Slow to reform, quick to explode

Three decades after they disbanded, Slow is back

How old were you in the fall of 1985? I was 14. That’s when I went down to the West Vancouver Memorial Library and signed out a newly released EP on Zulu Records: Against the Glass by a band called Slow.

I got home and dropped the needle onto Slow’s now-beyond-classic song “Have Not Been The Same.” Mind blown. The outrageous twin-guitar riffage sounded like they were ripping my parents’ speakers apart. When the lead vocal punched in, which was something more like a tortured bellow, I remember feeling like I was listening to something dangerous and unhinged, so much so that I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone else was around; as if I was doing something that I shouldn’t be.

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Then I cranked it.

I marveled that Slow, a purely visceral rock ‘n’ roll band that sounded like a fresh cross between T-Rex, the Sex Pistols, and the Stooges, were from Vancouver. I eventually learned that they were Point Grey kids, practicing in a basement near Locarno Beach, on the other side of Burrard Inlet from where I endlessly spun that record. They were that close!

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Members of Slow in an undated photo. - Courtesy Slow

I never did see Slow perform live. On the night that Slow made their destructive mark on Expo 86 – BC Day, 1986, a famous incident of indecent exposure and lewd gestures that I wrote about for Expo’s 30th anniversary – I was once again across the way, this time on the other side of Expo, enjoying a Fats Domino concert with my parents. Slow’s final show was a few months later at the Town Pump, coincidentally on the final day of Expo. I missed that, too.

Over the course of the next three decades, the legend that is Slow has steadily grown into hurricane-force reverence. Many rock pundits consider Slow to be Vancouver’s all-time greatest band. Luckily, the five members of Slow – Tom Anselmi, Stephen Hamm, Terry Russell, Ziggy Sigmund and Christian Thorvaldson – are all miraculously still alive, and Slow has reformed after a stunning 31 years of dormancy.

I recently spoke with lead singer Tom Anselmi from his home in Los Angeles. I asked him if the reunion was part of a plan to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the break up, arriving a year late.

“Absolutely not,” Anselmi replied. “There was no plan whatsoever to do anything ever again with Slow. But all of the sudden, things just happened. And when the five of us finally got together in the same room for the first time in decades, there was an undeniable energy. Slow is strangely more magical now than it ever was before.”

Slow’s bassist, Stephen Hamm, has been a towering mainstay in the Vancouver music scene for years. Anselmi and guitarist Christian Thorvaldson first courted Hamm and drummer Terry Russell during a lunch-hour jam session in the band room of Lord Byng Secondary School in West Point Grey.

“For several years now, Terry and I had actually been talking about re-issuing Slow’s back catalogue,” Hamm told me over coffee in Railtown. “I had everyone’s blessing, but it just wasn’t happening for one reason or another. Then Tom took an interest and it all came together. He’s the lynchpin, really.”

A re-mastered, re-designed, and re-issued Against the Glass came out this fall, and it sounds incredible.The record cover remains exactly the same: it features the five members squinting in the sun, staring out of an industrial elevator of some kind. That cover that I had stared at and analyzed countless times is the reason I met Hamm in Railtown. We walked west down Railway Street past food trucks and their lineups of Millennial hipsters hunched in the rain while waiting for their gluten-free beiju flatbread tacos. Just before Gore Street, we stopped.

“This is it,” said Hamm, who nodded his head toward what is now a gated parking lot filled with Mercedes, Porches and BMWs. By chance, as someone was entering, we were able to slip inside the lot. The old industrial elevator is gone, but the exact iron-wrought window the members of Slow posed beside 30 years ago is still in place.

Minds were blown, pictures taken.

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Finding the exact place the 'Against the Glass' cover was shot in Railtown, with Slow bassist Stephen Hamm. - Grant Lawrence

When the possibility of Slow rising from the ashes began to take shape, they knew they’d have to find their second guitarist, Ziggy Sigmund. They had originally plucked him out of the punk scene 32 years earlier for the double-guitar attack. “None of us had seen Ziggy in years,” Hamm told me. “So we called [long-time Vancouver Sun writer] John Mackie. John answered and said ‘Yeah! Ziggy’s sitting on my couch right now, hang on!’”

For many, the reunion is cause for nostalgic celebration. For Anselmi, it’s all about celebrating the present – looking forward, not in the rearview. “Slow is something that is happening now. Slow is writing new songs now. And yes, there will be a new album from Slow.” Case in point: Slow is fielding offers from festivals all over the world, and are already confirmed to play their first-ever gig in Australia in 2018.

There will also be three reunion shows in Vancouver this weekend, at the Fox Cabaret, Friday and Saturday night, Dec. 1 and 2, with an all-ages show added for the Sunday afternoon of Dec. 3. Those shows will be their first public Vancouver performances since playing the Town Pump on Oct.13, 1986, the last day of Expo.

Mind blown.

 

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