SLCR #187: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald’s Birthday Spectacular (March 23, 2013)
Whenever I go to Calgary to visit my grandparents, I always seem to find a few shows to go to. Michael Bernard Fitzgerald is not one of those acts that’s too big to play Regina, but I hadn’t seen him in a while, and it doesn’t look like he’s touring right now. Besides, it was his birthday party – how could I not go? He’d have been so disappointed.
The show was at the MacEwan Ballroom, which is several floors above MacEwan Hall, site of last year’s Kasabian and Cat Empire shows. I got there shortly after the doors were supposed to open and took my place in a big ol’ line. The holdup was caused by security checking bags and frisking each person as they entered; I had no idea MBF fans were so prone to violence. If anything, I thought I noticed an above-average number of hugs among people at the show. I don’t think they were secret knife hugs.
For his birthday, MBF asked people to wear their finest Canadian tuxedoes to his show; that being, of course, a denim shirt with blue jeans. I even overheard people in line wondering how strictly this dress code was going to be enforced. I did wear jeans, but I don’t own a denim shirt or jean jacket and didn’t feel like tracking one down just for the occasion. This probably makes me a bad sport. Fortunately for me, there were enough people who didn’t join in that I didn’t stand out (no more so than usual, anyway), but lots of people did play along. Some went all out; I’m talking jeans, denim shirt, denim tie (!), jean jacket combos. In a Calgary Herald interview printed before the show, Fitzgerald said that he’d gone to a tailor to have something special to wear for the evening.
As befits a celebration, the show was stacked. There were four opening acts that played for over two hours, and the first was my favourite of the bunch. Scenic Route to Alaska is a two-piece act from Edmonton (their website says there are three of them, but I only saw two, and I refuse to dispute mine own eyes). They played very energetic straight-up rock with a hint of… not country, exactly, but sort of? I wouldn’t describe them as a country act but if you only like country, you could still really enjoy these guys. I don’t know if they ever make it out to Regina, but if they do, I’d be likely to go check them out.
Next up was Cole Hruska, a Calgary singer-songwriter. I think he said he was 15, which, Jesus, really? Is that even possible? I’m pretty sure when I was 15 I was playing Mega Man IV despite not having beaten any of the previous ones (though I told people I did). Anyway, this was just him and a guitar playing some very earnest songs. It wasn’t so much my thing, but he won the crowd over – judging from the reaction, a good number of people were there just to see him. Closing with Call Me Maybe (segueing in and out of Thrift Shop for good measure) was a crowd-pleaser.
Our third performer was Mark Mills. He sang and played guitar over prerecorded beats and possessed a sweet mustache and sweeter dance moves. I cannot stress the sweetness of these dance moves enough. I mean, it was more flailing, you know? Spastic flailing. But sweet spastic flailing. At the time, I had no idea what to make of this, and I still don’t. I am not 100% convinced that this wasn’t some sort of elaborate practical joke. Whatever it was, I was greatly entertained.
After Mills wrapped up, a local radio DJ came out and plugged his station and the night’s sponsors; standard DJ stuff. He also said we’d be joined shortly by our fourth and final opener, Teddy Celebration. Contrary to what you might assume based on that last paragraph, it was only here when we truly entered the WTF? portion of the evening. After three musical acts, a guy wandered out onto the stage to zero fanfare and played standard dance music. It took a while before I realized that this was not just the random music they were playing between sets. There was a distinct lack of dancing among the people in attendance; mostly, people just stood around and talked. Some swayed back and forth a bit while they did it but it looked like they were just trying to be polite. They did seem to like it when he played Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.
After about 15 minutes of this, the person I assume to be Teddy Celebration was joined by someone I initially thought was a vocalist, but no, he was a roadie doing the soundcheck for Fitzgerald. Just smack dab in the middle of the music, “check check one two” on the mics, testing out the drums, that sort of thing. It was very strange. Eventually, Soundcheck Man tapped Possibly Teddy Celebration on the shoulder and gave him the sign to wrap it up. Teddy Celebration is apparently a man who takes orders seriously, as he immediately shut off the music and walked off. Soundcheck Man gestured for the audience to applaud, which they did politely.
Finally, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald took over the stage with an army of musicians. For most of the show, there were somewhere around a dozen people on stage including two drummers, three horn players (who you may recall as The Horny Boys from the Regina Folk Festival), three backup singers, and MBF himself. All of the openers came out for one of the closing songs, and there was barely room enough for everyone.
And of course, everyone was wearing denim. And they all seemed really hot. After a few songs, MBF took off his jean jacket to reveal a denim shirt, and lost the shirt in short order to show off his denim muscle shirt, which he had specially made for the evening and he believed to be the only one in existence. I’m sure someone else has had the idea at some point, but I am not going to let Google Images ruin this moment for me.
A few songs in, the crowd spontaneously launched into singing Happy Birthday. As soon as they were done, some of the crew brought a giant bottle-shaped cake out on stage (alas, I didn’t see what kind of bottle) and everyone sang again. MBF gets a decent reaction in Regina, but in his hometown of Calgary, he is beloved. It sounded like he’s had a lot of radio support there, and the crowd sang along with his old songs and the new ones – Care For You, Movie Life, Firecracker, Follow, and especially Brand New Spaces – people near me were yelling for that one all night and the crowd didn’t need to be told to stomp stomp stomp CLAP along. He also covered It Ain’t Me, Babe, and wrapped up the show as he last did in Regina, by starting off with Low and turning it into Dancing in the Dark. And he did let us know that despite Earth Hour taking place during the course of the show, he wasn’t allowed to kill the lights for Dancing in the Dark. Something about a “fire hazard.” Killjoys.
All told, the show was great fun. MBF is always great and the crowd put it over the top. If I was going to nitpick anything, MBF’s set was surprisingly short. With the encore, he wrapped everything up in just under an hour. I’d been there for close to four hours at that point, so I shouldn’t complain, but Fitzgerald was the guy I was there to see and I’d have preferred more of him and maybe not so much soundcheck-enhanced dance hits of the 80s and 90s.
But whatever, MBF was off to mingle with fans and celebrate his birthday and I was off to retrieve my parka from the coat check and catch the train back home. I’m pretty sure that I was in the coat check line for about a hundred years, but seeing as how I’m not dead or anything, that’s likely not right.