Last Saturday evening, Thunder & Lightning played host to one of the strangest show pairings I have ever seen in this town, one which featured a set of stand-up comedy followed by a roster of local metal bands.
The show opened with Mark Little, whose work includes playing a role on the CBC show Mr. D, performing on Conan and co-creating the Halifax sketch comedy group Picnicface (you know, the Powerthirst dudes). Little told longer-form stories which focused on his relationship with his father or the strange pseudo-fame he has with children who recognize him from his television work. Little’s comedic style was traditional, telling stories and stringing them together, calling back on former bits and interacting with the crowd on his feet. His bits landed for the most part, with the odd exception: one particular joke about the absurdity of Just for Laughs: Gags fell a little flat, but for the most part the comedian did a good job at warming up the crowd.
Toronto comedian Tom Henry followed, working mostly in observational humour and one- off jokes, in contrast to Little’s storytelling style. Henry’s jokes were dark, almost dropping into anti- humour territory at times, with a delivery that was reminiscent of Mitch Hedberg or Zack Galifianakis. Observational comedy has come a long way from the Seinfeld era of “what’s the deal” jokes, and Henry’s set was fresh and his apathetic dude- shtick worked well. The deadpan style may have elicited the tamest reaction from the crowd initially, but the comedian was the funniest of the three. The way in which his set was laid out allowed for the most amount of jokes to be delivered, as he did not focus on setting up punchlines with a story. All of Henry’s bits landed, and the highlights of his set were some absurdist haikus and a series of impressions that closed out his set.
The final set of the evening was Chris Locke, another Toronto- based comedian who performed a set of body-related, self-deprecating humour. Comedy that focuses on jokes pertaining to the body usually feels stale; we have all seen fat stand- up comedians tell the same jokes for years. Locke’s set was an example of how this form of comedy can still work, as the comedian told a number of anecdotes and different situations wherein his body was a hindrance. Locke’s set had a large focus on gross-out humour, with the comedian dropping defecation jokes and focusing largely on nudity. Locke worked the crowd well and interacted with the audience often, which in- cluded the comedian’s father.
The layout of the show was a unique experience for a stand up, with the comedians performing at the front of the bar. This created a cozy feeling as the comedians performed. The performers were deprived of the normal setup of a stage or lights to help distance themselves from the audience. This left the comedians exposed, facing down their audience as they laughed (or refrained from laughing) at their jokes, providing an intimacy not often felt at this kind of a show.
Following an hour break, the bar opened up the bowling alley for a selection of heavy bands that had traveled down from Moncton to blow our collective eardrums.
The musical portion of the night opened with Ape Monologue, a three-piece jam band that played instrumental prog heavily steeped in psychedelia. Ape Monologue was a psychedelic Cerberus: three heads acted as one as the trio jammed through their set of technical music. Opening with a wall of noise, the band broke into a hard groove as their guitarist, Eric Carrier, shredded his guitar to pieces. Carrier’s wah- heavy solos phased in and out of the ether as the rhythm section jammed in time signatures that would give a math major a headache. After two songs of this constructed psychedelic mess, Carrier traded roles with the bass player and the band shifted tones, playing several songs that held a jazzier influence. The guitar was cleaner. The set was impressive, with all three musicians showing extreme proficiency with their chosen instruments. The only real issue with Ape Monologue’s set was that the band occasionally fell out of sync with each other as they jammed. However, these instances were few and far between and the musicians always snapped back into the groove almost immediately. Ape Monologue isn’t your stoned uncle’s type of jam band.
Fear Agent followed, playing a set of thrash metal that was quick and packed a punch. The band’s vocalist, Julian Merlin, growled his way through the set with the kind of charisma most metal vocalists wish they had, writhing around like a man possessed by a satanic force. Fear Agent’s music is quick and fleeting; each song lasted around two minutes, but the band still found time to break down and build back up again as the audience watched in awe. One of Sackville’s infamous two-person mosh pits formed, as the band ripped through their set with an intensity not often seen in this folky little town.
Up last was Vomitself, a grindcore band sludgier than the tar sands. Vomitself’s music displayed a great dynamic sense as the band melded multiple styles of metal into one monstrous beast of distortion and noise. Guitarist Alex Galley smashed his guitar against his amp to create a wall of feedback, crumpling to his knees as if he was praying at the altar of distortion. Vocalist Anna Maltais ferociously growled through the set as Marc-Andre Richard and Olivier Martell filled in the rhythm section, beating their instruments to death as the music exploded from the sound system. Richard drummed with such intensity that he blew out his bass drum at the end of the set, and the two-person mosh pit that began during fear agent expanded, something almost unheard of at Sackville shows. Vomitself’s dynamic set was one of the best this town has seen in a while, thus proving metal is not dead in New Brunswick.