It was just after nine when Gravitas graced the stage, the sun still beaming through the back windows near the sound booth, naturally lighting the stage. They were four guys in their mid-to-late forties and, as they took off their fur coats and tuned their instruments, I noticed unlit cigarettes dangling from their mouths like pacifiers.
As a musician, I know that feeling of taking your first steps on stage. You develop a strut, and the most banal movements become calculated, like the way you lift your guitar over your shoulder or how you joke with a band mate.
These are fleeting moments, of course, and as Gravitas prepared for their show, I couldn’t help think that the dangling unlit cigarettes were the thin bond that held these aging rockers together, a connection to past glories.
My deep pondering about the band’s origins and motives was cut short by the sound guy, who after several minutes of the their ambling and shuffling about on stage cut through the PA speakers with a grand declaration: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Oil Can is proud to present, from North Bay, Ontario… GRAVITAS!!!”
He was monotone and insincere, but professional enough to deliver it as if it was the most important introduction of his career. Like actors in a play, the bartender, security guard, and waitress stood in unison and clapped on cue. The sound guy-come-MC could have been alerting us to a building fire in the same tone and it would have produced the equivalent smattering of applause.
After the raucous public announcement, the lead singer counted the band in with a “one, and a two, and a three, and a four,” which was fairly anticlimactic given the thundering welcome.
The country song they started with was barely audible and I had to crane my neck to hear the singer. The drummer, keen to add backing vocals to the chorus, sped up and lost the rest of the band while the lead guitarist attempted his best Hendrix-esque solo over the beginning of the second verse. Out of tune, vocals flat, they limped along like a beat up Chevy, out of gas and miserably cascading down a gravel road in the middle of the night.
The band kept playing, and as each song finished you could hear a stray cue ball smacking the felt of the pool table, the grunt of the shooter as he realized he’d missed his shot following suit. At one point, I heard a faint request from the bass player for more snare drum in his monitor.
I noticed three signs hanging behind the bar: “Hangovers Installed and Serviced,” “Great Beer Bellies Are Made Not Born,” and “Danger. Men Drinking.” The last sign was what I was expecting from a bar in Fort McMurray. But it hadn’t even come close. There were empty tables everywhere, and as I scanned the room I noticed an older couple, well past their vintage, sitting at a table near the Keno screen drinking four bottles of Pilsner, one for each hand.
During an overly drawn-out version of Sweet Home Alabama I decided the stage lights were having the most fun, intermittently blinking and flashing at the band as if in a schizophrenic satire of their plight. I sincerely hoped the bar would get busier, that the band would get at least one wasted couple dancing on the dance floor briefly considering this to be the best night of their lives.
When I left, I noticed I was following the past-vintage couple down Franklin Avenue. They entered a dilapidated restaurant and I stood there watching them through the window for some reason, staring blankly as they waited to be seated. A few moments passed, and as no one paid them any attention they turned toward one another with a passionate, fragile tenderness and kissed.
I spent a lot of time that night critiquing the inefficiencies of Gravitas as a band, producing a general distain for everyone and everything that was associated with them. But I’d neglected to acknowledge an equal contributor, myself, and how I was there, like everyone else, no different from the band, the bartender, the crabby security guard, or the couple in love
Words by William Farrant
originally published in analogue magazine’s June/July 2015 issue