On February 12, 2005 I walked two blocks from my home to Irene’s Pub where I paid a nominal cover charge, ordered a Labatt’s 50 on tap and had my mind completely torn to shreds by a local band called The Flaps (et al).
Their guitar player was a fellow teacher at the Folklore Centre and I had tried to see them once before, but when I arrived at the bar I caught only the final minute before what I thought was the set break, but it turned out they were done for the night. At 11:45pm on a Saturday night! The next time I saw buddy at work I chewed him out so bad we almost got into a fight.
Anywho, it seems that someone learned a lesson because after finishing our umpteenth beer at my place me and my posse headed out at a reasonable hour and this time when I walked in for the final minute of music it was indeed the end of the first set. Thank ye gawds.
The band came out for their second set wearing pyjamas while their singer donned a full-body Adidas jumpsuit and one of these furry toques with dangling ear flaps. My guitarist friend hit a chord to check his guitar level before they started and on that single sonic burst alone I called it: Tainted Love by Soft Cell. To say they nailed the song would be a lie but the band rocked it out hard and solid, no question about that. But that’s just peripheral commentary because it was immediately obvious that the singer was going to garner all the attention in the room for the remainder of the evening.
It’s not that he had the greatest pipes in the world – he didn’t – but that was totally irrelevant. Quite simply, the man rocked out like he was the lead singer of Bon Jovi performing at Madison Square Garden circa 1986. Moment by moment the dude displayed an uncanny creativity and he had a stage presence that was nothing short of hilarious. Here we are in a modest, low-ceilinged pub in The Glebe and Gene Simmons is leaping off of the 10” stage and screaing his absolute heart out two feet from us. He was bending over backwards like David Lee Roth and singing his lungs raw. The guy’s energy was uncappable. To say I was shocked to utter disbelief at what I was seeing doesn’t even come close. I was enthralled.
Second song: Silly Love Songs by Sir Paul McCartney (it seemed like a Valentine’s theme was developing). Silly indeed but the man continued rocking our jaws to the floor. Third tune was a medley, I Feel Love into Ghost Riders in the Sky into a complete start-to-finish run through of I Was Made For Loving You by Kiss. As my raised rock and roll fists pumped the air our singer-guru was on his knees screaming like a high school kid alone in his room lip-syncing in front of the mirror. It was a freakin’ glorious thing to be a part of.
While he was singing the next number – The Ketchup Song by Stompin’ Tom Connors – the dude handed out single cold french fries to everyone sitting at the front few tables, presenting them with an overt pantomime as if the fries were precious gifts to be cherished. When The Ketchup Song was finished the vocalist took a little break and the band played My Funny Valentine and Bésame Mucho instrumentally. For my part, I got myself another beer and another beer and stood at the bar trying to find my marbles. When I noticed the singer returning to the stage I quickly hustled back up to the front to rejoin the glee.
Though I couldn’t help but to sing every word of the next tune loud and proud, it took me almost until the chorus to recognize it as Def Leppard’s Love Bites. The band had worked up a really cool arrangement, doing the song much faster than it goes and really rockin’ it up. But of course once again the singer was the thing. It was at this point in the show where he opened a package of sausages and, holding one to his mouth like Groucho Marx’s cigar, he jumped off the tiny stage and approached my friends and I sitting there at the front, our mouths agape.
It was clear that this guy could and would do just about anything to get a reaction and I felt this was a test. He slowly paraded back-and-forth in front of us, leaning in close and giving each one of us a nose-to-nose closeup of his best Groucho eyebrows, flapping his sausage all the while. He was clearly looking to make us flinch; checking to see that we deserved to be in the front row. I had to muster all my power to not lean out of range but I held my ground, and he, satisfied, ultimately returned to the stage, sausage intact.
Then, naturally, they bleed the Def Leppard Love Bites right into Love Bites by Judas Priest and my buddy Ahess starts to melt right next to me. Here we are nearly weeping with joy and then the band goes and kicks into a faithful rendition of Whole Lotta Love. Wow. Just wow. But wait: just as the vocals come in they switch gears on a dime and start doing the Zeppelin classic as a lounge tune. It was brilliant. Singer-man bled it dry, singing “Way way way way, I’m talking way way way down inside. You all know what I’m talking about…” Halfway through the song he turned to the band complaining that the audience didn’t understand what he was talking about. That people in the crowd didn’t feel things way, way down inside like he did. I staggered to my feet and drunkenly screamed that I did! I understood him completely! He approached me, we discussed it back-and-forth into his microphone – he playing the down-and-out lounge singer perfectly while I nail my role as drunken swill-swilling moronic audience member – and he was soon convinced that I was indeed with him, that I did know that he was talkin’ ’bout being way way way way – I mean way way WAY on down – inside. We were one! I returned to my seat.
Though it was already an experience I’d never forget, the kicker came in the last song: Love Will Tear Us Apart. The vocalist grabbed a can of whipped cream and with one of the sausages hanging out of his tight white shorts (he’d doffed his pants mid-set) he used the whip cream to simulate self-love. And though I assure you it was much funnier – poignant even?* – than it sounds, what floored me, and I mean floored me, is when he sang the last verse and chorus whilst simultaneously spraying the remaining contents of the whipped cream canister into his mouth in a thick, constant stream. Dude is standing at the back of Irene’s singing this hear-wrenching ballad while mounds of the whip cream overflow out of his mouth, down his shirt and onto the floor. I could not believe my eyes; I was laughing so hard I could barely sit down.
I honestly can’t remember ever enjoying a bar band that much ever. It was simply incredible.
I think it cost $5, plus beers.
(After the band ended for the evening I made the mistake of asking a pharmacist I’d just met why it takes so many years of university education to fill bottles with pills. It was meant as a joke [sort of] but it really pissed him off and the guy had a crowd with him. I felt it best to leave; they honestly wanted to kick my ass.)
Of course I raved to my buddy about the show the next time I saw him at work and it was then that I discovered to my deep disappointment that The Flaps were in fact an instrumental group. The singer that I and my pals had witnessed had been a one-time sit-in by Ottawa musical (and otherwise) legend Remi Royale, who once won the showcase showdown on The Price is Right. For legit. I’ve seen it on youtube.
I was devastated.
*Mmmm…now that I think about it, it wasn’t poignant at all.