The Watchmen return to old stomping grounds
THE Winnipeg football team’s forecast looks a little dicey, but here’s a battle at Canad Inns Stadium that’s sure to be tight: the Watchmen versus the Northern Pikes.
Book it: Winnipeg versus Saskatoon, a good old-fashioned prairie rock block. She Ain’t Pretty versus Stereo, and all the other hits they cranked out on Canadian radio in between. The concerts happen today during Bomber Fan Appreciation Day at the stadium, after a morning autograph session with the players.
“I’m fired up about the show,” Watchmen drummer Sammy Kohn says from his Toronto office, and dredges up a memory: he first saw the Pikes on a classic winter night in 1988. It was -40 C and an 18-year-old Kohn crammed into the old Le Rendezvous to watch the Regina band rock out.
A few years later, the Watchmen got invited to open up for the Northern Pikes in Eastern Canada. The band had yet to release its debut album, McLarenFurnaceRoom, so the touring gig was a big deal. They didn’t tour together again, Kohn says. “So for me personally, this is pretty exciting.”
Plus, it means bringing the whole gang back to Winnipeg, back to family and friends and the weathered old venues where they cut their teeth. The The Watchmen, Northern Pikes Canad Inns Stadium 12:45 p.m. today, free Watchmen are all in Toronto now, far from the frozen town where they first ripped out the riff to Run and Hide onstage at the Spectrum.
Now they’ve got 10 kids among them, and work schedules to balance: guitarist Joey Serlin composes music for film and TV, Newfoundland bassist Ken Tizzard — the only non-Winnipeg native in the band — plays in a solo project with his band, Bad Intent.
Kohn does real estate and works in sales for Toronto Life magazine. Frontman Danny Greaves now runs a Queen Street pub, Motel. A little birdy told the Free Press it’s the cosiest place in T.O. to catch a Winnipeg Jets game.
You see, while you can take the Watchmen out of Winnipeg, you can’t take the ’Peg out of anyone.
“Being a part of the Winnipeg scene in the 1990s is something we’re still very proud of,” Kohn says. “Out of almost anything we’ve done, the fact we made a little bit of a dent in terms of the musical map, we’re so proud of that.”
They’re proud of this too: there’s new material a-comin’, as the Watch- men plan to put at least 10 tunes online in the coming months. Though Kohn pledges the Banjo Bowl pre-show will mostly be a whack of classic hits, the band’s been on a controlled roll since reuniting in 2008.
At the time, they weren’t sure if it would be forever; but as it turned out, making music when you’re not under the gun of a big-time label contract is a lot of fun. “When we did it full time, it was a life-or-death thing,” Kohn says, of the stresses that led to the band fizzling out almost a decade ago.
Now, they choose gigs selectively: the Banjo Bowl bonanza will be only their second show of the year. “The truth is, we’re playing the best shows we’ve ever played, because there is this urgency that… it could just go away at any time,” Kohn says. “And there’s still strength in those songs.”
Still strength enough that fans can sing every last lyric and line. Kohn remembers writing their breakout hit, All Uncovered, recording it and filming a video. That was 18 years ago. Kids born that year can vote now but whatever, it’s still a song for the grown-ups to sing along.
“The excitement of this thing is not lost on me one bit,” Kohn says. “The fact that we can still commit to playing some room in Toronto, Winnipeg or Calgary and have 500 people coming to hear us play, that’s remarkable.”