Smash Tour at the Hub Arts Collective
by Graeme Higginson
I was recently called out to a show I wouldn’t usually attend: an event called Smash Tour, a line up of four supposedly-distinct hardcore alternative groups called And Goliath, Send Word, Between Seas and Cleanse Kill. I arrived early and was left to wait outdoors, and with good reason; four groups with baggage and merchandise tables don’t leave much room for extra bodies in the lobby when all of theirs are assembled. Standing outside, I gleaned some pre-show atmospherics from the others that had gathered for the presentation. Some were knowingly excited while others were innocently uncertain. The demographic was or at least appeared to be diverse; who had this event targeted in a place such as Vernon?
The doors opened at 7:00pm, and, due to the cramped nature of the lobby, I entered the showcase immediately to discover something I had not planned: the absence of chairs. It made sense—this was a thrash show and there would be, at best, extended moshing—but, as a reviewer, I was left to stand; writing notes on an event is not done easily in a mosh pit. Though I realised I would be stuck on my feet for the next three hours, the plain, empty space, however, instilled an excitement in me for what potentials it had to offer. What kind of violence could happen here? How wild could the crowd get? As the bodies began to fill the showcase, my voyeuristic expectations grew.
At 7:33pm, the music began at an extreme volume with And Goliath. A friend of mine suggested that perhaps moshing has a greater use than the violence it inspires. The reason most frequent attendees of such events never entirely deafen may be due to the constant sprawl one can undertake in the mosh pit; by moving against the sound, one never truly “accepts” the sound waves. However, if this is the case, many of Smash Tour’s attendees may be deaf in good time. When the music began, the crowd, save for one or two, stood still. Why they did beats me—what was being performed was not something to take pleasure in seeing or hearing.
For the sum of its parts, And Goliath was the least of the acts that took stage on Friday night, mainly due to its frontman’s inept understanding of melody, even within such a style as this. An ability to scream cannot rule out the basic construct of adding a voice to music; a singer, whether screaming or not, must conform to a musical rhythm, not simply belt out over top of it and hope that it follows along. To the misfortune of And Goliath’s rather good musicians, every song they played seemed to crumble when the vocals took hold. With a great rhythm section and musicians that had a good understanding of tonal diversity, it was disheartening to see a band that was hindered, perhaps, by a lack of honest insight amongst its members. Why those who had come to the event chose to look and listen over thrashing senselessly was beyond me.
What came next, a band called Send Word, changed the mood and became the highlight of the night. Here was a group that knew its talents and knew just what it was doing. Of all the other acts, even the the headliners that were to follow, Send Word was the only group that displayed a respect and value for each of its members, whether intentional or not. Taking stage, the band baptised the audience with a mature decision to open with a rounded instrumental, clarifying the total value of their collective before breaking into their expected, albeit wonderful, hardcore numbers. What made the group’s songwriting distinct from the others was a sense of balance. All of Smash Tour’s other acts played out their songs like action movies with only a hint of exposition and no following character development; Send Word had exposition, action and character, highs and lows—the whole nine yards. Requiring only a few vocal touch-ups, Send Word managed to be the only band present that was a shot away from excellence.
The night continued on with two imports, Between Seas of Vancouver and Cleanse Kill of Edmonton, two bands one probably could not choose between for lack of distinctive differences. One was built as well as the other and both obtained a similar effect through interjectory vulgarity, vain showmanship, static quick tempos and humorously ineffective calls to mosh pit violence. While some of the guitar in Between Seas suggested Dave Navarro influence, the musicianship in both bands came across as little more than adequate. The highlight of both acts came with the synchronised movements of Cleanse Kill’s guitarists, who managed to move in perfect time with each other. It was entertaining in an amusing sort of way. Anyhow, by the time Cleanse Kill tied up the gig, the crowd had thinned. In a desperate attempt to go out with a bang, those who remained were ordered to stand against opposing walls then collide like two warring sides in a battle. From what I heard afterwards, it was a good tactic.
As the show ended at a cool 10:00pm, I hurried outside so as not to be caught in the tight lobby. Those who I encountered on the moist, post-rain street seemed pleased with their choice of Friday night entertainment, which I found notably positive. While my expectations for the event left about as damp as the bricks in the sidewalk or the sweaty party-hards who had actually moshed, perhaps those expectations had been misinformed. Vernon had turned out a demographic of listeners—some dancers, but listeners nonetheless. How they were happy with the total project on those terms I’m not exactly not sure, but the point is that they were while I was not. Perhaps it was a sensation—feeling that atmosphere of violence, or the assault of sound on their systems. As a friend I had encountered at the event said, “I didn’t need my hearing anyway.” Maybe such an event as this is like skydiving— testing the limits of your flesh in an exhilarating exploitation of your means. Perhaps I have it all wrong.
In any case, I walked away into the humid night hoping, if anything, that Send Word knew just how good they really were.