15 Mar 2001: Horseshoe Tavern Toronto
What is the desire to recapture magical moments that belong only to the past? The term I’m searching for is something that goes beyond nostalgia (merely longing for the past) because it involves acting on the feeling. While I don’t have a good name for it, I played out its pattern the other night when a few of us went out to Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern to see the Hanson Brothers. These Hanson Brothers are the same Ramones-styled hockey-mad offshoot of NoMeansNo that I watched a number of years ago when they stopped in at the Embassy Hotel in London, Ontario touring their first album, Gross Misconduct.
That first time I saw the Hanson Brothers was during my own golden period of rock and roll, that period when my friends and I were most into checking out bands and drinking beer and not caring if we got home that night. It was a time when many great bands made the Embassy Hotel a stop on the way from Detroit through Toronto on the way to Montreal or Ottawa and beyond. One night it was John Spencer Blues Explosion, the next it was some stunning death metal band from somewhere in Scandinavia and the next it was SNFU or Big Chief or Janitor Joe or King Cobb Steelie. It got to the point that it didn’t matter if you were in love with the band already or not. You just went because chances were that the show would be good—and sometimes it was great. For me, the Hanson Brothers were amongst the great ones.
Back then, before the show I had no idea what to expect beyond the fact that I knew NoMeansNo were out touring hockey songs. It was so much more, though. It was a total in-character cartoon hockey tough guy puck rock performance given at breakneck speed. They out-Ramoned the Ramones. They were a fast, super-tight hockey sweater-wearing bunch of freaks complete with a hockey goon cum horror movie bad guy bass-player who never once took off his Bernie Parent goalie mask. Between song banter was limited to counting it off for the next number. The lyrics were confined to only a few major topics including skating, scoring and fighting. They were magnificent. They were a perfect rock and roll night out while Hockey Night in Canada was on the shelf for the summer.
This time out they are touring My Game (Mint Records) and the hockey thing is sounding old and looking tired. Sure they can still play faster and tighter than most any band around, but the joke has been got. What has funny and exciting the first time around how now become predictable precisely what rock and roll can never afford to do. The changes are all there in the right place, but the sense of purpose is long gone.
Of course, making such a dismissive criticism makes me wonder what I would be saying if my own rock and roll golden age was now, if I were 21 and feeling utterly intoxicated by the great music that moves through Toronto night after night. Would I have been as gleefully stunned by the Hanson Brothers now? Would I have been up in front pogoing to their run through of Stompin’ Tom Connor’s “Hockey Song”? Maybe. Which then of course makes the moral of the story the fact that no matter how much you try to recapture magical rock and roll moments, you can’t. That magic had everything to do with the time and the place. The music I heard in London, Ontario back in the day was the soundtrack to my life then, but it’s not any longer. It’s not that I have stopped listening as intently as ever, it’s just that I have moved on and found new sounds for my new time and place.