Last summer, I bought a notebook of fancy Clairefontaine paper, the kind Hawksley Workman sings about. I did this solely because of that song, not really thinking that I don’t ever write anything by hand anymore and already have ample paper supplies. With no pressing use for this impulse purchase, I decided to save it for the next Hawksley concert, breaking it in by writing the review. It seemed fitting, and it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these by hand. I come up with entirely different reviews when writing by hand, for sure. I even bought Baby’s First Fountain Pen to class it up. But then one show turned into two, and the paper and pen sat and sat as I contemplated hand cramps. So here I am, two weeks later, back in Notepad.
The first Hawksley show, announced late last year, was part of the Regina Folk Festival’s annual Winterruption series of concerts. A delightful surprise, as I wasn’t thinking we’d see him until after his new album, Median Age Wasteland, comes out in March. The second show, added a fair bit later, promised to be pretty unique. Titled “A Night on Drums,” it was a fundraiser for a local women’s shelter where Hawksley would… well, I didn’t really know. Play the drums. Talk about the drums. They’re his first instrument – and still clearly his favourite – but you don’t usually get to see him play them in concert for more than one song. I didn’t know what we were getting, but I figured it would be interesting.
For the Winterruption show, Mika and I got to the Exchange shortly before the first band was to start. I had promised there would be seats and I was turned into a liar. Oh well, we dumped our parkas at the coat check, got iced teas, and stood around looking at cute animal pictures until the show was underway.
About those parkas. The past few years, Winterruption has coincided with spurts of unseasonable warmth, which is a delight, though is it really Winterruption if there’s nothing to Winterrupt? This year, we’re in the middle of a stretch of -30C or worse with no end in sight. Winterminable cold. Attendance at this show was decent but it certainly wasn’t sold out, and the weather couldn’t have helped. It’s anecdotal, but I know of Hawksley fans – even some who already bought tickets – who skipped out rather than brave the elements.
The openers were local folk band Suncliffs and calypso band Kobo Town. Heard of both, never seen either, not much to say about either, both were good. Suncliffs had a short, laid-back, enjoyable set, while Kobo Town brought a lot more energy. Very summery music that clashed with both the bitter weather and some occasionally dark lyrics. Riots in Karachi might be a perfectly valid topic for a song, but an unusual choice for a fun fan singalong part.
Finally, Hawksley took the stage, joined for the first time in quite a while by Mr. Lonely, his long-time keyboard player. They opened with fan favourite Safe and Sound, which always gives Lonely a nice showcase. He also gave us the opportunity to whistle along which was not what I would describe as a nice showcase. Next up was Jealous of Your Cigarette, which included Hawksley sheepishly apologizing for some of the more risqué lyrics. “People really like this song and I can’t take that back now. But that’s what I was thinking about when I was 23.”
Next up was The City is a Drag, which segued in and out of Karma Chameleon, which I’ve seen him do a few times before. He starts with “Desert loving in your eyes all the way” and you can hear it dawn on individual audience members as they figure out what song it is.
As ever, Hawksley talked a lot throughout the show, going into detail about the writing of The City is a Drag (it involved poop everywhere, but I’ll let you guess whose) and repeatedly mentioning his resolution to talk less. He also introduced each new song by acknowledging that nobody ever goes to a concert to hear new songs. A lot of the time, sure, but I’m biased; Hawksley could have played all new stuff and I’d have been thrilled. I’m still a little disappointed that he wasn’t selling the new album six weeks before its street date, just for us.
Two of the new songs, Battlefords and Lazy, have already been released as singles. Battlefords in particular was beloved, with people in the crowd asking him to play it a second time. I went for coffee with one of my former bosses a month or two ago, and he brought the song up to me, not knowing that I like Hawksley, just that it was a song he really enjoyed (particularly the use of the word “akela,” which I admit I had to look up and am not doing so again to see if it should be capitalized).
Two other songs, 1983 and (he called it Oh Yellow Snowmobile but the tracklist just says Snowmobile so whatever) were new to me. Both were a delight. Everything from the new album is very nostalgic, but the part in 1983 about owning a VIC-20 but begging for a Commodore 64 spoke to me in an alarmingly specific way. I mentioned this to him on Twitter and he replied that at that time, they actually had a TRS-80, so I can only assume that he wrote this part just for me. Thanks, dude!
All told, the show was on the short side but delightful as ever. Here’s the full setlist, with a few notable deviations from the norm:
Safe and Sound
Jealous of Your Cigarette
The City is a Drag
Clever Not Beautiful
A Moth is Not a Butterfly
Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky
encore: Your Beauty Must be Rubbing Off
The night before, Hawksley had played another unique show, this time in Saskatoon in the restaurant at the top of the Sheraton Hotel. Seemed like an odd venue. The premise was that half the show would be whatever he wanted, and half would be fan requests. This was suitably different and tempting enough to make me consider the drive. It’s also a real bad time of year to be out on the highway, and I’ve been to back-to-back Hawksley shows before; they’re never that different. For those reasons, I leaned against going, though the final call was made for me when the Saskatoon show sold out in short order.
He didn’t take requests at our show. At one point, someone yelled out for the song Teenage Cats, to which Hawksley replied “I love that you love that song! I was singing it to myself a lot lately because I just met a new teenage cat. Anyway I’m not playing that song.”
Ultimately, of the two “real” concerts, the Saskatoon show sounded like the better one. With no openers, Hawksley was able to go a little longer and they wound up getting everything we did and five or so songs that we didn’t. Nothing new, thankfully – I’d have really felt like I missed out if that had been the case. And our openers were fun and good and worthwhile and all that. But still.
That said, Regina got the shorter concert, but also a whole other show. Teacher and drummer Brian Warren organized a drum-centric second night. Tickets were cheap, the show raised money for a good cause, and it promised to be unique, so I was totally down with this, even if I had no idea what I was getting into.
What it was wasn’t really a concert. Hawksley played drums twice – once for about 10 minutes near the start, which he described as “practicing, but with an audience,” and once where he put on a Jay-Z song and drummed along with it. Turns out he’s good at the drums, guys. Most of the show was talking, first Hawksley by himself, then a conversation with Warren who acted as host, and finally a Q&A. Hawksley’s stories are often quite polished, but he really seemed to let his guard down and was even a little nervous. I’m not going to tell his stories for him, but he spoke a lot about his childhood and how he got into drumming, how he and his music changed over the years, aspects of his personal life, his writing process, and more. I’m not a drummer or a anything, but that was never an issue – there were only a few points that got technical, and I might not know the names of different ways to grip drumsticks, but I get the idea, you know?
This also marked the only time I was at an event with a Q&A where I didn’t sink my head into my hands in embarrassment for someone asking a question. All the questions were good and relevant. And they were all questions! Anyone who starts with “This is actually more of a comment” should be immediately slapped and ejected and slapped again. We got none of that. Good work, local Hawksley fans.