When Bruce Springsteen returned to Buffalo for the first time following the deaths of long-serving E Street Band compadres Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, he knew that everyone in the room needed some healing.
"We are missing some people tonight," he told the crowd at what was then known as First Niagara Center. "But if you're here and we're here, then they're here."
This same feeling permeated Mohawk Place on Sunday, as family members, friends and fellow musicians gathered to celebrate the life of the dearly loved Tyler Harrington, who drowned in the Niagara River in early May.
Everyone in the packed club – and spilling out onto the sidewalk in front, for cigarettes and tears and hugs of condolence – was grieving in their own way for the man one family member described to me on Sunday as "the most genuinely kind person I've ever known – one of the very few people you could actually say that about."
And yet, as horribly cliché and somehow unsatisfying as such suggestions can be, we felt that Tyler was there with us, watching his favorite bands play his favorite songs, stopping next to the bar to engage in conversation with friends – usually about music, and always in a manner much too intense and passionate to be considered small talk – or taking the stage with Doombuggy alongside singer Clark Faust, to kick out the MC5-style jams.
The cold, hard fact is that, when Doombuggy performed its headlining set on Sunday, guitarist Andy Pfeiffer – for whom Tyler had been both friend and mentor – was flanking Faust on one side of the stage while Girlpope's Mark Norris did the same on the opposite. As one attendee posted on the event page following the show, "all of my favorite musicians were there, except one."
Poignant and painful, yes, but also completely appropriate. It does not feel like gilding the lily to suggest that Tyler would have been pleased.
Sunday was in one sense a class reunion for the school of alternative and garage rock that claimed Mohawk Place as its home base in the later '90s and early 2000s. Doombuggy was part of that class. But organizer and Irving Klaws guitarist Dave Guitierrez went above and beyond to assemble a bill of bands numbering among Tyler's very favorites from that era.
Among them were the Tina Peel Congregation, Roger Bryan, Cathy Carfagna & Dave Meinzer, Bad Ronald, the Garofalo Springfield, Buck Quigley, Bobo, Johnny Nobody, A House Safe For Tigers, TMMC, the Irving Klaws and Girlpope. All gave everything they had.
Much of the time, I didn’t know whether to raise my fist and sing along in front of the stage or stand in the corner and cry. So I did a bit of both.
What those of us who knew and loved Tyler will cherish about him is the unfailing positivity and support he offered to every one of us – as members of the local music scene, yes, but also as human beings making their way through life's travails and occasional triumphs. He gave an awful lot more than he took. It is overwhelmingly sad to think that, in the dark days near the end, Tyler may not have been able to see the light he directed at us reflected back to him as love, support and a sense of hope.
But on Sunday, somehow, even the devout atheists in the bunch would have to admit that a bittersweet and beautiful spirit was in attendance. I choose to believe that spirit was Tyler.