I’ll try to be brief:
First off, this is not a nero story. I have a rule to disinclude nero stories amongst these dispatches, for to do otherwise would require me to fill a tome the size of the Chongqing phonebook with tales too incriminating to record. No, this is a story about a Beau Dixon set, albeit a short one.
Beau was the lead singer/rhythm guitarist/organ player for a rather remarkable Ottawa band from the early ’90’s called Freeway Band. These guys coagulated the burgeoning Ottawa hippie music scene with lineups around the block at every single gig they played and they were barely out of high school. Like, I wouldn’t be surprised if they used fake ID to play the bars.
The fact that they were young didn’t stop them from writing catchy, dancy funk rock with a sharply subtle Allman Brothers feel and performing it all with verve and soul. Though all four of them brought tons to the table Beau’s soaring vocals stood out with an almost Stevie Wonder-like clarity, if that’s even possible. Gosh, I remember them kicking off a gig at the Downstairs Club one time with You Are the Sunshine of My Life…it was so damn beautiful. I was crestfallen when the band broke up.
But break up they did; the drummer moved to Toronto and started DJing*, the bass player is still an Ottawa musical fixture, the guitarist started a band under his own name that was fun with diminishing returns, and Beau tried a handful of things to try to vitalize his career, which sadly never happened (between you and me, none of them could write lyrics. I relistened to the Freeway CD a while back and noted that every single song has at least one verse that is all da-da-das or la-la-las. It was still pretty great though).
Which brings us to COCA, 2002. nero was constantly touring trying to build a scene for themselves, and following a gig in Sudbury I left the band and travelled ahead of them to Guelph to start shmoozing university reps at the annual Canadian Organization of Campus Activities pay-to-play showcase weekend, which was basically a four day booze-up for young adults armed with six figure budgets looking to fill their annual campus entertainment calendar with bands and events. Being the band’s manager I arrived early and got quite silly trying to forge temporary allegiances with bushy-tailed entertainment programmers at showcases, private gigs, hotel rooms, and 4am hotel lobby free-pours. I saw some good bands – including the only time I’ve enjoyed The New Deal, who played a small private showcase at 2am one night – and drank a hefty amount of free liquor, all in the name of advancing the band’s career, of course.
June 10th was the day of nero’s evening showcase, the day I was to set up the band’s booth in the convention hall, and the focus of today’s rather long short story. I woke up just an hour or two after tearing a hole though the late-night booze-a-thon and dragged my sorry soul to the presentation foyer. I set up a heck of a booth and tried to keep it together while I gave away free cd’s, shirts, and stickers in exchange for precious business cards, each of which represented a shot at an overpaid gig in the prized Canadian campus market. At 3pm my tired, pained, and half-starved body packed everything up and went to the parking lot to rendezvous with the band, who arrived late from the previous night’s gig in North Bay with a bag of Burger King for me, an offsetting penalty if there ever was one. We killed the afternoon at a friend’s place and arrived back at the campus that evening for their 9pm showcase.
The showcases were held in a ambiance-free white-tiled hall where temporary tables held disinterested booking children, each of which had no appreciation whatsoever for how difficult it was for all these young bands to cough up $1,200 apiece for the privilege of playing a twenty-five minute set (and not a second more) for their chance at booking a national campus tour (which was no guarantee, not by a long shot). I was miffed that the room was only half full, with lots of bookers yucking it up back at their hotel rooms. nero played a great set, finishing just three seconds shy of their allotted time (the best record of the weekend) and we ended up getting several gigs out of it.
After nero played, the four of us went back in to the hall and crowded around the front table eager to watch Beau Dixon play his mini set. And out of the gate he was fantastic, a true talent that shined from the makeshift stage, immediately outclassing pretty much everyone, especially all the dodos who sat there swirling their drinks and chatting amongst themselves steadfastly ignoring the music. Well sir, my shattered, empty carcass just couldn’t stand it and I jumped to my feet and rushed the stage dancing and jumping like a man possessed. Soon my nero brethren joined me, and the four of us raged it proper in front of a room half-full of raised eyebrows and snooty smirks. Beau looked down, noticed that he had some old Ottawa kids to play to and amped things up considerably. He started stalking the stage with the confidence and power of Bruce Springsteen sitting in with a noname band at a local dive bar. Oh, how he preened and yelped, his golden voice framing his squinting eyes like a fiery mane circling the lion’s roar.
And oh how we danced.
He probably managed to squeeze out four songs tops inside his twenty-five minute allotment, two of which were Freeway tunes. I can tell you he closed with the Freeway Band’s staple song, Crying Times which hit us like lighting a fire under dancing skeletons. I was so giddy with sleep deprivation that I think I saw God. Not onstage, but in my mind.
Anyway, I don’t know if our dancing helped or hindered, but I do know this was about the last time I ever heard of Beau Dixon. We certainly never ran into him at any of those campus shows we managed to book, so maybe he didn’t collect enough business cards. It was a heck of a little set though.
I’ll tell you how good Beau was: K-os also showcased that night and I don’t recall hardly a thing about his set.
*I’ve since discovered that the drummer (Dom) changed his name to Mocky and has become a producer, working with Feist, Mary J. Blige, Jamie Lidell, and a ton of others.