That is one misleading title. You’d think that seeing the Gin Blossoms in 2015 would be enough for one day, but this was not just the Gin Blossoms, oh no. It was the Gin Blossoms AND Fastball AND the Rembrandts. Outdoors at the Queen City Ex. Yes.
Two years ago, we went to South Dakota for a summer trip to Mount Rushmore, and Smash Mouth was playing the fair in Rapid City. On my birthday. We did not go to this. It had been a long day of riding jackalopes and petting goats and doing other touristy junk. While I still had enough energy to go watch a band that I was honestly interested to see, I wasn’t really up for a few hours at the fair just to be able to say “I drove eight hours to South Dakota to see Smash Mouth play a fair on my birthday.” I do kind of regret this, especially since that time a few months ago where Smash Mouth played some other fair and got bombarded with bread thrown by drunks and the lead singer swore a bunch while the band played the starting notes to All Star for like ten minutes in hopes that things would turn around. That was a very good day on the internet.
Point being, it was high time I saw a band at the fair. I have never done so, unless you count five minutes of some local metal band I saw when I was 10 or so. I didn’t do concert reviews then but they were memorable enough; imagine if Kiss sucked and was fat and didn’t try very hard with their makeup. There you go.
In fact, I hadn’t even been to the fair at all in about 20 years by my estimation. I’m not much of a ride guy, and while I AM a games guy and also an eat-garbage guy, they both seem like bad ideas. The fair is expensive, the prizes are cheap, and the food will most likely kill you slowly. But it had been 20 years, so what the heck.
We got to the fair around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday evening and parking was… shockingly easy? I did not expect that. The whole process was painless. We took a big ol’ walk around, checking out rides and games and foods and whatnot. Ultimately, I passed on all the really epic-sounding treats – donut grilled cheese, maple bacon donut burger, deep-fried Philly cheesesteak – it seems I have limits. And also I’d gone to Regina’s new Carl’s Jr. earlier in the day (vacation woo). I did get a corn dog, but didn’t even make it through half of it before realizing that corn dogs are so much better in theory than in practice. Sad. But a caramel apple made things better.
Our first concert experience of the day was listening to some cover band play Van Halen and Def Leppard. They were better than the corndog and worse than the caramel apple. If they ever find this by googling whatever (not their name, since I neither know nor care what it is), they should know that I like caramel apples a lot. But on the flipside, it was a really disappointing corndog so that was a low bar to clear.
Eventually we wandered over to the concert stage where we were joined by… very few others. At the start, there were probably about as many people as at the Geoff Berner show. I was pretty surprised by this. I mean, I get that these bands were big (to whatever degree) 20 years ago, but it was a free show, and I’d seen recent pictures from the Saskatoon Ex of what appeared to be massive crowds for shows by Our Lady Peace and Great Big Sea (both of whom are certainly bigger in Canada and they’re also still making music and all, but still).
I should mention that a while back, Colin had suggested that he might be interested in coming to the show with us were he available. However, when I texted to let him know that we were, in fact, committed to going, he’d already made other plans and was actually on his way to Edmonton to see the Roughriders play.
The stage was big, the park-type area had room for lots of people, and there was even a big screen for those of us who were further back. It was a pretty nice setup. Our host was a local radio DJ who I only know of because he posted some screencaps to Facebook a month or two ago where he’d been texting back and forth with a scammer who was claiming to be trapped in Uganda. Most of their conversation centered around trying to get Kamala’s autograph. Papa Shango was also mentioned. I approved.
First up were The Rembrandts, or as you may know them, The “Theme from Friends” Band. More than one person I know suggested that they’d walk out, play I’ll Be There For You, and leave the stage. Justin Shapiro, noted Friends superfan, offered up the instrumental end credits version of IBTFY as a second song (and, in fact, he DID use that acronym when doing so; luckily, I was able to deduce its meaning from context and didn’t have to out myself as a Friends poseur). This one-song idea, of course, is vastly unfair to the Rembrandts, who also covered Making Plans for Nigel on an XTC tribute album I have. Plus, there’s… hmmm… did I mention they did the theme from Friends?
I sent Colin a picture of the very sparsely populated front-of-stage area. He said that it was good that we were there for them, because it clearly hasn’t been their day, their week, their month, or even their year. At this point, a random Edmonton number texted me to suggest that their job’s a joke, they’re broke, their love life’s DOA. I did not know who this was. Eventually, this person revealed himself to be Colin’s old roommate. This was an interesting development because he was texting me jokes all night (and the occasional complaint about the Riders) and… you know, I don’t think I know this guy or have even ever met him before. I think I’ve only ever met one of Colin’s roommates and that was only one time – back when Colin’s car got locked up in the parking lot of the mean hockey equipment store and his roommate had to come rescue us.
Jokes and asides aside, I actually read a really interesting article about the Rembrandts on AV Club about six weeks ago, about how they’d had some success before Friends, weren’t really sold on the idea of performing a TV show theme (one which they didn’t write), and wound up overwhelmed and burdened by it when it took off. You should check it out if you want to read some real writing from a real writer.
Anyway, the Rembrandts played for a little better than a half an hour, just the two guys on guitars and vocals. The sound started off a little shrill, but it improved as the set went on. I thought I recognized one other song, and Mika did too (but a different other song). Looking over their singles online, I know they played Rollin’ Down the Hill and Just The Way It Is, Baby, and I think they played This House Is Not A Home. They were reminiscent of the less-rockier Odds songs, and that’s not a bad thing. I did think that having some drums to fill out the sound might have helped – when they closed with IBTFY, they even joked about not being able to hear the drums. And you can’t really help the attendance, but when the crowd is small and the venue is big, maybe trying a singalong part isn’t the best plan. It might have sounded good to the 50 people at the front of the stage, but we were a little further back (by a tree! optimal sitting/leaning spot) and you couldn’t really hear the response part of the call-and-response bit.
Fastball took the stage about ten minutes before their scheduled 8:00 p.m. start time, causing one of the cameramen to have to sprint back into position. Like the Rembrandts, Fastball is primarily known for one song (The Way), but they did have more radio success with some followups, namely Out of My Head, You’re an Ocean, and Fire Escape. They played all those, and also Warren Zevon’s hockey song Hit Somebody – unsure if that is a standard part of their set or if they threw it in to appeal to the locals. A quick Google search for “fastball hit somebody” just brings up videos of baseball accidents (like that time Randy Johnson made a bird explode!) so I’m guessing it was special for us – the song itself kinda made me roll my eyes but I will always give a band credit for trying something special in concert. They seemed alternately confused and amused regarding the pronunciation of Regina, as Americans so often do. The full-band sound and slowly-increasing attendance helped their set, but a lot of the time, they felt like they just weren’t quite in sync. Like a new band that hasn’t gelled yet, or like they were rusty after a long layoff. There was one song in particular where it felt like they were all a half-second off from each other; this coincided with some singing that wasn’t quite in tune and yeah that song was really not very good. Mostly they were okay enough, but I figure the Rembrandts were better overall, despite not being as well suited to the venue.
Between sets, Mika ducked out to get some fair nachos and they were the exact opposite of my sad corndog, in that they were delicious. The chips were still warm from the fryer and they were topped with a fresh tomato salsa. I only stole a few chips but could have easily gone through the whole thing. This was shockingly good; the nacho stand apparently didn’t get the memo that fair food is supposed to be garbage. I then snuck away for some poutine and a Cherry Coke. Tasty, but I really can’t do full-sugar soda anymore. (Full-fat poutine is not a problem, it seems.)
By the time I came back with my bounty, the field had filled out nicely with fans. The Gin Blossoms started a little late, so I had time to finish eating and even text Colin and his roommate some more about the other bands we were expecting to see (Monster Magnet, Lifehouse, Better Than Ezra, Harvey Danger, Marcy Playground, Chumbawamba).
I can’t lie. I’d have been pretty excited for Marcy Playground. Or Chumbawamba. Or Better Than Ezra. Or Harvey Danger if they promise to play their Christmas song.
Seconds into the Gin Blossoms, something happened right by us. I didn’t see exactly what happened but it looked like some dude took a swing at some girl or shoved her or whatever, and WHAM – Security was right there to hammerlock said dude and drag him out of the fair. It was dark, there was a lot of ground to cover, it had finally become crowded, the band was playing, but Security was still right on top of things. It was impressive.
The Gin Blossoms, it seemed, had had a hard day. I gather they’d been playing out in the Maritimes the day before, and today, they learned about one of the problems that come with living in Saskatchewan – namely, there aren’t that many flights in and out of here. The singer complained on a few occasions about how they’d have to get up at 3:00 a.m. to make their flight out of town. But the real issue was that one of their flights into town was cancelled, leaving some of the Gin Blossoms crew stuck out east. With their drummer. Local sound techs and equipment guys were enlisted, as was the drummer for Fastball, who’d spent the afternoon learning all of their songs. I know they’re not super complex drum parts, but something like that still blows my mind. Want to play an entire set of songs you’ve barely practiced? Like, this evening? You could see a few moments between songs where the lead singer was coaching the drummer a bit, but all things considered, he did a fine job.
This was the best of the night’s three acts. The atmosphere had finally come together and the band was the right fit for the venue. It helped that the Gin Blossoms had a few big hits – the singer mentioned that while they’d had no #1 hits in the US, they had two in Canada. Of course, they closed their set with one (Hey Jealousy) and came back out to play the other one (Follow You Down) for the encore. Alison Road and Until I Hear It From You were big songs here too. Unlike the vast majority of people who were alive in the 90s, I never had the Gin Blossoms’ two big records; I suspect that those who did would have known far more songs. They did seem like a bit more of a party band than I would have suspected – lots of getting people to clap along or sing out certain lines (I don’t think the singer ever once said “let the cops chase us around”) – but the crowd seemed really into everything, so it all worked.
All in all, a fun night. Maybe next year they’ll bring in Smash Mouth and I can live the dream.
Actually, who are we kidding? I’m already living the dream – on our way back to the car, we stopped to play a round of Whack-a-Mole and I WON A COW. His name is Bob. Or her name. I’m not sure. I won Bob on the first try, so he only cost me $4. I am very proud of this. Also very ashamed that I heard “$4 for one game of Whack-a-Mole” and thought this was a good idea.
I also won a giraffe by shooting water into a clown’s mouth, but one of the other players looked sad to lose so I gave her the giraffe. Mika later said “she was probably like ‘what a nice old man!'” This is depressingly true, in most aspects. I mean, I was old enough to be her dad and she was old enough to be done with high school. But I’m not so sure about nice. I mean, that giraffe felt pretty cheap. No way I’d have given up my cow.
• Regina Folk Festival feat.
Sinéad O’Connor, Vance Joy, Jenny Lewis, Bahamas, Blue Rodeo, Blind Boys of Alabama, Basia Bulat, more (August 7-9)
• Chad VanGaalen (September 24)
• Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)
• Ron Sexsmith (September 30)
• Hawksley Workman (October 16)
• Lee Harvey Osmond (November 7)