Last month, after nearly a decade of lusting after such an experience, I finally saw Alexisonfire live. It was the Boxing Day show, number 5 on the list of their last shows ever. It now ranks third on my list of best concert experiences of my life. After trying and failing to get tickets from any of the presales (they were all gone in seconds!), I was lucky enough to be able to buy a pair off a friend. Clearly I've been putting off this post for a while now, mainly because I didn't quite know how to do it. Just about the show, or about the band's years as well? I've decided to go with the latter, and how they've come to change my life. My long-winded way to show appreciation by writing out how they affected my experiences over the past 10 years.
Because they've been so present throughout half of my life, it's impossible for me to write anything that isn't incredibly long (I tried) without feeling like I haven't given them enough credit and praise for what they've done, so be warned. This will take up about 15 minutes of your time if you read the whole thing.
I remember, as vividly as I could remember at this point, watching Much Music some time in early 2003. This was back when there was actually music on the channel, and a decent chunk of good music at that. I was watching The Wedge, the only show to find new, good, real music, and they were airing something wholly new to me: Pulmonary Archery (which sounds it's best while listening to it during heavy rain fall). I was sold on it before the intro had even finished. There I was, newly 14, barely aware of what music really was; completely blown away by this group of guys hailing a stone's throw away from my birth place, though I didn't know that at the time. This was, after all, during the dawn of the internet where such information wasn't even thought of to come by for a 14 year old.
Discovering their music couldn't have come at a better time, since I started high school the following fall. I'd chosen to go to a school where I only knew one person, and we hadn't even spoken in years. I was far more shy than I am now, aesthetically fit the part of a "freak" in a school full of jocks, and didn't have the first clue how to make friends. Luckily there were others who fit the part, and they sought me out. We bonded over music, of course, and thanks to the evolution of myspace, I found even more people. I discovered a music scene in my nowhere town (not meant to sound mean, honestly said affectionately now), all my favourite local bands were heavily influenced by Alexisonfire. We talked online about how awesome they were, and eventually I befriended most of a couple bands. I'm still in contact with many of them today, and they remain some of my best friends in the world.
Mostly ages 16 and 17.
Sure, I probably would've found the music scene eventually, but it wouldn't have had the same impact without Alexisonfire. Some my of out-of-town-band friends may never have played Belleville, and everything would be completely different.
There's an outstanding plan to reunite some of the core group and get matching Alexisonfire tattoos, a random reference from the Waterwings video, which was released around the time we all started getting to know each other (though a couple links were not joined for another year or two).
Below is one of the "major" local high school bands of the time. I ran into the starred guy at the Alexisonfire show after not seeing him in over three years. They were called Ataxia, their final show made it into the local newspaper (I still have the clipping), and you can clearly see how much Ben (the vocalist, pictured below) adored Alexisonfire and George himself. At one point I made these guys 60 shirts by myself in a weekend.
Ataxia, January of 2005.
It wasn't just the people that came into my life thanks to a combination of things in which Alexis was a major factor, it was also the subject matter. Like many, I was an incredibly depressed teenager. It's something I still struggle with today, and it's something that this band has helped me control since I first found them. You know those cliche things that fans say about bands constantly: "thank you for writing this song, it's helped me so much, made me realize I'm not the only one." We say them because it's true. We connect to music in such a way that it can completely change our outlook on life. Control is among the many blatant this-is-my-life songs that they wrote, and to this day it still gives me chills every time I hear it. No matter what my low, or how reluctant I am to let another person in on what's happening in my head, I can listen to that song, and many others of theirs, and feel at least a little better about whatever is going on.
Watch Out! came out when I finished grade 9, and became my soundtrack to the following summer. Afterwards, my best friend and I switched schools to where there were a larger concentration of our Alexis friends (and to get away from certain bad situations at our previous school). The band took an even greater (if less direct) hold on our lives. Crisis was released weeks before my final year of high school. All of us had started drifting apart, discovering new music and new people, all the while still being connected from our time of tortured youth and the birth of screamo. Those ever-lasting bonds that you have to be very lucky to make so early. Sure, I'm still young, and that may yet change, but I know these are all people I can come back to when we've drifted. I've already seen it, and there are a fair few that I will always credit to Alexisonfire.
This Could Be Anywhere In The World pretty aptly describes probably anyone's feelings towards high school, especially those of us who grew up in smaller towns that were in the middle of everything. Close enough to hear about it, but still too far away to be a part of it. Despite how much I wanted to, and the fact that they played in Kingston (my friends in the city were kind enough to rub it in my face when they went), Belleville's lack of something like GO Transit or any kind of affordable way for a kid to get to major cities limited my chances of seeing them live.
I was finally living in Kingston, something I'd been trying to do for 3 or 4 years by then, when Old Crows/Young Cardinals came out in 2009. I remember seeing the ads for it in the Cataraqui Centre HMV, and while I was definitely interested in hearing it, I was too wrapped up in supporting myself and saving up for my move to Toronto that August to start college and it managed to slip my mind. It was also a point in my life where I wasn't really exposing myself to anything new, even in music. Add that onto hearing nothing but bad reviews about the album, I just didn't bother to check it out. I went through college with them on the back burner. Yes, I'd still listen to them occasionally, but it wasn't anywhere near as often as previous years.
Following graduation last June, when I started getting more homesick than ever and got back into contact with Jon (Ataxia's drummer), I began listening to them again a little more frequently. When I found out in August that they were planning out their farewell tour (having been so out of the loop that I didn't even know they had already broken up), I finally gave their last release it's first listen. I did what I always do for the first listen of any album: shut myself in my room, ceased doing anything else, and listened to every part of it from start to finish (and then a second time while reading through lyrics sheets along with it). Before the vocals had even kicked in on the first song, Old Crows, I was already kicking myself for waiting three and half years to listen to it. Sure, it's different than what they'd done before (probably the reason for bad reviews, and [in my opinion] clearly outlined in the lyrics of the song - We are not the kids we used to be / Stop wishing for yesterday ), but it was still as flawless as everything else. If it weren't for all the sentiment attached to their three previous releases, it might actually be my favourite.
Which brings me (finally) to the concert. I was originally going to go with Lauren, but she decided to go to Colorado to spend the holidays with her dad instead. After offering a free ticket for a month, I finally found a back-home friend, Jen, to give myself and Maila a ride to Toronto on boxing day. We listened to the discography the whole way there. After some rest, food, and minor pre-drinking, we made the transit trek down to the impossible-to-get-to venue. After missing the bus by a few seconds, we waited for 20 minutes on the next one. That's when it started to snow. There were a few guys waiting with us, and we ended up just splitting a cab for the rest of the distance. And it kept snowing, but eventually we got in.
While I was in the (45 minute) merch line, I left Jen for a few minutes to get us drinks. During my wait for the bar, Jon (Ataxia's guitarist, we called him Ginger back then so it wasn't confusing) called my attention. He and our friend Joey, another staple of the AOF-era Belleville music scene, were both there. I talked to them for a few minutes, and saw Jon again for a bit at the end. I would've liked to have spent more time catching up, and maybe seen more of the old crew, but it didn't matter. Just knowing that some of the people I connected with through this music were there somewhere made the whole experience that much better.
I was in that merch line for all of Moneen's set, so I didn't really get to enjoy it, but I was never really a huge fan of them. They're a fine band, just not something I ever listened to independently, though I did love them when I saw them at the Belleville Legion in 2006. Still have the pictures! By the time they were done, there was a decent amount of snow on the ground. (I know I keep talking about snow. I adore winter, and we haven't gotten much by way of snow over the past few years, so the presence of it on this particular night was magnificent.) After visiting outside and the bar a couple times, Jen and I made our way as close to the grate as possible. Once they finally took the stage, we just let the movement of the crowd push us forward. Most of the pictures I took were from the first five songs, I'd say, and there was a lot of them. At one point I thought I broke my camera, because once a band I love gets on stage, I completely forget about everything else and things get broken. But it was fine after a couple minutes of screwing around with it. I sang, screamed, and yelled along with every word, cleared a small area (two inches around, a major feat in such a setting) for myself to breathe - any moshing girl should be able to do this no problem - and to be able to move around the way I'd always wanted to to those songs.
I was pretty liquored up by the time they played Old Crows about halfway through their set, I was dancing like crazy. The beat is just perfect for jumping and stomping around. I'm sure the people around me were a bit annoyed by my stumbly jumping, and I spilled my drink all over myself, but I didn't care. I was in my own world, one with the music and completely careless of anything else. And they were perfect. At this point, we were near the back at the stage left bar (there's 5 at the Sound Academy, to give you an idea of how many people were there), so there was plenty of space. Which, of course, means we were going completely crazy.
During the pause for the encore, we hunted out the pit. I was worried that it might be one of those "hardcore" dance pits (the extent of my loathing for this knows no bounds) because a lot of their fans that are my age (at least back then) gravitated towards that, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a real mosh pit, and let me tell ya, I have never in my life seen so many full-face grins in one spot. Everyone was having the time of their lives, and most of them were around my age. Those of us who went through the shit of high school with these guys roaring in our ears, and are now revisiting it with the debts of college on our heads. Most of us are broke, not doing anything close to what we want to, but none of that mattered for that moment. Nothing mattered except the music and the people connected to it.
It was everything I wanted it to be. They played everything I wanted to see most. With each song, it was like travelling back in time. It's not incredibly often that I get heavily into any band without seeing them live first, but they were among the few. Now that I finally managed to, I'm back to being obsessed. I've listened to all four studio albums at least 6 times each since. You can't truly, 100% appreciate a band until you see them play a live show, until you're right in there. Covered in the sweat of strangers and anticipating the bruises and stiff neck that are coming for you. By the time we got out of the venue, there was a foot of snow on the ground. Not a thing was wrong with that night.
They changed my life once, and they've done it again. All the nostalgia of memories I'd forgotten, pictures I haven't looked at in years, motivated me to finally figure out a game plan for going home. When I make enough sales to pay for the trip, I'm going back to Kingston (to see friends) for the first time in over three years. I'm going to track these people down, and we're going to get our tattoo. We're going to listen to Alexisonfire all night, drink, and finally all be together for the first time since high school.
Thank you, everyone who was in Alexisonfire, for every song you ever wrote. For all the friends I adore and may not have known without you. For all the nights I felt alone and you reminded me that I'm not. Best of luck to each of you in everything you do in the future, which you can bet I will follow.