If home is where the heart is, then for Winnipeg’s Comeback Kid, there’s a lot of love for hardcore as well. Still on the road promoting 2014’s Die Knowing, self-tagged “no-coast” hardcore veterans Comeback Kid visited Winnipeg’s Park Theatre on Thursday, September 24, for their first hometown show in more than a year. With a sold-out venue and the stage wings packed with friends, it was a chance for the band to play to a rabid yet familiar crowd, one that knows the demo (probably by heart), knows the latest album, knows all the best songs, and knows what is unlikely to ever be played again. It makes for an explosive night because the hometown crowd has the highest expectations, and is also thrilled to have its expectations met.
Tonight’s been in the making since the early 2000s. Remaining members Andrew Neufeld, who started on guitar, and lead guitarist Jeremy Heibert slugged it out in some prominent Winnipeg hardcore outfits, including the illustrious Figure Four, before starting Comeback Kid as a side project. Despite the part-time focus and the limited venues for hardcore gigs back then, Comeback Kid garnered enough attention for a Victory record deal for their second album, 2005’s Wake the Dead. I know this because Winnipeg used to be my hometown, too, and I remember the lead up to Wake the Dead’s release.
It seemed like Comeback Kid were on a mission, and they wanted the whole city, even the decrepit suburbs, to know it. Posters were everywhere, plastered on every lamppost and blank wall space, and there was a feeling that these hardcore kids had built something special and were accelerating well beyond the city’s limits. After I left town it was easy to track the band’s success, as even if they’re not prolific, they’re consistent. I finally had the chance to see them in 2010 when they opened for Bane in my adopted home of Thunder Bay. Comeback Kid had already changed their lineup a few times by then, but their ease and control on stage was impressive.
Vets may be an odd term for a band still in their second decade, but this was proved through the large shadow Comeback Kid cast over the three openers and co-headliners Stray From the Path. Each of the opening bands mentioned Comeback Kid as an influence, and in the case of new Jersey’s pop-punkers Major League, the reason to connect with hardcore in the first place. While each band offered the crowd a different kind of aggression, there was little doubt as to who was most anticipated, and these short sets passed by quickly enough.
Comeback Kid’s material is bomb-proof. All songs feature the best aspects of hardcore: inescapable momentum, all positive-drive chugging guitars and anti-hate lyrics, but also city-levelling breakdowns and mammoth choruses shouted by gravel-trashed throats en masse. It’s a huge, yet simply infectious sound, and it easily fills the Theatre’s space, along with a few hundred people pushing to the front. This is hardcore torqued for maximum emotional effect. It’s less continuous pounding and more racing with berzerking momentum – songs hit hard, and you get carried along. If you’re close to the throng up front, you get pushed, pulled, shoved, and tossed.
While there’s been a steady pit all night and stage diving aplenty, Comeback Kid riles everyone to the point of frenzy. No one gives a fuck about the scene down South or how big the band is in Japan; the only thing that matters is the song happening right now. Each selection might as well be the biggest hit single ever: the crowd is getting what it wants by singing and shouting along, by yelling snatches of lyrics into a proffered mic, and by just hanging off the band’s shoulders.
Comeback Kid barely check themselves between songs, but about halfway through the set, Neufeld, who assumed lead singing duties in 2006, pauses and passes the mic off to a buddy, who’s waiting, anxiously, on the side. Buddy promptly turns to his girl and gets down on one knee to propose to her before everyone. There’s actual delight from the crowd as she promises and accepts his ring, and we’re even happier when it’s time to get back to moshing.
“Wake the Dead” is one of their oldest songs but also one of their most anthemic (which is saying something), and even though they’ve been using it as a finale for years, it still sends chills and gives license. “We aren’t fuckin around with an encore. This is your last chance,” Neufeld challenges, and the crowd accepts. The stage is catapulting people into the pit even as Neufeld croons an a capella intro, right before the guitars launch into the song proper. It’s a party until the final notes, with melee up on stage, an ecstatic moshing gang commandeering their own microphone to pace with the band through the final chorus even as the last desperate divers collide mid-air. This outrageousness is what can happen at a hometown show: the pit spreads up onto the stage blurring any lines between fans and band.
The house lights come on but the party rages on, the audience denying that it’s the end of reunion, the end of the night. There’s still a crowd gathered milling with the band, in the process of renewing ties and solidifying memories, or maybe just finishing drinks and remembering shows past, but always, always looking forward to the next.