The Town Pants: Ten Year Anniversary Show – November 24th, 2007 @ The Commodore Ballroom
“The Last Waltz” is considered by many to be the best concert film of all time (unless, of course, your name is Levon and Robbie Robertson picks your ass). Beyond that, the film enjoys a deserved spot on my short list of “Great Films of All Time” (Of course, I write all of this before seeing the DVD The Town Pants are shooting tonight so that list could radically change with its release). Scorsese is a technically adept and passionate director. Likewise, The Pants are technically adept and passionate musicians. As with Scorsese, this allows them to do almost anything they choose – anything.
Tonight a thousand people and I are going to try to cram ourselves into Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom to celebrate the 10 Year Anniversary of The Town Pants and the release party for their new CD, “Coming Home.”
Ten years is a very long time, at least it has been for me. In those 10 years, I pulled myself out of the criminal streets and went to university. In those 10 years I wrote tens of tens of thousands of words for good or ill. In those 10 years I met the love of my life. After those 10 years, I figured it was about time to pay to see The Town Pants play.
I haven’t been in The Commodore Ballroom since my After-Grad party, 17 years ago. Eek. It is exactly what you would expect a “ballroom” to look like, though it seemed a lot bigger back then. Generally, a “ballroom” is where drink and dance meet. Tonight, they will meet with a passion.
As is seemingly always the case, I run into Aaron Chapman (mandolin, tin whistle, vocals) first. He wears a Pogues shirt and jeans (not his usual stage style which is, more often than not, impeccable classic punk chic) but I figure after ten years the guy deserves to wear what he wants. We chat briefly before he disappears into the crowd to deliver a backstage pass to one of their photographers. His only concern seemed to be that The Pants have bitten off more than they can chew by booking the 990 seat Commodore for their party.
A little before 9:00 o’clock, I go outside for a smoke and see that a line up is forming and the doormen are becoming doormen. The girlfriend of one of the band members (I think he was RUN GMC’s bass player) is stuck outside without a ticket. As is often the case with some band girlfriends, she spent the evening helping out and then gets stuck outside because she went for a smoke right before the band started playing. She gets back in after a few “important sounding,” walkie-talkie conversations.
I come back inside and a quick look around the room belies that the number of people sitting at tables wouldn’t fill the dance floor. I shoot back what’s left of my beer and make a short prayer to the gods of music that Chapman’s fears are unfounded.
RUN GMC take the stage and they look exactly as I’d expected. It’s wonderful. I visited their MySpace site earlier today and loved what I heard. I am not a huge fan of Country music but figure that any band that can play “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” the way that they do is worthy of my respect.
The set is tight and fun although the crowd could have used a bit more time to drink. By the middle of the set, the crowd has joined in and the band is joined onstage by a hillbilly “cousin.” He reminds me of Bez (except with moonshine instead of ecstasy) from The Happy Mondays, or more recently, Whitestarr’s male go-go dancer, Tony Potato. All in all, they are an amazing and well-chosen opening act for The Pants but could easily of held that stage for their own. While they played, I was tempted to put a bit more of a bend in the brim of my cap and was deeply impressed by their showmanship, honesty, and faith in everything that made real Country music good.
At 9:55, I go outside for some fresh air and another smoke. The line-up is growing and I am now certain that any reservations about filling The Commodore are rightfully dust. There’s also a couple of guys wearing kilts out here and I wonder for a moment whether or not The Dropkick Murhpys or The Real MacKenzies have sent ambassadors to show their support.
Walking back up the stairs, one of the girls on their way out comments, “All this hillbilly music is tiring me out.” I crack a smile but restrain myself from replying that she is sure in the wrong fucking building tonight.
The line-up for the ladies’ room is so long that some of the braver ones have resorted to using the men’s room. I am greeted with a warm “Hello” from a tall brunette that I am fairly certain was, in fact, a woman.
Swank takes the stage. I must embarrassingly admit that I spent the vast majority of their set drinking heavily and chain smoking, but a quick review of my notes finds the following entry:
Swank are good, REALLY good. The crowd loves them.
That can’t be all bad.
I go in search of The Pants for a quick pre-show chat but get stopped cold by the security guard who is minding the door to backstage. Earlier in the evening, Chapman mentioned an email he’d sent me about getting a press pass for the event. I don’t remember the email but after 10 years of Town Pants shows, there’s a lot I don’t remember anymore. Besides, press passes are for people who need them. I am a friend of the band! A quick glance around the room, however, and I realized that, so far, about 900 of The Pants “friends” have showed up tonight. Despite my booze fueled weight gain, my boobs just aren’t going to cut it with this doorman. I pass him a note for Chapman and continue on to find another beer and, perhaps, a plastic surgeon.
On my travels, my path is crossed by a beautiful blonde in a sexy, little, white number and a black cap that could have easily come from Twiggy’s closet. Vancouver is filled with non-descript, beautiful, blonde women but as this one turns and smiles, it is unmistakably Virginia Swartz, the very unique fiddle player extraordinaire. She gives me a genuine and warm “Hello. How are you?” and I am smitten all over again, so much so, in fact, that I forget to ask her if she can get me backstage. Damn it.
After a few more drinks and a slightly unpleasant cougar attack, I go outside for another smoke. The line-up outside is still showing its girth. About halfway through my cigarette, I hear the band strike up. Fuck, they have started without me. I butt out and stagger up the stairs. Before wading into the now massive crowd, I stop and get a refill. This was a bad idea. I take a large swig of beer and them promptly choke on it and spit it on the floor when my eyes look towards to the stage and I catch a glimpse of Chapman. The Pogues shirt is gone and he’s taken to the stage in a white suit and looks a little bit like Colonel Sanders fronting The Clash – anything.
The Town Pants are in full force tonight with Dave (banjo, vocals) and Duane Keogh (Guitar, vocals) leading their gang through the set, Aaron and his suit, with Kyle Taylor on fiddle. Dino DiNicolo plays bass tonight, and Tony Raybould keeps time from behind a full drum kit. The sound is large and fills The Commodore from wall to wall with ease. So does the crowd at this point.
As the set progresses, various musical friends and well-wishers join The Pants on stage. Ryan Robbins, who fronted “Hellenkeller” in the 90s, appears on stage with a didgeridoo (did you know they’re making them in Nova Scotia now? God bless the CBC for Canadian music trivia) and a bodhran. The incomparable Virginia Swartz takes to the stage and gives Taylor a well-deserved break. Later in the evening, she reappears to play alongside Taylor and the two of them rip into the crowd with consummate skill.
Saxophonist, Gene Hardy, enters from the wings dressed in the same white suit as Chapman, providing the crowd with a good giggle and receiving a loud cheer in return. His sax playing is a wonderful compliment to The Pants’ music and gives it a “circa ‘Hell’s Ditch’” Pogues feeling.
Johnny Leroux, possessor of the quintessential Canadian voice, receives a warm and well-deserved introduction and the band kicks into Woody Guthrie’s “Pay Me My Money Down.” Hardy blows in a riff or two of “Yakety Sax” (more commonly known as the Benny Hill Theme). It seems a strange but perfect fit. Eventually, every musician in the building is up on the stage and The Pants slowly move into the “Saturday Night Live” ending, made picture perfect with Hardy’s sax.
An encore at 1:20 AM sends the crowd home with a bang. It was an evening worthy of 10 years.
After the show, the Keogh brothers emerge from backstage to mingle with their adoring fans. Duane is always good for a post game quote but unlike the lazy, millionaire whores who pass themselves off as athletes these days, every word out of his mouth is heartfelt and genuine. We talk about the 10 years and how important the people who come to his shows are and I know he means it. The Town Pants truly love what they do.
Every once in a while, you can catch a happy but puzzled look on Dave Keogh’s face and you wonder if he’s having a quick reality check to ensure his life on stage isn’t all a weird dream. He gives me a smile and a nod as I chat with his brother. I leave Duane and Dave to a gaggle of young ladies who are all seeking an audience. The Town Pants certainly love their fans but it is readily apparent that their fans love them.It’s 2:00 AM on Granville Street. A panhandler tells me he’ll do “50, one-armed push ups for spare change.” He obviously doesn’t know me or he’d never offer to put his face that close to my boots at this time in the morning. I give him a handful of change and tell him he can skip the push-ups. After watching The Pants play, one-armed push-ups just don’t cut it as paid entertainment.The kilts I spotted earlier in the evening are out on the sidewalk and I amble over and ask how they liked they show. They loved it. They are long time Pants fans and figured the kilts were the proper attire. I stop Gene Hardy as he leaves with a friend and compliment him on his playing and wardrobe. It came as little surprise that he and Chapman had set up their attire beforehand. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to show up for your 10 Year Anniversary performance wearing the same suit as the sax player… and Matlock. Hardy explains that he met Chapman a while back through musical publican, Kevin Quain. We talk about the amazing show tonight; Quain’s new album, “Winter in Babylon”; and The Pipsqueek Orchestra before parting ways.Tonight had all the feeling of The Band’s “Last Waltz” except for the “Last” part. The Town Pants still have enough inherent kick in them to put Barry Bond’s mule to shame. And they sure proved it tonight. Over 1100 people came to see them play. That’s more than Kid Rock got. Apparently they didn’t sell as much booze, but I imagine most of the booze consumed at the Kid Rock show was on Kid’s rider.All three bands played well together tonight in both the musical and playground sense. It is nice to see the egos disappearing from the Vancouver music scene again and tonight was a testament to the musical prowess this city still possesses.
As I walk down Granville, I think back to a smoky little hole on Lonsdale that was “The Brit.” One night, ten years ago, I met a girl there. I got her phone number that night. I wonder if it’s too late to give her a call.
That night, a band called The Town Pants played. They were good, REALLY good.