Sarah Harmer, Luther Wright reunite with Weeping Tile

Weeping Tile, c. 1996

I went to a reunion show on Friday, of a band that I count among my favourites. I’ve seen them perform at least seven or eight times.

Not bad for a band that broke up five years before I’d ever seen them perform live.

Weeping Tile played together consistently from 1993 to 1998, during which time a constantly-changing lineup of musicians—who all happened to be friends living in Kingston, Ontario—produced four records, and provided a solid foundation for the music careers of guitarists Sarah Harmer and Luther Wright.

Though the final iteration of the group parted ways shortly after being dropped from their major label, Weeping Tile reunites for Salvation Army benefits every Christmas, plays a few other local performances once in a while and even recorded a song for a Rheostatics tribute album in 2007.

This past weekend’s event at Lee’s Palace in Toronto was special in a number of ways. The lineup for Friday’s show was the whole gang from Cold Snap, the band’s first major label full-length, with Luther Wright on guitar, “Sister” Mary Harmer on bass, and Cam Giroux on drums. Sarah announced it had been 10 years since that lineup had shared a stage, and Weeping Tile hasn’t played outside of Toronto since their last visit to Lee’s Palace in 2001.

The occasion this time was the re-release of Have Not Been the Same, a book by Michael Barclay, Ian A.D. Jack and Jason Schneider on the Canadian music scene from 1985 to 1995. The book catalogues, through interviews, the underground music scene that flourished at the time, including all the bands on Friday night’s bill: Weeping Tile, King Cobb Steelie and the Grapes of Wrath frontman Kevin Kane.

Some of what set Weeping Tile’s show apart was their choice to focus on the period that Have Not Been the Same is about, and celebrate its legacy.

Front-woman Sarah Harmer was in full 90s rock band regalia: a pair of purple jeans, and a Change of Heart t-shirt (they of “There You Go” fame). After plugging in, she opened the show with “Anyone,” the first song from eepee, Weeping Tile’s first record. From there the band continued to plumb the depths of their oeuvre with an overview of all four records, and little emphasis on their “hits.”

Though Weeping Tile’s music had a pop-rock sound reflecting the punk and grunge influences of the time, both Harmer and Wright have gone on to front maintain long-running careers in the folk and alt-country scenes. In fact, upon losing their record deal, Harmer said it was because the label was looking for a commercial pop sound, while they were just starting to explore acoustic & country sounds.

For current fans of their respective work, Weeping Tile’s music is an interesting way of understanding their current work, in effect seeing the roots connection before they did.

When the show finished, the crowd of old fans cheered for an encore, and Weeping Tile responded with a return to roots. “We’re going to do one by the godfather of country, rock, folk music,” Harmer announced, before playing Neil Young‘s “Country Home”. The band had covered Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” on 1995’s eepee.

I have a friend who avoids band reunion concert in the way some people avoid shellfish. It’s not an entirely unwise rule, but it’s overcautious and perhaps unfair. The commonest complaint about reunion shows is that you’re not seeing artists at their “peak.” But Weeping Tile’s songs remain raw, moody, and quintessentially young.

As the authors of Have Not Been the Same have stated, in the years following 1995, Canadian music benefited from the work that had been done in the previous decade, and what Weeping Tile revisited Friday night benefited in the same way.

While it may have been nearly 20 years since some of these song were written, on Friday the band’s strongest iteration – improved by time – performed versions at least the equal of their original recordings.

Weeping Tile proved not just that they can still play and perform as a unit, but that the songs hold up. And they’re bound to hold up just as well at the next Weeping Tile reunion – whenever that may be.

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