On Tuesday, Nov. 16, The Grapes Of Wrath kicked off the eastern Canadian leg of their 2010 reunion tour at my regular haunt, the Starlight Club in Waterloo. It was a night of mixed emotions, mostly because nostalgia is something I try to avoid. But with the original trio — playing together for the first time since 1992 — looking and sounding as great as ever, I forgave myself for indulging in some misty, rose-tinted memories of how their classic albums Treehouse and Now And Again, once meant as much to me as R.E.M.’s early work.
The band members seemed to be doing it as well to restore some good feelings among themselves, and hopefully this is the tentative first step toward a more substantial project bearing The Grapes Of Wrath name down the line.
I got to speak with singer/guitarist Kevin Kane for an article previewing the show, and here it is as it ran in the Waterloo Region Record:
The music business, especially in Canada, can be exceptionally cruel. A prime example is the career of The Grapes of Wrath, who during its heyday from 1987-1992 was part of a small, exclusive club of Canadian groups that were both critical and commercial successes.
Their jangly brand of psychedelic folk-rock appealed to musos, while their distinctive look brought out more than a few screaming teenage girls to their shows. Yet, battles with Nettwerk Records, the Vancouver label whose reputation they played a huge role in building, ultimately led to deep rifts among the three core members, guitarist/vocalist Kevin Kane, bassist/vocalist Tom Hooper, and drummer Chris Hooper.
Although Kane and Tom Hooper have worked together for short periods since the original group’s split in 1992, it has virtually taken until now for those rifts to fully heal. The original Grapes of Wrath line-up is currently on its first tour since then, and Kane for one couldn’t be happier. “It’s been a huge amount of fun,” he says. “I can’t recall the first song we played at the first rehearsal, but I do recall us all laughing during the second song at how totally like The Grapes Of Wrath it sounded.”
The seeds of the reunion were planted during last year’s Juno Award celebrations in Vancouver, when Kane and Tom Hooper participated in a 54-40 and Friends concert at the Commodore Ballroom. Their performance that night of the Grapes’ breakthrough hit, “Peace of Mind,” immediately sparked outside interest for the band to reform. “We didn’t get a definitive answer from Chris until the last day that the promoter was willing to honor his offer,” Kane says. “Suddenly—much to the surprise of everyone—the original band was back.”
Kane and Tom Hooper last seriously attempted to revive The Grapes of Wrath in 2000 with the album Field Trip, although the process came to an abrupt halt when the band’s new label went under. Partly for that reason, Kane says that this time the trio is primarily just trying to enjoy the experience of playing together again, even with the band’s current tour coinciding with Nettwerk’s 25th anniversary hoopla.
“I’m just not putting energy into the negative stuff any more as it really doesn’t generate positive results. The reaction to Tom and I gigging acoustically had been quite good, but the reaction to us playing full band-style with 54-40 was pretty overwhelming. So, people can expect to hear the videos and singles, and then each of us has thrown in a few more obscure picks that we want to try.”
Kane, who now lives in Toronto, has remained busy as a producer, but earlier this year he also joined what could be called a Canadian supergroup. The Stellar Band of Neighbours was formed by Steven Drake of Odds, and includes Johnny Fay of The Tragically Hip, along with acclaimed Vancouver singer/songwriter Wykham Porteous. The group released a live album this summer and Kane says more material is in the works.
But with The Grapes of Wrath back on the scene, fans are already clamoring for an answer to the burning question of whether a new album from them is likely anytime soon. “I don’t know about soon,” Kane says, “But if we’ve learned anything, it is to never say never.”