"IT'S BEEN four years since we played together, which is obviously a long time," says Constantines' Steve Lambke. "We'd been busy and active up until 2010, and then we did nothing... but it's also in some ways not that long a time, either. I don't know. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with the term 'reunion.'"
It's fair that the group is backing away from the term: Labels and packages never really suit them. After an extended period of downtime—which saw members embark on different solo projects—Constantines regrouped this summer to play a few Canadian dates and celebrate the 11th anniversary reissue of their 2003 album, the great, stampeding Shine a Light. Now they're playing their first US show in many moons as part of the Project Pabst festival.
In the interim, the Guelph, Ontario, band's music has grown more vital—and more specifically unique. Their jagged, hardcore-informed rawness, paired with an almost contradictory, blanket-warm sense of classic-rock comfort, seemed like the obvious direction for smart, intense, soaring, guitar-driven music to take. Strangely, no one seems to have picked up Constantines' cue.
Luckily, they've been able to pick up where they left off. "We hadn't played as this band for a few years, so we put in some significant hours in the rehearsal room," says Lambke. "And the first day was a little rickety, but it all came back pretty quick. That's sort of the magic of a rock 'n' roll band—the mysterious chemistry between a group of people. We'd all been playing music in different realms and configurations and projects... all fairly different than the Constantines. But when we all came together, it was just there."
That collective presence illuminates the band's masterworks, such as the hymn-like "Soon Enough," from 2005's Tournament of Hearts, and the palpably tense but optimistic "I Will Not Sing a Hateful Song," from 2008's Kensington Heights. With Bry Webb's throaty intonation often taking the reins (with occasional lead vocals from Lambke), the Cons' collision of guitars, drums, bass, and organ rumble like a 200-ton locomotive careening along a tight steel rail. It's the sound of a world-weary weightiness giving way to hope and transition—a hard-won, no-shortcuts variety of music that the band never found a way to make other than the hard way.
The reissue of Shine a Light—which comes one year too late for a proper 10th anniversary—is perhaps the first time both the band and its audience has been able to reflect on what the Constantines sweated so hard over during those years. "It was, in its way, sort of more problematic to make than the other ones," Lambke says, "which I would basically attribute to inexperience on our part. There were a few moments of being really disheartened in the making of that record, but I think something really good and strong came out of it."
Meanwhile, it's impossible to say if the band will ever record another album, or even tour again. For now, Constantines are living in the moment.
"People have been asking and I don't have an answer," Lambke says, frankly. "We are, even at the best of times, fairly slow to make decisions and slow to plan things—which is why we did an 11th anniversary reissue of Shine a Light. That's just a perfect example. As for the future and new music, it's totally possible. And at the same time, maybe not. We're throwing it all into these shows right now, and then we'll see what happens. When that's done, we'll all hang out and drink a couple of beers and talk about what, if anything, we want to do next."