Hello. I got that haircut I was wanting. And then another haircut. And then another haircut. It’s been a while, is my point.
The Regina Folk Festival, the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, the Gateway Festival, and most other enjoyable things didn’t happen this year. There were lots of streaming concerts, but it’s not the same. Still, in a bid for normalcy, I had good intentions of writing up reviews for them anyway – or at least one per artist, which is one of those mandatory-chicken type rules that I can ignore as I see fit. And I wrote some. Made notes for others. Definitely wrote down some dates in a text file with good intentions. Felt kinda bad about not finishing these for, oh, five months or so. Not bad enough, apparently.
I liked the idea of sending out mini-reviews with the idea that if something sounded interesting to you, you could watch it yourself. With the move to paid concerts you can only watch live, that’s not as easy. Maybe that’s why I lost my motivation months ago, or maybe it’s just that I can’t fathom you caring about what I’ve been watching on my computer. Nonetheless, here we are. Or here we were months ago.
For the first few weeks of the shutdown, Danny Michel seemed pretty adamant that we didn’t need to use this time to put on concerts or write great novels – just getting by was enough. And he’s still not into writing new stuff at the moment, but he did a one-off Zoom show and found it so invigorating to see his fans that he made it a weekly thing. So if you have $7 US, you can join in every Sunday. Well, you’d need several $7s to join in every Sunday. Also, this took me so long to send out, he’s done with his weekly shows. So there’s that too. Luckily for you, there’s one more show coming on October 11, so get on it.
Michel performs live from his studio, surrounded by a variety of instruments and, on occasion, by a variety of wacky Zoom backgrounds. For the most part, Danny’s on guitar, but this time he broke out a banjo for the song Rye Whiskey & Wine (by special request of Olympic cyclist Curt Harnett, who also joined Danny for an impromptu chat). Another new addition this week was an applause track that he would play via sampler pedal to mark the end of songs, or jokes, or just to amuse himself.
Danny Michel is one of those musicians who always seems to play 15 songs from a possible pool of 20, despite having written hundreds. But as with Steven Page, Michel is taking this opportunity to take fan requests and dig into the back catalogue. Mika was surprised when she tried to guess the set list and couldn’t do it. I wish I had recorded her list of guesses because the series of “the one about” was pretty entertaining. Not as good as when she tried to tell me what happens in Star Wars without having seen Star Wars, but still. The new songs were welcome and I’d like to hear more of the old favourites in weeks to come. And if Danny’s cat Larry David wants to make another mid-song appearance, so much the better.
Here’s that setlist:
A Cold Road
The Right Thing
Feather, Fur, & Fin
Rye Whiskey & Wine
Born in the Wild
Luckiest Man in the World
Nobody Rules You
What a Wonderful World
For what one could call an encore, Danny opened up ProTools and went track by track through the song What Colour Are You. It was pretty neat to see how it was all put together and you could hear all sorts of little touches I’d never noticed before. Then he took some questions and chatted with the audience before wrapping up. He suggested that one of these weeks, he might stay online talking for hours just to see who the last person in the audience is. It’s not like I’ve got any place to go.
Having recently moved from Montréal, Hawksley and his wife were staying at her father’s house in Peterborough as they searched the city for a place of their own. When the pandemic hit, house-hunting was put on hold. Months later, Don’s basement was the setting for the first Hawksley Night in Canada show.
Despite not being in their own place, this turned out to be one of the slicker setups I’ve seen in these shows. I don’t know if Hawksley brought his own light-up applause sign or if his father-in-law just had one laying about, but either way, it came in handy for the ambience. There were a handful of simple lighting effects (literally, turning lamps on and off) that helped make the show feel like more than just a webcam feed. And there were hand-made stop-motion title cards for the Hawk Talk and Pet Songs segments, as well as the show itself.
Both of those segments were pretty self-explanatory. In the days leading up to the show, Hawksley had shared an email address where people could send stories and pictures of their pets so he could write songs about them. And no, I didn’t send in anything about Carl. Yet. Maybe next time. For this show, Hawksley wrote and recorded a song about a rescue dog named Thurman and made a music video with the pictures and video clips. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWZJCXo1vJI
When the show began, I joked that I hoped nobody phoned the landline in the background while the show was on. And then my phone immediately rang because I cursed myself. As it turned out, Hawksley’s phone (well, Don’s phone) wound up in play later on for Hawk Talk, the audience participation segment. He gave the phone number out and had chats with fans from Vancouver, Kingston, Regina (again, this was not me), and Guelph. Hawksley also kicked off the segment by phoning Mr. Lonely. For added fun, one of Hawksley’s cats (The Donger) (not its actual name) wandered into the set for a visit. I don’t know if anyone has tried calling that number in the days since to see if they can just have a nice chat with Hawksley and family, but one of you should try it.
I suppose there were also songs! Here’s the setlist:
Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off
Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky
PET SONGS: Thurman
Safe and Sound
You and the Candles
We Will Still Need A Song
Birds in Train Stations
Don’t Be Crushed
Except for the pet song, it was all Hawksley on acoustic guitar. For some of these, it was how I’m used to hearing them; others sounded entirely different stripped down. Chemical, in particular, was a whole new song. There was also a nice mix of concert usuals and surprises, from personal favourite Piano Blink to the unnervingly prescient You and the Candles to Ukelady Boy from Hawksley’s musical, The God That Comes. And both the sound and video were among the best of these quarantine concerts, making this a home run all around. Since this one, he’s been doing them monthly and they’ve all been a delight. Highly and unsurprisingly recommended.
This spring, Dan Mangan was to be going on tour to mark the 10th anniversary of his debut album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice. He was skipping Regina, which – as ever – was as disappointing as it was understandable. Then the world ended and here we are.
This show was live from Mangan’s basement, but still managed to feature a few special guests. First was Dan’s son, who wandered in looking for help with his Nintendo Switch. He got sent to find his mother. Didn’t even sing anything. Neither did Dan’s moms or sister, though their appearances were at least planned. Veda Hille, Dan’s neighbour, joined in on The Indie Queens are Waiting, just as she did on the album. Well… not “just,” probably. I bet she didn’t have to sit outside the house and sing through a window when the album was recorded. And partway through, Noble Son was brought on to play a pair of songs. Not quite an opening act. Halftime show, maybe?
I’d give you the setlist but you could just look up the tracklist for the album. Robots, always a fan favourite. Basket, one of my very favourite songs, always a heartbreaker. He did forget the song Some People, playing it after Pine for Cedars once he realized his mistake. Noble Son’s songs, Sleepin’ and Sad Dumb Lovesick Young Kid, came in after Fair Verona. After the show, Mangan took fan questions and eventually played a new song, In Your Corner, in memory of Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit who died in 2018.
I really enjoyed this set, and it was a nice make-up for skipping us on the tour that didn’t happen. And he’s since rescheduled his tour dates, and now he’s fitting us in. The show is scheduled for mid-January. We’ll see if it happens. We’ll see if I’m brave and/or foolish enough to go.
Son of Dave (June 5, 2020)
buy music: https://sonofdave.bandcamp.com/
These concerts are either free on YouTube or Facebook or something, or they’re ticketed. If you pay, you get a link and a unique code. Easy enough. I paid for this show, got the email, and didn’t look at it until the day of, only to find that my link had expired. Uh-oh. Frantic emails ensued, only to find out that the show was just on the Osprey Arts Centre’s Facebook page and a human was manually checking to see if the folks watching the show were entitled to be doing so. Based on the attendance, let’s just say this was not as demanding a job as one might hope. Eventually, they asked us to share the link around in hopes that more people would show up and contribute to the virtual tip jar.
Son of Dave (nee Benjamin Darvill) is a harmonica-playing, beatboxing bluesman and showman. This was a fun show that made for a good introduction to his music, though to get the full experience, you need the interaction that comes with seeing him in person. Nothing’s stopping you from having a conga line through your house while watching this, but it’s not the same if he’s not insisting you do it. And he can’t invite you up on stage and feed you chocolate remotely.
In a weird twist, the show wasn’t actually live. It was recorded especially for the venue, but fear of a bad overseas internet connection (justifiable, based on some of these shows) led to it being sent in ahead of time. This led to the unique situation of Son of Dave joining fans in the live chat to watch himself in concert. He said it sounded better in his head. I can’t say he’s wrong, but I liked how it sounded to the rest of us.
I’m guessing that this is not how Frank Turner expected to celebrate his 2,500th concert. In an alternate dimension, it’s a big extravaganza. In this one, it’s him and his regular band, separated by plexiglass dividers, tearing it up in an empty hall.
That said, they weren’t about to let a little thing like everything stop them from putting on one of the best live concerts you’ll see. Even without a live crowd to feed off of, there was no lack of energy. There were more pauses for conversation and banter between bandmates than at a usual show, but I just attributed that to their enjoyment of actually being in the same place as each other.
I’d give you a setlist but Turner has surpassed the Weakerthans as my #1 artist where I know very few song titles and have to describe them all with snippets of lyrics that I may have misheard. Every song title starts with “The One That Goes Like” as far as I’m concerned. The key things are we got the song that made me a fan (Try This at Home), my favourite of his (Get Better), and the thematically-appropriate Recovery. And a bunch more. This was a delight and I’d recommend his live shows to anyone.
July Talk (August 13, 2020)
buy music: https://julytalk.bandcamp.com/
This show escaped the confines of basements and studios and empty bars, taking place with a full audience at a drive-in theatre. It looked like people were allowed to stand beside their cars, though most remained inside. It’s been weird to hear concerts with no applause after each song, but honking in appreciation is new too.
I had rushed to get dinner made in time for the show, but needn’t have bothered. The show opened with a collection of music videos, concert footage, and animation that served as a leadup to the concert proper. This was actually pretty entertaining, though unusual to hear versions of songs that they were just going to play live later anyway. Doesn’t really register on the unusual charts for this year, I guess.
I am an old man who doesn’t like new bands so it’s weird that I like this new band so much. Though at three albums in, new is relative. Compared to me, they’re new. So are most things. Anyway, July Talk puts on a killer show. This show was, I guess, their tour to promote their new album, Pray For It, so we heard lots from it, but got all the older favourites as well. You know. How concerts work. They did that.
Shot in black and white on eight cameras, we have a runaway winner in terms of quarantine concert production values. In the most memorable moment, singer Leah Fay walked out among the cars, had people turn their hazard lights on, climbed on top of one car (she asked first and is also wee), and sang a song. At the end, she laid down on the roof of the car. This was filmed from above by a drone rising into the sky, giving us a shot of a tiny figure in all white in the darkness, getting smaller and smaller, surrounded by rows of blinking lights. It was stunning. You could easily have passed this off as a fully-edited concert video.
Kathleen Edwards famously quit music to open up a coffee shop. Years later, she has a new album (Total Freedom) and the coffee shop doubles as her own personal performance venue because she can’t tour.
This was shown on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch. Allegedly. I opted for YouTube, which erupted into chaos when the concert began and there was no sound. You have never seen a chat so panicked. Word was sent that Facebook had audio, so I went there, but Facebook streaming video is sometimes fine and sometimes super choppy and this was the latter. Off to Twitch I went, which meant figuring out where I’d hidden the Twitch app on my iPad, and then figuring out what my username and password were, and then figuring out where the stream was, and then 30 seconds later, it ended, seemingly accidentally. So I went back to YouTube which was now fine.
The show was Edwards and her full band playing the new album front to back, with a few extra songs at the end. Once the initial issues were sorted out, everything sounded great. It’s Kathleen Edwards, she’s not going to sound not great. It seemed like she was enjoying herself, and had great chemistry with the band.
The chatroom was completely enamoured with her and the show. I am skeptical about the number of claims of being brought to tears by the concert, but maybe some folks just get moved by music more than I do. Some folks also have very strong opinions about what Kathleen Edwards should do with her personal life. It’s best to always mute the chat. Though I agreed with their assertions that she should swear more because it’s fun.
Rae Spoon (September 17, 2020)
buy music: https://raespoon.bandcamp.com/
This was brought to us by the Regina Public Library. Finally, something of value! No more dumb books. What did books ever do for us?
The show was held over Zoom, with Rae having selected an image of the downtown library for their backdrop. It’s like they were really there! Outside. And years ago. It wasn’t the newest picture. Rae played guitar and sang, ad-libbing through audience participation spots where necessary, and telling stories to give context to everything. The show seemed to breeze by.
I’ve seen Spoon a few times now and despite the general weirdness of playing a show to no audible reaction from a remote location, this was still my favourite performance of theirs. Due to some serious health issues, they hadn’t been playing live for a while. Maybe they were happy to be back and feeling better, or more comfortable to be playing from home, or maybe I was just imagining things. Who knows. There was a spark that wasn’t there in their previous shows and it was delightful to see it.
And we’re caught up. Briefly. For something that’s been in the works since May, I wrote an embarrassing amount of this last night. I suspect I won’t review other streaming shows, but who knows. Normal could be a ways off and I might feel the need to alert you, once again, to the existence of YouTube. Just in case you forget about it.