SLCRs #153-154: Crash Test Dummies (October 8-9, 2010)
How’s your month been? Me, I’ve been keeping busy. My girlfriend and I bought a house and we both moved into it (albeit several weeks apart). I’ve also had three out-of-province trips, and I’ve put in a ton of overtime at work. Point being, for once I have a valid excuse for not finishing (or starting) these within a few weeks of the shows. I’d really rather be asleep right now, but we’re going to Luke Doucet in a few weeks, and I can put this off for a loooong time if I put my mind to it. I really don’t like having a review backlog.
It’s been eleven years since I’ve been to a Crash Test Dummies show. Anyone I email these reviews to will know the backstory here, but I’ll try to condense it so the web readers can get caught up quickly. Years ago, a friend started a web site about the Dummies. He got too busy with his real job, so I took the site over. Soon after, the band contacted me and I became their official webmaster from… let’s say 1999 until about 2005. Those numbers might not be exactly right but you get the gist of it. Through that time, I got to know the band a little bit, and today, I consider us friends. Not “let’s hang out all the time” friends, more “occasional Facebook Scrabble game” friends, but that’s still pretty good.
I actually missed that whole period in 1993 or thereabouts when Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm was their big hit. I first heard the Dummies a few years earlier, along with the rest of Canada, when Superman’s Song was completely inescapable. However, I didn’t really become a fan until Afternoons & Coffeespoons, one of the followup singles to Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, hit radio. That’s still my favourite CTD song, and God Shuffled His Feet remains my favourite CTD album. I have no idea what I’d think of the album – or the Dummies as a whole – if I heard them for the first time today, but I still enjoy the earlier albums.
They were big for a few years, but the Dummies’ followup albums didn’t sell as well as their first two, and eventually they got dropped by their label. It seemed like they all went their separate ways. Drummer Mitch Dorge plays with (and produces) local bands in Winnipeg, does a lot of work with local schools, and was featured on the Canadian news show W5 as one of the happiest people in Canada. Multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Darvill started a solo career under the name Son Of Dave, and went from busking on the streets of London to having his music used in Nike commercials. Ellen Reid put out one overlooked solo album, but after that, well, I’m not really sure what she or bassist Dan Roberts got up to. I believe Ellen went back to school and someone told me that Dan had largely quit the music busines and became a chef. And lead singer Brad Roberts continued to release albums under the Crash Test Dummies name, but they never really did it for me. The quirky, clever songwriting seemed to have fallen away in favour of simple moon/June/spoon rhymes in lazy songs about nothing. My decreasing interest in the band, combined with my increasing responsibilities at work, led to me walking away from the webmastering gig.
After several years of relative silence – even by his own recent standards – Roberts re-emerged earlier this year with Oooh La La, the first new Crash Test Dummies album since 2004. He’d previously spoken of abandoning physical media and releasing music solely over the internet, so I was surprised when this came out, more surprised when I actually saw the CD in local stores, and even more surprised when I found that I enjoyed it. There’s no danger of it dislodging God Shuffled His Feet from its position as my favourite CTD album, but the time off and working with new co-writers seemed to do him a world of good. He’d also seriously taken up yoga and had dropped a lot of weight, which couldn’t have hurt.
When the tour dates were announced, I was (again) surprised to see them touring Canada in earnest. I know that Brad was never a fan of being on the road, so I’d expected a handful of shows in and around Toronto, and figured that would be that. Instead, they were going from one end of the country to the other. The Winnipeg show promised to be extra special as it would be a full-band show, with four of the five original members – the Roberts brothers, Reid, and Dorge (as well as former CTD touring guitarist Murray Pulver, who country fans may know of as a member of Doc Walker). Darvill was in town a week earlier with his solo show and I had been hopeful that the whole band would get back together for one night, but I didn’t expect it would actually happen. I’m not so sure he gets along with the rest of them these days. I could be very wrong on that – nobody’s said anything to me. Just kinda reading between the lines there.
The rest of the tour stops were to feature the Dummies as an acoustic trio; west of Winnipeg would see Roberts, Reid, and Pulver, with another former CTD touring guitarist, Stuart Cameron, taking over for Pulver on shows east of Winnipeg. Interested in seeing both shows, I got a ticket for Regina and two for Winnipeg. I let Ellen know that I’d be there and she promised to wave at me from the stage. I knew she would – the last time I saw the Dummies, she sang Happy Birthday to a friend of mine that I was there with. That whole night was one of the best concert experiences I’d ever had.
The Regina show was in The Exchange, a nice little venue that has decent sound and questionable lighting. Not questionable for the fans, but for the band – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band there that didn’t say “we can’t see any of you” by the third song in. At this show, I did find their seating arrangements a little bit suspect. There weren’t many seats set out by the time I got there, and all of them were filled. That’s fine, I had a post to lean on. But as more people showed up, the venue kindly set out more chairs for them – in front of the people who were already sitting down. Seemed like a dubious decision. Lesson: show up late.
I don’t know how many people were there. I know they were still selling tickets at the door when I got there, but I also know that the Exchange website says it holds 238 people and I had guessed there were around 300 in attendance, so what we’ve really learned is that I can’t estimate for anything. Regardless, if the show didn’t sell out, I think it might have at least come close. Maybe?
The opening act was Colleen Brown, a singer-songwriter from Edmonton. I liked her set well enough, but wouldn’t rush out to buy her album. And really, only a few weeks later, I’m struggling to find much else to say about it than that.
The people behind me really didn’t care for Brown at all. During one song, one of the guys sang along with his own new lyrics: “I waaaaant to be Sarah McLaaaachlan, but I dooooon’t know howwwww.” Mean, not entirely accurate, still kinda funny. Later on, when she said “this will be my last song,” they loudly cheered. That seemed a bit dickish. It was fine. Not instant-love AMAZING, but fine. Judge for yourself at http://radio3.cbc.ca/#/bands/Colleen-Brown – I think she said that Love You Baby was the single. The number of plays on that site would seem to bear that out.
The Dummies took the stage shortly thereafter, and sure enough, two songs in, they mentioned that they couldn’t see us.
The band sounded really good. Brad’s trademark bass baritone sounded less strained than it has in the past, and Murray had a few chances to really show off why he won the 2010 CCMA Guitarist of the Year award. But really, it was Ellen that stood out far beyond the other two. I remember seeing her years ago, and… you know how if someone’s nervous, it always comes through even if they’re trying to hide it? That’s how Ellen came across on stage years ago. Not anymore. For someone who hasn’t done much performing in the past decade (that I know of, anyway), I was amazed at how much more comfortable and confident she’s become on stage. She was chatting with the audience, playfully bickering back and forth with Brad (about things that I’m not going to repeat here because I’ve gotten into enough trouble on the internet with these concert reviews for one lifetime, thank you), and was just basically in complete control of the stage. For someone who always seemed fine with staying out of the limelight, it was a marked change.
I should mention the part where Ellen, just prior to singing lead on the song Put A Face, called to me from the stage – I yelled back and waved with my BlackBerry glowing in hopes that she could actually see it – and she said something like “James is a long-time Crash Test Dummies fan, he’s our favourite, we love him.” I could tell that I was blushing horribly, but hey, she couldn’t see that anyway.
They opened with God Shuffled His Feet, and if you think I’m typing out a full setlist, you’re nuts. For one, I didn’t write it down. For two, you don’t care. I found the Winnipeg setlist online and will copy and paste that in later on. They were almost completely the same, which didn’t surprise me. We got almost of their big singles, though they skipped Keep A Lid On Things, He Liked To Feel It, and My Own Sunrise. (At this point, the Americans are saying “They had more than one single?”) Of course, we also got a lot of songs from the newest album. There was only one song each from the third and fourth albums (A Worm’s Life and Give Yourself A Hand, respectively), and nothing at all from the last few records.
Prior to The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead, Brad told the story of being asked to record the song for the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack. “Sure, Jeff Daniels sitting on the toilet farting away is funny, but when all you have is the script in front of you… it’s like, this could be really funny or about the worst thing ever.” He considering passing on the project, but stopped being concerned about artistic integrity when his manager told him how much they’d pay the band to do it.
He said that Swimming In Your Ocean was a song about sex, clouded in (heavy-handed and not very metaphorical) metaphors because he knew his mom would hear it at some point. This got a great reaction from the crowd, and Brad pointed out the popularity of sexual metaphors in Regina. “That’s all we’ve got!” yelled one fan, which cracked up everyone on stage. Ellen pointed out that we also have potash.
Brad also demonstrated his well-practiced rock star moves, introduced Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm as “the money song,” feigned delight in being asked to play an encore before pointing out that “ENCORE” was clearly written on his setlist, and denied yells of “Superman!” by saying “This isn’t the friggin’ Holiday Inn and I don’t take requests. I’ll get to it in my own good time, and if you don’t like it, get your own band.” He said it with a laugh but I’m guessing he pretty much meant it. They did close the encore with Superman’s Song, though the best audience reaction was for their cover of The Replacements’ song Androgynous. True, that reaction was just from one really excited audience member, who Ellen later referred to as “that girl who yells a lot? Really likes Androgynous?”
After the show, I had the chance to chat briefly with everybody. That was one of the reasons I’d wanted to see the band in Regina – the Dummies are from Winnipeg, so I figured that show would be packed with family and friends that they hadn’t seen in a while. Briefly, Murray is doing well (and still always, always smiling), Ellen nearly leapt over the autograph table to give me a big hug when she saw me, and Brad was chatting with someone else and was pretty much completely disinterested in me. I got a picture with Brad and Ellen – the first one I ever got, which is weird since I’ve known them (to some degree) for over 12 years – and the contrast is pretty hilarious.
I considered dividing this review into two separate chunks. This is where #153 would end and #154 would begin. Not much point in that, though, since I think I got most of my words out already.
The drive to Winnipeg was long and uneventful. Uneventful is a good thing.
I picked up Kristin at her house a few hours before the show and we got Ethiopian food. To get new people up to speed, Kristin and I dated from 1999 to 2004. We’re still friends, which is probably weird. She’s married now, but I’ve never met her husband so I claim that he doesn’t actually exist.
The show in Winnipeg was at the Burton Cummings Theatre, formerly the Walker Theatre. We parked nearby, and a very helpful attendant walked me through the use of the stupidly complex machine where you pay for your parking. She was quite friendly and tried to get me to sing Crash Test Dummies songs. Then she asked us for change because she had no place to sleep that night. I gave her some because she was far more pleasant and helpful than any actual Impark employee I’ve ever had to deal with.
The Walker Theatre – apparently Winnipeg people still call it that – is a gorgeous old building that’s maybe a bit run down. I was concerned that I’d broken my armrest, but I think they were all like that. Kristin said that the bathroom had holes in the walls. It’s a much larger venue than the Exchange, but given that this was the big hometown return, that was to be expected. Also, and I didn’t know this until we got there, the show was being recorded for the CBC. Maybe I’ll update this someday with a link to the concert once it finds its way online.
Colleen Brown was the opener again, and played pretty much the same set as the night before. The people behind me seemed to like her just fine this time out.
The Dummies played mostly the same set as they played the night before. I can’t say I was too surprised. They hadn’t been touring all that long, and the four original band members were together for the first time in years. They opened with The Ghosts That Haunt Me, which they didn’t play in Regina, but I think that was the only “new” song, and one or two of the songs from Oooh La La had been left off the setlist. The full band played on all the older songs, and the songs from the new album were played by the trio from the night before. Much of the bantering with the audience was the same too, though instead of talking to me from the stage this time, Ellen asked her mom if they could have Shake & Bake while she was in town. A tiny voice from the audience said “okay.”
The setlist, stolen from a Winnipeg newspaper that kindly put it online:
- The Ghosts That Haunt Me
- God Shuffled His Feet
- The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
- Two Knights and Maidens
- And It’s Beautiful
- Just Shoot Me, Baby
- Put a Face
- Playing Dead
- You Said You’d Meet Me (In California)
- Swimming in Your Ocean
- Afternoons & Coffeespoons
- Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
- What I’m Famous For
- You’re Early
- Superman’s Song
After the show, I got to chat with (and get pictures with) the other Dummies that I hadn’t seen the night before. Mitch, still happy, said that if Kristin has a fake husband, I must have one too, so I decided that Mitch WAS my fake husband. I slow-danced with him once, years ago, so it wasn’t that surprising. Also, my 12-year quest to get a good picture with Mitch must continue – I kinda sorta look like I’m strangling him. Oh well, I’ll have to get one next time, if there is one. I didn’t ever really think that this show would happen, so who knows.
Really, the two days felt like falling into a timewarp. I hadn’t seen the Dummies in over a decade, and I’ve only seen Kristin a few times in the past five years. I kinda wished that I could put on 100 pounds, get a crappy little car, and enjoy pro wrestling again for that true 1999 feeling.
Here are some videos I shot in Winnipeg: