Author Archives: James Kalyn
I’m writing this on October 27. Right now, I’m four reviews behind, not yet done writing about Said The Whale. With only a few weeks until Kim Churchill, I really should be cleaning up my backlog and not jumping the line and making more work for myself because I think the idea of writing a concert review of a hockey game is funny. But hey, there were bands.
If you’re wondering why I went to hockey when I famously don’t care about hockey, well, I like going to things. And also I didn’t know what it would cost when Dave asked if I wanted him to pick up tickets for me and Mika when he was buying his. This would rank among the most expensive concerts I’ve ever been to, and this time I didn’t get to see Neil Young or meet Weird Al. Also, it wasn’t a concert. Except when it was.
Dave and Jen and Jen’s friend and Jen’s dad all drove in for the game, arriving early afternoon. We had a nice visit, by which I mean Carl did, as he’s the most popular and entertaining member of this family. Eventually, we all put on our long underwear (separately; this wasn’t a group activity) (though we pretty much all did it at once) and headed out to Brewster’s for a 4:00 pm supper like the elderly that we are. I had chicken, so yeah, official concert. My sandwich came with a fried pickle, which 1) should be standard with every sandwich, and 2) should be the new requirement for official concert status.
The game started at 8:00 with doors opening at 6:00. We were done eating at 5:00, but with 33,000 people attending, we figured that heading to the stadium early wasn’t the worst idea. We’d bought parking passes, so this would be my first time parking there. Mika and I always take the bus for Rider games and concerts, and for the soccer game, we just parked downtown and walked forever. We arrived a little before 5:30 and parking was easy, but I figured leaving would be a lot different. Dave’s carload all put their jerseys on over their parkas and we went exploring.
It was -4C, but felt like -11C with the windchill. 24.8F and 12.2F, respectively. And we were going to be outside until the game ended. I had gloves on my gloves with packs of those disposable handwarmers to shove inside them, as well as a new-to-me technological innovation – the same thing, but for your feet. I had also planned on buying some Winnipeg Jets gear to taunt Calgary Flames-loving Dave, but even though my strike is over for now (and hopefully for good), I decided that I didn’t need to make a stupid purchase just for fun, so I skipped it and just wore my Crash Test Dummies toque from 1995. They’re from Winnipeg and it’s the right colour to support the Jets, it counts. Plus, that toque is warm as heck and still in great shape for being old enough to be done college. It might be the most durable, well-designed article of clothing I own.
We walked to the grounds, passing the NHL Mobile Refrigeration Unit, which might have been very necessary the day before when it was +15, but just seemed needlessly cruel at -4 and windy. Even this early, there was a nice long line to get into the exhibits. We had our bags checked, went through metal detectors, and were surveilled by a very nice security guard who told us that “if you have weapons, you should go home, and if you’re cold like me, you should go home.”
There were displays and merchandise shops and sponsors’ booths set up. We mostly skipped them, though I did get a 5c/litre discount card for Esso, so that’s nice. I don’t shop there, but still, nice. There were two Tim Hortons trucks – one in Flames red and one in Jets blue – offering free coffee. There was also a Safeway truck which was not offering free groceries, as far as I could tell, so that was a disappointment. And the Kubota display? No free tractors. There were also hockey-related games and a big inflatable hockey player and Lanny McDonald and his mustache signing autographs and a cover band playing Surrender by Cheap Trick. They were fine. I like that song.
Once inside the stadium, we immediately saw Don Cherry which provoked “hey neat” and “ugh” feelings in equal measure. Kind of like that time I saw the Queen. We then took a walk around the stadium (not with Don Cherry, which was probably for the best; dude’s moving slowly these days). It was a first-time visit for Dave and Jen and Jen’s dad, and they seemed to think it was a nice place, especially enjoying the giant picture of a certain relative of Jen and her dad celebrating a certain championship win in a certain sport. I know that through 350 concert reviews, I’ve given out enough personal information to let all of you steal my identity, but if you want my friends’ too, you’ll have to work for it a little bit.
We found our seats. Lower bowl, section 136. Pretty good, though it was just kind of weird in general to have so much space between the rink and the fans. I think they should have had to play in a special rink the size of the full football field. There were loud drunks behind us (and, really, all over everywhere) but they were funny? They spent the entire game beaking at each other and the players in comical fashion, marking the first time in recorded human history that any situation has been improved by the presence of loud drunks.
About an hour out from the scheduled start time, according to one of three conflicting countdowns we would see on the Maxtron, the band Toque was introduced. The name sounded familiar, and Mika’s googling turned up why – it was local boy Todd Kerns’ 80s Canadian rock cover band. Kerns is more famous for being in Age of Electric and Static in Stereo, as well as touring with Slash. Anyway, to everyone’s surprise, the 80s Canadian rock cover band played 80s Canadian rock songs including Raise a Little Hell, Go For Soda, and personal favourites New Girl Now and that one that I think is called Gone Gone Gone She Been Gone So Long She Been Gone Gone Gone So Long (I Wonder If I’m Ever Gonna See My Girl). This was… pretty good, actually? I mean, it’s a cover band, you know what you’re going to get, but everything was fun and done well. Would see again, even intentionally. They came out a few times during the game to play more songs to fill time, but never for very long, so if you ever wanted to hear a version of Summer of ’69 that ends before the “me and some guys from school” part, this was your chance.
As we approached game time, Jess Moskaluke and the Hunter Brothers came out and did a song together. It was fine. Then the Hunter Brothers sang the national anthem. It was also fine and I enjoyed the fireworks, especially because they were both pretty and relatively quiet. We didn’t need loud jets doing a loud flyover of the stadium but there we were. Also, I know they said to remove your headwear for the anthem but man, it was cold. I put in my handwarmers. I also put my footwarmers in my shoes. I had learned about them at work, where I was also told that they look like maxipads. Can confirm. I was cautioned not to confuse the two, but honestly, they probably both give off the same amount of heat. My feet were cold, is what I’m saying.
First period: the Jets and Flames played hockey. Nobody scored.
Before we’d left the house, I asked Dave if there were bands playing at this thing, and the one he knew of was the Sheepdogs and I rolled my eyes. Of course it’s the Sheepdogs. They’re from Saskatoon and they’re at every event in Saskatchewan. Anyway, between periods, they came out and played a few songs, including the singles Feeling Good and I Don’t Know. I liked the fireworks. And really, this was all fine, I have no real complaints. I just don’t care about the Sheepdogs, and it wasn’t like when we saw Colin James and I had to admit that while he may be another Saskatchewan boy who’s at every local event, if you can ignore that, he really is super talented.
Second period: the Jets and Flames played more hockey. The Flames scored once. Dave was happy.
At one point, they played The Last Saskatchewan Pirate over the PA system, which gave me PTSD flashbacks from Rider games. They play it there for the fourth-quarter stretch and it always features an appearance from Work Safe Bob, a mascot whose existence eats away at my very being. He makes me hate the fourth quarter and all football and safety and being safe and life itself and I’ve given him an obscene nickname that I will not repeat here.
SAFETY FUCKER. His name is SAFETY FUCKER. It’s spelled in all caps. I hate him so much.
Let me lighten the mood. I think it was in here that the in-game host came on the Maxtron and told us to “circle the bowl” to go to the merchandise stands and restaurants and then immediately switched to “circle the concourse” once he realized what he’d said. I laughed.
Jess Moskaluke came back out to sing a few songs before the third period. She’s another local that you see all over the place, though it has been neat to watch her progress from relative unknown to an actual star. Or at least I think she is? I don’t know from country. Either she is or they’re doing a good job of convincing me she is, which is as good as the real thing as far as it impacts my life, which is not at all. Anyway, she played Cheap Wine and Cigarettes, as well as Country Girls, as well as other songs I forget. This was not really my thing but it was fine and I enjoyed the fireworks, a recurring theme. She seemed woefully underdressed for the weather, which would normally imply she was wearing something skimpy, but here just meant it was normal clothes and not a full snowsuit and I bet she was cold as balls.
Third period: the most important part of the evening happened; namely, the mascots for both teams came up the stairs by us and I was able to high-five both the current Jets mascot (Mick E. Moose) and the original Jets mascot (Benny) (as in Benny and the Jets) (it’s spelled wrong but that’s still pretty good). Harvey the Hound, meanwhile, took a picture with some folks across from us and I didn’t get to high-five him. I was already half-cheering the Jets since someone needed to balance out our group, but that cemented it.
Also, the Jets and Flames played more hockey. The Jets scored once. Dave was sad and declined my high-five of consolation but did accept a fist bump of consolation, though it was a dud and didn’t explode. I was happy because I’m a Jets fan now and forever, but was also very cold and didn’t relish the idea of overtime. Also, they didn’t have a band ready to play in the event of overtime. They didn’t even bring Toque back out to play the first 30 seconds of Moonlight Desires.
Overtime: the Jets and Flames played more hockey. A Flame tripped a Jet and the Jets scored on a power play and won. Dave was sad. I got to learn how overtime works. We got the best fireworks of the night.
Then we want back to our cars. Or rather, Mika and I went past our car because we were following Dave and his crew and we went past where the cars were and then they were behind us somehow? This got all the more confusing after fighting our way through the snarl of traffic leaving the stadium, getting out of there well ahead of Dave, and yet somehow getting home after they arrived. Jen said they took Ring Road, which doesn’t make sense to me. Google Maps backs me up, but I guess they’d have faced less post-game traffic and that would make the difference. So it obviously makes perfect sense. I got to learn all kinds of things.
This was fine. I liked the fireworks.
Jeremy Dutcher won the Polaris Prize for his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, which means “The Songs of the People of the Beautiful River.” It combines his singing and piano with wax cylinder recordings of Indigenous songs from over 100 years ago. Several friends recommended it to me and it’s fascinating – unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and an excellent fit to be performed with the symphony.
We got to the Conexus Arts Centre and I was delighted to discover I’d bought us good seats. It had been a while and I’d forgotten, but we were dead centre, five rows back in a row with extra legroom. Fine work, me. Though it’s a little weird being so close. There’s so many people in the orchestra and they can all see you. They likely won’t, they have things to do, but still. They could. It’s unnerving.
Symphony shows are hard to write about. They start on time. You have assigned seats. There are no drunken louts. No inexplicable opening acts. No wacky misadventures and no deep-fried anything. In short, no shenanigans, and I get my word count from shenanigans. I mean, the Executive Director of the symphony introduced the performance, then was presented with a bouquet as she’s moving on to a fancier job at one of the major American symphonies. That’s a nice moment but nothing I can work with. I need some loud drunks and maybe a fistfight.
Also, the more formal the music, the less I know about it. And I’m not really suited to intelligently critique rock shows in bars by artists I’ve seen ten times over already.
Anyway, the performance had a pattern. The symphony performed a few pieces, then Dutcher would join for some, then he’d leave for one, then come back, then repeat. Dutcher was an engaging performer – not only a very talented singer and pianist, but charmingly funny as well. He had a recurring bit during the second half where his desire to stay hydrated slowly escalated as the night went on. I have to describe it in vague terms because it doesn’t sound funny if I say he came out with a glass of water, returned a while later with the pitcher, and then finally drank from the pitcher before the encore. See? Not funny. But it was funny when it happened.
For the first half, he wore what appeared to be a beaded jacket, but he emerged for the second half wearing a full-length floral robe. I mention this only because symphony patrons were all in for this robe. This robe was a star. This robe could have headlined the show without help.
Wait, right, music, yeah. The point of this all, not water and robes, even exceptional robes. It was what I expected – beautiful and haunting, expertly sung and performed.
Most of the evening was Dutcher’s songs. This should be the part where I get to cheat and transcribe the program, except – gasp – it’s wrong. At least slightly; it lists Up Where We Belong by Buffy Sainte-Marie, and they didn’t play that, though they did perform Until it’s Time for You to Go, another of hers. There was also a Dvorák piece, and one by Cris Derksen. But Dutcher was the star, reimagining historical music in a modern context, then blending it with the orchestra in a memorable performance.
My first time seeing Hollerado will be my last time seeing Hollerado.
I’ve known of them for at least a decade, as their song Juliette was a mainstay on the Canadian indie rock satellite radio station way back when. Their name would come up every once in a while, often tied to some sort of a gimmick. Their album Record In A Bag was packaged in an actual plastic bag with confetti, and the covers for White Paint were cut from big paint-splattered sheets so each cover was unique. There was also a special White Paint package you could get where the band would write a custom song about you. These were collected and released as 111 Songs.
I liked what I’d heard of them and they came through town regularly enough, but somehow, I never managed to make it out to see them. And then they announced they would be breaking up following the release of the album Retaliation Vacation and the subsequent One Last Time Tour, so this became a now-or-never situation.
Doors were at 8:00 and Mika and I had our usual debate about what time to actually show up. I pick 8:01, she says midnight, and we negotiate from there. I think we showed up close to 9:00, and… we parked close to the door, let’s put it that way. Either we were way too early or there weren’t going to be a lot of people there. As it happened, we were a little early and the place filled up some, though it wasn’t a huge crowd. Later on, the band laughingly said it was actually the biggest crowd they’d ever drawn here. If that’s true (and they didn’t sound like they were kidding), 1) yikes, 2) we suck here, myself included, and 3) it’s pretty admirable that they came back on this tour anyway.
We took our seats and got Friday night wild party drinks consisting of an iced tea and a Diet Pepsi, which felt like the height of luxury because I was still on strike at that point and austerity measures were in place. Thankfully, we’re back at work now and I’m back to neglecting all common financial sense.
The openers were Little Junior. Rockier than power-pop but not quite pop-punk, I wanted to hate them because they looked very young and made me feel very old. But I didn’t hate them! I think I hated their haircuts, but I’m old so I think I’m supposed to. Also, it was two weeks ago now and I can’t remember if I even really did. Whatever. This wasn’t really aimed at me but it was fine.
Hollerado, meanwhile, was a ton of fun. It’s the kind of high-energy rock that really hits my sweet spot; having listened to some earlier in the day, Mika and I were both surprised that I hadn’t spent more time listening to them. Though I went in not knowing a ton of their stuff (as is so often the case; it kind of makes you wonder why I do this), I really enjoyed myself. They really put on a show, with the lead singer jumping into the crowd a few times, including once trying to get audience members to play jump rope with the microphone cord. And a long-time fan was in the audience and was invited up onto the stage to play along with them.
In between songs, they cracked jokes (including one so bad they blamed it on the opening act) and opened themselves up for audience questions, but all anyone wanted to know was why they were breaking up. After a few joke answers, they said “nobody’s sixth album is any good” and said it was time to make space for up-and-coming bands like Little Junior. On the one hand, I get it. On the other, I’m late to the party and disappointed that I won’t get another chance to see them. That is, at least not until the inevitable anniversary reunion tour some round number of years from now.
Andino Suns are a great live band and you should definitely go see them if you’re able.
I’m mentioning this up front because I feel like much of my time is going to be spent on variations of “it’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans,” and I find that whenever I complain about things in one of these, the complaint becomes the takeaway. And Andino Suns were really good and that shouldn’t get lost.
Anyway, The Dead South. They are locals who made good, a bluegrass band from around these parts that’s gone on to tour the world. This was the sold-out first night of their Canadian tour for their new album, Sugar & Joy. When Mika and I were in Toronto for Thrush Hermit, we saw a poster for their (then-upcoming) (and possibly still upcoming, depending on what time I send this out) (update: whoops) Halloween show, showing them as zombies – The Undead South.
We saw them last at the Regina Folk Festival this summer, where they played a storm-delayed abbreviated set in front a crowd who gave them one of the most raucous ovations I’ve ever heard. I was a little surprised that they were back so soon, but no complaints – though their rising popularity meant that we wound up missing out on my favourite seats at the end of Row L For Legroom. Instead, we settled on Row M and its Maverage Legroom.
Before the show, we did some digging, trying to find out who the opener would be. The poster in Toronto advertised Elliott BROOD; no such luck here, though I was happy with who we got. The first band didn’t tell us who they were for a long time, and when they did, they had two names. Normally known as Beach Body, they released a country-tinged EP as the Southside Coyote Boys and were asked to perform as them, so it’s possible that this was technically their first performance. I liked this well enough, though their laid-back sound might have been better suited for a smaller venue. Really, the best part was that the lead singer had bought his mom Dead South tickets for her birthday but “accidentally” neglected to tell her that he was playing on the show too.
This set was also the start of some especially disrespectful audience behaviour. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard people yell for an opening act to get off the stage, but here we were. Not many people, but there were a handful of drunk girls behind us who couldn’t wait for the Dead South and weren’t shy about screaming so. Multiple people complained to the ushers, whose collective response was “…meh.”
Andino Suns were up next, and these guys were great! High-energy Chilean music from Moose Jaw, which I know is a cliché by now but I have no better way to put it. These guys tore the roof off the place and made tons of new fans. I’d heard their names around here for a while now but somehow we’d never made it out to see them before. That’s a shame, as it turns out. Gotta take advantage of having them around before they’re too big to keep playing here.
During the break, we went out into the lobby. Mika left for the bathroom, and as I was waiting for her to return, a couple in front of me started having an argument. I’m not entirely sure about what, but I think someone called someone a bitch. Or implied it. Or whatever. Mika returned and I immediately shushed her so we could watch this drama unfold. All around us, other couples and groups were frozen mid-conversation, trying to pretend that they weren’t watching what we were all watching. Mika said she saw the girl smack the guy; I missed it and that makes me sad. Security rushed to the scene (one guy ambled up) for this amazing conversation:
“I hear you’re hitting people.”
“Only a little.”
“You’re not allowed to do that here.”
“I didn’t know that.”
Alas, ignorance of the law is not a defense, and she was escorted from the building. I was pretty sure she was one of the loud drunks sitting behind us and was devastated to later learn this was not the case.
Finally, it was time for the Dead South, which meant that the drunks behind us could quit screaming for the opening acts to leave and instead scream for the Dead South to take off their shirts and have their babies. For the record, this was girls screaming at guys; progress, I guess. We also had a new group of top fans, the four people who insisted on standing when everyone else was sitting. Look, it’s not hard. Stand when other people stand, sit when other people sit. But no, they were going to stand the whole time. Of course they were in our way, but I felt worse for the little kid who was right behind them. The ushers weren’t going to make them sit down, but they were there in a hurry if the kid tried to stand on his chair or in the aisle so he could see too.
And I understand that the Conexus Arts Centre really wasn’t a good venue for this show. It’s a sit-down place and the Dead South are a get-up-and-dance band. This should have been in the hall downstairs, even if it holds fewer people. But come on. It’s like they say, it takes fewer muscles to smile than to be a prick.
As for the band, they were great. It’s why we went, after all; we’d just seen them and they were great then too. This time was like that, but with fancy lights and stained glass backdrops and a big sign with their name on it. And it was indoors and we were sitting and hadn’t just spent 90 minutes sheltering in the car. But otherwise, same idea. And much like at the Folk Festival, they were greeted as hometown heroes and the crowd went nuts for everything they did. Case in point: the show closed with the song Banjo Odyssey; I think if you can get hundreds of people to sing along with the refrain “I guess she’s my cousin but she needs some sweet lovin’ anyway,” it’s a telling testament to your popularity. Or your fanbase.
I signed up for Wednesday night yoga a while back. When I did, this show was my one outstanding obligation, so I knew hard choices would have to be made. I was looking forward to this show, but really only knew a few Said The Whale songs, and I wanted to get my yoga money’s worth. Then I went on strike and wound up walking about 15 kilometres a day while picketing, and I figured that gave me licence to skip yoga and go to the show.
We got to the Artesian right before the show was going to start and for the first time I’d seen there, there was no floor seating. It made sense, given the style of music, but my legs were tired and I was dismayed. Fortunately, they’d set up the stuff table in front of the stairs, so few people had ventured up. We squeezed past the rack of shirts and headed up, where I promptly cracked my head on the ceiling. Tight quarters up there. We moved over to the other side, more suitable for tall folks.
The opener was Dave Monks, the lead singer of Tokyo Police Club, touring his new solo album, On A Wave. It wasn’t actually out yet, but it was available for sale at the show, though it’s since been released, so your chance to hear it early and feel special has come and gone. He played acoustic guitar with accompaniment from an electric guitarist (by which I mean she was playing an electric guitar, not that she was some sort of robot) (not that I can prove otherwise) and honestly, this didn’t really click with me. I think I might have enjoyed this more if it had been just acoustic. Though it’s worth noting (also “worth nothing” as I’d originally typed) that I’d had a long day and was feeling out of sorts so it could have been 100% on me.
Said The Whale, on the other hand, turned out to be just what I was in the mood for. I can’t shake the feeling that “playing in front of a giant View-Master reel” sounds like such a promising start to a Stefon routine, so I understand if you’re let down when I just describe them as high-energy power-pop with a good sense of humour. But for real, this was a blast. I went in largely unfamiliar, but it didn’t matter; they shook me out of my funk and won me over. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but the show ended on a high note with the one-two punch of UnAmerican and I Love You, the two songs of theirs I know best. UnAmerican, in particular, was a big improvement over the already-fun studio version – louder and rockier and would have made a fine closer on its own.
This is one of those times where going to random shows pays off; I went in ignorant and half-interested, mostly just for something to do, but left a convert. These folks are great fun and you should go see them.
“Wanna do something stupid?” is kind of how I live my life, though I usually don’t put it in words quite so directly.
Here’s what brought us to this point:
1. This spring, Mika graduated with her Business degree following six years of night classes while still working full-time. Six years may sound like a long time but I assure you it’s longer than you think.
2. When Mika was 17/18, she never got to see Thrush Hermit because they only played in bars. After she turned 19, the band announced they were breaking up – but at least they’d be playing one last farewell tour first. And then lead singer Joel Plaskett got seriously sick and the band had to pull out of their own farewell tour. The tour went on with scheduled openers Flashing Lights and Local Rabbits, and she still went and enjoyed it, but she never did get to see Thrush Hermit.
3. 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the Thrush Hermit album Clayton Park. Round numbers lead to vinyl re-releases and nostalgia tours.
And so we made a stupid decision to book a long weekend in Toronto to celebrate the end of school and set right what once went wrong. A celebratory decision, to be sure, but a stupid one that was made only stupider when Thrush Hermit added western Canadian dates shortly after we’d booked our flights. We could have just gone to Amigo’s. But why stay up way too late at Amigo’s when you can get up way too early to fly to Toronto instead? Besides, Toronto has Steve and Audrey, and (temporarily) Aaron and Cindy. And sharks. And tonkatsu, though I never got any.
The trip got stupider still when contract negotiations between my union and my employer went to hell at the behest of our beloved Premier, who mandated a two-year wage freeze followed by a 1% increase in the third year – almost too generous. We went ahead with the trip with “labour disruptions” looming, and in fact, I went on strike the day of this show. Neither of us felt the best about leaving with this over our heads, but the hotel, airfare, and concert tickets were paid for well in advance, so we decided to put it out of our minds and enjoy ourselves as best as we could. I’m doing a fine job of that, as you can tell.
But! That’s not what this is for. This is my place to write about concerts that happened weeks ago, as best as I can remember them, which usually isn’t that well.
We flew into Toronto the day before the show and spent most of it asleep. We’d woken up around 3:00am to catch our flight, as it was the only direct flight from Regina to Toronto; the other options involved leaving at a reasonable time, flying to Calgary, hanging out in the airport all afternoon, and then flying to Toronto. This came two days after driving to Saskatoon, seeing Elton John, and driving home, getting to sleep after 2:00am. So our sleep schedules were shot, is what I’m saying. We woke up after supper time, went out, ate crepes, came back, and went to sleep again. They were very good crepes.
We spent the afternoon of the day at the show at the AGO, looking at art until we’d seen so much art that all art looked like all other art. When it was time to head out to the show, Mika got to experience her first-ever subway ride. She outed herself as a tourist by enjoying the experience. Unlike me, who outed myself as a tourist by pointing to the sandwich shop when someone asked me if I knew where the subway was.
The show was at the Danforth Music Hall, which is where Steve, Audrey, and I saw Ben Folds and yMusic about three years ago. I remembered the general size of the place, and East Bar and West Bar. I did not remember the floor being so slopey. Steve (who used to work there) said it used to be a movie theatre (when he used to work there) so that makes sense. It does make for a long night of standing, though.
There weren’t a ton of people there when we arrived, so we took a spot nice and close for the openers, Bunny. What is with these bands and their hard-to-Google names (he asked, in order to goad CRZ into replying “From Toronto, it is Bunny (bunnytoronto.bandcamp.com)”)? This was fine, the very definition of an opening act that I enjoy but struggle to have anything to say about it. I found the vocals kind of got lost in everything; the dude had a high voice (think Andy Shauf) and it kind of got lost in the mix. Actually, “Andy Shauf singing power-pop” is probably… not super accurate as far as descriptions go, but that’s what I’m going with.
Somewhere in here, the place got packed. Like, hard to get to the bathroom packed. Harder to get back to near where you once were packed. Text your wife and make her wave her arms around because otherwise you’ll never find her packed. I think it sold out (or came very close), but I think Ben Folds sold out (or came very close) too and I don’t remember it being nearly so wall-to-wall. For all the people, I will say the jerk ratio was quite low. There were just a ton of people there and they were all excited for Thrush Hermit.
The lights went down, a little sign that read “ROCK & ROLL” lit up, then it went out and a big sign that read “ROCK & ROLL” lit up, and we were underway. As always, I was amazed that one of my stupid plans actually came to fruition. Everything worked, everyone was well, and there we were. And… it ruled? Yes. And I am not the target audience here. While Mika has long since turned me on to Joel Plaskett’s solo stuff, I really haven’t spent any time listening to Thrush Hermit. I listened to all of Clayton Park once through earlier in the week, which was good, because the main set was the whole album played all the way through. They killed it and the crowd was into everything. Me too, and it’s not like I’d been waiting 20 years to see them. From the Back of the Film and The Day We Hit the Coast were particular favourites, thought that could be because I knew them best from Mika playing them in the car.
Mika suggests that I mention that Ian McGettigan balanced his bass guitar on his chin twice, but didn’t spit fire. Which kind of makes it sound like he was alone in not spitting fire. I didn’t spit fire either, but somehow that’s not noteworthy.
Toronto being the centre of the universe, I’d hoped that we’d get something a little special with our show, and I wasn’t disappointed. For the last song of the main set, Before You Leave, they were joined by two members of Local Rabbits, Pete Elkas and Ben Gunning. I was already on board with our decision to not back out and just go to Amigo’s instead, but if there were any lingering doubts, this sealed it. Not only something unique on this tour, but a nice callback to that original show that didn’t quite happen.
Before the encore, Mika ran (or really, slowly slogged through people) to the washroom, where she overheard someone’s kids. Not sure whose. Someone in one of the bands. The kids were ready to go home, as Dad had been there since soundcheck. I guess having a dad in a band isn’t cool anymore, if it ever way.
They played five songs for the encore: Strange to Be Involved, On the Sneak, French Inhale, North Dakota, and Patriot, before closing with a reprise of the show-opening From the Back of the Film. I didn’t know these ones as well – really, only North Dakota sounded familiar to me, though Mika assures me most of them were singles, and she’s probably played all of them in my presence at one point or another. Didn’t matter that I didn’t know them. They were great. This was all great.
Of course, my opinion isn’t the one that matters here. In her Instagram post, Mika declared the show to be “so awesome” and it occurs to me that this whole review is just a novel-length retelling of her photo caption.
I had the chance to see Elton John once before. That was a little over 10 years ago, when the Canadian stops on that particular world tour were in Regina and Kelowna. Odd picks, and a far cry from the usual Toronto and Vancouver and maybe Montréal, but he felt like playing places he’d never been to before. Probably not the weirdest thing he’s ever done. I would have liked to go, but at the time, I was still making semi-responsible decisions with my money. Those days are long gone.
Now Elton’s on a 300-show world tour, said to be his last. Take that with a grain of salt, always; I think Cher has played three farewell shows in Saskatoon alone. But what he said seemed really reasonable – one-off shows are possible, or a residency or something – just no big long tours. We’ll see if it sticks.
Mika and I got these tickets a year ago. We’d planned to go to the show with my stepmom, as Elton is her favourite musician ever, but the week before the show, she backed out, for reasons I hope were worth it. Her departure freed up a ticket, and luckily, Deserée didn’t have plans.
We left Regina early in the afternoon for an uneventful drive, picking Dez up at work a little after 4:00 so we could eat dinner early like old people. We went to the Canadian Brewhouse and each ordered some variation of chicken, making this an official concert, something I didn’t even think of, but luckily, Dez was on the ball. We ate and chatted until it was time to head to SaskPlace. (I’m sticking with the original name; no free advertising for my employer while I’m on strike.)
It had been so long that I’d forgotten where our seats actually were, and I was delighted that they were good. Nice work, me. Lots of folks came down where we were to take pictures of the big screen showing Elton walking away down the yellow brick road, so Dez and I did so too. I also tried and failed to mess up one of her pictures and she did the same to me. But I did manage to get a picture of her making a supremely goofy face, something I will forever treasure.
It really was too bad my stepmom skipped out. Shortly before the show started, I heard someone holler “James!” and wouldn’t you know, it was my dad’s second wife and her daughter. They were only one row behind us and about 10 seats down. Oh, the conversations we all could have had. I mean, we still had a nice time getting caught up, but there was some serious missed potential there.
There was also some good people watching, waiting for the show to start. I had not expected this level of cosplay – or, indeed, any – but there were boas and sunglasses (so many sunglasses) and some full outfits. One kid in an all-white suit, white shoes, white glasses, and white angel wings was particularly noticeable. We later saw him taking his seat – front row, centre.
Elton started right on time, opening with Benny and the Jets. Now, I’m not a hardcore fan. I know the hits, which is fine, because he has a million of them, and he played most of them. Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, Philadelphia Freedom, I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues, Daniel, Crocodile Rock, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, I’m Still Standing, The Bitch is Back, Sad Songs (Say So Much), Candle in the Wind. (I offered Dez $20 to scream “GET TO THE PRINCESS DIANA PART” but she declined.) Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting was particularly well-received, and on a Tuesday, no less.
The show was really good – nearly three hours. A great band, and Elton is still a fantastic pianist. His voice isn’t quite what it once was – they have other people there to hit the high notes for him. And as great as an entertainer as he is, when he actually gets up and walks around… yeah, that dude has seen better days.
One downside was the volume. As Dez put it, “I didn’t think Elton John was the show where I’d lose my hearing, but here we are.” After Mika and I had left town, we stopped in Davidson (because neither of the 24-hour gas stations in Grasswoods are) and ran into some other concert-goers, whose first question was “wasn’t it loud?” Maybe I’m old, but they could have dialed it back a bit. The volume muddied the vocals, so when he played songs I was less familiar with, I couldn’t make anything out. One of my new Davidson friends had also seen Elton in Edmonton and said it hadn’t been the case there, so let’s blame the venue.
Behind the band, a giant screen showed different videos for each song. Some were cute, others funny, or melancholy, one was self-serving (I’m glad you raised so much money for HIV/AIDS research, but it came across as overly self-congratulatory), and some were… well, I’d love to have a sit-down with Elton John and get him to explain what they were about. Always interesting, at any rate.
One of the night’s highlights wasn’t a song. Most of the crowd interaction was just Elton John slamming his hands down on the piano after a song and then pointing at the crowd, always to a great response. That seems like a good career goal – succeed to where you just have to point at people to make them happy. But when Elton came out for the encore, he walked along the stage, reached down, shook the hand of the kid in the all-white suit, and then took his own glasses off and handed them over. The place went nuts. Such a cool moment.
As this was the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, Elton ended the encore with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and really I don’t know that changing the one word for the tour name was really necessary? I mean, I get it, but they’re basically the same word. But whatever. It was the song he obviously had to end on, and when it was done, he rode up a platform and disappeared into the set behind him. Quite dramatic. Then we all left by slowly slogging up arena stairs while the sound system played one of the few Elton John hits that we didn’t get to hear live, Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart. Less dramatic, but I suppose it was cheaper than bringing Kiki Dee on tour.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, but sometimes, the universe provides. BA Johnston had played Regina a week prior to this show, but by now, I know how this works. He’ll play O’Hanlon’s on a Friday night, I’ll have good intentions, but then the week will be over and Mika and I will be tired and won’t make it out. This scene has played out repeatedly ever since BA came into our lives. We’ve only ever seen one of his shows. And it ruled! But, y’know, sleepy.
And then I went off to Calgary for my fall trip to visit my grandma. No concerts scheduled; no extracurriculars at all. Just the usual baking bread, sharpening knives, and walking up and down 17th Ave. Pretty much a non-stop party. I did also have vague plans to meet up with Colin, but again, no date or time or event picked out.
Then BA posted, on Instagram, a picture of a shopping basket filled with bags of Hawkins Cheezies, with a caption listing tour dates. There was possibility here. I’d wanted to force Colin to go see BA Johnston for a while. I put forth the suggestion and he was into it. Or was humouring me. Either way.
Following an extensive search for parking, we went for dinner at Hudson’s, where my options came down to the breakfast poutine and the peanut butter bacon burger. I chose burger. It was okay. Would do it differently if I had to do it again. The poutine sounded really good. Then we headed to a nearby park and library to check out some Beakerheads exhibits. It’s an event that mixes science with art, so there were some projections in the library and interactive displays in the park. There was stuff going on all over the city and this wasn’t the main part of it or anything, but it was neat.
Finally, we headed off to the Palomino, which was the barbecue restaurant Colin and I ate at last time I was in town. At that time, he’d mentioned seeing shows there, and here we were, actually at one. As we headed to the basement, we passed BA sitting with some friends, having dinner, and very true-to-form, watching the Tiger-Cats game.
The Palomino made for a surprisingly good venue. Small space, real low ceilings, excessively warm, lots of character. They sold earplugs in those machines where you insert a coin and spin a thing to get a plastic capsule with a toy inside, an idea I’d encourage every venue to steal. And, we’d later learn, the sound was surprisingly good. I liked this place.
We got drinks, though I panicked when asked what I wanted because I’d not thought that far ahead and wound up with a rye and Coke as though I was my dad in the 80s. Colin got a PBR, which was the only beer I saw anyone drinking. When we saw Hawksley Workman in the spring, the venue had a drink called The Workman. The Palomino didn’t have a drink called The Johnston but if they had, I think a big cheap beer might be it.
There were two local opening bands. The first was Open Channels, a four-piece that I really enjoyed, especially after the first two songs when they borrowed a functioning amp for the bass player. The second was Pancake, who had a bunch of people and matching wigs and black outfits and not-matching sunglasses. If you want more information about either of these groups, good luck; they both have names that are too hard to Google. Neither one sounded like 80s metal, which is a shame, because all of BA’s openers should do so. Of the two, I’d say Pancake was probably a little better but I liked Open Channels a little more. It really comes down to whether you preferred the Open Channels song about the metal box, or, as Colin put it, Pancake’s “one with all the fucks.” I’m not picking the swearing one because sometimes I have to surprise you.
While this was all going on, BA was manning his own merch table and chatting with fans. He also noticeably took some time to listen to the opening bands and was grooving to an Open Channels song right by us for a while.
Finally, it was time for BA’s show, by which I mean he set everything up, put Werewolves of London on repeat on his Discman and went to the back to change his clothes. The crowd was so hyped for the show that we all sang along with the ahWOOOOOs. Eventually, BA re-emerged holding two sparklers and welcomed us to “the basement of the barbecue sports bar.”
And look. If you’ve seen BA Johnston before, you’ve seen this show. The songs get mixed around a little, but otherwise, it’s the same every time. The costume changes, the jokes (in Calgary, they’re at Edmonton’s expense, instead of the Winnipeg-centered ones we get), it’s a routine he has down pat. That said, I enjoyed this more than the previous show I’d seen. Part of it was that Colin was there and I had failed to adequately prepare him for the spectacle we were to witness, which might be the best way to first experience BA. I told him it would be a life-changing experience, but I wasn’t sure if it would be so in a positive way. Then BA dropped to his knees in front of me while singing about Cheezies. And then crawled between my legs. I felt blessed. Before that, he had been running around pouring Cheezies out of a pitcher into people’s mouths. So that part was new.
We only got a few songs off his newest album. Apart from the aforementioned I Rock the Hawkins, he had opened with Geddy Lee, saying that the only people who enjoy Rush are six guys from Regina. (I haven’t met them.) And he played his first single from the album, We’re All Going to Jail (Except Pete, He’s Gonna Die). This was a great singalong with everyone in the place doing the “he’s gonna die” part. He also played a new song about getting run over by a senior citizen that he said was coming out on next year’s Werewolves of London, Ontario.
There were a ton of singalongs throughout the show. This crowd knew the songs and loved them all; perhaps none more so than the keyboard player for Open Channels, who seemed to know every word and had a smile so big that it’s fair to say she enjoyed BA Johnston more than I’ve enjoyed anything ever.
Not that there weren’t a few glitches. Johnston had some issues with his “BlackBerry Passport” (Discman) malfunctioning when playing backing tracks, to where he threatened to write Jim Balsillie an angry letter. And you can tell I work for a phone company because this made me laugh a lot. He also broke character enough to admit that he had “all this shit on a real cell phone” if need be.
But mostly, this was just tremendous fun. He played a few of my favourites, including Dayoff is a Dayoff and GST Cheque; during the latter, he ran around the audience getting people to shout GST into the mic, including me, but when I did so, BA turned away from me then collapsed into my arms. I was sweatier on the outside of my shirt than the inside for possibly the first time ever. Like I said, blessed.
After the show was done, Colin bought a shirt. So I guess I was right when I said it would be life-changing, in that he now has fewer dollars and one more shirt.
For the first time in the 23 years (god) that I’ve been doing this, a concert fell on my actual birthday. A concert that I went to, I mean. I bet there’ve been many. Though really, I only remember one: Smash Mouth played a fair in South Dakota on my birthday. Mika and I were also in South Dakota then, and we were going to go because obviously we were going to, but then we didn’t, and I now have regrets. Couldn’t let that happen again.
This particular Weird Al tour was called the Strings Attached tour, as he had an orchestra join him at every stop. Whereas Al had been kind enough to make Regina stops for his past few tours, this time, it wasn’t to be. When Mika and I booked our summer time off, I looked to see if maybe a trip to Calgary would be in order (please note that I cleared this plan with Mika and she was 100% on board with this and very enthusiastic about it even and we’ll see if she actually reads these things), but no, the nearby stops were happening while we were off in BC. But then I looked closer. Weird Al was also going to be in BC. On my birthday. It was fate.
We ferried over from Salt Spring Island on the afternoon before the show, spent some time with Mika’s family, and then checked into our hotel, where it seemed a number of musicians were also staying. They turned out to be the orchestra in question. Didn’t see Weird Al around, though I expect he stays someplace nicer than Victoria’s finest (probably) Comfort Inn. I don’t know where the orchestra was from; I had thought it was the [Your City Name Here] Symphony Orchestra in each location, but it didn’t look like this was the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. Or at least their website didn’t say anything about it. Also, y’know, they all needed hotel rooms.
I’d originally bought tickets for Mika’s folks, but they weren’t able to join us, so Mika’s cousin and her husband took their spot. They picked us up at the hotel and we all headed out to the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, which really did very little to honour the memory of Save-on-Foods. The show didn’t even start with a moment of silence. Pretty disrespectful if you ask me.
We were pretty far back and pretty high up, since going to the show was a last-minute decision. I was just pleased to be there at all since this promised to be at least a little different than the standard Al shows. Hiking up to our seats, I don’t know if it was just Victoria or what, but there was way more weed in the air and way more people two-fisting beers than at any Weird Al show I’d seen before. Everyone was still nice; it was just noticeable.
The orchestra came out first and played a few pieces that this audience would know; namely, themes from Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible, Superman, and (of course) Star Wars. Then they took an intermission, and I thought the guy behind us was going to lose his mind. He was NOT down with an intermission before Al even showed up. But it was all due to the wording; if we’d had an opening act, we’d expect a break before the main performer. And in essence, that’s what we got. It was just called a warmup and an intermission instead.
Finally, the orchestra launched into Fun Zone, the instrumental that opens all Weird Al shows. They were joined by Al’s band and the trio of backup singers (another new addition to this tour) and finally Al himself, who sang a medley of older parodies (I Lost on Jeopardy, I Love Rocky Road, and Like a Surgeon) performed in different styles. Next was my all-time favourite Al song, The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, so my night was basically set. I’ve seen Weird Al in concert six times now, and I’m 99% sure this is the first time I’ve seen him play that song live since my first Al show in the mid-90s, long enough ago that it predates the SLCRs.
For the start of the show, there were minimal costume changes and effects. If the song had a video, they’d play along with it, but that was pretty much it. The setlist seemed to be chosen with the symphony in mind, rather than the visuals. I thought they were particularly effective on Jurassic Park (it feels weird to give an earnest musical opinion regarding a dinosaur-themed MacArthur Park parody) and Jackson Park Express, but their highlight may have been a long, drawn-out buildup by Al, leading to the 30-second Harvey the Wonder Hamster theme song.
Then came the first montage of Al video clips and the back third of the set included a bunch of the big hits with the costume changes and set pieces, including Smells Like Nirvana, White & Nerdy, and Amish Paradise, with The Saga Begins and Yoda saved for the encore. This was much more like a classic Al concert and was great fun, if familiar.
Here’s the full setlist – probably the same every night on the tour (having an orchestra doesn’t leave a lot of room for variation:
I Lost on Jeopardy/I Love Rocky Road/Like a Surgeon
The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
One More Minute
Don’t Download This Song
Weasel Stomping Day
Harvey the Wonder Hamster
Jackson Park Express
Smells Like Nirvana
Dare to Be Stupid
White & Nerdy
The Saga Begins
I did hear somebody say that Al had quietly removed all the Michael Jackson material from his shows after Finding Neverland came out, and indeed, it was noticeably absent. I’m not sure if that was the reason or if they just got left out to give other stuff some space. I say “all the material” but really, it was only ever two songs, but they’re just so associated with him.
Needless to say, I had a great time. Mika knew what she was in for and got what she expected – and without getting directly serenaded this time, so that was a plus (for her, less so for me). The other folks were both new to the Weird Al live show experience and it seemed like one of them got into it. The other, not so much, but at least there was some top-notch people watching as part of the deal. Al’s fans get really into the show; none more so than the two guys ahead of us who hollered, sang along, fist-pumped, and even FaceTimed their friends with excitement when certain songs got played. Those dudes were a bit much, but I still liked them.
And now, a postscript, because these things are never really about the concerts. The next morning, we had plans to meet friends for lunch, so we needed to catch a bus from the hotel into downtown. Walking to the bus stop, I hear yelling down the street and this guy walking towards us is smirking. I look past him and the yelling is coming from some lady. Who happens to be topless. Or technically not topless, as she was wearing a black tank top, just pulled way down. Sun’s out, guns out, I guess. I think the hollering was her trying to get someone to watch her stuff while she went to Tim Hortons. Ultimately, she abandoned her stuff and ran across the street. Mika thought maybe the boob situation was implemented in order to stop traffic since she was jaywalking. Anyway, this lady didn’t pull up her top before going into Tim’s, which poses interesting questions about their no-shirt-no-shoes-no-service policy. I mean, she had a shirt on, just in a non-traditional manner. But I guess the questions were answered when she emerged from Tim’s, coffee in hand, shirt pulled up. She ran back across and as soon as she was back in her spot, they were out again. If I looked over (we were now across the street from her at the bus stop, having crossed at the lights, legally, without help from my boobs), she’d give me a big smile and giant wave. I was very glad Mika saw it all too so at least I know I wasn’t hallucinating. We figured they must do things very differently in Victoria, a suspicion we soon confirmed when the bus system turned out to be fast and easy.
This was the 50th Regina Folk Festival. Or 50th anniversary, maybe. We skipped most of it.
I get inordinately high hopes for the folk festival lineup every year. The festival is a rare opportunity to get bands who’d never normally play Regina to come to town, but I need to remember, it’s not a whole lineup of them. This year, they got Jason Isbell, which is pretty cool, but most of the lineup read like a SLCR reunion show – Colter Wall, The Dead South, A Tribe Called Red, Bahamas, Rae Spoon, Blue Rodeo – and I like all those folks! Which is why I’ve seen them all before. Ultimately, we settled on just getting Friday night passes, but when Charlotte Day Wilson backed out and was replaced by personal favourite (and another SLCR alum) Kathleen Edwards, we made plans to pop downtown on Sunday night too.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 8
If I was in charge here, this whole thing would be its own review – different venue, separate ticket – but this was put on by the Folk Festival and was covered in the Folk Festival program and it’s been over a month and sure, I’ll take the opportunity to condense these into one.
The important thing is that we paid money to listen to music through headphones in a grocery store.
Touring in support of their new album, Saskatoon’s Close Talker held a “3D-360 silent headphone concert,” which they named “Immersion.” The idea is that the band would play their entire new album How Do We Stay Here? from front to back, and everyone in the crowd would hear the music through headphones. This isn’t an entirely new idea, but they got some slick tech worked in that allows them to move the music around in real time, so the bass can move from left to right, or the drums can sound really far away, or the guitar can move towards you. I can’t explain the grocery store part, other than a local market named Local Market YQR has a small attached space that actually worked really well for this. It’s your proverbial “intimate venue,” which allowed the band to sell out two shows in one evening.
Being Olds, we opted for the early show. We were briefed about what was going on upon entering, and we took seats at the back of the room. One of Close Talker (or would you just say a Talker?) invited us to move up, which was nice, but we’re tall and the back works fine for us. Besides, every seat wound up filled.
They told us the show would start promptly at 8:00, but there was a lengthy introduction explaining how the show would work, the technology behind it, all that fun stuff. I thought it ran a bit long but it became apparent that this was intentional; one issue with the venue is there was nothing covering the windows, and some of us (most importantly, me) were getting the setting sun right in the eyes. The opening chatter was dragged out a bit until the sun was just low enough to not impact the show.
This was a really neat experience, an excellent introduction to a local band, and a fun way to kick off the folk festival weekend. The performance itself ran around 50 minutes of kinda folky, kinda artsy, kinda dreamy pop rock. The movement effects I mentioned above were there but never overused, complementing the music rather than overshadowing it. The band made a point of not talking much, especially early on, to help people focus on the music. To that end, the headphones worked really well; nobody talked, and people mostly kept their phones in their pockets. I wouldn’t want every show to be like this, but in the right cases, it could be really effective. I did think individual volume controls might be a nice addition, though I can see where that could add one more thing to possibly mess up in what had to be an already complicated technical setup.
At one point I slipped off my headphones for a second to see what it sounded like in the room. Mostly it was drums.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 9
This brings us to our one full night at the 2019 Regina Folk Festival. With gates opening at 5:00, I’d have had to come downtown early and wait in line with folding chairs to get a good spot where Mika could eventually join me. Instead, we took our time getting down there and skipped the chairs entirely. This was a controversial decision, given that we spent way too much money on those chairs and they’re very comfy and ridiculously strong. Seemed a shame to not get as much use out of them as we could.
We got to the park a little after 6:00. Once we made it through the usual organized chaos, the whole chair thing seemed like a bad move on our part. There were noticeably fewer people there than in previous years and we wouldn’t have had a problem taking our traditional spots. This was Garth Brooks’ fault. His two sold-out stadium shows on the Friday and Saturday nights surely siphoned off Festival attendees. I didn’t mind the extra space, as the park has felt a little crowded during recent Festivals, but I was concerned that too much of his noise would carry over to the park and drown out our noise. Luckily, that was never an issue.
Emilie Kahn had already started playing by the time we arrived and we saw a few of her songs in between checking out the Stuff Tent and the food trucks and whatnot. It was perfectly pleasant harp playing that we honestly didn’t pay a ton of attention to.
Between sets, Ila Barker played a few songs, just her and her guitar, and there was a spoken performance from the night’s emcee, Stella from Queer Songbook Orchestra (they used a number of names throughout the night, but Stella is the most fun to yell, so here we are).
We picked the Friday night to attend in part because Weaves was playing and Mika really wanted to see them. And so they took the stage, and then everything went to hell. After half a song – just enough time for me to admire the airbrushed picture of Dolly Parton on the singer’s pants – someone from the Folk Festival ran out on the stage holding arms aloft in the dreaded X. It had been cool and drizzling off and on thus far, but now lightning was in the area. Luckily, the guitarist for Weaves had trained for this situation and knew exactly what to do – play the opening riff of Thunderstruck before flipping the double bird to the heavens.
With everything on hold, we waited around the park for a while to see what would happen, before the rain picked up and we headed to the car.
And the car was where we’d spend the next 90 minutes, with rain pouring down and lightning all around us. We played games on our phones, lamented the lack of nearby bathrooms, regretted not having picked up dinner as soon as we’d arrived, and intermittently ran the air conditioner when it all got too suffocating. The Festival kept people up to date via Twitter, or at least as up to date as they could given that everything was really contingent on the lightning going away. At one point, Mika tried to tell me facts about thunder, but she started it with “somebody once told me” and I jumped in exuberantly with “the world is gonna roll me” and she got mad and now I still don’t know what she knows about thunder.
This was all great fun but it could have been worse – we could have tried to go see Garth Brooks. The lightning hit before his show began, and they quit letting people into the stadium (it’s open-air and there’s only so many places they can hide people), so the busses quit running. Thousands of people took shelter in the nearby arena, where (according to a video that was on my social media hundreds of times but which I never actually bothered to watch) they all cheered for a zamboni, I guess because they had nothing else to do. Couldn’t watch the Rider game on your phone – they were on a lightning delay too. And they were in Montréal.
Finally, the storm passed and the Festival announced that the show was going to resume. We ran into Rheanne on the way back, because we have to run into Rheanne at every Folk Festival, even if we’re only there for an hour. It always works out.
With a few minutes to spare before the show was to resume, we hit the food trucks, only to find that most of the vendors had packed up and left. Can’t blame them, really. I wound up getting a burger from the bannock truck, and it turns out that replacing the bun with fried dough is an excellent decision. Mika, however, was stuck getting the sole gluten-free option, popcorn with literal ladles of melted butter. And, for some reason, a lemon wedge. Until this day, “too much butter” only lived in the realm of the hypothetical, but no more. The lemon worked surprisingly well, though.
The Festival is scheduled like so: a main act plays for anywhere from 40-90 minutes (depending on where they are in the set), and then there’s a teaser who plays for about 10 minutes while the next main act gets set up. It repeats that way all night – main act, teaser, main act, teaser, main act. So when the Festival tweeted that the last three acts were still going to play, people didn’t know if that meant the last three main acts, or main/teaser/main. If it was the latter, that would mean The Dead South would lose their spot. On Twitter, on Facebook, people were SO upset at this idea.
And then Stella came out to introduce the next band. They got three words in – “The Dead South” – and I have never heard a reaction like this for anyone at the Folk Festival. Or nearly any concert ever. Folk Festival concerts always have these long, scripted, artist-bio introductions – I’ve heard more than one musician describe them as “awkward” – and Stella got through the whole thing, eventually – but really, the best move would have been to just skip it when the crowd was already so hot.
The Dead South are a bluegrass band from around these parts who’ve started to make it big elsewhere, and this was their triumphant return. They had their time cut, as did the next two bands, but they tore it up and in front of a most appreciative audience, they could do no wrong. This was a high energy performance and was a blast.
Bahamas was up next and he and his band played a delightful set, though of the three that came after the storm, it was probably the weakest. And I love Bahamas! Being shorted on time hurt, because they crammed in as many songs as possible with little talking, and I greatly enjoy his talking. I shouldn’t complain; they played Lost in the Light and that’s my favourite of his. And at least we got to hear about how they’re not the best band, and don’t get the longest sets, but they’re the most chill. And we thank them for stimulating our economy by dining at Famoso.
Near us, an increasingly drunk girl grew tired of listening to some guy tell her about his degrees and made plans to scale a fence, sneak into the back stage area, and get it on with Bahamas. Not sure I’d have put money on her climbing ability at that point in time but I hope her evening ended well, however it ended.
Between sets, we went to sit down by the remaining food trucks. After resting our tired old people legs, I ran into a Dave on our way back in and we stopped for a chat. Mika wandered off, but promptly returned telling us how she was hit on by a guy asking what she was doing with her phone. When she said she was checking the score of the football game, the guy said something like “more like checking the score of the porn game.” I’d like to think I’m a good husband, but I don’t think I can honestly take any credit for the failure of this gambit. Mika did give me one free pass to try using this line on someone should the opportunity ever present itself; if I can pull it off, I’ll be sure let you all know.
I first saw A Tribe Called Red five years ago, and if you’d asked me, I’d have guessed two years ago, and I’m feeling some existential dread right now. At least I enjoyed the show a lot more this time around. I think it was the setting – the crowd was really into it, and the larger stage had room for Indigenous dancers, including a ridiculously impressive hoop dancer, and an adorable little jingle dress dancer who would sneak waves at friends and family in the crowd while waiting in the wings. That the band decorated part of their gear with stinky old LJN rubber toy wrestlers and had wrestling footage as part of their video effects didn’t hurt. I did see some old people in the crowd who looked decidedly not into the music, but I also saw a dude in a T-Rex mask who was really into it, so that all evens out.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 10
I had good intentions to check out some of the free daytime stages, but no.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 11
I had good intentions to check out some of the free daytime stages, but no.
We did make it down for Kathleen Edwards, though, if only so Mika could get the falafel she had hoped for on Friday. With no tickets and no real agenda beyond “let’s get there in time for Rae Spoon’s teaser set maybe,” it was a pretty casual evening.
Everything worked according to plan. Mika got her falafel and enjoyed it until feeling the effects of being glutened later that night. I got my first ever bánh mì, and I can’t speak for its authenticity nor its quality compared to other bánh mì, but it was super tasty. I kind of hope it was a terrible example of bánh mì, because if so, a good one would be mindblowing.
We ate and listened to a short set by Rae Spoon. Only a few songs, including There is a LIght (But it’s Not For Everyone) and the family-friendly version of a song I’ve seen them play before, Do Whatever the Heck You Want. Enough of a reminder that I need to catch a full show the next time they come through town.
Finally, it was time for Kathleen Edwards. She’s great. Of course. Played a bunch of songs I like; “all the hits,” as Mika put it. There was some new stuff. I think at least one song was the same new stuff as we heard in Bengough. Now, it’s important to note that as freeloaders, we couldn’t actually see the stage. Which is fine, we were there to listen, but it does mean that my descriptions of what was going on could be very wrong. For example, she had one musician with her, and was later joined by a member of Blue Rodeo. Or maybe several? Or maybe was just making jokes at Blue Rodeo’s expense? I’m pretty sure my initial description was right but I could be making it up entirely. But does that matter? You weren’t there and I won’t remember.
In here, I did make a tactical error. Remember the bannock truck from Friday night? I’d been told they made a mean bear paw (think beaver tail, or elephant ear, or your regional term for big fried dough with sugar on it) and went to get one. Which I did, but it was not what one would call a smooth experience. It had to take at least 20 minutes, maybe 30, and that’s with all of four people in line in front of me. And while the truck was closer to the stage than where we were sitting, it was also a lot noisier over there, so to be honest, I really didn’t get to hear most of this. At least the bear paw was exactly as good as you’d think fresh fried sugared dough would be, but I could have bought one at the farmer’s market sometime when Kathleen Edwards wasn’t concurrently singing.
It’s been long enough since I’ve done one of these that this one isn’t late out of my usual laziness, but I just plum forgot for like two weeks. Please ignore that it’s been three weeks.
When the show was announced, I didn’t know what a Half Moon Run was. But Mika did – and still does, I assume – and she also saw the announcement and was interested in going. As we’ve established, it doesn’t take much to get me to show up.
It also doesn’t take much to get me to stay home. I get sleepy and cold, or in this case, damp. Our plan had been to head out to the local salad chain restaurant (nothing too good for my girl) before heading to the show, but the skies had other ideas. A sudden downpour coupled with high winds, lots of lightning, and just a touch of hail. A few of the lightning strikes were close enough to our house to rattle the place, sending Carl scurrying to the basement. We’ve had some bad storms before but I’d never seen him just take off like that. As water filled the divot in the road across from our house, we made alternate dinner plans; namely, I made omelettes, hoping to beat the inevitable power outage that never came.
Everything eventually eased up, the cat emerged from hiding, and we were free to go. Mostly. To get to the Exchange from my house, you need to take one of three underpasses. Two were flooded, and the third was only reopened just before we left the house. When we had to detour around another flooded section just to get to the least-bad underpass, we weren’t hopeful, but made it through fine, if a little muddy.
We’d had what passes for heated debates around here regarding what time to actually show up to this thing, having seen several posted times for the doors, including the oddly specific 7:39 pm. The storm made up our minds for us, and we got there a few minutes before 9:00. Based on the parking, there were more people there than most of the recent shows at the Exchange, and indeed, it was reasonably full. Also: very warm. We had just enough time to remark on the venue’s fullness and excessive warmth when Half Moon Run took the stage.
This means, of course, that we’d entirely missed opener Luca Fogale. I hadn’t heard of him before seeing his name attached to the bill. I listened to his new single, and it sounded like the kind of very pleasant singer-songwriter stuff that I enjoy but find almost impossible to write about. And now I won’t write about him. Instead, he gets the same benefit of the doubt as every missed opener; namely, he was surely tremendous and we obviously missed out.
I’d also listened to the newest Half Moon Run album (is 2015 still new?) before the show and it wasn’t anything like I expected. This was coming from a place of complete and total ignorance, of course, but Mika tends to like harder, rockier stuff, and this sounded more like, well, something I’d like.
For the record, I like lots of harder and rockier stuff just fine. But I wrote that line and realized it wasn’t really what I meant, but its inaccuracy and vagueness was outweighed by the fact that it made me laugh.
Anyway. This was pretty great! They played quite a bit off that not-new new album that I recognized. If you want song titles, we’ve established I am not your man. They also played some new unreleased stuff, and everyone there was super excited to hear it. I was clearly so very alone in not knowing Half Moon Run. This was one of those crowds where the bands say nice stuff and actually mean it. People were into every song, singing along, cheering everything, hollering “yeehaw” at one point – even the jerks were so into the show that they forgot to be jerks. It seemed like the band was both delighted and a little surprised with the warm welcome.
They played a relatively short set, ending with all four of them around one mic covering After the Gold Rush. Honestly, I’d have been a little disappointed it was over so soon if I was one of the die-hards, but I’ve been to too many “leave ’em wanting less” shows to complain.
This was nice. I got little else.
Foxwarren is fronted by Andy Shauf, who you might remember from a few of these reviews. Or maybe from his ever-increasingly successful solo career, I guess. Local guy, singer-songwriter type, has built up a lot of buzz. I’d only known of his solo stuff and I’m not sure where Foxwarren fits into the timeline. Was he with them first? Is this a new thing? Were these simultaneous ongoing projects? You are asking the wrong guy, my friend. I was going to suggest that I might know if I’d grown up and seen more small shows here in Regina, but I forgot I’m very old. Shauf wouldn’t have been out of high school when I moved here. I have no excuse. I just don’t know things. Except that they have one album out and it’s new and this tour is in support of it. I know that and it’s probably right.
With Shauf as a hometown favourite, this show sold out well in advance, not that you’d have known by the crowd when we arrived. Regina Folk Festival shows usually run like clockwork, but this one started a good half-hour late, probably to let everyone show up. On the plus side, the late arrivals meant that Mika and I had no trouble finding seats for the opener.
Said opener, Hannah Cohen, played a pleasant little set of dreamy pop that could be described as “sleepy.” The crowd gave her a really nice ovation at the end of her songs that they paid absolutely no attention to. Mika said something along the lines of “that was good, but if I had to write about it, I’d have nothing” and it was nice of her to give me something to close this paragraph with.
Everyone chatting through Hannah Cohen’s set just made it more noticeable how quiet everyone got when Foxwarren started playing. Shauf is a soft-spoken guy and a great songwriter, and people were ready to listen. Which was nice, but we could have used more of that earlier.
It’s always a little weird when the lead singer of a band goes solo. For the musician, it means an entirely new experience. Creative freedom. Do what you want, work with whoever you want. But often, the results – especially to a casual fan – aren’t always that striking. Is there that much difference between songs by Matthew Good and the Matthew Good Band?
It’s not a perfect analogy here, but you get the idea – this is all is a long way of saying I expected this to sound more or less like an Andy Shauf show and it more or less did. This is not a complaint! He’s real good and this was real good. I’d listened to their album beforehand (also real good) (Microsoft Word’s grammar and usage checker is going to hate this sentence) and they played pretty much all of it, near as I could tell. If they played songs from Shauf’s solo records, I didn’t recognize any, though he did come out alone to play one song for the encore.
He also, like in previous shows, fielded audience questions, such as “how do you like your new haircut” and “can we see your new haircut” and “who’s your favourite uncle?” (“Good;” he took his hat off but it was kind of hard to see but I gather he cut his hair all short; “I got a lot of uncles here.”) They also celebrated the birthday of one of the band members, though I think that was just a coincidence of scheduling and not part of the regular touring show. Though it would be pretty funny. And they might get free drinks. Okay, I think I’m onto something here. If you go see them (you should), let me know if it’s someone’s “birthday.” You might also be able to get an honest answer as to Shauf’s favourite uncle if there are fewer uncles where you live.
As we were getting ready to head out for the show, Mika asked if I was excited to see Snake River. I was not, largely because I didn’t know what Snake River was, if something other than a river of snakes. It turns out that the Tea Party was on the Black River tour, named after their latest single, and Snake River is a local band that plays here fairly regularly. Simple enough to get mixed up.
I mention this because it led me to check and see who our actual openers were – The Proud Sons. The name is a little too close to The Proud Boys for my liking, but what the hell, they’re opening for the Tea Party, it fits really well. At least name-wise. I listened to a few songs from their EP and found they were a country band, which seemed like a very odd pairing with the Tea Party, who were all about being dark and brooding and mysterious, or at least they were when I was in university and they were at their commercial peak. When they came back through town on a reunion tour in 2011, I was surprised at how down-to-earth they seemed – but still not the kind of band that would have a country act opening for them. I assumed I’d found the wrong band on Apple Music.
We got to the casino and checked out the stuff table. Yep, it’s the same Proud Sons. Weird. But whatever, into the concert hall we went for people watching and a thematically appropriate playlist of 90s Canadian rock until the show began. This included a Tea Party song that was hastily skipped.
The Proud Sons are not quite as country in person as they were on their EP – still country, but leaning towards the rockier side of things. Mika checked, and none of them appear to be related to anyone in the Tea Party, and nobody from the Tea Party produced their EP, so this pairing will remain a mystery. Their set was fine, nice harmonies, nothing wrong with the show (well, maybe a touch too loud for the venue – and I maintain that if nobody knows your band, don’t tell the crowd to sing along or “put your hands in the air” because they won’t) – just such an odd fit.
And that’s about all I wrote before letting this sit for two weeks. I think I’m just not fit to review the Tea Party, who I was about as excited for as I had been for Snake River. I saw them – by which I mean the Tea Party, not Snake River, who this review is not actually about, not that you’d know – once in 1996 during the height of their popularity when a friend had a spare ticket. I knew very little about them and said friend was disgusted by that, given that it was a high-demand ticket to a sold-out show and basically wasted on me. I liked them well enough then – and in 2011, and again in 2017 – but they’re really just not my thing. They’re like I Mother Earth in that based on my age and tastes, I should like them, but they just never fully clicked with me. I go because Mika likes them and because I can be talked into any concert for any reason.
This was pretty similar to the show we saw back in 2017. And not just their own songs; they also played the same covers (or short segments thereof) as last time – With or Without You, Heroes, Paint It Black – though I think Bobcaygeon was a new addition. Ever since Gord Downie died, every Canadian band of a certain vintage has to incorporate a Hip song into their setlist by federal law; usually Bobcaygeon, but the Headstones got a special dispensation to play Blow at High Dough and New Orleans is Sinking instead. Crash Test Dummies didn’t play a Hip song at all when they were here last year and they’re all in jail now.
The new not-Snake-River single was fun. They tried out some other new stuff and asked us not to record it in case it sucked, but it was good, and they knew that. Really, the most noticeable difference was in their demeanor. Like I said, in 2011 they seemed appreciative and almost surprised that people would still come out to see them. Since then, they’ve had a few successful tours and the new single has been a big hit on rock radio (for whatever that means in 2019) and that really seems to have boosted their confidence. Lead singer Jeff Martin had a lot more swagger and was back to coming across more like a rock star, and the crowd responded accordingly, so maybe listen to them and not me.
I always worry about the “it was fine” reviews because I fear they come across as “I hated it.” And talking to the four people who read these things can sometimes back that up. So I’ll just say it was a Tea Party concert for Tea Party fans. It was enjoyable and met my expectations but didn’t convert me. After four shows, I’m sensing a pattern.
• Foxwarren w/Hannah Cohen (May 29)
• Regina Folk Festival w/Bahamas, A Tribe Called Red, The Dead South, Weaves, Emilie Kahn, more (August 9)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 21)
• Elton John (October 1)
• Thrush Hermit (October 4)
In Calgary again, visiting my grandma again, timed it to coincide with a show again. Baked her some bread again, sharpened her knives again, got my suitcase inspected again (for packing an electric knife sharpener again). You know the drill. I’m pretty sure I’ve done this exact opening before.
I could add “seeing Hawksley again” (third time since January) and “symphony show again” (following Steven Page, with Weird Al still to come this summer). Got some themes going on this year.
I met Colin for an early dinner at a downtown BBQ joint where he also goes to punk concerts. Some things about that sentence are odd and that’s okay. It was a bad day to eat early; lunch had come late because I hit up Record Store Day first and also had to stop at London Drugs and buy my grandma some printer ink. Calgary priorities. That said, though I wasn’t really hungry, dinner was pretty good, with the side of bourbon apples a particular standout.
After dinner, we walked over to Arts Commons for the show, which was in the Jack Singer Concert Hall. It was rush seating and I had a goal of getting there “earlyish, but not stupidly so” and I feel like we succeeded.
Rather than rushing to claim seats, we got drinks first. I’m not much of a drinker, nor a line-stander-inner, but they had a concoction called The Workman – how could I not? Besides, Colin handled the lining up and the buying all by himself. The drink, while tasty, demonstrated the effectiveness of branding. Fun theme drink I can talk about in a review? Sure! But call it what it is – namely, just Maker’s Mark and Coke – and I’d have passed. (Or maybe not; I’d already had those apples and Bourbon Day is always an option since I like themes so much).
Out of the lobby and into the hall itself, and we spent way too much time looping around trying to decide on seats. Paralyzed by choice, we were. With no ideal options, we wound up sitting centre-right, a little better than halfway to the back. I think that somewhere in this paragraph is a metaphor for the Alberta provincial election if I bothered to suss it out.
In an unusual move, Hawksley posted the full setlist on his Instagram before the concert began. Since I saw it before the show, you may as well get it before the review:
Goodbye to Radio (with orchestra)
A House or Maybe a Boat (with orchestra)
Autumn’s Here (with orchestra)
Safe and Sound
Oh You Delicate Heart (with orchestra)
Your Beauty Must be Rubbing Off
No More Named Johnny (with orchestra)
1983 (with orchestra)
Song for Sarah Jane (with orchestra)
Jealous of Your Cigarette
Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky (with orchestra)
Battlefords (with orchestra)
No Beginning, No End (with orchestra)
That’s a nice, career-spanning mix. As you can see, about half the songs were accompanied by the orchestra, and half were just Hawksley and Mr. Lonely. Honestly, I was initially a little disappointed in the number of songs that didn’t feature the symphony, since that was the big draw for me. I mean, I love Hawksley and was going to enjoy this either way, but this was the 24th time I’ve seen Hawksley in concert and the symphony songs promised to be something new and different.
Having said that, as seems to be the norm with these symphony shows, there weren’t a ton of surprises in the arrangements. The orchestra usually seems to be used to accompany the original song, rather than drastically change it. The new songs, 1983 and Battlefords, had arrangements by Sarah Slean, and both were nicely done. Hearing Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky – a song that I love but is also kind of ridiculous? – with the symphony was great, just because it made a weird song that much stranger. That said, Song for Sarah Jane was the surprise standout. On record, I’ve always found it kind of unsubstantial. Pretty, but not much to it. With the orchestra, though, the music swelled as the song went on and it became almost anthemic.
Hawksley is normally pretty emotive when he sings, and this was no exception. If anything, he was hamming it up more than usual. I’m sure part of it was having the symphony backing him up, and part of it was the size of the venue; apart from some folk festival shows (and those are outdoors, which have an entirely different vibe), this is easily the biggest place I’ve seen him play. He was also his usual chatty self, at least before the less-structured songs with just him and Lonely. He joked about his unseasonable song picks with Autumn’s Here and the Christmas tune A House or Maybe a Boat, and had introductions for other songs, including the same story about Snowmobile as he told last time in Regina.
Hawksley can be a bit of an oddball and I’m sure the symphony brought out some people who wouldn’t normally go to his concerts – like when we saw him with the Vinyl Cafe years ago. You can always spot those people because they’re the ones laughing at lyrics, hearing them for the first time. The older lady sitting to my right took incredible delight in some of the more risqué lines in songs like Jealous of Your Cigarette and especially Paper Shoes. We were also sitting near some diehards who knew all the words and sung along at every opportunity, most often during fan favourites like Smoke Baby, Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off, and Safe and Sound. They were also really good singers, which added nicely to the atmosphere in those parts.
All told, this was really great, with a new twist on a bunch of songs, a great performance, and a crowd that was super into everything. Not that it matters, because you likely saw Hawksley in the title, figured my feelings on the show were a foregone conclusion, and skipped this. And for those of you who didn’t, should have gone with your gut, I guess. Could have saved yourself a few minutes.
We were running behind. Not late, but behind. Monday is a school night, so Mika had to wrap up around 7:00, drive home, and eat a thing so we could make it to the show for 8:00. As we made the last turn towards the Conexus Arts Centre, I wondered how many people would be there. “Judging by the number of Facebook ads for the show I’ve seen,” I said, “it might just be us.”
It wasn’t just us. But even that close to showtime, the parking lot was pretty bare. There was no line to enter, no line for the coat check, and when we ran into Rob, we learned he’d been evicted from his seat and moved to a much closer vantage point on the main floor because the call was made to close off most of the balconies. His group’s upgraded seats wound up actually being a lot better than the ones we’d chosen, though that was largely because we’d taken our customary spots at the end of Row L For Legroom; often so appreciated but on this night, overkill. There weren’t that many folks sitting in any of the rows behind us, apart from a few people at the very back. I can only assume they had plans involving drugs and/or handies.
The lowest of the balconies remained open, and while we waited for the show to start, a security guard wandered out in front of us to holler up at a balcony-dweller who had done the unthinkable and rested his drink on the ledge. I thought that maybe going up and talking to the guy would have been a more appropriate way to handle things; way less funny, though.
The opener was Cameron Neal, who played a 40-minute set of country tunes, just him and a guitar. Pleasant, hopeful, earnest. The kind of thing where you hear it and go “that was nice,” and then you try to write about it, and you come up with two sentences, stare at them for a while, check all your social media to see if anything life-changing has happened in the last ten minutes, and repeat.
We’d seen Shakey Graves a few years back opening for City and Colour and really enjoyed him; I actually liked him better than the headliner and was looking forward to seeing a full set in a smaller venue. Not that this was that small; the Arts Centre felt kind of cavernous. Maybe one-third full for the start of Neal’s set, closer to half-full by the end of the night. Split the difference and call it… five-twelfths, I suppose. It looks like he sold out every other Western Canadian stop on this tour, so maybe the venue was just too big? Shakey (Mr. Graves?) did comment repeatedly on the size of the stage itself and the amount of running around he’d have to do all night. To that end, at one point, he ran a lap just because.
He was immediately captivating, playing the first half-hour or so by himself with guitar and kick drum. The first song was Word of Mouth, a song full of advice that sounds like good advice but is actually bad advice, like all advice. He explained this mid-song. He explained many things. Eventually, he was joined by a full band, and I started to recognize a few songs off his newest album, Can’t Wake Up, from when Mika was playing it. I didn’t know that some of these songs made up a trilogy about someone named Garth Nazarth, a very interesting fact that may have been made up on the spot as he was telling us. He also played covers by Neil Young and Townes Van Zandt, who he insisted was a famous rapper.
At one point, someone asked where he got his name, and he joked “a cereal box” before telling the real story. Or what I assume was the real story, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. I also don’t know what a Shakey Graves cereal would entail. Crunchy corn caskets and crosses with marshmallow urns, with enough added sugar to give you the shakes? And when Neal returned to join Shakey in a song they’d co-written, Shakey told us to meet up with Neal in the lobby after to buy his stuff. “Where will you be?” hollered someone. A fair question. And he was going to be outside in a bear costume, apparently. I didn’t see him when we were walking to the car but we did get out of the building in good time.
It looked like everything was wrapping up and everyone stood to applaud, but Shakey was just sending the band away. He stuck around, did one last song by himself, and that was it. No encore, except it kind of was one, except he never left the stage. This seemed like a good way of avoiding the artificial feeling of an encore but also not leaving people feeling like they missed out on something.
This whole thing was a delight. Great tunes and a fun sense of humour. It deserved a bigger turnout, but the folks who were there were really into it. One dude in particular was as invested in this show as I’ve ever seen. So much standing, so much waving, so much yelling, so much insisting to the usher that she was going to love the show and become a new fan. She did give him two semi-enthusiastic thumbs up at one point but I don’t think she really enjoyed her night; at one point she walked over with her flashlight to help ensure someone made it to the bar safely and wiped the heck out in the process. The ushers need ushers. I suppose it was only a matter of time, given the numbers of people getting up and returning with drinks; a lot more of that than at most shows here. But I suppose it made them more enthusiastic, and at least they were polite; one drinker said “excuse me” so many times and so loudly while exiting her row that I initially thought she was trying to get Shakey’s attention. Maybe she needed more clarification on the bear costume situation.
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)
• Morrissey (April 20)
• The Tea Party (April 25)
• BA Johnston (April 26)
• Foxwarren w/Hannah Cohen (May 29)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 21)
• Elton John (October 1)
• Thrush Hermit (October 4)
This was a real last-minute call for me. Steven Page announced a big ol’ spring Canadian tour, and he wasn’t coming here. Disappointing, but months later, the symphony booked this show, taking place before said tour. It sounded like very much my thing, but I didn’t really know what it would entail. Remembering Tanya Tagaq’s appearance with the symphony, where she was a highlight of the evening but not the focus, I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to just be a whole night of Steven Page playing Steven Page songs with the orchestra. Instead of rushing out to buy tickets, I decided to wait on it and find out more. Then I promptly forgot about it.
Jump ahead to the afternoon of the concert, and there’s a picture on Instagram of Page, guitarist Craig Northey (of Odds), and cellist Kevin Fox eating lunch at a Regina pizza chain. I felt like they should be made aware of some better dining options, but that’s just my preferences. Possibly more importantly, I realized that the concert – whatever it was – was that evening. Tickets were cheap, so I decided to go.
I thought it a bit odd that there was no option to pick up a ticket at the box office, only to realize (well after I bought the ticket, but thankfully, before I left the house) that there was no box office. Instead of the usual concert hall, Page and the orchestra were at the Mâmawêyatitân Centre, a community centre in Regina’s North Central neighbourhood. For those unfamiliar, this neighbourhood doesn’t have a sparkling reputation, which is a nice way of tiptoeing around the fact that a certain national news magazine once named it the worst neighbourhood in Canada. That this neighbourhood currently seems to be doing better than said magazine is a little funny to me. The centre itself is relatively new and very nice. The name means “let’s all be together,” and the complex is home to a high school, public library, daycare, recreational facilities, and numerous community groups.
The email and the ticket PDF all told me to print my ticket, but nothing in our house is connected to our 15-year-old printer and I wasn’t about to sort that out. I showed up, flashed my phone, and was let inside. I’m pretty sure they saw the Gmail app on my phone and just called it good. Inside, the orchestra was setting up in a large open area, with chairs on the floor facing them and extra seating available up some stairs off to the side. This was nice and sparsely occupied so that’s where I went, though it did leave me facing Page’s back while he played piano.
The concert was scheduled as part of the Forward Currents Festival, an annual (twice counts as annual) series of concerts aiming to spark conversation about topics of societal importance. This year’s theme was “music and mental health.” There had also been a talk on the subject before the concert, though I didn’t attend that part.
The music director opened the show and briefly outlined that there would be two musical pieces in the first half, followed by Steven Page after the intermission. The first piece was Tchaikovsky’s “Mozartina” orchestral suite, while the second was called My Name is Amanda Todd, composed by Jocelyn Morlock and written about a BC teen who died by suicide after being bullied and assaulted. I generally don’t comment on performances of classical music because what the heck do I know, really, but I will say that it was all very lovely and nobody applauded in the breaks between the four miniatures that make up the orchestral suite and certain people I know would be very pleased by that. From where I was sitting, I was mostly watching the percussionists; one in particular was all over the place, moving from instrument to instrument, hitting things and quickly silencing them and hitting other things. This is probably not the deep appreciation that I should have for this music but it was fun to watch. Also, re-reading this paragraph, you can easily tell which words came from the program (“orchestral suite”) and which came from me (“hitting things and other things”).
Between sets which I know isn’t the right word, people near me were meeting internet-only friends in person for the first time and making other new friends and this all seemed nice.
After the break, we got, well, Steven Page playing Steven Page songs with the orchestra, along with Northey and Fox. They played six songs, alternating between Page’s solo tunes (There’s a Melody, No Song Left to Save Me, and Looking for the Light) and ones he wrote while with Barenaked Ladies (Call & Answer, War on Drugs, and Brian Wilson). Mental illness is a recurring theme in these songs, though it’s more obvious in some cases than others (before explaining the connection to one song, Page joked “let me ruin this one for you too”). He also talked a lot about his own challenges with mental illness, and the importance of being there for people who are struggling, going into detail about a time whenfriends were there for him during a challenging period in his life. Or as he put it, “if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I was arrested on drug charges ten years ago. Google it,” before jokingly adding “the charges were dismissed – that means I didn’t do it, right?”
The songs were all very nicely done. The ones from the BNL days were more famous, but it was nice to get a mix of the old and the new. And though Brian Wilson might be his most famous song and Call & Answer has that one yelly part I really like, I think War on Drugs was my favourite. It wasn’t a single, but I remember liking it back when it came out (despite my BNL fandom waning at that time), and it fit the evening well and the new arrangement (done by Page’s son) was quite good. I think I preferred it to the original.
All told, it was a delightful and thought-provoking evening that I could easily have missed out on if not for Page’s habit of taking pictures of soup. If you’ve ever seen some asshole in a restaurant who has to Instagram his lunch before he can eat it, be kind; he might be accidentally doing someone a favour.
I ran into Other James during the afternoon on the day of this show. We briefly exchanged pleasantries, and we were both excited for that evening’s show. We didn’t talk long, though; he was in a hurry to return to his fancy art-making and I was in a rush to resume making a nuisance of myself in public catching imaginary creatures in a stupid phone game (reminder: I am 42) (in years). But no matter, we’d catch up later in the evening.
We would not. Belle Plaine really wanted to sell this show out in advance and she did so with hours to spare. “Shite,” Other James said on social media, as he will do. Last time he didn’t buy advance tickets, I was able to get him in for free. This time, I left him in the cold. By which I mean at his home or, more likely, with out with some of his zillions of other friends. I’d say we need to stage an intervention and convince him that buying tickets ahead of time is a worthwhile activity, but he’s probably doing better than me in all aspects of life apart from seeing this show.
So yes, this was a sold-out hometown (or close enough to it) album release party at the Artesian for Belle Plaine and her new record, Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath. The place was packed – lots of family and friends from what we could overhear – but there was room for us in our usual spots. The entire back wall of the stage was covered with big pink and white balloons for the occasion and it all looked suitably festive. Apparently blowing them all up was quite the chore that barely got done before the doors opened.
There was no opener. The evening’s host was another local country singer, Blake Berglund, who surely earned the role on merit alone and not because he and Plaine are newly married; something he alluded to when introducing himself as Blake Plaine at the start of the show.
As befitting an album launch, Belle and her band played everything off the new record. I’d heard plenty of them before when I saw her open for Colter Wall some months ago, and even a few when she was at Winterruption last year. You know they’re good because I actually remember them from one show to the next, which I don’t always do with artists I’m not super familiar with. Is it Cheating was again a standout and should be a hit. Maybe it is. Are there hit songs anymore?
She also told lots of stories, talking about her mom, her grandma, her neighbour, Blake, and her guitarist who broke his whammy bar so his dad made him a new one by cutting off a piece of the truck. I realize that the “and” in that sentence kind of makes it sound like they all broke the guitarist’s whammy bar, and I’m not saying that didn’t not happen.
The show was split in two by an intermission, and each half was noteworthy for Plaine having a different custom jumpsuit (one denim, one black and shiny). As the new record only has nine tracks, it would have been a short evening, but she threw in a few extra songs, including some covers. She sang Sunday Morning Coming Down and Raised on Robbery and I’m 99% sure Long Black Veil but this was a month ago now so really don’t trust any of this. My favourite was one that Belle and Blake sang both here and at their own wedding, Islands in the Stream. (I guess when you’re a musician marrying another musician and a bunch of your friends are musicians, you don’t hire a wedding band so much as you all just take turns.)
The night was great fun and I recommend the new album. Plaine is currently on tour opening for Colter Wall (who also appears on this record) in Europe, and it sounds like there are some great crowds. She’s probably already too big for the Artesian, and things are just looking up. It’s always a delight to see local musicians doing well, even if it means they outgrow us.
I’ve been slacking on this one and letting the reviews pile up again. I always enjoy Danny Michel shows, but there never seems to be that much to say about them, unless we have some awkward interaction after the show. It happens more often than you’d think. I mean, I’m socially inept in general, but I can usually fake it long enough to get a CD signed or something. Not so much where Danny is involved. And as much as I’d love to pass the buck, it’s not his fault; he’s a good guy who legitimately saved me from catching fire once. After I stole his setlist.
His shows, though, I pretty much know what I’m in for. He doesn’t usually play with a band when on tour, so it’s him with a guitar and looping pedals (and maybe a piano, depending on where he’s playing). And he has a Hawksleyesque quality about him where he’s written hundreds of songs but always seems to draw from the same 20 or so when deciding what to play. None of this is a complaint, I should add. I know what I’m getting but I like what I’m getting.
We showed up at the Artesian and took what is becoming our usual spot at the end of the lowest pew on the left side. Same place we sat the last time we saw Danny there. There were fewer chairs on the floor than usual, with some small round tables available. Even with less seating available, the show still wasn’t sold out, which is a shame. Not that the attendance was terrible, but lower than it should have been. I don’t know what you can do to get more people out to shows here. The brutal cold deserves some of the blame, but every time attendance is soft, there are more Calgary-Edmonton-Saskatoon-day-off-Winnipeg tours. Musicians have to go where they’ll get paid.
Along those lines, Danny had a Facebook post go viral a few months back where he broke down some of the economic realities of being an independent musician. It’s one thing to know that streaming services have an effect on what artists make, but he was open about the scope of it, mentioning a 95% drop in album sales over the course of a year. That loss is counteracted, as such, by streaming royalties, though he also mentioned that a recent single (Purgatory Cove) spent 10 weeks in the CBC Radio 2 and Radio 3 charts but earned less than $50 in royalties. His post made it pretty clear that indie musicians are struggling and reconsidering their careers and futures. It was a sobering read.
Now that I’ve been nice and depressing, let’s get into the show! We started right at 8:00 with no openers. Like I said, I thought I knew what we were getting, so I was pretty surprised when he busted out Toledo for his second song. Apparently, a fan requested it the previous night in Swift Current, but Michel had to admit he didn’t remember how to play it, so he spent the afternoon before our show re-learning it. I don’t think this was hyperbole; when I entered the night’s setlist into setlist.fm, there wasn’t even an option to add Toledo. This is one of my favourite Danny Michel songs and as far as I can tell, it’s been over a decade since I’ve seen him play it live.
Similarly, he played Perfect later in the second set. That was another old one that doesn’t get much play. I say “old one” as though I didn’t just realize that Feather, Fur & Fin has now been out for over a decade, though I still consider it among his “new stuff.” I’m bad for that. Every Tragically Hip album after Phantom Power is “new stuff” and it came out in 1998 and only got added to “old stuff” last year.
As for the rest of the show, it was a really fun time. Few surprises, but he cracked jokes, told stories, and played a lot of old favourites with some new stuff from his latest album, White & Gold:
Born in the Wild
Whale of a Tale
Samantha in the Sky with Diamonds
Feather, Fur & Fin
A Cold Road
What Colour are You?
Who’s Gonna Miss You?
encore: Nobody Rules You
But we weren’t quite done. Michel explained that he was going to play one last song and consider the show over, but that he had something extra planned just for us, if we wanted. His birthday had been the week before, and his friend Rob Carli, who was recording with the Toronto Symphony, got them to play Happy Birthday for him. So Danny wanted to return the favour, but with a different song, a Regina-centric song, one that Carli had introduced to him. So he had the sound tech hit the music and led us all in a singalong of Experience Regina, which by now has to be the most mentioned song in any of these reviews. It was a fun time. He walked through the crowd recording everyone and later posted the video. You can see Mika and me singing in the background (by which I mean, I can point out which blurred smudges are us, but you’d never know without help). A fan sent in additional video, so it’s a two-camera shoot; in that footage, you can get a real nice look at the back of our heads.
I stopped by the stuff table to pick up White & Gold. Not only do I dig his music, but it was also a super value pack (LP, CD, and download code, all for one low price). A deal! We stuck around long enough so I could get it signed and… nothing awkward happened. No theft, no fire, no immediately regrettable topics, nothing to add to the list. Just a brief chat and a nice souvenir that I’ll add to the record shelf once we buy more shelves. Or thin out the cookbooks.
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.
I feel out of practice. Luckily, we’re hitting all the old familiar tropes so it should be easy to coast:
- A new-to-me band that I paid to see based on name recognition alone, rather than streaming some of their music for free
- A review I let sit for like a week and a half to ensure that I have since forgotten what little I’d had to say
- A need to rush through the review with another concert coming tonight and another tomorrow
I first became aware of the Jerry Cans in the summer of 2017, when they released their cover of the Tragically Hip’s Ahead by a Century, translated into the Inuit dialect of Inuktitut. It wasn’t long before it felt like I was hearing about them all over, playing at the Junos and on CBC’s New Year’s Eve broadcast. Even having heard only one song, over a year ago – and a cover, at that – I was looking forward to seeing them from the hype alone. That said, it’s January and it’s cold and I’m lazy and I was on the fence until the Monday before the show, when I fell into another SLCR trope – buying myself concert tickets because I’m grumpy about being at work. This is why I wind up going to so many shows.
Really, I knew that if I left it until the night of the show, I’d wuss out and stay home (see above re: cold, lazy). Turns out this was correct, as the show sold out not long after I got my ticket.
I got to the Artesian and was immediately cautioned that the band wanted people dancing up at the front, so if I wanted to sit, I should sit up in the pews or the balcony. I don’t know if “balcony” is really the right word for it, but it’s upstairs and has chairs in it, so whatever, “balcony” it is. And I’d never been up there, so that seemed like a decent plan. It was already pretty full, but there was a lone chair just sitting there, and it was kind of perfect. Lots of legroom, nobody near me. I got to spend 20 minutes waiting for the show catching up on phone crosswords and watching the parade of people come upstairs, look for seats, and go back down, disappointed.
The opener was Josh Qaumariaq, lead singer of Iqaluit band The Trade-offs. He went by Josh Q, which I appreciate as a fat-fingered white guy who writes these things in a program that doesn’t have a spellchecker. He did a few songs solo before a few people wandered on stage to help out; he later identified them as half of the Jerry Cans (LIES – it was two-fifths). This was blues-inspired rock – lyrically, it was not so much my thing, but you’re listening for the great guitar playing and an incredible powerful voice. Qaumariaq went from polite applause at the start to a huge ovation at the end.
Having only heard that Hip cover, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the Jerry Cans, but that song actually worked as a fine introduction. Almost a Celtic pop/rock band – or maybe I’m going to say that about any band that incorporates a fiddle – but with the inclusion of Inuit throat singing. I can’t really speak too much about the content of the songs, since their lyrics were all in Inuktitut (almost – they didn’t translate their cover of Cypress Hill’s Hits from the Bong) though they did explain what some of the songs meant (Hits from the Bong didn’t require explanation). They asked for people to get up and dance, and the crowd was happy to do so – the band got a great reaction for their first-ever Saskatchewan show. And we might see them again soon – they hinted that they may be back for a certain festival this summer. Or else they were just trying to get booked on the show; either way, I’m good with it.
With this, the fall 2018 concert marathon comes to a close. It was actually supposed to end the night before with the Headstones, but a week before this show, the Conexus Arts Centre put third balcony seats on sale for $20. I went into this not knowing much of anything about either the Glorious Sons or the opener, the Beaches, but figured $20 was a cheap-enough price to pay for some new music.
I remembered seeing Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt from the third balcony and often feeling like falling from a great height was an inevitability. This time, I bought my seat one row back, which shouldn’t have helped, but somehow did. The balcony was pretty much deserted when I bought my ticket, but it filled up quite well. I got to get nice and cozy with strangers. Next time I should worry less about being dead centre and more about being off to the side where there’s more likely to be a little room to breathe.
The Beaches – all ladies from Toronto. The Glorious Sons – all dudes from Kingston. The Beaches played on a plain stage in front of a big backdrop with their name on it; the Glorious Sons got the full fancy light and video screen setup. Both bands were absolutely beloved. A very vocal contingent was there specifically to see the Beaches. When the Glorious Sons led singalong parts, it was amazing how loud the crowd was. Cool atmosphere for both bands.
It’s not entirely fair to say I knew nothing about either band. I didn’t realize it going in, but I knew one whole song by each. I’ve actually heard (and enjoyed) the song T-Shirt by the Beaches about a million times, because it’s on Mika’s car playlist. And I knew S.O.S. (Sawed Off Shotgun) by the Glorious Sons because a burnout was loudly singing it on the bus last week. He was either on a lot of drugs at the time, or had the brain of someone who’d done a lot of drugs in the past. Maybe both. Regardless, at the concert (the real one, not the free one on the bus), it took me about 30 seconds to remember where I’d heard this song before. Then I remembered it was some dude on the bus hollering to himself about the taxman and Oxycodone and a sawed-off shotgun. This was when I got the giggles, so I was not only the old guy at the show by himself, I was the old crazy guy at the show by himself.
I knew two songs from each, actually, if you count the covers – Be My Baby from the Beaches and Gimme Shelter from the Glorious Sons. Beaches win on that front. The Ronettes are better than the Rolling Stones, don’t @ me
Or maybe it’s just that I liked Beaches better than the Glorious Sons. Don’t get me wrong, both were fun, the crowd loved both of them – really, if you’re looking to check out some new rock bands, you could do worse than either one. But the Beaches’ songs were a little catchier and a little poppier and just overall more my thing. Very deep, that. If you want thoughtful analysis of these two bands I’m completely unqualified to write about, you’re in the wrong place.
• Hawksley Workman w/Kobo Town and Suncliffs (January 27)
• Danny Michel (February 10)
• Matthew Good (February 24)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)
• Elton John (October 1)
Headstones reviews are hard to write. They’re really fun shows, but more or less the same every time out. You know it’ll be loud, lots of swearing, probably some spitting (though this has been dialed this back over time and I can’t say I mind), Hugh Dillon will run around in the crowd a lot. I even know which covers they’re going to play. All of this is fine – it doesn’t stop me from going to see them every time they come through town. But I could rerun old reviews for the most part. Hopefully I’ll have enough sense to make this short.
Got to the casino with plenty of time to pick up my ticket. No incidents this time out. Saw the same guy from work that I always see at Headstones shows. Killed time playing phone games until the show started. Christ, this is riveting.
Our openers were the Matchstick Skeletons, who got off to an inauspicious start through no fault of their own when the local radio idiot introduced them as the Matchbox Skeletons before correcting himself. They were fine. Decidedly better than Snake and the Chain from the last show, but far less memorable as a result. “You didn’t suck so bad that I’ll remember you forever” is probably not as much of a compliment as I intend it to be.
They felt restrained at points; the harder songs with more energy were fun, but too many just didn’t quite get there. They also covered Fame and (part of) When Doves Cry and it’s an interesting choice to cover well-known songs by legends. They can be crowd-pleasing numbers but you’re probably not going to compare favourably to David Bowie or Prince – few will. At least When Doves Cry was redone as a rock song, as opposed to the note-for-note soundalike version of Fame.
Speaking of covers, I am the last person on Earth to realize that the Headstones song Tweeter and the Monkey Man is a Traveling Wilburys cover. This is doubly egregious because Mika has played the Wilburys song for me before, years ago, but I forget things. Apparently the Wilburys version has more verses and makes more sense. Talking to Jeff about this, he said that it sounds more like the Wilburys slowed down a Headstones song than the Headstones sped up a Wilburys song. Personally, listening to the Wilburys’ version now, it sounds like when Mika and I are on a road trip and she makes us listen to podcasts at 1X speed instead of my normal 1.5X.
The Headstones were touring to promote the 25th anniversary re-issue of Picture of Health, their first album. This would probably make me feel super old if I was listening to them then. The entire set, before the encore, was the album in full. So a little less variation than their normal shows, but whatever, it’s a good album, lots of songs I like on it. As before, Dillon ran into the crowd a bunch and I felt for the poor techs and security staff who had to chase after him. And as before, they played a bit of Low Rider and New Orleans is Sinking.
After Tweeter, which is four songs in, Dillon asked the crowd to put their phones away so he could tell stories and we could watch the show, adding that he’d let us bring them back out later. Most folks cheered and happily did so. One guy tried taking a video of the next song, which seemed like an unwise choice given that he was close enough to the front for Dillon to see him, and Dillon had already shown a propensity for running out into the crowd. Phone went away. “I’m not going to kick you out or anything, I’m just asking you to be a man of your fucking word.”
The stage setup was pretty simple, but the lights, fog machines, and projector were all employed to good effect and gave the show a really cool look. I got a few pictures at the start and a few more during the encore once the ban was lifted, but I won’t lie – there were still a few times when I would have liked to snap a quick picture. Which is dumb; they never look good and I never go back and look through old ones. Regardless, I wasn’t about to risk incurring the wrath (or disappointment, which would be worse) of Dillon.
I won’t go into detail on the stories – if he didn’t want them recorded, he probably didn’t want them transcribed either – but it was a lot of stuff about growing up in Kingston. Some of it funny, some of it touching. Dillon went to high school with the guys from the Tragically Hip, Finny McConnell from the Mahones, and David Usher. What a ridiculous amount of talent in just a few years.
For the encore, they started with the cover of The Gambler that they now seem to do at every show. Dillon then polled the audience to see what they wanted to hear, and the calls for Cubically Contained lost out to Unsound. Or maybe that was just the plan all along. They also played Fuck You and Smile and Wave and, somewhere in there, a bit of The House of the Rising Sun. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. And Dillon said they’re coming back in 2020 and I’ll see it all again then.
Immediate disclosure: I didn’t go to this to go to Classified. I went because one of the three openers was Maestro Fresh-Wes, whose first big hit came nearly 30 years ago. I remember listening to Let Your Backbone Slide at my Grade 8 grad dance, when the song was still so new that the DJ didn’t have it so we made him play Cam McDonald’s dubbed copy that had a few seconds accidentally erased out of the middle.
Classified, I’d seen him do a few songs back when the Junos were here. Fun and all but not someone I’d necessarily have paid to see. Part of me considered leaving as soon as Wes was done and heading to the campus bar, where they were hosting Mac Sabbath, a Black Sabbath cover band that wears bootleg McDonaldland character costumes and sings the songs with new lyrics about fast food. I figured it would likely be terrible, but possibly the kind of terrible I should see. Or maybe not.
Doors at 8:00 and I got to the sold-out Exchange around 8:30. Had I checked Twitter for set times, I’d have stayed home a bit longer. I found my way in past the merch table adorned with DO NOT PUT YOUR FUCKING DRINK HERE! signs – really, I don’t know why this is the first time I’ve ever seen that – and found a post near the stage upon which I could lean.
I, a fat 42-year-old with a grey beard and thinning hair who mostly listens to singer-songwriter types, did not feel entirely at home at this rap show filled with near-children and the incessant smell of weed. Fortunately, I am at an age where I am largely invisible to the youth, so I just leaned on my post and played games on my phone while the place filled up. I bet I got a better time on the Saturday New York Times crossword than anyone else there.
According to the set times on Twitter, the opener, starting at 9:10, was Local Contest Winner. This turned out to be Kalem Moses, though he called himself Big Mo. And if you want to double check spelling and you google Big Mo Saskatchewan, you find our Premier’s Wikipedia page.
I’m not sure what exactly the Local Contest was that Big Mo Winnered, but he was very appreciative of the opportunity to open up the show, and it seemed like lots of people there knew him already. I think we’ve established that I have no business critiquing anyone here tonight, but he was pretty good. He said he was nervous but didn’t show it, and he rapped about being a recovering addict and the struggles that come with that, so I can’t fault the message.
At the end of his set, Big Mo tossed some CDs and shirts out to the people up at the front. One CD landed short, ending up behind the barricade at the front of the stage. This dude tried to reach over and grab it, but got stopped short by a large security guard who wasn’t approving of this at all. But then the guard got the CD for the guy, so everyone wins.
Next up was Choclair, who was a pretty big star in the late 90s and early 2000s, though I went looking back through his hits and really only kinda knew one or two. I wasn’t really listening to much rap then. This was only a half-hour but it was fun, and certainly felt like something I’d have been into if I’d heard it back when he first came around. Despite the age of the crowd, Choclair’s biggest reaction was saved for his 2000 hit Let’s Ride, so the kids today are clearly learning some history. Or maybe there were just more of my fellow olds in the crowd than I realized.
Up next was Maestro Fresh-Wes, much to the delight of 13-year-old me, and he opened with Drop the Needle, one of my favouites from back then. Really, he could have done that and Let Your Backbone Slide and I’d have been set, but we got a short set spanning his whole career. Lots of Canadian content included, with songs sampling The Guess Who, Rush, and Gowan, among others. And of course he played Backbone and of course I geeked out. Maestro Fresh-Wes does not age and this was super fun. The aforementioned large security guard also seemed to enjoy this set, with a few quickly suppressed smiles sneaking out. There may even have been some brief tapping of toes.
I never seriously considered leaving to see Mac Sabbath, but if I had thought about it, I’d have passed. I mentioned that this show was sold out, and the crowd was great. Jam packed, mostly not dicks, and super supportive of everything. These people loved Kalem Moses. They loved Choclair. They loved Maestro Fresh-Wes. They loved putting their hands in the air – like, a LOT. And they hadn’t even gotten to the guy most of them were really there to see yet. For atmosphere alone, this show was great.
I mean, not the literal atmosphere. When the Exchange is full, you might die of heat stroke. And again, it never didn’t smell like weed. Though I don’t really care about that, and I doubt anyone there considered that to be a negative.
My take on Classified – having heard all of two songs before this show, and only remembering one – is that he seems like he just wants everyone to drink and smoke and party and have a good time and feel good. And in a world that often sucks and is terrible, I can’t really take issue with this. I like having a good time and feeling good! In front of a backdrop made to look like the corner store in his hometown, Classified delivered party anthems to an adoring crowd. They sang along with everything, old and new, hits and deep cuts alike. You’ll be pleased to learn that he played the one song I know (Inner Ninja, the one Classified song everyone knows) and it was fun.
While I didn’t know many songs, one made an impression. Classified did one of his newer songs, Powerless, which talked about empathizing with sexual assault survivors and working to resolve racial inequalities (including the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women). Given the themes of the rest of his songs, the tonal shift was a little jarring, but that was more than offset by the importance of the message. And judging from the reaction (especially from female fans) when he introduced the song, people are paying attention.
But mostly, it was just a fun party show. At one point, he brought a fan on stage, did a song with her (always a risky move, but she did well), then had her stage dive back into the crowd as everyone cheered her on. I don’t think the large security guard liked that. I think he had a few objections to different things on this night, but mostly just tried to get through his shift with minimal hassle.
At the end of the show, he called Choclair and Maestro Fresh-Wes back up on stage. I’m sure this is a planned part of every show, but Choclair had been enjoying his Saturday night and seemingly forgot that this was going to happen. No matter – he found his way back to the stage and they pulled off a fun cover of Northern Touch (well, not a cover for Choclair, but you know) and Classified looked like he was loving it.
Ultimately, this was a really enjoyable show. The music was fun and the overall vibe was really positive. I did feel a little bit like an alien spying on another civilization – there was never a point where I wasn’t at least a tiny bit conscious of how little I fit in there – but whatever. It was a good show and I’m glad I went and that post probably needed someone to prop it up anyway.
For Stone Temple Pilots, I initially decided against going and wound up getting in for a fraction of the original price. For Reuben and the Dark, I held off on buying a ticket and wound up winning my way in. When Jack White’s Canadian tour was announced, I really wanted to go and carefully considered my options, which amounted to Calgary and Winnipeg, but again, I stopped myself. Even short trips can be expensive and it’s not always fun to travel at this time of year. But no worries – when I decided not to go to Jack White, Jack White came to me, with the late addition of a Regina stop. There’s a lesson here. Never take any action to improve your miserable life. Fate will do it for you.
When the on-sale date rolled around, I was ready. I was at work when tickets went on sale, so I booked a ten-minute meeting with myself – this is not a euphemism for anything – so I’d have the best shot at getting tickets. Ticketmaster’s site chugged and churned, but finally, I got two general admission floor tickets – just what I wanted. I also got a premium parking pass to make leaving a little easier.
I needn’t have worried. The crowd was ultimately respectable but far from a sellout. There was even a student deal for cheap seats in a few specific sections. I could have bought floor tickets on the day of the show. The Brandt Centre is a much larger venue than TCU Place, where we saw The White Stripes (checks) eleven years ago?! Christ. Anyway. That show was an instant sellout. This one, decidedly not. I guess I do sense less interest in White’s solo material than in the White Stripes (even from myself), but I did think this show would be a bigger deal to more people.
In the email announcing the show and approximately thirty subsequent emails, we were warned that this was a phone-free show. It was the same message every time out and you may as well get to enjoy it too:
Please note: This is a PHONE-FREE show. No photos, video or audio recording devices allowed. We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON. Upon arrival at the venue, all phones and other photo or video-capturing gizmos will be secured in a Yondr pouch that will be unlocked at the end of the show. You keep your pouch-secured phone on you during the show and, if needed, can unlock your phone at any time in a designated Phone Zone located in the lobby or concourse.
What this means for you, dear bored skimmer: everything here is from memory and may be 100% wrong.
What this meant for us: not wanting to fart around with magic pouches, Mika and I left our phones at home. Between dinner out and the concert, I was without a phone for over five hours. Sad as this is, it might be the longest I’ve been truly disconnected in years. I actually considered bringing a pen and a notepad in case I wanted to take review notes. And during supper, I couldn’t check the exact date of my grandma’s birthday (December 20) and I couldn’t Shazam the familiar sounding song in the restaurant (Ophelia by The Lumineers). I think my phone is making me really dumb, guys.
Dinner was at Table 10, our favourite nearby spot. Monday is burger night and I got the day’s special, a barbecue bacon cheeseburger with grilled pineapple. I’ve had a few of their burger specials now and I think this one was the best. I also got chocolate peanut cheesecake, which was very good but I really didn’t more food. Mika had a veggie burger and raspberry creme brulé and enjoyed that. When I was paying the bill, the server asked if we had other plans; when I mentioned the concert, she got really excited. Not because she likes Jack White, but that this wasn’t just dinner, it was a date night. I guess it was. I’ll have to remember that it’s not date night unless there are at least two activities.
We drove to the Brandt Centre and parked in our special reserved lot. This was a better idea in theory than in practice. The fancy lot is a bit of a hike to the arena. Not enough that it would normally matter, but it was snowing and windy and generally awful out. And I was underdressed for the weather, since I didn’t think a parka in the arena for hours would be a good idea.
We found our way in and took a walk around the concourse. The line for the stuff table was orderly but ridiculous – I didn’t even consider getting anything. It was quite the contrast with Stone Temple Pilots, where I would have been no worse than third in line any time I went by. Jack White fans like to buy things.
We went down to the floor and stood around for a bit before Rob wandered over and invited us to come hang with him, Char, and Karen. We chatted about our respective concert histories and mostly-shared love for Frank Turner (I haven’t asked Mika but I suspect she would say “he’s fine”) before Crown Lands took the stage.
Now, about these here Crown Lands. They came out, got set to play, realized they forgot to hug, hugged, and then got back at it. They looked like modern-era “Weird Al” Yankovic on the drums and Will Forte in his Last Man On Earth beardy longhair phase on guitar – both wearing the Seventiesest outfits you ever did see. This is not entirely fair because I’m sure real Weird Al is old enough to be their dad, but Al doesn’t age anyway, so whatever. They walked onstage to Closer to the Heart and their last song was a cover of Kashmir, which tells you what they sounded like better than I ever could. Someone warn Greta Van Fleet that a new challenger approaches.
I tease. But this was actually pretty good! These guys were great musicians who won the crowd over during their short set. At one point, Will Forte traded his guitar for giant a two-necked bass/guitar hybrid and the crowd oohed appreciatively. If that whole Rush/Zeppelin thing appeals to you, check them out.
Then we had a break until Jack White. After a while, a countdown popped up on the big screen, looking like one of those old-timey alarm clocks where the numbers flip down. After a while, the silhouette of Jack White wandered out and knocked a few minutes off the timer. Everyone rejoiced! But then he added a bunch more time on. Then he messed with it for a while longer and ultimately left us more or less where we started.
While waiting, a lumbering oaf shoved past us, calling Mika “girl” in the process (his most egregious offense, I was told). He was very tall so he pushed his way to the front, and he was loud and stupid and acted like everyone in his vicinity was glad to see him, even the ones who were subtly backing away. I wanted to grab his braid, shove it up his ass, and pull it out his dickhole. Instead, we just moved a bit back.
Finally, Jack White and his band took the stage, the familiar red of the White Stripes’ peppermint motif replaced with blue. And before I get into anything else, this was a great-looking set. Jack White out in front with the band on risers around him, with giant rotating panels in the back – lights on one side, video screens on the other.
They opened with Over and Over and Over from White’s newest album. I’d wondered if they’d play his solo stuff exclusively, and that was answered with the second song, Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground from the White Stripes’ White Blood Cells. The set spanned most of White’s career, with White Stripes classics mixed in throughout, and even a Raconteurs song (Steady, As She Goes) as the first song of the encore.
Steady, As She Goes might have actually been my favourite performance of the night, just a killer version that brought an intensity that destroyed the album version. But there were other worthy contenders. My Doorbell is just a fantastic song. I really dig Love Interruption. And Hotel Yorba was made better with the addition of honky-tonk piano, as most things are. We’re Going to Be Friends, Ball and Biscuit, Blunderbuss – really, there were just a ton of great songs. This show ruled.
There was a long stretch in the middle where I wasn’t as familiar with everything. I haven’t spent as much time with his solo albums as I did with the White Stripes. That said, between the fantastic band and the visual spectacle I had nothing to complain about.
During the encore break, instead of calling for one more song, the crowd sang the bassline from Seven Nation Army. If you don’t watch wrestling, you’re wise for many reasons, not the least of which is hearing that song doesn’t remind you of Enzo Amore. And I thought his second-last song, Connected By Love, would have made a great show closer, but when that bassline hit for real, the place went nuts. And I know it’s not actually played on the bass (at least on the album) so leave me be.
Early on in the set, some dude fainted or passed out or something near me. He was able to leave under his own power with the help of medical staff, but it was interesting to see that White’s stage crew immediately saw what was going on and were there to help. We weren’t even that close to the front, but they were on it. I think maybe the bass player saw the commotion and alerted them – he kept scanning the area with concern.
In an unrelated note (I assume, anyway), I’ve discovered the reason why none of the cannabis stores here can get enough supply to open their doors: all of the pot was at the Brandt Centre. It’s gone now. I’m used to smelling weed at concerts but I’m not used to the smell never really going away. Tom Petty has been dethroned as the stinkiest concert I’ve been to.
I did miss my phone a little, but on our way out, it was nice to briskly skip past the lines of people waiting to unlock their phone sacks. “This is the worst invention ever,” hollered one guy, “I’ve got 300 people here who all hate this!” I laughed and Mika told me to not encourage him. We trudged through many snowdrifts to our special parking lot, but we did get priority when driving out, so that was nice. Not $15 nice. But nice.
Here’s a surprise bonus review because I need to generate Content to maintain the Perception of my Brand. And because I’m getting good at remembering to check the Facebook pages of Regina media outlets a few days before any concerts that I wouldn’t mind going to for free. Thank you, CJTR, for sending me to this show because I commented “Comment!” when you asked for a comment. I’m glad my hard work paid off.
With Mika still tied up with school, I sought out the newly-retired Other James (retired from work, I mean – he’s still James) to join me as my +1. I looked up the start time when inviting him, and it was good I did, because I’d have wound up sad and lonely at the Exchange when this show was actually at Westminster United Church. I also had to look up the location of the church, and that was also good, because I learned you can give churches Google reviews. The best by far was a two-star review, saying “it’s ok if that’s what you’re into.”
Other James and I were to meet at “8-ish,” and I would have been there right at 8:00, but there’s a candy store across the street so I had to stop and browse. With treats acquired, we met in the lobby, the ticket folks found my name on the list, and we were inside. It’s a very nice looking church. At least a 3 out of 5. As a concert venue, it has some of the drawbacks that you’d expect from a church – few washrooms, no food or drinks. They should have had old ladies in the basement selling funeral specials – ham sandwiches with one slice of ham on buttered (well, margarined) bread, cut into quarters and served with sweet pickles, slices of marble cheese, watered down orange drink, and date squares.
I knew nothing about either Reuben and the Dark or openers nêhiyawak, apart from having heard their names before. I had a little more than 24 hours between winning the tickets and the show starting, but chose not to seek out any of their music and just enjoy the show as a brand new experience. Doesn’t that sound nicer than saying “I started off ignorant, became aware of my ignorance, and decided to remain ignorant?”
nêhiyawak is a three-piece from Edmonton – guitar, drums, and synthesizers. The synths in particular give them a unique sound, driving some songs while adding a dreamy edge to others. The trio are all of Plains Cree ancestry and sing songs that draw on that history. It wasn’t always easy to make out the lyrics, so I wound up relying on the singer’s explanations as to the songs’ meanings. It was a short set, but powerful and compelling – the kind of music that I suspect is best experienced live. And probably in a smaller venue – Other James said he’d seen them at the folk festival this summer, but thought this was a better showcase for them.
Reuben and the Dark are a five-piece from Calgary. The lead singer is, in fact, Reuben, though the other guys didn’t look particularly Dark. Reuben was clad in all white, so I guess they were kind of darker by comparison. Also, he’s a brave man who clearly eats more neatly than I do.
Whereas nêhiyawak had the synths as a differentiator, if I can use obnoxious business words, Reuben and the Dark had great vocal harmonies that stood out for me. All five had mics and the harmonies added warmth to songs that were already great on their own.
Like I said, I was going in blind, but one song, Rolling Stone (not THAT one) (or that other one) seemed so familiar to me. Either I’ve heard it before, enough to know it, or it’s just one of those songs that feels like an old favourite from the first time you hear it. There were a few other songs that sounded a little recognizable, so I’m assuming Mika played them in the car at some point. And the first song of the encore was a cover of Bobcaygeon, which was really well done. The band recorded and released the song as a single, donating the profits to the Downie Wenjack Fund. So, if you have a spare $1.29 in iTunes credit and want to direct whatever fraction of that to a good cause, you could do worse.
Reuben is a charismatic fellow, holding the audience’s attention with songs and stories, or leading the crowd in song. A few times, he walked up and down the church aisles, crouching down to sing directly to individuals (including one very appreciative young fan in the front row). The last song of the night was done entirely off-mic, capping off a great evening and making the small venue feel even more intimate.
This was the kind of concert I love, where you go in with no expectations and leave with a new favourite. Great songs, killer harmonies, and a really enjoyable show. I left humming their songs and next time, I won’t rely on luck to get me in the door. By which I mean I’ll buy a ticket, but it sounds pretty underwhelming when you put it that way.
For the most part, I thought the sound in the church was pretty good. I thought the mix was a little better for Reuben and the Dark and I had an easier time hearing what he was saying than with nêhiyawak, though a few songs in, someone up on the second level yelled to turn the snare drum down. Everyone laughed and this became a recurring theme throughout the evening, with Reuben later checking in about the volume of the snare, and later saying that Bobcaygeon would have benefitted from a little more of it. Though when Other James was chatting with the sound tech on the way out, she said that the snare really did come through excessively upstairs. Maybe Mr. Two-out-of-five had a balcony seat.
Welcome to the first-ever bone chilling, spine tingling, Halloween SLCR spooktacular! Oooh, scary! A night of ghosts and goblins, witches and draculas, your credit card debt, giving a presentation and PowerPoint won’t open, making eye contact with a stranger, 63 million Trump voters, the ceaseless passage of time reflected in your ever-decaying body. And a full-size Snickers if your costume is special enough.
For only the second time in SLCR history, I went to a show on Halloween. The last was when Pat and I saw The Tea Party at Louis’ in 1996 – 22 years ago, SLCR #4 – see above re: ceaseless passage. I didn’t know the band and only went because Pat had a spare ticket at the last minute. It was sold out, absolutely jam-packed, and there was a girl in a genie costume. Barbara Eden genie, not Robin Williams genie. Beyond that, I don’t really remember what she looked like anymore so much as I remember being very invested in what she looked like. As far as The Tea Party, I liked them fine, probably. I don’t remember anything being spooky.
However, I picked an appropriately frightening show for this occasion. An arena full of Halloween drunks! Four bands on a worknight! One of which I’ve never heard of, two I actively don’t care about, and what amounts to a tribute band as a headliner!
Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland battled addiction issues for pretty much his whole career. The band broke up, got back together, they kicked him out, they brought him back – it was constant chaos. I finally saw them with Mika and Dave in 2009 – fifteen years after I was really into them – and though I was expecting a trainwreck, it was actually pretty fun. They played tons of the songs I would have wanted from my high school days, and Weiland sounded great. (We’ll quietly move past the incident at a concert a few months after ours where Weiland fell off the stage but somehow kept right on singing.) Unfortunately, Weiland’s issues continued; he was eventually replaced in the band one last time before dying of an accidental overdose in 2015. A sad end that, frankly, most people saw coming but nobody was able to stop.
The new Stone Temple Pilots’ singer is Jeff Gutt, previously best known as a contestant on the reality show The X Factor. I had some curiosity about what they’d sound like these days, but not enough to get me in the door. Not at $100 for a general admission standing ticket. Not when I also had to buy tickets for Jack White and the Headstones (not together) (but now I wish they were). Not when the openers are Seether and Default, two bands I could happily go my whole life without ever seeing, and Age of Days, who I don’t know but I assume fall into a similar category.
I don’t know if a lot of people felt the same way I did or if everyone had Halloween plans, but I got an email out of the blue. Those $100 tickets? On sale for $25. Much more reasonable for a night I might not enjoy. I’d have been spitting nails if I’d spent $100 when tickets went on sale, but I didn’t, so hooray for a brief flash of fiscal responsibility and subsequent irresponsibility! Premium parking pass? No thank you, the free lot will have room enough for all.
I was flying solo for this one. Mika had to do school stuff and also had no interest in this clown show. And I should clarify, there were plenty of costumes, but not enough that I could call it a literal clown show. Probably for the best. No genies, but there were hundreds of random wigs and painted faces. I found Jesus AND several Waldos. I also got to play lots of my favourite Halloween game, “costume or oddball?” The answer may surprise you, but likely won’t.
After showering, dawdling, skipping supper, and handing out candy to all of three trick-or-treaters (policeman, princess, zombie princess), I got to the Brandt Centre as Age of Days was playing one of their first songs. I didn’t expect to recognize it, and I didn’t expect it to be a cover of Roxette’s The Look, but there we were. It was pretty good but you’d have to put effort into wrecking something that catchy.
I wandered around the stadium, passing some people enjoying a newly legal substance in a still illegal place, and taking a quick look at the stuff table. Eventually I found a spot to stand on the concourse level. I could have gone down to the floor, but why bother?
Age of Days played perfectly competent late 90s/early 2000s rock, the kind that I find kind of catchy but not super memorable, which is exactly what I think of both Seether and Default, so they were a good fit on this bill. I enjoyed it while it was happening, wouldn’t be in a rush to listen to more of their stuff, but wouldn’t turn them off if you put their record on. And that’s how you say “this was fine” in a paragraph’s worth of words.
Is it obvious I wrote most of this (to this point) before the show started and I wrote the bit about Age of Days while waiting for Default? I feel like I’m being inconsistent with my verb tenses and I don’t feel like caring.
As predicted, there aren’t a ton of people here. Or weren’t a ton there. Whatever.
Default got to use the lighting rig, so they’re officially a bigger deal than Age of Days. I liked Age of Days better, though. I thought I knew one Default song (Wasting My Time), but I knew two! So that was nice. They said the other song, Deny, was on the soundtrack to NHL 2003. Also, their new guitarist “refused to play Default songs in his high school cover band, in case you wanna know how fuckin’ old we are.” The highlight was when a crayon stood right by me, turned his back to the stage, and excitedly jumped up and down while his girlfriend, a dragon, shot a video.
Mika just texted. She’s back home and has had 2 more trick-or-treaters, bringing our combined total to 5. Verily, the gods have blessed us and we will feast for weeks on Mikes and Ikes. Which is good because I’m starting to regret skipping supper. I don’t want booze and not much else is open here. Maybe I can find a big pretzel while Seether is playing. I suspect my knowledge of Seether songs will make me feel like an expert on Default.
I spent $10 on a soft pretzel and a Coke Zero. The pretzel was crispy and chewy and salty and warm and the Coke Zero had little ice crystals in it. I’m not saying it was the best $10 I’ve ever spent, but it was worth arena prices.
Seether gets the lighting rig AND video screens, so we’ve leveled up again. We’ll see if Stone Temple Pilots can take things even further, though maybe not – Seether is technically a co-headliner. I’m just not giving them their due because I don’t care about them. I know one (Remedy) and a half (they did one with Evanescence lady I think?) Seether songs and they played all of them. I walked laps around the concourse and a very nice Brandt Centre employee offered to let me onto the floor, that area I have a ticket for but haven’t visited. The highlight, apart from “dinner,” was the fans throwing random costume parts on stage and the band gamely wearing everything, even though one wig/mask “smells like a ham sandwich. Did you smoke cigars in this thing?”
I should point out that there are people here really into Seether and Default. Don’t take my lack of enthusiasm at face value – the fans are having a great time. This just isn’t entirely my thing and I knew that going in. Age of Days are still my favourite so far.
The place is starting to fill up. The drunks haven’t been too bad; one just had a nice chat with me about what I was doing. (He guessed “texting” and I went along with that.) There are some couples where only one of them wore a costume and it’s never not funny. I wonder how their dinner went. One couple wore themed costumes and it made their fight in the lobby that much more distressing. I hope you can find happiness and peace, Wayne and Garth. You’re both worthy.
I just took another lap around the concourse. In the empty area behind the stage, another drunk told me how lonely everything looked. As a security guard passed us, the drunk loudly said “I come back here so I can put drugs in my drinks!” The security guard kept walking. The drunk laughed. Then he found another friend of his and I slipped away.
STP up shortly. I hope this doesn’t suck. I bet they play a bunch off their new album. I maybe should have listened to it once.
I’m home now. First things first – STP had the big lighting rig but no video screens. Seether wins. Anyway, the concert. I was way wrong about the setlist. Only two new songs. I took notes, and also had to google some of the titles because with STP, I have the hardest time associating titles to songs:
Big Bang Baby
Interstate Love Song
Roll Me Under
Dead and Bloated
Sex Type Thing
Piece of Pie
Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart
The real question is how did they sound, and – yeah, a Stone Temple Pilots cover band. A good one, mind – on Wicked Garden, Jeff Gutt sounded so much like Scott Weiland that with my eyes closed, I wouldn’t have known the difference. For the other songs, he sounded more like himself, though sometimes still sounding like he was doing an impression. But I don’t know how you avoid that and still give people what they expect from an STP concert.
The one misstep was Plush. It started with just Gutt and guitarist Dan DeLeo, and it felt like they were on entirely different pages. The rest of the band came back out one at a time and eventually everything came together, but it began on a really rough note. But that could just be the relatively short time they’ve played together, or maybe everybody loved it and I’m wrong here. Either way, beyond that, everything sounded really good. Big Bang Baby and new song Letter were particular highlights, as was Sex Type Thing (shame about those lyrics, though).
Gutt had big shoes to fill, but he delivered with confidence. I really enjoyed their set, but it’s hard to praise the show and the band without having it sound like a backhanded compliment. “He’s no Scott Weiland, but…” “It’s not the same, but…” And he’s not and it’s not, which isn’t meant as a knock. It just is what it is.
While I was watching the show, there was a baseball player and a nurse standing next to me and I was pretty sure they were going to start having sex right there on the concourse about three songs in. They left after a few more songs and I’m certain they just found a quiet corner somewhere to finish what they’d started. Then another guy came along and his costume was an insulation bag. Rockwool insulation, specifically. He cut armholes and eyeholes in it and that was that. Sounds scratchy.
I first started getting into They Might Be Giants in 1999. I remember watching the then-new video for Doctor Worm with Steve when I went to Toronto for the first time. If anything, it’s weird that it took me that long to become a fan; they’ve been making music together since 1982 and their particular brand of weirdo oddball alt-rock is right up my alley. It wasn’t long after that until they climbed to the top of the shortlist of bands I wanted to see in concert that I’d never seen before. As I cleared out the list over time, TMBG eventually secured the undisputed top spot.
I did have a ticket to see them in Minneapolis about five years ago, but that’s a really long drive. I wound up opting against the trip when work got busy and I realized that to pull it off, I’d have to leave Saturday morning, drive 13 hours, go straight to the show, sleep, and turn around and come home the next day. I’m capable of some incredibly stupid things, but even I have my limits.
Earlier this year, on their mailing list, TMBG began teasing a real Canadian tour, giving me high hopes that it would be more than just the usual combo of Vancouver/Toronto/somewhere else maybe. I assumed Calgary would be my best option to see them, so I held that in mind for my fall trip. When they finally released the dates, I was delighted to see Saskatoon made the cut. Even better, it was at the Broadway Theatre and not the loud hot place with terrible sound and terrible people, or the bar that sometimes has tasty foods but shows don’t start until after midnight.
Needless to say, this was a pretty highly anticipated show for me. However, as the day grew near, I started thinking about it, and I wasn’t sure if my TMBG fandom had kept up with this “most wanted concert” idea. Some of it is just volume – they have 20 albums out and release a song a week onto their Dial-a-Song service. It’s a lot to keep up with. And some of their music is different for different’s sake, which means that while I really dig some of it, there are other songs that just don’t click with me. I was still really excited for the show, but wasn’t sure they’d live up to years and years of my own hype.
I also wasn’t sure how much Mika would be looking forward to show, especially since it fell on our seventh wedding anniversary. On the one hand, it would ensure that we actually did something for our anniversary, or indeed, remembered it at all. However, I don’t know if a big ol’ nerd-rock show in another city was what she had in mind. But as fate would have it, my mom won a silent auction this summer for one night in a suite at the Sheraton and a giftcard to the fancy steakhouse therein, and gave it to us as an early anniversary gift. What better day to use it than our actual anniversary?
The drive was uneventful and podcast-laden and I said that last week. But checking into the hotel? Also uneventful. We changed into what I’ll say were nice clothes – Mika looked nice, I looked business-casual at best – and made our way down to the restaurant. I may still have been the best-dressed man there, which is not boasting, merely a reflection of societal standards plummeting, a trend that I unabashedly support. Dinner was great; I steaked it up and ate way too much even before dessert. This did not stop me from actually ordering dessert and I shoveled in beignets until it hurt. I had to leave one behind and I still regret that. Mika had some fish thing – I don’t know, she said she liked it, whatever, it was fish, I’m not responsible for her choices – and a chocolate truffle bar that was the size of a small brick and nearly as dense. It bent light towards itself with its gravitational pull. This was a lot of chocolate. All the chocolate. There is none left for anyone. I tried a bit and it was incredible.
After changing back into normal slob clothes, we drove to the Broadway Theatre. Could have walked it – would have done well to walk it – but it was chilly out and the meat inside me was repositioning itself with every step.
I bought tickets online right when they went on sale, ultimately settling for two seats in the centre about four rows back. Or at least that’s what I thought; I might have gotten myself confused in my attempts to nab the best seats I could. Anyway, the seats we actually got put us in the second row, but far off to the left. I thought we were on the aisle, but no, this was the farthest left possible, past the aisle, right up against the wall, all squished in and at an awkward angle. Not ideal. Then the band came out and immediately told everyone to stand, so we did, and told everyone to come up to the front, so we did that too. We wound up standing in the aisle, maybe six feet back from the stage, right in line with John Flansburgh. Much better!
What happened next was a nearly three-hour show played for some of the happiest nerds you’ve ever seen. I had kind of expected them to focus on new songs – and there were plenty, including Dial-a-Song songs that were only a month old – but the classics and cult favourites were out in full force. I don’t know if that’s a regular occurrence or if the set was chosen knowing this was going to be the first time most of the crowd had seen the band, but either way, it was welcome.
They’re switching up their setlists every night and the internet is only being somewhat helpful, so some of this might be out of order. The first song I recognized was Your Racist Friend and the first one I got really excited for was Doctor Worm. “This next one is called ‘Vogelhaus in deiner seele’ in German,” said John Linnell. Or something like that, I can’t speak German but I can use Google Translate. More importantly, I know “haus” and Birdhouse in your Soul is my favourite TMBG song and with that, I would have been fine with anything. But we didn’t just get just anything, they played Fingertips and The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) and Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal and How Can I Sing Like a Girl and I Like Fun and The Mesopotamians. Someone at some point has sent you the song Older on your birthday; they played that. Don’t know any TMBG but you enjoyed Tiny Toons? You’d think they’d be sick of Particle Man and Istanbul (Not Constantinople) but they played those too.
Musically, the band was killer. John F. stuck to guitar while John L. alternated between keyboards (including with a little bleep bloop blorp pad that he called a “chaos pad” for wacky effects) and accordion. The two Johns were joined by their regular backing band of Marty Beller on drums, Danny Weinkauf on bass, and Dan Miller on guitar – all fantastic musicians. Trumpet player Curt Ramm doesn’t always tour with them, but he was on this tour and every email leading up to the show mentioned his presence. He was given plenty of opportunities to shine and was a definite highlight – he also plays in Bruce Springsteen’s touring band and yeah he’s real real good. As I suppose one should expect.
The band also brought tons of energy to the show, moving around the stage, switching up instruments, letting everyone get some time in the spotlight, and changing up arrangements. More than most bands, it felt like they were trying to play to everyone there and make sure everyone got into the show. At one point, John F. handed a pick to a fan and then held out his guitar to let the guy strum away.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the band was so good – in a shocker, professional musicians discovered to be good at music – but TMBG plays a lot of wacky stuff and some songs would fall into the novelty song category. I suppose Weird Al also works really hard and has a super talented band too and maybe people (by which I mean me) should quit automatically associating “funny” with “easy.”
Speaking of funny, at the end of the intermission, they dimmed the lights and played a music video to get everyone’s attention for the second set. Not a TMBG video, exactly – the video for Walk This Way by Run-DMC and Aerosmith. One of the first songs I remember really getting into as a kid, and it’s still great. Except they didn’t play that song – it was a whole new song perfectly synced to the video. Google tells me it was a demo for the song Last Wave off their most recent album, I Like Fun. Apparently it’s been on the internet all year and I just missed it.
There was another funny moment when the show came to a screeching halt due to the presence of a maple bug on the keyboards. Maple bugs are harmless but I guess you don’t know that if you don’t have them where you’re from. It was shuffled onto the chaos pad, where a little camera allowed the bug to be projected onto the big screen behind the band. Everyone cheered for the maple bug and it’s certainly the first time that’s ever happened. It was at this point They Might Be Giants discovered that maple bugs have the power of flight. They were dismayed to lose their new friend, but someone in the crowd correctly observed “there’s more of them.” It eventually came back and landed on John F’s shirt where it may still be to this day, but probably isn’t.
For the encore, we got a drawn-out version of Why Does the Sun Shine? which was another favourite that was great to hear live. After a few more songs, they left – and then came back for a second encore, starting with a cover of the Cub song, New York City. I was familiar with they They Might Be Giants version and it was such a good fit for them that I had no idea it was a cover, while Mika knew the Cub song and didn’t know TMBG had covered it. Anyway, I was singing along and John F. saw me and shot me a smile back in a neat little moment. Finally, they played my favourite of their new Dial-a-Song songs, The Communists Have the Music, which I wasn’t expecting and was a great note to end on.
This was the kind of show where I could have gone in blind and left a fan. But even having waited so long for the experience, it went way beyond what I was hoping for – just a super fun, high-energy show. Tons of the songs I wanted to hear (though it speaks to their ridiculous output that I could list many more that I would’ve liked), great band, great crowd, great venue. It better not take 20 years until I get to see them for the second time.
Colter Wall is another one of those folks where it’s been cool to watch his progression. It wasn’t all that long ago that he was playing a teaser set at the Regina Folk Festival, not yet being a big enough deal for a main stage spot. Then he’s selling out the Exchange. Now he’s in the hall at Conexus Arts Centre, and I recognize that these place names only mean something to about three of you. It’s bigger, is the point. I think you got that from context.
Steve Earle called Wall “the best singer-songwriter I’ve come across in years.” High praise. And Brock Lesnar and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had an animated discussion about their shared fandom of Wall on WWE Network and while I’ll defer to Earle as far as musical knowledge goes, that was still weird and unexpected enough that I’ll bring it up anytime Wall’s name is mentioned. Like the last time I had to write one of these things about him.
I just looked back to confirm that last point and this review, thus far, is thematically so similar to the last one that it reads like I just re-wrote it. Which I didn’t do, but should have. I could be in bed by now.
Doors at 7:00, show at 8:00. There are good reasons to be late for a concert, but switching over the laundry and finishing up washing dishes probably aren’t among them. I should be careful, lest I damage the rock n’ roll cred I’ve so carefully built up over the years. And anyway, I only missed opener Blake Berglund’s first few songs, arriving just before he was joined on stage for a few songs by (his wife? his fiancée? did I mishear that whole thing?) Belle Plaine.
I might have misheard it. The sound – and this was true for Colter later on too – didn’t do anyone any favours. Really heavy on the bass and muddy vocals. I got better at deciphering things as the night went on, but if I wasn’t familiar with the song beforehand, I was often pretty lost. That said, I still enjoyed the set well enough, especially when Plaine was out there. It’s hard to say she made a surprise appearance when they’re always popping up at each other’s shows, so let’s just say she was unannounced and welcome.
Colter Wall has been likened to Johnny Cash, which seems like the most unfair thing you can do to a young musician but that’s not going to stop me from repeating it here. Apart from a comparably deep voice, Wall has clearly been raised on Cash and the other legends of classic country, taken that history, and put his own spin on it.
And now we’re back to guy with guitar and me not having a lot to say, the most familiar of all SLCR territories. Wall did the first few songs by himself, then brought out his band, and then had Blake and Belle back out with him for the encore. Sound issues aside, this was all good. I don’t know if it was a significant upgrade from listening to his albums, though.
I should have shown up earlier and stood closer to the front – normally, I’m all about hiding at the back, but the front seemed to be for people standing and listening, and the back was for the drinkers and partiers. Only a handful of Wall’s songs are rockers; most are better for listening and it wasn’t always the easiest to do that. Nobody was being a jerk, it was just kinda loud and distracting.
Well, almost nobody – I did think I was going to see a fistfight between Happy Loud Drunk and Angry Quiet Drunk. Happy Loud honestly didn’t seem that loud to me – no worse than 50 other people near me – but Angry Quiet had other thoughts and most of them were the f-word. Nothing happened but eventually a security guard took a permanent spot near them. Earlier, I’d seen two security guards keeping watch over a few ice cubes that had been spilled on the floor, so they were probably thankful for having something more interesting to do.
You may recall that last summer, I saw the Crash Test Dummies at the Canada Games in Winnipeg.
You may also recall that I became a fan long ago, somehow wound up running their website, and still keep in touch with them a little bit, by which I mean mostly Ellen, and mostly through cat pictures and Letterkenny quotes. I’ve told that story enough.
Anyway, as a long-time fan, I’ve seen them go from being big stars to… let’s just say the opposite of that. The band never officially split up, but album sales dropped off and everyone eventually moved on to do their own thing. That show last year would have made a perfect final chapter to their story. After years apart, the band (mostly) reunites to headline a festival in front of a huge adoring hometown crowd who’s singing along with every word. The concert even ended with fireworks. Freeze frame, roll credits, bonus scene where they’re all enjoying shawarmas.
However, things took a different turn. The band enjoyed their Winnipeg show so much that there was talk of a reunion tour – just a few gigs. That turned into a half-dozen dates in western Canada, eleven in the US, and others to be announced soon. And what’s more, they’re doing well. The press release announcing the US shows got picked up by some large outlets, and Calgary, Saskatoon, and Regina sold out. When they were here last time in 2010, they only half-sold the Exchange. This is a little unexpected (at least by me), but I’m happy and excited for them.
And then we almost didn’t get into the show.
Mika and I got to the casino a little after 7:30 and went to pick up our tickets from the will call. And… nothing. No tickets printed out and waiting in their little ticket box. No record of the purchase on my file. They checked my ID, ran my info repeatedly, found other tickets I’ve bought for upcoming shows. But for the Dummies? Nothing. Jeff showed up and joined Mika off to the side while the boring drama unfolded. The guy at the ticket booth next to me appeared to be having the same issue. The people behind us in line were loving us. I had my phone with the email receipt, which probably saved the day. Eventually, the clerk took some blank tickets, handwrote our seat info, and sent us inside. I was quite certain that this would fail, but it didn’t. And I was even more certain that someone would be waiting at our table, but again, no. Unlikely success!
In retrospect, I do remember the pre-order being particularly glitchy and having to fight to get my order through. And this might also mean the show wasn’t technically sold out, since there was an empty seat at our table. I bought three tickets at a table that seats four; later, I looked into buying the fourth ticket to prevent some random weirdo from sitting with us (I only want weirdos of my choosing), but it said it had been sold. Thanks, God or random ticketing system glitch! You saved me some money. And since the seat wasn’t available to be sold, I declare that the sellout stands.
With no opener, the show was underway at 8:00 on the nose. Business was meant and bedtimes were to be adhered to. As mentioned, the band was (mostly) reunited, with Brad Roberts, Ellen Reid, Dan Roberts, and Mitch Dorge joined by touring guitarists Murray Pulver and Stuart Cameron, and a keyboardist I don’t think I’ve seen before who I’m about 60% sure was named Marc. No sign of original member Benjamin Darvill, who’s still finding success as blues harmonica beatbox oddball Son of Dave. I’m mostly out of the loop these days, but the one piece of insider gossip I’d love to know is whether or not anyone asked Ben if he wanted to do the tour. I suppose it doesn’t matter since I can’t imagine he had any interest.
The setlist for the show wound up pretty similar to last summer’s, which was mostly a greatest hits collection with a few new songs thrown in. They opened with God Shuffled His Feet (during which Ellen spotted me and gave me a subtle wave) and Replacements cover Androgynous. I’ve seen the Dummies six times now and these are two of the five songs that they’ve played at each show; the others being the only two songs most of you would know, Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm and Superman’s Song, and Ellen’s big showcase (and XTC cover) The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead.
After all these shows, I still heard a few songs that I hadn’t seen them play live before. In preparation for their US dates, where they’re playing the God Shuffled His Feet album all the way through, they did When I Go Out With Artists. During a block of songs from their most recent album Ooh-La-La (now eight years old), they played Not Today Baby. And then Ellen stepped up to sing one of Brad’s songs, her favourite Dummies song. I was pretty excited for this – I’d never heard her do one of his songs before.
“And not only is it my favourite Crash Test Dummies song, but my favourite Crash Test Dummies fan is here tonight.”
I may have quietly said one tiny swear word.
Ellen called me out by name, pointed at our table, and dedicated the song My Own Sunrise to me.
“Well, it’s an overtly sexual song, so it’s not FOR YOU. But it’s for you.”
That she’d say or do anything at all was really sweet, especially coming at least a full decade since I’ve had any sort of official involvement with the band. But moreover, it was a song I hadn’t heard live before in a way I’d never heard. Over the years, I’ve tracked down all the rarities that are out there – I’m pretty sure that McSweeny’s article was about me – but this was brand new and super exciting and honestly really special.
Mika, as soon as the song was over: “Did Ellen just sing you a song about boners?”
I mean, technically, yes. A radio-friendly song about boners. My own sunrise! Metaphors!
So. Ellen’s take on the song was great, but I might be biased now and you’ll have to go see them live to hear it anyway. She followed it up with Make You Mine, introducing it with “This song is about being angry, which I’m not, because I’m 52 and I’m over it.” This is my favourite song off her 2001 solo album, something else I’d never heard done live before and something I definitely wasn’t expecting. At this point, I was all in – hearing these two songs back-to-back made me feel like I was back at that first concert at the peak of my fandom. I had been looking forward to the show but really wasn’t expecting to get this invested in it.
The main set was done in about an hour, though they did four more songs when they came back out. I may have gotten chastised for not standing to applaud. And then told to remain standing once I did get up. A highlight of the encore was my favourite Dummies’ song, Afternoons and Coffeespoons, with just Brad and Ellen singing and Stuart on guitar – a real showcase for him. Of the Dummies shows I’ve seen, this was probably the best one musically, but hiring Stuart and Murray to play in your band is like hiring Daryl Strawberry and Ken Griffey Jr. to play on your company softball team. Just keep those boys away from the brain and nerve tonic.
The band killed it, Ellen stole the show, and Brad sounded like he ever did, except more relaxed. Really, what stood out to me was that everyone seemed to be having so much fun. Especially Brad – there were moments where he was genuinely smiling and laughing and I know that sounds super weird, but he always comes across as very performative when he’s on stage, so it was good to see him let his guard down.
Here’s the whole setlist:
God Shuffled His Feet
The Ghosts That Haunt Me
Swimming in Your Ocean
The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
Heart of Stone
Not Today Baby
In the Days of the Caveman
When I Go Out With Artists
My Own Sunrise
Make You Mine
Two Knights and Maidens
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
Afternoons & Coffeespoons
He Liked to Feel It
Put A Face
Jeff headed out when it was over (after facilitating a vital Pokémon trade between me and his wife which I did my best to thwart), and Mika and I stuck around to quickly say hi to the band and get handshakes and hugs and a brief serenade. Possibly this all didn’t happen quickly enough, according to the people in line behind us, but that’s why we waited until almost everyone else had gone through the line. Apparently it was a day of being bad at casino lines.
A few years ago, Jonathan Richman was playing… somewhere. As musicians will do. Saskatoon? Winnipeg? Fargo? I can’t remember where and it doesn’t matter anyway. The relevant point is that Mika and I were visiting whatever city it was, and we saw the ad that said he’d be playing there a few days after we were leaving. She was disappointed that we wouldn’t be around to see him. I offered to come back for the show, but knew that it really wasn’t feasible. Wherever it was. So when I heard about this show at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon, I grabbed us a pair of tickets.
On the drive up, I had visions of struggling to write this review. Jonathan Richman’s career has spanned nearly 50 years that I know pretty much nothing about. Mika’s played me a few of his most famous songs, and I wasn’t familiar with them. He and drummer Tommy Larkins (who was also at this show) were in There’s Something About Mary, in what I gather were pretty prominent roles, but somehow I’ve never seen it. I pretty much expected this would be guy-with-guitar accompanied by guy-with-drums singing songs I don’t know, which can be quite pleasant, but always leaves me challenged to find something to write about.
And it was that, kind of. But nothing like I was expecting.
Doors at 7:00, show at 8:00. Rush seating, so we didn’t want to be too late, nor did we want to spend a ton of time sitting around. We left as late as we could to give Mika as much homework time as possible, but timing drives is tricky. After an uneventful, podcast-laden road trip, we got to the theatre right at 7:00 – the third and fourth people to arrive. They let us into the theatre and we took our seats – front row centre were available, so why not?
We walked into the theatre past quite a few NO CELLPHONE signs. I took a picture of the drum kit set up on the empty stage and put my phone away – after we spent, like, 45 minutes scrolling through our respective Instagram feeds, showing each other cute animal pictures. It’s become our pre-concert tradition. I should mention that we also walked past a sign that said they’d ask for ID unless you look older than 45. And they didn’t. I took a picture of that too.
More people trickled in; though the place was never that full, the people who were there were devoted fans. And me, I guess. One girl sat by us and got Mika to take her picture in front of the stage. As she reviewed the picture, Richman and Larkins emerged from the back of the theatre and walked the aisle up to the front. Richman passed our new friend and chastised her for illicit cellphone usage. Those signs meant business! He did, however, compliment the vintage tour t-shirt she was proudly wearing.
With no instruments, Richman began singing Not So Much to Be Loved as to Love. Starting a song a capella was something he would do throughout the show. His songs were sweet, often simple, and catchy. He sang of love and human connection and art and wine, with more than you’d expect in Italian and French. Not that I knew enough to expect any.
For “just” guitar and drums (and a bit of simultaneous shaking of maracas and hips), the two had a great sound. Sitting up at the front, I could closely watch Richman’s guitar playing and the guy is an incredible talent. I might go so far as exceptional, just because that’s the kind of skill you have to display for me to notice. Not to be outdone, Larkin easily handled a freeform, no-setlist show and was given several chances to take centre stage. Metaphorically, I mean. You’re not going to move a whole drum kit just for one solo. You understand.
Looking through Richman’s more recent albums, I can tell you he played Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild, Le printemps des amoreux est venu, and He Gave Us the Wine to Taste. A few times, people called out for older songs and they were soundly denied. One person asked for Abominable Snowman in the Supermarket after he’d already said what he was going to play next; he blew off the request saying he was ready to play the other song and couldn’t think of two things at once. A later request for Roadrunner got a longer, very thoughtful explanation as to why he doesn’t play that song anymore, which I will artlessly sum up as “I play what I feel and I haven’t felt that song in 30 years.” He said it better, though, and the crowd heartily applauded his explanation.
They also really liked it when he told off the guy who was using a cellphone. I’ll be honest, when I see “no cellphone” signs, I put my phone away during the show and I say it’s out of respect for the artist’s wishes but really I just don’t want to catch hell in front of everyone.
The night was over relatively quickly, at just under 90 minutes. He left as he entered, walking back up the aisle to the lobby, though he stopped halfway to since one more song a capella in Italian. Or maybe it was Spanish and I just think everything is Italian now?
The show was charming, delightful, and, to this newcomer, curiously different. About as different from “guy-with-guitar accompanied by guy-with-drums singing songs I don’t know” as it could be while still perfectly fitting that description.
There was one fellow there whose behaviour during the show might be best described as unconventional. First he paced back and forth in front of the stage for a few songs. Then he removed his glasses and did it again, seven or eight more times, all while ceaselessly rubbing his hands through his hair. He disappeared for a bit, came back with a beer, and sat on the stairs leading up to the stage. At one point, in the middle of a song, he got up and used the flashlight on his contraband cellphone to examine the artwork painted on the walls of the theatre, an act so out-of-place that Richman thought better than it best to just ignore. Anyway, I guess he liked the show, because a few minutes after Richman was done, just as we were leaving, he hollered “maybe THIS will end war!!!” I guess there’s a chance? I mean, I’d be okay with it. Doesn’t look like we’ve made any progress so far but maybe I have to post this first.
The Queer Songbook Orchestra is a 12-piece chamber pop ensemble traveling across Canada telling queer people’s stories. I mean this literally – they’re joined in each city by local readers who preface each song with a story submitted from across Canada.
This concert was put on in association with the Regina Folk Festival, though it didn’t open with the familiar sight of a local radio personality plugging upcoming shows and thanking the list of sponsors. Won’t someone think of the SOCAN Foundation? Instead, they went right into the show, starting with a brief introduction talking about the mission of the QSO. I did think it was a little funny when they mentioned wanting to take the show to places where there’s less of a visible queer community, but the big crowd reaction was reserved for the specific phrase, “not just Toronto and Vancouver.” I get it; I hate the two-city “Canadian tour” as much as anyone. It just made me laugh that even in the face of the night’s positive message, our little big city inferiority complex still reared its head.
After that, the show was split into two sets, mostly following the format of story, song, story, song – though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the poetry reading at the start of the second half that stole the show with passion and humour. Each story made reference to a specific song, but beyond that, they varied greatly – some were funny, some sad, some hopeful. One was particularly heartbreaking. It would feel weird to recap them here since they’re not mine to tell and an abridged version wouldn’t do them justice anyway.
The songs were of special importance to the folks who wrote in with their stories, so it’s no surprise that many of the songs were by queer artists, or those with significance to the queer community. We got Changes (David Bowie), Heart of Glass (Blondie), Could I Be Your Girl (Jann Arden), Fast Car (Tracy Chapman), and others by Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, and more. Most of the arrangements stuck pretty close to the originals (just, you know, with an orchestra), though their version of Sprawl II by Arcade Fire slowed things down, where I thought the original benefitted from having that extra energy to it.
For all of the stories and songs, the night’s most emotional moment came near the end, when QSO artistic director (and trumpet player) Shaun Brodie addressed the crowd after introducing everyone else in the ensemble. He’d grown up closeted in Regina and joked that the blurb on the front page of that morning’s newspaper – Concert a Homecoming for Queer Musician – read like the nightmares of his 14-year-old self. In the full story, the paper included a photo they’d originally run in 1985 of seven-year-old Brodie getting help with trumpet lessons. Brodie credited that teacher for guiding him toward his career in music, and thanked his other music teachers (at least one of whom was in attendance) and other positive influences and role models he’d had while living here. Being out at home for the first time was clearly something special (if still nerve-wracking) to Brodie.
With that, we had the closing song, described as Canada’s unofficial queer national anthem. I’m not sure what I would have guessed it would be, but it wouldn’t have been We’ll Reach the Sky Tonight by Rita MacNeil. In fairness, my knowledge of both Rita MacNeil and queer anthems is lacking. I’m pretty this is the only MacNeil song I know, and only because it was featured regularly on Rita and Friends in the days when we only got three channels in English.
All told, I thought the music was great and the show felt important. The sound at the Artesian was great, and the venue was the perfect size to host such an intimate, personal show. All that said, given the evening’s nature, it feels weird to critique it like a normal concert. Luckily, these write-ups generally wind up less like actual reviews and more recaps of an evening out with a particular focus on my own buffoonery, so maybe we’re in the clear here.
Are you ready for three opening acts? On a work night? On the day of our first real winter snowfall?
Probably not. I mean, I wasn’t.
This was a classic example of a night where if I hadn’t bought a ticket well in advance – this was announced back in May – I wouldn’t have gone. Even with the ticket, I still thought about skipping out. The ticket was only $15 and I’m old and I tire and I come from a long line of seniors who run the furnace in the middle of the summer. I like rest and warmth.
Apparently, my fellow citizens feel the same way. The tickets said doors at 7:30, show at 8:00. I arrived at 8:35, nothing had started yet, and the crowd consisted of 16 people. I counted. This number only got worse when I realized I’d accidentally included all three openers in my tally, since they were hanging out in the audience. A couple more folks showed up over the course of the evening, but that was all – even by the very end of the night, I think we’d have needed to count musicians and venue staff to break 30 people. This was the second-smallest audience for a concert that I’ve ever been to, topped (?) only by that ill-fated first Son of Dave tour over 15 years ago. Really, I’m not sure why nobody made the call to move the show into the Club, the smaller room at the Exchange. At least the room wouldn’t have looked quite so cavernous.
Anyway, I bought a pop, grabbed a chair from the stack along the wall, and found a place to park myself. I wind up going to a lot of shows by myself and I don’t really mind, since nobody pays attention to the old guy and I can just sort of blend into the crowd. That wasn’t happening here, not that it mattered. I did wind up making fast friends with two women who were sitting near me, by which I mean I held their table for them a few times when they went outside to smoke, and otherwise we didn’t talk. I don’t think it was in any danger of being taken but it’s good to have a purpose.
Local musician Loa, or possibly LOA, pronounced “low,” was first up, and immediately ran into some technical challenges. They shut off the background music so she could perform, but her mic wasn’t working, and that took a while to fix. Meanwhile, they didn’t turn the background music back on right away, and you could hear every conversation in the place, every footstep… it kind of felt like time stood still. Eventually they sorted things out, though another snafu shut off one of her prerecorded beats mid-song. She sounded a little nervous when she talked but ultimately handled a tough situation (or two or three) pretty well. Her music – electronic pop with R&B influences – wasn’t really my thing, though that’s just more my tastes than anything, it was all done well.
If they were making any concession to the small crowd, it’s that there was no messing around between acts. Maybe five minutes passed between Loa ending and Hua Li starting up. It really could have been a bit longer, since basically the entire audience except me all collectively went for a smoke when Loa finished.
As a female rapper from Montreal of Chinese descent, Hua Li is unique in my concert-going experiences. She took the stage with confidence and pretty much killed it. With everyone outside, she started her set in front of literally three or four people, but everyone swarmed back in as soon as they heard her. She held everyone’s attention with powerful fast flows and some slower grooves. At one point, Li called everyone up to the front so that she could tell a personal story about her mom and about the experience of growing up the child of an immigrant – I was going to stand but I happened to be on table-watching duty at that moment which is the worst legitimate excuse I’ve ever used. She also mentioned being appreciative of the opportunity to share the bill with another woman for the first time on the tour.
Literally seconds after Li was done, Fat Tony was on stage. I noticed that this tour is continuing into the US, and there, Tony, coming from Houston, is the headliner. This was my first exposure to him, and – rap expert that I am – I thought he was fantastic. He took the stage and brought the lights down low, the better to see that he was rapping in front of a projected background of Heathcliff cartoons and Space Channel Five game footage. And then he had the lights brought back up so he could actually see his pedals. He was funny, super charismatic, and prone to yelling. And while he was mostly focused on performing songs from his new record 10,000 Hours, which just came out, we even got a Regina-specific rap about how much he liked his lunch at Hunter Gatherer that day – “and they ain’t even pay me to say that shit.” I still haven’t been, but apparently the burger of the day and a cup of soup is the way to go.
Finally – I say that though it was still pretty early – Cadence Weapon came out with Hua Li as his DJ. I moved up to the front and found a nice pole I could lean on. Really, I think everyone there went up to the front. Cadence Weapon (is it cool to just say Cadence? Or Mr. Weapon?), the former poet laureate of Edmonton, treated us to songs spanning his entire career, everything from his recently released self-titled fourth album, to a few songs (including Sharks and Oliver Square) from his debut, Breaking Kayfabe. We even got some new unreleased tracks – all delivered with energy and finesse.
There was a funny moment when he introduced a new-ish song about the greatest hockey player. After dismissing one audience member’s guess of Kanye West, everyone decided that the song was about Wayne Gretzky. Cadence Weapon clarified that the song was actually about the greatest active player… Connor McDavid. And everyone in unison said “…oh.” It was one of the greatest mass disappointments I’ve ever heard. People didn’t even care enough to be angry about the pick. It makes sense, Edmonton and all. Just… oh. The song itself was fun, helped along by two girls who tried to hijack the call-and-response part where we were supposed to yell “Connor McDavid” by yelling “Wayne Gretzky” instead.
At the end of his set, Cadence Weapon made the closest thing to an acknowledgement of the crowd size, saying something along the lines of “tell your friends who aren’t here that they missed a hell of a show.” And they did – this was a great show and everyone gave it their all, even when you know their hearts couldn’t have been all the way in it. As much as I’d love to blame this on how hard it can be to get people out in Regina sometimes, I’m not sure it’s going better anywhere else. They were scheduled to play Calgary on the night after Regina, but that show wound up cancelled with no reason given. Earlier this week, I saw that there was a price drop on tickets for students for their upcoming Saskatoon show, but the deal was open to everyone since “we were all students once.” I don’t know what the deal is – I know Cadence Weapon went six years between albums, but that couldn’t be it exclusively. Maybe there are just too many shows right now and people are picking and choosing? October is my most loaded concert month this year, and I’ve passed some things by. Whatever the reason, I hope things turn around – something this good deserves to be seen.
That’s what the poster called it so that’s what I’m calling it, at least once. And probably never again.
Let us briefly recap my history with Fred Eaglesmith, such as it is. For a long time, people have told me that I’d like his music. How long? The first song of his I ever heard was Time to Get a Gun, which Apple Music tells me came out 21 years ago. That was also the only song of his I heard for years. There were always other shows to go to, other CDs to buy. I don’t know what my excuse was in the Napster era but I clearly had one. Finally, two years ago (to the day, as I’m writing this), he came through town and the stars aligned (meaning I bought an advance ticket so I wasn’t likely to back out at the last minute) and I got the chance to see him. And sure enough, I had a really enjoyable time.
This time out, I got to the Exchange a few minutes before the show was set to start. It seemed a fair bit less busy than last time; I don’t attribute that to anything other than it being harder to get people out on a Sunday night than a Saturday. I took a seat in the back along the wall.
Right on time, we were joined by Fred Eaglesmith and Tif Ginn. And a kid? Their kid, specifically. Or so they said. I mean, I don’t know this kid. He’s in Grade 4 (home-schooled, or rather, “bus-schooled”) and his name is Blue, and he also has a real name that’s not Blue, but does that matter? All three of them sang two songs, then Blue sang a song by himself that he wrote about a puppy, then all three sang another song. Just as I was thinking “so… is the whole show going to be this?” Blue was done. Eaglesmith made what I thought was a joke about sending Blue to work the merch table, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he actually did.
This was, thus far, not my thing. One song would have been cute. Four? And it wasn’t like the kid was bad. It’s just… let me tell you this. When I was roughly that kid’s age, my dad bought me my first cassette player. He also got me two tapes, which I can only describe as wild-ass guesses as to my 10-year-old musical tastes: a Mini-Pops collection (if you’re younger than me, or possibly not Canadian, think Kidz Bop) and the greatest hits of Kenny Rogers. Despite only owning two cassettes for a while, I never even once made it through the first side of that Mini-Pops tape. Not my thing. I listened to a LOT of Kenny Rogers.
I may as well add here that when I was in high school, my dad also got me my first CD player and made a similar wild-ass guess as to what I’d like for my first two CDs and they were Tone-Loc’s Loc’ed After Dark and the Days of Thunder soundtrack. Days of Thunder got played only slightly longer than the Mini-Pops but at least it had Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door on it.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The rest of the show was pretty much exactly like that one two years ago. I recognized some of the same songs. He told some of the same jokes. Ginn sang a song or two on her own and sassed him a bit and played everything from ukulele to melodica to accordion to drums.
And like before, Fred spent a lot of time talking to the audience. The theme of “let’s all get along and everybody be nice to each other” is coming up a lot at these shows lately, and I get why, and I’m going to endorse it every time out (even though I don’t always do the best job of living it myself). The talk about “can you believe people buy expensive TVs to watch millionaires throw the ball around,” though – kinda hackneyed and also not real high on my list of pressing concerns these days.
I don’t generally mind when a show feels a lot like one that came before it, as long as the one that came before it was good. This time, though, I wasn’t feeling the start and so it took me quite a while to warm up to things. Which isn’t really fair – most of the show was what I was wanting. Eaglesmith mixes equal parts storytelling, humour, and commentary, an appealing mix which makes his songs quite listenable. And the sound at the Exchange was fantastic; I’m hardly even an Eaglesmith neophyte, much less an expert, but I could easily make out every word. The music sounded great as well. Really, everything was fine, just felt a bit like a rerun that I wasn’t quite as into the second time around.
I went to Calgary this spring. That isn’t really news – I visit my grandma twice a year – but I didn’t go to any concerts so it was my first SLCR-less Calgary trip in some time. If you only know of my comings and/or goings through these reviews, you might not have known (or cared) that I was here. As though you care now. Anyway, at the end of that trip, when Colin dropped me off at the airport, he suggested I come back for the week of September 10, so we could go see The Book of Mormon. Some quick Googling confirmed that if I did, we could go see Frank Turner too. Though to be honest, I really didn’t think it would happen – They Might Be Giants had teased a Canadian tour announcement was coming and I figured Calgary would be my best bet to see them. I’ve been a fan for close to 20 years and they’ve never come any closer than Minneapolis. Then TMBG booked a date in Saskatoon, so suddenly, my Calgary trip was set.
There was quite a bit happening in Calgary this week; unfortunately, most of it was running at the same time as the stuff we had tickets for. Andrew WK was playing opposite our showing of The Book of Mormon. Greta Van Fleet and Frank Turner were on at the same time. Too bad. And yet, I wrote most of this on the Friday night of my trip with nothing better to do. I guess I could have overpaid to see Sam Smith at the Saddledome in hopes that he’d play the worst James Bond song since Madonna’s.
The Book of Mormon was on Tuesday night. I won’t bother giving it a full review here but while it was very different than what we were expecting, we both really enjoyed it. Also, for the longest time, I was convinced that we were seeing Frank Turner on the night BEFORE The Book of Mormon, so I briefly had a big ol’ freakout thinking I bought tickets for the wrong day. All was good, though as we were entering the theatre, the couple next to us actually HAD bought tickets for the wrong day. It turns out that in that situation, you go talk to a representative from Ticketmaster and hope for the best. I don’t know if they ever got in or not.
We got some tasty Thai food before the play, and we lingered a bit over dinner which led to a bit of a panic getting to the theatre on time. We made it to our seats with about a minute to spare. With that in mind, we planned to meet up earlier before Frank Turner. This was a good idea that didn’t pan out – Colin got held up at work so I took some time to explore his neighbourhood. I checked out the record store and the bookstore and saw a hairy crazy man on a bike (he had a big wordy sign that I couldn’t really read – also, he stopped to buy or possibly sell drugs) before meeting Colin at the same barbecue place we’d eaten at in the spring. I got smoked turkey breast, bacon-wrapped corn on the cob, and a corn muffin with honey butter. This was tremendous, and barbecue is a good choice if you’re in a hurry since everything’s cooked before you get there. Unfortunately, even the barbecue miracle workers can only do so much. We finished our dinner, found our way to the university, and got there in time for the last song from the first opener.
So yeah, my review of Bad Cop/Bad Cop is based on all of one song. They’re a four-piece all-female punk band and their one song – whatever it was called – was very loud. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt quite such overwhelming loudness. Also quite a long time since I’ve seen a straightforward punk band. Not that I’m complaining – I liked what little I heard and while it’s not my usual thing, there’s always something to be said for mixing it up.
Next up was Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs. As the band took the stage, we discussed which one we thought was Sam and which we thought were Lungs. This game got much less challenging when we saw that everyone was wearing denim vests, apart from one fellow, whose shirt could best be described as cape-like. Lead singers get capes. But even without the wardrobe hint, it would have been obvious. Coffey has an encyclopedic knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll frontman poses. Though he did run the risk of being upstaged by one of the guitarists, a large, tattooed, very smiley man with a rainbow-striped t-shirt under his denim vest.
I knew nothing about these folks going into this show but was quite impressed. Fun, high-energy rock from guys who really tried to put on a show. I could have written those two sentences about the Arkells – and in fact, I think I did – and I think if you liked one of those bands, you’d like both. Their set was about 45 minutes and it flew by. I’d make a point of seeing these guys again.
Someone in the crowd was wearing a NOT DEAD YET shirt, that being a line in Turner’s song Get Better, my favourite of his. Colin didn’t know the reference but still enjoyed the sentiment behind the shirt. After Coffey’s set, we checked the stuff table to see what was there – that shirt must have come from a previous tour. Also not available at the stuff table: the Bret “Hitman” Hart jacket that some dude was wearing. It was a bold fashion choice but I dug it.
This review is kind of pointless because I knew I’d dig the show and you likely did too. I was interested in what Colin’s reaction would be. He only knew one of Turner’s songs, Recovery, so he was going in pretty cold. He seemed to really like it; Turner played the one song he knew, as well as the song from that guy’s shirt, so he was happy. And like me, he enjoyed that one line from the song Try This at Home: “There’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music / some of them are just like us and some of them are dicks.” But more than the music, he seemed really taken with Turner’s relentless positivity. Turner has two rules for his shows – don’t be a dick, and sing along if you know the words – and he spoke a lot about how we can all come together for a rock show and treat each other well, and how we should take that positivity into the world when we left there. Unsurprising, I guess, from a guy who named his most recent album Be More Kind.
Of course, we got lots of songs off that album – so much so that Turner joked that “this fucker’s only playing new shit” before launching into old favourite If Ever I Stray. One new song, The Lifeboat, he said they’d only played three or four times before, and this was the first time ever in Canada. The old songs got great reactions, of course, but Turner’s got some devoted fans who sang along to everything, old and new. It is one of the rules, I suppose. For the most part, Turner played with the full band, the Sleeping Souls, but he did a handful of songs by himself. Toward the end, he got the crowd to make an open circle for people to run around in (I got sideswiped real good by a high-velocity passerby), then called everyone to some close and stand together, then eventually crowdsurfed while singing. Twice. A sign said you’d be thrown out after the second time you got caught crowdsurfing – I guess it doesn’t apply to you if you’re the guy people paid to see.
Want the whole setlist? Here it is anyway:
The Next Storm
The Way I Tend to Be
Be More Kind
If Ever I Stray
Try This at Home
One Foot Before the Other
Balthazar, Impresario (solo acoustic)
Song for Eva Mae (solo acoustic)
Love Ire & Song (solo acoustic)
Out of Breath
Get It Right
I Still Believe
Four Simple Words
No real surprises, but does that matter? It was exactly what – and as good as – I was expecting. This was my fourth time seeing Frank Turner, and I’ve enjoyed watching his progression from opener to headliner, from MacEwan Ballroom to the larger MacEwan Hall. He tours relentlessly – as he told us, this was show #2,232 – and the effort is clearly paying off with larger, more devoted crowds every time out. Just a fantastic live show and a positive message at a time when people could use one.
Festivals can be tricky to write about since you get a bunch of different artists, some you might not know anything about, and often not enough time for them to leave a lasting impression. And you – this time I mean you, specifically, whoever is reading this – probably don’t want to read a list of names with me going “it was fine” over and over.
Luckily for you, God intervened. An afternoon temperature of 42C before the humidex put a hold on our plans. We’d already foregone the weekend passes in favour of just the Saturday night, but the heat was such that we held off even further, opting to show up after 9:00pm. As we got exchanged our passes for wristbands, Pierre Kwenders was just wrapping up. We took a walk around the vendor area, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the food trucks so dead. I know it was later in the evening, but still. Only the places that specialized in cool drinks had significant lines. I think it was just too hot to eat.
Since we showed up so late, we left our chairs in the car and stood down at the front. Gotta be the first time I’ve done that at the folk festival in a decade. Between sets, Zoey Roy was doing a spoken word performance – very impassioned and got a great reaction from the crowd. I’m not sure that poetry readings will ever be 100% my thing, but when done well and in front of an appreciative, supportive audience, I have a better understanding of the appeal.
Of all the artists at this year’s festival, I was most excited for Tanya Tagaq. We’d seen her with the symphony recently, but this was our first opportunity to see a full performance. Her music is a modern take on traditional Inuit throat singing and she was accompanied by, among other musicians, a Theremin player. This is not music I would listen to every day but it fits certain moods very well. Specifically, the moods of “I want to completely discombobulate my brain” or “I want to get ready for war.” In a literal sense, I mean – if I had to grab a gun and charge into battle, I’d want this playing. Her music is powerful and vulnerable and otherworldly and scared at least one nearby small child. It sounds unlike anything else I’ve heard and makes me feel different than any other music too. When I was younger, I probably would have hated this. She sang for an hour and it flew by. Amazing.
Between sets, we found a bench, and, somehow, Rheanne. We run into her every year, apparently even when it’s dark out and we’re only there for a few hours.
On our way back to the stage, we passed a very drunk lady being walked out of the park by security. Or at least that was the goal; when we saw her, she’d stopped to give out high-fives, take selfies, and sing Sweet Child O’ Mine with other festival-goers. It’s not often you get to say “there’s a very patient security guard.” Anyway, I had no idea alcohol could make you so happy. I should investigate further.
The night’s headliner was Neko Case. I’d seen her a few times before, including once at the festival, and I always came away a little underwhelmed. In what I always felt was an unfair way, you understand. She’s so incredible that I went into her shows with sky-high expectations that were never quite met. This time, though, was easily the best of her shows that I’ve seen. It would be easy to chalk that up to my expectations but I don’t think that’s quite it. She seemed to really be inspired and emotional to be at the festival, having worked earlier in the day with Girls Rock Regina, a girls’ music camp (and wearing their shirt during her performance). She also talked about how excited she was to finally see Tanya Tagaq (they always play the same festivals but on different days) and dedicated a song to Zoey Roy. It seemed like she was really feeling the festival and that came through in her performance. Even if she was eating and being eaten by bugs because of the spotlights.
Case is touring her new album, Hell-On, which I’ve listened to, but not a ton. We got lots of songs off it, of course. Fewer of the old classics but “Hold On, Hold On” is my favourite of hers and she played that one, so no complaints here. But the best moment for my money was during the song Man, a song about masculinity and gender roles and also one of the rockier songs of the night. These two ballcap bro-dudes heard the opening notes and they were SO into it. They yelled WOOOO and threw up devil horns and hugged and rocked out like nobody’s business. And then they were joined by a third guy, and they all stood in a circle, holding hands, jumping up and down and pumping their arms to the music. The song is great. Their reaction was fantastic. The two combined? Perfect.
And then we went home. Makes for an abbreviated festival recap this year – I trust everyone had fun at Walk off the Earth and Shakey Graves and Bruce Cockburn and Michael Franti. Next year is the 50th annual folk festival, so we’ll see who they bring in. Better believe my expectations are already completely unreasonable and we’ve got seven months until the initial lineup announcement.
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls with Bad Cop/Bad Cop and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Cadence Weapon with Fat Tony and Hua Li (October 2)
• Jonathan Richman (October 6)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• Colter Wall (October 16)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)
This is relatively short and mostly about food but it’s also three weeks late, so whatever. This was our third year seeing a concert at the Queen City Ex and honestly, I thought it was kind of slim pickings this year. Two country acts, Burton Cummings, the Regina Symphony doing Michael Jackson and Prince songs, and the Arkells. I feel like we chose wisely despite my eventual realization that while I’d heard other musicians (Hawksley Workman, Frank Turner) say good things about them, I didn’t actually know any Arkells songs. Though I do confess some curiosity about how well the Symphony would pair with stifling heat, a giant plush Pikachu, and a corndog.
Mika and I went early this year, arriving at the fair shortly after 11:00am so that we could spend the first part of the day with her friend Christine and her kids. The kids rode rides and displayed passionate interest in every kind of carnival game. I sweated a lot and lost to Mika at both Whack-a-Mole and squirting water in the clown’s mouth. Also, I followed up some deep fried cheese curds with the stupidest thing I’ve ever eaten, deep fried bacon-wrapped Reese’s peanut butter cups. Eventually, we watched a scintillating performance from Doodoo the Clown, who was apparently in the movie Billy Madison. I don’t remember there being a clown in Billy Madison, but that might only be because I’ve never seen it. The kids had fun. Eventually, full of delicious sugars and fats, we were all overheated and so they headed home. With hours to go before the concert, we also headed home for air conditioning and a nap.
Dear future James, for your reference, if you leave the fair and come back, your handstamp will let YOU back in for free, but there are no in/out privileges as it pertains to parking.
Back inside, we went straight to the concert grounds for our openers, Sc Mira. You may remember that we saw them open for Buck 65 a few years ago. That felt like an odd pairing at the time, and even more so now when I did the “who did they open for again?” check through the old reviews. They felt like a much better fit with the Arkells, which makes it too bad that basically nobody saw this set. There were seriously maybe 20-30 people there when they started and it filled up a bit as they played, but really not that much. You wouldn’t have known it from their performance – it has to be challenging playing in front of a small, apathetic crowd (especially in such a big space) but they still brought it. Lots of new material and a marked increase in stage presence too.
With a lengthy break between bands, we went in search of dinner. Mika went one way to get some corn on the cob, which isn’t really fair-level crazy but non-glutenous options are scarce and limited. I went the other way in search of something I’d seen earlier, but I don’t know my directions got turned around. Luckily, this led to running into and chatting with Chad and his family for a bit. I eventually did find the “grilled cheese dog” that I was after, but whatever you’re picturing in your mind as a grilled cheese dog is more exciting and appetizing than what I got. Poor choice, me.
Dear future James, for your reference, just get the corndog with a pickle in it. You like corndogs. You like pickles.
We met back at the concert grounds, and dang. The Arkells fans are late arrivers, but when they get there, they show up en masse. The place was packed. We stood near the back.
It’s not entirely true to say that I didn’t know any Arkells songs. Mika’d played one of them in the car. Two others, I recognized a little bit from… somewhere? I don’t know. Being alive and often in the presence of background music? I didn’t know enough to sing along with anything, let’s put it that way. And yet, I didn’t really care. These guys had huge energy and were a blast to watch. Singalongs, clapalongs, running through the crowd, they were never not engaging with the audience. Fantastic live performers. And I did know one song after all, since the first song of their encore was Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Which seemed like a weird fit for about 5 seconds but then totally wasn’t. Would definitely go see these guys again. Worth the admission. Worth paying for parking twice. Worth that sub-par hot dog. Maybe I should listen to any of their stuff someday.
On the way out, determined to make one last bad decision, I got white chocolate cheesecake mini-donuts. The girl cautioned me that instead of your standard bag of mini-donuts, there were three of them. For $10. I was already committed to this idea so I went along with it. And I have to say, what they lacked in quantity they more than made up for in quality. These were sensational. Hot and crispy with cheesecake goo inside and white chocolate drizzle. I don’t even like white chocolate.
This show could have waited a few days and I’d have been fine with it. As far as festivals go, it had one of the most James-specific lineups I’d ever seen, so I should have been more excited, but it had been a really long week. I got home on time on Monday evening. Worked late and got home after 9:00 on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Only left an hour late on Friday to begin my two-week vacation (woo) but spent Friday night mowing the lawn, cleaning house, and doing all the other stuff I’d been putting off before my in-laws’ flight got in at midnight. Mika had worked late all week too. We needed groceries and I wound up buying bananas and milk at Shoppers Drug Mart at 11:30pm, which I think is a nice summary of how that week went.
All of which was great preparation for driving two hours to Bengough, watching a bunch of bands, and driving two hours back after midnight. I was actually feeling better on Saturday than I was expecting; sleeping in until 12:30 helped.
Soon enough, tickets in hand and lawnchairs in trunk, we were on the road. The drive was uneventful, which doesn’t give me anything to talk about but that’s still probably for the best. I mean, it’s fun to tell the story of how I hit a duck in the ass with the car on the way home from Bengough a few years ago, but I’d still have preferred to not hit the duck.
I had promised Mika we’d make it there in time for Library Voices’ set at 5:15 but that was before I was slow and lazy in the morning. And afternoon. And pretty much always. But I was still pretty sure that we’d make it, and they started their first song as we were walking into the grounds. Close enough. We found a place to park our lawn chairs and sat back for the show. Library Voices are one of the bigger bands to come out of Regina in the past decade, and yet, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a proper concert by them, just short festival sets where they never play the few songs I know. Needless to say, that didn’t change here, but this was a quick fun hit of power-pop that started our festival experience off on a good note.
Onto the parade of mostly-local people I don’t really know much about and don’t have much to say about! Country singer Ellen Froese was up next with a mix of covers and originals. I enjoyed her set and she’s local, so I imagine I’ll see her again soon. She was followed by Seth Anderson. No band – just him and a guitar. He had a good sense of humour, playing off the sounds of soundcheck happening on the other stage during his set. (He may also have dropped a few f-bombs during one of his songs and it looked like maybe someone suggested that he please stop doing so, since we hadn’t hit the drunkening hour yet – but I digress.) I liked this too. Would see again.
Next was Zachary Lucky. Country singer. Deep voice. Probably something I’d really dig but I didn’t get to see much of him. I decided that I should get something to eat before the Karpinka Brothers, which seemed like a solid enough plan but it went awry. First I went to the merch stand to take a peek. Didn’t get anything this year. Next, I made the arduous trek back to the car – like, almost three or four whole minutes each way, some sort of death march – so I could get my glasses. I have regular glasses and sunglasses and whichever pair is not currently on my head is inevitably forgotten in the car. Finally, I had to survey the food options, settling on a food truck that made a waffle hashbrown sandwich. Basically, you get bacon and cheese inside two waffles made out of hashbrowns. It needed an egg for breakfast sandwich perfection but this was still pretty great and I’m going to try making hashbrowns like that here sometime. This, however, was not the speediest process – or possibly this truck had some efficiency issues – anyway, by the time I was back at my chair, the Karpinka Brothers were nearly done.
I went to high school with one of the Karpinkas (probably both, really, but Shawn was in my grade). I’ve run into Shawn a few times since high school. He’s always been nice and I’m always happy to see him and that’s not something I’d say about 95% of my graduating class. Before this, though, I’d never actually seen them play (apart from maybe a few songs in a Regina Folk Festival teaser set, but I’m not even 100% certain about that and it’s way too late for me to be fact-checking now). I still can’t say I really saw them, but I could hear them from the food truck of eternal wait and they sounded really fun. I’ll have to make it a priority to get to one of their shows soon.
I saw Megan Nash earlier this year and was looking forward to her set. She’s one of my favourite local musicians. She had a strict 30-minute set so she wasn’t as talkative as last time (or maybe it’s that she wasn’t all hopped up on cold medication), but this was still really good.
Onto the folks you may have heard of! First up was former Weakerthans lead singer John K. Samson, a self-described “lefty talk-singer from Winnipeg.” It sounded like there were some Winnipegers near us who were very happy to learn where he was from. Then he opened with Weakerthans classic One Great City!, which says “The Guess Who sucked, the Jets were lousy anyway” and has a singalong chorus of “I hate Winnipeg.” I’d say it’s still kind of a love letter to the city but said Winnipegers seemed to disagree. Anyway, I’ve seen John K. as a solo act before and he was all about playing his own songs and very few Weakerthans songs, but we got the opposite here. There were a handful of his solo songs, including Post-Doc Blues and Vampire Alberta Blues (neither of which are particularly bluesy), but most were Weakerthans favourites. A personal highlight was hearing Samson play all three songs about Virtute the cat in a row. Looking up the lyrics of Virtute at Rest, I saw on Samson’s website that the human from those songs is the same person in the song 17th Street Treatment Centre, which makes perfect sense but still blew my mind a little. As an aside, he played that one too. And he also played Aside.
Samson’s set started at 8:15 and in retrospect, when it was done, we should have moved our chairs from the beer garden side of the park to the all-ages side. 8:00pm is the magic hour where the hipsters and families disappear and the people who’ve been drinking at their campsites all day show up. Plus then we’d be nice and close to the main stage but still comfortably on our respective butts. Though I suppose we’d have missed out on some… colourful characters.
When the Gateway Festival released the initial teaser poster for the event, all of the musicians’ names were blacked out but some were done in such a way that you could kinda make a guess at who they were. I was 99% sure one was Kathleen Edwards. This got me hyped and I may have spent several days meticulously poring over the poster like it was the Zapruder film. Mika and I saw Kathleen Edwards at the Exchange many years ago and it was a great great show. Moreover, a few years ago, she essentially retired from music to open up a coffee shop called Quitter’s in Stittsville, Ontario.
If you think I’m going to make a joke about Stittsville, think again. I’m far too mature for that. Plus I live in Regina, so, you know. Plus Kathleen Edwards made all those jokes already.
ANYWAY my point is that while Edwards has done a handful of concerts since her self-imposed retirement, I really didn’t think she’d ever come out this way again. And here she was! This was exciting enough that we actually left our chairs and went down to the main stage. Edwards was in fine form and seemed to be relaxed and really enjoying herself. There was a nice mix of songs spanning her whole career (Sidecars was a personal favourite) and one new one she wrote about turning 40. After Empty Threat, she asked if there were any Americans there since we were less than an hour from the border, which led to a story about opening for Bob Dylan in Montana. She also dedicated the song Hockey Skates to everyone affected by the Humboldt Broncos tragedy earlier this year. Kathleen Edwards is a treasure.
Then we were back to the side stages for Elliott BROOD and as ever, I’ll play along with the spelling once. I should listen to these guys more but I always seem to forget how much I like them. Their energy was especially welcome coming after a series of folkier artists. They’re coming back to Regina in the fall and I was thinking about skipping out since I’ve seen them a few times in the past few years but this was fun enough that I might just reconsider.
Somewhere in here I went to use the bathroom and found that apart from the portapotties, there were also two urinals, of sorts. Big covered tanks with funnels sticking out of them. As they say, when in Rome, pee in a funnel and then go find some hand sanitizer.
Finally, we had the last addition to the festival lineup, recent inductee to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and former Barenaked Lady, Steven Page. I’d seen one of his solo shows with Mary a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so when they added him to an already stacked festival, I was stoked. Much like with Samson, there were more Barenaked Ladies songs than Page solo songs, including Jane, Enid, The Old Apartment, Break Your Heart, It’s All Been Done, Alcohol, and I Live With It Every Day. He closed with Brian Wilson, which you had to expect. For solo stuff, he played Surprise Surprise, Manchild, Linda Ronstadt in the 70s, and A New Shore, among others.
There was also a bit where he did some happy strumming on his guitar and Page and the rest of his band took turns singing bits of different popular songs that fit the music. And while I’m sure this is a bit he does often, I suspect the snippet of Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure that Page sang was specifically because Samson was there. I mean, it’s not a happy song and it didn’t fit the music, but I know Page likes it and had previously recorded it with the Art of Time Ensemble.
Page didn’t play If I Had $1,000,000, much to the frustration of some of the folks around us who were expecting a Barenaked Ladies greatest hits show. I don’t know who wrote what in Barenaked Ladies, but I suspect Page only played stuff that he wrote (or at least co-wrote). Tough break for anyone who was expecting the chimpanzee song. But hey, he still played a lot of hits. Possibly too many for some folks’ tastes – Page was about 20 minutes over his allotted time when it looked like someone notified him it was time to wrap it up. Even then, after Brian Wilson, as we were starting to leave, just as I overheard a festival volunteer say “there hasn’t been an encore all weekend, there won’t be one now,” Page and his band came back out and played Call and Answer. The Badland Country Band was set to go on at midnight and it was nearing 12:30 and a handful of folks were growing impatient. One of the aforementioned colourful characters tried to start a “BADLAND BADLAND” chant but it was as successful as you might expect. “Sorry guys, we’ll be quick,” said Page to the Badlands when he came back out. I’m sure he meant it, but Call and Answer is a six-minute song and I cackled. I dug this whole thing, though to be fair, going over time? Not cool. But I’ll chalk it up to miscommunication somewhere along the way, mostly because we weren’t staying around for the Badland Country Band anyway. As we walked back to the car, we heard them start into a cover of You May Be Right and I’m pretty sure they messed up the words. Timing must have thrown them off.
The drive home was duckless and uneventful, which is exactly how I wanted to wrap up the day.
I should mention that the entire two-day festival was packed with musicians I like and basically consisted of one big SLCR all-star reunion show. I’m not a camping person and Bengough is a long drive from Regina – it would be pretty taxing to take in both nights if you’re going to drive home each night. So we skipped the Friday, since the organizers were kind enough to put all my nice-to-sees on Friday and my must-sees on Saturday. But seriously – Friday night had Big Sugar, Terra Lightfoot, William Prince, Belle Plaine, and Yukon Blonde (along with The Kentucky Headhunters and Chixdiggit, who I’ve never seen before). In Bengough! Population: 337! This whole festival is kind of ridiculous!
It’s now been over two weeks since I saw the Flaming Lips and over two hours since I opened the blank text file and pasted in the list of upcoming concerts. It’s not that I don’t want to write this – it was a really fun show that I feel like talking about – I just don’t want to put in the effort, you know?
Really, this is not dissimilar to how I felt on the morning of the concert. I was excited when the show was announced – I love it when a band comes to town (or at least a semi-nearby town) and I never thought they’d play here. But when I was supposed to pack up and head out, I had to fight the little voice telling me “you know, we could just… not do this.” I mean, Saskatoon’s far, the weather wasn’t looking great, I didn’t know the opener, and I’m really not even super familiar with the Flaming Lips if we’re being honest. But! I persevered, for you. Mostly for me. But a little bit for you.
So let’s talk about what I do know about the Flaming Lips, or what I think I know. I first became aware of them through the song She Don’t Use Jelly, which I had on an MTV Buzz Bin CD that came out in 1997. To stoke your 90s nostalgia and give you a frame of reference, some of the other artists on that CD were Counting Crows, The Cardigans, and Primitive Radio Gods. (The song by Primitive Radio Gods is called Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in my Hand. And it IS on iTunes.)
If She Don’t Use Jelly sounds like a novelty song, that’s because it is, and I assumed these folks were doomed to one-hit wonder status. But over time, I started hearing that they were still making records and they were really good and not what you’d expect for a joke band. And then they weren’t a joke band, they were indie hipster darlings and everyone had their album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Wikipedia says that’s their tenth album and that was in 2002 and okay they put out way more music than I ever knew about. Maybe don’t look to me for the history lesson.
The drive up to Saskatoon was uneventful. A little rain but nothing serious – that was saved for when I got there. I got to Josy’s house mid-afternoon and within 10 minutes, the skies opened up. Massive downpour and lightning with the loudest, most immediate thunder. Something got hit and it was right near us. The power went out, probably not unrelated. I was starting to doubt whether this outdoor concert was going to be happening. A storm that big won’t last, but what condition would the grounds be in? I had further doubts when the storm passed and Josy and I went in search of food. We went down 8th Street and hit several patches where there was so much water left on the road that only one lane was usable. You’ll be relieved to know we were able to successfully obtain pizza.
Josy: “When did you stop caring about chicken in your concerts?”
me: “Most places I go to for concerts now don’t serve food. I still mention it when I can.”
Josy: “And what did you have on your pizza?”
Josy: “There you go.”
Indeed. Official concert status: conferred.
Pizza then Pokémon then back to Josy’s house and I was off to the show. The rain was long gone and the grounds were fine. I got there with five minutes to spare and without a ticket – I’d realized that morning that I’d never printed one out. Luckily, it’s the future and they can just scan your phone.
Now, if you remember last year’s trip to the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival to see Amanda Marshall, you may recall that we brought lawn chairs and wound up sitting way at the back, unable to really see the openers and eventually standing for Marshall. You may also recall that we were lucky to have anywhere at all to park our chairs ‘CUZ THERE’S NO PLACE TO PUT THEM but maybe only Deserée and I remember that. Point being, I was flying solo this year and didn’t want to fight with a chair and so I didn’t bring one. I… needn’t have worried. I walked in mere minutes before the opener was set to start – ran into Carver immediately upon arrival because of course I did – and the place was pretty bare. At this point, if I estimated there was 25% of the crowd that was there for Amanda Marshall, I’d be being generous. I could have set a chair anywhere. Instead I just walked right down to the very front because why not? On stage, the mayor cut a ribbon to open the Jazz Festival and we were underway.
The opener was Wand, from LA. When introduced, they were described as “breaking all barriers” and I don’t know if I’d go that far, though I don’t really know how to describe them. iTunes says “psych-rock” and sure, let’s go for that as long as you promise not to make me define it. There were long instrumental sections. I heard 90s rock influences in there. Some electronic music too. And Crimson & Clover. This was all pretty good in that way that I kind of immediately forgot about. I’m listening to some now, and again, hard to describe, but I’m digging it.
So. Okay. I’d never seen the Flaming Lips before and didn’t really know what to expect. After Wand’s set, stagehands (and singer Wayne Coyne) set up the stage with confetti cannons. Also, while Wand was playing, I could see Coyne walking around backstage with a big rainbow… thing. It later turned out to be wings. Had I known what I was getting myself into, this wouldn’t have been surprising.
The band came out and played the song from 2001: A Space Odyssey or Ric Flair, depending on your personal point of reference. Normally, I would check setlist.fm for reminders of the show, but I know it’s not entirely accurate, so instead I’ll go to the pictures on my phone. One song in and we were blasted with the aforementioned confetti cannons and giant balloons were launched into the crowd. As people threw the balloons around, Coyne left and came back with an eight-foot tall custom-made silver balloon reading FUCK YEAH SASKATOON. He threw it into the crowd who tore it apart like a pack of dogs. Though I did later see people leaving with individual letters they’d managed to save.
The first song I recognized – since I only ever had that one album – was Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1. We had to karate chop along with the song. There was an 18-foot tall inflatable pink robot on stage. Then came the Yeah Yeah Yeah Song where we all had to sing along (“yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah”). I was standing near a security guard and I was very curious as to his opinion of the evening. For the song There Should Be Unicorns, Coyne left again and returned astride a giant unicorn (and wearing the rainbow wings from earlier) (which went well with his suit and eyepatch that I forgot to mention). This did not reduce my curiosity re: the security guard.
Then came the smoke cannons, followed by the spotlights focused on Coyne’s face. Then the stagehands (who, I forgot to mention, were all wearing superhero costumes) started inflating a big ball. The more knowledgeable fans knew what was coming. I did not. Coyne, inside the ball, singing Space Oddity, rolled out off the stage onto the heads and outstretched arms of the crowd.
More smoke from the stage. The security guard looked unimpressed. There was also a sizable amount of smoke coming from the crowd, which should surprise nobody. Guys in giant eyeball costumes came out and danced. More confetti. A little girl behind me, riding her dad’s shoulders, caught one of the giant balloons after trying all night. We all cheered. Coyne wore giant hands that shot lasers into the crowd. Then the band left. A guy behind me in a Teletubby costume hollered for Do You Realize?? The band came back out. Played another song. Played The Star-Spangled Banner, as one does at the end of a rock concert in Canada. Left again. I thought the Teletubby was going to go apoplectic. Band back out. Do You Realize?? under a big inflatable rainbow. Everyone went bonkers. The end.
There was a lot to keep track of. I’m sure I’m missing stuff. I didn’t know all the songs. It certainly wasn’t necessary. You could have gone in blind and this would have been worth it for the spectacle alone. It could be different if you’ve seen it before, but there seemed to be lots of people who’d seen them multiple times and were loving it. Even if you lose the element of surprise (or just aren’t into, like, confetti and big hands), the songs are enough to carry a show on their own.
I went back to Josy’s once the show was done, but a friend from high school was also at the concert. I didn’t see him there but it’s 2018 so we had a nice brief chat via Instagram comments. He went to Amigo’s after the show to see another set by Wand and as they were playing, the Flaming Lips showed up, just looking to hang out. He got a picture with Coyne. I caught my first Alolan Rattata in Pokémon Go on the walk back to the car. So I think we had equally successful evenings.
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, Steven Page, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, more (July 28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls with Bad Cop/Bad Cop and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show Starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Cadence Weapon with Fat Tony and Hua Li (October 2)
• Jonathan Richman (October 6)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)
The thing about a Weird Al show is that the format is always the same. Lots of costume changes. Lots of video clips between songs to accommodate the costume changes. A bunch of songs off the newest album and lots of his classics – hey, he paid for that fat suit, may as well get as much use out of it as he can. And it ends with Yoda. There’s a chant in Yoda. It gets longer with every tour.
Understand, I’m not complaining. Just making an observation. There were eleven years between my first and second Al concerts, and even with that gap, that second show felt pretty familiar. You get some new songs, costumes, sets, and videos every time out, but still.
If this was a little samey for me, one wonders what it would be like for Al and his band. The theatrics and the choreography, while fun, mean that his show is heavily scripted and there isn’t room for improvisation or mixing things up. There’s no opportunity to say “screw it, let’s play Running With Scissors front-to-back tonight.” It’s pretty much set in stone.
A while back, I read an interview where Al talked of doing a different kind of tour, one geared toward hardcore fans. Smaller venues, no costumes or videos, and – the biggest change – he’d forego his famous parodies in favour of playing his lesser-known original songs. A different setlist every night, even. This was extremely my thing. I didn’t think it would actually happen, but sure enough, last fall, Al announced the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour. While I was definitely prepared to travel for this, instead, he was coming here. What a groovy guy! Now I just had to wait the eight months for the tour to get here.
Having experienced the VIP… uh… experience the last time out, Mika and I got normal seats this time like god damned commoners. We went to the show with Jason (from my work) and his wife Melissa – you may remember them from at least one previous concert (Corb Lund) that we went to (translation: I totally invited myself along to their night out). Lots of parenthetical asides in this paragraph but they’re all very important to give you the full story.
Before the show, Jason said he was hoping for Trigger Happy and The Night Santa Went Crazy (the extra-gory version) (obviously). My picks were The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, Stop Forwarding that Crap to Me, and Skipper Dan. Looking at setlists from other cities, I knew at least some of these were in play. I wasn’t about to get my hopes up, though.
We got to the show and I took a quick look at the stuff table. Nothing too exciting. The usual shirts and stuff. There were some enamel pins that were nice but expensive and I’d never wear them anyway. I also saw something that indicated that all of the concerts from this tour were going to be made available on Stitcher Premium, a for-pay podcast service. Took a peek and didn’t see anything yet. If this does come to pass, I’d give it a shot.
Long ago, Al used to have local comedians opening for him. I only ever saw this once, at my first Al show in 1996. I don’t remember much about the comedian. He worked clean, albeit with a lot of poop jokes. And hockey jokes. And he combined them to make Darren Puppa jokes. Again, it was 1996. Shortly thereafter – and probably having nothing to do with the guy who opened at my show – Al quit having opening acts. He found it hard to vet the comedians, so sometimes the opener would wind up using material that was inappropriate for the audience. Plus, as Al’s show became more elaborate, it also became longer, making an opener feel less necessary. But for this tour, he was bringing an opener with him – Emo Philips. Philips is best known to Al fans as the shop teacher who accidentally saws his fingers off in the movie UHF. Or at least best known to me for that – I hadn’t heard any of his actual stand-up before this. Turns out his delivery is actually quite similar to that of his UHF character, soft-spoken and stilted. I can see some people not being into that, though I thought he was pretty funny. He worked clean and mostly told one-liners – “I like to play chess with old men in the park, but where do you ever find 32 of them?” – with a few physical bits thrown in too. The crowd seemed to really like him, though there was one pun that didn’t get nearly enough love and one aside I loved that went completely unrecognized. So it goes.
Following a brief break, Al’s band entered and played the instrumental tune Fun Zone before Al entered and launched right into Close but no Cigar (with Al playing what I can only call the rattly percussion thing). We wound up with a 19-song set spanning Al’s entire career. There were classics (You Don’t Love Me Anymore), songs I’d entirely forgotten (I Remember Larry), and songs that would maybe be best forgotten (Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung). Buy Me A Condo stood out as particularly dated, both because I’m pretty sure a white guy trying to sound Jamaican wouldn’t fly today and, more so, it suggests that “wall-to-wall carpeting” is a status symbol instead of something to rip out.
There were also some of Al’s soundalike style parodies, like the Dylanesque all-palindrome song Bob and the I-didn’t-realize-it-was-supposed-to-sound-like-the-B-52s-but-in-my-defence-I-was-very-young-when-I-first-heard-it Mr. Popeil. And, what with it being June and all, they played Al’s entire catalogue of Christmas songs – both of them. And yes, it was the extra-gory version of The Night Santa Went Crazy, so I’ve now heard a theatre full of nerds cheer at the announcement that Santa Claus has been caught and compromised to a permanent end.
During the more energetic songs, there was one guy who’d jump out of his seat, run up to the front at the far edge of the stage, and, indeed, dance like no one was watching. I don’t know how one cultivates the attitude of “yes, I will be the only person at this whole concert dancing wildly to Party at the Leper Colony.” Maybe you have to be born with it? I don’t know. But I feel like maybe it’s something to aspire to. Not that particular song – even Al said he wasn’t proud of it – but the general idea. I think that dude probably had more fun at this show than the rest of us. And he was even considerate enough to not block anyone’s view.
For the encore, Al asked for requests and everyone went nuts. He finally decided that he’d choose one person and play whatever they wanted – so of course, he picked his guitarist, who wanted to hear some Black Crowes, so that’s what they played. Every night on this tour, they’ve been playing a different cover song. Not a parody – just a straight cover. Ours was Hard to Handle. Looking at some others they’ve played recently (including Rebel Rebel, Magic Carpet Ride, Summer Nights, All Right Now, Aqualung, Foxey Lady, and Good Lovin’), I’m very pleased with the one we got – it would have been my pick out of all of those. I suspect Al had a cheat sheet for the lyrics – he seemed to spend a lot of time looking at something that wasn’t the crowd – but maybe I was just seeing things that weren’t there. Either way, it didn’t hurt things any if he did.
People who really wanted the parodies weren’t entirely out of luck. For the last song before the encore, the band started into the unplugged version of Layla, but Al sang Eat It instead. This kicked off a medley of some of his most famous parodies, all with new incongruous arrangements. And after Hard to Handle, they finished with his American Pie parody, The Saga Begins. Always gotta end with Star Wars – though as different as this whole show was, not ending with Yoda and the chant still stuck out.
Here’s the whole setlist, taken from setlist.fm in a rare case where I don’t have to complain about how wrong it is:
Close But No Cigar
Buy Me a Condo
Christmas at Ground Zero
Good Enough for Now
I Remember Larry
If That Isn’t Love
You Don’t Love Me Anymore
I Was Only Kidding
The Night Santa Went Crazy (extra-gory version)
Party at the Leper Colony
Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung
Jackson Park Express
medley: Eat It / I Lost on Jeopardy / Amish Paradise / Smells Like Nirvana / White & Nerdy / I Love Rocky Road / Like a Surgeon
Hard to Handle (Black Crowes cover)
The Saga Begins
As we left, Mika asked if I got to hear all the songs I wanted. Honestly, I didn’t – I went 0-for-3 with my wishlist. So I definitely would have changed the songs up if given the chance, but I still was glad with what we got and happy just to see a show on this tour at all. I got a new appreciation for some songs I’d overlooked or forgotten, and do I even need to mention that Al and his band were great? (I pretend that these are “reviews,” so I guess, yeah.) They’re all super talented and complete professionals, switching seemingly effortlessly between musical genres from song to song. I suppose you don’t have a celebrated 40-year career without working hard and being good at your job. Good thing I’m fine with an uncelebrated one.
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips w/Wand (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, Steven Page, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, more (July 28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show Starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Cadence Weapon w/Fat Tony and Hua Li (October 2)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)
There are some gaps in my SLCR history and it’s really satisfying when I can fill one of those in. I like finally writing up the bands that I first saw before starting these reviews, or bands whose concerts I missed for one reason or another (laziness, social anxiety, and it’s chilly out being chief among the reasons). Donovan Woods is one of those folks.
I had a ticket to see Woods at a sold-out gig at the Artful Dodger in 2016. I was really looking forward to the show but it didn’t work out for me. The Artful Dodger had the potential to be a great place to see smaller shows – I remember raving about it after the first few times I was there – but they had a tendency to sell more tickets than there were places to sit. I’m not opposed to standing for the length of a show, but the layout of the place meant that you couldn’t really stand anywhere without blocking someone’s view. Plus, it was also a restaurant, so if you weren’t having dinner there, there were limits to how early you really wanted to show up. Long story short, I got there close to the advertised start time and wound up with no place to sit. I tried to get over to the side and be as inconspicuous as possible, but a table of other folks were… how would I describe them? They were shitheads about it. Let’s go with that. Rather than escalate the situation and have it turn into a whole thing – especially since the opener, Joey Landreth, had already started playing – I just went home. Made it about halfway through the opener’s first song, which I’m pretty sure is a personal best in whatever the opposite of endurance is.
This wasn’t even an isolated incident; all the way back in SLCR #216 (or June 13, 2015 if you measure time the old way), I talk of leaving a Danny Michel concert halfway through because of similar issues (though to be fair, people weren’t shitheads to me, they were just shitheads near me, which it turns out is actually better).
I reached out to the Artful Dodger after the incident. The owner seemed sympathetic and upset over what had happened, which I appreciated. She made a point of telling me that all ticket money went directly to the musicians (which I took as a way of saying that she wasn’t going to reimburse me for my ticket – not that I asked for that in the first place). Ultimately, the tone of the reply was… it’s hard to describe. Kind of melodramatic, kind of all over the place, really. Mostly, I left our interaction thinking “how are you even in business?”
I decided I’d never go back, which sounds like a big protest on my part, but the number of concerts I wanted to see there was never that high and my resolve was only ever tested once. Sorry, Shotgun Jimmie. Please come back and play somewhere else.
And actually, it would have to be somewhere else. The Artful Dodger closed last year when the building was put up for sale. The owner created a crowdfunding page trying to raise $70,000 to renovate and move into a new location. Seven months in, and they’re up to $925.
Anyway, this show – the one I actually stuck around for, the one I’m supposed to be telling you was really good – was at the Exchange. It holds a fair bit more people than the Artful Dodger did and though they were still selling tickets at the door when I got there, it wouldn’t surprise me if it sold out by the end. It had to be close, the place was pretty full. I was on my own for this one (though I did briefly chat with Rob and Karen when they happened past), so I found a decent spot to stand at the back near the sound guy, only mildly preoccupied with the idea that there’d be another confrontation. Brains are GREAT you guys, they’re always laser-focused on things that are definitely important and real.
The opener was Wild Rivers, a four-piece folk group from Ontario. Three guys and a girl; guitar, bass, and drums; nothing groundbreaking, but all very well done and enjoyable. I may be underselling things; though they joked about playing sad songs and about how none of us knew who they were, the reaction for them was really positive. Not just polite applause, the kind of ovation where it’s obvious people were really into it. There wasn’t even a ton of talking during their set and I was at the back near the bar where you’d expect people to not care. I don’t have a ton to say about them, as evidenced by the fact that I wrote everything above this sentence nearly two weeks ago, but they were good and I’d go see them again.
Donovan Woods describes himself as “Canada’s answer to Paul Simon, only taller and not as good.” That’s a better description than I could come up with and it gives you some insight into his sense of humour. As well as his height, I suppose, but Paul Simon is 5’2″ so it really doesn’t narrow things down much.
So yeah, Woods writes pretty, often very sad songs, but also has a really dry wit – so, basically, right up my alley. Remember when I saw Port Cities opening for David Myles last year and I mentioned “On the Nights You Stay Home” as being one of my favourites of theirs? Because you memorize these things? Turns out that was Woods’ song, which probably everyone knew but me. I only figured it out when I listened to (what was then) his most recent album, Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled, before the show, and was all “hey, this song is real good and also surprisingly familiar.” Turns out he writes lots of songs for people who aren’t him.
He apologized for not being able to bring the complete show with him – he brought his full band, The Opposition, but unfortunately, The Exchange didn’t have enough wall space to hang his banner. So he described it instead. It has his name on it and it cost $1700. You, too, can get a banner with your name on it as long as you have $1700. “They don’t ask if you’re a super cool rock star or anything, they’re just like, it’s $1700.”
There was a lot of talking between songs and I won’t wreck everything for you in case you go to one of his shows. I definitely wasn’t the only one who enjoyed them. When I go to a show, I try not to be that asshole who has his phone out all the time, so I pick a point early on in the show, take a half-dozen pictures, and then I’m done. But I had to do this a few times at this show, because the woman standing in front of me was swaying back and forth and it kept messing up the focus. Which is fine – I complain about loud talkers but I have no beef with anyone enjoying the show. Except she wasn’t swaying to the music, she was swaying to Woods listing his top 5 zoo animals. I guess the right voice can make anything melodic.
In the two weeks from when I listened to Woods’ newest album and saw this show, he put out a whole new newest album, Both Ways. Though I’m pretty sure it’s been released at least three different ways. Either way, I’m not sure how I can ever be expected to keep up with this release schedule if he’s going to put out an album every time I finally get around to listening to the last one. Anyway, he played lots from the new album; Our Friend Bobby was a particular highlight, if that’s the correct word for something that dismal. Of his older songs, What Kind of Love is That got a big reaction, as did On the Nights You Stay Home (so it’s not just me).
So yeah, this was all really good. Charismatic guy, great songwriter, quality band too. A new favourite, we can add Woods to the list of people I need to see every time they’re in town. Maybe we can even crowdfund him a slightly smaller banner for next time.
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, Steven Page, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, more (July 28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show Starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)
Seven Sloan shows in, and I pretty much know what to expect at this point. It’ll be really good. They’ll trade instruments a few times. Chris will lead the crowd in yelling SLOOOOOOOOOOAN. They won’t play as many songs that I know as I’d like; of course, there’s a simple solution to this problem, but educating myself is more time-consuming and less immediately gratifying than complaining on the internet.
So here we are. I’m listening to their greatest hits for the umpteenth time and I gave away the entire review in the first paragraph. Since we all know what we’re getting here, let’s talk about what’s new this time out; namely, Sloan’s new album, 12, which came out on the day of our show. You’ve got all of Canada to pick from and your de facto album release party is in Regina? I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter, they were still selling the album at the handful of live shows before ours on this tour and it’s 2018 and you’re just going to stream it anyway. Plus they didn’t really do anything to mark the occasion, at least on stage. Via Instagram, I learned they had album-release cake on their bus. That’s nice. Cake is nice. Anyway, I listened to the album before the show because sometimes I do things that make sense but you shouldn’t ever rely on it. My very short review is that it definitely sounds like Sloan. Nothing stands out above the rest but everything is good. This bodes well for its staying power. It feels like the kind of album where I’ll pick a different favourite song every time out.
The venue isn’t new but it was new to me. The Turvey Centre is a big ol’ hall on the outskirts of town (or just outside of town maybe?) and we’d never been to a concert (or anything else) there. I don’t know how many concerts it sees; I’d never even heard of one being held there before. It looks like they host a lot of conventions and weddings and whatnot. Functionally, it was a lot like when we saw Joel Plaskett at the WA WA Shrine Centre, with long cafeteria-style tables and a stage at one end. It’s bigger than the Shrine Centre but not nearly as ornately decorated, so if you’re looking to book a venue in Regina, you need to think hard about how many people you’re hosting, whether they can easily get out of downtown, and how much they enjoy fancy wallpaper in the bathrooms.
We met up with Mark and Arlette at the entrance and found our way in. We immediately lost Mika who bolted for the stuff table, though since she’d already ordered the new album (the fancy bundle with the watch and poster), there wasn’t anything she was interested in. I was intrigued to hear of the t-shirt bucket, with its assorted shirts in assorted sizes from assorted past tours, but not enough to go take a look for myself.
At other shows on this tour, there was no opener. Here, I think there actually was – a local cover band. If they did play, we didn’t see them, and I don’t remember their name, so… yeah. As is protocol, I’ll assume they were really good. Whoever they were.
Mika and I went down to the front when Sloan took the stage right at 9:00. Twitter is ruining our society but at least it lets bands tell you when they’re actually going to start. Sloan walked in to a song from Sesame Street; though the lyrics are just a list of numbers, if I say it’s the one that goes “one two three four five, six seven eight nine ten, eleven twelve” you know exactly which one I mean. They opened with Spin Our Wheels, the first single from the new album, and we were off.
From here, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. The show was split into two sets of probably about a dozen songs each, plus a two-song encore. For playing a lot of stuff I wasn’t familiar with, it seemed like it flew by. I think it ended even more quickly for some folks – it seemed like a surprisingly high number of people took off at intermission. I don’t know why; the sound was good and the band said they were coming back out. Lots of songs from the new album, of course – nearly the whole thing. Only a handful of singles, including Losing California, Who Taught You to Live Like That, If It Feels Good Do It, and The Good in Everyone. No Underwhelmed, but that’s a given and I know better than to expect it. Somehow I’m now 1-for-7. I checked. It’s a bit weird that there are some hits that they rarely seem to play (at least when I’m there) but there are others that you hear every time out like The Other Man or The Rest of My Life. The Other Man isn’t even that good apart from how badly it irritates Aaron and that only counts for so much when he’s not there.
So like I said (several times, because I don’t know that many different words), this was pretty much exactly what I was expecting. Which isn’t a bad thing when you’re expecting a good thing. Would go again, as if that decision was mine to make.
• Donovan Woods w/Wild Rivers (April 29)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, Big Sugar, Terra Lightfoot, Yukon Blonde, The Kentucky Headhunters, Chixdiggit, William Prince, Library Voices, more (July 27-28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13, 2019)
Tacking a half-assed bonus review onto the end of a real concert review (if you can call what I do that) (you likely shouldn’t) is a semi-regular feature that I haven’t used in a while. Or at least that’s what I thought. Looking back at the Big Word Document of Old Reviews, it turns out that I’ve done this all of three times. And the last one was in 2007. And it still is – this was going to be a rush job, a hidden treat (again, likely not) for anyone who bothered to read to the end of my Sloan review, but I’m pretty sure this is longer and I spent more time on it, so now it’s its own thing.
I don’t normally review non-concerts, but for this show, I had actual requests. Or a request, anyway, which is infinitely more interest than anyone – including myself – ever shows in these things.
Letterkenny is a Canadian comedy on CraveTV. For the rest of the world, you can find the first seasons of the show on DVD. More relevantly here in 2018, they’re surely on your choice of let’s-all-collectively-pretend-it’s-legal Android streaming box. Letterkenny follows the adventures of a small rural community’s hicks, skids, and hockey players; adventures which amount to a lot of drinking, fighting, and wordplay. Mostly that last one. Anecdotally, it seemed like a decent number of people I knew watched the show, but I didn’t realize it was popular enough to quickly sell out the casino, add a second show later that night, and sell that out too. They’d later tell us that Regina had the fastest sellouts on the whole tour. Pitter-patter indeed.
The shows were built around stand-up sets by Mark Forward (who plays the coach of the Letterkenny Irish) and K. Trevor Wilson, who plays Squirrely Dan. If I tell you the jokes, the jokes aren’t funny anymore. I suppose that doesn’t much matter now that I sat on this forever and the tour is long over. But still. Of the two, Forward was, well, more forward, berating the audience for a perceived restrained reaction, and going into the crowd to find one woman who had a particularly distinct laugh. Wilson’s set was decidedly less confrontational. Of the attendees I talked to (all three of them), they all enjoyed both but preferred Forward’s set. I can see the appeal of both. Wilson’s more traditional act would fit well in an episode of Just For Laughs – I can make this trenchant insight because I’ve seen him on Just For Laughs – while Forward was working harder to try different things and grab people’s attention. Though as someone in a floor seat, I do prefer to not run the risk of becoming part of the show. I might be 10-ply.
I’ll note that as Wilson took the stage, he entered to a familiar-sounding piano tune. Before I could say anything, yep, it was Bobby Roode’s Glorious theme. Half of you are very familiar with this. For the rest of you, it’s a wrestling thing, don’t worry about it (but maybe Google it because you should hear it at least once). Wilson was also wearing an Austin Aries t-shirt (another wrestling thing, don’t worry about it), which I tried to point out to Mika, but she cut me off, saying “yes, I noticed. This is my life now.” On one episode of Letterkenny, Squirrely Dan compares the subtle differences betweens the Texas cloverleaf and the scorpions deathlock; I thinks it’s safe to says he wrote that bit himself.
The rest of the show featured live skits starring the three main characters (Wayne, Daryl, and Squirrely Dan) – some new, some fan favourites. A bit of the new material was unique to Regina, which was appreciated. If you’ve seen the show, you might know what I’m referring to when I say one of the classic bits featured a game of Would You Rather, while another saw Squirrely Dan – not one to kiss and tell – recount his night out with a girl and where she reckoned attentions needs to be paid. There were also a few videos – one clip from the new Easter special, and two that were new (at least to me): motivational advice from the hockey coach and an ad for Daryl’s dairy.
The new videos were pretty funny, and the live material translated well from TV, which makes sense – the show focuses on witty dialogue and less on physical or visual humour which would be more difficult to replicate in a live setting. I really enjoyed this, and while I wouldn’t have said no to more new Letterkenny material and fewer bits lifted from the series, to be faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaair (you know they saved that until the end and you know it got the best reaction of the night) we got exactly what was promised and the adoring sold-out crowd ate everything up. I’d say it was ferda if I had any idea how to use that word properly or what it even meant.
In a way, this concert has been a long time coming. The Dears have been one of Mika’s favourite bands for a long time, but despite that, I’d never managed to see them until now. They don’t seem to come around here all that often – I think Mika’s only seen them once since I’ve known her, and that was when she still lived in Saskatoon. During this show, singer Murray Lightburn said they hadn’t played Regina since 2009, which didn’t sound like that long ago, but then I had a think, and then I had a sad. But my point is, I probably should have seen this band a long time ago, but never did.
With doors at 8:00, we figured that shortly after 9:00 was a safe time to arrive. This worked out really well, as we didn’t have to wait long for the opener, and we were even able to get seats. Unfortunately, the availability of comfy(ish) chairs was largely due to this concert being yet another where Regina just didn’t come out. By the end of the evening, there were maybe a little over 100 people there. I really can’t blame a band for only showing up once a decade when this is the turnout you get. Oh well, it’s everyone else’s collective loss – this show was great.
The aforementioned opener was Lou Canon, another new-to-me artist. It was just her and a keyboard, which she mostly used to cue up prepared samples, though she also played live. Also, there were eyes projected onto the backdrop behind her. She didn’t talk to the crowd much, eventually explaining that she’d come down with a cold and was saving her voice for singing. Fair enough. The crowd was largely respectful, which she seemed to appreciate, thanking us for listening and pointing out how quiet we were. This led to one guy saying that it was, indeed, deathly quiet, which we all heard. Because it was quiet, you see.
As for the music, it was all fine, if not entirely my jam. It didn’t help that the sound wasn’t that great – certainly below the usual standards at the Exchange. This was an issue with The Dears as well, but more of a problem for Canon, since the keyboard parts didn’t interest me that much and I would have liked to make out more of her lyrics. The songs that I could best hear – Fever and Rosary among them – were the ones that I most enjoyed.
During intermission, two guys at a table near us got REAL excited about whatever happened in March Madness that day. I think the exact phrase was “FUCK YEAH MICHIGAN” at top volume. I made a mental note to dislike these people. Even if I also had Michigan winning (in the bracket that I made Feely pick out for me).
In short order, The Dears were up. I didn’t really know what to expect going into this. Despite Mika liking them so much, she hasn’t listened to a ton of their music around me and I and couldn’t have named a single song if you paid me. I mean, sure, I could have bothered to listen to their music before the show – or at any point in the last 13 years – but what can I say. This way, I wound up with a nice surprise instead of a nice… known… thing.
I didn’t even really know what type of music they played, but everything was a little rockier and a whole lot catchier than I was expecting. There wasn’t much time spent talking to the crowd, it was pretty much all music for 90 minutes that flew by. It’s rare that a show ends and I’m left wanting more, especially when I’m not going into a show already a fan. Though I did wind up recognizing three songs – Lost in the Plot; Who Are You, Defenders of the Universe?; and 22: The Death of all the Romance. These are all off No Cities Left, so I assume Mika played that with me around sometime somewhat recently. And I totally needed her help to figure out the titles.
On that note, she says they also played Whites Only Party, 5 Chords, and You and I are a Gang of Losers, along with stuff from their newest albums. And for the encore, when Lightburn came out by himself for one song, he played There Goes My Outfit. I’ll take her word for it.
Before the encore, the crowd chanted “one more song,” and when Lightburn returned, he said that was a decent choice for a chant. In another city recently (which he wouldn’t name and/or shame), when it was time for the encore, the crowd chanted “The! Dears! The! Dears!” which he said was like when white people clap on the one and the three. I don’t know anything about music but Mika thought this was super funny so I can only assume I do it.
I really enjoyed this show and I look forward to seeing The Dears again when they come back to Regina in 2027. But do you know who liked this show more than I did, and even more than Mika did? My two Michigan-loving friends. When the show started, they went right to the front of the stage – I have never before seen two dudes be the only people standing and dancing at the front at a concert – and they were SO into it. They knew every word to every song and were just in their glory the whole time. So much for my mental notes. They were a delight. Fuck yeah, Michigan, indeed, my dudes.
• Sloan (April 6)
• Donovan Woods w/Wild Rivers (April 29)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, The Kentucky Headhunters, Chixdiggit, Yukon Blonde, William Prince, Library Voices, more (July 27-28)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Bruce Cockburn, Tanya Tagaq, Walk Off The Earth, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Shakey Graves, The Deep Dark Woods, more (August 10-12)
I’m back! It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. Probably because I let this sit for three weeks and now I have no real memory of these shows. Time to rocket through some half-recalled irrelevancies!
The short version is that this was all good and you can just go ahead and stop here if you want. I kind of want.
For the third straight year, the Regina Folk Festival and the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon teamed up to put on Winterruption, a slate of concerts meant to inject some warmth and light into the coldest, darkest time of the year. And for the second straight year, they missed the mark and accidentally dropped their reprieve from winter into an unseasonably pleasant weekend. Fine by me – I really like the idea of a fun concert in the middle of -40C but I don’t actually want to leave the house for it.
In past years, Saskatoon got a number of extra bands at their Winterruption and it felt like Regina was getting the short end of the stick. This time, apart from Chad VanGaalen making a Saskatoon stop, it seemed like we got pretty equal lineups. I wonder why this pleases me? I should want us all to get more, not just for them to get less. But if we go down this philosophical rabbit hole, I won’t hit my goal of finishing this review by the time this Apple Music Alternative Hits: 1991 playlist ends. Or so I thought until I looked just now to double-check the title and saw that this thing is three-and-a-half hours long. I guess I can put some time into this. Too bad I won’t.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 18
Begonia was at the Exchange with Close Talker and Bears in Hazenmore. For those whose tastes are a bit rockier, the Revival Music Room hosted Duchess Says with Partner and The Florals. And I didn’t go to any of this. It’s like you didn’t even read the dates up there.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 19
Indeed, I skipped the Thursday concerts, heading out to my first triple-bill of the weekend at the Artesian. I wish I had stories to tell you since I’ve been looking at this blank text file for like 20 minutes. Somewhere in there, I gave up on Alternative Hits: 1991 since obviously THAT’S the issue here. But I still got nothing – I bought a ticket a while back and showed up at the appointed time and showed them my ticket and they let me in and I sat in a pew at the back of the room. I think that’s pretty much how this is supposed to go. Mika wasn’t particularly interested in this show and I didn’t see anyone I knew, though I know Rob was there somewhere. Carver too, which is a given for Tom Wilson shows. Allow me to paraphrase what Wilson said from the stage: “No matter where I go, I don’t have a friend named Carver. I come to Regina, and I have a friend named Carver. It’s like the name of a Coen Brothers’ character. I know Carver does bad things but I don’t need to know what they are.”
But that would come later in the evening. To start with, we had local country(ish) singer-songwriter Belle Plaine. I’d seen her only once before – a little more than a year ago during BreakOut West – which is kind of nuts considering how many shows she does around these parts. I really enjoyed that last set and liked her even better the second time around, where she had the chance to show off more of her original songs and had a bit more of an opportunity to tell stories. Last time, I said “would go again” and that hasn’t changed. Would be more eager to go again, in fact.
Next up was Mariel Buckley, in case you prefer your solo lady country singers to come from Alberta instead of Saskatchewan, though it sounds like she spends enough time here that she basically counts anyway. There was nothing wrong with her set but it didn’t really grab me, mostly for the stupidest, most me-centric reason; basically, her voice reminded me a lot of someone I know. And I don’t like that someone very much. Such a dumb reason! If anyone out there actually listens to any of the bands I write about, give her album a spin and let me know if I was blind to something great. (And if I know you in real life and not just the internet, listen to this and tell me who you think I’m talking about. I mean, I’ll never tell you if you’re right but I really want to hear your guesses.)
Last time I saw Tom Wilson, he read draft excerpts from his upcoming memoir. If you ever get the chance to hear him tell his life story, you should, it’s really interesting and he’s a gifted storyteller. Now the book is out and I was planning on picking it up at this show, but it was being sold by Chapters who set up a little shop in the basement. And if I’m not handing money to the artist and I’m just getting it from Chapters, I can get it from any Chapters, you know? Plus, they left before his set anyway. And I didn’t really want to give up my spot to go get it with no guarantees I’d still have my space upon my return. And this is too many words about not buying a book or even trying to do so, when there are so many more interesting things I don’t do.
Apart from calling out Carver, Wilson’s set was split pretty evenly between music and stories. Both were enjoyable, but at one point he was concerned that we were thinking, “Jesus, the Junkhouse guy wouldn’t stop reading at us.”
I wonder if Junkhouse is ever still a thing? I’ve now got Tom Wilson, Lee Harvey Osmond, and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings under my belt, but I’ve never seen Junkhouse. Time for some procrastination Googling, my favourite kind: according to Wikipedia, Junkhouse “still performs together occasionally,” though seemingly not since 2009 (so, VERY occasionally) and guitarist Dan Achen has since passed away. And Wilson was in a band called The Florida Razors that broke up in the 80s. I guess I’m never completing that Tom Wilson bingo card.
ANYWAY. Show good. Wilson writes great stories to begin with, and he has a voice that makes everything he says sound epic. Good combo. And while some of the stories were repeated from last time – they kind of had to be, since they’re central to what his book is about – there was lots I hadn’t heard before too. As for the songs, there was a mix between some Lee Harvey Osmond songs that he’s played here before, a few others from throughout his career, and a couple covers.
With Wilson, I really kind of missed out on his whole career up until a few years ago and that’s where I’d still be if not for my habit of going to pretty much any show for any reason. Now I see him every time he comes through town and I look forward to it more each time.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 20
For this night, we were at the Exchange, which had been the plan all along, but for some reason, I’d been convinced it was two nights at the Artesian up until I saw some signs at the Tom Wilson show that indicated otherwise. So once again, I was dumb, and could have lived my whole life without anyone ever knowing about it, but I had to tell you just the same.
This show was very sold out, with a number of folks online looking to buy tickets. Some people thought they could get in at the door. They were denied. I felt bad for the girl ahead of us – her two friends had tickets, but she didn’t – and they drove. She took a disappointing early cab ride home.
The evening’s host was a local community radio DJ. You may remember him from his interminable introduction of Sloan at the Gateway Festival two years ago. That is, if you happen to be Jeff or Mika, you may remember him. The rest of you probably don’t. It was a hilariously lengthy introduction but probably you had to be there to appreciate it. Anyway, on this night, he was called into service at the last minute. He was there as a fan but the scheduled host no-showed and he was asked to fill in. He did a fine job with no advance warning.
It didn’t go so well for him once before. First up was Megan Nash, and apparently at some previous gig, he mistakenly introduced her as Megan Lane, a different local singer. They both joked about this and he took great care to get it right this time. In his defense, I think I had them mixed up in my head too because the person on stage was very much not who I was expecting. However, she quickly won me over with her songs and her charmingly quirky personality, and I’d have to say she was the most delightful surprise of the weekend. Though it should be noted that the aforementioned quirkiness may have been exacerbated by her being all hopped up on Buckley’s Mixture. For my non-Canadians, Buckley’s is a cough syrup that’s advertised with the tagline, “It tastes awful, but it works.” True story: the first time I had it, I actually went lightheaded. I was asked to describe what it’s like and the best I could come up with was “imagine watery jizz that tastes like rubbing alcohol and a pine tree.” Nash was swigging this from the bottle onstage and still managing to play music, which is impressive. “I think there’s a limit to how much of this you’re supposed to have,” she said, probably too late.
Between sets, our actual host arrived. I don’t know how she got to be the host – I’m guessing community radio? I do know her name, because she said it several times. She didn’t really bother doing anything to introduce Lindi Ortega, though. I have a whole new respect for the guy from earlier, to say nothing of the usual parade of CBC Radio “climate specialists” they normally get for these things.
After that underwhelming introduction, Lindi Ortega took the stage. I was surprised she wasn’t going on last. We’d seen her a few years ago, opening for k.d. lang, and I’ve seen her name pop up all over the place. Plus, I’m pretty sure she was responsible for attracting the cowboys that were scattered throughout the audience. I was looking forward to seeing her in a smaller venue, but I don’t know what it was – something just didn’t click with me. She was fine, her husband/guitarist was fine (as a guitarist, I mean; I assume he’s good at husbanding though I don’t have evidence one way or the other). It was all good, but for me it ultimately was just there, though I really can’t complain about anything. Apart from the people in the audience who paid to be there and then refused to watch the show or shut up while it was happening, but you’ve heard that one before. There was one heroic lady who told a group of babbling idiot girls to shut up and that was appreciated. Though not enough; you should get a parade for something like that.
Finally, we had Mo Kenney, and there were no major mishaps during her introduction, though I’m only saying that because I asked Mika if the host had mistakenly said “Kennedy” but she said she didn’t think so. I heard Kennedy but I may have been just expecting something to go wrong at this point.
Anyway, I’ve seen Mo Kenney a few times now and I say the same thing every time, so I’ll say it again; namely, she has a ton of songs that I like and she gets more confident as a performer every time out. The shows are always very similar, but despite that, I think this time was the best of the bunch. Not only did I get to hear a bunch of her new stuff live for the first time, but I got all my older favourites too – none were missed.
Really, I wound up feeling about Mo Kenney the same I did after seeing Corb Lund last year. Neither would be the first name to come to mind when I list my very favourite musicians, but when you factor in how many great songs they have and how much I enjoy their music, they both should really be in that mix. And I feel the need to say something more than that as a conclusion, but we’re rapidly approaching Winterruption 2019 and this thing still isn’t done. Except now it is.
• The Dears w/Lou Canon (March 17)
• Sloan (April 6)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
I’ve hit a point in my life where ten days between concerts seems like a long dry spell. And I had five days without an unfinished review nagging at me! It was like I was on vacation, a snowy vacation where I still had to go to work. What am I going to do with myself between now and Winterruption? Write about anything else? Read a book? Develop a hobby? Play one of those video games I keep buying? Unlikely.
So! Hawksley. Haven’t seen this dude in MONTHS. But this is a special show. Last year, he did a small Christmas tour where he played his Christmas album, Almost a Full Moon, front-to-back. The closest he came to me was Winnipeg, and I couldn’t justify a second trip to a Hawksley show in one year. Also, Winnipeg. Gross. Winnipeg winter. Double gross. So I was quite excited to see that Regina was one of the four stops on this year’s holiday tour, along with Saskatoon, Calgary, and Ottawa. Weird itinerary but I’ll take it.
Almost a Full Moon came out 16 years ago which seems impossible to me. I can’t understand how so many years have passed so quickly. Rather than contemplating death’s swift approach, I’ll lie to myself and chalk it up to the album’s re-releases throwing off my sense of time. A year after the first version of Almost a Full Moon came out, it was re-issued with two “new” songs – Watching the Fires (originally on a tour-only CD) and Silent Night. Then, in 2011, to mark the album’s 10th anniversary, Hawksley re-recorded the whole album and called it Full Moon Eleven. I love Hawksley but this is his one album that I just don’t understand or enjoy at all. Most of the songs on the original Full Moon are celebratory and joyous. None of the lyrics were changed for Full Moon Eleven, but all of the music was re-recorded and it’s slow and dour. It works fine for Merry Christmas (I Love You), though it’s not that different from the original version anyway. But for the other songs, it sucks all the fun and life out of them. It’s like someone killed Hawksley’s dog and made him watch, and then made him re-record the album right after. I’m listening to Full Moon Eleven now, as I do seemingly once every Christmas to see if I like it any better, and nope. It doesn’t help that the original is one of my favourite Hawksley albums. The best I can call Eleven is “unnecessary.” A few days before this concert, it suddenly struck me that we might get the Full Moon Eleven versions of the songs and I was concerned. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried.
They promised doors at 7:30 and show at 8:00, and since it was a Regina Folk Festival show, you know that’s likely to be close to correct. We got to the Exchange right at 7:30 and the line was out the door and just about around the corner. We took our place in line and slowly made our way inside. Ahead of us was (I’m guessing) a father and his young son. “Smell that? It smells like popcorn,” said the dad. “Smells like popcorn AND Coke,” said the kid. This made me so happy. I hope he got his snacks. I hope he found the toque that he lost shortly after entering.
Mark asked me to save seats for him and Arlette, and I succeeded expertly by showing up at least one whole minute before they did. Maybe one and a half! This was a seated show, and we grabbed a row of four about two-thirds back, stage right. We got drinks (iced teas and ginger ale! another hard partying Regina Saturday night) and settled in for the show.
Sheila Coles from the CBC emceed the show for the last time before her upcoming retirement. She was really nice to me that one time she interviewed me on live radio about my stolen marshmallow beanbag and how did that ever happen anyway? Life is weird. Anyway, she’s a local fixture and hopefully she has a fun time traveling and whatnot.
There was no opener and Hawksley took the stage right on time. It was just him on guitar and Leith Fleming-Smith on keyboard (and, for two songs, trumpet). I quite enjoy Hawksley’s usual pianist, Mr. Lonely, and am skeptical of any change, but Fleming-Smith did a fine job.
The first half of the show was the original Full Moon album, in order. Meaning that we were kicking the show off with Claire Fontaine, one of my favourite Hawksley songs ever. Like a lot of the songs on this “Christmas” album, it’s not very Christmassy. Mika describes it as “Christmas-adjacent.” It’s a love song to a pad of paper (or its namesake, at least) that happens to very briefly mention Christmas. Basically, Hawksley could have ended after the first song and I’d have gotten my money’s worth.
This is, of course, a lie. I wanted to hear the whole album. But you understand.
For as much as I love Claire Fontaine, it seemed like 3 Generations was the crowd favourite. I suppose it’s the most overtly Christmassy, and sentimental while still being… I dunno, rollicking? That seems like a good word for it. A word Hawksley would appreciate.
I feel like at this show, I saw him do some of the Christmas songs live for the first time, but I’m just not sure. I know I’ve seen him do Claire Fontaine twice before (I looked it up), and he did four other songs when playing with Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe. I know I’ve seen him play A House (Or Maybe a Boat) before, since this was the first time I’ve seen him (correctly) sing “a couple of clementines” instead of “a bottle of clementines.”
On that note, I will say that I’ve never seen a musician who flubs more lines than Hawksley. At least once at every show I’ve seen going back years now. I’ve also read interviews where he talks about how difficult he finds it to remember lyrics, and he never takes requests during shows for that reason. Tonight, he got lost and had to restart both The First Snow of the Year and You and the Candles. It doesn’t bother me; it’s just one of those things that happen at live shows and I like unique moments. I can see where some folks might not be so into it, though I think Hawksley is charismatic enough that he can turn it into a positive.
After playing through the album, there was an intermission wherein Hawksley and Leith did very sweaty one-armed pushups while we all took a break. I visited a bit with some folks – talked a bit with Rob (or was at least present while Mark and Arlette did so – I love chairs but they get in the way of mingling), ran into Mary and Chris, waved at Erin. I also checked out the Stuff Table at Mika’s insistence – I wasn’t going to bother but she’s right, I’d have been real sad if they had something exclusive and I missed out. No luck, though. 7 CDs, two records, and Hawksley’s kids’ book. All stuff I have at home. So instead I got a Diet Pepsi; also something I have at home, but I got all hepped up on consumerism and it was cheap.
Also during intermission, the Exchange played Andy Shauf over the sound system. I mentioned in my recent review of Shauf’s show here that Hawksley was a fan. When he came back out, he said it was intimidating to hear Shauf’s songs right before having to play. He even mentioned that growing up, his musical idol was Bruce Cockburn, and that he struggled with his early songwriting because, in essence, if a song wasn’t going to measure up to Cockburn’s, what’s the point? And now Shauf’s music made him feel the same way. Quite the strong endorsement (and very well-received by the hometown crowd).
For the second half – I’m actually thinking there were only five songs. By my recollection, we had Winter Bird, Watching the Fires, You and the Candles, Autumn’s Here, Safe & Sound. Mark, you’re one of only two people who read these things. Am I wrong?
I mean, there was a lot more than that, but I’m talking songs here. Hawksley spent a lot of time telling stories, as ever. I think it was in the first half of the evening where he told the story of him and his brother spending time with their grandma as kids – I’ve heard that one probably 10 times now but it’s delightful every time, and there are always new little flourishes. This time, there were more details about Eaton’s. And Hawksley’s dad’s butter knife.
In the second half, though, he told us about writing Watching the Fires and how it was the first song he wrote where he was satisfied with the result and thought that maybe this career in music might be possible after all (and how the song later got shoehorned onto one of the Full Moon re-releases and it didn’t feel like it really fit). He said that “not every song can be great, some of them are-” and here he played the theme from The Greatest American Hero and I may have laughed way too loudly upon realizing what it was.
He also talked about HGTV for what had to be a solid 20 minutes. Dude has spent some serious time thinking about House Hunters International. Beautiful people with unloved entranceways and Arborite countertops.
Near the end of the evening, he said that he and Leith needed to go to bed and someone laughed way too loudly at what barely passed as unintentional innuendo. This led to Hawksley saying “yes, sleeping IS funny” and launching into a new song that was about – and one assumes was called – Farty Sleeper, though it was also about Grandpa’s riding mower. I don’t know if he was making it up on the spot, but he did promise that he’d never record it. We could listen to it as much as we wanted on the “Spotify of your mind.” Then he played a second new song – again, I’m guessing on the title here, but let’s go with Spotify of Your Mind. It’s about the song Farty Sleeper.
Mika made me guess what the encore would be and I wasn’t at all confident in my pick of Safe & Sound but I nailed it. This is another of my all-time favourite Hawksley songs and was a great version of it. A few lines in, and Hawksley asked the crowd to sing along. For parts, Hawksley dropped out to let the audience be heard. It was a really nice moment. It’s a mellower song so it was almost more like a choir than what you’d hear at a rock concert. Quiet, too. I sang along but you could hear individual voices really clearly so I mostly kept it under my breath. Nobody needs that. There was also a great keyboard solo in the middle of the song, giving Leith his best chance of the evening to show off.
And that was it. Had a great night, as I always do at Hawksley’s shows. The crowd helped a lot. Not just the singing; after a few shows that I’ll generously call under-attended, this one was sold out and people were into everything. Hawksley seemed appreciative and said he needed to come back more than once every few years. That sounds like the kind of thing he’d say to every crowd at every show but I’m willing to let myself believe the lie.
• Tom Wilson w/Mariel Buckley and Belle Plaine (January 19)
• Mo Kenney w/Lindi Ortega and Megan Nash (January 20)
• The Dears (March 17)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
“Two days! Just two days until @ilovembf is back in the Exchange.” tweeted the Exchange.
This was on Monday. And I was sure they were mistaken. I’d planned all week to go see Michael Bernard Fitzgerald on Thursday night. I was about to point out their error when a tiny voice buried in the back of my brain pointed out that maybe… just maybe… *I* was wrong?!
Sure enough, Fitzgerald was here on Wednesday, not Thursday. I even wrote down Wednesday in the text file I use to organize my life (if only this phone had a calendar app), but for some reason, I was convinced the show was on Thursday. Never one to wisely hide my foolishness, I thanked the Exchange for saving me from a sad Thursday evening discovery. They replied, “Glad we did! Especially since Thursday is Austrian metal band Belphegor, so pretty different than MBF unless he’s really changed directions.”
In fairness, I’d pay to see MBF play Austrian metal at least once.
Anyway, for a dirt cheap $10 ticket, I somehow found myself at the Exchange on the correct night. Mika was in school so I was flying solo again. I prepared myself for a raucous evening of misbehaviour by grabbing a raspberry iced tea – the kind with real sugar and everything (on a Wednesday?!) – and went to find myself a chair. As luck would have it, I again ran into Rob and his wife, who once again let me crash their night out. They were joined by Carver and Rob actually properly introduced us to each other, ending a years-long running joke I had with myself. (I’m lots of fun.)
Regina’s own Danny Olliver was added as an opener earlier in the day. The last time I saw him was also in an opening spot for Fitzgerald, who produced Olliver’s albums. He played a short set of singer-songwriter type stuff – kind of on the folkier side – while showing off some impressive guitar work. Not much different than the last time I saw him, but I liked that time and enjoyed this round too.
Though really, if this set is to be remembered for anything, it’ll be salmon. Olliver took audience questions – because that always goes well – and someone asked him what his favourite food was. He said salmon and was immediately cut off by a girl at a nearby table not-quietly-enough exclaiming “oh God, I love salmon too.” They then tried to have a back-and-forth about salmon but the table quickly resumed talking amongst itself (about salmon) and the show went on.
At least salmon table was invested. Somewhat. It was not a particularly lively or enthusiastic crowd all night. When Olliver said “Are you ready for Michael Bernard Fitzgerald,” you could hear crickets. The crowd was a little bigger than for Nomadic Massive, but there, it seemed like people collectively decided “there aren’t many people here, we need to make up for it in enthusiasm.” There was no such thought at this show. MBF later said “you do not seem like a crowd that is interested in answering questions.”
The two openers both complemented Fitzgerald well. In Olliver, you could hear traces of MBF’s folkier side, and the second opener, The Middle Coast, were stylistically a lot closer to Fitzgerald’s more upbeat songs. I’d call them a three-piece from Winnipeg, but there was a pillar blocking the far right hand side of the stage for me, so I’ll just assume that the two people I could see were actually talking to someone else. Could have been twenty people behind that pillar. Or maybe they’re a duo and a robot or a tape deck or a ghost? However it shakes out, all three (?) took turns on lead vocals, and they did their best to bring up the energy level of a room that wasn’t real into cooperating. I liked these folks and would see them again. They earned bonus points for talking up local favourite eateries (even if their pronunciation gave their out-of-towner status away) and for disparaging their own album cover, a shot of the three of them making dinner (it was curry!) taken by someone who, I can only assume, was squatting atop the fridge. Sounds both dangerous and unsanitary, if you ask me.
One brief break and mere moments later, the Middle Coast returned, serving as MBF’s band – now with a keyboard player who could possibly have been there all along (see above, re: pillar). They all did a fine job in this role and, not being a musician, I’m always a little amazed at that sort of thing. Sure, we’ll learn an entire set of your tunes and play them flawlessly for a three-week tour – never before and never again. I mean, I know they’re not super musically complex songs or anything but that still seems daunting to me. But the only instrument I can play is one loud piercing note on a tin whistle that I use to scare the cat sometimes.
We were promised some new songs and we got them! Always a treat to hear new stuff from a favourite singer. We were not promised any old songs, so no promise was broken – I’m not sure he played anything that came out before his 2015 album Yes. (Okay some of those songs were on an earlier EP but that detracts from my point so shut it.) Luckily, I like his two newest albums – though the older tunes would have been welcome too.
I didn’t take notes but the more energetic songs included I Wanna Make it With You, This Isn’t It, and Last Train to Georgia, which was probably the standout to me. It’s never been in my favourites of his but I got a new appreciation for it on this night. The folkier songs included Follow, One Love, Love is an Easy Thing to Miss, and I think he played Reach You? Maybe? I’ve been listening to all my MBF songs on shuffle while writing this and may have confused myself. I feel like he did play Reach You and it was the only song from before Yes but who can tell now? Rob or Carver, maybe. I wonder if they’re available at 12:15am for factchecking.
I didn’t list a ton of songs up there, and it was a short set, clocking in at just around an hour. Fitzgerald never seems to play for too long, at least when I see him. I’d have happily listened a bit longer, but I do appreciate someone doesn’t leave ’em wanting less, and I can’t imagine the crowd was particularly inspiring. At one point, MBF addressed a couple who’d just gotten engaged and said that they were going to be at the show – no response. Then he talked about someone’s girlfriend’s birthday – also no response. Then he vowed to quit paying attention to things people say to him on Facebook. Not a crowd that’s interested in answering questions, indeed. At least he got a good laugh whenever he mentioned salmon.
For the record, I did not spend my Thursday night with Austrian metal band Belphegor. Instead, after work, I went to Costco. Much more expensive. Harder to navigate through the crowds. Worse parking. To be fair, Belphegor probably doesn’t sell iTunes cards at 20% off, but it would be unfair to ask them to.
Hey, now here’s something I have no business talking about! I mean, I can’t play Rock Band above medium without failing out; whatever made 20-year-old me think I should start reviewing concerts is beyond me. But talking about a symphony orchestra seems especially like overstepping my boundaries.
“whatever made 20-year-old me think I should start reviewing concerts” – Pat was drunk and it was funny and I wanted people to laugh at him, that was mostly it
Anyway, this was part of the Regina Symphony’s Masterworks series, a performance of Dvorák New World Symphony (should that be “Dvorák’s” when you’re using it in a sentence?). My symphony-going experience, because I am a mature grown-up adult, is mostly limited to one-off novelties. Video game themes, or songs from kids shows, or the orchestra is accompaniment to mainstream pop/rock musicians (Ben Folds, Sarah Slean, Crash Test Dummies). Seeing that Tanya Tagaq was here, I think I was expecting something closer to those latter performances. This wasn’t that. Mika said that the evening was basically exactly what she was expecting, so I attribute this to me seeing Tagaq’s name and doing no further research at all.
Here’s what the program says:
Dòchas – Laura Pettigrew
Trumpet Concerto – John Estacio
Qiksaaktuq – Christine Duncan & Jean Martin
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 (From the New World) – Antonin Dvorák
I was surprised to find, when we got there, that we were sitting in the front row. I mean, I chose the seats, so it shouldn’t have surprised me, but that was five months ago now. I forget things. The online shopping experience through the Symphony’s website is not ideal – it’s tricky to pick the seats you want. I could call in or stop by their offices, but if I’m going to spend 20 minutes going back on forth on price vs. location, I’d like to be alone with my shame, thanks. Also, when you get your tickets emailed to you, they look like printouts of a website from 1996, with lots of blue underlined Arial text. These particular tickets also had a space at the bottom with the text, “A message from our Venue.” I guess the Conexus Arts Centre had nothing to say to me.
Anyway, they were good seats or not so good seats, depending on what you wanted to see. Not so great if you wanted to see the brass section, real good if you wanted to watch the conductor and the cellos and the violins and Tanya Tagaq. Also real good if you wanted to compare the shininess of everyone’s shoes. The conductor? Very shiny shoes.
Look, I’m not even going to try to seriously critique anything here. I enjoyed everything and have no deep thoughts about most of the music beyond “that was nice” and “maybe I should have dressed up at least a little.” Thank goodness they hand out programs so I can make a half-assed attempt to at least spell things right. That said, please note that putting the accent on the R in Dvorák is not going to happen and that is how it is. Dude’s dead, he doesn’t care.
The trumpet concerto was commissioned for Canada 150 and performed by symphonies across Canada throughout 2017, so it was neat to hear the one time it was performed here. The featured musician was the regular Principal Trumpet of the orchestra; though he’s a local (and a he), they still gave him a bouquet of flowers when he was done. He seemed very surprised.
Of the four pieces, I was unsurprisingly most interested in Qiksaaktuq; that was the one featuring Tanya Tagaq. She’s an Inuit throat singer who won the Polaris Prize a few years back, and this piece was described as a lament for missing and murdered Indigenous women. This was very moving and very unique – I gather that semi-improvisational pieces with two conductors and a throat singer are not so common. This was well worth the cost of admission alone, which is good since it was the reason we were there. It did seem like a fair number of people left once Tagaq was done.
The day before, Mika told me that the fourth movement of the New World Symphony was the inspiration for the music from Star Wars and I was supposed to let her know if I could hear the influence. Sort of, though I don’t know if I’d have noticed it if I hadn’t been prompted. Really, if I heard any John Williams in there, it was one brief part that clearly inspired the theme to Jaws.
And that was our grand symphony adventure. Honestly, if I’d fully realized what the night was going to entail, I wouldn’t have planned a write-up for it since I have no business doing so and it’s so far removed from a normal concert. But here we are. I did enjoy it! Would go again, which is good, since they’re doing selections from West Side Story in May and someone might have opinions about whether we should go to that. Would probably at least wear a shirt with a collar. Would prefer to not sit in the front row.
But the big takeaway, from the conversation in the car on the drive back home, is that you’re not supposed to clap between movements. People did anyway. Certain people who may have an interest in West Side Story may also hold strong opinions about this. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I clap when other people clap. I stand when other people stand. I know better than to try to start anything.
I like Corb Lund. Saw him before and enjoyed it. Wanted to see him again. Not everything is interesting.
With Mika in school, on this night I was accompanied by Jason and Melissa, a friend from work and his wife. You may recall them from when we went to see the UFC in Saskatoon together, except that wasn’t a concert so I didn’t tell you about that. Jason was kind enough to not only let me invite myself along with them but he even picked up our tickets. He put us in the front row of the balcony; fine work.
The last time I saw Corb Lund at the casino, you may remember that I complained about all the big-ass trucks in the parking lot. It turns out that I didn’t know from big-ass trucks; when you go see a country singer while Agribition is on, it’s a whole ‘nother level. Of trucks. As is becoming tradition, I composed and sang a song to myself during the ever-frustrating drive through the casino parkade. It had swears.
I’ve mostly never been to Agribition. Doesn’t seem like my thing. One time I walked past a bunch of closed exhibits to go see Willie Nelson at the Brandt Centre, but I don’t think that counts. I know very little about it other than when it’s on, you can’t find a hotel room in town. Folks from all over the province come in big-ass trucks to see… I don’t know, whatever there is to see at an agricultural exhibition. They also like going to country shows.
I got to the casino with 10 minutes to spare and met up with Jason and Melissa in the balcony. The last Corb show at the casino had floor seating too, which wasn’t quite ideal for a crowd that wanted to get drunk and rowdy. This time, they’d left the floor as standing-room, which… again, not quite ideal. You can’t win, casino. Earlier in the day, I read that this show and tour was called “BS With CL” – instead of a full band, Corb was going to be out there by himself with just a guitar. There was a phone number where you could text Corb your questions and he’d answer some of them and tell stories as the show went on. I thought it was a little odd that there was no mention of this in any of the casino’s advertising for the show (at least, nothing that I saw). Had I not seen that one Facebook post, I’d have been expecting a normal concert. Don’t get me wrong – I’d rather see something unique. I just think if an artist is going to be doing something markedly different from normal, you might want to tell people before they buy tickets. The casino is very upfront about Weird Al’s upcoming show being a significant departure from his usual shenanigans, and Saskatoon’s Broadway Theatre used the BS With CL name and description in advertising, so I don’t know what happened here.
I wasn’t sure if we were getting an opener, but the show was kicked off by Mike Plume. I knew the name, not sure from where. He’s pals with Corb and I suspect if you like one, you’d like them both. He sang a short set with a lot of Canadiana – songs about hockey and Stompin’ Tom and working in Fort Mac and Remembrance Day and the country itself. It seemed like he won the crowd over by the end of it – the ode to Stompin’ Tom was a particular favourite and has been stuck in my head off and on since then.
Corb was out after a noticeably brief intermission, and yep, the whole set was just him and a guitar (apart from a few songs where he was joined by Plume, so it was two guys with guitars). I don’t think you could complain about the setlist – it was packed with old and new favourites and there wasn’t much you could have been left wanting. Looking over Corb’s discography now, it occurs to me that 1) I’ve listened to a fair bit of his music, 2) it’s real good, and 3) he sampled pretty evenly from all his records. Really, if you wanted the Corb Lund starter kit, this setlist was perfect. The biggest reactions were saved for Five-Dollar Bill and The Truck Got Stuck, as well as anything that mentioned Saskatchewan or places therein (Hurtin’ Albertan, Long Gone to Saskatchewan, and the one Plume song they did together, The Big American Headliner). Really, between Lund and Plume, there’s no way I’ve been to a show with more local references, and they’re both no-good Albertans. Plume may be a transplant from New Brunswick, but still. No-good Albertan.
As far as the BS part went, there really wasn’t a ton. Corb had his phone on stage and checked it for questions, but there wasn’t much more talking than a normal show. He went into a little detail about Talkin’ Veterinarian Blues, Family Reunion, The Truck Got Stuck, and personal favourite S Lazy H. A lot of his stories centred on which of the songs are based on true stories. Answer: a lot of them, though they have made-up parts too. Which is what you’d expect.
I thought this was great, but it did seem like maybe this wasn’t the show the Agribition crowd wanted. You could hear an awful lot of distracting talking coming from the folks on the floor. I think there was a pretty sizable contingent that wanted to get drunk and rowdy and this didn’t really provide the opportunity. I mean, some did anyway, but nowhere near what you’d expect. I really dig Corb but find his fans to be a bit much sometimes. I keep going to see him, since he’s great and all, but you need to prepare yourself for the drunken yahoos you may encounter. This seemed like it was less of a show for them and more for me, so, y’know, no complaints here.
I say “Corb Lund fans” as if I’m not one, but somehow, Corb became one of my favourite musicians. I didn’t even really realize it until I was thinking about it today and realized just how much of his stuff I know well and enjoy. I’ve liked him for a long time, but I wouldn’t have ever thought to list him among my very favourites, but somehow, that happened and I didn’t even realize it.
Or to put it all another way, enjoyed it. Want to see him again.
Until this show, I liked Andy Shauf, but I never really got Andy Shauf.
For those who don’t know the name, he’s a singer-songwriter from here in Regina. The first time we saw him was in 2013, when he opened for Mo Kenney at a half-full Artful Dodger. By that point, he was already well known around these parts. We later saw him at the 2015 Regina Folk Festival and then again opening for Whitehorse in 2016. In all cases, I thought he was good and very likable and I wanted him to do well, but there was always something that didn’t quite work for me – he’s real quiet, and I sometimes found him hard to hear and that everything kinda sounded the same. He’s one of many people where I thought I could really get into him if only I spent some time with his albums, but we all know I’ll talk about that but likely never do it.
I did think he was best suited to small, intimate venues. This time, he was headlining at the Exchange, which seemed to be the ideal place. That it was a sold-out hometown show could only help.
I suspect this will be the last time we can see Shauf at a place this small. Even now, I’m guessing he only played the Exchange because he used to work there. They said he was the only person ever to serve as caretaker and also headline a show there. This was the second last stop on his tour; the only remaining date was in Toronto’s Massey Hall. When I looked, you could only buy single seats for that one.
Watching his rise has really been something. When Hawksley Workman discovered Shauf and praised him, I wasn’t that surprised. But to see Reggie Watts do the same thing, it really illustrated how far Shauf was going.
Several days before they show, they announced that Steph Cameron would be opening. This was a delightful surprise. We saw her at the very same 2015 Regina Folk Festival. As opposed to all the other Regina Folk Festivals that year. I really liked her short set and later bought her album, Sad-Eyed Lonesome Lady. She was back in Regina only a few weeks ago, opening for Little Miss Higgins, but we were already booked that night, so this was a treat.
Doors opened at 8:00, which really isn’t that late, but it feels like it is if you’re used to the early-starting concerts the Folk Festival puts on. We got in at around 8:30 and had lots of time to stand around and critique the fashion choices of today’s youth. Tye Dillinger’s haircut was a standout, as was a jacket that read SAME SHIT, DIFFERENT DAY in large letters on the back. One girl was there in short shorts; I question her wisdom but admire her commitment when it’s -20 with the windchill.
Someone from the Board of Directors for the Exchange welcomed us to the show, since this was one of a series of concerts marking their 30th anniversary. She seemed nervous. Didn’t need to be. She did fine!
Cameron started around 9:00 and played for about a half-hour, mostly material from her brand new album, Daybreak Over Jackson Street, about her time living in one of Vancouver’s worst neighbourhoods. I didn’t even know she had a new album, so that was another nice surprise. Or maybe a continuation of the first one. She did a fine job despite a crowd that left something to be desired. Even the folks at the very front were talking and looking at their phones. By now, I should just have a boilerplate paragraph that covers this. You know the deal. If you’re going to do that, why don’t you just leave? Or not show up in the first place? There are lots of places that won’t charge you $25/person cover to stand around and be a dick. But standing dicks notwithstanding, she was real good. Last time I saw her, my verdict was “would see again” and that hasn’t changed. Even if she didn’t play the one song Mika knew.
Speaking of standing dicks, we had about 45 minutes of standing around time before Shauf and band took the stage. I won’t lie to you; I was ready to leave well before this point. The standing, the inattentive crowd, the heat of a packed, sold-out venue, and the fact that I’d never been super into Shauf before were all combining to kill my enthusiasm for the evening, such as it was.
Armed with a full band – including TWO clarinetists, as one does – Shauf returned to his hometown if not quite a conquering hero, at least well on his way. And this was where it all came together for me. Great sound in the venue combined with a crowd that was surprisingly quiet and respectful to create the perfect atmosphere to listen to Shauf’s lyrics. Hometown Hero and Wendell Walker became new favourites for me, but I enjoyed all of it.
Shauf’s stage presence is quite reserved. He’s not someone who will ever put on shows described as electrifying – they’re for listening, not for dancing. Throughout this review, I kept looking for the right place to put the term “low-key” since it kind of applies everywhere. But he does display a subtle sense of humour when talking to the crowd which breaks things up a little. Every time I’ve seen him, he’s asked the audience if they have any questions. This time, it was something about Star Trek. I liked it better last time when someone yelled “what do you have against horses?”
But that was the only part of the show that wasn’t quite as good as before. It’s telling that I liked the show at all, given the mood I was in before it began, but this was fantastic. It took me a while – I’m late to the party, perhaps – but I’m finally on the Andy Shauf bandwagon. Better get on now, before he takes over the world so quietly that nobody even notices.
We’ve seen a lot of 90s Can-rock shows of late. Of them all – Watchmen, I Mother Earth, Big Wreck, Our Lady Peace, Limblifter, Age of Electric, Big Sugar, The Tea Party – I enjoyed the Headstones the best. They weren’t my favourite of that list back in the day – that would be Our Lady Peace – but the Headstones stuff holds up the best for me. I really enjoyed their show last year and was looking forward to their return.
This time out, they were paired with SNAKEandtheCHAIN. I didn’t pick the spacing and capitalization. When we arrived at the casino, there was a Headstones banner on stage, partially covered by a SNAKEandtheCHAIN banner. It looked like we were there to see HEASNAKEandtheCHAINNES.
You may recall that I saw Bif Naked on the night of the US election – how it is possible that was only a year ago? – and that night, her guitarist was her husband, Snake. If I didn’t call him Snake Naked then, I apologize. I should have. Anyway, he’s the Snake (or SNAKE) of SNAKEandtheCHAIN. At one point, they got referred to as “SNAKEandtheCHAIN featuring Bif Naked,” so I assume the third guy, Kuryakin, is the chain. Or CHAIN. And Bif’s just Bif.
I mentioned this last year but here’s a quick refresher regarding my feelings about Bif Naked: I used to like some of her stuff before losing interest. It was nice to see her last year, but I didn’t leave that show feeling like I’d rekindled my fandom or anything. Still, I was interested to see what her new band was all about.
The show started with Snake and Kuryakin. Snake hooked up an iPhone and lip-synched I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You. I guess he did sing some of it, since he tried to sing “take my hand” over the “shall I stay” part. Let’s assume they were just going for something silly here.
Bif Naked joined them and they launched into their first proper song, Heavy. Over the kind of music a wrestler would have entered the ring to in 1999, Bif told us, over and over, that her baby, she likes it heavy.
Then she asked who there had a safeword. “MORE is my safeword,” said Snake. Did you think that was a clever joke? Would you still think that was a clever joke after a song that repeated it over and over?
Somewhere in the crowd was JP, a guy I know from work. I’d say “a friend from work” but we never actually talk, apart from when I email him to tell him that the Headstones are coming to town, and he emails me back to let me know that he already knew (but thanks). I sent him a note on Facebook. I NEEDED to know his opinion of what we were watching.
Before the next song, Snake Naked said “you can’t even look at a woman these days without getting arrested.” Now, I’m a reasonable person. I’m willing to accept that this was said in jest. But it sure didn’t sound like it, and apart from one fellow who was in vocal agreement, the crowd didn’t really seem to know how to take it. This led into a song “about a bad boy named Frankie” who “forgot to thank me” and is “gonna get a spanking.” You may note that Frankie, thank me, and spanking all kind of rhyme. We eventually found out that Frankie forgot to thank Bif Naked for, among two other things, “swallowing your cum.” This went on for… I mean, it couldn’t possibly have been a half-hour, but it didn’t feel any less.
Next, Bif started telling a story about how Snake broke free from a Siberian prison to be here today. Mika asked if I’d like to go get drinks in the lobby instead. So we did. The bar in the casino lobby is famously slow. It took over 20 minutes to get our drinks with only maybe 10 people in front of us. I didn’t mind. We could have been back in the show lounge listening to SNAKEandtheCHAIN. Things could have been worse.
I will say that some people seemed into the show. These people were wrong, but they definitely existed. Meanwhile, we were throwing around “what the fuck was that,” “I feel embarrassed for them,” “worst band I’ve seen in years and maybe ever,” “I’m starting to reconsider my feelings about Cage the Elephant,” “do you think he’s holding Bif Naked hostage,” and “but seriously, what the fuck was that?”
On Facebook, JP replied that he’d found a good spot to stand, otherwise he’d have left too. I guess the standing spot wasn’t THAT good as we eventually saw him and his brother in the lobby. We traded theories about what we had just seen. Mika suggested that the Headstones owed Bif Naked money and so they had to let her band come on tour.
As we nursed our drinks in the lobby, we could faintly hear that they were playing Bif Naked hits Spaceman and I Love Myself Today. I choose to assume they were done well. I considered going back to listen to them but thought better of it.
I try to be positive when I write these things and I accept that some things just aren’t going to be my jam. So I will say that the sound system was good and we could hear all of the insipid repetitive lyrics really clearly. And Bif Naked seems like a really nice lady and I feel kind of bad about this whole thing. But this was terrible.
Drinks done, SNAKEandtheCHAIN (and their banner) gone, we went back into the show lounge. What can I even say about the Headstones after all that? They were exactly what you’d expect and exactly what I wanted from them. Loud, all their hits, all the fan favourites, some new stuff. And a few covers – they did The Gambler which they said they’ve been playing live ever since doing it in Regina last time and the crowd went nuts for it. And in various songs, they did part of Low Rider and two Hip classics, Blow at High Dough and New Orleans is Sinking. The show sold out a while back and people were really into it.
For a bunch of the early songs, there was one guy whose whole job seemed to be microphone cord wrangler so that Hugh Dillon could run out into the crowd. Eventually they got him a wireless mic. Dillon ran right past us, brushing past me, then came back and was singing Low Rider about four feet from us. This was all very cool.
Fun time, would go again. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel they were overshadowed by SNAKEandtheCHAIN. I mean, I enjoyed the Headstones but I’ll remember SNAKEandtheCHAIN for years.
On the way out, we walked by someone who said that Hugh Dillon was a badass and that the Headstones would chew up SNAKEandtheCHAIN and spit them out. Which, really, is all you need to know. There’s a lesson there about being concise; one I will surely ignore.