As a bit of a love letter to their long-time fans, and as a way of capturing the most compelling, most emotive, most energizing and most beloved aspects of what made The Watchmen one of Canada’s most popular live alternative rock acts of the 1990s, the band has released its first ever live album – Live And In Stereo.
Issued on guitarist Joey Serlin’s own Fifth Kid Records in partnership with Fontana North on April 7, the album features an incendiary performance by the band that took place in their hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba on March 24 last year at the Burton Cummings theatre. A special album release party was held at the same venue on April 8 of this year. A special eight-song limited edition vinyl release has come out, accompanied by a digital version which features the entire 21-song opus.
Live And In Stereo features what is considered to be the band’s classic lineup: besides Serlin there is vocalist Daniel Greaves, bassist Ken Tizzard and drummer Sammy Kohn. The set list captured on this particular night is a delight for both fervid fans as well as those who only have a passing acquaintance to the band through their hits, as it is a career-spanning testament to the band’s unique songwriting style, superior musicianship and unbridled energy in a live setting.
From the band’s 1993 debut album McLaren Furnace Room there is Must To Be Free, from In The Trees (1994) there are the concert favourites Boneyard Tree and All Uncovered, as well as Incarnate from 1996’s Brand New Day. Towards the end of the set, the vibe ramps up with the band’s two biggest hits, both from the 1998 album Silent Radar – Any Day Now and Stereo, Absolutely Anytime and Holiday (Slow It Down) from the band’s final studio album Slomotion, issued in 2001, are also part of the set, as are a number of deeper cuts, making for an impressive and immersive experience for any fan.
“The idea is probably a result of the fact that we’re pretty much just a live act now. We haven’t recorded any new material in a long time and the extent of our band now is just going out and connecting with our fans the best way we know how, and that’s through live shows. And ever since we kind of got back together in 2008 we’ve been playing the Burton Cummings Theatre as sort of an annual event. So after the show there two years ago we decided at the next one we would capture it and put something out for the fans, and that’s what we did,” said Serlin, speaking from Toronto where he is now based.
“It is a love letter or a keepsake I guess. That’s one reason why we did it, but I had always felt that, with the exception of a couple of promo EPs that came out with the studio releases back in the day, we had never done a full, proper live album before. It was always a bit of a missing piece, since a big part of who we are is our live show; to me this kind of completes the body of work.”
Growing up in Winnipeg throughout the 1980s, the members of The Watchmen were keenly aware of the musical legacy of the prairie city, which had spawned legendary bands such as The Guess Who, Bachman Turner Overdrive, as well as Neil Young.
“At the time we were coming up you didn’t feel like they were part of the local scene, obviously, because they were such global successes, but they were definitely inspiring. You felt their legacy. They set the bar and they did give you the sense that musicians from Winnipeg could create their own music and establish a career coming out of this part of the world. And now we feel pretty proud to be a small part of that same musical heritage from Winnipeg,” Serlin said, adding that all the band members go back to visit fairly regularly.
Serlin said he and his bandmates are continually amazed at the loyalty and fervency of the band’s fans, crediting them with keeping The Watchmen’s name and music in the public consciousness during the time it was on hiatus.
“You know what, and I don’t know how to say this without sounding cliché, but it literally blows my mind. I come home from a show and I say to my wife, ‘I can’t it believe it.’ We can put a show on sale like this one at the Burton Cummings Theatre and sell 1,700 tickets or so, and they’re all there and they’re enthusiastic and they are singing every word, and we haven’t put out any new music in over 15 years,” he said. The band did release two internet singles in 2009 – Trampoline and Miss Monday Morning.
“I think it’s a testament to how we treated our live shows in our prime. We really, and Danny particularly, would put it all out there. We left nothing behind us; we just expended every ounce of sweat and energy. And I think because of that we created a lot of special memories for our fans so that they allowed our legacy to endure during our time away. I mean we had both a book [Uncovered: The Story of the Watchmen, 2014] and a documentary (All Uncovered – The Watchmen, 2010] that were fan-inspired projects. These folks were just die-hard Watchmen fans who wanted to contribute to the experience and take things to the next level from a fan perspective. We benefited as a band from their efforts. We definitely don’t take any of the support and love we get for granted. We appreciate all of it and all of them.”
Tizzard is the only member of the classic Watchmen lineup who pretty much devotes his living and creative efforts solely on music. A former member of Ian Thornley’s solo band, he is also a solo artist of some note, with a string of rootsy albums and a consistently busy touring schedule. Serlin has a company that records music for film, television and video games, while Kohn recently moved from a job at Twitter to work for Spotify. Greaves owns a club in Toronto that features live jazz music and which also acts as a gathering place for expatriate Winnipeggers, including showing games by the now-returned Jets NHL club.
So there isn’t likely to be a full-tilt reunion with massive tours in the offing for The Watchmen. What it does mean is that each show is just that much more special.
“I know there is a lot of interest out there in the band, from a booking and touring perspective – and there always has been. But I have a feeling if we booked 100 shows a year, we would go back to where we were when we broke up in 2003. I just know it would happen. A lot of the old conflicts and stresses would open up again and the shows would become a little too routine and we would go into autopilot to some extent. But the number of shows we do right now allows for so much fun, excitement and energy. We never go on autopilot. We’re always chatting back and forth over email about what songs we want to bring out of cobwebs to give the fans something different for each show. We have some people who come out to see us practically every time we play so we always try to give them a bit of a new experience,” Serlin said.
“It’s kind of the best of both worlds for all of us. We all have our other interests both inside and outside music, but we also know that when the mood strikes us, we can all get together and play music, have a lot of fun and reconnect with our fans. Listen, I have four kids, so I can’t imagine going out for three or four months at a time and not seeing them. In 2003 that was a big part of why I wanted to stop touring, because I missed my kids. But it’s certainly nice to go away for a weekend here and there and play a couple of shows and come back home. So I am pretty fortunate enough, and I know the other guys feel this way to.”
The band will perform a number of select shows over the summer, as they have done for the past few years, although some dates have yet to be confirmed. The Watchmen have a long connection with the city of Kingston, and in particular, the most famous band to come out of the Limestone City, the recently minted 2017 Juno Award winning Tragically Hip.
“We have had many, many good nights in Kingston so it would be a nice thing to get back there on this tour, because we honestly haven’t been back for a while. We toured with the Hip a lot – we did a ton of shows with them in both Canada and The United States. We also did a few really memorable one-off shows with them like at the Molson Amphitheatre [now called the Budweiser Stage] and we did a New Year’s Eve show at the Air Canada Centre, which was a great night. It was always a special show when we opened for them, they’re an amazing band and amazing guys,” Serlin said.
For more information on the band, upcoming tour dates and the Live And In Stereo album, visit www.the-watchmen.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.