James from Canada was kind enough to share his Shriekback concert experience from 1987. Read on, MacDuff!
A Big Night - Music, Youth and Naïveté
It was back in April of 1987 that I got to see Shriekback live for the first (and, it seems, last) time, during their Big Night Music tour. It was just a few days after my 18th birthday, so I was having quite a nice week. The show was at the now-defunct Concert Hall in Toronto, a cozy little venue with a standing floor space and a large, wrap-around balcony above.
After making our way past the merchandise table, where one of my friends bought himself a Big Night Music T-shirt (still kicking myself for not doing the same), my friends and I found our place up in the balcony, with an almost "front and centre" view of the stage.
As we sat there, I remember the excitement at seeing all of Shriekback's instruments on the stage: an eclectic mixture of modern electronic synths and old, earthy bongos, gongs and bells. We knew that this was going to be a great show!
I don't recall who the opening act was, although I think it might have been the Comsat Angels. We didn't care, though… we were here to see Shriekback! After what seemed like an eternity, the house lights finally went down, and the crowd went wild. As the dry ice fog slowly filled the stage, we could see movement in the dark… who was that? If my memory serves me well, it was Steve Halliwell first out on the stage, wearing a little hat on his bald head (no doubt to avoid being mistaken for Barry!) Steve got the dark synths going, and as the multi-coloured stage lights pierced and wound their way through the fog, the rest of the band slowly came out, one by one adding a new layer of instrumentation to the intro track. As the intro built to a crescendo and the first track came crashing in, Barry himself slunk onto the stage to raucous applause.
It's been so long since I saw this show, that my memories of what got played are pretty vague. At the time, though, the Shrieks had already started working on their next album - the much maligned Go Bang - and some of the new material made its way into our Big Night Music setlist. The opening song of the show was "New Man", followed by a wonderful mixture of Big Night tracks and earlier material, all energized to the highest degree for an exciting live experience. We heard "Black Light Trap" and "Gunning for the Buddha." Classics like "Nemesis", "Hammerheads", and "Lined Up." Go Bang's "Intoxication" got introduced to the crowd around the half-way mark, and the show wound down with an encore performance of "New Man."
What a show it was. So exciting and fun. One thing which really stood out to me and my friends as we sat there taking it all in, was just how much of a good time everyone was having - both the audience, and the band itself. I've been to many concerts where it seemed like the band was just "phoning it in", but that wasn't the case with Shriekback. These guys know how to work an audience! There was lots of dancing and clapping, and Barry engaged and entertained the crowd with funny stories about how his pants kept sliding down, while encouraging us all to sing along: "let's hear it again… 'My Spine.. IS THE BASSLINE!' ", and "With the GREAT BIG FISHES!!". It was truly a special night, and everyone left with a big smile on their face.
It was also during this show that I experienced a bit of a life-lesson, although I didn't know it at the time, of course. As my friends and I were waiting for the show to start, we spent some time looking around at the gathering crowd. Our attention was drawn to one individual in particular - an older man, probably in his 50's, with grey hair and glasses, standing at the back of the balcony. Now, remember that we were just in our teens. Young and naïve, you could say. Alphaville's "Forever Young" was our anthem song, and music like Shriekback was only for us "cool, hip, alternative" types! So what was this older-than-30 guy doing here? He wasn't even wearing anything black, for heaven's sake! "Hey, check out the old geezer back there," we laughed among ourselves. As the show progressed, we occasionally looked back to see the "old geezer" clapping and dancing along to the music. "Ha ha," we thought sarcastically, "go home and put on some Easy Listening, will ya!"
Well, fast-forward almost thirty years, and here I am in my 40's - the proverbial "old geezer", still listening to Shriekback. While my hair isn't white yet, the grey has definitely started to creep in, and I really must see the optometrist about getting bifocals. It is only now, later in one's life, that you realize just how silly and naïve some of your attitudes were when you were younger. Usually, though, these moments of realization come when you find yourself doing something that you swore to your parents you would never do. Like telling your kids to be extra-careful, or not to swear or watch that rude TV show. I never expected, though, that it would be via the medium of a Shriekback concert that I would learn one of the truths about life's little pleasures. Namely that good music is timeless, and crosses all boundaries of language, culture, and, yes, age. Good music is there to be enjoyed by everyone. I wonder if the guy I saw at the concert that night, who by now must be in his 60's or 70's, is listening to Without Real String or Fish? I sure hope so! I know that I will still be listening to the Shrieks in the coming decades, and that's something I'm definitely looking forward to!
©James from Canada
14 March, 2015