When Jacquie Neville considers what led to Toronto alt-rockers the Balconies calling it quits after 10 years, the front woman traces the band's declining interest in touring back to a long-standing dining spot.
"What I found became hard was staying healthy. You're on these really long drives, trying to get to the next city, and the only thing in sight is a Tim Hortons. Looks like I'm having chili, again," Neville says with a laugh.
With long drives and few large cities to play, the rigours of touring Canada have led the Balconies to end their decade-long run in early February. And they're doing so in a way that is becoming commonplace among bands: with pronounced final shows. The Balconies' two last gigs, at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on Feb. 1 and Ottawa's 27 Club on Feb. 2 and 3 – the eve of the anniversary of their debut show 10 years before at the same venue – represent more of a celebration of life than a funeral for Neville's bandmate Liam Jaeger.
"It's about closure for us and closure for our fans," Jaeger said.
That closure could put to rest some memories of a draining career spent touring Canada. Neville recalls that after releasing their debut LP, Fast Motions, in 2014, they played 280 shows in one year. She returned home emotionally, physically and mentally drained and had trouble sleeping because of, somewhat ironically, exhaustion from touring.
"All I could think was, 'Why am I doing this?'" Neville said.
Still, the Balconies understood a hard reality: Travelling the Trans-Canada Highway was the only way they'd be able to support themselves.
"There's no way you're going to be able to bank on album sales or Spotify plays," Neville said. "The weight of your success is going to be on your live show."
They're not alone. In December, critically acclaimed St. John's indie act Hey Rosetta! announced the band would be calling it quits "for the foreseeable future," with three final shows in Toronto and two in St. John's. In a release, Hey Rosetta! cited members needing to leave the "mad cycle" of being in a band. They added that their time as a band has been dizzying, so much so that they're "not sure how to stand and act normal."
Both Jaeger and Neville insist they're looking forward to their final shows despite the fact they're closing a chapter of their lives. There are no feelings of lingering resentment over the decision. Because, for the Balconies and other Canadian bands, final shows present a remarkable difference from the realities of being a touring band.
Namely, the shows themselves are often the only thing bands enjoy.
Michael Small and the Meligrove Band played a final live performance on Nov. 24 at Lee's Palace in Toronto. The bassist remembers his time in the band as "high stakes" and stressful.
"When you're in an active band, every performance is an audition for your next performance," Small said.
With talent buyers constantly looking at the band's ticket sales, coupled with the emotional consequences of spending long stretches of time cooped up in a van with bandmates who can easily draw your ire, Small would generally pace around the venue endlessly before most shows, since the band formed in 1997.
But when he walked into Lee's Palace in November, he felt relief. Anything that his bandmates had done to annoy him throughout their career washed by the wayside.
"All there was to think about was having fun with each other," said Small, who described the final Meligrove Band show as "nice, light and joyful."
Chad Ross, singer and guitarist for Toronto psych-rockers Quest for Fire, remembers his band's farewell show at the Horseshoe Tavern in 2013 as a "a selfish decision."
"We were friends. When bands just walk away from it, there's definitely some kind of tension or bad blood," Ross said.
Like Small and the Balconies, Ross said the rigours of touring Canada as a means to make a living was "100 per cent" what led to their decision to stop playing together.
The reality for Canadian bands is that ballooning costs for work permits to tour in the United States ($460 U.S.) make touring across Canada's vast landscape a must, until it starts to wear heavily.
Small counts the arduous drives in Western Canada and the fact that promoters will have bands play as close to last call as possible to maximize profits from the bar as what wore on his band.
"You never really have enough sleep," he said. Small likens his experience touring Canada to that of reality shows where people are forced to live in a house together, sleep-deprived and constantly fed alcohol as a means to create drama.
"It's easy for people to get really tired of it," Small said.
And the Balconies did. But Neville and Jaeger still want to end on a high note.
Jaeger insists the band enjoys playing "high-pressure shows," and that walking away on their own terms presents an opportunity to "be rid of some of the heavy chains that wear us down."
The band has already heard from fans on social media who will be travelling from across North America to attend.
"Whether it was 1,000 people or 100 people, we still made an impact on them," Neville said. "I think that's the greatest gift of all. For us, it's bittersweet obviously, having the Balconies come to a close, but this is an empowerment, these final shows."
That feeling of liberation is what drives Small's simple advice for bands ahead of their final show: "There's nothing for you to prove now."
The Balconies perform at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on Feb. 1 and Ottawa's 27 Club on Feb. 2-3 (thebalconies.ca).