Hard pill to swallow

It was Tuesday night and the Night Gallery was unusually hot and sticky. The house was packed and the air contained the sickly-sweet stink of Camels and mass anticipation. A quick look around showed the typical nutters and anti-corporate regulars who call the Gallery home, but something was different. The crowd was a veritable who’s-who of the Calgary music scene. Not that this was a surprise at the Night Gallery, but all of them in one night indicated something special.

This was the concentrate of the Calgary music scene: the CJSW old-timers, the long-time Gallery fixtures, select drunken media, here and there a former member of Fire Engine Red, or an intimate of Iggy Pop.

While most of suburban Calgary slumbered away in their pastel shoeboxes, the crowd gathered to bid farewell to one of Calgary’s true accomplishments: a punk/pop quartet known to most as the Earthquake Pills, but known more personally to lucky Gallery regulars as Chris Temple, Steve Elaschuk, Kara Keith and Chris Lowry.

Temple, the enigmatic lead singer and guitarist for the Earthquake Pills, is packing his bags for Toronto. Tuesday signaled not only his send-off, but a homage to a group of musicians who inspired so many other bands in Calgary and left a litany of wonderful shows in their wake over the past decade.

Temple and Elaschuk, originally members of Wagbeard, and Keith of Bent on Barbie, created a stir in Calgary in the heady early-to-mid ’90s. Upon forming the Earthquake Pills, the band released 1997’s Autodidactaphone–arguably one of the finest musical efforts to come out of Calgary ever. Their follow-up album, 1999’s General Happiness, wasn’t received as well, but still resonates as a unique album, containing, dare we say, a mature and eclectic sound exclusive to Calgary.

With the end of the Earthquake Pills comes the end of two of the most unique sounds in the Calgary scene: Temple’s indescribable vocals and Keith’s keyboards. Add to this Chris Lowry’s drums and Steve Elaschuk’s super-passionate and bewildering bass presence and you have a band that truly ruled the scene over all others.

Tuesday’s show saw the Earthquake Pills play a longer set than they usually treat their loyal following to, and they threw in a few surprises as well. After playing most of the favourites from their first two albums, Temple and Elaschuk played a couple of songs from their power-punk days. Temple ended the set with a solo love song, a subdued and fitting thank-you to the support he has received not only from his fans, but also from the Night Gallery, a bar whose future is intrinsically tied to the Calgary music scene–a scene whose future is in question with the departure of a band with the local status of the Earthquake Pills.

There’s no question the departure of Temple and the breakup of the Earthquake Pills creates a void in the local scene that threatens to reduce the Gallery crowd to a poorly-dressed few. It remains to be seen if Keith, Elaschuk, or Lowry will re-emerge in a different format in Calgary or if another band–say the Puritans, Lazablasta, or National Dust–will fill that void and continue the legacy the Earthquake Pills will long be remembered for.

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