Canada in the ’90s was a hot bed for new alternative rock music thanks to outlets like Much Music and edge 102 being in full force, exposing the Canadian youth and music fans of the day to up-and-coming local acts, and making them household names. One group that always got me was the Headstones. They were simple, heavy, looked super-cool and had great lyrics. They took no prisoners and took as many shots as possible. They personified the “FUCK YOU” attitude of Jerry Lee Lewis and the Sex Pistols. They were, and are, the real deal.
I must start off by giving credit to my father, who was a fan before I was. Thanks Dad. I’ve been a fan since I was 6 years old, the year the now-classic Picture Of Health was released. I remember hearing “When Something Stands For Nothing”, “Tweeter And The Monkey Man” and “Cemetery” for the first time. It was life-altering. For an awkward kid like me the Headstones were just the right amount of FUCK YOU.
I was happy that I could make it to see the band once again on December 15 at the Phoenix in Toronto. It was a snowy and cold day, but I wasn’t going to miss this show. I’ve seen the band 4 or 5 times in the past so I knew what I was in for. Rock and Roll. The real kind. The raw kind. The dirty kind. I’d had a long 2016 along with everyone else. I needed it.
Check out the song “Long Way To Neverland”
Hugh Dillon and the boys stormed the stage like a street gang and immediately started annihilating the place. They kicked the show off with two newer songs “beenthiswayforyears” and “finalanalysis” and then immediately kicked it into third gear with the classic “When Something Stands For Nothing”. Hugh Dillon thought this would be a good time to go over to stand on the bar and do his famous harp solo, throwing his mic stand for the first of a series of mic stand tosses. Unfortunately, there were some issues with the mic (because no one’s ever heard of a wireless apparently), but they figured it out and by the second time the harp solo rolled around he had that shit under control Ed Lane style.
The sonic assault continued with their rendition of the drug fueled “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” which is an awesome tune originally by the Travelling Wilburys. By this point I was 4 drinks in and really starting to enjoy myself. Fights started breaking out around me and I knew I was at a Headstones show. It’s not a Headstones show till someone punches someone. Then they kicked into their hit “Settle” and made their first Gord Downie reference of the night when, at the end, Hugh added the first verse of the Tragically Hip classic “Blow At High Dough”. If you know anything about the band, you know they’re from Kingston and have major ties to the Tragically Hip.
The show kept rolling,the drinks kept flowing and the mic stands kept flying with “One By One” and “longwaytoneverland” and a deep old cut called “Losing Control” setting everyone up for one of their biggest tunes entitled “Cubically Contained” from their “Smile and Wave” album (which is my personal favorite release of theirs). The crowd really enjoyed it. They then launched into overdrive with “Oh My God”, inserting covers of the Stones “Heartbreaker”, Tragically Hips “New Orleans Is Sinking” and the NWA classic “Straight Outta Compton”.
Check out the song “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”
They calmed everyone down with the self assessing “Three Angels” but then put it into super drive for the rest of the set pounding through a brand new song, followed by the classic “Judy” and a cover of “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. They then rocked out the classic anthem “Fuck You” from their Nickels For Your Nightmares release and everyone jumped around and punched each other some more. It was fun. The set was almost coming to an end when they rocked into “dontfollowtheleader”, making one more Gord reference with a “Locked in the trunk of a car” reference. They closed the set down with the awesome “Smile And Wave” into a cover of “Eve Of Destruction”, an extremely fitting song for this day in age.
The band left the stage but you knew they were coming back for a few more. After all, they have so many songs that are classic and great. They came back out and rocked a cover of Rancid’s “Journey To The End Of East Bay” which was a cool surprise. I sang every word. “Reframed” followed, and they shut it down with everyone’s favorite “Cemetary”. People went nuts. I went nuts. It was a nutty time. And it ain’t Christmas unless the Headstones play Toronto.
Aside from the lack of songs from Teeth And Tissue, and the fact that Dale Harrison is not behind the kit anymore, it was a great show. I also thought the mix was pretty shitty at times, but, hey, I only see 20 bands a week so what do I know? I’m glad to see the Headstones are still crazy after all these years. I’m glad Hugh Dillon survived to tell the tale. I’m proud of the guy. He overcame a lot of shit, and came out on top. And in my opinion, has written some of the top lyrics in Canadian rock history. He’s also a great actor as we’ve seen in Durham County, Flashpoint, Trailer park boys and my personal favorite Hard Core Logo. The band doesn’t play all that often so if you ever have the chance to see them I say knock back some whisky and let loose and don’t miss it. The authentic rock and roll attitude is close to lost these days, but thanks to bands like this it still stands a chance.