Liquor & Poker a low draw

Unfortunately, the crowd wasn’t as excited as the performers to be at Clark last Saturday.
Unfortunately, the crowd wasn’t as excited as the performers to be at Clark last Saturday.
Photo: 
Can someone say Jamfest?
Can someone say Jamfest?
Photo: 

Concert Review: Liquor & Poker Tour @ Clark Hall Pub, Oct. 22

Although the show was generally pretty intense, Clark Hall could’ve definitely used a lot more bodies. As the Illuminati’s Nick Sewell put it, “There must be some kind of fucked up calendar in Kingston. Here it’s Monday while everywhere else it’s Saturday and people are out having a good time.”

This, however, was a night for the devoted, the admirers, and the groupies. It was the night of the Liquor & Poker Tour: Crash Kelly, The Illuminati and the Black Halos.

The Liquor & Poker label has a reputation for uncompromising hard rock with a punk ethos. Aside from the above-mentioned bands they also house The Hellacopters, the influential Swedish biker rock group. In fact, it seems like the entire purpose of Liquor & Poker music is to revive the glory days of hard rock of bands like Motorhead, Kiss, the Stooges and the MC5. The revolution is a long time coming, at least in Kingston. Only a handful of faithful fans braved the rain on Saturday for Liquor & Poker’s finest.

Crash Kelly embodied ’70s nostalgia through their breakneck set of speedy songs, ripping solos and harmless banter. It didn’t seem to bother singer Sean Kelly that nobody came to see his band. He was at his most charismatic, explaining songs and even cuing applause. Black Halos singer Billy Hopeless was invited onstage for a closing number but Hopeless was too busy with his arcade game. That was the essence of Crash Kelly’s struggles: fight for attention, even from labelmates, while retaining modesty. It isn’t easy to remain confident while stripping away pretensions. Kudos to Crash Kelly for keeping their chins up while scavenging appreciation.

Toronto’s Illuminati took the opposite approach: antagonize the crowd into admiration. Once it was obvious that nobody cared about their music, bassist/co-vocalist Sewell made it his mission to turn the crowd against him, with the comments mentioned above. I guess it’s their shtick, but when has fighting the audience ever been a good idea? “Could you keep it down in the back?” he asked. “We’re trying to have a show over here. Hope we’re not disturbing anyone.” When people pay good money to see your band you better be bloody grateful, especially when most of the audience didn’t come for you. After overstaying their welcome, the Illuminati packed up their metal riffs and left for good, but not before calling Clark a “bingo hall.” If only. Then we wouldn’t have to put up with psychobilly egos.

Between criminal records, label problems and line-up changes, the once-buzz-band The Black Halos aim to reclaim the reputation they reserved four years ago. You see, The Black Halos used to be one of Sub Pop’s brightest stars. Their 2001 label debut, The Violent Years, blipped big on punk radar though some dismissed it as slightly above average pop-punk. Everything slowly went to heck as band members dropped off for bigger and better things. It took a few years for Billy to put together a new crew of thugs and record a new album.

Despite all of that, not much has changed. The Halos are as bratty as ever. New York Dolls comparisons are possible, but Hopeless would rather direct listeners to the glammier side of the Misfits. They even closed their set with Danzig’s classic, “Where Eagles Dare”. Of course Hopeless snarled his way through Black Halos stuff too, focusing on attitude and relying on his backup singers to bring in the melody. His voice was lost in the mix but maybe that’s for the best. His real talent lay in acting out the lyrics, whether by punching himself in the head, windmilling his belt or tying a cord around his arm and using the mic as a heroin syringe. There were also lots of between-song stories. We learned the merch girl’s worst nightmare (catching her mom in bed with a Black Halo) and heard about run-ins with other bands. Did you know Billy ran over Smoother’s gear in a golf cart at EDGEfest? Let’s see those Illuminati whiners get off their asses and do something like that.

The man was also a one-person strip show. His top hat disappeared early on, followed by leather jacket and Ramones muscle shirt. By the second last song (Violent Years lead single “Some Things Never Fall”) he was down to only pants, which, on cue with the chorus, fell. You got that joke, right?

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