As I stood watching Art Bergmann and his top-notch band finish their soundcheck inside Vancouver’s Rickshaw Theatre, I momentarily felt overwhelmed by the history I was suddenly experiencing first hand. It’s been one year since my authorized biography of Art, The Longest Suicide, was published by Anvil Press, but due to scheduling conflicts we had been unable to hold a proper Vancouver book launch. However, the arrival Art’s newly released album ShadowWalk on Sept. 29 offered another opportunity for me to head west and join Art on his triumphant return to the city with which he’s most often associated.
Thanks to the work of Phil Klygo at (weewerk) Records and many others, we were able to organize a special evening at the Rickshaw that began with a Q&A session with Art and I, moderated by eminent Vancouver cultural historian Aaron Chapman, which led into Art’s first Vancouver live performance since he’d moved back to the city in 2022. I wasn’t surprised (but nonetheless grateful) that a full house turned out to welcome Art back, and he put on a stellar performance, accompanied by Steven Drake of Odds on guitar, his brother Adam on drums, 54-40’s Dave Genn on keyboards, as well as an appearance by Art’s old friend Murphy Farrell on percussion, along with his daughter Aidan contributing back-up vocals.
It was an emotional moment for everyone when Art took the stage. Those who have followed him over the past few years know of his ongoing battle with osteoarthritis, but more significantly, that night marked his first live perfomance since the death of his wife Sherri in March 2022. Her presence is at the heart of ShadowWalk, and it was clear she was foremost on Art’s mind as presented new songs such as “Love3,” “Raw Naked Monday,” older selections she also inspired like “If She Could Sing.”
Of course, Art’s punk roots have never faded, and over the course of the band’s 90-minute set he covered much of his back catalogue, including the classics “Guns And Heroin,” “Dirge #1,” and perhaps his best-known song, “Bound For Vegas.”
While that one had everyone dancing, Art closed the evening with a truly stunning rendition of “A Hymn For Us,” from ShadowWalk. It seemed to release all of the sadness and struggle of the previous year, leaving the entire audience, as well as Art, in tears. In the end I was reminded that, although there are rarely happy endings in rock and roll, there are few other things in life that bring people together in such a powerful and meaningful way.