SLCR #184: Sarah Slean (February 22, 2013)
I was pretty sure this one wasn’t going to happen. Tickets had been on sale for weeks and I kept putting off buying them. There were just too many shows last year that we wound up skipping out on. Finally, Mark offered to pick up tickets for me and (the other) James. This was on a Friday. On Monday, I got the Artesian’s email newsletter which mentioned the show being sold out.
I suppose trying for suspense is a useless endeavour, given that I’m posting a review of the show? Fine. Mark came through, snagging us some tickets right before they ran out.
And when the day of the show rolled around, I was almost a little disappointed that he did. This is where I’d insert my usual speech about being a tired old man who just wants to sleep his life away if I thought you hadn’t heard it 50 times already. But I had yet to pay Mark for the ticket and I would have felt bad about standing him up, so off I went.
We met at the Freehouse. I was about 20 minutes late, leaving me no time to grab a beer before the show. Instead, I picked at Mark’s sweet potato fries (not a euphemism) while James hugged all the servers goodbye. Mark and James both live downtown and appear to be on a first-name basis with every server in every restaurant within walking distance of their respective dwellings. Or at least the attractive lady servers.
We walked the cold, windy block to the Artesian. Once inside, Mark immediately disappeared while James and I checked our coats. We stumbled blindly into the hall, which was already half full, to discover that somehow, Mark had secured himself a seat in the second row, and two seats for James and me in the very front row. I have no idea how he was able to pull this off. Did he have to kill a man? Or maybe three men? If so, what did he do with the bodies? How did nobody see? Or did he scare everyone into silence? He IS both intimidating and resourceful…
Anyway, point being, I wound up in the exact same seat that I had for the Steven Page show. I immediately texted Mary to brag about this. Mark and James, meanwhile, were busy making friends with the people sitting all around us. I have never been that outgoing and I suspect I never will be. I’m not sure if that’s something you’re born with or if you can train yourself. Is there a course I can take? Preferably online so I don’t have to talk to anyone?
Our opening act was Ian Kelly, a singer-songwriter type from Montreal; specifically, the same neighbourhood in Montreal where Mark’s girlfriend lives. Of COURSE James and Mark would find this out within seconds of talking to him (or someone working the stuff table, or someone who had heard of him, or some random person). Why wouldn’t they?
Kelly took the stage, thanked us for our applause, and promised a fine round of depressing songs. He only had a short set, a half-hour or so, and spent a fair bit of the time just chatting with the crowd, at least in part about the really good lasagna he’d had backstage. This line of conversation continued when we briefly met with him on our way out after the show. “It had sweet potatoes in it!”
note to self: sweet potatoes in 2013 concert reviews could be the new chicken fingers in 1998 concert reviews – think about ways to beat joke to death
I was unfamiliar with Ian Kelly’s music (this is a nice way of saying I had never heard of this guy before), but the standout song was I Would Have You, a witty number about jetski love, dreams of opening for Rush, and not becoming an asshole. I later bought the song on iTunes and Mika said “it sounds like your kind of song.” I choose to take that as a compliment and I also choose to not think too hard about that choice. At any rate, I found Ian Kelly pretty entertaining and he was the rare opening act who understayed his welcome. I’d make a point of going to see him if he came back.
Sarah Slean was touring in support of her newest record, a double album called Land & Sea. Specifically, she was touring in support of Sea, the more mellow, orchestral disc. To recreate the sound in a live setting, there were eight or nine people packed onto the Artesian’s small stage; among them, a few violinists, a stand-up bassist (meaning that he was playing the stand-up bass, not that he was forthright) (although I don’t know that he wasn’t), a drummer, a backing vocalist, and Slean herself on piano. Apparently on some shows, Slean included additional local musicians, but here, there was literally no place for them. As it was, when Slean would step away from her piano and trade places with her backup singer, it took some creative maneuvering to make it across the stage.
Whether at the piano or the microphone, Slean was directly right in front of where we were sitting. Mark had managed to secure the two best seats in the house for James and I. He seemed quite pleased with himself, and deservedly so. He also noted that we appeared to be the only men at the concert who hadn’t been dragged there. He might have been right with that one. The crowd was predominantly female, and this was never more obvious then when Slean said she was tired of wearing heels and kicked her shoes off, and the crowd responded with a high-pitched squeal of appreciation and understanding.
She had more of a sense of humour than I would have guessed. This should not be, considering I copied and pasted that sentence out of my review from the first time I saw her. That was almost eight years and 100 reviews ago and I’ve only seen her once more since then, so I suppose I should allow myself a little forgetfulness, but c’mon now. She sings pretty songs, that doesn’t mean she can’t make jokes.
Hey, I suppose you want to know how the songs went. They were good!
I had never picked up Land & Sea, so I was going into the show blind. I figured you guys were probably tired of me saying “I bought the album and had good intentions of listening to it before the show, but then I never did,” so I decided to just skip that whole “good intentions” part. Gotta mix things up, keep it fresh.
With that in mind, I liked all the new songs, though I don’t know that any one in particular really stood out for me. I’m boring and predictable; my favourites were the few songs I already knew (primarily, a handful of songs off Day One). I do gravitate to the familiar and comfortable and non-threatening, and you’re all like “dude, you were at a Sarah Slean show, could that be any less threatening?” and I’m all “did you ever notice that the first line of Pilgrim is ‘a little blood and vomit on the car seat’ because I never really thought about that before and judging from the crowd all giggling out their ‘ewww’s, I’m guessing they didn’t either” and you’re all “but is that really THREATENING, per se?” and I’m all like “no, imaginary person, but I started making up this conversation with you before I had an ending in mind” and so here we are.
All of which is a long-winded, occasionally confusing, and possibly poorly punctuated way of saying that I liked the show. I’ll not likely get to see those songs performed in that way again, so that was really cool. She usually seems to do shows by herself on piano or with a more traditional pop band. But here’s the thing – saying “liked” might indicate that I was the least satisfied customer in attendance. I mean, there were people there who were completely blown away by what they’d seen. I almost felt guilty for merely “liking.”
After the show, James grabbed Sarah’s setlist. Each musician left one behind, but she’d marked up hers with last-minute changes and notes. He promised to get me a print-quality picture or scan that I could use when I someday put all my concert reviews in a book. I don’t intend to ever change this paragraph – you’ll have to wait until then to know whether or not he came through. Give me a decade or two.