Alexisonfire are an incredibly special band for me. When I was working at Shock Records in Melbourne, Australia (1998 – 2004) I vividly remember the day that A&R manager Ian asked a few of the punk and metal loving crew on staff to stay back in the boardroom after the sales meeting to check out a new band he wanted to break in Aussie. From the moment Ian put on the video for Waterwings I was in love, absolutely enthralled. There’s just something so honest and good about “Alexis“; their hard work ethic and honest hearts just shine through on everything they do.
So when I was asked by Ambient Light to review Alexisonfire‘s reunion show in Auckland on January 23rd 2017, I jumped at the chance. Heading along to this gig solo, I was so warmed and welcomed by the inclusive vibe of the crowd and the gig itself was SO good; so good in fact, that during my personal anthem Boiled Frogs I wept tears of joy; for the band, for me, for the night, for the fact I’d come so far and that Alexis was right there with me through all of it…and I wept for the girl who used to listen to that song and think there was nothing more for her to achieve. How wrong I was.
Alexisonfire is one of those bands that are a formative group for me, that I owe my 20s too. Just as they poke fun at themselves in Old Crows, none of us are the same kids we used to be either. While many in the crowd at Auckland’s Powerstation were probably thinking about mortgages and what time they’d be able to slide into bed on this summer’s Monday evening, before they have to get up and work their butt off for the coin come Tuesday. After all as Dallas warbles, there is no charity for the common man, right? Thankfully life duties did not prevent a healthy throng of rockers who should know better and a fresh crop of devotees from coming out and enjoying the night. Especially the trio of lads that all wide-eyed and positive nervous energy while we waited for the support act to kick off; asked me to snap a photo of them. Questioning them if this was the first time they’d seen an Alexisonfire show, our main dude gasped, “Never live, never live. This is a big moment for me”.
The almighty Barracks fast becoming one of my favourite New Zealand bands, allowed the space to fill a little more before coming on just after their set time. Then BOOM what an incredible performance, even if Jared and the lads appeared to be self-conscious about getting off stage as quickly as possible, lest they face the wrath of a sea of Alexis fans. Or perhaps Team Barracks was just as excited to see Alexis kick off as everyone else, so made haste through their set. They needn’t have worried about it to be honest though, from the hearty applause at the opening chords of their first track, they were warmly received. Their kick drum so loud, I could feel it reverb through my brain, down my body and explode out through my shins. Jared as always was a crack up directing the lads onstage with a “Shut up Tom! I’m trying to talk, can we cut his mic off please?!” So grooved, so tight, so good; if you haven’t checked these dudes out and you love Alexisonfire…what are ya mate?!
Then as the space filled with even more punters, I watched as my photo dude pals scuttled back to their already selected position, as the pre-Alexisonfire tension began to build. Swaying to the tunes coming from the PA in a sea of plaid print flannel shirts and Alexisonfire merch from through the ages, I felt warm seeing all these people who were about to have their faces blown off…I hoped they were ready. Then all of a sudden, Alexisonfire were there! No pomp and ceremony, they burst onto stage with very little flourish and took their positions. Which I might add brought a breathy ‘Yes’ from a gal next to me, when she realised she’d selected the best spot to view from, parked right in front of Alexisonfire’s reluctant Sexiest Man Alive – Dallas Green. Alexis launched immediately into slaying us, not taking a moment to speak directly to the crowd until the lead into We Are the Sound. During which George states “If you’re getting as much out of this as I am, then repeat after me” and we all rouse ourselves to add to his anthem chorus.
Wadding songs together from their self-titled opus through to their swansong Old Crows/Young Cardinals, an incendiary set list was unleashed upon us as each member whirled, spin-kicked and jangled their wonderful, now soft and squishy Dad Bods for us…and we loved their every infliction or movement as it brought us to the precipice of Canadian post-emo hardcore. Every single damn song was one that I loved so well that I can feel the blisters on the back of my throat as I type from singing my guts out for their entire meaty set, as did all that attended. There’ll be many Honey Lemon Teas drunk around Auckland today I’m betting.
In generality it’s hard to pinpoint exact moments, the gig was a coalescence of amazing musical craft, sincere crowd appreciation and the catharsis of a band that wasn’t sure they were ever going to be a band again at one point, making it all the more special for the hoarse throated fans. For an evening you’re initiated into the Alexisonfire family: you’re regaled with stories of cross-continent friendship with The Bleeders, uncannily having them move in right next door to Wade McNeil ‘back home’; or being implored by Dallas to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to their right-hand-man Carl for his 34th year as he smiled and tipped his drink from the little sound booth off to right of Powerstation stage, or when George stretches out across the crowd, climbing out onto the crowd to scream at the ceiling, supported by hundreds of eager and loving hands.
During 44.Calibre love letter I actually cried, yip, this hard rocking chick actually melted into tears of joy and appreciation at the rendition of a song that brought me so much comfort in life. Apparently George and Chris were feeling it too, as Chris noodled around the stage, George moves behind him clasps him in a brother’s hug and tenderly kisses him on the cheek and then pats his chest with his sweaty unmic’ed hand. Before Accept Crime, the track that heralded support for member Wade McNeil; Wade and George spoke about the night’s room being a safe place, where you can be yourself free from tyranny and judgement, “Unless you’re a misogynist, a racist or a bigot, then this is a very, very unsafe place for you” cried George before launching into the track that Wade makes his own as he slices us to our core with the heartfelt solo his blisters out on this one.
It was like hanging out with old friends while making new ones in the crowd, hearing about George’s eye surgery that now gives him the ability to see us. “Before, you were all one big weird moving blur and now, I can see every, single, fucking, one, of you. Right down to the waitress with the blonde hair and the glasses down the back at the bar that’s been singing to every word of every song, I’m with you girl!” George joyously proclaimed. Post encore break, our quivering humanity of a fan-base were lapping it all up allowing the lads to have some fun and descend on the closer, Happiness By The Kilowatt, into a punchier break of When Doves Cry as the stage was bathed in purple light in a shout out to Prince. As the cacophony swelled, Wade taped his gat to the Orange amp with duct tape, in stripe after stripe of adhesive so he could suspend the night in Alexisonfire feedback in perpetuity, and so band-mates could come together at the front of the stage to hug, kiss and congratulate each other in celebrating the end of this tour. As they left the stage the crowd couldn’t bring themselves to leave, as roadies packed down and kids almost eviscerated themselves to snatch a guitar pick from the photographers area or nab a discarded drumskin of Jordan’s and slide up their t-shirt and spirit it away.
No doubt this was a 44 calibre love letter straight from their hearts and while it was no accident; with rough hands and sore eyes they delivered us, drunks, lovers, sinners and saints from anywhere in the world to his moment, this night. A-fucking-mazing.
Do you love Alexisonfire too? Were you at this show with me? Let me know in the comments and we’ll chat…
Thanks Doug and Ambient Light for sending me along to review this gig; and to Matt from Matt Henry Photography for the use of these incredible images. This gig review was originally published on Ambient Light Blog – here.