If he hadn’t been so exhausted from a 23-hour train ride, Kevin Kane might have joined forces with fellow singer/guitarist Bryan Potvin 30 years sooner than he did.
Back in 1984 (or possibly ’85), The Grapes of Wrath, a pop-rock group Kane fronted in Kelowna, B.C., was starting to gain traction in Western Canada.
Apart from Kane, the Grapes consisted of bassist/vocalist Tom Hooper and his brother Chris, the trio’s drummer.
When the time came for their debut performance outside British Columbia, their manager cut costs by sending them to Calgary, Alberta by train.
“We couldn’t sleep, because the one time I tried to fall asleep, somebody tried to steal my sunglasses off my face,” Kane said.
“We arrived in Calgary feeling like garbage, and our bright-eyed and bushy-tailed promoter immediately took us to [the concert venue] MacEwan Hall, and he goes, ‘There’s this band playing, The Northern Pikes. They’re great guys; I think you’d really like them.’”
As Kane tells it, they walked into the empty hall to find the Saskatoon-based Pikes “just giving it” on stage.
“They had so much energy and so much drive, and we were just zombies. So we went, ‘Yeah, we don’t know if our energies really match right now; maybe we should sleep first.’ We never did meet them that day.”
Flash forward: 1992.
The Grapes of Wrath and the Northern Pikes were both at the top of their form, two of Canada’s most popular rock ensembles. Kane had still not met Potvin, his Pikes counterpart.
The two groups didn’t consider themselves rivals, but Kane admits feeling a bit of jealousy toward Potvin.
“They had two guitars, and the Grapes just had one guitar and keyboards. There were times when I thought, ‘Damn, it would be fun to play with another guitar player.’”
Kane wasn’t necessarily an ardent Northern Pikes fan, but was definitely aware of the group’s radio play and Much Music appearances.
“I think the two bands kind of felt a funny kinship, because we were both from smaller towns in Western Canada,” Kane said early this month in a phone interview from Calgary.
“We’re both harmony bands; we’re both melody bands. We both like some guitar, and we both like to kick it up from time to time. But really, we let the melody be king.”
That year also marked the inauguration of the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC). One opening-week highlight was a concert by The Grapes of Wrath. After 25 years, Kane’s recollection of the event is a bit minimal.
“I seem to remember we invited the audience on stage, and they did come on stage with us. I also vaguely remember the band who opened for us had a kind of Captain Beefheart thing going on, which I thought was pretty great.”
Unfortunately, 1992 also saw the breakup of The Grapes of Wrath, followed by a lengthy period of litigation over ownership of the group’s name and back catalogue.
Flash forward again: 2012 (or possibly ’13).
After an 18-year separation, Kane and the Hooper brothers were back as The Grapes of Wrath – “the same three guys who were playing together when they were 11 and 13 years old in a basement in Kelowna.”
Not only that: they’d been booked for a casino show in Regina with The Northern Pikes. Kane and Potvin could finally have the conversation they missed out on nearly three decades earlier.
“A year after that, we realized we were neighbours in Toronto. We started hanging out and playing guitar together, and it was just like an immediate mesh,” Kane said.
“There’s a certain ease when I play with him. We trust each other not to play something corny or clichéd, or whatever. We both delight each other with things we come up with,” he added.
“He’s also one of my favourite soloists. I really enjoy his guitar solos and his use of noise, and atonality, and all of that stuff. He’s really just a great guitar player, and it’s a lot of fun to play with him.”
Since teaming up as Kane & Potvin in 2014, the duo has recorded a self-titled album and is planning a second CD.
Flash forward yet again: 2018.
Both musicians continue to play with their previous ensembles, and Kane has also recently done stints with the Pikes. Hence this month’s phone interview from Calgary: he was there to record some tracks for the group’s next album.
Even as a duo, their concert repertoire includes new takes on some of the biggest hits of both The Grapes of Wrath and The Northern Pikes.
“We go into it and trust each other to come up with something fresh. The arrangements actually changed very naturally, not because we tried to change them, but because the other person didn’t know the song,” Kane said.
“Bryan comes up with harmonies that are different from what Tom did on Grapes songs, and I’ll do guitar figures and whatnot that aren’t on the Pikes version. It sort of freshens it up, and definitely makes it fun for us.”
After a 25-year-absence, Kane will return to the Yukon Arts Centre on Friday, March 2 at 8 p.m., along with his new musical partner, as part of the YAC’s 25th anniversary presentations.
Who knows? They might even invite the audience to join them onstage.