The last time I went to a Halloween concert was in 2012. Black Label Society was playing at the dearly-departed Edmonton Event Centre, a venue most remembered for having a massive pillar placed awkwardly in the middle of the dance floor. It was a raucous show and the evening ended with me falling awkwardly in the mosh pit and fracturing my elbow. Good times.
So it was with a bit of worry that I attended 100.3 The Bear’s 24th Annual Halloween Howler. To both my relief and slight disappointment, the music was much tamer and the crowd less rowdy this time around. Since it was an 18+ show, the Shaw Conference Centre was set up differently than most shows I’ve seen there. The bleachers and the fenced-in beer gardens that usually segregated the conspicuously drunk from the probably drunk were gone, replaced by banquet tables occupied by tired and sweaty costumed characters.
As I arrived at the venue, I became acutely aware of the fact that I was criminally underdressed with no costume – this is saying something, considering I showed up at the same time as someone in a nude bodysuit.
A sparse but engaged crowd saw delightfully self-described “erotic rock” band Whale and the Wolf perform an energetic opening set. The local rockers moved about the stage with emotion, interacting with the crowd as they went through captivating original material including “Domino” and “Man is a Wolf.” The set featured evocative vocals from Ryan Maier, an enjoyable cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” and just the right amount of cowbell.
As Guns 4 Roses took the stage, I took this chance to hit the bar. The inclusion of a cover band in the concert’s lineup was odd, but the group performed capably, running through numerous crowd-pleasing Guns N’ Roses hits while their version of Axl Rose removed more and more pieces of his clothing. My suspension of disbelief, however, was ruined by having several audience members dressed as Slash watch someone else dressed as Slash play on stage.
At some point in the night, the music became secondary to the spectacle that was unfolding around me. A ten-foot-tall Pokémon GO gym occupied by a terrifying Pikachu loomed over the costumed crowd, which included an Inspector Gadget with a working propeller hat, The Ultimate Warrior, all three of the Trailer Park Boys, and Jesus Christ Himself.
Theory of a Deadman got into the spirit of the evening, to the delight of the crowd, by taking the stage dressed in costumes themselves. Singer Tyler Connolly mixed up his holidays and dressed as Will Ferrell from Elf, but the Canadian rock group was clearly enjoying itself as Connolly bantered with the crowd before launching into an entertaining set that included “Santa Monica” and “Make Up Your Mind.”
After Theory of a Deadman finished their set, the winners of the night’s costume contest were announced. Third prize went to a picture-perfect couple portraying Beauty and the Beast, second place went to the aforementioned Pokémon Gym, and first prize went to a six-foot-tall BB-8 that looked like someone cut an inflatable snowman yard decoration in half, added a frame, spray painted it white and orange, and added a domed garbage can lid. This decision was not without controversy.
The headliner, Bush, served as a somewhat anticlimactic end to the evening, impaired by the poor acoustics of the Shaw Conference Centre and lacking the enthusiasm of the opening acts. The crowd, largely sapped of its energy by this point, stood and watched as Bush mechanically ran through their repertoire. They played their largest hits from the ‘90s, including “Machinehead” and “Glycerine,” before closing the night appropriately with “Comedown”.
The Howler’s musical performances gave the night an uneven flavour. Whale and the Wolf and Theory of a Deadman captivated the audience with highly enjoyable performances, but this was countered by a solid if unremarkable set from Guns 4 Roses and a disappointing show from Bush.
The music, with its highs and lows, served largely as a backdrop for a massive costume party and socially-acceptable debauchery, and, on that front, the evening was a rousing success.
Cover photo from 100.3 The Bear.