Monday, December 21, 2015

goodnight, goodbye

so. instead of spending my christmas vacation going home to see my family, i took the bus to chicago alone to see the end of one of my favourite bands.

(advance warning: this is going to be long. there will be pictures to break up the wall of text. also, i'm going to do a separate blog post soon about my trip to chicago proper, because holy shit i love talking about chicago)

i don't think i need to recap how much i love kill hannah. you guys know me, so you know. i've blogged about it a lot. i loved them fiercely when i was in my early twenties -- enough so that i got their logo tattooed and trooped off to see them play in detroit and chicago repeatedly before they finally started playing canadian shows in toronto and montreal. i was usually there, dancing up a storm and singing my heart out in front row. it was my first post-dave/moist band thing, and it was one that belonged to me and only a couple of my girlfriends. (kill hannah weren't well-known in canada back in the mid-2000's, so we always felt a little special because it was like we found them first.)

but kill hannah have been around for a long time, and things change. i didn't have the money or time to travel to see them as we marched towards the 2010's, but i still do have a ton of memories and paraphernalia at home -- autographed set lists, posters, and breathless old archived blog posts where i gushed about how amazing their shows were and how awesome a time i had. then over the years, there were fewer albums released and less tour dates, save for the annual one every year -- the new heart for xmas show. i'd only been to one - new heart II, way back in december 2004 - because new heart traditionally happened in the band's hometown of chicago the weekend before christmas, and i was generally tied up with work and family commitments.

not this year. i cleared my fucking slate, because they had announced that this would be the last new heart as well as the final kill hannah show, ever. i had to be there for this. i had to pay my respects to the guys whose music soundtracked so many happy times in my twenties.

i reserved my tickets all the way back in the summer, and last weekend the time finally came to get on the bus and go say goodbye. i left for chicago on thursday and crashed the night in the downtown hostel, hoping to get enough sleep because friday was night 1 -- there would be a short acoustic set for wristband holders, then a full "deep cuts and fan favorites" set later. it was going to be a late night, and i wanted to be goddamn ready to channel my 20-year-old self.

you know what my 20-year-old self was infamous for doing, besides running away with rock bands? getting to the venue at an ungodly early hour and standing it out for the entire day. so that's what i did, but maybe not as bad as the early days of the 5 a.m. lineups -- instead, the acoustic set was at 6:30, so i went up to the metro for 3. i was pretty near the front of the line, but unfortunately "doors at 6 p.m." turned into "doors at 7" and it was suuuuuper cold outside. i'm pretty hardy about this sort of thing - i once got frostbite on my face after waiting outside all day in a snowstorm for a david usher show - but even i was shaking and shivering by 5. when we finally got let in, i feel like we were all more grateful for the warmth than anything else.

acoustic set!

(i was standing second-row centre for this, even stubbornly hanging on to my spot while the band members circulated the back of the room doing a meet & greet.) don't look for set lists from me, sadly -- my memory isn't that good, and i don't want to be writing the songs down in my phone all night. but there was an especially great rendition - with strings! - of "10 more minutes with you" as well as "goodnight, goodbye" which just killed me. also, mass a cappella singalong from the audience on "sad eyes." mat looked genuinely touched and it was like an emotion bomb to the solar plexus, man.

so this wrapped up in under an hour, and then it was...kind of a wait, really. the next set wasn't until 11 or so, but at least the openers (MXMS and shiny toy guns, with tommie sunshine DJing in between -- holy flashback to new heart II) kept things awesome. by this point, i'd also ninja'd my way to front row centre, so i was extra excited (and also hanging on to my spot on the barrier for dear life).

and man. this glorious show.

again, my memory is so shot - especially when it comes to remembering which of the two full shows had which songs - but i do remember that on this first night, they played "the trains are so loud," the eponymous "kill hannah" (which i'd never heard live and always wanted to), "all that he wants" (which mat prefaced by announcing that this would be "the last time this song will ever be played"), a crowd-accompanied "believer," the sheer wall of sound that is "the trains are so loud," and the much-demanded yet rarely played "sick boy" (which was likely one of the best songs of the weekend, despite mat's professed trepidation about playing it) -- as well as all the big singles, of course. and it was just so, so monumentally great to be there in front row once again, singing at the top of my lungs and dancing around and losing my mind with all the other fans of every age and gender. it was bittersweet, but amazing.

after the encore when mat was thanking us all for being there, he also thanked us for still being fans "even when it might not have been the popular choice," and that's stuck with me. as a music critic, i have taken a lot of shit from people over the years for my love of kill hannah. colleagues, friends, boyfriends, other musicians, you name it -- many of them have laughed or sneered at me when i named them one of my big favourites. and i've always gotten mad, defensive of my boys. i was always so proud to be a fan of theirs, to have their logo inked under my skin for the rest of my life. i don't do that for every band i love, you know.

anyway, it was about 1:30 a.m. when i finally got out of there, my voice completely shot from screaming and singing and my knees totally bruised from the barrier and my feet covered in blisters. emotionally drained but happy, i headed back off into the night to take the downtown train to the hostel and get some much-needed sleep. exeunt me.

night 2! aka the final show, new heart for xmas 10, saturday december 19th.

this is the only pic i took on saturday, because i chose to stand at the back by the soundboards rather than claim a front row spot again. someone else deserved a turn, plus i'd only ever seen kill hannah from first or second row, and i wanted to hear all the sound for their last-ever gig. sure, it meant i wouldn't get any photos, but i still chose to be on the floor rather than the balcony, because i wanted to be in the thick of it.

some of the same songs as the previous night (the big singles, "kill hannah," "the songs that saved my life") but even more that hadn't been played one night 1 -- "the chase," "crazy angel," and "hummingbirds the size of bullets" (probably my favourite kill hannah song of them all) notable among them. also, lots of the old traditions: the mass hand-waving during "raining all the time," the fake snow (tufts of foam this time) raining down during "new heart for xmas," confetti cannons, the crowd losing their shit at the "lips like morphine" encore (for pretty much forever i assumed "kennedy" was the top single, but i guess not), and more. it felt good to be back with my people.

this was also the night for waterworks. i cried during "black poison blood" and again at "promise me," and then absolute tears at the finale when mat was explaining that the band may be over but it's not dead, because it'll live on in all of our hearts. and that reminded me of why i've always loved musicians so much - because as artists, they make something that will last forever. it's the closest thing we have to immortality. i can't not respect that.

but anyway, all the guys had some final words of thanks for the support over the years, and it was super emotional up there. and then, geez. they absolutely tore into very end: confetti and snow foam falling from the ceiling, the crowd cheering and laughing and crying and singing, mat standing in the strobe lights in the jesus christ pose, the music of their final song ("welcome to chicago, motherfucker" obviously) swelling to a crescendo. pure, electric joy. and all i could think was, this. this was what I'd been looking for, what i'd been missing for all these years. it felt like coming home, like being exactly where you need to be, witnessing something that signifies the end of an era and the close of something that meant so much to you when you were just coming into your own. it felt like closing the book definitively on a chapter of my halcyon days. (as i would wistfully say to guitarist dan in parting later on, "we had some good times, you know? we had some really good times.") because whatever i am, i'm still and will always be the girl in the front row, the one who loves rock bands.

so then there was the wait for the after-party to begin, where a ton of us just hung around waiting for the band to come out for autographs and pictures. one guy came over and said he'd seen me in "front row, dead centre" the previous night, and asked how i'd managed to get up there. i shrugged and smiled. "i've been doing this for over half my life." ain't that the truth.

i'd come this far (one of the merch girls commented on how far i'd travelled for the show, but there were fans from england there, so i didn't quite win the prize on that one), so i didn't want to leave until i'd had a moment with my faves, and hell yes, i got them: hugs from bassist greg (who asked where I was living now - still toronto, one of their first canadian fans, which he dutifully noted, and i laughed about spending 12 hours on a bus), guitarist dan (my favourite member of the band, who gave me the best hug ever and claimed that i look "exactly the same" as i did 11 years ago), and frontman mat, who said "oh my god!" and hugged me while saying that he'd seen me in the front row the previous night. good to know i still stand out as a fangirl having a meltdown right up in front, haha.

anyway, many years touring with bands made me know to have my moment then move along, and i was happy for all the other fans eagerly hanging around for their moment. everyone gets to be the special fan for at least a few minutes. if a band takes the time to do that, they're one of the good ones, and kill hannah always, always were.

so with this business done plus three vodka sodas and a shot of malört (that article is outstanding and accurate, by the way -- "They're like, 'here, drink this!' And you do it and you're like, 'What the fuck?' You don’t understand what's going on, and there's a tire fire in your mouth for the next half hour, and you can't taste anything, and you're twitching on the floor."), i was ready to go back to the hostel and sleep it off. i'm still proud of myself for forgoing cab fare and taking the $2.25 subway ride back downtown instead. like a real chicagoan! (again, i wish.) but then i got back to the hostel and i had to try and fall asleep with the drunk spins. have you ever had those in a bed that's not your own, and then woken up hungover in a foreign city? it's the woooorst. (also, at some point in the night i lost my kill hannah hoodie, which would have bothered me a lot more if i didn't already have two other identical ones at home. someone got a free hoodie!)

upon later reflection, it was all a bit weird and sad to do it alone. all of my old kill hannah fan-friends have either moved on or i've fallen out of touch with them, but whatever the case, i was reminded of that old adage "a joy shared is a joy made double." and it's true! it's fun hanging around and seeing a great show and chatting with the band afterwards, but it's even better if you're doing it with a friend who's a big fan too. but, them's the breaks. i have no issue going to shows alone, and it wasn't like i wouldn't have gone if i didn't have anyone to go with. a lot of people missed out, though.

as i was leaving yesterday, it struck me that, although this definitely won't be my last time in chicago, i will never again excitedly take a bus 12 hours to chicago to see a kill hannah show. and that made me sad right down to my bones. of course, it's not like they're dead or hate each other or anything - and they were quick to rule out the notion that they will never, ever reunite for a one-off or something - but it's like, there's still finality to that. but look, i've been a band girl for so long that i understand that's how it goes. in cases like a band break-up, it really is better to burn out than fade away.

i can say that they meant a lot to me, but really, they meant a lot to so many people -- singing big anthemic songs about weirdos and outcasts, desperate love, living fast and dying young. it resonated, you know? the music was so great, and the guys were always just complete sweethearts to us giddy fans. we were so lucky to have them for the time that we did.

anyway, that's it for me on this monumental, melancholy pair of final gigs. i've got some work to do now that i'm home in toronto, but as i said earlier, i'm going to type up a travel blog post about my chicago fun times as well, so look for that in a couple days if you are massively bored before the holidays and avoiding the shopping malls. (edit: voila!)


[ music | none ]