Date #4: Kicking Pumpkins

What is the half-life of a weird date?

Could a date’s innate bonkersness seduce a mind into a half-year atrophy? Did my fingers dangle perpetually over my keyboard for nearly six months since this date because of the thorax-rattling bass playing of Garry Gary Beers? Was it the effusion of winter squash aromas back in October that dwindled the oomph of my muse to a barely-audible whisper? Or did Halloween sufficiently spook her into silence? Also, why is the bass player for INXS named “Garry Gary”?

Some of these questions, alas, are easier to explain than others. (it was a nickname from school.) The salvation of this night is that my memory remains as crisp as the pre-winter air back in October, and my muse – having received a poignant psychologic kick to her dick-bone – has found her groove once more.

Our destination was the sexily-named “Pumpkins After Dark”, and the economically-titled Kick, the 1987 masterwork by Aussie rock band INXS that cemented their status as late-80s music icons. As it turns out, there was nothing even remotely sexy about “Pumpkins After Dark”, thanks to the bevy of small children frolicking about. But it meshed well with Kick, despite that album featuring a tragic dearth of songs about pumpkins. But we were outside, it was night time, and our surroundings were just weird enough to be interesting. This is also how I would describe our accompanying album.

Pumpkins After Dark is an annual event at Borden Park, featuring literally thousands of pumpkins, carved, lit and mounted in ornate displays reflecting Halloween, popular culture, or just the limits of one’s gourd-fuelled imagination. Kick opens with “Guns in the Sky”, a song that leans on one solid groove and introduces itself with some curiously melodic grunting. It sets the mood for a night of weirdness. The lyrics seem to speak to the looming threat of Reagan’s Star Wars plan, and hey! There was a Star Wars element to the Pumpkin show. Everything was lining up.

“New Sensation”, a song that reached #3 in America but was granted the #1 spot in Canada, rolls in next. It’s a party song, and we were at a party event. Well, sort of. There were activities for the kids, and given the number of under-10s who were still rolling in at 10:30 on a weeknight it’s a good thing. Kiosks sold all sorts of light-up tchotchkes, from glowing wristbands to elaborate spinning doohickeys that added to the visual chaos around us. This was smart – if people are paying to walk around and look at a few thousand pumpkins, why not make the whole thing feel just a little more like that scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when they’re trying to walk through Circus Circus whilst in a drug-fuelled haze?

Next comes the most Halloween-ish song on the album, only because the word ‘Devil’ is in the title. This song rides the kick drum like it’s an accelerated heartbeat. As we perused a variety of demonic, horrorific and yes, even devilish carvings, this song seemed to fit with our event more than any other. While I doubt that “every single one of us” felt their “Devil Inside”, I can confirm all devils were present and accounted for at this pumpkin patch of the damned. Especially the ones inside the screaming children. Screaming children will most assuredly not factor into any more dates in this project than they absolutely have to.

Once “Need You Tonight” starts in, one might be tempted to ensure they are playing 1987’s Kick, and not a greatest hits collection or a K-Tel playlist of 1987 Hot Hits. Few albums include a successive trio of aural ass-kickers and chart near-toppers. Actually, this one did top the Hot 100. Neat. Needless to say, this was the groove I sauntered to as we walked the primrose pumpkin path… it’s not like we could blast the album, folks. We’re still Canadian, and as such, courteous to our neighbors. Or “neighbours”. But this tune dominated my brain throughout the date.

One might miss the transition to “Mediate”, which continues the groove from the previous song. This one adds something new though – evidence that Michael Hutchence had purchased a rhyming dictionary prior to writing the lyrics. Pretty much every line rhymes with the title. Strange? Sure. But when you’re looking at a six-foot pumpkin sculpture (pumpture?) of a skeleton on a chopper – or five of them in a row – strange is a welcome companion. And from here we venture into the lone cover on the album, “The Loved One.” This was originally released in 1966 by Aussie band “The Loved Ones”. I guess this was a Bo Diddley / “Bo Diddley” or Big Country / “Big Country” situation. I don’t know the psychology behind it, but does that matter? It’s a catchy cover of what I’m sure is a catchy tune.

Nah, if I’ve got a six month delay between the experience of this event and its recounting, I should do it right. This is a catchy chorus, and it could have been a single were it not for all the mind-clattering brilliance of the Hutchence-penned tunes sharing its album’s real estate. I checked out the original 1966 version of this song, if only for journalistic closure on my part. Goddamn. First off, this one is in 3/4 time. The vocalist has an early Van Morrison proto-punk voice.  I give it a solid thumbs-up, and it makes me appreciate even more the way the band INXSorized it.

“Wild Life” might be the first album track that sounds like an album track. A very INXSified beat, with a few inflections that one recognizes as populating their big hits. While I’m tempted to use “Wild Life” as a parallel to the screaming children, I’ll instead point to the actual wildlife that was carved into pumpkins around us. The organizers clearly made a point of taming the Halloween element to keep it family-friendly and that worked. One doesn’t need to fear that they may experience a terror-induced bowel-release in order to enjoy the holiday, right?

“Never Tear Us Apart” borrows a page from Stevie Wonder’s 70s playbook by using synthesizers to simulate an orchestral arrangement. This is the most cinematic song on the album, and in this humble yutz’s opinion it contains the best sax solo. So how does it tie in to pumpkin-fest? Well, it doesn’t… except for the reality that I will never be torn apart from the delightful date I was with. Seriously – she put up with chilled temperatures and a strange fruit-themed night for me. She’s gold.

“Mystify” is the lone single from this album to see a release in 1989. At this point they were getting cocky, just popping any random track onto a 45 and declaring it to be worthy of being a hit. Except they were right. The song kicks ass, and its DNA is just a smidgen jauntier and boppier than the rest of Kick. This song is to Kick what the Day Of The Dead display (see the bottom of the article) was to Pumpkins After Dark – a surprising snippet of beauty that somehow stands out from the rest.

“Kick” is one clever guitar hook away from being another hit single. I like the notion that “sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked”, but we stopped short of actually kicking any of the pumpkins around us. I will point the reader once more to my metaphorical muse-kick though… when one’s voice runs dry there simply ain’t nothing else to do but to do. My words shall be kicked no more.

“Calling All Nations” does have some hooky guitar work, but the pseudo-rapping through the verses may have been better if traded for a melody of some kind. They can’t all be out-of-the-park winners, right? While we did catch a glimpse of the live-carved Medusa above, it sat among a pile of less impressive contenders. As for the closing number, “Tiny Daggers,” it’s not even close to being the catchiest song on side 2, but that’s alright. The energy is up, and really the energy on this entire album never dips below a 7/10. The same can be said for the Pumpkin show – at no time did it get dull.

Let the dates keep a-rollin’. We’ve got at least 996 more things to get to.

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