Here it was only the third rock concert of my short musical life and already I was seeing a band for the second time! I was clearly a budding concert veteran.
The fact that The Headpins had opened for Loverboy at my first concert had no bearing one way or another on me attending their headlining show at the Moncton Coliseum on November 23rd, 1983, just three months later. I had been a fan of the band since long before I saw their opening set so it’s not like the Loverboy show had sold me on them, and my new insatiable need for live music dictated that I would now be going to see pretty much any band that was rolling through town, even if I had just seen them recently.
Some band called Orphan opened up the show. The only thing I remember about their set was thinking that they looked really, really excited to be up there. My little concert brain assumed at the time that if you were on an arena stage you were an established, famous artist even if I hadn’t heard of you (unfortunately I was raised of top-40 AM radio; I hadn’t even heard of bands like Deep Purple or Black Sabbath yet and I knew it. Assuming a band was famous was my way of hedging my bets). Only now when I look back do I realize that Orphan was likely some regional (if not local) act and opening for The Headpins was probably the closest they would ever get to big-time stardom. Then they had a kid like me in the front row screaming and writhing around in sweaty fist-pumping bliss as if they were Led Zeppelin or something. No wonder they were excited.
The Headpins rocked my world. I loved the songs (still do), the guitar playing was through the roof (seriously, give some of those old solos a listen sometime; they easily stand the test of time), and Darby Mills was belting out the tunes from beneath a mane of ’80’s-sexy long curls and strutting around the stage wearing a pair of those new-fangled Spandex pants – clothes that look like they’re made out of pigment.
Two notable memories: late in the show, just as one of their songs was peaking (probably Breakin’ Down) Darby Mills tilted back her head with a scream and spread her arms while a wall of flames shot up behind her, extending out in both directions stretching from the drummer to the wings of the stage. The crowd went nuts, particularly yours truly.
The funny thing is it wasn’t so much a ‘wall’ of flames as it was perhaps a ‘modest hedge’ of flames. The small butane cannons produced thin licks of fire that were eighteen inches tall, tops. As ‘Stonehenge’ of a gimmick as it was, it was more than enough pyrotechnics to elevate the entertainment-starved Moncton crowd. I had never seen anything like it and I was absolutely blown away.
Second, the band encored (or perhaps closed their set) with Rock & Roll by Led Zeppelin. It was a pretty obvious choice to cover a Zeppelin tune; Mills certainly had the pipes for it. It was the first time I had ever heard the iconic song (can I call it an anthem?) and it was a show-capper that was sure to keep me coming back for more.
I walked out of the Coliseum that night with a trio of souvenirs and all of them free (I doubt there was even a merch table – concert t-shirts weren’t yet ubiquitous, even at arena shows): a Headpins-stamped and concert-used drumstick that I magically plucked out of mid-air, Darby’s white stage towel that I had to fight just a little bit for, and the Sharpie-written setlist from Darby’s monitor, which I got just by asking a roadie.
I took all three to school the next day and showed them off like they were the Holy Grail, the Shroud of Turin and a handwritten letter from God, which to me they were. I later left all three (along with all of my other life-prizes) in a pair of suitcase in Fredericton. I got one of the suitcases back a few years later in a miraculously unlikely bout of serendipity that nobody would ever believe, so I won’t bother telling the story here.
The suitcase containing the towel, drumstick and concert setlist (and countless other treasures, many long-forgotten) has never been seen again, but I haven’t yet given up hope.
Ah, serendipity…my favourite of all the dipities.