Headstones @ Maxwell’s, Waterloo ON, July 10th 2015

with A Rebel Few
at Maxwell’s, Waterloo, Ontario, July 10th, 2015

The caliber and quality of Headstones as a live band has never been in dispute in this critic’s mind, but that doesn’t mean the band doesn’t shine just a little brighter in some circumstances over others. To put it in simple terms, there’s no denying that Headstones have done some great shows in Toronto – the big smoke has always done right by the band – but they always do better in smaller, secondary markets; the true classic shows that fans remember and will regale the unfamiliar with happen in places like St. Catharines or Kingston or Oshawa. In smaller cities like those, something just compells the band to work a little harder and make sure they either leave memories or a mark behind.

When the band descended upon Maxwell’s in Waterloo on July 10, 2015, it was easy to see that Headstones were intent on keeping their tradition of setting smaller rooms on fire alive opened with “Binthiswayforyears” a little tighter and angrier than usual. Right off, drummer Dale Harrison’s kit and Tim White’s bass seemed to punch just a little harder than usual and really shake the speakers in the house sound system, but rather than causing the crowd to recoil, both fans and the band seemed to feed off of the energy surplus and become more incensed and excited.

“Binthiswayforyears” gave way easily to “Mystery To Me” but it was by “When Something Stands For Nothing” – the third song in their set – that the band had really locked into gear. By then, Hugh Dillon was bounding from stage left to stage right like a captured animal – trying to find a way to escape – and before “Something” let out, he’d already left the stage with mic in hand and was standing on top of a table in front of the bar. That night, Dillon showed the crowd why “When Something Stands For Nothing” has remained a fixture in Headstones’ sets for over a decade; it remains a perfect rock-punk anthem and, driven by Harrison and once again by Trent Carr’s Olympic white Fender Stratocaster (which the guitarist has not had with him on stage since the band reconvened in 2011), a work of frenetic brilliance. In that moment at Maxwell’s and at that pace, Headstones hit a stride not reached since 2002; it was raw, noxious, infectious and unstoppable.

Knowing they already had a proverbial tiger by the tail, Headstones ran with the energy levels they were generating and didn’t slow down from that point in the set. Leeping from selections off of Love + Fury (including “Far Away From Here” and “Longwaytoneverland”) to Picture Of Health (“Tweeter and The Monkey Man,” “Losing Control” and an extended version of “Oh My God” seasoned with snippets of “New Orleans Is Sinking,” “Low Rider” and “Straight Outta Compton”) and featuring healthy helpings from Nickels For Your Nightmares and Smile And Wave (“Blonde And Blue,” “Fuck You,” “Cubically Contained” and a rendition of “Smile And Wave” cut with “Eve Of Destruction” were all particular highlights) along the way, the band ran like men possessed and the crowd had no choice other than to just try and absorb the development of the set, which they did ecstatically.

Toward the end of the set, the band broke stride for a minute to preview a new song (“One By One”), which Dillon told the crowd would be released on a new 7” single at Christmas 2015, but picked their pace back up for “Smile And Wave” before closing with “Cemetary.” A quick encore featuring the “other side” of the band’s forthcoming 7” (called “Fuck It”) along with a run-through of “Pinned You Down” and a cover of Rancid’s “Journey To The End Of The East Bay” came through like a whirlwind before the band finally called it a night and left the crowd to stagger out of the venue.

As they filtered slowly out of the venue, the one word which accurately characterized the crowd was “stunned.” What they’d just seen wasn’t a typical Headstones set at all – there was no “Unsound,” no “Pretty Little Death Song,” no “It’s All Over,” no “Hearts Love And Honour,” no “Hindsight” – but no one cared; no one was claiming to be phased or feeling shorted by those absences. They’d just seen something special complete with some old, forgotten gems and some great, brand new music, and a rare experience like that was worth more than any instantly gratifying, greatest hits show on the books. At Maxwell’s, Headstones proved that the small-town shows still rule.

Bill Adams is Editor-in-Chief of Ground Control Mag.