The Spitfires: Live At The Pic – album review

The Spitfires: Live At The PicThe Spitfires

(Yeah Right! Records)

LP | DL

Out Now

As the legendary Vancouver punk/ rock’n’roll outfit The Spitfires regroup for their first live performance in more years than anyone cares to remember, a chance finding within the musical archives identified a long-lost live recording from back in their heyday. Ian Corbridge gets behind the band’s story for Louder Than War and reveals one of the finest live rock’n’roll albums of this, or indeed, any era for a band that came so close to much bigger things.

The story of The Spitfires is one of those classic tales of what could have been. Formed in 1996 on the back of a wave of garage rock revival, the band quickly forged a name for themselves within a vibrant punk and rock’n’roll scene in downtown Vancouver. At that time there were a number of great rock venues around and no shortage of bands to fill them. So, all was looking good for the new boys on the block.

What you got with The Spitfires was a heady mix of anarchic punk and raucous rock’n’roll performed at a blistering speed. Whilst it was most certainly very loud and very proud, the songs were well crafted and full of great melodies and big choruses. This was the real deal, and I can only imagine how crazy those crowds must have been when they were performing in some of those small clubs.

As to what The Spitfires sound like, well just take some of the best bits from the likes of AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Hanoi Rocks, Black Halos, Sex Pistols, Motorhead and The Bronx, mash it all up, turn up the sound and speed and you might be getting close. There were no frills and from the evidence of their recorded output no fills either. CC Voltage on bass and Marty Peters on drums provided the powerhouse backline which never faulted, Jay Millette and Mr. Dean-O comprised the incendiary twin guitar attack up front, and Jason Solyom was the force to be reckoned with on vocals.

The Spitfires

The Spitfires wasted no time in putting out three albums in a five-year period, the self-titled debut, In Too Deep and Three, all of which demonstrated the progression the band were making, aided by a relentless touring schedule. This obviously did not go unnoticed as the band were finally signed in 2002 by Canada’s premier booking agents and things were ready for take-off. But you just know that there is going to be a twist here.

Sure enough, after an invitation to the Canadian Music Week festival in Toronto and a headlining show at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern, this was the band’s moment as they mixed with celebrities and were about to perform probably the most important gig of their lives. So what prompted Jason Solymon to set off a fire extinguisher and both choke the audience and cause considerable panic amongst a crowd, who already had a heightened sense of tension after a recent nightclub fire in Rhode Island, is really anybody’s guess.

The end result was that The Spitfires were dropped by their label and agent and banned by most clubs in Toronto, with an unprecedented fall from grace, faster even than the songs on their albums. Whilst they drifted on to eventually produce a fourth and final album Aim Low, this really proved to be the end of the band as everyone knew it. Until now of course.

As we now hit the bands 25th anniversary since its formation, it is fortuitous to say the least that Jason found a long-lost recording from a performance in April 2003 at the Piccadilly Pub in Vancouver. This really was the band at their very peak, right after a European tour and just before they pressed the self-destruct button at the Horseshoe. From the minute that the frenetic drum fills which dominate opening song High Test Sucka kick in, you know you are in for a quite a ride here. And to say that the show is both furious and relentless is inevitably an understatement.

With three of the first four songs being taken from their debut album, they are all played at a frenzied pace which is right up there with the Ramones at their finest. With barely a pause between each song, Jason snarls in a way that you cannot ignore, and the blistering guitar duelling is simply electric. By mid-set they plunder three songs from Three, Over The Edge, Down On It, and Loaded Gun with barely a pause for breath in between.

Three songs are also taken from In Too Deep, with just time for Believe which would appear later on Aim Low, before leading on to a magnificent finale of Alice Cooper’s Muscle Of Love. I must also put a word in for the recording done through Vancouver’s own Howard Redekopps mobile recording studio. This really does capture the power and intensity of the band’s performance in a way that is rarely heard on live albums and I have no hesitation in suggesting this is one of the finest live rock’n’roll performances ever captured.

With all that has gone before, and now the nostalgia trip generated by this magnificent document of a great rock’n’roll band in their prime, we now face the prospect of The Spitfires 2021 style. I’m not sure whether this is a reformation, a reunion or a resurrection but whatever the case this is a big moment as they gather to open for D.O.A., Vancouver’s very own fathers of hardcore punk, at the Rickshaw Theatre on 20 November 2021.

This new version of The Spitfires includes Jason, CC Voltage and Marty, with the new addition of Graham Tuson and Shockk on guitars. And with D.O.A. celebrating the 40th anniversary of their Hardcore ’81 album and The Spitfires finally returning to a live stage, this is going to be quite a night and certainly not one for the faint hearted.

You can buy Live At The Pic here.

You can find The Spitfires on Facebook and Bandcamp.

                                             ~

All words by Ian Corbridge. You can find more of his writing at his author profile.

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