A Review of Andrew Baulcomb's Evenings and Weekends: Five Years in Hamilton Music, 2006-2011
Review by Geoff Pevere
Nothing if not immersive, Andrew Baulcomb's Evenings and Weekends is a riff-by-riff, beat-by-beat, club-by-club and drink-for-drink account of a half-decade spent as a music journalist in a city where music can convince you nowhere else in the world matters. If other places provide constant reminders that the real action is perpetually happening somewhere else, Hamilton's ornery rep for hermetic self-sufficiency has nowhere found more vital confirmation than in the ruckus it has kicked up sonically ever since somebody decided survival in this working town needed music every bit as loud as – if not louder than - the factories left behind when the whistle blew.
In Hamilton, as Baulcomb implies and so many others before him have suggested, music is not only necessary but also inevitable. It's at once a means of getting along in a place where life can be a grind, but also a defiant expression of how that grind can be re-configured into something bigger and better than life itself. Hamilton doesn't escape itself through the music it has so generously generated over the decades. It finds itself and proclaims its right to be exactly what and where it is.
“More than anything,” Baulcomb writes by way of addressing any questions of purpose, “this is a book about being in the right place at the right time. Sharing a common experience. Meeting like-minded people. Experimenting and taking chances. Feeling the need to create and binge and purge with no need for external validation and no fear of making a mistake.”
Those are stirring words, but they carry the whiff of a certain closed-system exclusivity. They do not prepare us for a book which will provide us with a reasoned justification for claims made for Hamilton's musical vibrancy during Baulcomb's journalistic watch - a time of clear ferment and flux in the local music scene – but a book that's already made its mind up about such things and feels no need to convince us otherwise. As a reader, you're either in or you're out. Validation is not only irrelevant but also implies your name isn't on the guest list. You weren't at the right place at the right time. You're external.
This is a fairly common pitfall of musical scene-making journalism: in striving to insist on the self-sufficient vitality of a certain musical movement, it limits access to the movement and suggests you really had to be there in order to get it. And god knows Baulcomb was there. His book recounts virtually scores of evenings and weekends spent in clubs and in conversation with musicians and like-minded sonic fellow travellers, and his breadth of appreciation for the sheer range of music blurting from Hamilton's live-music venues – punk, hip-hop, electronic, garage, country - is inspirational when it's not, as it is at times, rather benumbingly uncritical. If there's a single Hamilton-sprung musical act that Baulcomb saw or heard during the half-decade chronicled in Evenings and Weekends that even sorta sucked, it seems to have been lost to memory.
So is all this music as unequivocally as good as it is because something about being in Hamilton at this time made it so, or because it couldn't be otherwise because it was made in Hamilton? The first supposition requires a sense of perspective and long-view contextualizing that Baulcomb's embedded scene-booster status largely pre-empts, and the second merely insists that being there was more important even than the music itself. And I have no doubt that's not what the author intended to suggest.
I hope Baulcomb will have an opportunity to re-visit this material and obviously galvanizing experience, because I also don't doubt there's more to his love of this music than the fact he was there. Should he be able to look back with some distance and perspective, I expect he might also consider arranging his material differently. Culled from years of reviewing shows and recordings and interviewing key players, Evenings and Weekends reads like a compendium of previously published pieces in search of a narrative throughline, and the chronological, year-by-year through-line provided merely intensifies the impression of front-line field dispatches not yet processed by history. He occasionally steps out of the fox-hole to describe friends, girlfriends, and trips of both the geographic and pharmaceutical variety, but hops right back in as soon as the next set starts.
Certainly there's value in this approach: it's honest, it's raw and it's uncompromised. Like, come to think of it, the music and the city itself. But it's also begging for more. Being present at the miracle is only the first step. Conversion lies in making believers of those who weren't even there.
Geoff Pevere is the author of Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story. He does not live in Hamilton, for what it's worth.