we’ve seen lately. Fireworks shot off intermittently leading up to the frenzied closer, Dishonorable Judge, that had attendees howling their approval and shouting for more.
“How do you feel?” is a lazy question posed by lazy journalists, but felt appropriate when discussing each band’s return to the stage after COVID essentially killed the music. In each case the query brought about a wide smile and gratitude for having a place not only a place play, but gather together with familiar faces after a summer of semi-seclusion.
In fact, the last time the Journal interacted with most of the bands was at Yuletide Bonanza 3, held at the Starlite Room on Dec. 14, 2019. In hindsight, it’s somewhat eerie looking back at their responses to the question “What’s coming up in 2020?”
Bogue Brigade mentioned the Punk Rock Mountain Sideshow — featuring the last gig the band played before Saturday, in Fernie, B.C., in late February — while The Rubber Bully’s anticipated their second release. Ironically, Tooth&Nail dismissed this forlorn year all together, saying “Forget 2020, we’re playing Dec. 20 at Industry House.”
But on Saturday under an autumn sky each band expressed how grateful they were to Albright for bringing them back together to share one another’s company and strengthen an already tight-knit musical community.
“It’s a real blessing to be able to throw a show where the bands appreciated it and the attendees appreciated it. There’s so much positive energy and love for music here, and we got to celebrate that tonight,” said Albright, who noted the greatest reward of all was “just seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces.”
During a difficult year, huge kudos to The Backyard Headbangers Ball for offering a place to sing and reasons to smile.