Author Archives: James Kalyn

SLCR #307: Hawksley Workman (December 9, 2017)

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.

 

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• 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)

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SLCR #306: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald (November 29, 2017)

“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.

SLCR #305: Regina Symphony Orchestra feat. Tanya Tagaq (November 25, 2017)

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
Intermission
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.

SLCR #304: Corb Lund (November 23, 2017)

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.

SLCR #303: Andy Shauf (November 18, 2017)

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.

SLCR #302: Headstones (November 17, 2017)

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.

SLCR #301: Nomadic Massive (November 10, 2017)

This was a delightful surprise. Years ago, we saw Nomadic Massive at the Regina Folk Festival. I knew nothing at all about them but they wound up stealing the show that night and you could make a solid case that they were the best of that year’s whole festival. That was in 2013; as far as I know, this show was their first time back here. I didn’t rush to get tickets – lots of concerts and lots of expenses left me thinking that I’d wait and see how I felt on the day. However, fate had other plans. The Prairie Dog had a pair of tickets to give away in a Facebook contest. They asked for comments on their post, so I posted “This is a comment.” A day later, they PM’d me to let me know I’d won. I looked back at the contest, and saw that I was the only entrant. So thank you to Prairie Dog, and thank you especially to the Facebook algorithm that decided that I was the only person who needed to see that post.

When the day came, I really didn’t feel like going. It’s cold and icy here, and I was sleepy even though I’d had the day off and didn’t do anything more strenuous than grocery shopping and getting a flu shot. As I dozed in front of the TV, I could easily have been talked out of going. But off we went.

We got to the Exchange and once seated, I got us some drinks, popcorn, and 50/50 tickets (didn’t win). May as well contribute a little since we got in for free. The popcorn was tasty but I question its proclaimed status as the world’s best.

The band hit the stage noting that though the crowd was small, we’d get rowdy. There were, unfortunately, not a ton of people there. Maybe 50 when the show started and not quite 100 at the peak, if I’m guessing. It’s a real shame; if people don’t come out, the bands won’t come back (said the guy who didn’t pay to be there). That said, it did seem like the people who were there were determined to make up the difference, with lots of people leaving their seats to go dance at the front of the stage. Some good participation – crowds at Folk Festival-promoted shows (or just shows here in general) sometimes tend to be on the reserved side.

Nomadic Massive bring high-energy rap out of Montréal in multiple languages. You should check that out if it sounds like your thing. Or maybe even if it doesn’t? I mean, that’s not something I listen to much, but I possibly should, since this was fantastic.

I’m not very familiar with Nomadic Massive so if you want to know what they played, I’m not your guy. I recognized one song and it wasn’t even their own – there was a bit of The Choice is Yours by Black Sheep (which I very much appreciated – that album was one of my Grade 10 favourites). They also did part of Alright by Kendrick Lamar but I wouldn’t even have picked up on that if Mika hadn’t told me. You don’t read these for informed opinions.

I’ll keep this one short since I have a big ol’ review backlog again and because I don’t know a thing about things anyway, but this was one of the best shows I’ve seen this year. Mika went one better, naming it her favourite this year. On the drive home, we talked about how neither of us really felt like spending the night out, but we both had a great time and were feeling energized when it was done. Apparently it was just what we needed.

I note, with some amusement, that my Apple Watch didn’t consider the half-hour I spent shoveling snow earlier in the day to be exercise. It did, however, give me credit for butt-dancing in my chair at this show. This is either a testament to how much I enjoyed myself or the inherent unreliability of fitness trackers. I suppose it can be two things.

SLCR #300: David Myles (October 24, 2017)

Three hundred! My goodness. It feels like I just did a milestone post last year. And I’ve run out of gimmicks, I’m not going to promise a book that we all know I’ll never deliver, and I can’t even threaten to quit doing these things because I’ve been doing that for at least 15 years already. So let’s just talk about this guy I’m completely unfamiliar with.

The only thing I knew about David Myles is that a few years back, he had a hit with the song Inner Ninja, a collaboration with the Canadian rapper Classified (Myles did the non-rapping parts). I saw them perform the song at the Junos Songwriters’ Circle, where host Tom Cochrane referred to the pair as “Eminem meets Buddy Holly.” This was fun, but they only got to do a few songs, Classified was presented as the star of the pair, and Myles didn’t get to perform any of his own stuff.

So once again, I was basically going in blind. However, I did hear that Myles put on a great live show. Of course, I heard that from the advertising FOR said show. Clearly an unbiased source. But whatever, I guess I believed it, I bought a ticket and all.

Telling this story (such as it is) now, I really can’t identify why, exactly, I decided to go to this. He’s a guy I barely heard of and I only knew one song – which he wouldn’t even be able to perform unless he brought a surprise rapper in his carry-on. Plus Mika couldn’t go so I was flying solo. I’m not sure what part of this made me think this was a good idea. Though I suppose that’s never stopped me before. Apart from all the times where it stopped me.

I got to the Artesian and wandered in at the same time as Mark’s friend Rob, who I met at the New Pornographers show and didn’t tell you about. We work together, though I don’t believe our paths have ever crossed in an official capacity. At any rate, he was there with his wife, and seeing that I was unaccompanied, he invited me to sit with them. What delightful folks! I was pleased to take them up on their offer, though I did keep a seat between us since the place wasn’t sold out and I was pretty sure the offer didn’t include cuddling. Maybe next time.

The openers were Port Cities. This was a folk trio consisting of three singer-songwriters who’ve joined forces – Dylan Guthro, Breagh MacKinnon, and Carleton Stone. That last name sounded super familiar to me – some quick Googling confirmed that Hawksley Workman had produced one of Stone’s solo albums and he’d talked a fair bit about it when it came out. I feel like I listened to that album back then? Not sure. Though of the three, MacKinnon sounded the most familiar, with a voice exactly like… someone I couldn’t place. Still can’t.

This was the first night of their tour with Myles and their first time in Regina as a group. They played most of their first album, with Back to the Bottom and On the Nights You Stay Home as a few standouts. The highlight of their short set was the last song, where they all left the stage and performed the last song off-mic, on the floor. That was a great way to close things and make a big impression. I’d see these folks again. And maybe I will? They draw once a year for a free house concert from the names signed up for their email list. I don’t know that my house is well suited to that but maybe I could knock out some walls or something.

David Myles is a different sort of guy. He’s a folk singer from New Brunswick who has both a Latin Grammy and a Juno for Rap Recording of the Year. In 2017, he released a new album inspired by 50s and 60s rock and country. He once did a 24-stop tour of Saskatchewan without playing Saskatoon or Regina. And his live show is a blast.

Drawing from the new album, the show had the sound of late 50s/early 60s rock, with a diversion into doo-wop (with backing vocals from his very game band) and even a bluegrass take on another of his collaborations with Classified. He also brought out MacKinnon to do a song they’d written together – performed live for the first time ever. In between songs, he told stories and self-deprecating jokes, heaped praise on Port Cities and his band, and came across like the most likable guy ever. It was a high-energy show with a lot of humour, and I quickly went from “I’m not sure why I’m here” to “I’m very glad I’m here” to “next time, I need to get more people here.” Great songs, very entertaining, and even a high-tech light show (white Christmas lights wrapped around TWO mics). Highly recommended.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Headstones w/SNAKEandtheCHAIN (November 17)
• Andy Shauf (November 18)
• Corb Lund (November 23)
• Cold Specks w/LA timpa (November 24)
• Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)
• Hawksley Workman (December 9)
• 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)

SLCR #299: Martha Wainwright (October 22, 2017)

I heard Martha Wainwright was coming to town and thought “ooh, that sounds good, we should get tickets.” And I don’t know WHY, really. What do I know about Martha Wainwright, beyond her name and who some of her relatives are? I’ve heard a half-dozen Rufus Wainwright songs, enough to make me think that I could really get into the guy if I made the effort. This is not much and yet this is substantially more than what I know about Martha Wainwright, which amounts to the fact that I saw her do a few songs on his Christmas special, and I don’t remember what songs they were. Or was he doing songs on her Christmas special? Or was it a Wainwright/McGarrigle family Christmas special? I know it had to be at least seven years ago. I think.

Last week I told you I’d never seen Kris Demeanor before, but it turns out I had, 12 years ago. So glad I write these things down.

Anyway. I bought these tickets last December for a show that was supposed to happen in April. Then it got postponed for reasons. I don’t know, I’m not her biographer. She didn’t feel like coming to Regina, maybe. Does anyone? Regina in the springtime?

The Artesian sold out in the days before the show. I was glad, because it’s a delightful little place and I want it to do well. It did, however, mean we needed to get there early to sort out seating. Mika and I wound up in the front row of the pews at the back, which left us in an ideal spot to greet Mark, Arlette, and Other James as they arrived. It also meant a lot of people shuffling in front of us and no height advantage over the floor seats, so arriving a little earlier might have been ideal. So it goes.

I can’t say we felt old at this show. At least two-thirds of the audience looked to be of retirement age. I’m not sure who I expected to see at this concert, but that wasn’t it. But as we’ve established, I was going into this about as ignorant as humanly possible, so the fact that I had expectations at all is a little ridiculous.

I’ve been all bronchitis’d up since returning from Calgary, which is not ideal for concerts. Or for existing. I don’t recommend it. To keep my coughing in check, I stuffed my pockets with a flavour sampler of cough candies and washed them down with a tasty pear cider from the bar. This worked reasonably well so I recommend that you combine all your medicine with alcohol for maximum effect. Science shows it works.

The openers were Mappe Of, making their first ever stop in Regina (while on their first-ever cross-Canada tour). They were described as “folk;” that’s not how I’d classify them, but I’m not sure where they fit. Very atmospheric music, lots of falsetto in the vocals, plenty of neat tricks (like playing the electric bass with a bow) to create unique sounds. There were moments of big energy but for the most part, it was something to listen to, not to dance to. It was well suited to the small room, too. Mika said it would be good Sunday morning music. This was all really good and quite interesting; not something I’d want to listen to all the time, but ideal in the right setting. Recommended if you’re looking for something a little different. Mark and Arlette were way into this, and they’re trustworthy humans.

During the break, I was avoiding social media because I had again skipped out on watching wrestling and I didn’t want it spoiled for me. So instead of looking up cute animals on Instagram, I checked Pokémon GO and found that the last of the new Halloween Pokémon that I needed was nearby. Mika said she figured I had ten minutes before Wainwright would start; I caught it and was back with time to spare. I’m always surprised when things work out well, even though half of my concert reviews are just me being surprised when things aren’t completely ruined. The quick walk in the cool night air was refreshing too.

Martha Wainwright came out and did a song by herself, just on guitar, before bringing out her band. They joined her for most of the show, but she did a handful of songs with just the pianist. I don’t really know which songs, for the most part – remember, I’m dumb – though she mentioned some were from her newest album, Goodnight City, including Around the Bend and two songs about her son Francis.

And I will say what I always say; namely, that this was an enjoyable night out. It wasn’t an overly long set – probably about 80 minutes with the encore – but enough to get a good introduction to Wainwright’s music without overstaying her welcome. Much like with Sarah Slean last week, the intimate venue and great sound really helped the evening. Also like Slean, Wainwright is very emotive with some vocal flourishes; things that could either make you a bigger fan or push you away. You pick.

She also had more of a sense of humour than I was expecting, telling lots of stories and also sharing that as a recent divorcée, she was finding it very therapeutic to be touring around with her band “talking about cum.” You were not expecting that sentence to end that way and neither were we. This got the best delayed reaction I’ve ever heard – few immediate laughs, but then they kept popping up all over. I like to think that a number of the more elderly fans in attendance didn’t quite hear it and needed it explained to them. Hopefully by their kids. Also, her poor bass player was doubled over laughing and also maybe looked a little mortified.

wait

omg

wait

Is the band’s NAME Talking About Cum? Because that wasn’t how I interpreted it initially but maybe? It fits with how she phrased it, depending on where you put the comma. I don’t have proof of this, though. The band wasn’t credited on the tickets and posters but I suppose there are community standards that need to be upheld. Unlike, say, here.

I think we best wrap things up.

SLCR #298: Sarah Slean (October 14, 2017)

Home again, and I wasted no time getting back at it. Back in the saddle. On the horse. The concert horse. My flight got in around 4:00 on Saturday afternoon and by 8:00, I was sitting in the Artesian awaiting Sarah Slean. I had my concert ticket before I booked the trip, so I scheduled my return flight accordingly and everything – somewhat surprisingly – worked out. Even if my seatmate did steal my aisle seat, leaving me squooshed up against the window.

By comparison, I had no seatmate at this show, which is always better than cuddling with strangers. The place wasn’t quite sold out, and though I arrived too late to get a seat in the… well, I guess they’re like a combination of bleachers and pews – anyway, they were full, but I got a seat at the back of the floor. The venue is small enough that there aren’t really any bad seats there.

Sarah and her band (guitar, bass, drums) started right at 8:00 with no opener. They played two sets that were about 45 minutes each, plus the requisite encore. A lot of the songs came from Slean’s new album, Metaphysics; it looks like she played most of the record. There were also some older songs like Pilgrim and California that (of course) got the best reactions. I did like all the new tunes, though. Slean was on the piano (or the piano-sounding keyboard if you’re a stickler for details) for every song except one – her version of Wayfaring Stranger that opened the second set.

For the encore, Slean first returned by herself and asked for requests. This turned into a remarkably well-organized three-way shouting match between the guy ahead of me who yelled for Book Smart, Street Stupid, someone behind me yelling for Willow, and someone up at the front yelling for Sweet Ones. I knew we weren’t getting Sweet Ones unless the band came back out, so it came down to two. “Book Smart, that’s interesting,” said Slean. “Yes,” said the guy, very emphatically. Not like he was excited that she might play it; he was just strongly in agreement. She opted to play it and hoped she wouldn’t forget the words. She only got lost once and the guy helped her out. Then the band came back out and they played Sweet Ones to close the show. That was the big crowd pleaser and I guess it’s her biggest song? I dunno, it’s real good, but I like Lucky Me more and she didn’t play that one. Shoulda yelled.

This was all delightful. For a while now, Slean has been someone that I seem to see every time she’s in town, and then I never listen to her music until the next time I go see her. This was a pleasant reminder that she has some good songs and I should spend more time listening to them. Her band was really good too. And the set lengths were just right for me; I got enough to make it worth the money and it never dragged, plus I wasn’t in the mood to stay out forever.

I will say that I know some people who really dislike Slean and this show wouldn’t have changed their minds. She has some affectations when she talks and sings and that’s part of what puts them off. Last time I saw her, I was sitting near two groups of people; one praised her for being “emotive” and the other derided her as “a ham” and though I told that story last time, I can think of no better way to sum up the issue. I can’t say it bugs me, though I see what they’re getting at and it did make me wonder how much of it is a persona and how much is just her.

The venue really upped my enjoyment of the evening. I believe the polite term for “this place is tiny” is “an intimate setting.” I might just call it cozy. It’s a nice looking space where you’re never too far from the stage or overrun by idiots. And the sound was fantastic, with the clearest vocals I’ve heard at a show in a long time. The instruments all sounded great too. My next two concerts are also at the Artesian and this pleases me.

While this all was going on, elsewhere in Regina, friends of mine were at the Brandt Centre watching wrestling. I skipped out to watch a tiny lady play piano. I’m not sure this is something that 16-year-old me would be able to fathom. But whatever; they had fun and I had fun.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:

  • Martha Wainwright w/Mappe Of (October 22)
  • David Myles w/Port Cities (October 24)
  • Headstones w/SNAKEandtheCHAIN (November 17)
  • Andy Shauf (November 18)
  • Corb Lund (November 23)
  • Cold Specks w/LA timpa (November 24)
  • Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)
  • Hawksley Workman (December 9)
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)

SLCR #297: Japandroids (October 13, 2017)

You may recall that I set myself a goal of seeing 40 concerts in the year that I turned 40 (last year). You may also recall that near the end of the year, I got concerted out and didn’t quite make it.

I feel like I’m getting to that point again. Or maybe that’s not quite right. I’ve seen a ton of great stuff lately by artists I know well and really enjoy, but looking at my upcoming shows, there’s an awful lot of “I’ve heard of this person and this is a thing to do that I’m sure will be pleasant but I don’t really know much about them” coming up. Which is fine, but I may have scheduled in a bit too much of a good thing for myself.

Like these here Japandroids. I’d heard one song – The House that Heaven Built. It’s super great. I’d meant to listen to more of their stuff since I really dig that one song. Never really got around to it. Got a ticket anyway since it was really convenient of them to play the night after Arcade Fire so I could cram a bunch of music into my earholes in one Calgary trip.

But then the day came, and I’ve been walking a ton all week and my feet are now in a state of full rebellion (I complained about my plantar fasciitis last time and I might just keep doing it because it seems like a super interesting topic for everyone) and I knew I’d be walking to and from the train and I’d be standing all night at the show, and, again, I only knew that one song. Point being, this seemed like a much better idea several weeks ago when I got the ticket.

But I persevered. For you. And because I already paid for the ticket. And because Japandroids seem like a band I could really dig if I gave them half a shot. But mostly because I’d already paid.

I am now an old pro at the C-Train and have nothing to say about the trip there, except I juuuuuust missed the train on the way there and had to wait six whole minutes for another one. And also a train ride is an easy way to refill your Pokémon GO items.

The show was at the university in the MacEwan Ballroom, the smaller of the two venues there. It wasn’t sold out but was pretty close, I’m guessing. Tons of people there. And every other person had bought Japandroids vinyl from the looks of it.

Because I’d been less than motivated to get to the show, I dawdled and eventually missed the start of the opener, Cloud Nothings. They were way louder than I was expecting – which is dumb, because why would I expect anything, I knew nothing about them. Four guys playing straightforward, high-energy rock. I thought all of the songs sounded a bit alike, but I liked them all, so no complaints. If you like Japandroids, you’d like these guys, and vice versa. And for at least the next while, if you see one, you’ll likely see both, since it sounded like this was the first show of a seven-week tour they’d be doing together.

“I thought all of the songs sounded a bit alike, but I liked them all, so no complaints” could also be my Japandroids review. I’ll add in I liked them well enough that I still want to spend some time with their music and get to know it a bit better. Maybe go for coffee with it, and a walk by the lake. Something casual. I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about anymore.

I didn’t recognize any songs apart from The House that Heaven Built, though they mentioned that one song was called No Known Drink or Drug, which I’d at least heard of. It was good. Someone held up a sign asking for a song of their first album. I don’t know what it was called but I liked it a bunch and the crowd seemed real into it. They closed with the song I knew. It was real good. There was no encore, which seemed to disappoint people, especially those chanting “one more song,” but I was okay with it.

Does this mean I get to go to bed?

NO. I must pad this out at least a bit. Uhh… shit. Okay. Well. I walked into the hall partway through Cloud Nothings’ set and stood at the back of the crowd. Within seconds of showing up, some girl walked out of the crowd and tore her shirt off right in front of me as she went past. I’d like to say I have that effect on women all the time but the “what the heck is happening here?” expression that was surely on my face might lead one to believe otherwise.

(I think she was just overheated. I was too, but didn’t feel that following suit would have been the best course of action for anyone. When in Rome, I’m most likely keeping my toga on.)

SLCR #296: Arcade Fire (October 12, 2017)

I had a number of shows to attend during this Calgary trip, but this was the anchor, the one that made me book the trip when I did.

I’d never seen Arcade Fire before. I only ever had one chance – they played the Odeon in Saskatoon back in… 2005, I think. Give or take a year. I didn’t pick up tickets immediately because I was supposed to spend the weekend in Canmore with family and I wasn’t sure I’d be back in time. I got back to Saskatoon from my trip around suppertime on the day of the concert, so we could have gone, but it didn’t matter; tickets had sold out pretty much instantly. The next day, I went to a record store and chatted with the owner, who said “I hate to tell you this, but they released last-minute tickets and they were available at the door.” So it goes.

I could also take this time to complain that on that tour, they intentionally left a day between Saskatoon and Winnipeg to do a show in Regina, and nobody would book them. Which neatly sums up one of my prime complaints about Regina and why I time these trips to coincide with concerts.

Delightfully, Colin was game to take in this concert with me. Less delightfully, because this trip got scheduled so late, there weren’t a ton of great seats left. I got us a pair of the cheapest seats in the building, which I believe were still more expensive than the Odeon tickets from a decade ago. At least we were in the doors.

I made plans to meet Colin at 5:30 at Wurst, the German restaurant across the street from my grandma’s place. At 5:32, I was walking there when I saw Colin wave at me from his car, where he was stuck in traffic. I offered to race him there. I mention this because I won.

I hadn’t had German food in decades. The restaurant has been there for years and I’d never been, because eating outside the home would offend my grandma to no end. She’ll tolerate it if I’m meeting someone, but only barely. I still haven’t gone to the Indian restaurant next door and it’s been there for as long as my grandma’s lived here. Anyway, I got a schnitzel BLT (which is a normal BLT with a schnitzel also on it and you probably guessed that but did you know it was on grilled sourdough, smart guy?) and a side Caesar salad. Very tasty. Colin had a brat on a bun with soup and he said it was good, so thumbs up all around.

I’d assumed we’d walk to the Saddledome, but Colin wanted to try driving since he’d heard about a free parking trick. I was fine with this since I’ve done a ton of walking this week and my plantar fasciitis is making itself quite known. I won’t spill the beans about Colin’s plan, but I will confirm that it not only worked, but we got out of there afterwards with minimal hassle.

We showed up just as the openers, Phantogram, were starting. We got to our seats (past many signs warning us of strobe lights and “theatrical smoke effects”) and really, they weren’t that bad. Meaning our seats. And also Phantogram, I suppose. We weren’t very close, but we could see the stage and hear everything well enough. The band was playing in the round, so we were even closer than I was expecting. There were also big screens, but they didn’t help because the band was basically exactly the same size on stage as they were on the screens, plus the screens had video effects on them so they were actually worse than just watching the stage. Whatever – I thought this was more funny than anything.

I told Mika that I didn’t think I knew any Phantogram songs, and she said “yes you do, idiot.” Possibly not in those exact words. Okay, I thought I knew one song – You Don’t Get Me High Anymore. Listening to them in concert, I’m still pretty sure I only knew the one. I mean, there were a number of songs that sounded kinda familiar, where I was waiting for a recognizable chorus that never came. Maybe I’ve just heard enough Garbage and Evanescence and other electronic-influenced rock bands with female vocalists that I hear similarities where none exist? Colin actually knew a few of their songs and so he was basically a superfan by comparison.

My general take on Phantogram was that they were pretty good in a way where I know I’m not likely to ever go out of my way to seek more out. I mean, I enjoyed them, but I know me. I don’t make enough time for everything that I really enjoy as it is. But like I said, this was good, the sound was decent, they played the song I knew, their light show was impressive. No complaints.

As soon as they were done, a cowboy with a galaxy for a face appeared on the big screen and asked us for another round of applause for Phantogram. This completely baffled me. The cowboy would return several times throughout the break to shill t-shirts and spout bizarre non-sequiturs (“Let’s hear it for junior hockey!” or my favourite, “I can’t legally ask if you’re ready to rumble, but I hope YOU AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARE!”). I think the cowboy may have been Colin’s favourite part of the evening. There were also weird symbols on the screens around the arena, and the screen would show ads for shirts at 100% off with an infinite time warranty – all part of the experience of this, the Infinite Content Tour.

Because the band was in the round, they had to enter down a long aisle like at a wrestling or MMA show. And in fact, they mocked up the stage to look like a boxing ring and came in to a boxing-style introduction. Apparently, Arcade Fire weighs, collectively, 2,100 pounds. If Dave ever reads this, he’ll call bullshit because how can they only weigh 2,100 pounds when they have 62 band members?

I counted 9, for the record. No sign of Karnov.

I have a weird relationship with Arcade Fire; namely, I think they’re all very talented and I love their songs, but they can also come across as artsy and pretentious and if someone punched them, I’d understand. I don’t condone it nor do I want to do it myself, but I’d understand.

All of this went out the window before the first song was done. I mean, I’m not surprised that these guys were really good, but… these guys were really good. Super talented, very versatile musicians who played (and traded) a wide range of instruments all through the night.

The band has a great stage presence too. This was a spectacle; from a visual standpoint alone, it was never not entertaining. Just to keep things interesting, they also have possibly the best big rock light show I’ve ever seen, along with a constant stream of new and creative video effects on the big screen (while still devoting lots of time to letting you actually see the musicians).

They did take the boxing ring staging down after a few songs, which was a relief, since one of the band kept bouncing off the ropes like in wrestling but those ropes were way too loose to do that safely. Dude’s gonna fall one of these days.

As for the songs, there was a big focus on their new record, of course, but there was a nice selection from all their albums. Tons of hits, but lots of variety in general. The fourth song was Here Comes the Night Time and it is not what comes to mind if you’re thinking of a song that would blow the roof off a place, but they did it. Keep the Car Running might be my favourite Arcade Fire song, which I only realized when I saw how delighted I was when they started playing it. There was a killer version of Reflektor, they closed the main set with Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) and the encore with Wake Up… much like I felt after the New Pornographers concert, this show really hammered home to me just how much great music these guys have put out. And some really anthemic songs, which I’m totally a sucker for.

Here’s the whole setlist for anyone who cares about such things:
Everything Now
Signs of Life
Rebellion (Lies)
Here Comes the Night Time
No Cars Go
Electric Blue
Put Your Money on Me
Neon Bible
Infinite_Content (setlist.fm says this was the first time they’ve ever played this song in concert)
Good God Damn
Keep the Car Running
Crown of Love (first live performance of this song since 2014, according to setlist.fm)
The Suburbs
The Suburbs (Continued)
Ready to Start
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Reflektor
Afterlife
Creature Comfort
Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)

encore:
We Don’t Deserve Love
Everything Now (Continued)
Wake Up

They left the stage and walked to the back, still playing instruments while the crowd sang the singalong part from Wake Up. So yeah. This was great and Colin thought it was great and I’m pretty sure everyone there thought it was great. It made me more sad about missing that concert at the Odeon and I hate the Odeon. This was a dang fine show in what’s turning out to be a year full of them.

SLCR #295: Wordfest (October 10, 2017)

When you think about concerts, one word comes to mind: books.

I had a few shows already scheduled for Calgary when this thing popped up on Facebook and it sounded pretty neat. As part of a week-long festival of words by the name of Wordfest, there was a concert-slash-reading featuring musicians-slash-authors Geoff Berner, Rae Spoon, Kris Demeanor, and Caroline Connolly. There are readings and other events with all kinds of authors all week long; this particular session was called “How to Be… Wordy & Wild” and it was at the Big Secret Theatre downtown, where I first saw Hawksley Workman’s play The God That Comes a few years back.

I didn’t catch this initially, but that “How to Be” up there was selected because these are (mostly) the authors of the How to Be series of booklets. I am slow. But sometimes I get there eventually.

Or sometimes I get there early. The Big Secret Theatre is only two LRT stops away; for some reason, I still felt I needed to leave my grandma’s place over an hour beforehand to make sure I wasn’t late. This put me downtown with too much time to kill. I found a Tim Hortons and ordered a hot chocolate and played iPhone games until I could wander over at a more appropriate hour. The hot chocolate was both chocolatey and exceptionally hot; I wasn’t convinced it was going to cool off in time for me to make it to the show, but I powered through because I am an intrepid reporter and I am committed to my tasks. Unless I’m sleepy or it’s cold out or I just change my mind about going.

Let’s meet our authors. Klezmer punk accordionist Geoff Berner shows up regularly in these here reviews. He wrote the first volume in the series, How to Be an Accordion Player. Note that this booklet will not teach you how to play the accordion. It’s called How to Be an Accordion Player. This is an important distinction. Berner opened the event by explaining how the book series came to be; namely, they were commissioned by a shadowy, possibly Lithuanian, possible billionaire who may or may not have been in attendance.

Singer/songwriter Kris Demeanor is someone whose name I’ve heard forever but had never had the chance to see him perform before. He was Calgary’s inaugural poet laureate and he works with inner-city youth, so his booklet is titled How to Be an Asshole of Calgary.

The last time I saw Rae Spoon, it was probably 15 years ago and they were performing in the basement of a Cajun restaurant in Saskatoon. Since then, they’ve released a number of albums and gone on to widespread critical acclaim. I remember very little about that last show and I don’t have my old reviews immediately accessible (for which I’m thankful, as I probably sounded like a real dope), but I was really looking forward to the chance to see Spoon again. I also really miss that restaurant. Spoon’s booklet, the newest release of the four, is How to (Hide) Be(hind) Your Songs.

Caroline Connolly is an Alberta musician from a band called The Lovebullies. She also makes and sells gluten-free perogies, which is the noblest of callings. To the best of my knowledge, she’s never written a book. I feel like if she had, this would have come up. Carolyn Mark did, and it’s called How to Be a Boozy Chanteuse, which is how she was described in the New York Times. Mark was unable to attend, away “at an undisclosed location, doing very important things, like her hair,” so Connolly filled in for her. Mark did send her guitar, but upon inspection, it was just a guitar case filled with wine bottles and underwear. I’ve seen Carolyn Mark a few times and I’m 100% prepared to believe that this was legitimate and not a comedy bit.

The format was pretty simple; “like a folk festival workshop where no work gets done,” said Berner. They all took turns reading, then they read some more but also sang some songs, and then more reading and songs. The order was Berner > Connolly > Demeanor > Spoon > repeat, but folks would play and sing on each other’s songs.

You can probably infer how the readings went by the titles of the books. I mean, each booklet is about how to be something, so that’s what they talked about. And you may have also gathered that these are not super-serious instruction manuals for your life. Except maybe they should be? Spoon’s seemed the closest to being sincere, but all four authors got great laughs from the crowd – and, at times, from each other. Berner in particular has great comedic timing when telling stories.

He also nearly shot beer out his nose when Demeanor read the following lines about Calgary: “At the time of writing, our city is going through hard times. Aleppo hard.” Demeanor’s book seems like it might have the most laugh-out-loud potential of the four.

As for the songs, Connolly kicked it off with Mark’s tune 2 Days Smug and Sober, with Demeanor on guitar (and I believe Berner on accordion for this one). I really like this song and hadn’t heard it in forever. She did a fine job even if she needed a lyric sheet for reference.

I will break here to mention that if you have Apple Music, you can search for my SLCR 2017 playlist which features most everyone I’ve seen in concert this year. I had to make the hard choices about whether or not to include 2 Days on it, since Mark didn’t actually play here, but I ruled in favour of adding it to the list since I like it. It’s good to be the guy who makes rules.

Demeanor was up next with his song Liquidation World, which he played in lieu of reading the chapter of his booklet entitled How to Shop Like an Asshole. With witty lyrics and great guitar playing, I immediately decided I like this guy.

I couldn’t add Spoon’s first song to my playlist since it isn’t being released until next year. This made me sad because it’s called Do Whatever the Fuck You Want and I think this song presents some solid life advice. It also has a bridge where they spell out exactly what the song is about, so as to avoid any sort of misinterpretation. It was observed that Born in the USA should have had a bridge for that exact purpose. Spoon also noted that the more folk festival-friendly version of the song, Do Whatever the Heck You Want, is a big hit with children. I can totally see that.

Berner’s first tune was Hustle Advisory, off his brand new record Canadiana Grotesquica. It also has plenty of f-bombs in it and I’ve caught myself humming it all day. I’m not sure grandma approves.

The next round of songs was Swang Swang (or possibly Swing Swing said with a flourish?) by Connolly, which was one of her own, not Mark’s. Demeanor had the best title of the night with his next song, The Drunk You Is You. Spoon played their song Cowboy, and Berner covered Mark’s song Edmonton, one of my favourites of hers. The mention of Edmonton actually raised a gasp from one person in the audience, which Berner called attention to (“Yes. A sharp intake of breath.”) before encouraging us all to be open to learning about other cultures.

These were all interspersed with more readings, where we learned about asshole role models, how a boozy chanteuse should dress (if police aren’t suspicious, you’re not trying hard enough), Stalin, and how you can talk about Jesus when you secretly mean Carla. There was also some audience participation as we debated the pronunciation of halcyon and deigning (which I knew) and fecund (which I’m still not certain of).

After a round of very exuberant plugs for books and upcoming concerts, Spoon closed out the show with another excellently named song, My Heart is a Piece of Garbage. Fight Seagulls! Fight! This was picked to end the show since it references the Calgary Tower, only blocks away.

They were selling stuff and signing stuff after the show, so I went on a shopping spree. I already had Berner’s booklet from long ago, so I got the other three. They were $10 each or four for $30, so I picked up a second copy of How to be an Asshole of Calgary, since Colin just moved here last year and he could probably still use some advice. Demeanor kindly signed both copies and Spoon signed theirs as well.

While I didn’t need Berner’s booklet, I did pick up his new novel, The Fiddler is a Good Woman, days before its official release. His previous novel, Festival Man, was a great read so I’m really looking forward to this one. I got it signed too because I’m a dork like that.

This whole show was a goddamn delight and I smiled the whole time. What great, talented folks. Go see them all and go buy their books.

SLCR #294: The New Pornographers (October 6, 2017)

Hi! It’s the most concertingest time of the year, with five shows in 8 days, and I’m in Calgary. I mean, I won’t be by the time you read this. But right now I am. But I wasn’t there for this show.

I’m visiting my grandma again, and I scheduled the trip to coincide with some concerts again, so I have a lot of reviews to write again, and I’m doing them on the iPad again, and I don’t like finalizing them on the iPad again, so expect to get a bunch of these once I’m back. Or, as it will be called in the future, “this week.”

Hopefully if I say that now, I’ll push myself to actually finish them all up in reasonable time. The odds of this happening seem slim.

#1 pet peeve of writing these on the iPad is not, as you might expect, the autocorrect. No, it is that my handy iPad keyboard – which is actually pretty decent – has a lock button where the backspace key would be on a full-sized keyboard. So I shut this thing down a lot. And swear. I initially wrote “And sweat” which was a typo but was not incorrect. Also, I’ve been eating chips and it’s hard to use the fingerprint scanner when your hands are covered in shameful grease.

Another issue with the iPad is that my collection of old reviews is in a Word document on a thumb drive. Maybe while I’m here, I will get on grandma’s computer and see if I can email myself a copy that the iPad can open. Until then, I’m going off memory, or as I like to call it, “lying.” Time for this known fantasist to impart some unlikely tales!

I believe I have seen the New Pornographers twice before. This makes three, and I was surprised and delighted to find that Heather was going to be at the show with us, since I’ve never seen the New Pornographers without her. I didn’t know she was in town until that morning and I would have suggested that she come to this except it was sold out. Luckily she already had a ticket, or knew someone, or something, I don’t know. Is this really relevant to your life?

In another irrelevant story, the last time I saw them, The Mountain Goats were the opening act. I vaguely knew the name, didn’t know anything about them, enjoyed them well enough, and promptly forgot about it. And I literally mean I forgot about it – I appreciate them more now (writing an entire album about old-timey wrestling and actually making it really good helps) and was shocked to re-read an old review and discover I’d seen them. Ask Mika and she will confirm that I full-on yelled “what the fuck, we saw The Mountain Goats?!”

Anyway. Mika and I got to the Exchange around 7:45 and wandered inside – before most people got there but too late to have to wait in line outside. In short, we won.

They gave us wristbands so we could buy alcohol like adults and I promptly got Mika an iced tea and myself a Wild Cherry Pepsi. I then spent about 15 minutes fighting with the stupid wristband because it was on tight and I decided I’d rather have wrist freedom than booze freedom.

Getting drinks was fun. First, the bartender’s vodka bottle slipped, and in grabbing for it, he pulled the nozzle off and sent the bottle to the floor. Then someone ordered a Caesar and he added all of the component parts before realizing they were out of Clamato. He offered the customer the glass of vodka, ice, and Tabasco – I think free! – but no takers.

Mark and Arlette showed up shortly before the openers started and staked out a nice leanin’ spot along the wall by the front of the stage. Mika and I, and eventually Heather, stayed back, centre stage, behind the people who were willing to shove their way to the front.

The openers were Born Ruffians. Before we went, Mika played me a few of their songs. I’m not certain, but I think they were called “You Probably Know This One. No?” and “I Think This One Was in a Car Commercial. Still No?”

Okay, so I am not exactly “informed.” But I know a few things – there were three of them and they play the kind of fun, slightly poppy rock that is right in my wheelhouse. I really liked them and made a vow to listen to more of them. And I’m pretty sure they played the song that may or may not have ever been in a car commercial, or maybe it was the other one, or probably both.

Between sets, Mika and Heather took off outside which was very sensible because everyone in the building was roasting. I went to chat with Mark and Arlette, who were visiting with Mark’s daughter Hayley. I mention her by name because Mark said I should. He’s been taking on more of a contributing editor role to these things of late. Too bad he won’t see this for a while – I’ve got four more reviews to write in about a week and I could use the guidance.

Anyway we had a nice chat – it’s nice when Mark can fit both concerts AND cutting up animals into his schedule. He seemed real interested in talking me into going to an upcoming psychobilly concert; I don’t know if this is because he wants to go or he just wants to see if he can talk me into doing so.

Historically, here’s how New Pornographers albums go for me:

  1. I listen to it
  2. I am nonplussed
  3. I listen to it some more
  4. Still nothing
  5. One song becomes a hit, or Mika plays it a bunch, or whatever – I hear it lots is the point
  6. It turns out that song is great
  7. It turns out all their songs are great

So I was surprised when I listened to the new record, Whiteout Conditions, and liked it from the get-go. That’s not supposed to happen!

I mention the album title because I need to fix my brain. Their last album was Brill Bruisers. It came out in 2014 if Apple Music is telling me the truth. Up until days before the show, I was convinced that Brill Bruisers had just come out and that the new songs I’d heard were just more singles from that album. It’s as if several years went by and I completely missed it. I’m hoping that by repeating the actual timeline I can sort myself out.

I can’t keep track of everyone in (and/or touring with) New Pornographers, but I don’t think that’s age-related feeblemindedness, they’ve just got a complicated family tree. AC Newman was there. And Kathryn Calder. Beyond that, I need to Google and I’m not about to do that.

Anyway, this was great. A nice mix of new stuff and old classics, good sound, crowd was into it despite collectively succumbing to heatstroke. The older stuff got the best reactions, as it will – Use It and Sing Me Spanish Techno were particularly crowd-pleasing, though The Jessica Numbers was the one that stuck in my head for a good long time afterwards. High Ticket Attractions, off the new record, seems like it might be one that becomes a quick favourite too. Mass Romantic, Brill Bruisers, The Laws Have Changed, The Bleeding Heart Show – I guess this means nothing to you if you don’t know the songs, but I do, and when I write them all out one after the other, I think “these guys have just a ton of great songs.”

Because writing out a list of songs and silently admiring them in awe is totally something I do all the time. That paragraph was just the worst.

SLCR #293: Steve Earle & The Dukes (September 27, 2017)

Feels like it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. Not really by choice; I bailed on a few recent shows. Sorry if you pay attention to that UPCOMING CONCERTS blurb and were real interested in my takes on The Sadies and BA Johnston. (I would have said “they were good”) I blame work. Had some late nights to prep for a new product launch, and I get to do it again shortly. So it goes. I made a little extra coin and got a pile of tickets to new shows to make up for it.

Onto Steve Earle. Good fella. Good songwriter. Good musician. Saw him last year. He came back to town surprisingly quickly, and I was on the fence about going. Not because I had a bad time last time – liked him a bunch – but I’m starting to feel the pinch from going to a million shows a year and I need to dial it back a bit. Plus the casino switched to a new ticketing system and it was tricky, at first, to actually select a seat – you could only pick a section. But then they got their act together (or I did – who really knows?) and it became one of those “I’m having a rough and/or boring day at work, I need a treat” concerts. I’d say there will be fewer of those going forward, but history shows that only lasts for a month or two and then I’m back at it.

I can think of very little of interest surrounding this show. It sold out, I guess that’s important to mention. And it was relevant upon arriving, as the drive into the parkade was ridiculous. I screamed helpful advice from the inside of my car (“POINT YOUR CAR TOWARDS THE RAMP AND THEN DRIVE UP IT”) but nobody heard or heeded it. It was slow-moving mass chaos. Someone would try to park and nobody would know what to do. There was no danger of running out of spaces – the parkade has an entire extra level that nobody seems to know is there. Except me, I guess. I parked up there, above the rest of humanity, free from the maddening crowds but an observer thereof. Then I walked down the same pee-smelling stairwell as everyone else.

I had a cheap aisle seat at the back row of the balcony. The folks in my row were pleasant and didn’t make me get out of their way too often. You’re bored right now but I assure you this was nice. And I don’t have a whole ton to talk about.

Our openers were The Mastersons, who I’d never heard of except it turned out I’d seen them before. They were two members of Earle’s band last time he was in town. And this time. Earle himself opened the show by introducing them, which I thought was a really nice touch. Their songs were country-ish singer/songwriter stuff with him on guitar and her usually on guitar or fiddle. That’s not saying much but I feel like you get the gist of it. The sound wasn’t great for their set – the instruments were fine but the voices were mic’ed really high (so it was the opposite of my usual complaint, at least) and came in kind of shrill. Nearby fellow old people said the same thing.

Earle and his band, The Dukes – I want to say six people in total – entered the stage to the sounds of Johnny Cash’s cover of Rusty Cage. Last time out, they were on the anniversary tour for Guitar Town and played the whole album start to finish. With a little more freedom in the setlist this time, I thought I might hear more songs I knew, but that didn’t really happen. Instead I just got a wider variety of tunes that were new to me, along with a lot of the same hits and covers (Copperhead Road, Guitar Town, Devil’s Right Hand, Hey Joe) as before. And like before, this was all real good. The vocals were a little muddy but still better than they were for The Mastersons.

Apparently, I don’t have much to say. It might also be apparent that I wasn’t 100% into this show. Not the band’s fault – I was just kinda tired and I was ready to be done a little bit before they were. But whatever. I still had a nice time and all.

SLCR #292: Guns N’ Roses (August 27, 2017)

Many years ago, I was in line to get into the Odeon in Saskatoon to see Hawksley Workman. This drunk dude stumbled down the street and asked us what the line was for. Someone told him it was Guns N’ Roses, who were broken up or fighting with each other or something at the time.

“YEAH,” said our new drunken friend, “GUNS IS FUCKIN’ ROSES.”

They sure is.

And I really thought that was as close as I’d ever come to seeing Guns N’ Roses, but here we are. Remember how Mika initially really wanted to go to Bryan Adams despite having never shown any previous interest in Bryan Adams? That was kind of the situation here again. Guns N’ Roses was announced for our new stadium well before Adams was, and Mika seemed real keen on going. Me? I dunno. I knew all the big hits but I also didn’t care so much. But I’ll go to pretty much anything for any reason, and Mika wanting to go is reason enough.

Plus, who figured this would ever happen? They were giant stars but also the textbook example of rock n’ roll scandal and excess. Books have been written about their troubled history and it would take someone far more knowledgeable than me to put together the timeline of breakups, reunions, and personnel changes. The idea that they’d hit a point where something vaguely resembling the classic lineup was able to survive an entire tour together was inconceivable. But here we are.

I mentioned that I am not really a Guns N’ Roses fan. Really, I shouldn’t approach this like a normal review. It should be more of a fish-out-of-water piece, like when Vice sends a writer to a Trump rally or the Gathering of the Juggalos. That said, my only initial observation about G’n’R fans is that they obey no rule about not wearing the band’s shirt to their own concert.

We got to the mall at about 5:30 to catch the stadium shuttle. They’ve finally got the get-to-the-stadium part relatively down. We were on a bus and in motion within 15 minutes. A line of similar length took an hour and 15 minutes for Bryan Adams, causing us to miss the first few songs from Our Lady Peace. This time, we got inside, walked up the ramp, and came out on our level just in time for the first few songs by Our Lady Peace.

Since tickets went on sale so long ago, I had to buy them before ever having visited our new stadium. Also, I didn’t want to spend a ton of money. Folks, I have to tell you, mistakes were made. I knew we were close to the stage and up high, but we were much closer and much higher than I remembered. We were in the back row of the section, looking down on the stage from the side. The view was less than ideal. The sound, worse. And we were all the way on the opposite side of the stadium from the buses, ensuring that it would be a long wait to get home. James, this was not your finest work. In fact, I’d go so far as “catastrophic failure.”

So, Our Lady Peace. I had hopes that since they’d just played here three months ago, we’d get a different set of tunes. Nope! It was almost the exact same setlist. The good news is we showed up in time to hear Naveed and Superman’s Dead this time. The bad news is that the sound was worse – but again, that was a function of where we were sitting. I don’t blame them for the sound. I do blame them for not mixing things up at all. Whatever. Much like last time, this was fine if not thrilling.

OLP finished at 7:00 and Guns N’ Roses was scheduled to start at 7:30. Mika had been told that G’n’R was starting an hour late in each city along this tour. If anything, this seemed awfully optimistic judging by Axl Rose’s long and storied past. I gave it some time for the first wave of people to disperse and at about 6:50, I left in search of food. Ridiculous lineups at every vendor, of course. For convenience’s sake, I went to the one nearest our seats and got poutine since it appeared to be the only thing they sold with a lid – and I’d need that assistance when carrying the snacks back to my seat, since I also got us each a bottle of water and I wasn’t allowed to keep the caps on them. It was an awkward walk back.

Anyway, my foreshadowing is never subtle and you’ve already figured out that Guns N’ Roses started at 7:30 on the nose and I missed the first song or two. I’d tell you what they were, but I have no idea. I went into the show wondering just how many G’n’R songs I actually knew. Talking to Mika, I figured there were actually quite a few – but the sound was so muddy where we were that there were a lot of songs that sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite place. She even said something similar and she’s much better at Name That Tune than I am. All of the really big singles were apparent, of course – Welcome to the Jungle, November Rain, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, You Could Be Mine, stuff like that. There was an unexpected cover of Black Hole Sun, which I assume was a tribute to the late Chris Cornell. That was nice. And they played Live and Let Die with extra pyro. I’ve said this before but pyrotechnics are my least favourite of all the -technics, and while our seats may have sucked if we wanted to see or hear the band, they were GREAT if you wanted to be close to fireworks and other explosions. Which I assure you I did not.

I’m just gonna say this – I was not the intended audience for this show and I did not dig it at all. Everyone else I heard from loved it. Listen to them and not to me. I’m the problem here. Put me in better seats, and I’d likely have had a good time. I mean, there are all kinds of bands that I don’t really care about that I’d go see just for the spectacle of it all, and this was quite a spectacle. And the songs I knew (and could make out) were enjoyable despite everything. Maybe we should have left our seats and watched the show standing on the concourse level. Lots of people sitting near us did that. Or maybe I should have just held off on buying tickets – the show didn’t come close to selling out, and on the day of the show, one friend got decent seats for much cheaper than ours, and another saw $250-per-person floor seats going for around what we paid. There are multiple lessons here.

Having dealt with several bus debacles leaving the stadium, we skipped out on the encore in favour of a quicker departure (so no Paradise City for us). This turned out to be a surprisingly amusing decision since we wound up near some of the drunkest humans I’ve seen in quite some time. One man in particular told a loud story about how he met a lady at the show and she gave him her number and they kissed and it was his “first kiss in a looooooooong time.” He then detailed his plans to continue drinking (“water’s for pussies”) and how he lost his hotel key but was going to talk the hotel clerk into letting him into the room even though it was under someone else’s name. Then he expressed a great interest in getting some cocaine and declared that a woman he was sitting with was “the coke queen of Yorkton.” He then backtracked, with a really loud and exaggerated “I’M JUST KIDDING ABOUT THAT. ONLY KIDDING.” And then we got to the mall and he peed on the side of it. I avoided eye contact with Mika for the entire bus ride home because I’d have lost it otherwise. Good sir, you and your cocaine and pee salvaged my evening.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• The Sadies (September 14)
• BA Johnston (September 15)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (September 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Whitehorse w/Terra Lightfoot (October 13)
• Sarah Slean (October 14)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)
• David Myles w/Port Cities (October 24)
• Headstones w/SNAKEandtheCHAIN (November 17)
• Cold Specks (November 24)
• Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)

SLCR #291: k.d. lang (August 26, 2017)

It was pretty early in the year when this show was announced and tickets went on sale. Mika’s a long-time fan, and I’ve seen k.d. lang a few times before and knew it would be good, so I was pretty pleased about this. I had high hopes of summoning some more of my front-row magic that’s been doing so well of late, but no dice – those were premium VIP tickets with the exclusive merchandise, meet & greet, all that good stuff. As for the regular seats, they were plentiful but also selling quite quickly – every pair I tried to grab wound up sold to someone else before I could complete the online transaction. Rather than get shut out entirely, I retreated to the comfortable familiarity of two seats on the end of Row L For Legroom, but – if you can possibly believe this – on the other side of the concert hall this time. Wild!

Several months later, the Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather dream match was signed, and of course, it was on the same night as this show. Friends immediately made plans and I immediately declined them. Skipping the ridiculous sports spectacle of the year in favour of going to see k.d. lang was possibly not the most macho I’ve ever felt*, but I have no regrets. The fight was better than everyone was expecting, but I can’t adequately describe how low that bar was set. I still haven’t seen it and have no real need to.

*actually, it was about on par with every day

We got to the Conexus Arts Centre with only a little time to spare – I always show up way early and am always pleased with myself when I fight the urge and things work out alright. The place was packed – tickets sold out on the first day, with the exception of the aforementioned VIP packages. And those ones went soon after. We got inside, checked out the Stuff Table, and found our seats. I was delighted to learn that Row L For Legroom has the same legroom on either side. I was more delighted to not feel like the oldest person at a concert. Far from it – the guy sitting in front of us asked us how we got in, since it looked like there’d been an age restriction at the door.

Our openers were local duo Kacy & Clayton. You may remember them from such concert reviews as #225, when they opened for (and then played with) Ryan Boldt. Since then, they’ve put out at least one more album and have done some shows in the US. That’s neat! I like watching people’s careers progress.

This was a lot like the last time I saw them, though they didn’t have any other musicians this time. He still played guitar. She still sang. They did pleasant folky songs that sounded nice if somewhat similar to one another. The sound wasn’t the best and I found it hard to make out the lyrics. One song made repeated mention of the Santa Fe Trail. If you want more information than that, I don’t know what to tell you. Clayton said “I see you guys have a lot of exits” which was funny but then I was distracted by just how many glowing red exit signs there are there. I suppose it beats not having enough. And now I’m distracted again.

The problem with aisle seats is dealing with all the people passing by you, so we headed out into the lobby for the intermission. Don’t let the change in location fool you – we did the same stuff as ever; namely, showed each other cute animal pictures (and occasional Japanese foods) on Instagram. We’re a thrill to hang out with and I don’t know why we aren’t surrounded by hangers-on at all times.

This tour was to mark the 25th anniversary of k.d. lang’s album, ingénue. These shows usually make me feel old but I can’t say I was a huge fan of lang’s at the time, so it didn’t have any effect on me. And to be fair, I didn’t see many 16-year-old boys at this show either. Anyway, lang was – of course – playing the album all the way through. I’d assumed I’d heard the album a bunch since my mom had it, but I only really knew the two singles. It turns out that it’s a well-designed album for these kinds of anniversary tours, since you get the first single Miss Chatelaine three songs in, and the big hit, Constant Craving, is the very last track. I wonder how often that happens. It has to be rare, doesn’t it, where the album’s big hit is the very last song? Now I want to go look at all my CDs. Where are my CDs? What are CDs?

Anyway, that album ain’t that long – I didn’t mean to use “ain’t” there but I’m not changing it now – so she played a few more of her own songs before closing the main set with three covers of Canadian artists. You likely know which ones. The crowd did, with one guy yelling “HALLELUJAH” as soon as she said she was going to do a few covers, and someone else yelling “JONI MITCHELL” a few words into lang’s story about playing Mitchell’s song in front of her. I thought “I bet the third will be Neil Young” and it was. She has her go-tos.

When that dude yelled for Hallelujah, she said “I’m not sure how to take that” and everyone laughed. And I get it; if you shout out “Hallelujah!” people will think you’re REAL into whatever you were just told. But I wonder if it’s weird for her. She’s more than accomplished as a songwriter in her own right, but the song that’s become her trademark is someone else’s. And she wasn’t the first to do it in that style – her version is more Cale or Buckley than Cohen. Who knows. Maybe that’s not something she’d care about. Just thinking out loud here. Except written down. But you know.

Anyway, she did a few more songs for the encore, thanked us for coming out (“and if you DID come out tonight, congratulations”), and that was that. Her voice is as strong as ever and her band is great, so this was basically exactly what (and as good as) I expected. I do think I liked her last show here a little better, mainly because she didn’t have to play a whole album in order and had a little more freedom when picking the songs – but that’s a minor thing and one I kinda expected. All told, I had a delightful time and am more than satisfied with my life choices. You missed out, 16-year-old boys. I hope you liked your punching. And I hope somebody skipped to the end and read that without context.

SLCR #290: Beck (August 20, 2017)

Did I ever tell you about how we were going to Nashville to see the solar eclipse? I can’t remember if I ever said as much in a review. The logic was that anywhere along the path of totality could be cloudy, so we should go someplace fun so that it wouldn’t be a wasted trip if we got rained out. Nashville seemed more interesting (if farther) than, say, Kearney, Nebraska. Not that it matters – we didn’t go. I mention this only because the Beck tour was announced shortly after we decided against the trip. I thought if we could get tickets, it might make a nice consolation prize.

One challenge: tickets were going on sale on a busy Friday morning when – apart from my manager – I was the only one of my team in at work. To that end, I booked myself a 10-minute meeting, from 9:55 to 10:05 a.m. I found out about the show from an article on The AV Club but didn’t hear of much hype locally, so while I figured tickets would sell fast, I thought I might have a decent chance. At 9:55, I logged into the site and spammed refresh while my manager went in search of coffee. By the time she was back, I had two tickets – front row centre. The process was so painless that I didn’t really believe everything would work out until we actually got to our seats.

With an 8:00 p.m. start time, we drove up to Saskatoon in the afternoon. The drive was uneventful, though not exceptionally well-timed on my part. Had we left earlier, we could have had dinner before the show. Later, and we could have just gone straight there. Instead, we parked downtown on a Sunday evening with just enough time to kill to be irritating. Eventually, we wandered over to Starbucks for a coffee and an iced tea, respectively, ensuring we’d be appropriately mildly caffeinated for the concert. I think the kids call this “pre-drinking.”

Walking towards TCU Place, we passed people leaving with armloads of Beck merchandise. Once inside, we could see that the Stuff Table was doing booming business. There was nothing particularly unique – shirts, vinyl, hats – but people were snapping it up. I didn’t bother getting anything.

We hung out in the lobby for a bit and watched people before taking our seats. I didn’t feel particularly old or young – I think we were decidedly average as far as the crowd went. I suppose that would make sense – Beck’s been making music for a long time. Loser, his first big hit, came out when I was in Grade 9. And I’ve never really understood how he had such a successful career after that one. Which is not any kind of commentary on his talent – it’s just weird that a guy could have a massive hit with what was almost a novelty song and still be popular over 25 years later. That song was perfect one-hit wonder fodder but he managed to avoid that trap.

A few days before the show, they announced that McRorie would be the opening act. Do you know who McRorie is? I did not. I meant to do internet research before the show, but kept forgetting. Finally, I watched five seconds of a video of what looked like a one-man band before getting distracted and never going back to it. Internet video is a wonderful innovation that is completely wasted on me. That said… I pretty much got it? McRorie is, indeed, a one-man band. He wore a black kilt with two keyboard-type instruments slung over his hips like holsters. There were drum pads on his feet that played when he stomped or walked. There were also drum pads on his chest that he could hit. His arms were wired up so that when he brought one arm up, cymbals crashed. He could also apply any number of filters on his voice. And I think he might have been wearing Google Glass. If this does not sound amazing to you, we can no longer be friends.

For the most part he did covers, ranging from Fight for Your Right to Sunday Morning Coming Down to Gin & Juice to Rockin’ in the Free World to Hallelujah, which lent itself especially well to a stomping lunatic with a robot voice punching himself in the chest:

She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
[CHEST PUNCH DRUM] [CHEST PUNCH DRUM] [CHEST PUNCH DRUM] [ARM RAISE CYMBALS]

In a few nights we will see kd lang and she will surely perform Hallelujah and it will be great but in such a different way. You don’t want to know how much I’d pay to see the two of them do the song together.

He also did a few originals. One was called Cowboys Take Drugs Too and was about exactly that. I think he said he wrote that in Plunkett, which is the smallest of small Saskatchewan towns and yet somehow this still makes perfect sense. Another, his closing number, was called Nuclear Party Song, a worryingly timely number about partying being the only sensible thing to do while the bombs fall. Those who party the hardest will survive the nuclear holocaust. Based on our volume when yelling “PARTY,” our section was deemed likely to survive, so we’ve got that going for us.

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During the break, Mika and I did what we always do – showed each other cute animal pictures that our respective friends posted on Instagram. We’ve got a lot of concerts coming up and a lot of mutual friends, so if I follow you on Instagram and she doesn’t, be a pal and post some cute animal pics, okay?

Beck and his band hit the stage a few minutes after 9:00 and launched right into Devils Haircut. Beck is kind of a weird one for me – I’ll get really into one album and then skip one entirely. I had no idea what this show would be like and I knew there was a chance that I’d only know a handful of songs. But this was not the case! It was almost as if he skipped everything that I did. Not only did he play most of the big singles, but there were five songs from my favourite album of his, Guero. That surprised me because it’s not one I ever hear people list among his best, but whatever, it worked out great for me. We got Black Tambourine, Qué Onda Güero, Go It Alone, Girl, and E-Pro, all great. Girl has been stuck in my head ever since.

setlist.fm is a delightful resource for concerts. It’s also sometimes very wrong, but this looks pretty accurate to me. I added the album titles for my own interest.

Devils Haircut [Odelay]
Black Tambourine [Guero]
The New Pollution [Odelay]
Qué Onda Güero [Guero]
Think I’m in Love [The Information]
Mixed Bizness [Midnite Vultures]
Timebomb [Timebomb single]
Soul of a Man [Modern Guilt]
Go It Alone [Guero]
Paper Tiger [Sea Change]
Lost Cause [Sea Change]
Blackbird Chain [Morning Phase]
Heart is a Drum [Morning Phase]
Blue Moon [Morning Phase]
Loser [Mellow Gold]
Girl [Guero]
Sexx Laws [Midnite Vultures]
Wow [Colors]
Dreams [Colors]
E-Pro [Guero]
Encore:
Where It’s At [Odelay]
Debra [Midnite Vultures]
One Foot in the Grave [One Foot in the Grave]

He opened with five straight songs I knew before starting to get into the stuff that was less familiar to me. Not that this mattered – this was a fantastic show from start to finish. Beck has great energy and his band was killer. For the songs I knew, he blew away the album versions. And all the ones that were new(ish) to me were great too. I love those shows where I leave as a bigger fan than when I came in. This one gave me new appreciation for everything I already liked and made me want to seek out everything of his that I didn’t already know.

Though it lists three songs for the encore, they really all blended into each other, ending with more of Where It’s At and also encompassing Beck’s introductions of his band. Most of the musicians had a chance to solo – the drummer started his with the good part from In the Air Tonight, always appropriate and appreciated.

This was Beck’s first time in Saskatoon and he seemed genuinely surprised by how loved he was. When he mentioned he’d never played there before, people cheered and it seemed like they weren’t about to stop. Later on, he messed up the words to one of his newer songs because “I’ve never heard people clap along to that one before.” Everyone sang along wherever they could, the “na na, na na na, na naaaa” parts of E-Pro and – of course – the chorus of Loser being especially popular. People stood for the whole show. We tried staying seated, since we had pretty much the best view in the house already and didn’t feel the need to hinder the folks behind us, but one dude to Mika’s left was really into dancing into her way so I wound up politely shoving him aside and we stood for the second half of the show. I didn’t mind at all.

It wasn’t that short a show but still felt like it was over too soon, and then we were back on the road. We got home around 2:00 a.m. and – if you can believe it – even had to stay off the internet until the next afternoon, when we’d caught up on TV we missed. A crushing sacrifice but well worth it.

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UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• kd lang w/Kacy & Clayton (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses w/Our Lady Peace (August 27)
• The Sadies (September 14)
• BA Johnston (September 15)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (September 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Whitehorse w/Terra Lightfoot (October 13)
• Sarah Slean (October 14)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)
• David Myles w/Port Cities (October 24)
• Headstones w/SNAKEandtheCHAIN (November 17)
• Cold Specks (November 24)
• Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)

SLCR #289: Crash Test Dummies & the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (August 7, 2017)

I feel like I’ve told my history with the Crash Test Dummies a million times. But it’s been seven years since I’ve seen them – really, seven years since they’ve played together – so the super short version is I was a big fan back in the day and somehow wound up running their website for a few years. They’re good people. We’re still friends to this day, if you’re really generous with how you define “friends.” I mean, most of them would remember who I am. Maybe.

The last time I saw them in concert was two shows in 2010. In Regina, the vocalists – Brad Roberts and Ellen Reid – were joined by guitarist Murray Pulver. The next night in Winnipeg, they were joined by bassist Dan Roberts (Brad’s brother) and drummer Mitch Dorge, playing together for the first time in years. Since then, I know Brad and Ellen have each done a few solo shows – and maybe a few gigs together? I’m not sure. Point being, they don’t play together a lot anymore. So I was pretty surprised when Ellen let me know about the reunion gig – with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, no less.

This show was part of the Jeux de Canada Games – I need to use the full bilingual title if I want to keep getting my federal grant for writing these things. There were 11 nights of free concerts, one for each province (the territories had to share a night), each with the kind of lineup you might see at our local Folk Festival. The Canada Games were in Saskatoon when I was 14 or so, and while I wasn’t a concert-goer back then, I certainly don’t remember anything like this. For a brief moment, I was sad I didn’t live in Winnipeg. That feeling soon passed – Winnipeg might be my least-favourite city – but I enjoyed it for its novelty.

For those wondering, the Saskatchewan night was hosted by speed skater Catriona LeMay Doan and headlined by Buffy Sainte-Marie and – of course – The Sheepdogs. Always the Sheepdogs.

On the morning of the show, I got up like I was going to work – 5:20 am because I hate myself – and was on the road by 7:00. It’s a six-hour drive to Winnipeg and it flew buy surprisingly quickly. I credit the podcast Reply All. Once in town, I found my way to Kristin’s apartment and we spent an hour trying to convince her cat Beatrix to pay attention to me. This was pleasant if largely unsuccessful. Eventually, we gave up on this futile endeavour and went to check into my hotel. The hotel was close to the concert, had ample parking, was clean enough, and the people were nice. A success by my low standards.

At this point, it was around 4:30 and we were a short walk to the festival grounds. And as fate would have it, there was a Zapdos raid on the way. Now, if you aren’t a Pokémon GO player, then you don’t need to know about the phenomena of raid battles and legendary Pokémon. This puts you in the same boat as Kristin. I, meanwhile, was thrilled to get in on a Zapdos raid so quickly after its launch and even more thrilled to catch the thing on my first try, all while trying to explain to Kristin what was going on and why dozens of Pokémon players had suddenly converged on one spot.

Once in the park, we took a walk to orient ourselves, by which I mean I quickly lead us out of the park on the (successful) hunt for a second Zapdos. Finally, we found a patch of grass in the shade near the Indigenous arts market and settled in to listen to William Prince and Sierra Noble. I’ve seen Prince before and I really enjoy his songs. This was no exception, though I did wonder why it was billed as William Prince and Sierra Noble when it was really William Prince with a fiddle player and occasional back-up singer. At any rate, this was nice. Then the Royal Winnipeg Ballet came out and did some Irish step dancing. The men were wearing these velour bodysuits that made them look naked and also probably cooked them alive. Does velour retain odours?

When the Ballet was done, we wandered off in search of food. There were a wide range of food trucks by one end of the park, and we settled on the grilled cheese truck. As we waited for our food, we ran into some of Kristin’s friends, one of whom gave me one of the better high-fives I’ve had in some time. My grilled cheese had ham and pineapple; Kristin’s had spinach and red peppers. Most of you would prefer hers and most of you are wrong.

We found a spot on the hill to sit – this was trickier than you might think because it was really starting to get crowded – where we could eat our dinner and listen to the New Meanies. I’d never heard them before but certainly knew of the name – it seemed like they were playing in Saskatoon all the time when I was in university. “The New Meanies are still a thing?!” Mika said, when I told her who was playing. To be honest, I don’t know if they are or aren’t, and probably lots of people said “Crash Test Dummies are still a thing?!” too. Anyway, as far as the New Meanies went, I dug the music. The vocals, though… the lead singer was fine but whenever there was an attempt at harmonies, they were pretty bad. I thought they got better a few songs in but Kristin pointed out that they just weren’t trying harmonies for those songs.

As the hill filled up, it got to a point where it was hard for me to shift to a new position without nearly kicking someone, so we got up and wandered around. The park was full of people, so we threw some elbows to get through the crowd and I bought myself a bottled water and a Diet Coke from the food truck with the shortest line. At the very back of the park, we found some picnic tables and sat at one – and after lots of time on the ground, the picnic table made for some good sitting. We enjoyed it until a wasp showed up, trying to eat some crumbs on the table. I brushed the crumbs onto the ground but the wasp came back looking for it, and then brought reinforcements. It was actually pretty funny – it was like you could hear the first one saying “Seriously, it was right here, help me look for it.” But they’re also stinging angry shitheads, so we wandered back to the stage.

Royal Canoe was playing and I really only have two things to say about Royal Canoe: we mostly didn’t listen to Royal Canoe, and from what I did hear, Royal Canoe might not be my thing. So it goes.

We were getting close to the Crash Test Dummies and it was time to find ourselves a good spot. The standing area in front of the stage was packed for Royal Canoe, and we had high hopes that people would leave in between sets and we could move up. And… this worked? Royal Canoe finished up, and people headed out for drinks and whatnot before the Dummies started. We inched our way to the front, swimming upstream, and wound up only two or three rows of people back, stage left. A great spot.

And then the emcee told us that lightning had been spotted on the radar, and that if it came closer, we should evacuate calmly.

This was pretty much my worst-case scenario. Everything gets called off, but late enough that I’m out all the expenses. And in Winnipeg. But until that happened, they were going to push forward. There’s nothing to worry about until there’s something to worry about, I guess. The stagehands worked at setting up the stage for the Dummies and the orchestra, while we were entertained by a DJ with a wonderful prairie name, DJ Co-op. He kind of looked like Mark Cuban, if Cuban made every decision in his life differently. At one point, he played a Weakerthans song that he mixed with pow wow music and a dubstep beat. It was a thing.

Finally, the Dummies and the orchestra took the stage. No lightning. Never even a hint of it. They launched into God Shuffled His Feet and began what was mostly a greatest hits set (with three songs from their newest album, which is itself now seven years old).

The last time I saw them, about half the show was Brad, Ellen, and Murray, and half also included Dan and Mitch. This time, the whole band played on everything, and the symphony played on about half the songs. The arrangements were nice but not drastic changes – it felt very much the band playing with the orchestra as accompaniment, as opposed to when I’ve seen Ben Folds with the Edmonton Symphony, where everything is reworked with the orchestra in mind.

I took note of the setlist. If you’re not Canadian, you’ll only know one of these. If you are Canadian, and of a certain age, you might recognize around half:

God Shuffled His Feet
The Ghosts That Haunt Me
Swimming in Your Ocean
Androgynous
Put a Face
The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
In the Days of the Caveman
Songbird
Keep a Lid on Things
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
Heart of Stone
Superman’s Song
Encore: Afternoons & Coffeespoons

Not the longest set, but I knew that going in – it was a festival show with start and end times pre-defined. But it was fantastic – the band looked and sounded as good as ever, and they all seemed to be having a great time. Brad, in particular, seemed more genuinely appreciative for the warm reception than I’d seen before.

And they should have been having fun. I mean, I get that this is a weird band for someone to be into, especially in 2017. They’re a one-hit wonder in the US. Even in Canada, they haven’t had a hit song since 1999. But for one more night, they were hometown heroes, playing to a packed crowd of thousands who were excited to be there and sang along with all the hits. I’ve seen the band four times before, but never with an atmosphere like this. I thought this would be a fun concert but it wound up challenging July Talk for my fake-yet-coveted Show Of The Year award.

The band wrapped up, and we hung around the front of the stage for a bit while the crowd thinned out. This process was helped along by fireworks starting the second the concert ended – and they were strategically placed so that you couldn’t really see them with the stage in the way. A unique and clever way to get people to clear out in a hurry. As we waited, Murray Pulver came out to talk to some folks and gave me a big hug when he saw me. We chatted for a little bit and he said I should stick around to talk to everyone else, but I didn’t figure they’d be coming out. And they didn’t, at least not before the security guards started clearing the area of us weirdos who weren’t immediately drawn to the fireworks.

With that, we walked back to the car, past groups of people having the most fascinating conversations. There were inside jokes, dating stories, lyric analysis, all kinds of things. I dropped Kristin off at her place, and became very thankful for the GPS on the drive back to the hotel. I don’t have a good internal compass at the best of times, but without that GPS, I think I’d still be lost in Winnipeg. Or maybe somewhere in Ontario by now. Everything the GPS told me to do was against my instincts and it took me right back to the hotel.

You never know what the future will bring. There’s always a market for nostalgia, but everyone in the band has moved on to post-Dummies activities and I imagine it would be difficult to coordinate future gigs. This show only happened as part of a special event in their hometown. They may never do another show, or they might go on a 25th (ugh, christ) anniversary tour of God Shuffled His Feet next year. Who knows? But if they never play together again, this was an almost perfect way to go out.

I say “almost perfect” because during Afternoons & Coffeespoons, my favourite Dummies song, they got to the part where the harmonica solo should be, and it just wasn’t there. I knew it wouldn’t be a full reunion without Benjamin Darvill, but in that moment, he was especially missed. I don’t know if he chose not to come to this, or if he was ever even asked. Either way, I can’t see him ever playing with them again. I know he’s off doing his own thing, and it’s very different and I really dig it, but still. You know?

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Beck w/McRorie (August 20)
• kd lang w/Kacy & Clayton (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses w/Our Lady Peace (August 27)
• The Sadies (September 14)
• BA Johnston (September 15)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (September 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Whitehorse w/Terra Lightfoot (October 13)
• Sarah Slean (October 14)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)
• David Myles (October 24)
• Headstones w/SNAKEandtheCHAIN (November 17)
• Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)

SLCR #288: Queen City Ex (August 3-4, 2017)

When I wrote the big long recap of the Jazz Festival (and, like, a million other things), my intent was to group a bunch of shows together so that I could keep each section relatively short. And I failed miserably. So I can see why you might be leery now. So if you don’t read any of the rest of this, just know that July Talk is now in the lead for Show of the Year in my non-existent year-end awards. So good.

But you should probably read the rest of this because it’s mostly about disgusting delicious fair foods. And I promise I will not start three straight sentences with “so” again in this. (But six straight sentences starting with conjunctions, on the other hand…)

The Queen City Ex is our local fair. Rides, contests, garbage food, bands, you know the deal. Despite what the title above might indicate, it runs for five days. We only went for two, cherry-picking solid lineups for our visits: July Talk with The Zolas on Thursday, and a double-bill of The Watchmen and I Mother Earth on Friday. This left us skipping (in order) Gord Bamford with Nice Horse, Ruth B with Christian Hudson, and Brett Kissel with hypnotist Wayne Lee and why is a hypnotist opening for a country singer? Too late to find out now even if I wanted to. And I don’t really want to.

Thursday was not only our first day at the fair, but it was also Mika’s birthday. I took her to a place with next to no gluten-free options and she got to watch me eat stuff she would have enjoyed, and then we saw a band I really like. Don’t ever say that I don’t know how to treat my wife on her special day.

As we both had to work on Thursday, we got to the fair fairly (oh man that’s some good comedy) late. We strolled around and pondered our food options while searching for the Great Western Stage, which was not where we remembered it. After making our way from one end of the Ex to the other, we checked our little map to discover that they’d moved it into the Brandt Centre. Seating! Air conditioning! No chance of getting rained out (as happened to the July Talk show at the Edmonton fair)! This was a pretty decent deal. And I suppose it makes sense – during our last fair visit two years ago, you didn’t have to deal with the giant new stadium on the fairgrounds.

The Thursday night openers were The Zolas and we got there just in time for them to begin. I knew one song, Swooner, but the rest of their stuff was new to me. Mika, however, was surprised to discover how many of their songs she’d heard – I gather they’re CBC Radio 3 favourites. Pop-rock, heavy on the keyboards and made me feel like I might be just a bit too old to really get into them, though the singer gained some bonus points by getting everyone to clap along to a song and then saying “now keep doing that until it’s awkward.” I mean, that’s what we do, but I’d never heard it spelled out so plainly before. These guys were fun enough, though they were probably my least-favourite set of the two nights. But that shouldn’t be taken as a knock – they were just up against some stiff competition.

Between sets, we headed back out onto the midway in an attempt to give ourselves coronaries. We were both saddened to discover that the nacho truck from our last fair visit was nowhere to be found. Tasty warm homemade chips with fresh toppings, right by the entrance to the Great Western Stage. You were too beautiful to live, nacho truck. Mika eventually found a place that made fries and didn’t fry anything else, so she could eat them. And they were good, but they’re not as ridiculous as you want from the fair, you know?

However, as mentioned, I had my pick of absolute crap. Last time, I started with a corndog and realized that I don’t like corn dogs as much as I think I do. This time, I went back for the corndogs, but with a twist – they stuck a dill pickle in there too. The perfect solution. I also got something called “bacon pickle balls” but they turned out to be just smaller pickle corn dogs that had an infinitesimal amount of bacon in there somewhere. Still good.

We made our way back to the Brandt Centre for July Talk. I first heard of them when the AV Club had the premiere of their video for Summer Dress, and – for reasons unknown to me – I actually bothered to watch the thing instead of skipping it like I do most web videos. (Sorry, people who ever send me links to anything.) I really dug it, which is not something I say about new bands these days because I am a miserable old fart who is set in his ways. And then I liked their album. And then their new album. So I was looking forward to this, was my point.

We’d sat in the stands for The Zolas, but moved down to the floor for July Talk, passing Mark and Arlette on the way down. The crowd for The Zolas was pretty respectable, but it had to be at least double that for July Talk. Sometimes good things become popular and that is rad!

The band took the stage and started by welcoming “ladies, gentlemen, trans, non-binary and genderfluid folk” before acknowledging that we were on Treaty 4 land. And then they blew the roof off the place. They played Summer Dress two songs in and I thought that would be the highlight for me but then it just kept getting better. Ridiculous levels of energy all night long. Two very different singers, with Leah Fay’s sultry vocals providing a sharp contrast to Peter Dreimanis’ guttural rasp. Great, catchy songs. Great musicians. Charismatic performers. This was the kind of show that made me want to tell everyone I know that they should have been there. I did text that to some of you. Not sorry.

At one point, Fay walked out into the crowd and asked everyone on the floor to sit down, and they all just did it. (I mean, WE didn’t, that floor is kinda nasty – but we were also far enough back so as to remain somewhat inconspicuous.) And then she rode back to the stage on a fan’s shoulders. She asked his name and he was the most excited Bob you ever did hear.

And then the encore. A fan threw something onto the stage. I couldn’t see what, but I assumed it was a stuffed animal, since we’re at the fair and all (even though most of the prizes were either Pokémon plushies or fidget spinners as far as I could tell). But no. Fay picked it up and said “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being in a band, you never give the people what they want right away. But I like you.” And she put on a rubber horse mask. And Fay and Dreimanis did a song together – the only one all night with just the two of them – with her in this horse mask. I use the word “ridiculous” a lot, and this was, but it is just as true to say it was amazing. Then Horse Fan (she had a name but that is not relevant right now) got to come up on stage and dance with the band for the last song. In the horse mask.

This ruled. This all ruled. The horse mask was just the icing on the cake. Horse icing. It cost $37 to get into the fair (two adults at $15 each, plus one car at $7) and I would have paid more than that for one ticket to July Talk and it would have been a deal. Go see them.

We ran into Mark and Arlette again on the way out – by which I mean I saw them leaving and chased after them – and we got to chat for a bit. Then with the show over, we set out to make some more bad decisions. Mika got a lemonade (again, tame by fair standards) while I went for the more ridiculous deep fried cookie dough. It was pretty good. Then I packed up my regrets and we went home, ready to do it all over again the next day.

Sometimes people ask me “how’s work?” and all you need to know is that on Thursday before the concert, I went from “I can come in this weekend” to “I’m taking tomorrow off because everything’s so broken that I can’t do anything” in the span of about 15 minutes. So I had Friday off, which was nice and restful. It let me prepare myself for another day of punishing my eardrums and my stomach.

Speaking of which, on Thursday, we discovered that one of the BBQ places was selling corn on the cob coated in Flammin’ [sic] Hot Cheetos dust. We reported this to Jeff and he had a day to build this up in his mind. By the time we got to the fair on Friday, he was already there, had already eaten the Flammin’ Hot Cheetos corn, and reported that it lived up to his imagination. Mika tried to have some too, but they misheard her order and gave her regular corn instead. She also got some blue slushie drink. Again, good but not fair-worthy craziness.

I, on the other hand, took my time to find the ideal monstrosity for dinner, and found the perfect combination of ridiculous and a short line – the bacon-wrapped foot-long hot dog topped with macaroni and cheese. With the optional fried onions, for… vitamins. Or fiber or something. Antioxidants? This was as delicious as it was challenging to eat. I wound up with mac and cheese on my nose and my hat. Not surprised. Didn’t care. Worth it.

We made our way to the Brandt Centre for the Watchmen, stopping to sample some apple whiskey on the way in. Not bad.

This was the only night where the two bands were given equal billing, though in essence, the Watchmen were opening. We debated whether the Watchmen or I Mother Earth should have gone on last, with Jeff firmly on the side of the Watchmen. I wasn’t sold on this. I mean, I know way more Watchmen songs than I Mother Earth songs, and having seen both bands recently, I liked the Watchmen better, but I figured that was just me. I Mother Earth just seem like the bigger band to me. And I was way wrong. There were tons of people in there for the Watchmen, on par with the crowd for July Talk. They opened with Boneyard Tree and closed with Stereo – in between, you got most of the singles you’d want (Incarnate, Any Day Now, All Uncovered, Absolutely Anytime and more) with some interesting covers, including The Only Living Boy in New York by Simon and Garfunkel and part of Superman by R.E.M.. This was a great set.

I’m writing this weeks after the fact. I think we got dessert between Watchmen and I Mother Earth, but I could be wrong. Maybe it was before? Who cares, if I’m wrong, only two people will know and they can write their own reviews if they’re so concerned about historical accuracy. Either way, I had red velvet mini donuts and Jeff got an Oreo churro. The mini donut people got my donuts from somewhere behind their stand. I don’t know where or why. I didn’t really want to know.

Having seen I Mother Earth last year, I realized that I only know one of their songs and also I only have so much interest in guitar solos. This show didn’t really change my opinion. That song was good! And the guitar solos were well done and all, but I can only care to a degree. I called this set “very good but not entirely my thing.” And I love this format of cramming tons of shows into one review because I can stop there, but I do need to mention that the crowd for I Mother Earth was shockingly smaller than it was for the Watchmen. At one point near the end of the set, I turned around and realized how bad it would look if they turned up the lights. They had maaaaaaybe half the crowd that the Watchmen did.

As soon I Mother Earth was over, Mika went to the bathroom and Jeff left, which was a real shame. The leaving part, I mean, not the bathroom part. Because if Jeff had left the arena with us, he’d have been treated to one lady’s rant about people bringing their fuckin’ kids to loud concerts and it’s not good for their hearing and you should get a fuckin’ babysitter or else just suck it the fuck up and don’t come – made all the better when I realized that some guy and his kids were 10 feet behind us. Then I got a caramel apple because I never learn anything.

SLCR #287: Bob Dylan (July 15, 2017)

This was a show that almost didn’t happen. I mean, for me. Which is essentially the same as it not happening at all, right? I mean, you likely weren’t there either. I didn’t see you there, anyway. If Bob Dylan performs a concert and several thousand people see it but they aren’t you or me, did it really happen?

This review also nearly didn’t happen because I’ve spent all of my computer time downloading wrestlers for Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, but that’s an understandable thing. You all know what it’s like when people are waiting for you to talk about concert-adjacent nonsense and you’re torn, trying to decide which Brutus Beefcake is the right Brutus Beefcake for you.

But yeah. I saw Dylan once before, back in 2002. While I enjoyed that show, I wasn’t sure that I needed to see him again. I’ve passed up his concerts here in town before, in fact. But Bob’s getting up there – coincidentally, we’re both 15 years older now – and I do like the guy, so as this show drew closer, it started to feel more and more like something I’d like to see. A week out, I checked tickets and I was able to get fifth row, dead centre. I don’t know if I just got lucky or if they repriced some unsold tickets from premium tiers. Either way, good deal for me.

Before I bought my ticket, I texted Mika to see if she wanted to come along. She said she didn’t but would go if I wanted the company. And I love her company, but I didn’t feel like paying an extra $100 to drag her to something that she wouldn’t enjoy. I told her this and she sent me the saddest gif of a crying cartoon rabbit.

Fun fact: you can tell how work is going by how many concert tickets I buy. When work is dead, I get bored and browse the internet and buy concert tickets. When work is crazy, I decide I need to treat myself. There’s a sweet spot in between where I’m busy but not TOO busy where I shop a lot less. That’s as stupid as it is true.

After Mika and I had dinner, I headed out to Moose Jaw, bravely battling my own dumb tendency to show up several hours early. I timed things well and got there with ten minutes to spare. Fine work, me. I picked up my ticket at the Will Call window and walked in past dozens of signs warning us to not record anything or take pictures of anything or use our phones at all. I had to show my ticket to get to my floor seat and got this spiel directly from one of the ushers, who asked me to just turn my phone all the way off entirely. I did not do this. But I also didn’t record anything or take any pictures; it’s 2017 and all but if someone cares that much, whatever. Instagram will survive without my blurry snaps and we all know what Bob Dylan looks like anyway.

My seat was great, apart from its proximity to the rest of them. Whoever laid out the floor seats at Mosaic Place once sat in the middle seat on an airplane, loved it, and wanted to share his joy with others. I’d like him to contract dick cancer.

A nice thing about Dylan’s obsessive fan base is that within minutes of the show ending, a complete setlist was up on the internet:

Things Have Changed
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
Highway 61 Revisited
Why Try to Change Me Now (Cy Coleman cover)
Summer Days
Make You Feel My Love
Duquesne Whistle
Melancholy Mood (Frank Sinatra cover)
Stormy Weather (Harold Arlen cover)
Pay in Blood
Once Upon a Time (Tony Bennett cover)
Tangled Up in Blue
Early Roman Kings
Desolation Row
Soon After Midnight
That Old Black Magic (Johnny Mercer cover)
Long and Wasted Years
Autumn Leaves (Yves Montand cover)
—the-dashes-mean-that-this-was-where-we-clapped-before-the-encore—
Blowin’ in the Wind
Ballad of a Thin Man

A solid lineup of tunes, though a relatively short night – done in just over 90 minutes – and from looking online, it looks like he’s playing mostly the same show every night. I can see where this would be disappointing to some people; part of the appeal of going to multiple shows on the same tour was that you never knew how he’d mix things up, or when he’d play some song for the first time since 1974 because he felt like it.

So I said earlier that “I wasn’t sure that I needed to see him again.” And this show got a bad review in the local paper, much to the delight of my Dylan-hating father. And the two people sitting to my left took off about five songs in, with one person (who didn’t seem to care much in the first place) saying to the other, “yeah, I can see why you’d be disappointed if it wasn’t what you were expecting.” I’m sorry they had a bad time but I enjoyed their shoulder room and butt room.

The thing is, Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan and a Bob Dylan concert is its own thing. The ticket said the show was going to start at 8:00 and it did, right down to the second. Last time I saw Dylan, the only words he said to the audience all night were “Ladies and gentlemen, here’s my band!” This time, not even that. He sang and we may as well have not been there. Bob Dylan isn’t real interested in you and you’re okay with that or you’re not. Some of the arrangements were very different from the recordings, to the point that it took quite a while to recognize some songs, even familiar ones. And his voice – you might love it, you might hate it (this seems to be much more likely, outside of a small but vocal group of my internet pals), but it is what it is. It may have become rougher over the years, but I can’t see where you’d have liked it 20 years ago and hated it now.

I guess I’m saying it all comes down to your expectations. I got pretty much exactly the show I thought I’d get and I liked it a lot. I can see why someone else might not, though. Which makes them wrong. But that’s okay.

Can we at least all agree that the band was really good? And Dylan spent much of the time playing piano and he seemed really into that. I even saw him smiling a few times, which was weird and didn’t fit with my mental image of him. No wonder we weren’t allowed to take pictures.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• July Talk (August 3)
• I Mother Earth and The Watchmen (August 4)
• Crash Test Dummies & the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (August 7)
• Beck (August 20)
• kd lang w/Kacy & Clayton (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses w/Our Lady Peace (August 27)
• The Sadies (September 14)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (September 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Whitehorse w/Terra Lightfoot (October 13)
• Sarah Slean (October 14)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)
• David Myles (October 24)
• Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)

SLCR #282: Amanda Marshall (June 23, 2017)

For all the concerts I go to, it’s a little ridiculous that it took me 31 years to finally attend the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. I suppose it makes sense if you figure that aside from knowing that jazz plus jazz equals jazz, I don’t know what the jazz is all about. But much the same way that our Folk Festival includes rock, country, hip-hop, and much more, the Jazz Festival is really just a jazz festival in name only.

The initial draw for me was the chance to see Son of Dave for the first time in 17 years. I saw him on his first solo tour on April 18, 2000, and haven’t made it to a show since. He lives in the UK now and doesn’t tour Canada much, though he does occasional gigs in Winnipeg (where he’s from) and I’ve had tickets to those shows on at least two occasions, but work or something always got in the way.

And then – THEN – Hawksley Workman retweets some rando saying he can’t wait for Hawksley’s show at the Jazz Festival. I’m not sure if Hawksley was a late addition or if I’m just slipping in my old age, but I missed his name on the lineup page. I excitedly check the schedule… and he’s playing on the same Saturday night as Son of Dave. I curse the fates. But wait! Hawksley is on from 8:00 to 9:30. Son of Dave starts at 10:30! I LOVE the fates. The fates are awesome. Heck yeah, fates, you’re okay by me.

I had tickets to Serena Ryder in Regina for Sunday night, so I had to head home early, but I checked the rest of the schedule to see who was playing on the Friday night, and Amanda Marshall was headlining the main stage. I hadn’t heard any Amanda Marshall songs in years, but I was immediately intrigued. I don’t know if her name will ring a bell for any non-Canadians reading this, but Marshall was HUGE in Canada for a little under a decade. Her first album came out in 1995 and was basically all hits, and her third (and thus far, last) was released in 2001. After that, she basically disappeared. And I don’t mean “got less popular,” I mean she vanished. No new music, no tours, no online presence. Wikipedia makes vague reference to legal issues that started when she fired her management team in the early 2000s, but whatever the cause, it was kind of remarkable for someone that famous to disappear so thoroughly. I mean, I know Alanis Morissette isn’t as big a star now as she was 20 years ago, but I’m sure she has a website, right?

Over time, Marshall eventually resurfaced for infrequent performances, but even now, there’s very little to indicate that she’s actively working. Her Wikipedia page notes a radio interview where she said she hoped to have a new CD out in 2013. It hasn’t arrived yet. I decided that I had to go see this show because how often is this opportunity going to come around again? And besides, I’d never seen her before.

Or hadn’t I? I drove to Saskatoon early Friday morning, stopping only for a quick visit with my pal Garth before skipping town. Garth is my chiropractor, and about a week before, Mika said “you haven’t had any problems with your back in a long time,” so you know I was doomed. But really, it wasn’t so bad – just kind of stiff feeling – and Garth loosened me up. Plus, when I listed off who I was going to see at the Jazz Festival, he was oddly excited for Hawksley Workman. That was as delightful as it was unexpected.

I got sidetracked, so let me try this again. Or hadn’t I? On the drive in to town, Deserée texted to ask if we’d seen Amanda Marshall years ago. I had been sure all along that I hadn’t, but I immediately started second-guessing myself. Some research showed that she played Saskatoon on June 23, 1999 – or exactly 18 years to the day before the Jazz Festival show. Thanks to these old reviews, I know I wasn’t there, but by remembering how Marshall moved around on stage, it’s safe to say Dez was.

After lunch with Dave, I drove around Saskatoon, hitting record stores, buying nothing, and marveling at how much has changed. I don’t come to town much anymore and 8th Street and Midtown Plaza are both nearly unrecognizable.

I made my way to Josy and Anna’s house, where I’d be spending the weekend. With a little time before the weekend of music would begin in earnest, Josy and I set out on a Pokémon GO walk, since we’re the only people left still playing it. The River Landing area of Saskatoon is new since I lived there and it’s quite nice, if currently buggy.

Back to the house and their son wanted me to read him a book. He brought over The Book of Facts, which doesn’t exactly have a lot of story to it, but that’s not the point. One time he wanted me to read him a story. I told him that I couldn’t read and I made up a story based on pictures (after first claiming to believe that his book was a Domino’s Pizza ad) and now that’s just a thing we do. He doesn’t really believe that I’m illiterate anymore but I still keep kayfabe, so to show him that my reading had improved, I had to get something close to right. That’s how The Book of Facts became The Big Book of Farts. From there, I didn’t really need to do much – he ran with the premise (the premise being “farts”) and I just kind of supervised.

Eventually, it was time to pick Deserée up and head downtown for Amanda Marshall. We knew the show was sold out and that seating would be at a premium, so with an 8:00pm start time, we figured that we’d need to be there by 7:30.

hahahahahahaha we’re dumb, look at us, we’re really dumb

What followed was a series of events that I can’t say I didn’t anticipate, but the scope of them was far beyond me. First was parking. Downtown Saskatoon is notorious for not having a ton of parking at the best of times. Long before I moved away, I can remember six-block walks to go see a movie. And those movies weren’t in downtown parks that don’t normally host anything beyond vagrants and sparrows. The short version is that we tried to get a good spot, failed, then circled out wider and wider until we’d doubled back to a ridiculous degree. I feel like there’s a funnier way to say this but maybe “we parked far away” isn’t the anecdote gold it originally seemed.

With more time spent parking and a longer-than-expected walk to the park, we got there later than we wanted. Luckily, we had brought our nice lawn chairs with us so we could relax and enjoy the show. Unluckily, there was no place left to park a chair. This place was packed. I later learned that a sellout, for the Jazz Festival main stage, is 3,500 people. I don’t doubt this. And you could probably seat 3,500 people there given uncomfortably cramped arena seating. But when you let people bring their own reasonably sized chairs and space them a reasonable distance from each other, that space gets filled up pretty quickly.

Ultimately, we shoved a recycling bin to one side and put our chairs next to it. This put us behind the main walkway at the back of the park, which was far from ideal, but was as good as we were going to manage. It could have been worse; other people eventually came and sat behind us. Others showed up with chairs, saw the situation, and left.

“Why are we taking our chairs back to the car?” asked one mother.

“‘CUZ THERE’S NO PLACE TO PUT THEM” said her kid.

Now. I don’t know if this reads funny to you. Maybe you had to be there. Maybe you had to see – or more importantly, hear – these two folks. The mother sounded like she’d just woken up in a gutter. The son’s voice was 50% the squeaky-voiced teen from The Simpsons, 50% a literal demon. It was amazing. We did impressions of them all night long.

Our openers were Regina Folk Festival favourite blues-rockers The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer. As they were unarmed during this performance, I don’t know which was which. Also, I’m pretty sure there were at least four people on stage. I don’t know if the other two are killers too. Maybe The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer & The Climate Change Denier & The Guy Who Refuses To Vaccinate His Kids is too long to fit on the marquee?

I can’t really tell you much about this set because we were so far back, and people were using that walkway as a place to stand and watch the show, so we really couldn’t see anything. Even the big screens were mostly blocked from our view. All of these extracurriculars made it pretty hard for me to pay any attention. I will say that Dez and I were in agreement that they sounded good and we’d both like to see them again sometime under better conditions. Luckily for me, they seem to play Regina fairly regularly.

Okay. Up until now it had not been the best experience. If I ever come back to a mainstage show at the Jazz Festival, I’ll know that you have to be there waiting for the gates to open if you want a shot at seeing the show. I can’t even get mad at all the yahoos standing directly in front of us. It’s kind of a dick move, but we’re all just trying to see the show we paid for and there really isn’t enough space for the number of tickets they’d sold. I get that. Though I will take a certain joy in knowing that the one guy who stood in front of us forever went around all evening with his fly down. Enjoy the breeze, Mr. White Jeans.

For Amanda Marshall, I gave up on the chairs and went and stood with the other yahoos. If you can’t beat ’em until they fall over and get out of your way, join ’em.

I had joked, before the show, that I’d once thought Amanda Marshall had died. I know now that she is, in fact, still alive. The new theory I’m going with is that around 2002, she fell into a time portal. 2017 Amanda Marshall sounds the same and looks the same (and has the same hair, much to everyone’s delight) and this time portal theory makes a lot of sense to me – though I’m open to the possibility that she may be a robot. That would work too. Someone else suggested she’d been kept in cryogenic stasis for the past 15 years but that sounds pretty silly to me.

Anyway, I wasn’t at that Amanda Marshall show 18 years before, but I’d have to think this experience wasn’t all that different. Like I said, she hasn’t missed a step. This was very much a greatest hits show – there were only a handful of songs I didn’t recognize all night. It was a bit like Bryan Adams, where Mika and I thought “okay, we heard all the singles, what’s left but Cuts Like a Knife” and then he’d play hit after hit that we’d forgotten about. Except in this case we were waiting for Birmingham (though I bet she could kill Cuts Like a Knife if she really wanted to), which was the closer. The encore was Let It Rain. The only single we noticed missing was Everybody’s Got a Story, much to the dismay of the loud drunk dude behind us who yelled quite loudly for it.

Marshall came across like a really likeable person. She joked about her trademark giant hair and she joked about her absence (though never explained it), and seemed truly appreciative to get such a warm reception after so many years. And she was beloved – I read news stories about the show that talked to fans who flew in from Alberta and BC to see this. Though I don’t know that anyone loved her as much as that drunk guy.

Though it was funny – you know how you go see a band, and they play the first few notes of a big hit, and everyone recognizes it and cheers? Well, because Marshall has been out of the spotlight for so long, she’d start playing a song and when people recognized it, instead of cheering, you could hear 3,500 people all say “oh!” in unison. Like we’d all forgotten Fall From Grace was a thing and we all remembered it at once.

Despite less than ideal conditions – apart from the park being packed, it was also unseasonably chilly – this was a delightful show and you should go see Amanda Marshall if you get the chance. I mean, you likely won’t get the chance, but if she falls through the time portal somewhere near you, I recommend it.

Afterwards, we packed up our neglected chairs and made the long trek back to the car. I picked up some snacks, dropped Dez off at home, and got back to Josy’s house much later than anticipated. We had a little time to visit before I crashed out. I plugged my phone in, with a cord that was a little too short to be convenient (this will matter later), and briefly perused the internet before falling asleep. This seemed like such a good idea that I did it for most of the morning too – wake up, look at phone, pass out, repeat. This went on for so long that I didn’t get up until almost 11:00.

Eventually I staggered back into the land of the living. I made Josy make me burgers and we went to the University to look around and chase more Pokémon. This didn’t work out so well – my foot was killing me and the weather didn’t cooperate. We spent most of our time inside, avoiding a rainstorm. Eventually, we headed back to his place so I could turn around and go back out.

SLCR #283: Hawksley Workman (June 24, 2017)

See, my idea was to do the whole Jazz Festival as one review, like the Folk Festival, so I could keep each individual segment nice and short. And I suppose I should fess up: that didn’t happen. At all. This thing is huge. I’d have told you up front but you’d never have read this. Now you’re stuck here and you need to see how this ends. It’s brilliant, really.

After dealing with the crowds the night before, Dez and I had decided that we needed to get to the free stage nice and early for Hawksley. We also made plans to meet Jenn and Nicholas for Jamaican food beforehand. These two things combined resulted in us eating at “senior time,” as Nicholas aptly put it. But who among us hasn’t eaten Jamaican curry at 4:30 in the afternoon? And fantastic Jamaican curry at that.

We finished with dinner and headed out. The rain had left and it was delightfully hot and sunny. Three of us headed right to the park while Nicholas went home for a quick nap to recover from the afternoon’s Pride parade. I found a better parking spot this time, and we got a quality patch of lawn to plant our chairs, so that was very exciting. Or at least pleasant. Mostly pleasant.

The day’s free stage events were a cross-promotion between Saskatoon Pride and the Jazz Festival. I checked out the schedule and apart from headliner Hawksley, I didn’t recognize any names. We arrived in time to see most of Catey Shaw’s set – which at an hour, she said was the longest of her career – and we all really liked her. Fun singer-songwriter pop, and Shaw seemed very personable. I’ve since checked out more of her songs and maybe you should do the same?

Somewhere in here, Reagan showed up and Nicholas returned. I wandered away to get a drink, eventually settling on some ridiculously good fresh lemonade (and some kettle corn, because kettle corn). When returning to my chair, I had a moment of “where are we sitting again?” that was quickly alleviated because Nicholas was wearing a rainbow striped cowboy hat that matched his rainbow striped tank top and rainbow striped glitter beard. He was hard to miss, is what I’m saying. It’s hard to stand out at Pride but he managed quite well. He’d also offered to glitter up my beard (you use a glue stick and hairspray) (and glitter) (duh) and I was sorely tempted, but I didn’t think I could put Josy’s pillows through that.

There were some drag queens performing between Shaw and Hawksley and – I say this with the utmost respect to my wife and my family and my friends and I hope you understand where I’m coming from here – I can only hope that one day I will love anyone or anything as much as Nicholas loved these drag queens. It was amazing to see. And hear. Mostly to hear.

So, Hawksley. This was my 20th Hawksley show and by now, I know how this works. When he takes a full band on tour, he digs through his back catalogue and plays a whole bunch of weirdo songs that probably don’t do much for a lot of people but that I love. When he’s just playing one-off shows here and there, he has about 25 regular songs that he draws from. This was one of those shows. I’m not complaining – I thought this was great. Of course I would.

Plus there were some interesting twists in terms of the band that made this a unique show, at least in terms of the ones I’ve seen. I’ve seen Derrick Brady play bass for Hawksley many times, and I think Brad Kilpatrick on drums as well. Mr. Lonely’s absence was conspicuous and he was missed, though Hawksley filled in on keyboards, which I hadn’t seen before. And Jackie Mohr (of The Mohrs, a band I’ve totally heard of and know nothing about) was on guitar, which also presented the opportunity for female backing vocals on some songs that don’t normally have them. Or vocals that were, like, five times louder than Hawksley on the first song – but the sound folks got that sorted out in short order.

I took notes during the show so here’s a full setlist:

• We Will Still Need a Song [this was an all-ages show, so he started with “Baby, you’re drunk” instead of the usual “Fuck you, you’re drunk”]
• The City is a Drag [an extended version where he also sang part of Karma Chameleon and a bit of We Built This City]
• We’re Not Broken Yet
• Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky [this was the “pretty bloody sexy” version]
• Teenage Cats
• It’s Really Starting to Snow
• Or Maybe a Boat
• someone called out for Claire Fontaine and he did the first few lines
• Goodbye to Radio
• Jealous of Your Cigarette
• Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off
• Oh You Delicate Heart
• Safe and Sound
• he started Autumn’s Here but decided against it
• Beautiful and Natural
• Smoke Baby [it sounded like there was a bit of Wicked Game thrown in there, but I couldn’t hear well enough to be certain]
—encore—
• Don’t Be Crushed

So no real surprises, but a fine set. Of course, Hawksley spent lots of time talking to the crowd, and everything was very Saskatoon-centric. He talked about his first shows at Louis’ Pub and moving up to the Broadway Theatre, though he seemed to hold a special spot in his heart for Amigo’s. I don’t remember him ever playing Amigo’s (apart from one show with Mounties a few years ago that I was too sick to attend), but he really wanted all of us to go swimming in the river after his show, and we should all swim over to Amigo’s. But we had to be careful doing it. “Safety third? No. Safety first? Yes.”

As soon as the show was over, I was out of there – I had about an hour to get back to the car and make my way to Amigo’s. Nicholas helped me tote my lawn chairs back to the car before heading home to touch up his glitter. The others went for poutine. I was very much looking forward to Son of Dave but I did have a touch of poutine envy.

SLCR #284: Son of Dave (June 24, 2017)

I made it to Amigo’s with time to spare, got myself a cider, and grabbed a seat by myself up at the front and off to the side. There weren’t a ton of people there, though I was delighted to see anyone at all. That first Son of Dave show back in 2000 was pretty sparsely attended. By that, I mean – without exaggeration – there were more people there who paid to see me than to see the band. I had my table of friends who were there on my recommendation, and there was one guy who worked at the local community radio station, and that was about it. Other stops on that tour were about as well-attended. His previous band had garnered a lot of fame but it didn’t carry over to his (very different) solo project. It was a pretty difficult time for him, but he’s done well for himself since then, and it’s been really gratifying to watch him go from busking in London to regular tours and having songs in commercials and TV shows like Breaking Bad and Preacher.

Because this was a Jazz Festival show, it was the rare Amigo’s show that would start on time. I felt like I’d seen a unicorn. Unfortunately, Son of Dave’s set was scheduled to go short – only 45 minutes – because he was the opening act for Reverend Raven & the Chainsmoking Altar Boys. He had a longer set scheduled at the free stage on Sunday evening, but I needed to be back in Regina by then as we had bought those tickets to Serena Ryder long before finding out about this.

It’s really hard to not shorten Son of Dave to just Dave. But he’s not Dave. That’s his dad. He’s Benjamin.

Anyway. He took the stage right on time, bringing with him a box of harmonicas and a fruit basket that featured a bag of barbecue chips. He later showed this off to the crowd, claiming that it was his rider.

If you were hoping for something more exciting to happen with the fruit basket, sorry – it just seemed worth mentioning since it was a fruit basket with chips, but I maybe should have skipped it since it didn’t play a big role in the evening. Don’t mention the fruit basket unless Son of Dave later kills someone with the fruit basket. Chekhov’s fruit basket.

Son of Dave plays the blues, kind of. He plays harmonica and whatever else he feels like, and he beatboxes and sings and mixes it all on the fly with a sampler. He calls himself a bluesman and you can hear it in his music, but he’s much better suited for a dance party than one would expect from a bluesman. His most recent release is a covers album called Explosive Hits, and that was mostly what he played here. There were some of his originals, like Leave Without Running and Shake a Bone (someone more knowledgeable than me will surely point out that these are old blues songs that I don’t know about), but he played a lot of covers – everything from Tequila to Pump Up the Jam with a little Daft Punk for good measure.

Much as I watched his career progress from that 2000 show to now, you could see him winning over the audience as the evening went on. At the start, everyone stayed back in their seats, which he said was fine, we’d had a hard week and he’d just “do all the fuckin’ work” for us. Then a few fans went up to the front. They were even requesting specific songs of his, which was pretty cool. Over the brief set, they were joined up at the front by more and more people. He showered them with dollar bills and people scrambled for fake money. Eventually, he demanded a conga line, and he got one. This was all great fun and my only complaint was that we didn’t get twice as much of it.

I didn’t stick around for Reverend Raven & the Chainsmoking Altar Boys, so as tradition dictates, I’ll assume they were great. I also didn’t stick around to chat with Benjamin, which I would have liked to do, but it was getting late and I wasn’t sure he was going to come out anyway. Hopefully I’ll get a chance next time, and hopefully that isn’t another 17 years away.

I made my way back to Josy and Anna’s house, where their son was having a sleepover with three friends. I met Anna on the front porch, and we visited for 20 minutes as we mentally prepared ourselves for what awaited inside. But mostly they were just watching a movie and it was pretty reasonable, all things considered. I chatted with Josy and Anna for a while as the kids all passed out. I tiptoed around them on my way up to bed for fear of waking them up and setting them off once more. Again, I read some internet on my phone before falling asleep.

Now, I’d taken over Josy’s son’s room for the duration of my stay. And as I mentioned in the last review (or was it two reviews ago? I forget how this gimmick works and I’m too lazy to scroll up), my phone cord was just a little too short – I could reach the outlet from the bed, but I couldn’t actually set the phone down on the bed – and because of the headboard, there was no convenient place to rest my phone – so I just left my phone hanging over the headboard. The first night, that worked fine. On the second night, not so much. I woke up around 8:00 and my phone was missing. Which sounds like the punchline to a tremendous joke about giant marshmallows (or… something smaller and harder, I guess?) but it was all too real.

“Oh well,” I thought, “it has to be here, no sense worrying about it now.” I got up and went to the bathroom, then laid back down to sleep some more. And of course I couldn’t. I dumped the pillows on the floor. And then all the blankets. Nothing. And then the mattress. Still nothing. There were these slats that supported the mattress, and clearly the phone had fallen through them. And the slats were screwed into the bedframe. There was no removing them.

Luckily, I had also brought my work phone with me, and I could use the Find My iPhone app to track my lost personal phone. I could also use it as a flashlight. The bad news is that I hadn’t charged it and it was down to the dreaded red sliver of battery life. I used the app, and sure enough, the loud ringing (it’s 8:00 a.m.) told me that my personal phone was somewhere under the bed. (Here I discovered that you can’t turn off the ringing without finding the phone and the phone was vibrating loudly too.) The bed has drawers in it, so I figured that was my answer – pull out a drawer and I can reach my phone. I shone my work phone flashlight into the darkness and saw something. I stretched as best as I could to reach it – and found a sock. This phone had mysteriously vanished, except that it was still ringing at me from somewhere in the darkness. I tried moving the bed. No phone – it was moving WITH the bed. And still ringing. And vibrating against my feet – it had fallen into the bedframe somehow.

Jesus, that was three paragraphs just to remind myself to pack the longer phone cord next time. Suffice to say, I eventually got the phone out and silenced it – and dropped my work phone under the bed in the process. I retrieved it, moved the bed back, got the drawer back in, put the mattress back, made the bed, and collapsed into it. This was all so very stupid and I’m pretty sure this anecdote is setting records for its dismal ratio of length vs. quality. IT WAS A BIG DUMB MESS AND IT KEPT GETTING DUMBER AND MORE RIDICULOUS WHEN IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SUCH AN EASY FIX IS MY POINT

When I finally got up for real, I headed back to Regina in short order so that I’d have plenty of time before the Serena Ryder show. This was not part of the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, though I did see it once referenced as being part of the smaller and seemingly unrelated JazzFest Regina 2017 (my tickets didn’t say it was, but I saw it on the internet somewhere), so sure, let’s go ahead and confuse future me and lump it in here. This thing isn’t long enough yet.

SLCR #285: Serena Ryder (June 25, 2017)

I first saw Ryder in 2003. Hawksley had produced her album, and she was on tour opening for him. I saw her twice more after that in short order – once at the 2004 Regina Folk Festival (with Hawksley and his band as her band), and later that year at a solo show at the Exchange. There were probably around 100 people at that one.

Since then, of course, she’s become a bonafide star with some big hits. She’s playing bigger venues to far more people. And that’s great! I like it when talented folks succeed. That said, my interest had waned over time. As her stuff sounded more produced and took some of the focus away from her voice, I lost some interest. And somehow this led to me not seeing her in concert for 13 years. I cannot fathom this. I mean, it makes sense. I was new to Regina. It may have been the first Regina Folk Festival Concert Series show I ever went to. But 13 years?

I’d like to finish this monstrosity sometime before 2018 is done, so I’ll set aside my existential crisis for now. They announced the concert, I thought “maybe, if I can get good tickets,” and then I was quick on the draw and got front row centre. That’s good enough.

On our way into the Conexus Arts Centre, I ran into my friend Brian, who noted that the crowd was skewed a lot older than he expected. There were lots of white-hair folks in the audience. Neither of us pointed out that he fit that bill too. Or that if you’re going strictly by colour, I’ll be there soon enough.

Mika and I took our seats and killed time before the concert as we often do – by going through our respective Instagrams and showing each other pictures of cute pets. It’s basically a pre-show ritual at this point, and that’s a problem when we have too many shows too close together. You people need to get more cats.

Our openers were local musicians Ava Wild and Scott Pettigrew, who played a very short set. They took turns, each singing lead on 3 or 4 songs. This was folky singer-songwriter stuff, mostly originals but with two covers – Wild sang Tennessee Waltz, and they closed with a duet – Hotel Yorba by the White Stripes. This was only enough to get a taste of each, but it was quite enjoyable and I hope to see them again someday.

Ryder took the stage and immediately started into Stompa, one of her big hits from her previous album. This was one of only three songs that Mika recognized all night, saying that she only knew the songs that they use on football. “Or are football-adjacent,” she added. What I Wouldn’t Do is another one; I don’t watch enough football or ads during football to guess the third and I’m not waking her up to check. Really, I didn’t know many more songs than that either – there weren’t many old songs and those are the ones I know best.

The show was divided into three sections. The first and third had the full band (including two backup singers with amazing shoes), whereas the second was just Ryder and a guitar. I enjoyed her newer stuff – nothing on the show was bad – but the part where it was just her and a guitar was my favourite. It was a lot closer to the shows I remember. Plus it gave her more time to talk to the audience which was always good. She comes across as very down to earth with a great sense of humour.

The real star of the show may have been this “piece of confetti shaped like a leaf” that fell from the ceiling, somehow, and fluttered in the air, taking forever to finally land on the stage. Not only did it distract Ryder mid-song, but she then went in search of it, eventually handing it to an audience member, telling them to pass it to the back in hopes that it would eventually make its way up the balcony and fall on the stage again. It didn’t 😦

One thing I always liked in the old shows was when Ryder would do a few songs a capella; Sing Sing and Melancholy Blue being two favourites. There was nothing like that on this show. I don’t know if that’s been retired for good, or if she just wasn’t doing that now so as to rest her voice. She mentioned that her voice was in rough shape and that she couldn’t sing as high as normal right now. This, of course, is one of those things that I’d have never noticed if she hadn’t said anything, and her voice was always the big selling point for me.

All told, it wasn’t like the shows I remember, but she still has a great voice and a really likable personality. Would I go see her again? That’s a tricky one. I like her a lot, but have less interest in her newer songs and those will always be the focus. She’s played the Folk Festival before and probably will again, and maybe I should just wait for those appearances to roll around. Really, it probably just depends what kind of mood you catch me in when tickets go on sale.

Does this mean we can finally wrap this thing up?

SLCR #286: Ava Wild & Scott Pettigrew (July 9, 2017)

No. We cannot. This cannot end. It’s two weeks later but this cannot end. This is only tangentially related to the previous review, but this cannot end.

Mark and Arlette got married. Hooray! And Other James got them a concert as a gift, which is totally something he’d do, and also a sign that the rest of us need to step up our game. Gravy boat? No longer acceptable.

Historically, I have skipped out on writing full reviews when seeing my friends’ bands since… well, I don’t have a good reason. I say it’s because I can’t be impartial (basically, I can’t say mean things if they’re awful), but mostly it was a good excuse to half-ass a review and call it good. And while I don’t know Ms. Wild or Mr. Pettigrew, I do know Mark and Arlette and this was in their backyard, so… good enough. Or so I thought – then Mark asked me mid-concert if he was getting a review. Mika said “now you have to.” She was right. Whole ass: engaged.

We showed up around 2:40. We were greeted first by Other James, then random guests, then Gus, a friendly little dog who rapidly lost interest in us as there were many other people around and one of them might feed him. We eventually found Mark and Arlette who welcomed us into their lovely yard and showed us where everything was. We were told there were snacks in the garage, but I was involved in the construction of that garage so we wisely stayed away for fear it might collapse at any moment. We sat near it for a while which was risky enough.

You’ll note I did not say I helped build the garage. I was there while much of it was built. I mostly tried to stay out of the way and for at least part of that day, I was not an active hindrance. That’s as good as you’re going to get.

The B that we BYO’d came from Last Mountain Distillery – Sweet Tea Vodka Lemonade coolers. I picked up a four-pack at the farmers’ market the day before, so we had two each. The second one was better than the first; in a related note, I should have brushed my teeth immediately upon waking up instead of right before leaving the house.

The music was broken into three sets – Wild solo, Pettigrew solo, and then the two together. I believe Wild played all originals, all on acoustic guitar. She has “a lot of songs” – some of which you can hear on her first album, Bare. Bare came out last year. Wild graduated from high school this year. That was enough to bring on a full-on “What have I done with my life?” crisis, but get this. I saw Ava Wild open for Serena Ryder two weeks ago. The last time I saw Serena Ryder in concert? Wild was 5. If you need me, I’ll be curled up in the corner, thinking about how quickly I’ll be dead.

No! I must soldier on. Ceaselessly. Like time itself. Scott Pettigrew played an electric guitar – it’s worth nothing that people who know things about guitars were really into both Wild and Pettigrew’s guitars – and while he sang a number of original tunes too (some from his album Alone, which also came out last year), he also threw some covers into the mix. He started with a Robert Johnson song, and later played a new Dan Auerbach song (Never In My Wildest Dreams) and – oh yes – Hallelujah. He did a fine job on it but that’s almost immaterial for me – I’ve grown to love covers of Hallelujah to a ridiculous degree, just because I know how much Aaron hates them. Let’s campaign to get Robert Pollard to cover Hallelujah just to see what happens to Aaron.

After Pettigrew’s set, we had a bit of an extended break so I chatted with a few folks from work. I also mustered up my courage and braved the garage. There were snacks; it was inevitable.

The last set with both Wild and Pettigrew was a lot like their slot opening for Serena Ryder – among other songs, they again played Tennessee Waltz and Hotel Yorba – though the whole thing was more relaxed. Despite joking that they were only pretending to know what they were doing, they did a fine job – both with the whole music thing, but also in handling our talking, heckling, stage-managing gang of hooligans. They’re very talented singers, songwriters, and musicians and they seem like delightful humans to boot. Recommended.

As for the venue, our lovely hosts took good care of us all. There were a couple dozen people in a tight space but everyone had a fine time. Also, I think there should be a dog at every concert I go to. I mean, maybe not the loud shows. But, like, if I could leave Guns ‘N Roses for five minutes to play with a dog who only loved me for my watermelon, wouldn’t that be better? Also, I’m confused why so many concert venues sound so bad and a random backyard can sound that good. In 286 reviews and probably around 300 actual concerts, this was my first house concert and I think maybe I’ve been doing it all wrong. Maybe if someplace tells you it’s a concert hall or an event centre or whatever, it’s trying too hard to convince you. Just find a backyard instead, one that’s all like “I got this.”

Yes. Find a talking backyard with confidence and hold all your concerts there. That is a wonderful note to end on.

Except…

SLCR #287: NO NO NO NO NO no no no nooooooooooooooooooo no

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Bob Dylan (July 15)
• July Talk (August 3)
• I Mother Earth and The Watchmen (August 4)
• Crash Test Dummies & the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (August 7)
• Beck (August 20)
• kd lang w/Kacy & Clayton (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses w/Our Lady Peace (August 27)
• The Sadies (September 14)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (September 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Whitehorse w/Terra Lightfoot (October 13)
• Sarah Slean (October 14)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)
• David Myles (October 24)
• Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)

SLCR #281: Bryan Adams (May 27, 2017)

Let me take you back to the very first ever SLCR, Great Big Sea on October 9, 1996.


The lead singer was in fine form, carrying on a running conversation with the audience. “Did anyone see us at the MuchMusic Video Awards? (crowd cheers) What a great party. Alanis was there. (crowd boos) And Bryan Adams opened the show, then we played. You know what that means? Bryan Adams opened for us! (crowd cheers) We said, ‘Hey Bryan, anytime you want to open for us again, you’re more than welcome.’ And you know what? He was playing in the parking lot, we were in the studio, so we told the guys, ‘You know, we’re not that big, you coulda let the poor bugger in to meet us.’ Ah, Bryan Adams. Keep an eye out for that kid, I think he’s got a real future in this business.”

Finally, I could see if he lived up to the buzz!

I suppose it’s a little surprising that I’ve gone to lots of concerts in the past 20 years and have been a Canadian for all 40 of my years but have never seen Bryan Adams in concert before. There’s a long, drawn-out reason for that: I didn’t care to. I mean, Bryan Adams is fine, some of his songs are good, some of them are kinda dumb. He’s played here before since I’ve lived here. Saskatoon too. I just never bothered to go see him.

When Adams was announced as the headliner for the first-ever concert in our shiny new football stadium, it seemed like a decent enough choice. He’s been a big star forever, and though I always thought of him as more of an arena-level guy and not a stadium-level guy, that actually worked here. Though the event was called “Regina Rocks” in marketing, it was called “Test Event 2” on volunteers’ badges (the stadium doesn’t officially open until July 1, and there was a college football game last fall). Probably good to start with Bryan Adams before you bring in someone who can sell out a stadium in an hour.

It didn’t seem like tickets for this event sold as well as they organizers were hoping. It was a triple bill with Adams, Our Lady Peace, and country singer Johnny Reid. They said they’d capped ticket sales at 70% of capacity, and it looked like they’d sold about 70% of that. They gave the final number at somewhere around 21,000 people.

When the show was announced, Mika seemed really excited to go despite not caring about Adams or knowing anything about Reid. And while we were both Our Lady Peace fans back in the day (they were huge here while I was in university), she’d never expressed an interest in going when they’d played here before. I think it was just hype for the first concert at the new stadium, and not wanting to buy pricey tickets, I… didn’t. The hype faded and we largely forgot about going.

But that hype. I buy into it too, right? In the week before the show, I checked my work’s intranet and discovered a passcode that would let me get discount tickets. And I like concerts. And I like Our Lady Peace well enough, and Adams is a legendary Canadian musician, so why not? I texted Mika, who opted against going. Too busy with school. So I didn’t get tickets. And I was actually a little bit disappointed.

About two hours later, my dad texted me to let me know he’d got free tickets from a supplier of his, and did I want them? I did indeed, and for free, Mika would make time to go too. Lesson learned: never pay for anything.

My dad and I then had a series of texts back and forth over several days (not an exaggeration) wherein I tried to determine how many free tickets there actually were. I had assumed all along that I was getting two, but didn’t want to pick the tickets up and find out there were more when it would be too late to invite others. I think my dad thought that I was disappointed in getting only two, which I wasn’t, and then it sounded like I wasn’t getting tickets at all, and I don’t know why this was so hard. They need to invent something like texting except where you can just talk to the other person.

The new stadium has many amenities but one of them is not parking. As in, it has none. They want people to take the bus, and when we’d gone to football games at the old stadium, we’d done that a few times. So fine. Concert’s at 6:00. We get to the nearby mall at 5:00… and there are HUNDREDS of people in line. Shit. We park the car on the complete opposite side of the mall because the parking lot is packed, and make our way over to the line. Things are not looking good. A bus was taking people away when we got there, and by the time we were in line, a new bus had arrived. Okay. This is manageable. Some lady walked by and said that busses (buses? I never know) were coming every 5 minutes. I can live with this. Then we go 15 minutes without a bus. Shit. Again.

I’m sure it’s super enthralling to read someone describing waiting for a bus so let’s skip to the end – it took over an hour to get on a bus and by the time we got to the stadium, Our Lady Peace was 20 minutes into their set already. I get that this was a “test event” and that there were kinks to work out, but this should not be one of them. You had stadium buses before. You need more now since there’s less parking. Pretty simple.

I’d be more upset – and was at the time – but Our Lady Peace is coming back in less than 3 months to open for Guns N’ Roses in the stadium and we’re going to that, so whatever. We’ll see them again. As long as we get on a bus three hours early.

Back to the event at hand. There was a lady on the bus wearing a pink ballcap that she had adorned with plain white stickers – like the kind you might use to print address labels, maybe – upon which she’d handwritten BRYAN ADAMS ROCKS! with a Sharpie. This lady filled me with so much hope. Hope that Bryan Adams would rock.

Luckily, the bus stop at the stadium was right by our gate, so we were inside in no time. We could hear OLP playing Innocent as we walked up. Our seats were on the lower level, near the back. Far enough away that we were mostly watching the big screens. The seats at the new stadium are a massive improvement over the old ones. One of my dad’s coworkers and his wife got tickets too, and they were in their seats already when we got there. We said hi but didn’t really get to chat much throughout the evening. Music is loud. And also we don’t really know each other, so y’know.

I had read an interview with Raine Maida before the show where he said he was looking forward to testing out some new material, and I was all like …my dude. You have a 45-minute set and you’re not the headliner. Play all hits all the time. Ultimately, we got a mix of songs I knew and ones I didn’t; I don’t know how many were truly new, as I mostly only know the singles and the first couple albums. Looking up their setlist online, I see we missed Naveed and Superman’s Dead, which is disappointing. I had hopes for One Man Army, and they didn’t play that one. But there were some that I knew well, including Is Anybody Home, Clumsy, In Repair, and Starseed. Maida also sang part of Grace, Too by the Tragically Hip, which got a nice reaction. I still hope the Hip will get to play the new stadium someday.

The sound for OLP was good but seemed to be having a few issues; it wouldn’t cut out, but the volume really fluctuated at times. Mika thought the wind might have had something to do with it. I thought the issue got better as the night went on but I heard people say the same thing about Adams’ set later and I didn’t notice it at all then, so maybe it was environmental and based on where you were sitting.

There was a quick switchover before Johnny Reid played. I knew nothing about him, and I thought I knew none of his songs until he played Fire It Up – and even then, I only know the part that goes “fiiiiire it up.” This was a pretty well-executed thing that wasn’t entirely my thing. I like piano. I like fiddle. Reid seems like a good dude. This was enjoyable enough but I still found myself getting distracted for long stretches.

At some point during the set, Mika left to go to the washroom. I didn’t ask about lines but she was gone for quite a while, and when she got back, said that the lines for food (and even for 50/50 tickets) were too long to even consider getting anything. More on this later.

During the switchover to Bryan Adams, they put a still image up on the big screen, the cover of Adams’ newest album, Get Up. It’s just him standing there with a model standing behind him with both her hands on his face. Or at least I assumed it was a still image – at one point, a cellphone rang and Adams pulled his phone out, turned it off, put it away, and went back to the same image as before. A cute visual and also a clever way to get people back to their seats before the show, as it essentially served as the five-minute warning. A few more minutes of the picture and suddenly Adams lunged forward and roared, and the real Bryan Adams and his band sprinted onto the stage.

Adams was interviewed by the local newspaper before the show. One question asked that because Adams has so many hits, how does he decide which ones to play? He said “that’s easy – we play them all!” I can now confirm that this is true. Bryan Adams has a million hit singles and he played pretty much every one. At several points, Mika said “what could be left beyond Cuts Like a Knife” and then he’d play three more songs that we knew. By the end, I was actually expecting him to sing his unfortunate but hilarious holiday song Reggae Christmas because there really couldn’t be anything left. Dude has so many hits that when he played Summer of ’69 about halfway into the set, I thought it was a really weird choice – OBVIOUSLY you close with Summer of ’69 – but by the end it didn’t even register. So many hits. Older songs. Newer songs. If you like a Bryan Adams song, he played it.

I mentioned that I’m not a huge Bryan Adams fan. I am here to tell you that such people do exist, and they exist by the thousands. This was really noticeable about a half-dozen songs in, when he played Heaven, the first ballad of the night. Thousands of people held their cellphones high since nobody has lighters anymore. And EVERYONE sang along. I mean, I didn’t, but was surprised to realize that, yeah, I could have. And then there was a whole lot of applause from the section to my left because someone had gotten engaged mid-song. My goodness.

For the first two bands, the big screens gave a nice view of the show. Adams used the screens to show footage from music videos, as well as to show live footage with effects applied. It made for a much flashier presentation, but being so far back, it made actually a little more difficult to actually see the show, so there was a bit of a tradeoff there. Not one I minded, since it was a nice change of pace from earlier.

All told… I don’t know? The sound was good for his set and the crowd was really into it up until close to the end. It was a perfectly fine show for the nothing that we paid for the tickets. I didn’t go into the show as a huge Bryan Adams fan and that hasn’t really changed. It was pretty telling, though, just to see how many songs of his I knew. And not “oh yeah, I think I’ve heard this one before,” but ones where somehow I knew every word. It’s not like I ever doubted he was a star, but I didn’t really have a sense of just how big he’d been for how long until you string together one huge hit after another like that. So even if I’m not walking away as some Bryan Adams superfan, I definitely have a newfound respect for the guy and his career. And even my least favourite of his songs was made better by making jokes about it that were so dirty that I have been forbidden from including them here. Sorry, but if it’s any comfort, I’ll be as left out as you when I re-read this in five years.

One unfortunate side effect of the earlier transit issues was that it seemed people were leaving in droves towards the end and especially during the encore. I suspect a lot of this was people not wanting to wait hours to get home. We stayed until the very end and it almost felt anticlimactic – Adams ended the encore on a solo acoustic performance of All for Love. I said he played every hit, but he did skip There Will Never Be Another Tonight. It felt like – and I could be entirely wrong here – that one gets saved for if the fans want a second encore. In this case, however, they did not. He finished All for Love and there was barely even any applause, just a stampede to the exit.

Leaving, the good news was that we were close to the pickup point for the buses. The line was still ridiculous, however, and there was nobody from the stadium or the bus system to help people figure out where they needed to be. There was some confusion and some line-cutting, but whatever. They did a good job of quickly filling up buses and shipping people out of there, so I can’t complain about that. The thousands of people still in line behind us, however, might tell a different story.

On the ride back to the mall, we overheard some people talking about concessions running out of food and water around 7:00 – and this was now 11:45. Because it was a test event, I know they didn’t have all the concessions running, but still, they clearly have some bugs to work out. I chose wisely when I didn’t try to get food there or I would have wound up pretty cross. Instead, I picked up a poutine burger at midnight on the way home from the bus dropoff point, which is its own unique brand of questionable decision making.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Amanda Marshall w/The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer (June 23)
• Hawksley Workman (June 24)
• Son of Dave (also June 24)
• Serena Ryder (June 25)
• Beck (August 20)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses w/Our Lady Peace (August 27)
• The Sadies (September 14)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Whitehorse w/Terra Lightfoot (October 13)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #280: Colter Wall (May 8, 2017)

I don’t know when I first learned that Colter Wall was a musician. It seemed like it just happened one day and suddenly he was everywhere. It was notable around these parts because Wall is the son of our Premier (the equivalent of a Governor for my American pals). This is the kind of thing that probably helped him a lot for a while and may be as much of a hindrance these days. When referencing the concert, I heard “great singer, shame about his dad” more than once.

But whatever. When your dad’s the Premier, that probably opens some doors in Saskatchewan. That doesn’t get you onto Rolling Stone’s list of 10 New Country Artists You Need to Know. It doesn’t get you a touring gig opening for Steve Earle. It doesn’t get Stone Cold Steve Austin and Brock Lesnar discussing how much they love your music on an episode of Austin’s podcast… okay, it probably DOES get you that since Brock lives here now and has met the Premier. But still. That other stuff.

I saw Colter at the folk festival a few years ago. At the time, he wasn’t big enough to merit a main stage spot, playing only a few songs as a teaser between headline acts. If I’m being honest, I thought he seemed a little nervous and I didn’t think that he came across that well. He had definite potential but wasn’t there yet. Since then came all that stuff I listed above. And I listened to his debut EP, Imaginary Appalachia, and it was really good. Dude won me over. This show was the launch party for his (self-titled) first full-length album and I was looking forward to seeing him live again.

On the weekend before the show, Mika fell ill with a cold. “Tell me if you don’t feel like going to Colter Wall and I’ll see if someone else wants to go,” I said on Sunday afternoon. “I’m not going to Colter Wall,” she said at 3:30 am Monday. I appreciated the advance notice, and we were both awake anyway, but it probably could have waited until morning. Anyway, she spent the day home sick and I went to work with a mission to find someone to take this extra ticket off my hands.

Luckily, Jason, a friend from an ungodly long time ago if I stop to think about it, has a blog. And in said blog, he had recently referenced Colter Wall and mentioned he didn’t have plans to go to the show. I checked with him and to my delight, he was in. It was either doors at 7:00, show at 8:00, or 8:00/9:00 depending on where you looked, so we agreed to meet at the Exchange just before 8:00. He got there a few minutes before I did and saw Colter hanging out with friends outside the venue.

Once inside, we got beers. I don’t know from beer so I went with my old standby, Same For Me. Whatever it was, it was good. We took our beers and made our way into the concert hall. It was a sold-out show with very little seating, so we found ourselves a good standing spot. The crowd was an interesting mix of country fans, hipsters, and Sask Party MLAs (and someone who we were pretty sure was Colter’s dad in a leather jacket) – if I ever hung out with people, I’d say this was “not my usual crowd.” I may also have compared it to being on the bridge of the ship in Spaceballs but I said I’d leave my politics out of this.

The opener was John Clay, who played a short acoustic set before returning later in the evening as Wall’s drummer. He played a mix of originals and covers that I didn’t know, encouraging us to check out music by his influences; in particular, the only album ever released by Willis Alan Ramsey. This suffered from the usual curse of nobody paying attention to the opener, but those of us who did got some good tunes. And though he was mostly pretty low-key, there was one point where he really showed off his voice and that got everyone’s attention. Fine stuff.

Wall, on the other hand, isn’t one for vocal showmanship. He has a deep bass baritone that suits his songs well. Not a huge range but he can bring the intensity when required. He was playing with a small band and showed no trace of the nervousness I had seen (or imagined) before. He was calm and confident and came across like a seasoned veteran.

As you’d expect, he played most of the songs from his new album and his EP, which, together, are about long enough to fill out a set. I don’t know how new the new material is – whether this was the first time he played it live here or if it was already familiar to much of the crowd. Everything got a really good reaction but the best was saved for two favourites from the EP – The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie and the last song of the encore, Sleeping on the Blacktop.

It’s hard to reconcile some of Wall’s songs with his upbringing. This likely isn’t an issue for anyone who doesn’t live here and shouldn’t be an issue for me. I mean, I don’t know anything about the guy personally and I know that songwriters don’t have to be autobiographical. But you get to songs like “You Look to Yours” with the line “don’t trust no politicians” and I get distracted, you know? But that shouldn’t matter if the songs are good, and these are, so never mind me.

I feel like I’ve been nitpicky here but this was a really good show. Packed house, hometown (well, homeprovince) crowd, great music. Would go again. Jason made this point but I’ll reiterate it – from all the buzz and the success Wall’s having, this could be the last time we’ll get to see him in a venue this small. And though he’s apparently living in the States now, I suspect he won’t be skipping past Regina on future tours even if he makes it big. So, you know, I’ll gladly take advantage of his connections when they benefit me.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Bryan Adams w/Our Lady Peace and Johnny Reid (May 27)
• Son of Dave (June 24)
• Serena Ryder (June 25)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #279: BA Johnston (April 28, 2017)

My discovery of BA Johnston was tied directly to his 2015 Polaris Prize nomination. Mika and I were on a road trip – coming back from the farm maybe? – and she’d found a streaming audio station playing songs off the 40 albums that had made the long list that year. After a stretch of good-if-samey indie rock, Johnston’s song Gonna End Up Working in Fort McMurray really stood out. It was funny, and I made a mental note to check out more of his music later. Which, of course, I didn’t do.

A while later, Johnston unwittingly found himself mixed into some Polaris controversy. The very short version is that disputes among Polaris jurors led to one juror revealing contents of a private message board where some of the selection discussion was taking place. This included several jurors, including musician and CBC personality Grant Lawrence, being dismissive of Johnston’s music. Which, whatever. Taste is subjective and all that, and I can see Johnston’s low-budget, mostly-comedy music not being everyone’s cup of tea.

Anyway, this all reminded me that I was going to check out Johnston’s music, so I pulled up his Polaris-nominated (and then-newest) album, Shit Sucks. Looking over the tracklist, I went straight for the song Shitty Cat:

Go in the kitchen and I see my cat
On the counter eating taco meat
Say to my cat, “what the hell you doing”
He looks at me, keeps eating taco meat
I got a shitty cat, shitty cat, yo man he’s looking at me
I got a shitty cat, looks at me and then he falls asleep

There’s more, but you get the idea. For whatever reason, I would love to hear Gordon Lightfoot cover this song.

So yeah, I wound up buying the album. And then a bunch more. And then many again on vinyl. I may have a problem. Two of my records came from his own online store. The first was hand-addressed to James “Lite Lunch” Kalyn; the second, James “Dust Mop” Kalyn. Apparently you get a free gift with purchase and said gift is a nickname. I’m glad I planned things out poorly and made two separate purchases. What I lost in extra shipping costs I made up for in nickname.

I hadn’t seen him live before this, though. He tours across Canada regularly, but last time he played Regina was the night before we began our trip to BC last summer, and I didn’t think I could be out that late before a day full of driving. Little did I know.

I’ve only ever been to O’Hanlon’s once before for a show. It was 2006 and it was Geoff Berner playing in front of a completely apathetic crowd. O’Hanlon’s doesn’t charge cover, and the regular O’Hanlon’s patrons were not at all interested in Berner’s music, and he didn’t seem real interested in playing for them. I hoped Johnston would be a better fit.

Not knowing what time we could expect the show to start, I arbitrarily chose 10:00 p.m. based what Johnston had said on Twitter about other shows on the tour. It’s been probably a decade since I’ve been to a show on Amigo’s time and I am now much, much older. Like, 10 years older. And I didn’t care for the late starts then.

As we are old, we tried napping before the show, but a certain yowly cat outside the bedroom door was having none of this. Shitty cat, indeed. I eventually locked him in the basement but by then he had angered up my blood enough that I wasn’t about to get to sleep. Mika managed a bit of a nap, but not enough.

We got to the bar right at 10:00. This left us well-positioned to stand around for a further hour and a half before the openers started. I guessed poorly. As we hung out and drank our Diet Cokes like cool guys, we saw Johnston wandering around in a “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase shirt.

Our openers were Napalmpom from Calgary. They were loud. This was the number 1 impression they made on me. Also the number 2 impression through to somewhere in the 30s. The other impression they made was because one of the guitarists was really into everything they played, and he looked just enough like Colin to make this all hilarious to me. And then the loud thing again.

I get that I am old and I was up late and crotchety and you don’t even use that word before a certain age, but whatever. This was way too loud for the size of the place. The volume made it all sound kinda similar and my ears were still sore when I woke up the next day. Despite that, I still enjoyed them well enough, but they needed to be dial it back or they need to play someplace bigger. That said, BA Johnston (who is in fact older than me) seemed to enjoy them a lot – he spent most of their set down in the audience at the front of the stage.

During the break, Johnston set up his gear – this did not take long, as I’ll get into – and a big light-up BA that decorated the stage. Instead of starting the show, he announced that he was going to go change his pants and have a smoke. Which he did, I assume. He returned brandishing two sparklers, wearing a sailor’s cap, and draped in a Hamilton Tiger Cats flag; that he wasn’t immediately run out of town on a rail is proof that this wasn’t the regular bar crowd.

I would stop short of calling Johnston a full-on comedy act, but there is a lot of comedy involved, which means I have the potential to spoil the show for anyone who reads this. Especially considering that BA himself said that the show never changes. So I won’t go into great detail, but be assured that if you go to a BA Johnston show, you will see costume changes, snot rockets, and confetti which may or may not get sweat-stuck to back fat.

As for the music, BA has three instruments; a keyboard he played maybe twice, an acoustic guitar that has to have seen better days, and a Discman. He generally alternated between the Discman and the guitar. The Discman – sometimes referred to as an Apple 5c or a BlackBerry Notebook – was used to play backing tracks. This would free BA up to run out into the crowd, pour drinks into fans’ mouths, climb on tables, pour drinks into bartenders’ mouths, all that good stuff.

One highlight was hearing Johnston play his new song Saskatchewan for what may have been the very first time in Saskatchewan. At the very least, it isn’t one he plays on tour often; you could tell because he sat still and concentrated for the “45 fuckin’ minutes” it took to play it. (Its actual running time is 2:13, which would still be among BA’s longer songs.) The rest of the time, he was in constant motion – either frantically strumming the guitar or running all over the place.

Saskatchewan is an introspective (for BA, anyway) tribute to the land of the Roughriders, Wonderland arcade, and Humpty’s; a province where “all wounds can be healed but the thirteenth man on the field.” He really gets us.

A number of other songs were also from Johnston’s new album, Gremlins III, including Alley Beers, I’m Stayin’ In, and personal favourite Dayoff is a Dayoff. He did not play Shitty Cat and that is too bad. But I got another one of my favourites in GST Cheque, which not only has an excellent singalong part, but gives me warm nostalgic feelings about getting a “random cheque for like 63 bucks.” He closed with Best Day Ever, which is obviously about the day that the McDonalds coupons show up in the mail. The encore was only one song and as per tradition, he sang it in the bathroom. Specifically the men’s room, but I gather that can vary. It looked like he was standing on a toilet or a sink – I wasn’t sure. The song was I Wanna Drink With Aliens – I couldn’t really hear it (he was off-mic) but it’s another good singalong number so I got the gist of it.

And that was it – the whole set clocked in at a little over an hour. I would have happily taken more but I get that you can only keep that pace for so long, plus I appreciate someone who doesn’t leave ’em wanting less. Plus it was like 1:30 a.m. And it’s getting close to that now because I left my computer unattended and it rebooted for surely good reasons and I lost half my review and had to redo it. I made it better! Which says all it needs to about the original version. Anyway, I’m done now.

SLCR #278: Electric Six (April 6, 2017)

Long ago, I had a ticket to see Electric Six in Regina. Didn’t go. Don’t remember why. Busy at work? Too tired? Who knows, something lame I’m sure. Whatever the cause, I’ve seen that unused purchase in my order history on the ticket site and it’s always bugged me. Still, I wasn’t sure about going to see them this time around either. Find a new venue in another city? Hang out by myself? Dubious.

But I like Electric Six and regretted missing out last time, so I went. Obviously. Though I think I’d enjoy writing a review for a show I didn’t go to.

(Also, I emailed the promoters for Canadian Juggalo Weekend and asked for media passes so I could cover the festival for my blog and its tens of readers, but for some reason, they never got back to me – can’t understand why not – point being, I had more spare time than I might have otherwise.)

I bought a ticket online and hopped on a train to SAIT. I then hopped off said train two stops later because I was playing Pokémon Go and the tracker showed there was a wild Wobbuffet nearby, and I didn’t have one of those yet. This seemed like an exceptionally stupid thing to do but also a great validation of my choice to buy a day pass for the train instead of a single-use ticket. The Wobbuffet was right by the Arts Commons, where I saw The Last Waltz Remembered the day before. As such, this also answered my question as to whether it was faster to simply walk there (as I had done) or walk to the train, wait for the train, and then take the train. (Answer: the train was much faster but I lucked into not having to wait long for it.)

Anyway, you’ll surely be pleased to know that I was successful in catching the Wobbuffet, and I was back just in time for the next train – mostly because the police had stopped it from leaving so they could escort an exceptionally drunk man off it. Success! Well, mostly – there are two train lines and I got on the wrong one. But I figured it out while still in the area serviced by both trains, so whatever. I still got to the Gateway shortly after doors opened.

The Gateway is the campus bar at SAIT. It reminded me a lot of the Owl from the University of Regina, though with more communal tables, which is not ideal for someone flying solo. There was a bench in the back that I had my eye on, but some dude was sleeping on it. As soon as he left, I claimed it. Or at least one butt’s worth.

Getting there as early as I did was a misstep. Not my fault – I’d never been there before and you never know if a place is going to run on Casino Time or Louis’ Time or Amigos Time. I’d call this Louis’ Time, which is acceptable. I wound up with nearly an hour to kill, so I texted with Colin, Mika, and Josy, played some games (doughy grey-haired 40-year-old doing crosswords on his phone at the back of the bar), and mostly just sweated. It was mighty warm in there. I thought about getting a drink but didn’t want to lose my coveted bench. We also all got to listen to the rock hits of the early 2000s, by which I mostly mean The Hives. I love The Hives. It got to be too much The Hives.

Our openers were a Calgary band called 240, pronounced “two-forty” if you care about such things. Mostly straight-up rock, though I detected hints of Red Hot Chili Peppers in a few songs – funk guitar and that kind of not-quite-rap staccato talk-singing. All original material, which the singer pointed out a few times. They played for about 45 minutes and were not entirely my thing but were decent enough – reminiscent in that sense of a lot of local opening bands I’ve seen.

Electric Six have 12 albums out. I know this because the lead singer mentioned it repeatedly and wanted all of us to buy all of them, saying that if we did, they’d make $48,000. I was going to call this into question until I realized I was doing the math wrong. So I’m a dumb.

The most recent Electric Six album came out last year, and they played at least one song off it (saying that the record company made them). I don’t know where most of the rest of the songs were from, as many songs were introduced as being “from one of the albums.” I also learned a lot about what each song was about, as in “This next song is called When Cowboys File For Divorce. It’s about when cowboys file for divorce.”

I also learned that Electric Six got into music to meet cool and interesting guys, like Carl, Doug, Gordo, and Randy, all of whom were in the crowd. It was later clarified that they didn’t get into music to meet guys because nobody does that; instead, they got into music to meet some of the girls. They dedicated a song to some of the girls.

It’s kind of surprising that I hadn’t seen Electric Six before now, as they’ve come through Canada (which the singer called “a great city”) many times, often including Saskatoon and Regina. They’d clearly played the Gateway before, as singer Dick Valentine knew all about its history, how it was founded by Doug and Carol Gateway, who had a dream to open a bar that served alcohol.

In between all this, they played some songs! Early on, they played my favourite Adam Levine song. It’s called Adam Levine and features a very catchy singalong chorus of “burn in hell / rot in hell / burn in hell / motherfucker.” I gather that Electric Six is not a fan of Maroon 5. It occurs to me now that maybe part of the issue is the similarity of their names? Personally, I would much rather have an electric 6 than a maroon 5, as I favour functionality over form. Plus it’s clearly one better.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest reactions of the evening came for all the hits – Gay Bar, Danger! High Voltage (including a saxophonist who was only brought out for this song and promptly disappeared after giving out some fistbumps), and the last song of the encore, Dance Commander. However, a good number of the folks there knew all the words and sang along with every song. This show was loud, hilarious, dancey, and fun as all get out and I’m sadder now that I missed that show years ago. This was worth the heat and the Hives and would have been worth lowercase hives too, if I’d contracted any as a result of the show. But I didn’t. So that’s good.

It should go without saying that these folks do not take themselves super seriously. This has led me to a situation where I was checking some information on Wikipedia and I have no idea how much of it is legit. Their past members apparently include Rock and Roll Indian, Surge Joebot, Murdock Ramone, Disco, M., Frank Lloyd Bonaventure, Dr. Blacklips Hoffman, Macro Duplicato, Brian Blastoise, The Colonel, Smorgasboard, Percussion World, and Dr. Diet Mountain Dew. This shouldn’t seem as completely plausible as it is.

The band said they wanted to meet and drink with everyone once they were done, but I left as soon as the show was over. In case I didn’t have enough comedy for one evening, I wound up sitting on the train in front of two guys that I can only describe as the Iron Sheik having a conversation with another Iron Sheik, in full-on playing a character for the internet mode, only there was no audience of millions, just me, entertained and a little scared. That seems somehow fitting.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
• Colter Wall (May 8)
• Serena Ryder (June 25)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #277: The Last Waltz Remembered (April 5, 2017)

When I go to Calgary, I like unique concert experiences. It’s always good to see a band I like, but if I’m going to be in a bigger city anyway, I may as well go see something that isn’t going to come to Regina. And I’m pretty sure this all-star affair was a one-off.

You’re familiar with The Band, yes? And their farewell concert, the Last Waltz? Am I asking rhetorical questions so as to hide how little I actually know? Am I trying to avoid rewriting a Wikipedia article in a futile attempt to appear knowledgeable?

Replace Wikipedia with books and that was pretty much my entire university career, really.

Anyway, yes. Very famous farewell concert. 40 years ago. This show was to be a bunch of songs from that night, performed by Corb Lund, Amy Helm, Matt Andersen, and the Russell Broom House Band.

The show was at Jack Singer Concert Hall in Arts Commons. I’ve been there before but always took the train. This time, after an exceptionally lazy afternoon, I walked it. Took about 40 minutes. I wish I had something more exciting for you, but I like my walks to be uneventful, so really, I don’t.

The hall was mostly sold out. I was sitting in the first row of the mezzanine, far off to the right. After the Lyle Lovett/John Hyatt show, I was a bit concerned about my seating choice but this wasn’t really off ground level at all, so that was nice.

There was no opener, and the show got started right on time. This was my first time seeing both Andersen and Helm. Andersen had a bit of a rough start in the first song, Up On Cripple Creek, as he very clearly forgot the words to his part. As he tried to talk to Helm to figure out his spot, Corb jumped in and took over. Andersen seemed to have a good sense of humour about it – really, there’s no better option – and he redeemed himself later in the show.

Helm is the daughter of Levon Helm of The Band, a fact which became less relevant as the show went on. She may have been brought in for her name, but she has a fantastic voice and more than deserved her spot for that alone.

The first half of the show flew by. Like I hinted at, I’m not super familiar with The Last Waltz – I’ve never watched the movie or listened to the soundtrack album – but there were so many classic songs from that night that you probably know some of them. The first half included The Shape I’m In and Ophelia. Andersen, Helm, and Lund all got to perform some of their own material during the show, and during the first half, Lund played The Weight (dramatic pause) of the Gun. Possibly chosen solely so he could make that joke. The whoops from the crowd suggested that possibly Corb was the one who drew the audience.

During intermission, I could have gone for a bottle of water. However, I stopped to look at the merch table and as I did so, the lobby area filled up with an ungodly sea of humanity. Just making it back to my seat felt like a genuine achievement.

The second half was much the same as the first. Corb’s own song was This Is My Prairie, but he also did a fantastic version of Ian Tyson’s Four Small Winds. But the second half was mostly the Matt Andersen show, with a great version of Neil Young’s Helpless, followed by another song that drew a mid-set standing ovation.

The three singers would walk off stage for songs where they weren’t needed. Upon one return for Lund, someone yelled “CORB YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL,” to which Andersen simply replied “meh.” Perfectly timed.

Before the last song, Russell Broom introduced the house band, which was pretty sizeable. Including the singers, they maxed out at 11 people on stage, including a horn section and an organist who also played accordion when called for. It also turned out that the band included Chris Byrne of the Road Hammers, as well as Joey Landreth. This clarified things for me, as Landreth got to sing on a few songs and whenever he did, the folks sitting to my left were really excited.

They closed with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and came back for an encore of I Shall Be Released and The Weight, and it was over too soon. What a great show. Fantastic performances from the three singers, and the band killed it. Highest recommendation. I mean, you’ll never get to see this, but hypothetically.

SLCR #276: I Love the 90s (March 30, 2017)

I can’t say that I love the 90s, really. The first four years were high school and let’s pretend that never happened. University was better, and there were various good times and new adventures and stuff, but I don’t look back at James aged 13-23 as being Prime Era James. I mean, God, I hope not.

As far as the music of the 90s, there’s a certain type of late 90s alternative that I still quite like because I am old and afraid of anything new. This show, however, was not that. Instead, we were treated to a selection of early 90s R&B and rap that isn’t really on my current playlists. But I loved some of this back in the day. Nostalgia, right? This should be fun, right?

Before the concert, Mika and I met up with Reagan, Deserée, and Reagan’s friends Dustin and Sarah for dinner. Twice, in fact, because the first place was full. I had a delightful Thai chicken pizza. Would get again. Then Mika went home because she is the only one of us with any sense. The rest of us were off to the show.

We had splurged, relatively speaking, on floor seats. Not too far back, pretty close to the centre, and I was even on an aisle. A lovely view for what was in store.

When we got to our seats, there was a party host on stage inviting people to join him for the opportunity to win Salt-N-Pepa t-shirts and a chance to dance on stage with the band. You could also just buy the shirt and get to dance with them that way too. Despite repeated requests from Deserée, I refused to take part in any of this. Anyway, the people who did go up for the contest would hear a snippet of a TV show theme – name that tune, and you get your shirt and can come back later and dance. Out of probably 20 contestants, I think they gave away three shirts. The thing is, this is I Love The 90s, right? But apart from the Jeopardy song (which is technically from the 80s or earlier anyway), it was all shows like The Odd Couple, Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days, and Welcome Back, Kotter. The host – whose name was also James – even said “you’re here because you love the 90s and the 80s and the 70s” and it’s like… no? That was never part of the deal, my dude. James seemed quite disgusted with how this all went down. As a black person, he was especially disappointed when the black contestants didn’t know the themes to Good Times, The Jeffersons, or Sanford & Son. He was also annoyed with the white guy who missed All in the Family and gave “I don’t know, I’m 35” as his excuse. Apparently age shouldn’t matter as Those Were The Days is “in the white people handbook.” Fair enough. The only contestant he seemed to like was a dude wearing a rainbow mohawk wig who grabbed the mic out of his hands and yelled FUCK YEAH and then James said FUCK YEAH and then rainbow guy said FUCK and James said FUCK and rainbow guy said IT’S MY BIRTHDAY and James said FUCK YEAH and then James said fuck like 30 more times and none of you who get reviews by email will ever see this. I’m sorry for clogging your spam filters. I should mention that rainbow guy’s theme was Knight Rider and of course he didn’t get it because he’s probably 25 and how would he know what the Knight Rider theme is?

Anyway, this may have been the highlight of the evening.

Our opener was Young MC, who also stretched the credibility of this 90s conceit as he’s known for one big hit – Bust A Move – that came out in 1989. Close enough, I guess. 1989 was quite a while ago and Young MC is pushing 50. I suppose that illustrates the danger of naming yourself “young” anything, though his actual last name is Young, so he gets a pass. He did five songs, I think, highlighting a new song called Nocturnal that is on the soundtrack to a movie he directed, possibly also called Nocturnal. He really wanted us to know about his directorial debut. Anyway, he did Bust A Move and then said that normally that was the end of his set, but he was going to give us something more (I assume every city gets something more) and asked if we remembered a song of his called Fastest Rhyme. I am 100% fine with admitting that 2017 James inherited 1989 James’ enthusiasm for Fastest Rhyme and if I could pick any one song of his for this show, that would have been it. So I was delighted, even if he did have to pause for breath in the middle of it. Though I did think it was a little funny that his only other hit single was Principal’s Office and he didn’t do that one.

Next up was Color Me Badd, the band Deserée was most looking forward to. I had always said I didn’t know anything about them, but when Mika did some YouTube research, it turned out I was actually pretty familiar with their hits. We also discovered that the Lonely Island’s Dick In A Box video is just Color Me Badd’s video for I Wanna Sex You Up reshot with new people (and some boxes).

Anyway, these guys got about 25 minutes to do a half-dozen songs and they were better than I expected. I knew all the songs, including No Diggity, which is not actually one of theirs. It reminded me of seeing Bobby Curtola and other oldies at the casino with my dad, where they play their own songs but also play random other songs from that era because you’re nostalgic for the time more than the specific artist. I can’t remember if I mentioned this then, but it would be like seeing 70-year-old Justin Bieber at the casino doing Gangnam Style and Call Me Maybe and Blurred Lines. Which could very well happen. I’ll go to his show in 2064 and report back.

In a compelling example of how expectations change one’s perception, Deserée didn’t care for Color Me Badd so much: “I was fairly disappointed with them actually. I mean, fun and nostalgic, yes. But for one thing – in 1990-whatever, I truly believed Color Me Badd was an edgy R&B group (that I had to turn down when listening to at home, because of all the sex songs). It wasn’t until dinner the other night when Mika talked about them that I realized they might actually be a boy band. And then when they came out in matching outfits (including hats) and started doing their dance moves, I realized the horrible truth. Overall though, it made me sad that the lead singer was off-key and off-time for much of it. But like I said, nostalgic and fun anyway.”

It should be noted that the crowd was very excited for all of this. Between sets, the DJ played Funky Cold Medina and people went wild for it. You didn’t really even need live musicians or rappers anymore. Just play recognizable songs and you’ve got them in the palm of your hand.

Right about now, we were about to be possessed by the sounds of MC Rob Base. Base got four or five songs too, most of which were about our hands, where we could put them (in the air), and how we could wave them (like we just don’t care). He also wanted to yell things and have us yell other things back at him. To be fair, everyone did that all night, but he was especially interested in this. He closed with It Takes Two. Of course.

We had a bit of an intermission while they set up the stage for Salt-N-Pepa. James came back out to talk to us and seemed delighted to spot his friend in the crowd. “HEY! IT’S FUCKING FUCK BIRTHDAY GUY!” Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy was delighted by the attention.

Salt-N-Pepa had about an hour-long set – the only one of the evening – and played pretty much everything you’d expect – Shoop, Push It, Whatta Man, Let’s Talk About Sex. Continuing a theme from earlier, they also played a bunch of things like Billie Jean (not 90s) and Smells Like Teen Spirit – by which I mean Spinderella just played the MP3s and everyone sang overtop them. Like I said, you didn’t really need any musicians at this point.

All the girls who bought or won t-shirts got to come up and dance to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (not Salt-N-Pepa, not the 90s) and then they invited guys up for Whatta Man. You could see a rainbow mohawk wig making its way through an ocean of humanity like a shark fin. He neither bought nor won a shirt, but Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy was allowed on stage anyway because James was in charge and James was laughing to nearly the point of tears. Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy tried to take Salt’s mic and yell FUCK YEAH but she just told him to settle down. Total professional. Then he didn’t want to leave the stage until James basically had to drag him out of there.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Pepa had apparently just discovered what Regina rhymes with. This happens a lot when bands come to town. I believe that by now, all possible avenues in this area have been explored (not a euphemism) (but probably true if it was?) but she was so amused and enthusiastic about it that nobody minded.

And then it was our headliner, sort of, Vanilla Ice. Grade 9 James (me, not the host) (if only there was an easy way to differentiate us) loved some Vanilla Ice. But even then, there are only a handful of songs I remember. Ice Ice Baby, of course. Play That Funky Music White Boy. Ninja Rap OBVIOUSLY. And beyond that – and I am not proud of this, much less proud than I am of admitting to having liked Vanilla Ice in the first place – I remember a verse he had on a Bloodhound Gang song. And that was what he actually opened with, which kind of blew my mind a little bit. I don’t think he actually did Ninja Rap (the sound was terrible all night – way too loud, distorted, and full of feedback) but he did say GO NINJA GO NINJA GO a few times and that was good enough for me. But it was pretty much downhill from there, and we weren’t starting from high up.

The absolute funniest moment of the night came when Ice said “I just wanna give a shoutout to the Pats. Regina Pats, making it to the playoffs! I think they’re going all the way this year.” And look, I know that “local sports team” is second only to “name of city” in terms of cheap pops. But you can get away with that if you’re talking about a major league team. Even if Ice had said something about the Roughriders, I can almost pretend that he cares enough to have CFL opinions. But come on. Far be it from me to call into question the credibility of Vanilla Ice, but I really don’t think he’s following the Western Hockey League that closely.

Anyway, if you’re Vanilla Ice, what song do you end on?

Guess.

He called a bunch of fans up on stage and played Ice Ice Baby about five songs in. It seemed early to wrap things up but where can you go from there?

“THE PARTY DON’T STOP!”

He did some song nobody knew.

“THE PARTY DON’T STOP!”

He did another song nobody knew. People were filing out of the place at this point. Including Vanilla Ice, who disappeared from the stage (or at least hid behind the fans, who were still up there) though his voice could still be heard.

“THE PARTY DON’T STOP!”

Deserée: “…but it could.”

At this point, Vanilla Ice played Turn Down For What.

“YEAH YOU LOVE THE 90S!”

Turn Down For What is from 2013.

“ALL THE HORNY PEOPLE PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”

Not to reveal too much about myself, but I did not, in fact, put my hands in the air. I mean, sure, you’d THINK nothing would get a person going like hearing loss and complete bafflement, but it didn’t do it for me. In fairness, it seemed to be the secret sauce for lots of the folks who were left, including Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy who had found his way onto the stage by this point.

But hey, at least Turn Down For What is a good song to end a party on, right? But Ice – who had also made his way back onto the stage – possibly he got lost and followed the rainbow mohawk – had one more for us. First, he told us to follow our dreams. Believe in ourselves. Not let borders divide us. And then he sang No Woman No Cry. Vanilla Ice, reggae superstar. I texted this to Mika who simply replied “Oh no.” People were flooding out of the arena. I could not leave. I was transfixed. What is this? Why is this? And then it was over. No encore, just a voice – possibly prerecorded – thanking us for attending. It didn’t end with “…leave now” but it may as well have, not that I would have needed encouragement.

To cap off the evening, as I walked alone to my car, mostly deaf and lost in some sort of existential crisis, two guys stopped me and asked for a ride. They did not say to where, but they did promise me “a lot of money.” I declined, not feeling up to being a good Samaritan and also not wanting stab wounds and a stolen car. Though it would have made a more compelling conclusion than “I went home and had some Coke Zero and Crispy Minis.”

I’m writing and posting these reviews out of order. As I’m finishing this off, it’s the day before my trip to Calgary. By sheer happenstance, I am there during Canadian Juggalo Weekend. Part of me badly wants to go to Canadian Juggalo Weekend just so I can write about the experience. But I kind of feel like there’s much less reason for that now. I mean, sure, there will be wrestling and circus performers and crazy shit and clowns EVERYWHERE but is that really so different from this? I mean, Vanilla Ice even had two dancers who were fat guys in clown suits and wrestling masks who sprayed water on the crowd. Switch out the water for Faygo and we’re set.

I can’t recommend this show enough and I also can’t recommend avoiding this show enough.

SLCR #275: Lisa LeBlanc (March 30, 2017)

I forgot to mention this in the Joel Plaskett review, but I was talking to Josy and he noted how much I hate writing these things. Mika has said something similar. I’m concerned that this belief has spread, so let me clear some air here. I like writing at least half of these things unconditionally. This happens when I get excited about an artist and want to convince you to check them out too. Like this one right here. I also really like writing the reviews when crazy stuff happens. Unfortunately, this happens much less often the older I get, but if this is your thing, you might enjoy the next review.

For some of the reviews, I get lazy and fall behind and then it becomes a bit of a chore. This is my own fault, and it may be worth mentioning that it’s 2:43 am right now. And for some, I just don’t have a whole lot to say. This usually means I don’t know the artist well and they were neither off-the-charts good nor bad, so I likely had a nice night out but don’t have hundreds of words to share about the experience (but will try, whether or not it’s a good idea). This was exacerbated last year when the number of concerts I saw ramped way up and I was a lot more willing to go see almost anyone I’d ever heard of. I’ve tried to dial that back some this year, mostly for financial reasons, but I did start this year with a number of “it was good, what more do you want” shows. And there will always be those.

I believe Josy wanted an exact percentage of how many reviews I enjoyed writing but I’m not doing that when my alarm is set to go off in under 3 hours.

Onto the show. Lisa LeBlanc played the folk festival here in 2015. At the time, I had no idea who she was, and seemingly neither did anyone else. As she prepared for her set, people wandered off to the bar, the port-a-potties, the food trucks, wherever. I would have gone too but I am a seasoned veteran and I know that you never leave before hearing a new-to-you artist’s first songs. Wait until they’re a few tunes in and the lines will have died down. But when LeBlanc played her first song and blew the roof off the place (because there is normally a roof over the open-air park), Mika elbowed me and gestured to the gates where people were swarming back in. LeBlanc was my favourite performer at the festival that year, or as I wrote at the time, “RULED RULED RULED.” I’d been looking forward to her coming back ever since.

On my way into the Artesian, I ran into Mark and Arlette because of course I did. They weren’t going to the show, they were just sort of there. I tried to convince them to come with me, but Mark was going home to finish working on his performance appraisal, which is the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard for missing a show, and that includes all of my “it’s late” and “it’s cold” and “I’m tired” and “I don’t feel like it.”

Please note that when I have skipped a concert due to a work obligation, it’s always been 100% justified. That’s different.

Into the venue, I took a seat at the top of the pews, nicely tucked away in a corner where I could play Yahtzee in peace and wait for the show to start.

The opener was Eliza Mary Doyle, a banjo player from Saskatoon. She’s been touring as part of The Dead South as of late, though on this night, she had her own band consisting of a guitarist and an upright bassist. By which I mean “someone who plays the upright bass” and not “a bassist who has good posture.” Not that I want to call her posture into question.

Doyle only had about 30 minutes so she mentioned that she’d have to keep her stories to a minimum. She did, but mostly because the bassist would shush her to try and keep things moving along.

Anyway, this was fantastic and one of those rare sets that I wish had more time. I think I might really like banjos? I’m not sure how I feel about that, discovering something so profound about myself at 40. I should probably just appreciate the insight it offers.

Should I buy a banjo and take lessons? I hear the banjo is particularly hard.

I’m now looking up banjos on banjobuyingguide.com and I should never have access to the internet and a MasterCard this late at night.

A compromise: no banjos at least until I get to Calgary so I can save the sales tax.

Lisa LeBlanc also plays the banjo. In fact, her and Doyle became pals at that folk festival a few years ago, when Doyle was there as a volunteer and they got to talking. Banjo talking. Though for most of LeBlanc’s set, she was on guitar with a full band backing her up.

LeBlanc is Acadian and bilingual. She switched back and forth between English and French for most of the night, offering what she called “the true Government of Canada experience.” It seemed to me that the French speakers in attendance were far more enthusiastic. Specifically the women – in a venue with no real standing area, there were clusters of girls off to the sides and at the back of the hall, all dancing and very into everything.

LeBlanc played a lot from her new English album, though fewer songs than I would have expected. I suppose that happens, given limited time and wanting to ensure a good number of French songs are included too. I find her songwriting interesting – almost nothing ever rhymes. I don’t know if that’s just a stylistic choice or maybe something to do with writing in a second language? I haven’t paid enough attention to her French songs to see if those rhyme. Now I’m curious.

The banjo made its appearance partway through the set for a few songs, including my favourite of hers, You Look Like Trouble (But I Guess I Do Too), as well as a cover of Ace of Spades that gets all the fire emoji. So great. “RULED RULED RULED” as a wise man once said.

It was another short set, going just over an hour. I would have been fine with more – I would be fine if it was still going on – but it was not to be. She ended with a Fleetwood Mac cover. Because I don’t take notes right after the show like I should, I am 99% certain it was Never Going Back Again but my attempts to verify this using the internet have been stymied because it seems she really likes covering Fleetwood Mac songs.

Whatever it was (275 of these things and I am STILL SO BAD AT THIS), I dug it. This was an early contender for my favourite show of the year. Fantastic tunes and some unexpected self-discovery. And now I need to sleep and not buy a banjo. Yet.

SLCR #274: Bill & Joel Plaskett (March 23, 2017)

Around the fifth time I saw Hawksley Workman, I complained in my review that I didn’t have anything more to say about the guy. As ridiculous as that seems some 14 Hawksley shows later, I kind of find myself there with Joel Plaskett now. I can tell the whole story in one sentence: Mika’s favourite guy; she introduced me to his music; I like him a lot too; he’ll usually skip most of the songs I want to hear.

I did not say it would be a quality sentence.

Even the idea of seeing him in concert with his folk-singer father isn’t new; Bill Plaskett was a surprise guest on the 2009 tour for Joel’s album Three. What was new, however, was the venue. Regina has a shortage of concert venues, largely because Regina has a shortage of people who go to lots of concerts. So with Darke Hall being renovated, there’s not much left that’s smaller than the casino but bigger than the Exchange. Thus, we found ourselves at the Wa Wa Shrine Centre, a place I’d only ever gone to for the winter indoor farmers’ market.

It should be noted that when I call this a new venue, I very much mean it in the new-to-me sense. This is not a new building. It is, however, kind of amazing, a feeling shared by Joel Plaskett himself who posted lots of pictures of it to his Instagram. I always enjoy it when I see musicians I like interacting on social media as though they are regular humans, and it turns out I like it even more when said interaction involves Shotgun Jimmie being excited about some ornate wallpaper.

And amazing wallpaper it was, to the point that the host recommended selfies in the women’s washroom. I made Mika do this. The wallpaper there is a vibrant red floral pattern. But the aesthetic was everywhere – all over the place there are pictures, awards, signs, pins, more and different wallpaper – “style for miles,” as Joel said. The main hall where the concert was to be held was full of plastic chairs and cafeteria tables, with lights strung across the ceiling. When Joel posted a picture a few hours before the show, I was sure they’d move the tables. They did not. When we arrived, we sat six or eight to a table with our new best friends.

I went in search of sodas and returned with ciders. They had a drink ticket system. I wasn’t expecting that and panicked. This explains much of my life.

Our openers were the Mayhemingways, a duo from Peterborough who were on the whole tour with the Plasketts. They played an enjoyable set of folky rock and seemed like two likable guys. They got a good reaction from the crowd, which was weird – it seemed like a ton of applause after each song, but they’d talk and ignore the band while they were actually playing. Later on, there was one group of attendees (couldn’t call them “fans”) over by the drink ticket table that was so continually and carelessly disruptive that someone from the Shrine Centre or the Folk Festival (who put on the show) really should have had them thrown out.

But I won’t dwell on the negative, even though doing so is a great way to distract from the fact that I have very little to say about the Mayhemingways other than “they were good.” I suppose I can add that they came back out later as the rhythm section for the Plasketts and were, again, good.

The Plaskett concert itself wasn’t quite what I was expecting. For a show billed as “Bill & Joel Plaskett,” touring in support of an album also by Bill & Joel Plaskett, this was a lot closer to a Joel Plaskett solo show than I anticipated. This is not a complaint, mind you – Joel Plaskett shows are among my favourites. I just expected it to be closer to 50/50, when in actuality, Bill only sang lead on a few songs, and the whole band left Joel on stage by himself for a few more.

As you’d expect, they wound up playing most (maybe all?) of the new album, Solidarity. The album is much folkier than one expects from Joel Plaskett, who never rocks that hard to begin with. But as often happens, the live versions had a little extra energy which made me appreciate the album that more. Just spending some time focusing on the songs also helped – I paid more attention to the lyrics, and Joel and (especially) Bill talked about the stories behind some of the songs, which helped give them context and made them that much more interesting. One new song, Dragonfly, was about a purported paranormal encounter Joel had. I don’t think I’d have ever picked up on that without the backstory, which makes the song a little more interesting and a lot weirder. Another of the new songs was described as a union song, which really pleased the dude to our right, who ran off and bought the album as soon as they’d finished playing it. I don’t think the guy to my left was nearly such a fan of this whole union idea, based on his wife’s grin and condescending pats on the knee. Somehow, we narrowly avoided a riot.

The Plasketts also played a lot of songs from Three, including quite a few that aren’t normally on the setlist (and some that are, including closing with Wishful Thinking). This surprised me at the time, but makes much more sense now that I’ve gone back and reminded myself that Bill was on the Three tour. I’d really remember nothing about these shows if I didn’t write stuff down.

While Joel was on stage by himself, he took requests from the crowd, including Happen Now and North Star. I’ve still never heard him play Penny for Your Thoughts (or most of Ashtray Rock) and I wasn’t about to start yelling requests now. This was wise as Joel seemed kinda picky about what requests he’d play, turning down one song for being a downer and another for some other reason.

What a great story that was. Joel Plaskett didn’t play a song, I don’t know which one, for reasons that I also do not know. Thank god I’m immortalizing these events with carefully selected words.

Anyway, if you’ve been reading these things for any length of time, you should know by now that you can skip the Joel Plaskett reviews. They’re pretty much always going to say he’s great, show was great, will go again, you should go see him too. I guess I could add “and take lots of pictures in the bathroom” but that may have to be a judgment call every time out.

SLCR #273: The Tea Party (March 18, 2017)

I can write this in 15 minutes before bed, right?

A little better than 20 years ago (god), Pat invited me to go see The Tea Party with him at Louis’. I didn’t know anything about The Tea Party and I didn’t really know Pat that well – it was the first time we ever hung out without Deserée around – but he had a spare ticket and knew that I was generally up to go see any band for any reason. Apart from being historic in my friendship with Pat, this gig was fondly remembered because it was Halloween and there was a girl there in a genie costume (think Barbara Eden) that remains memorable to this day. Even without that, I had a fine time though Pat was somewhat disgusted that I was so ignorant about the band yet still found myself with a coveted ticket for the sold-out show.

Back in 2011, 6 years and 110 reviews ago, I saw The Tea Party for the second time, this time because Mika wanted to go. During that 15-year span between concerts, the band went on hiatus for many years. I was barely more familiar with them the second time out and wasn’t really super pumped to go, but they put on a really good (and, again, sold out) show. Though they sounded the same as ever, their personalities had softened over the years and that was a pleasant surprise. Also, I’m pretty sure that this was the last show I ever went to at the Distrikt but if I have 15 minutes, I’m not about to fact-check that.

Now it is 2017. There’s been another Tea Party album since then. They still own teaparty.com and I don’t imagine that’s as valuable as it would have been back in 2011 but it’s still probably worth something. They’ve moved from the late lamented Distrikt to the much larger casino but this show still sold out a month in advance. This makes three straight shows where I’ve been surprised by how popular they are and you’d think maybe I’d learn something from this.

It was also the first time I’ve ever been to a sold-out show at the casino where they offered general admission standing room on the floor. You can fit a lot of people in there. And there were some characters. Mixed in with a ton of people who looked like me (old doughy dudes in Louis CK cosplay), there were definitely some interesting choices of attire, haircut, and makeout technique. It was some of the best people watching I’ve had outside of Las Vegas.

The Tea Party has been around for quite a while, and this was the 20th anniversary tour for their album Transmission. I had an earlier album, The Edges of Twilight, but was only familiar with Temptation, the big single from Transmission. I had big plans of giving the album a once-through before the show, but when I went into my Apple Music, one of my daily playlists it chose for me was Jukebox Hits: ’90s Alt, Vol. 1, so sorry guys, you lost out to Spacehog and Marcy Playground.

Someday I’ll remember that whenever I hear a song that sounds vaguely familiar, like the most generic 90s alt-rock song possible, it’s always, always Silverchair. But I digress.

Anyway, as one would expect, The Tea Party played all of Transmission, though not in order. This nicely solved the issue that can develop with these play-the-whole-album anniversary shows; namely, everyone knows the hits from the first half of the album and nobody knows the back half. This let them build to and close with Temptation instead of starting with it.

After no opener and a bit of a late start (20 minutes – not even worth noting at most shows but an eternity in casino time), playing Transmission took about an hour. After that, they took an intermission and came back for the second half. Or the third third, really, since the second part was only about a half-dozen songs. There were a few more songs I knew (Heaven Coming Down, Sister Awake, The Bazaar) and also a selection of covers, including Heroes and Paint It, Black.

I mentioned before that the band’s personalities had softened over the years. Back in the day, they wrote dark, moody, mysterious songs. Now, they joke about writing dark, moody, mysterious songs. I can’t see The Tea Party of 20 years ago doing that, and I especially can’t see them starting Sister Awake and using that to segue into U2’s With or Without You because it was St. Patrick’s Day yesterday and it kind of fits, so why not?

Like at the previous shows, I was not really the intended audience but I still thought they were quite good. If you want actual musical opinions, I don’t know. I liked the harder stuff better than the more ballady parts. The Middle Eastern influences that have always been their differentiators are always interesting. They mentioned some of their 90s contemporaries like I Mother Earth and Moist, and I liked The Tea Party’s show better than when we saw those bands at the casino. (Mika liked I Mother Earth best of the three. But we still appreciated your efforts, guys from Moist.)

Back in the day, I’d go to shows with Pat and he’d go to the bathroom and come back and report on weird goings-on. As such, it was only fitting that Mika came back from the bathroom to let me know that someone was loudly complaining that the casino was cleaning the bathroom during intermission (note: this was not actually happening) and that if the four people ahead of her in line didn’t hurry up, she was going to piss in the sink. This is not something that I’ve ever encountered in the men’s room. I wondered what kind of person does that, since most drunk dudes I encounter at concerts just want to be loud and don’t bother with making words. Luckily, I was able to find out! As we were leaving, a very tipsy but very friendly lady told us how much she liked our glasses (specifically Mika’s; I only got added into the compliment through some initial confusion) and wished us a good night. I was later informed that this was piss-in-the-sink lady. I was pleased to make her acquaintance and glad that, wherever she eventually wound up peeing, she had a pleasant evening.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Bill & Joel Plaskett w/Mayhemingways (March 23)
• Lisa LeBlanc (March 30)
• I Love The 90s feat. Salt N Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Young MC, and Rob Base (April 1)
• The Last Waltz Remembered feat. Corb Lund, Matt Andersen, Amy Helm, & the Russell Broom House Band (April 5)
• BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #272: Blackie & The Rodeo Kings (March 8, 2017)

As I’m writing this, it’s Sunday night at the end of my week-long staycation. With weekends and an EDO, I had nine straight days off work for the first time since last summer. This is coming after a months-long project that felt like it took years. I’ve always looked forward to vacations but this was the first time that one was really necessary, and I won’t lie, it was great. I ate whatever I wanted, read a few books, got some long overdue housework done, and got my 10,000 steps a day despite uncooperative weather. All told, it was delightful and the only sad part is that I have to wait THREE WHOLE WEEKS before I get to do it again. Good thing I have this coming Friday off; I don’t know how I’d survive otherwise.

There’s something to be said for banking ALL the overtime.

I did something else on my time off too. I wrote a song! It was on the way to this show, actually. I must have felt the music in the air. I haven’t recorded anything yet, but it’s called “Driving Behind Some Dickbag in His Stupid Orange Kia Soul.” Those are the only lyrics too, but the punctuation changes when you sing it. Distribute exclamation marks like so: “Dick! Bag!” and “Ki! A! Soul!”

My good vacation mood buoyed me through a fruitless hour-long search of the mall for a new pair of texting gloves (got some since then, hooray) and carried on to when I met up with Mark, Arlette, and Arlette’s son Kenton at the casino. Mark said I looked taller. I think it was because by that point, I had spent nearly a week not being crushed by the weight of the world and I was able to return to my normal, God-intended height. This was probably bad news for Kenton since I wound up sitting in front of him.

By sheer happenstance, our table was next to that of another coworker, Paul, and his wife. Paul is one of my absolute favourite people to irritate; more than once he has called me a “fucking fucker” while changing colours. But I’ve switched jobs and I think he mostly works from home now, so I was so surprised and delighted to see him that I forgot to wreck the evening for him. Next time.

You may remember that about a year and a half ago, I saw LeE HARVeY OsMOND at the Exchange. This was much the same deal in that Tom Wilson is in B&RK (it’s a long band name to type and they must have approved of this shortened version since it’s on their bass drum) and is in (or just is?) Lee Harvey Osmond (one wacky spelling permitted per review). And again, I didn’t really know any of the Kings’ music before the show. And again, Thompson Wilson (Tom’s son) was opening. And again, we were there with a ton of people Mark knew because Mark and this dude named Carver know a lot of the same people and Carver became pals with Tom Wilson through means I was once told but now only vaguely remember. And I still don’t think I’ve ever actually met Carver despite having been in his presence innumerable times at all kinds of shows. HOWEVER this show was different by being in the casino instead of the Exchange, by being a mostly different band doing entirely different music, and because I was on a vacation high instead of feeling like I’d swallowed a ball of knives and wanted to die. That Lee Harvey Osmond show was the highlight of a no-good very bad day.

But I digress. We met up, found our table, I poked Paul a few times, and Thompson Wilson took the stage. Well, first there was a local DJ who introduced the show and told us we’d be joined soon by “Thomas” Wilson, and then Stephen Fearing of B&RK talked for a bit and got the young fellow’s name right. You’d hope he would. The set was just Thompson and a guitar for the most part, though he was joined by his godfather, Junkhouse drummer Ray Farrugia, for a few songs. I wouldn’t call it country, but the influence is there. I think Thompson played all original songs – it was a very short set (25 minutes or so) and I didn’t recognize any covers, anyway. He seemed a little more confident than last time despite the much larger room, and this was quite enjoyable. Everyone seemed especially fond of the line “she asked me to kiss her somewhere dirty, so I took her to my home in Hamilton.”

A quick break and B&RK was up for two hours of country/roots rock. I don’t know how many more times I can say “this was real good” without any great detail and still expect to have any readers left, but here we are. Talented musicians! Good songs! Songs I didn’t know before and don’t know now but really liked at the time! A pair of loud drunks wanted to make the show about themselves and Tom Wilson made fun of them in a way that everyone else caught but they didn’t!

This was B&RK’s Kings & Kings tour. A few years back, they recorded an album called Kings & Queens where they were joined on each song by different female vocalists like Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Holly Cole, and Serena Ryder. Kings & Kings, of course, is the same idea, just with dudes: Bruce Cockburn, Eric Church, City & Colour, Keb’ Mo’, Vince Gill, and others. Looking at the album online just now, I note Murray McLauchlin is not listed, which makes his cameo appearance at this show a bit odd. Apparently, in Calgary the night before, B&RK were joined by McLauchlin, Ian Tyson, and Lindi Ortega, none of whom appear on the Kings or Queens albums if the iTunes tracklists are to be believed. Anyway, McLauchlin joined the band for three or four songs; Try Walkin’ Away was one I recognized, though it seems Murray McLauchlin is one of those people I know OF, not necessarily ABOUT. After the first tune, Tom Wilson was joking about how the song fell apart at the end, saying that B&RK “promises the best in semi-professional entertainment.” Sometimes it’s good to be musically ignorant; I didn’t notice anything was up.

For the encore, they invited everyone up to the front of the stage; until then, it had been one of those shows where everyone sits and applauds politely. Getting a bunch of people up to the front added to the atmosphere and thinking about it now, could have been done much earlier in the evening. But I can’t really call that a complaint if it took me four days to think of it.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• The Tea Party (March 18)
• Bill & Joel Plaskett w/Mayhemingways (March 23)
• Lisa LeBlanc (March 30)
• I Love The 90s feat. Salt N Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Young MC, and Rob Base (April 1)
• The Last Waltz Remembered feat. Corb Lund, Matt Andersen, Amy Helm, & the Russell Broom House Band (April 5)
• BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #271: Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt (March 1, 2017)

Over the past year, I’ve had pretty good luck getting front row seats to shows at the Conexus Arts Centre. It’s just a matter of paying attention to when tickets go on sale, combined with a little bit of luck (and, in some cases, dropping ridiculous coin). In this case, I had good luck – I was at my desk at work when the email came in announcing this show, and ticket sales began immediately. Look at all those front row seats! However, there was also some bad luck – I was already booked to see the Philosopher Kings at the Exchange. I’m not a huge Philosopher Kings fan, if I’m being honest; I only know one or two of their songs and enjoyed them but didn’t love them. Mika liked the band and would have gone except it was a school night. She was disappointed enough that I thought “if she thinks they’re that good, I should check them out.” Because that’s what kind of supportive husband I am.

Long story short, the Philosopher Kings show got cancelled. They’re allegedly coming back later this year to tour a new album. Of course, by the time they made this decision, the front row seats for this other show were long gone. So rather than sit as close as possible, I decided to go to this show as cheaply as possible. I was still front row centre, only it was the front row of the third balcony. At least I’d be able to see everything.

By the time the show rolled around, it seemed like tickets had sold reasonably well, but they still put the balcony seats on sale a week before the show (too late for me, alas). Poking around on the venue’s website revealed similar sales figures for this show, Colin James, and Tom Cochrane – and yet Charley Pride was nearly sold out. Good on him. The first half of that show will be good.

I showed up pretty close to the start of the show so I got to be the guy making everyone in the row stand up. I’d feel bad except I don’t at all; as one who normally sits on the end of the row, I’m usually the one doing the standing. Despite sitting in the middle of the row, I never once had to stand up to let anyone go by – I think this is probably due to the fact that because we were in the front row of the third balcony, any movement meant certain death. We were real high up, and that railing was real low. When I shuffled to my seat, I had to turn and face away from the stage because it was freaking me out. It turns out I will happily take awkward interactions with strangers over vertigo and potential doom. This feeling never really went away for the length of the show. Even when the musicians were playing and the lights were darkened and I had no visual sense of how high up we were, it was always kind of there in my mind. Suffice to say this was an experiment I may not repeat. Except in a month or so at The Last Waltz Remembered when I repeat it.

This show was billed as an acoustic evening with Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt. I wasn’t entirely sure what this would entail – would they take turns, was there an opener, etc. Turns out it was exactly what it said it would be. With no opening act, Lovett and Hiatt both took the stage right at 7:30*, each claiming to be the other man. They briefly discussed their laundry before Hiatt launched into Drive South. For the remainder of the night, they took turns playing songs, usually unaided but sometimes with the other musician playing along or singing backing vocals.

I cannot say I knew much about Lyle Lovett before this show, and even less about John Hiatt. I bought this ticket because I thought “this sounds like it would be good” without really knowing enough to back that up. In short, this concert is why I go to random shows for the heck of it. This show was fantastic. Nothing flashy about it, just two excellent songwriters and musicians. Great songs. Great musicianship; Lovett in particular showed off some impressive technique. Great singing; Lovett has a more traditional voice, for lack of a better term, while Hiatt was more inclined to work vocal flourishes into his tunes. Excellent sound in the Arts Centre, too.

Also, bring an ignoramus as previously mentioned, I didn’t really expect this show to be as funny as it was. Lovett and Hiatt had an effortless banter that added an extra dimension to an already great show. It felt like two old friends telling stories and swapping jokes and just spending some time together – which I suppose it was. I’m sure some of it is similar every night, but some of it was off the cuff. During one song, Hiatt flubbed a line and then cracked himself up repeatedly over the mistake, which led to Lovett telling a story of doing a similar thing on national TV.

And that’s about it, really. Nearly three hours (the lack of an opener was not a negative) of two excellent musicians just killing it. This show was so good that I looked up the rest of their tour dates and seeing they were headed to Calgary, I messaged Colin and told him he needed to go to this. He did not. Said he “already had family plans.” His loss.

(j/k Colin I am sure your cousin is a cool guy)

*Okay, really, it was more like 7:36 – late enough for a really grumpy old man to loudly complain about “what time is a 7:30 show supposed to start?” but not so late for literally anyone else in the building to have noticed

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (March 8)
• The Tea Party (March 18)
• Bill & Joel Plaskett w/Mayhemingways (March 23)
• Lisa LeBlanc (March 30)
• I Love The 90s feat. Salt N Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Young MC, and Rob Base (April 1)
• The Last Waltz Remembered feat. Corb Lund, Matt Andersen, Amy Helm, & the Russell Broom House Band (April 5)
• BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #270: Big Wreck (February 9, 2017)

This might be the ultimate “it was fine” review. I’ve been putting this off for over two weeks now because it’s going to be a bit of a struggle to say much of anything. But I want to clear my slate before Lyle Lovett on Wednesday, and The Walking Dead is on, and I find paying attention to The Walking Dead to be even more of a chore than writing reviews when I don’t have anything to say, so here we go.

Jeff really likes these guys. I should just let him write this whole thing, but we’re coming up on tax season and he’s probably not got time. Plus, over the past 20+ years, I have carefully cultivated an audience of at least a dozen people who clearly aren’t interested in expert opinions. But yes, Jeff, big fan. One of their albums is his favourite ever, he told me. Which is largely why I went to this show. Not that I got around to listening to that album beforehand – not that they played anything from it anyway – but a recommendation that strong is usually enough to get me to a show. So I went to a show.

I did listen to a collection of Big Wreck singles before buying the ticket. I didn’t think I really knew much of anything by them, but that proved to not be the case. They’re very much one of those bands where I was like “oh, THEY do that song.” Stuff I knew from the radio from back in my pizza delivery days, though they reunited in 2012 and have been putting out music since then.

So off I went. I opted for standing room on the floor, while Jeff and his brother got balcony seating. The floor always seems like a good idea, but then I stay far back from the stage anyway, leaving me with sore feet, strained eyes, and an unsupported backside. Plus I think the floor costs $5 more. Someday I’ll learn. Probably not anytime soon, though.

Our openers were Ascot Royals. Or as it kind of sounded like they were saying, “NASCAR Roses.” Didn’t know much about them beforehand and still don’t, really, but they were fun enough. A short set of straightforward rock, nothing groundbreaking but well done, kinda catchy, and they seemed like good dudes. I approve! I’m playing their new EP, New Skin, right now, and it’s worth a listen. I think they played pretty much this whole thing during their set.

Before the show, I killed time reading ALL-CAPS tweets about Trump (this was the day of the infamous “SEE YOU IN COURT”) as the casino played the alternative rock hits of the 90s, including Ocean Pearl by 54-40 (who I have seen at said casino) and Santa Monica by Everclear (who are there in a few months). However, because between sets, we were treated to Reflektor by Arcade Fire. Like, not just the title track, but the whole album on shuffle for the entire 30ish minutes. It seemed like a really strange choice, is all. And probably not one that portends a future casino show, I’m guessing.

As for Big Wreck, the most notable thing was when singer Ian Thornley went off on the fans down in the very front who had their phones out, recording video. He didn’t seem to care that they were taping so much as they were right in the very front where he could see them. Like it made him overthink how he was standing, his facial expressions, all that stuff, instead of just playing music. Which is fair. But he really singled a few people out, and I think he felt bad about it – he walked it back a bit after the next song, and wound up shaking hands with the fans before he was done. At the end, he handed them picks too, so everyone was friends in the end.

As for the show itself, they were good. Like I said, it was fine. They played all the songs I know (as if there are a ton of them). Really, I was not invested enough in things to have a strong opinion one way or another, and I was more interested in what Jeff had to say. He enjoyed it, noting they didn’t play his favourite songs but the new stuff sounded a lot better live (and they played a lot of it). Which is not a ton to go on but a lot more than you were ever going to get from me.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt (March 1)
• Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (March 8)
• The Tea Party (March 18)
• Bill & Joel Plaskett w/Mayhemingways (March 23)
• Lisa LeBlanc (March 30)
• I Love The 90s feat. Salt N Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Young MC, and Rob Base (April 1)
• The Last Waltz Remembered feat. Corb Lund, Matt Andersen, Amy Helm, & the Russell Broom House Band (April 5)
• BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
• Ron Sexsmith (May 7)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #269: Winterruption 2017 (January 19-21, 2017)

Hola, amigos. How’s it hangin’? I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya. Before this, my last concert was Bif Naked, on the night of the US election. From there, I took a break until January 19, aka the day before Inauguration Day. This was coincidental though I don’t blame anyone for thinking I had sworn off my music-loving ways and runnoft to live in a cabin in the woods with a shotgun and some water purification tablets.

I mean, last time out I said “I will hope against all logic and reason that the next four years are mostly okay and not the racist, misogynist, transphobic, anti-immigrant pants-shittingly reckless dumpster fire that this campaign and Trump’s entire life would lead one to expect.” To which I now say hahahahahahahaha naive idiot, you had hope, you’re dumb. Hope is dumb.

But whatever. When last we talked – and for all of last year, really – I talked about trying to see 40 concerts in my 40th year. That year is over and my final concert tally for the year is… 39. So it goes. I had lots of opportunities to get to 40 – and probably 52 without much more effort – but by the end of the year, I was finding myself kinda broke and all concerted out. So I’m 39 and holding, I guess. I’ll take that. The break was appreciated, but I am back with an all-new slate of upcoming shows and we’ll keep this thing going for the foreseeable future.

To make up for my two-month absence, I am combining an entire weekend worth of shows (by which I mean “two”) into one review. Why? To give you the supersize concert review experience that you’ve been missing, and because there are only so many times and ways I can pad out “they were good.”

Winterruption is a new annual concert series put on by the Regina Folk Festival and the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon. This is only its second year; you may recall that last year Mika and I saw Whitehorse with Andy Shauf and Emily Wells opening in what was a fantastic show at Darke Hall. It was a little bigger event this year, which unfortunately led to us having to make the hard choices, but it would have been even harder were we in Saskatoon. For the most part, the Regina and Saskatoon Winterruptions share acts, but Saskatoon is a bigger city and has more venues so Regina missed out on concerts by TUNS and Holy Fuck, as well as the Canadaland podcast taping, among other events. But even with the lesser lineup, Regina had three nights of shows spanning multiple venues. And you surely want to know everything we saw and what I thought of it all, right? You’re not just bored at work, skimming this because it looks enough like email to fool anyone who’s checking out your screen, right?

THURSDAY: Elliott BROOD with IsKwé and Begonia

The first hard choice I made was to not go to anything on the Thursday night. We saw Elliott Brood last year (and like last year, you only get all-caps once), and while they were good, I’m trying to cut back on my concert expenses a bit. Plus I never know how much I’ll feel like leaving the house in the middle of January. But I did really like them last time out, so I decided to leave it to the whims of fate; namely, I entered a few Facebook and Twitter like/share/retweet contests for tickets. And fate (and Prairie Dog magazine) really wanted me to see this show, I guess. Mika had schoolwork to do and/or recover from and wasn’t up to going, so I checked with a few of my usuals, but everyone else had plans (such as “not being interested”) so I wound up going alone. Not the first time, won’t be the last. The Exchange is a good place for weird loners. I bought myself a Diet Pepsi and found a table near the back with an excellent view.

The opener was IsKwé, who we saw at last year’s folk festival. From Winnipeg and of Cree/Dene descent, IsKwé and her band played hip-hop-influenced pop touching on a number of indiginious issues. The smaller, more intimate setting was a much better fit than the outdoor folk festival stage, and the videos projected on screen behind them added weight to their message.

By comparison, the next act joked about how IsKwé was singing about powerful issues while she was singing about a hot dog stand. This was Begonia, the solo project of Alexa Dirks from Chic Gamine. This was much more straightforward pop and I thought it was fine, though nothing really stood out to me (though I thought the hot dog stand song was delightful). More than anything, I thought Dirks seemed like a really likeable person, and not just because she made the first Experience Regina reference of the new SLCR year.

Finally, we got to Elliott Brood. They started things off a lot slower-paced than last year, opening with some quieter songs. They repeatedly brought up the political situation in the US and it seemed like everything really had taken the wind out of their sails a bit. Can’t blame them. That said, I also think they recognized this and played Oh Alberta pretty early on, as that always gets things going. I’m still not super familiar with too many of their songs, so I couldn’t tell you a ton of what they played, though I do know they played a song from their upcoming new album and… it didn’t go well. They tried, bless ’em, but they weren’t on the same page and joked about it for the rest of the night, which more than made up for the song itself. Plus they led everyone in singing happy birthday to IsKwé, and the dancing little kid Elliott Brood superfan was back from last year. All in all, it was a fun show, if a half-step off from the year before.

The show didn’t seem like it sold out – there was tons of open space for IsKwé, and though it did fill up as the night went on, it also seemed like lots of people were leaving early. Still a work night, I guess.

FRIDAY: Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids podcast taping

This was another one of the hard choices, as the Grownups recording at the Artesian was up against the Said The Whale / Northcote / The Garrys triple bill at the Exchange. And I really enjoy me some Northcote and at least one Said The Whale song, but Grownups is one of our favourite podcasts and we couldn’t pass it up.

I’d describe Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids except I just did. It started as a CBC summer replacement series a few years ago, and I didn’t think I’d enjoy it; I was expecting cringe humour which is not my favourite. But it’s not that at all – aside from the fact that not all of the readers bring funny pieces to the show, the audience is very supportive and everyone’s sharing the experience of looking back in time at who you once were.

To that end, a few weeks after we bought our tickets, they were still looking for readers, and I had been graced with a box of stuff from my mom’s basement when she moved, so I bit the bullet and signed up to read. I went through my pile of stuff and settled on a choose-your-own-adventure space epic entitled Misson [sic]: Ring Rescue. The backstory is that a girl in my Grade 6 class wrote a long story and got a lot of praise from the teacher. I like praise too, so I decided I’d write a long story as well, but I also liked not putting any effort into things, so I used the choose-your-own-adventure format to camouflage the lack of actual content. This fooled nobody. To put it in perspective, I wrote an eight-page story, but when I typed it up for ease of reading on stage, it fit onto one sheet of paper with room for me to add comments and to enlarge the font.

I won’t give a detailed review of the whole show. Comedy is best if it’s not wrecked for you, after all. But I will say that I was pleased with how my reading went but I don’t know if I’ll make it onto the podcast. This was my third time seeing a Grownups live show and it was easily the best of the bunch. Seventeen readers and not a dud among them. Paring down those 90-ish minutes to a 30-minute podcast will mean a lot of good stuff hits the floor.

Luckily for you, you can watch all of it: https://youtu.be/Y5oI-d1rCMs

I start at 37:21 but the whole thing is worth it. Bear in mind that I haven’t actually watched the video and I likely never will (my own human voice, how horrific), so I hope you enjoy and I hope I didn’t suck.

SATURDAY: Danny Michel with Mohsin Zaman and William Prince

This was either the Danny Michel show or the William Prince show, depending on if you were talking to me or Mika. I’ve been a fan of Michel for a long time now, whereas we saw Prince for the first time last fall when he won Aboriginal Artist of the Year at BreakOutWest, and she knew some of his songs from CBC Radio.

All of which leaves out poor Mohsin Zaman, but hey, he was new to both of us. Zaman is of Pakistani heritage but comes from Dubai by way of the only slightly less exotic Edmonton. He shared his life story while talking about giving up a banking career for a much riskier life as a musician. The choice is starting to pay off, as he was named the 2016 Male Artist of the Year in the Edmonton Music Awards. The set was just Zaman and his guitar, playing mostly his original tunes, though there were two covers thrown into the mix as well – Springsteen’s I’m On Fire (which is kind of actually a really creepy song if you think about it) and, yes, Aaron’s favourite cover song ever, Cohen’s Hallelujah. Both of the covers were different enough from the original versions to be interesting and Zaman is an excellent guitarist, but all in all, this was reminiscent of Begonia, where I left thinking Zaman seemed like a good guy more than being really into the music.

Like with Grownups, the Artesian was again sold out for this show, and between sets, they asked to find seats for a few people who didn’t have them yet. Which is fine, I get that. If it’s a seated show and you bought a ticket, you deserve a seat. (On a related note, ask me sometime why I will never buy a ticket for a show at the Artful Dodger again, and indeed, why you couldn’t pay me to go there! It’ll be fun, I’ll swear a lot.) That said, they were asking people who were already seated to scrunch in together to make room, and… no? You don’t inconvenience the people who bother to show up on time to accommodate the latecomers. But maybe I’m just irritated because we watched the artistic director of the folk festival ask some people to move over, and it’s like, I’m a big guy. I sit on an aisle seat for a reason. And I bet this dude did too. And then after he did shove down, the lady who showed up late sulked and sighed because she wasn’t sitting with her husband. You want to sit with your husband? Show up on time for the sold-out show.

Now, if you want complaints (and who doesn’t, they’re super fun to read and also completely relevant to everyone and never tiresome at all), William Prince was a dude who had some complaints. He was not having a great day when we saw him, having spent the week touring Saskatchewan schools and consequently being infected with a cold from our germy, germy children. He apologized for this repeatedly; Mika said it was obvious he had a cold, but to be honest, I don’t know if I’d have ever caught on if he hadn’t said anything. He was also struggling for a while with getting the sound he wanted through his monitor, which wasn’t helping his mood any. Despite all this, I thought his set was really good. Again, this was just him and a guitar (at one point, he made mention of a part where he’d play harmonica if only he’d remembered to put it around his neck before the song began), playing all originals. In particular, I’ve had the song Breathless stuck in my head for two weeks plus. Highly recommended if you like roots/folk singer/songwriter stuff. Would see again, and we’ll likely get the chance – he wink-wink hinted that he’ll be back in town for the folk festival this summer.

Last up was Danny Michel, who was promoting his new album Khlebnikov (recorded on a Russian icebreaker with an astronaut), which came out the day before. For what was essentially an album-release party, you’d expect a bunch of new songs, but no, he only played the title track. Beyond that, it was a lot like the last time we saw him, only we had seats and most of the people in attendance were less obnoxious. He played the one token old song (Whale of a Tale) and lots of stuff from more recent albums (Feather Fur & Fin, What Colour Are You, Click Click, Who’s Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone). He told a few stories I’d heard before (regarding Wish Willy and Samantha in the Sky with Diamonds) and even played an Elvis cover I’d heard him do before. That said, it might have been the familiarity with the material that boosted his confidence; it was one of the better Michel shows I’d seen and he was a lot more charismatic on stage than I’d seen before. He usually seems a little reserved but not on this night.

I said that most fans were less obnoxious but I am not counting the dude standing right next to me who let out a monster belch so loud that it brought the show to a halt right before the encore. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m a little impressed, but c’mon. Or maybe we should own it? Make that part of our new tourism campaign, perhaps. William Prince and Danny Michel got to experience Regina and one got infected and the other got burped at. Who knows what delights will await you?

UPCOMING CONCERTS

  • Big Wreck w/Ascot Royals (February 9)
  • Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt (March 1)
  • Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (March 8)
  • The Tea Party (March 18)
  • Bill & Joel Plaskett w/Mayhemingways (March 23)
  • Lisa LeBlanc (March 30)
  • I Love The 90s feat. Salt N Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Young MC, and Rob Base (April 1)
  • The Last Waltz Remembered feat. Corb Lund, Matt Andersen, Amy Helm, & the Russell Broom House Band (April 5)
  • Martha Wainwright (April 20)
  • BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
  • Guns N’ Roses (August 27)

SLCR #268: Bif Naked (November 8, 2016)

When I bought the ticket for this show, I didn’t realize that it was on the same day as the US Presidential election. I was well aware of both dates for some time, but somehow it took until the day before for me to piece together that the election’s November 8, 2016 and the concert’s November 8, 2016 were, in fact, the same day. I had already decided not to watch election results, so I was thankful to have the distraction.

Needless to say, I spent much of the show on my phone. I also thought the show itself was only okay, but it’s pretty hard to tell how much of that was the show and how much of that was my worsening mood as the night progressed. I had big plans of coming home and writing the review right away while it was fresh in my mind, but instead we watched the news and said a bunch of things about our southern neighbours that didn’t make us feel any better.

You don’t read these for my political opinions (one wonders why you read them at all) so I will just say that I will hope against all logic and reason that the next four years are mostly okay and not the racist, misogynist, transphobic, anti-immigrant pants-shittingly reckless dumpster fire that this campaign and Trump’s entire life would lead one to expect.

We had a trip to Nashville planned for this coming August, but we haven’t booked anything yet and we’ll be re-evaluating this choice in a few months. If you caught me on election night, I was a hard “no,” but… total solar eclipse? On my birthday? That I’ve been anticipating for seriously like 30 years? I’d be really disappointed to miss it. But I also recognize that “having to vacation somewhere else” is a pretty petty concern when I think of what this election could mean for a lot of people.

Also, to any American readers, yes, we have a guest room, but Mika says that I’m only allowed to offer it to my gay and/or brown friends. My straight white American friends have to stay behind and fix shit. I don’t have a firm answer as to whether she’s also offering guest room amnesty to my American Jewish friends, and I don’t think she’d appreciate me waking her up to fact-check this.

I like how “I will just say” was followed by three paragraphs.

So! Bif Naked. I became a fan through Kristin, but that was a long time ago. I’ve seen her twice, back in 2000 and 2001. Pat was at the 2000 show and told me all about how he wanted to go to Fiji. I remember that conversation (Boolah! Ramram!) but forgot that show ever happened. I did remember seeing Bif with Kristin in 2001, only I thought it was in Winnipeg. Nope. And hey, Static in Stereo and LiveOnRelease opened? I’ve seen them? I’m pretty sure you could sneak anything you want into my Word document of old concert reviews and Future James will believe it. Maybe you already did.

Anyway, over time my tastes shifted, I became less interested with each successive album, and eventually just quit following her career. It happens. This show was probably going to be the first time I’d even heard Bif’s music in a decade, and I was really interested to see how I felt about it. Plus, she wrote a book, and this was basically her book tour. The show was going to be acoustic songs interspersed with stories and readings, so it was guaranteed to be different than her other shows I’d seen.

The tickets said “doors at 8:00,” which is later than most shows at the Exchange, so I was skeptical. I drove up around 7:55 and sure enough, there was a line from the door down to the street and partway down the block. I was already expecting to stand in the back, off to one side, so I didn’t think there was much reason to join the horde. I parked, sat there for 15 minutes playing games on my phone, and eventually wandered over – only to find that the line hadn’t really moved. But whatever, by then I was committed, so I waited for another 10 minutes or so until I got inside.

Once in the building, I was surprised to see the floor full of chairs. I suppose it made sense for an acoustic show. I was even more surprised to see how many chairs were empty, considering the show was sold out and the people ahead of me in line were only able to buy their way in because not all the tickets set aside for comps wound up getting used. I don’t know if there were a lot of people who stayed home to watch election results or if the Exchange just set out every chair they own. Whatever it was, I had a good view and enough space to stretch out.

The opener was Jordan Alexander, who met Bif while working at a bookstore in Toronto. She played mostly her own songs on guitar, with a little sampler keyboard deal (I couldn’t really see it) for playing backing tracks. She also threw in a few covers, including Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus, saying that we probably hadn’t heard her songs yet (true) since her album just came out, and she figured we’d like to hear something we knew. This was all fine, though the best moment was a happy accident. She was playing a song that she wrote for her best friend, and she stopped about a minute in, thinking she was playing it in the wrong key (which I don’t think she was, but like I’d know). After fiddling with the sampler machine for a second, she gave up on it and decided to play the song just on guitar instead. Not only did she handle the situation with a great sense of humour, but it wound up being the best song she played. One guy behind me yelled “now throw it away and never use the backing tracks again” and I would have to concur. I’m sure it’s a nice safety net to have when performing, but she showed she didn’t need it. The crowd wasn’t paying much attention to her at first, but this did a fine job of winning them over. Not that she needed this song’s help – she also came across as the most likable person ever. Would go see again.

A quick break and then we were joined by Bif Naked, who said that tonight we were not going to think about our neighbours to the south. I tried, but y’know. Also on stage was Snake. Snake is Bif’s husband, and not a literal snake (I know, I saw his arms). I’m sure Snake has a real name but then so does “Bif Naked” and real names are unnecessary.

Like I said, this was an acoustic tour, with Bif reading stories from her book and singing songs while Snake played acoustic guitar with his human arms. The stories were really good and I’d be interested in reading this book at some point. Bif’s had quite an eventful existence. The songs were mostly taken from her earlier albums, so largely stuff I knew, and some of her more personal songs. Some of them made the transition to acousticness (?) quite well, like Lucky, Chotee, Spaceman, and Daddy’s Getting Married. Others not so much. Tango Shoes didn’t work for me. And I Love Myself Today felt like it was two people performing two different songs at once. I’m surprised that one didn’t come together when the best version of that song I’ve ever heard was a capella (in front of an audience of two, no less – very intimate house concert).

I don’t really know how I feel about this show. I enjoyed some songs, didn’t care much for others, and I don’t think my tastes have swung back her way – but as I mentioned, by the end of things, my head was no longer in the game. I Love Myself Today was the last song she did, and by that point, the election results were obvious, and it felt almost ridiculous to even be thinking about music right then. There was no encore, and I was fine with that, because I was done at that point anyway.

Certain members of the audience also tried their best to drag the proceedings down. One exceptional fellow – drunk, stupid, or some combination thereof – could not grasp that this was not a normal rock show and also that he was not the star of said show. Bif is reading a passage about finding out she has cancer and going through chemotherapy, and this shitbird jackoff is hollering I LOVE YOU BIF IT’S MY BIRTHDAY TODAY I WANT A BIRTHDAY HUG! Like, dude, shut the fuck up. And later on, she’s talking about being a sixteen-year-old runaway who got rescued from what appeared to be a prostitution ring from a friendly cab driver, and she’s thinking that she’s going to have to perform sexual favours for the cabbie in exchange for his help, and this dude in the crowd is yelling YEAAHHHH! I already said “dude, shut the fuck up,” but seriously. This is not a fun sexy time story at all. And also maybe don’t demand that strangers touch you, especially if you suck and are gross. When I left, the guy was waiting to buy a book, by which I assume I mean “not buy a book but demand a birthday hug” because obviously that was where this was going, and some people who were sitting near him were trying to decide whether or not they should confront him about how he was behaving. I didn’t stick around to see how this played out but I’d be pretty fine with it if they Negan’d his head all over the parking lot.

That is not a nice thought or a nice way to end this. So there’s this: the only thing the cab driver made Bif do is call her mom. Bif later dedicated her first album to him. There are good people. I like them.

SLCR #267: Steve Earle & the Dukes (November 3, 2016)

Earl and Duke. I just got that. Like, right now. This is off to a fine start.

This show was part of Steve Earle’s 30th anniversary tour for his debut album, Guitar Town; a tour that’s been going on so long that Guitar Town is now 31. I have vague memories of driving around with my dad as a kid, listening to Guitar Town, though upon revisiting to the album before the show, I found that I was very familiar with the title track and didn’t remember much else about it.

Earle was going to play the album start to finish, in what has to be the most common new gimmick I’ve seen in concerts in some time. When did this start? I’ve been to a few “anniversary” tour shows this year that did this, including I Mother Earth, Hayden, and Sloan. I suppose it’s a good way to get people to come out since it’s not like it costs extra, you might draw back some lapsed fans, and if someone has seen you before, you can promise them a different kind of show (and one they’ll likely only have one chance to see). Plus you might sell some extra copies of an old album too. I’m not opposed to the idea at all, though I wonder if it isn’t a bit polarizing. It’s great for people who are big fans of a specific album, but let’s say I only know a handful of an artist’s songs. And let’s say that artist is Steve Earle, hypothetically. Do I want to listen to an entire album instead of a show where you might get all the hits spanning his entire career?

As it turned out with Earle, you didn’t have to choose between the entire album and the hits. You got pretty much everything.

I picked up my ticket as soon as they went on sale and was a little surprised to see just how fast tickets were going. People love this guy. I’m pretty sure it was sold out within a day. I got an aisle seat up in the balcony – far back, but a nice view – though there really are no bad seats in the casino. I showed up about ten minutes before the show was set to begin, ran into Mark and Arlette which is always a delight, and found my way to my seat.

This is all super exciting for you thus far, and I figure it’s pretty much peaked. That’s how these go sometimes.

Unlike the custom at the casino, there was no local DJ to kick off the show. Instead, the lights dimmed and a recording played with what sounded like a radio dial tuning in station after station, switching between snippets of mid-80s news stories and pop culture. This was clearly custom-made for the Canadian shows, as the quick hits about Ronald Reagan and the Challenger disaster were mixed with clips referencing Ed Broadbent and the Beachcombers, two names I did not expect to hear on this evening. Also, I want to learn how to play an instrument and start a band that only covers Canadian hits and I want to call that band Ed Broadbent & the Beachcombers. Is Ed Broadbent still alive? OMG he is. Would he agree to this? I should find out. Does he have a Twitter? No. Well, an Ed Broadbent does, but not the Ed Broadbent in question. The Broadbent Institute has one, though. Should I ask them for permission? Or should I wait and ask for forgiveness? The latter is probably easier since I will never actually start a band. But I like this idea a lot.

Anyway, that’s something to consider later. Earle and his band took the stage and played through all of Guitar Town, with Earle adding a few stories along the way. The inspiration for the album came from seeing Springsteen on the Born in the USA tour – there’s an interesting fact for you. Another interesting fact about Guitar Town? It’s pretty short. They played through the album in what seemed like no time at all. After a brief intermission, they came back and played a longer set with songs from throughout Earle’s career. I didn’t know a ton of them, but there was The Devil’s Right Hand, The Revolution Starts Now, and of course Copperhead Road. The encore featured covers of Hey Joe and Wild Thing, as well as what I believe Earle said was a song by the Pogues, though not one I recognized (he said, as though to make it sound like there was an off-chance he’d know anything about the Pogues).

Well, that was all very… factual. So how was the show? I was a little leery buying the ticket, to be honest. A friend I worked with saw Earle a few years ago and really disliked him. What I saw was the opposite of that. Maybe she caught him on a bad night, or maybe she has questionable taste and judgment in pretty much all areas (this. it’s this.) but this show was fantastic. Great songs, the Dukes were tremendous musicians, and a raucous crowd that loved everything. I don’t really have a ton to say about it other than that. Definitely a show where I left a bigger fan than I was coming in.

That raucous crowd had a lot of help; at least where I was sitting, it was a constant stream of people coming and going to and from the bar. It got to be a bit much at times, but the layout of the seating there is such that at least they can walk past you without you having to move. Ample legroom is everyone’s friend.

For the last songs, a crowd gathered at the front of the stage, but before that, everyone was seated for pretty much the entire show. When the casino does general admission shows, they make the whole floor standing room. I wonder if they’d be able to make the closest part standing while still reserving some floor seating further back, in the elevated sections. Having the people standing down at the front helped the atmosphere, and that would have been welcomed from the beginning – but it also blocks the view of the people sitting at the front, and there were probably lots of people who wanted to be sitting.

If you want many more thoughts about the logistics of concert venues that you have never been to and will never go to, there are crisis lines you can call. Not, like, for this specific situation, probably. But talk to someone.

SLCR #266: Bush (October 27, 2016)

My goodness. The last time I saw these guys was 19 years and 249 reviews ago. I was not quite 21. Pat was there. We hoisted. It was a different time.

I wasn’t sure about going to this. For as much as I enjoy some Bush songs (Machinehead) (maybe some other ones) (no, mostly Machinehead), I don’t know if I think of them as GOOD, exactly. For all the hey-remember-your-faraway-youth concerts I go to, I was more uncertain about this one than most. I discussed the situation with Jeff and he seemed equally hesitant to get tickets. Finally, I left it up to fate. If I could get really good seats, we’d go. If not, such is life.

I do not believe that there is a god, but if there is one, he or she must have been really into the idea of us seeing this show, because we wound up in the front row. That is a super weird thing for a supreme being to care about, but I suppose I wouldn’t be able to comprehend how its mind would work anyway, so maybe it’s not? If I quit listening to new music in the 90s, maybe God did too. “I dunno, I had the radio on, and Sarah McLachlan did this XTC cover, and I was just like… this just isn’t for me anymore.”

I figure we lucked into front row seats because the Conexus Arts Centre ticket website machine won’t let you leave one empty seat by itself, and there were three seats open in the front row, so if you wanted to buy a pair, you couldn’t. I debated it briefly, but ultimately figured we could give the third one a good home – or a good butt, as the case may be. The third ticket wound up with Scott, a guy I work with who was also at that Bush show in Saskatoon 19 years ago. He said it was his first “real” concert, apart from going to see The Nylons for a classmate’s tenth birthday, which still seems like the oddest idea for a kid’s party.

My first non-kids’ concert was Rod Stewart, for the record. Next up was Billy Joel. Musically sated, I then took something like eight years off. Then Céline Dion. That is such a bizarre contrast to this past year. Or to a normal person’s life, probably.

Anyway. Scott picked me up and we met Jeff walking into the auditorium. It was a slow process; Scott knows everyone. We approached our seats and simultaneously remembered that we were sitting in the front row. I mean, we all knew, but I didn’t really think about it once I bought the tickets, but then you actually get there, and it’s pretty exciting.

Our openers were the Dead Deads, playing their first-ever Canadian show. I think they said they come from Nashville? Five young girls with X’s painted on their eyes, presumably because they are dead dead. I didn’t really know what to make of this? It wasn’t SUPER loud but did have some death metal growwwwwwwwls thrown in there. One of my cohorts said this may have been the worst band he’d ever seen. The other said it was “okay.” I fell closer to the “okay” side but in that “this is not really meant for me and I don’t feel the need to seek out more of this” sort of way. If you were at that Bush show 19 years ago, you may know what I mean when I rank these guys closer to Souls (fondly remembered by me for the non-hit song “Fuckmonkey”) and less like Veruca Salt.

There was an unusual moment when the singer said that their new album was produced by Page Hamilton, the lead singer of Helmet. “And he’s sitting right there!” she says, pointing into the crowd at the other side of the stage from us. It just seems really weird that he’d be there. We weren’t able to see him from where we were sitting, and after their set, Scott went on a reconnaissance mission but never found him.

After a short intermission, Bush took the stage and it did not get off to a great start. They opened with Everything Zen, which was good, but things fell apart a few songs in. During a song I didn’t know, it seemed like there was a long awkward pause. Jeff leaned over. “I think that was a fuck-up.” Sure enough, Gavin Rossdale called a halt to the song. “We don’t play like that. We play good.” I’ve seen a number of shows this year where a song hit a snag, and to a one, the performer had a good sense of humour about the situation (or could at least fake it well enough). Not here. Rossdale was clearly frustrated. Then they restarted the song and he messed it up again, and at that point, the rest of the band was looking frustrated too.

Later on, a guitar tech came out to switch out Rossdale’s guitar, mid-song. Rossdale shooed him away, looking pretty unhappy about the interruption. But he didn’t notice that the tech had turned down the guitar he was playing in preparation for the swap, so he kept on playing the original guitar, just very quietly.

Jeff tells me that in that first song, there are supposed to be two verses before the chorus, but Rossdale was trying to go into the chorus after the first verse. It’s good to know people who know things. He also told me the song was called “the Disease of the Dancing Cats,” which sounds like the kind of thing he’d make up to see if I put it into my review without checking. The setlist.fm record of the night backs him up, but I don’t know that Jeff didn’t upload the setlist, playing the long game. Devious.

Here’s that setlist. You’ll note that a few songs are marked as having been played live for the first time. That’s what Rossdale said, anyway; I don’t know if it’s true, but if so, that’s pretty neat:

Everything Zen
Just Like My Other Sins
The Chemicals Between Us
The Disease of the Dancing Cats
The Sound of Winter
Greedy Fly
The Gift
Earth Keeps Burning (live premiere)
Monkey
The People That We Love
Swallowed
This House Is on Fire
Lost in You (live premiere)
The Only Way Out
Insect Kin
Little Things

Before getting into the encore, I want to note a few things. There was a big screen behind the band that played during the whole show. Often, the videos playing were abstract and just there for decoration. But during one song, there was a video of a man with a briefcase. He checks a scrap of paper. 999 999. Aha! He unlocks the briefcase. Oh no! It wasn’t 999 999! It was 666 666! And the briefcase is full of evil! In the form of many CGI blackbirds!

The more I talk about the show, the less good it sounds. But that’s not fair – it was a lot of fun too. If you check that setlist, there are a lot of good songs on there. And sitting right up front helped a lot; it was really cool to see Rossdale singing and playing guitar literally two feet from me at times. And to his credit, he tried his best to bring that experience to as many people as possible. He’d hop off the stage, run up and down the aisles, hugging and high-fiving whoever he could. The highlight of this was near the end of the main set, when he disappeared out the back of the auditorium and reemerged on the second balcony. This was all really cool.

And though it’s not 1997 anymore, there were nearly as many high-pitched squeals for Rossdale as there were 19 years ago. Girls behind me shrieked “We made eye contact! I SWEAR!” And there were three girls up on the balcony who looked ready to faint after their surprise front-row show. This fantastic reaction really helped the atmosphere.

You might notice some prominent singles missing from the setlist above. Unsurprisingly, the encore included Machinehead, Glycerine (Rossdale solo), and Comedown, in that order. More surprisingly, between Machinehead and Glycerine, they played The One I Love. As in, the R.E.M. song. Nobody saw that one coming, but it went over really well. As did all the hits, of course.

So yeah, it was not without its flaws, but overall, it was a fun show. You might be advised to temper your expectations a bit, but if you want to relive your (well, my) just-after-University years, you could do worse.

SLCR #265: Sarah Slean and the Regina Symphony Orchestra (October 22, 2016)

BEFORE THE SHOW (SATURDAY AFTERNOON)
Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith – Jay & Silent Bob – are somewhere in my town. Probably somewhere near the casino. They’re doing one of their speaking gigs there tonight. I was supposed to go. It’s been a long time since I’ve considered myself a Kevin Smith fan, but when the show was booked, I decided to check it out. His speaking engagements are legendary; in fact, DVDs of his appearances are my favourite things that he’s put out in a long time. But then the original show was postponed and rescheduled for today. Around that time, I heard about the Sarah Slean show, also tonight, so I had a choice to make. I returned my Jay & Silent Bob ticket, claiming that I couldn’t make it to the rescheduled show, and used the money to get my Slean ticket instead. The Jay & Silent Bob show is sold out, so they won’t miss me. I’m glad my seat will still have a butt in it.

Slean is “reimagining Broadway” with the Regina Symphony Orchestra. I wonder if a lot of people had to make the hard choice between Kevin Smith and the symphony tonight? Or any night?

My ticket is in the front row. That sounds great, but I note that it was also relatively cheap – something like $40. Five rows back, tickets were $90. I suspect I may find myself to be TOO close, like at the Art of Time shows earlier this year. Oh well, I don’t really need to see much, I just need to be able to hear things.

AT THE SHOW
Yeah, this is really close. But I think it should be okay.

ALSO AT THE SHOW
Intermission. I’m just off centre, front row, 6 feet directly in front of Sarah Slean at all times. I thought she’d be playing piano but she’s only singing (not ONLY only – you know what I mean – not multitasking). There’s a trio with her on piano, drums, and upright bass. Been very good so far. She accidentally tried skipping a song but recovered nicely. I know more of these songs than I thought I would. Will list all songs later; hooray for programs.

They’re selling CDs later and also having a reception to welcome the new musical director. I likely won’t buy anything or go meet anyone but it’s nice that these things happen.

No encore listed in the program. I wonder what they have planned? If anything?

AFTER THE SHOW
The encore was Over the Rainbow. She tried to encourage people to sing. Most did. Me, no. I didn’t sing on request for Edelweiss either, but that time I had the excuse of not knowing it well enough to even try.

Songs! Here they are:

• Overture (I noticed Anything Goes and If I Were a Rich Man; there may have been other songs in the medley if you know more than I do, which you probably do)
• Oh What a Beautiful Morning (Oklahoma!)
• I’ve Never Been in Love (Guys and Dolls)
• Chim Chim Cheree (Mary Poppins)
• Somewhere (West Side Story)
• Edelweiss/My Favourite Things (Sound of Music)
• Mein Herr (Cabaret)
Intermission (not a song)
• NYC (Annie)
• Consider Yourself (Oliver)
• You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile (Annie)
• America (West Side Story)
• Falling Slowly (Once)
• I Dreamed a Dream (Les Miserables)
• There’s No Business Like Show Business (Annie Get Your Gun) (presumably a gritty reboot of Annie)
Encore (also not a song)
• Over the Rainbow (I dunno, maybe Hamilton, that’s a thing I’ve definitely heard of)

The show opened with a bunch of introductions of symphony people that you probably don’t care about even though they do important work and give important money and make the entire symphony possible and have you ever even thanked them? I thought not. For shame.

This led to the introduction of Sarah Slean and the Mike Janzen Trio. Like I mentioned, Slean was singing and Janzen was on piano, with George Koller on upright bass and Ben Riley on drums. Plus there was that whole orchestra thing. This was the setup for pretty much every song, apart from Consider Yourself and You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile; both of those numbers had Janzen singing, and Smile featured just the trio.

Whether or not you think this was a good show would depend on your thoughts about 1) the musicians, 2) show tunes, and 3) Slean herself.

The musicians were fantastic and so of course that means they’re going to get the shaft and I’m not going to talk much about them. But yeah. All great.

Show tunes… I don’t know. I’ve never been a musicals guy apart from comedy stuff. That said, I knew an awful lot of these songs just because how can you not, right? I thought the arrangements (all done by Janzen) were really well done – true to the originals but took full advantage of the orchestra.

As for Slean, I know some people who love her and some who don’t. Obviously, I’m a fan, but I can see how it could get to be too much of a good thing. This is probably best summed up by the reactions of the folks I was sitting near; the group to my right loved her and praised how “emotive” she is. The group to my right said very little as they were leaving beyond “she’s a ham.” Two sides of the same coin, I figure. Even more than her own songs, Broadway show tunes gave her the opportunity to emote as she sang. So basically, if you already liked her, you’d have enjoyed this. And if not, nothing here would change your mind.

Like I said, I’m a fan, and I thought this was quite good. I’ve seen Slean in concert a few times now, and I’d have gone to see her playing another “normal” gig, but I love unique shows like this. Very glad I went, would go again. They should bring in other people too. Like Ben Folds, so I could see him with an orchestra without having to drive to Edmonton. I need every one of you to go on Twitter and tell the symphony they should do this; they’ve got me blocked for some reason.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Donovan Woods w/Joey Landreth (November 2)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)

SLCR #264: BreakOut West (October 13-15, 2016)

BreakOut West is a celebration of Western Canadian music, complete with an awards show, live concerts all over town, and various music industry-type events for musicians and labels and whatnot.

If you haven’t heard of it, that’s not too surprising. They’ve been doing this since 2003, but there was really no hype for this at all here this year. Even my local music-loving friends didn’t know much about what was going on. Mika said she only read about this on the CBC, and then, only after the events had taken place. It’s a real shame. It wasn’t what I’d call a star-studded lineup if you’re looking for national or international names, but there was tons of great local talent. And with a $20 wristband getting you into over 10 venues across the city, it was a ridiculous value. “You didn’t even have to make much use of it to get your money’s worth,” he said, foreshadowingly.

THURSDAY: The Junos and Prairie Music Week and all that good stuff have come to town before, and I’ve always skipped the awards shows. They cost extra, and even if you like a performer on the show, you’re only getting one song. Not really worth it. But you know how sometimes on Facebook, you’ll see a thing that says “like and share this status to win”? Sometimes that actually works. And that’s the story of how I won free tickets to the Western Canadian Music Awards.

I stayed late at work on Thursday, walking over to the casino to meet Mika shortly before the show was to start. We ran into Brian in the lobby, who introduced us to his wife; I had met her before, but to be fair, it was probably 15 years ago.

Also in the lobby was a table where one could buy the new Colin James CD, Blue Highways, the day before its official release. The CD was also your ticket into the afterparty, where you could meet him and get it signed. And, you know, you could congratulate him on his induction into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame, which was the centrepiece of the awards show. We did none of these things.

Our free tickets were general admission. The nice casino lady told us to find any table we wanted and sit there, so we parked ourselves on some really uncomfortable chairs front and centre. She then came back and apologized for misleading us; general admission meant you could stand around the front of the stage, though she suggested we could stay at the table if we wanted and just move if someone with tickets showed up. At this point it appeared that maybe they hadn’t sold too many tickets for this shindig. Anyway, standing around by the stage would have given us a really good view, but we are old, and I wasn’t sure how into the show I’d be and didn’t know how much I felt like feigning enthusiasm should that be required, so we snuck up to the balcony. It was less than half full, so we found some open (and much nicer) seats and enjoyed the show from up there with drinks.

Normally, the awards show closes out the festival on Sunday night. However, the decision was made this year to switch things up and use it to kick off the event instead. Also, they removed some awards from the show to make room for more musical performances. The other awards were handed out at various venues on the Friday and Saturday nights. I am all in favour of more music and fewer speeches, so I was fine with this.

Also, I gotta say, having a program is real handy when you’re trying to remember what happened.

The show started about 10 minutes late, which is a tardiness record for a casino show. It opened with two songs from Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, who was the guy I was most looking forward to seeing over the weekend. This was a delightful development, because if the show sucked, it meant I was free to go because I’d seen what I came for. Spoiler: it didn’t suck! There were some kinda dodgy moments and technical issues, though. Anyway, MBF played One Love and This Isn’t It and they were good.

The MC was country singer Brett Kissel, who I gather is becoming somewhat of a big deal. You may remember that I saw him in Calgary a few years ago, opening for Loretta Lynn. He seems more confident now and handled his hosting duties really well, doing his best to get the crowd amped up while handling a few production snafus with a quick wit. But I have a quick tip for him: jokes at the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ expense don’t work here, even when they totally have it coming after a trainwreck of a season. Too many people will just never find them funny.

The next three performances were by David Morin, William Prince, and Justin Lacroix, all of whom offered some variation of guy-with-guitar, and all of whom were good. Morin was on the bluesy side, Prince was more of a country/roots artist, and Lacroix’s song was faster paced, closer to rock. I liked all these guys.

Rosie and the Riveters, from Saskatoon, got two songs at around the halfway point of the show. This is a four-piece from Saskatoon who play 40s/50s-inspired girl-group pop – think the Andrews Sisters. Or maybe there are a million better comparisons if you know more things about things? There’s a starting point for you, anyway, enough to let you know if this sounds like something you might enjoy or not. I liked them fine, but am not sure if I’d want a full set of them. Maybe?

After some more awards, we had performances from Lexi Strate and Diyet. Strate was pop while Diyet was more on the folk side, and also she apparently only made it into town about 20 minutes before she was scheduled to play.

I’ve been skipping past the awards as we go along here, because you can look them up if you really care, and to be honest, it’s hard to believe the awards are a big deal if nobody shows up to accept them. They gave out 9 awards on this show; of those, five winners were no-shows and one was represented by their publicist. Kissel wound up accepting a lot of awards on behalf of others. But hey, let’s celebrate the folks who did make the trip: William Prince got Aboriginal Artist of the Year, Jocelyne Baribeau won Francophone Artist of the Year, and the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg got the Community Excellence Award. Some guy who never gave his name accepted that award; I can only assume that the WECC assumed human form and made the drive from Winnipeg. That means I… I’ve been inside him, you guys.

Kissel was up for an award of his own, Breakout Artist of the Year, and he was also responsible for introducing the award and announcing the winner. “Let’s be real here, this is going to be awkward either way,” he said, getting the biggest laugh of the night, before announcing the Bros. Landreth as the winners.

He followed this up with a three-song performance, where he deftly handled several malfunctioning microphones, including singing a capella with a bandmate’s mic at one point, while also managing to pose for a mid-song selfie with fans in the audience. His style is modern country radio that I’m not particularly into, but at this point in the evening, the energy was welcome. He also played his new song, I Didn’t Fall in Love with Your Hair, for which he’s donating all proceeds to cancer charities. It’s… very earnest. But if it’s raising some money for a good cause and people like it, good on him.

Finally, the headline performance was by this year’s Hall of Fame inductee, Colin James. Jay Semko of the Northern Pikes introduced a video that chronicled James’ career, before the man himself took the stage for a short speech followed by four songs. Two were from the new album, and the others (i.e., the ones you might know) were Just Came Back and Why’d You Lie.

Here’s the thing about Colin James. Being from Regina, James is treated like a huge star here. And while he had some big hits and he’s really talented, I think if you live here, it’s hard not to feel a bit of Colin James fatigue. That tends to happen whenever anyone from here achieves any kind of success. Having said that, if you can ignore that and just watch his performance, the dude is incredibly good. Which you already know, but still. It’s easy to forget just how talented he is.

The Hall of Fame itself is a nice honour, though I looked at the list of inductees and the lack of the Guess Who, kd lang, Ian Tyson, Joni Mitchell, and others does make it feel a bit like a Hall of Whoever We Could Get to Show Up This Year. Which is not to say that these folks aren’t deserving in their own right, just that there are some glaring omissions. Anyway, you likely don’t care, but it took a lot of clicking to dig this up, so here it is for your reference.

2016: Colin James
2015: NoMeansNo
2013: Jann Arden
2012: The Northern Pikes
2011: 54-40
2010: Chilliwack
2009: Loreena McKennitt
2008: Spirit of the West; Senator Tommy Banks
2007: Buffy Sainte-Marie; Queen City Kids
2006: Harlequin
2005: Loverboy
2004: The Stampeders
2003: Kenny Shields & Streetheart

With that, the show wrapped up and we headed home. Awards shows have never appealed to me, but this was a surprisingly fun evening. There was a range of artists and they kept the show moving at a decent pace. It would have been better with a larger and more engaged crowd, but what can you do?

FRIDAY: Um haha so yeah speaking of a not-very-engaged crowd, it was a long week at work so I just stayed home. Not the best use of my all-access wristband, but it was only $20, so I figured I could head out on Saturday, see a show or two, and that would be enough to make it worthwhile.

SATURDAY: So that’s exactly what I did. I got to the Owl at the University of Regina a bit before 9:00. My plan was to see the Dirty Catfish Brass Band in the multipurpose room, but the Owl has tasty beverages and I’ve been there before and thus am familiar with the place, so I bought myself a Magners and hung around for Belle Plaine, a local singer I’d heard a lot about but never had the chance to see. Inspired by traditional music, she did a set of originals that showed off her voice and her songwriting skills. She also covered Wayfaring Stranger, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, and Tom Waits’ Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, and those three picks probably say more than I can about what type of music she plays. I enjoyed this at the time, and the more I think about it, the more I liked it. Would go again.

Next up was, once again, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald. I hadn’t seen him play in a long while, and while I would have been up for more than a 45-minute set, what we got was real good. He focused almost exclusively on songs from his new album; if you wanted anything older, all you got was Follow and I Will, though he also played his new Justin Bieber cover, What Do You Mean. I haven’t spent enough time with the new album, so it was really good to get a chance to hear these songs live for the first (or, with the awards show, second) time. With some musicians, I listen to the album to make me enjoy the live show more, but with MBF, it seems to work in reverse; hearing the songs live makes me appreciate the album better.

With that, I was done for the evening. Like I said, not the best use of the wristband, but I’d pay more than $20 just to see MBF with Belle Plaine opening, so I made my money back. On the way out, I picked up a copy of Fitzgerald’s new album on vinyl (signed but still in the shrinkwrap). Good thing I raided Mika’s purse before I left the house. I also ran into Brian, who introduced me to his wife; I had met her before, but to be fair, it was probably two days ago.

SUNDAY: The website said there were events all weekend long, but the schedule didn’t actually list anything for Sunday. I love ending these things on complete anticlimaxes, so bye.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony Orchestra (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Donovan Woods w/Joey Landreth (November 2)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)

SLCR #263: I Mother Earth (October 8, 2016)

I should just let Jeff write this one. This wasn’t a show for me.

Which is not to say it was a bad show! I liked it just fine. It’s just that my I Mother Earth fandom has not been properly nurtured. I didn’t think about it before the show, but I really don’t know their music that well. You know how I said Basia Bulat is one of those people I only ever listen to when I go see her in concert? IME is like that for me too. Except I’ve only seen them twice, and the last time was 16 years ago. So that’s a thing.

“We’ll find out how many I Mother Earth songs you know,” said Mika, right before the show began.

“One.” I answered with confidence, and nothing on this night suggested I was wrong.

It’s “One More Astronaut,” if you were wondering. Thank you, Big Shiny Tunes.

You may recall that we had tickets to see IME months ago. Then they got back together with Edwin, their original lead singer, much to Jeff’s chagrin, so the tour got postponed. I was fine with this development, because 1) the last time I saw them they were with their other singer (Brian Byrne), so this would be new for me, and 2) what the hell difference did it make for me anyway?

Though I feel bad for Byrne. Gotta suck for him, right? He had the tour all lined up and then bam, they bring back the old guy. According to Wikipedia, he’s trying out to become the new singer for Stone Temple Pilots, so I guess being “the other singer” is kind of his thing. Good on him.

Mika and I got to the casino and ran into Jeff and Jeremy on the way in. They made their way upstairs to the seats in the balcony, while we were standing on the floor. This means that we had to communicate via text, and part of me wants to just transcribe everything rather than think up words and put them in order. Maybe I should start with the most recent thing I texted Jeff; namely, that someone made a downloadable Harambe for WWE 2K17.

Our openers were the Standstills, who apparently get played on the local rock radio station, according to the DJ who opened up the show. This was an aggressively loud two-piece and, uh, I didn’t think they were very good at all. I mean, the first two songs were nothing special; mostly I thought “this is okay enough and I rarely go see bands like this, so it’s a nice change, but it sure sounds like these two are not playing the same song at the same time.” Then they covered part of Stone Temple Pilots’ “Vasoline” and it was out of tune and off time and he was screeching as if he was intentionally trying to sing horribly and this was just the absolute worst. My opinion of them never recovered. They played one of the shortest opening sets I’ve ever seen, so that was nice.

After an intermission, out came I Mother Earth. This should be the part where I say “I don’t know what they played” but I do! The entire main set was the Scenery & Fish album, start to finish. It includes One More Astronaut, so hooray for that. The encore, meanwhile, was three singles from the album Dig: Levitate, Not Quite Sonic, and Rain Will Fall (note: Mika says the songs weren’t played in that order) (and also she told me what they were). Nothing newer than that. No Byrne songs, poor guy.

So how was the show? I thought it was fine enough and I liked the encore the best. That is what I think and that is all I think, so here I will defer to the IME fans. Mika thought the show was really good, though she noted preferring Dig to Scenery & Fish. I’m going to assume that I do too. Jeff, meanwhile, said “holy fuck was this good.” Later, talking to Jeremy, he said he liked it even more than Jeff did.

I did find it funny that Jeff and I liked pretty much the opposite things about the show:

Jeff: It’s such a great album to perform live, because there’s all these opportunities for 10 minute mind-blowing solos & detours
James: See I think that’s what I don’t care for
James: But the encore was super good
Jeff: Heh, I thought the encore was the weakest part 🙂

So yeah. I think we’ve long established that I’m not a fan of noodling on the guitar for the sake of noodling. Enjoy it if it’s your thing, but it just doesn’t do anything for me. But I think we’ve also established that if you’re into IME, you should clearly try to see them because you’ll really enjoy the show. And if you’re not, it’s still good and all.

Also, digging through text messages reminds me that at one point, all the security guards in the place went sprinting towards the lobby. One of them ran into Mika real good. Never did find out what happened there. I love ending these things on complete anticlimaxes, so bye.

SLCR #262: Basia Bulat (October 5, 2016)

Well, this should be short. This was one of those evenings where the tunes were good and it was a nice night out but I don’t really have anything to say about it.

I was vaguely aware of Basia Bulat the first time I saw her play, which was nearly ten years ago now. I knew her name, anyway, though not how to pronounce it – I got that wrong for years. Am not particularly confident now. But I digress. Some friends of friends had a show at Amigo’s in Saskatoon, and she opened for them. That seemed a bit weird, given that I had actually heard of her. Seems more weird now.

I remember thinking that her songs were very pleasant and enjoyable. I saw her again at the Regina Folk Festival a few years later (which was now a few years ago, in what has to be some kind of time paradox) and felt much the same. You may note the lack of details or strong opinions here. That’s how it goes sometimes. Sometimes you just say “that was nice” and move on.

But nice is good! I like nice. So when the Folk Festival announced that they were bringing her back for a show this fall, I picked up a ticket. I figured that it might be the kind of show I’d be tempted to skip out on if I didn’t buy in advance. And I was right, since the show took place during the first snowfall of the year. I had to brush snow off the car, scrape the windows, all that nonsense. Staying inside was a tempting offer, but out I went. Toughed it out. For YOU. Mostly for me, but a bit for you.

I got to the Exchange and the place was surprisingly full. I go to lots of half-attended concerts in Regina, and between this and Fred Eaglesmith, you can really see where the Regina Folk Festival’s promotional efforts pay off. The casino does good work too, but I wonder what could be leveraged to get people out to other shows? musicreginalive.ca is great, but you need to proactively check it. There’s a business idea here. One that likely involves a ton of work for very little reward.

Anyway, you don’t care about that. What you care about is that I sat by the wall in the same place that I sat for the previous show. Also I maybe had a Diet Pepsi? Can’t remember. Sounds like a thing I might do. And Other James was there, but he was seated far away and we never crossed paths. He later messaged me to tell me that I missed a great show.

Our openers were Oh Pep!, a duo from Australia. Olivia and Pepita. Here’s what you need to know: Olivia’s least favourite nut is the cashew nut. Her most favourite nut is the Brazil nut. Olivia has ass-backwards taste in nuts, is what I got out of this. But despite that, these folks were pretty charming. They were touring their first album and played a set of classical-influenced pop (note that I don’t really know what constitutes “classical-influenced pop;” they just mentioned studying classical music together in school so sure, let’s go with that). Basically, if you like Basia Bulat, you’ll probably like them. Normally they tour with a full band, but being far from home, it was just the two of them. I enjoyed this and would like to hear what they sound like with some extra musicians. Maybe they’ll come back – their new album was recorded in Canada, and also they seemed really delighted that they got to experience snow.

Conversely, this was my first time hearing Basia Bulat with a backing band. I’m still not hugely familiar with her music – she’s one of those people I only ever seem to listen to when I see her in concert – but I enjoyed the fleshed-out sound. It was a full poppy tunes with a little more energy than I’ve seen from her before. This was all nice. I recognized the last song she played. And that was really about it. I’ll likely go see her again in a few years and I won’t be any better at this.

SLCR #261: Fred Eaglesmith (October 1, 2016)

Three behind! Again! For a place I don’t like to be, I sure find myself here often enough. I procrastinate, that’s kind of my thing. And I suppose it’s kind of fitting for this show. Fred Eaglesmith is a dude I’ve been meaning to see for something like 15 years.

I don’t know who first recommended Eaglesmith to me. Probably Jason, aka “Your Librarian Friend” in Mika code. We’ve known each other online for a very long time, and he’s been a Fred fan for far longer than that. I remember Josy hearing Fred songs at the radio station and telling me that I’d like him. Other folks have said so too. And yet, I never made the effort. I heard one song and enjoyed it, though it was so long ago that I don’t really remember it. And it’s not like he’s never come through town; I’ve just been busy, or broke, or something. Always something. So when this show got announced – I’m sure it was six months ago – I picked us up a pair of tickets right away. If I get tickets, we’ll go, right?

Okay, so that doesn’t always happen. Didn’t quite happen here either, as Mika wound up with a ticket to the Rams/Huskies game that was the inaugural event at our fancy-if-not-quite-finished new stadium. It was in the afternoon, so she could have gone to both, but with limited non-school personal time available, she picked the football game. Fair enough. Judging from Facebook, she was there with every person I know. Luckily, Other James was available in the evening and made sure her extra ticket got a good home.

We met at the Exchange shortly before the show was to begin and there was a line out the door. Doors at 7:30 apparently weren’t. Other James was more reserved than usual. He was feeling a little worse for wear after a late night out the night before, followed by a full day of sunshine in the garden. As I’m writing this, I’m watching it snow, as it’s been doing for the better part of the past week. I know this review is late, but it feels this show was a million years ago, weather-wise.

We found our way inside and the place was pretty packed. I don’t think it was a sellout but it couldn’t have been far from it. Other James got us some drinks and we found a nice slab of wall to stand against.

Based on the advertising, I thought Tif Ginn was our opening act. I thought wrong. She did get a few songs by herself after intermission, and they were real good, but for the most part she was playing along with and singing backup for Eaglesmith. They’re also married, which everyone probably already knows, but that was news to me. Though we’ve established that I didn’t know much about what I was getting myself into.

This was a delightful show. As predicted, I really enjoyed Eaglesmith’s songs, but I didn’t know he’d be quite such a showman. So many stories. So many jokes. I clearly should have taken that advice 15 years ago, but maybe it needed to happen now? Eaglesmith laughed about the age of his audience, essentially suggesting that they die off with some regularity, but there are always new people in their 40s discovering his music. “They borrow their dad’s car, put in a CD, and bam, I’ve got them.”

Not that everyone there was 40 and up. There was a wee lad in attendance – he looked to be maybe 3 or so – and he wandered up to the front, hopped right up on stage, and shook hands with Eaglesmith. That was pretty cute. Then he tried to talk to Ginn during her songs, then wandered back on stage when Fred came back out after intermission, and finally requested the song Freight Train. I don’t know from Eaglesmith songs but people seemed to think this was a pretty solid choice. The kid hung out at the front of the stage for a few more songs after Freight Train until Eaglesmith asked that he be given earplugs or taken to the back to protect his hearing. This got some applause that led me to believe that maybe some other people were also thinking that maybe this had become too much of a good thing, and also, where were this kid’s parents anyway? One of them took the kid back to their seats, at which point he began loudly whining about wanting to go back up to the front. It was deemed to be bedtime and home they want. He still outlasted Other James, who pulled the pin at intermission.

After Other James left, Your Librarian Friend and I chatted over Twitter about the concert. I would have gone over and talked with him in person, but I thought intermission would be over more quickly, so I probably just came across as standoffish. Hahaha whoops. Oh well, we got to catch up a bit after the show.

I haven’t talked a ton about the music because like I ever know what to say? It was real good. There. Straightforward country-ish songs that told little stories, with lots of humourous asides and tales of life on the road. Luckily, the sound at the Exchange was excellent, making it easy to hear the lyrics and the everything else.

That still doesn’t say much. And this week I have to write two more reviews for artists I know equally little about, so you might want to just skip past this whole week, really.

SLCR #01: Great Big Sea (October 9, 1996)

TWENTY YEARS OF THIS NONSENSE. My goodness. And all because Great Big Sea put on a good show and Pat said some funny things when he was drunk.

Aaron said I should do more to mark the 20th anniversary of the SLCRs than just post installment #1, but I disagree because I am lazy and uncreative. And we could quibble about the date anyway. Rereading this, it clearly was sent out on the 10th. And the SLCR name didn’t come for a while. If I’d known this would last for 20 years, I’d have come up with a better name.

In the original version of this review, I made fun of the girl from high school, who was in reality a very nice person who never did anything to me and didn’t deserve me being an asshole. (And I don’t think she was even there.) Then the review sat collecting dust on my old website forever until one day when she and Google came together to make a discovery that was unpleasant for all of us. I’d long forgotten what I’d written and felt like a complete ass. She was very gracious in accepting my apology. I was still mortified. I mention this in the interest of historical accuracy and/or owning up to it when someone rightly calls you out on your bullshit. I am not owning up to it enough to include the unedited original version, though.

****************

Okay. So Deserée sends me an e-mail telling me to buy this new disc she got. “It’s really good,” she said, “like Ashley MacIssac but it’s not.” Fair enough. And I trust her judgment. But only to a point… I mean, after all, this is the same person who likes Blessid Union Of Souls, Journey, and even… Yanni. So I had to wait until I joined Columbia House to get the disc for free.

Last night, on tour to try and sell the discs (coincidentally enough, they had some right there), Great Big Sea played a concert at Louis’. So, when Céline Dion didn’t merit a full write-up, and “Weird Al” didn’t, and Smashing Pumpkins didn’t, and Meat Loaf didn’t (not that I had time to do one anyway, but still), why a report on Great Big Sea?

‘Cause it was the best concert I’ve ever been to.

Dez, Pat and I show up about 8:30. The concert has no set start time, so as to get people there early, and make them sit around and drink. We can’t find a table in a good spot, so we situate ourselves around a tabletop 1942 arcade machine.

Dez gets a drink (vodka paralyzer, was it?), Pat gets a rum and Coke, and I get a Coke and Coke. (Such is the life of the designated driver.) Dez and I head off to look at GBS shirts and stuff. I buy nothing. My arm couldn’t fit through a neck-hole that size. We come back, and Dez takes Pat to the souvenir stand. One of us must guard the 1942 machine at all times.

They each bought a shirt (the same one, of course. Dez claims she bought hers first). About this time, I bought food (chicken fingers & fries).

Dez then decides to try her skill at 1942 and… well, she got the little plane to move, at any rate. That’s a very good start.

She goes off and gets mozza sticks. Pat gets another rum and Coke.

We sit. And wait. And play some more 1942. We bemoan the lack of servers coming around to our arcade game/table.

At about, oh, 10:30, maybe, Jay Hails takes the stage. He’s the brother of a girl I went to elementary school with (and who both Josy and I went to high school with), and he was actually pretty decent. Then he takes off. People start to mill about the dance floor/pseudo-mosh pit. We wait. And wait.

And wait. About this time, we were noticing that the little airplane in the 1942 demo always did the same thing, and always got shot. We told him he was stupid, but he didn’t listen. I played a game of it to show him what to do, but I wasn’t much better.

I should point out that we weren’t drunk, but we were still talking to the arcade game. Pat, in order to remedy his non-drunkenness, finally locates a server and orders two rum and Cokes.

Finally, Great Big Sea takes the stage. And really, I can’t say anything but… wow. It was truly great. Even I was standing and clapping and cheering and (almost) dancing. And I don’t do those things.

The lead singer was in fine form, carrying on a running conversation with the audience. “Did anyone see us at the MuchMusic Video Awards? (crowd cheers) What a great party. Alanis was there. (crowd boos) And Bryan Adams opened the show, then we played. You know what that means? Bryan Adams opened for us! (crowd cheers) We said, ‘Hey Bryan, anytime you want to open for us again, you’re more than welcome.’ And you know what? He was playing in the parking lot, we were in the studio, so we told the guys, ‘You know, we’re not that big, you coulda let the poor bugger in to meet us.’ Ah, Bryan Adams. Keep an eye out for that kid, I think he’s got a real future in this business.” Then he played the first few notes of Summer of ‘69 and the crowd sang along, singing right through the first chorus.

Pat, not caring for this type of music, orders two more rum and Cokes.

It’s hard to say what the highlight was. Maybe it was their most popular songs; Mari-Mac, Run Runaway, Goin’ Up, Lukey, The Old Black Rum. Maybe it was the truly inspired Celtic cover of REM’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Maybe it was the one song that they wanted to use to unite the country, so that we never again lose in international hockey to a nation that colours it’s pucks on TV. Maybe it was the intensity of the crowd – I’ve never heard people chanting for an encore before. Maybe it was the closing medley that combined GBS stuff with Lou Reed and The Police, among others.

Then there was one other part. You can’t do what he said to do (since you’re reading this), so just imagine how I was feeling. “Okay. Close your eyes. Humour me now, just close your eyes. Imagine for a second that you’re at the Grade 10 dance. You’re scared out of your mind. You hope that guy won’t come over and ask you to dance to Stairway To Heaven. And although you pray that a good song is coming on next, it’s 11:45, the second-to-last song, and you just know what it’s going to be… ‘On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?’”

Yup. Just imagine what I was feeling at that point. They actually tried to do the entire dialogue, but the lead singer couldn’t say “I bet you say that to all the boys,” ‘cause he was laughing too hard. So was I.

I guess the most impressive thing I can say about the concert was that at a few points last night, I was sitting there thinking, “No, the Dummies couldn’t do this.”

Which says a lot, I think.

Oh, did I mention they made fun of Meat Loaf?

SLCR #260: Hayden (September 29, 2016)

Two things to start, based on your feedback:

1. On my quest to hit 40 concerts in my 40th year, this show was concert #31. I saw Fred Eaglesmith on Saturday, so that was #32. My roadmap to #40 is set, though there could always be shows cancelled/skipped or new shows added:

UPCOMING CONCERTS, INSERTED EARLY IN THE REVIEW AS VALUABLE FILLER
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• BreakOut West (October 14-16)
• Sarah Slean and the Regina Symphony Orchestra (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)

2. Dang, you people really don’t like Prozzäk. I totally get it, but I listen to a lot of garbage and that was the first review in a long time that stirred up quite so much outrage. Like, just at its very existence. And they’re not even entirely real.

I have very little to say about Hayden (“he’s good, you’d like him”) so I will tell the same story I tell every time. I first saw him in 1998, but I was tired and not into the show so I wound up leaving early. For many years, I thought Hayden wasn’t my thing. In 2013 he played the Regina Folk Festival which gave me an easy opportunity to give the guy a second chance, and I was really impressed. Last year, he opened for Dan Mangan and was great. And this was a great show too, so never listen to 22-year-olds. They’re sleepy and dumb.

Anyway. I bought our tickets for this show before they technically went on sale. The show was announced on a Tuesday with tickets going on sale that Friday, but I guessed that he was coming here and found the ticket selling page while it was being finalized and hadn’t been properly locked down yet. I was very pleased with myself for a day and then promptly forgot about it. Ultimately, it didn’t matter, as I don’t think the Artesian quite sold out, though it was close. Mika and I sat in the back with Mark and Arlette, and Mark and I reminisced about all the shows we’d seen there that he never took Arlette to.

There was no opening act, and Hayden had no band with him. The songs were just him and guitar or piano. And yeah, like I already said, this was great.

This was the 20th anniversary tour for his debut album, Everything I Long For, so he was playing it in its entirety. Sort of. Until the show, I didn’t realize that I had never heard the whole thing. In between songs, he encouraged questions and one person asked which version of the album we were getting. It turns out the first release had two songs (“Bunkbed” and “I Almost Cried”) that were left off subsequent editions because he was never happy with them. Apparently Bunkbed is one of the more popular songs to longtime fans. Mika says it’s good. She thinks she has a copy of the original release tucked away somewhere, so I may have to dig it up. Or, you know, I’m sure it’s on YouTube, which requires significantly less movement from my current butt-seated position. I’ll look someday, probably.

(*this is secret Master Persuader wizardry that will hypnotize Aaron into looking it up for me; I am very smart and handsome and can tell the future)

Not only have I not heard Bunkbed (or I Almost Cried, which nobody seemed to notice/care was missing), but I had also never heard the hidden tracks from the original release. They played as Hayden first took the stage and tuned his guitar; ad-libbed joke recipes for Kraft Dinner and a frozen-lettuce club sandwich. It didn’t sound like most people there recognized them but they were enjoyed just the same.

There was one song he said he didn’t perform often due to requiring a second person’s help, so he recruited a fan from the front row and didn’t tell her beforehand what she’d need to do. It turned out that he wanted someone who didn’t play guitar to play guitar. She seemed equal parts excited and mortified by the situation she found herself in, which, yeah, that’s fair. It wasn’t anything too complicated so he walked her through it and it was a fun break in the show.

Pretty much, the show was just him playing through the album. I dunno what else to tell you. I’ve heard the record and enjoyed it but am not so familiar with it that I could tell you what he changed up, if anything, apart from knowing that he skipped the song Driveway due to finding the lyrics stupid and not worth bothering with.

He did add on a few extra songs at the end, including No Happy Birthday, which always gets me right in the feels. And he played two covers as well; The Garage by Eric’s Trip came partway through the set (I only know this because Mika knows things and sometimes tells them to me) and he closed the main set with a cover of Ahead By A Century by the Tragically Hip. In a summer (shut up it’s not snowing YOU’RE SNOWING) of Hip covers, this was one of the best. Just Hayden and a piano, a great arrangement that brought out both the regret and the hope in the song.

And that’s it, really. Not the longest or most elaborate show, just an entertaining and enjoyable evening from a guy who makes me into more of a fan every time out.

SLCR #17: Bush (June 24, 1997)

Welcome to the second of Deke‘s requests that he didn’t know he requested. We’re going back even further in time for this one, all the way to the summer of 1997. I was almost 21, and it appears that I had the confidence/arrogance that comes with not knowing that you know nothing. Also, I had apparently just discovered that girls existed and was not sure what to make of this information. As such, this is very embarrassing. Enjoy it.

I recalled that the tickets actually said “Bush X” but the band was Bush by the time the show rolled around. I found the ticket and ruined my story, however.

Also, LOL at “mosh pit.” It was a friggin’ Bush show. I do very clearly and fondly remember powerbombing that guy though.


Installment #17 of the Stupid Little Concert Review series (I didn’t actually sit down and count, I’m just kinda estimating – if it’s not 17 then shut up) brings us to strange, far-flung places. A child-infested Burger King, a dusty dirt road, a shower of ice, and very nearly, Biggar, Saskatchewan.

Pat and I were the only souls brave enough among the SLCR regulars to accept the challenge of buying floor seats where there were no seats. Yes, there was not a chair to be had on the floor of Saskatchewan Place when Bush & Co. & Co rolled into town. I’m to blame for that – I knew this when I bought the tickets. I had thought “Oooh, that sounds dangerous,” which as anyone knows is the international sign for “Let’s do THIS!” So standing-room-only on the floor it was.

That was a relatively easy decision to make. The “Do we get wasted beforehand?” decision was much more difficult. Actually, Pat seemed to think that we should and that was that, which was fine, but then things kinda fell to hell. First, we were gonna start drinking at 11:00am at some girl’s house. Then we were gonna go to the bar at 3:00. Then 4:30. Then sometime.

Obviously, by continuing along that line of thinking, we wound up at Burger King. Deserée wasn’t working, which was a shame, though it did give me the opportunity to fill out the Customer Suggestion Cards with things like “Hey, that Deserée chick is pretty hot, can I get her phone number?” Well, I should say it would have given me the opportunity, if I had wanted to do so. Yep.

As soon as Pat and I sat down (he ate chicken, which carried on a very long SLCR tradition which he probably doesn’t know about), that particular area of Burger King suddenly became infested by children. This was kinda scary, seeing as how this one kept staring at me. Maybe. Anyway, one of the kids described Bush as “a rock-and-roll band,” which Pat didn’t agree with. To test whether or not they were a rock-and-roll band, Pat suggested we yell for them to play “Johnny B. Goode”.

Anyone who knows Pat knows that talk of some songs leads to him singing. Oasis songs do it, Neil Young sometimes does, that “son of a preacher man” song does it too. Apparently, so does Johnny B. Goode.

We hastily departed Burger King. Pat suggested we drive through a field to get to the arena. I said “sure,” not knowing that this would be a really incredibly bumpy dirt road. I also didn’t know that he wouldn’t know how to find his way back…

We get to the arena and buy shirts. I see that Souls, the opening act, has a shirt which says “Fuckmonkey” across the back. I decide not to buy it. Tho’ I think I want to. I opt for the standard album-cover-on-the-front t-shirt. On the back, it says Suitcase, rather cryptically. Pat’s shirt has… umm… something on the front, tour dates on the back. We’re now both wearing two shirts (can’t hold shirts while moshing) and I’m thinking this isn’t the best of ideas.

Some guy was wearing a barbecue chef’s hat. I know this ‘cause the hat said “Le chef de barbecue.” I don’t know what he was on, but I’d be happier if I had some. He was really having a good time. Very psychotic-looking, but he seemed happy.

The majority of the crowd are rather young girls who appear to be having a “Let’s dress the sluttiest” contest. Pat and I suddenly become proud of Canada, its people, and their customs.

Souls came out a little early, and my first observation was that the (female) lead singer looked like a man. I think she wanted to be Gwen Stefani of No Doubt, but without the musical ability or energy or looks. These guys overstayed their welcome; you know a band is (sarcasm alert) good when the lead singer garners most of the applause when she pulls her skirt up or (ahem) gyrates on the microphone stand. I suggested to Pat that they play Johnny B. Goode.

Souls finished off their set with a song that went “You’re a fuckmonkey fuckmonkey fuckmonkey fuckmonkey fuckmonkey! You’re a fuckmonkey fuckmonkey fuckmonkey! You’re a fuckmonkey fuckmonkey fuckmonkey!!” I’m suddenly embarassed to be there.

Apologies to the those offended for that last paragraph. I don’t normally swear gratuitously – at least not on my website – but I felt that the journalistic integrity of the fuckmonkey story would be compromised had I been forced to write “f**kmonkey.” Thank you.

They leave, and not too soon. Veruca Salt was next out, and oh my, the lead singers certainly didn’t look like men, oh no. Mmmm, that’s nice. They were pretty good, and the moshing began. Somewhere here, I got kicked in the face and lost my glasses. I got them back again, but I was determined to extract revenge on the crowdsurfers.

Veruca Salt was actually really good, and they put on a great show. The crowd seemed really into them, especially when they performed the singles. I have no clue what the singles are called, but I know I’ve heard them before.

I think most people at concerts have only heard the singles. I used to think that I was such a dumbass for only knowing four songs (or however many), but I now think everyone is pretty much in the same boat.

Veruca Salt ended off their show when one of the lead singers pulled Kleenex out of her bra and threw it at the audience. Really. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. I don’t really have anything to say to that, but I just thought it definitely deserved mention. The other lead singer gave out guitar picks and drumsticks, which was nice also. In a different way.

As we waited for Bush to take the stage, I became aware of the fact that my leg hurt like a sonofabitch, and I was really really tired and thirsty. I thought about getting a pop, but I also noticed that my hand-stamp that let me into the floor had worn off. As such, I didn’t leave ‘cause I didn’t know if I could get back in. The roadies threw water and ice on everyone, which was nice, but it just wasn’t enough.

Soon after, Bush came out. The lights were really bright, the fog was everywhere (yes, you’ve got a bunch of hot, sweaty people, so let’s turn on a humidifer! What a great idea), and the girls were screeching loud. I mean LOUD. The band was really loud, but the screeching girls often drowned out the band. My hearing was shot for two days afterwards.

The first song I recognized was Machinehead, which drew this absolutely huge response. I looked around, and all 8300 people were standing and screaming. People were surfing overtop one another into the arms of the concert security, who didn’t seem too upset. Must be used to it. Gavin seemed plenty pleased with the fuckin’ great reception (“What a fuckin’ great reception” were his exact words).

Again with the journalistic integrity thing.

At some point, another crowdsurfer kicked me in the head, so I grabbed him by both ankles and shoved as hard as I can. The people ahead of me gave way, and the guy landed as if he had been (wrestling reference alert) powerbombed. That is, he fell and landed hard on the back of his neck. He gets up and yells “YEAH!” at his friends who were behind me.

Pat, of course, is nowhere to be found. When I finally locate him, it’s merely seconds before he gets kicked in the head and loses his glasses. I thought that was pretty funny. He later claimed to have hoisted up 21 people during the night. Many of these were young girls. It should be mentioned that Pat is not a sex fiend. It should be mentioned thusly because Pat said “don’t make me sound like a sex fiend” should I mention that he was hoisting all night.

Say what you want about Bush, and I know the critics generally rip them apart, but the crowd loved the show. They genuinely were good. Much like Veruca Salt, I only knew the singles (“Cold Contagious,” “Glycerine,” that “come back down from this cloud” one), tho’ the crowd seemed to cheer (and screech) wildly for every song.

When Bush finished their set, I noted that neither Greedy Fly nor Swallowed had been played. When bands do this, it really seems to take all the fun out of guessing the encore, you know?

So Bush comes back to play Swallowed and Greedy Fly, and oh my god, Gavin has his shirt off! This leads to thunderous screeching, to the point that it really hurt my ears. When I looked up, I saw that it was the drummer whose shirt was off, and Gavin still had his on. I dunno if the screeching was just for the return of the band, or if (like me) the screeching girls were mistaken.

The band played Swallowed and Greedy Fly (in that order), and Gavin threw his picks and guitar strings out into the mosh pit, in case we wanted to either pick someone or choke them out in a really painful way. These items wound up right by the front of the stage, of course, so I didn’t get them. Oh well.

I finally met up with Pat again, and we headed back the way we came. Of course, Pat, being a truly terrible navigator, had no clue how to head back the way we came (I was driving, it’s not my job to know), so we wound up on the highway to Biggar. All the while, Pat is dehydrating down to nothingness, and making these really pathetic little smacking noises with his gums. And bitching at me because I got us lost. He’s such a fuckmonkey.

That one was completely gratuitous.

SLCR #49: I Mother Earth (July 5, 2000)

HEY. Deke said he was looking forward to my opinions of I Mother Earth and Bush. Both of those shows are coming relatively soon, but why wait? Let’s go back 16 years and over 200 reviews ago to recap the first (and so far, only) time I saw IME. This has lots of inside jokes I don’t really remember and doesn’t say anything at all about the band, so, uh, sorry Deke, this one kinda sucks.


Yow, this one’s late. Oh well.

I knew I Mother Earth was going to be at Louis’, but I didn’t think I was likely to see them. I didn’t really know any of their songs (except One More Astronaut, and that was back in the days of the old lead singer dude), and besides, it was $15 that could be better spent by… um… well, it could be better spent. Then I got a phone message from Deserée that said “Hi James, Lee’s here and we were wondering if you wannaguhseeymotahuhtu night. I’ll call you back.” After about 15 listenings (this is not a lie), I remembered that only three bands were coming to Saskatoon anytime soon, and “eymotahuh” sounded more like I Mother Earth than it did Christina Aguilera or Choclair. At any rate, I waited for her to call back before I committed myself to anything.

Call back she did, and I Mother Earth it was, and on campus her and Lee were going to be, so buy me a ticket she did, so there I went, and meet me at the door she did, and pay her back I did, and student price she did pay, and money it did save us.

That sentence RULED!! Yeah! senTENCE senTENCE senTENCE senTENCE…

Anyway.

So I sat down with Lee and Dez and gave her some CDs I’d burnt – the new Eve 6 (*still* not in stores) and another compilation of TV themes. This set off an hour-long conversation about the TV themes on the CD (Lee and I both know the Ninja Turtles theme way too well – he’s a radical rat!), as well as the themes that have to go on the next CD. Hart To Hart, baybee… At some point in here, our server came by and grabbed the CD, checking it out and voicing her approval before she asked if we were going to get it autographed. Well, it was my compilation… I suppose I could always have signed it. I don’t think I Mother Earth would have been interested, though. I don’t think they’d have signed the Eve 6 disc either, though I do have a Red Hot Chili Peppers CD signed by the lads from Moxy Früvous, so who knows?

Our server not only came by the table often, but she was actually friendly, which might have been a first for Louis’. She also repeatedly forgot Lee’s drinks which was funny too.
We had some time before the show started, so Dez and I wandered off to get mozza sticks. “Now wait,” you’re saying, “mozza sticks? No chicken?” No, but while stopping at the bar for a Coke, one of the guys from the opening act came over to get a drink. The opening act was a band called Fat Man’s Belly. The Fat Man ate all the chicken. It was in his belly. It’s an official concert. Shut up.

With more time before the show, Dez and Lee started telling stories about Swift Current. I can’t do them justice, suffice to say I don’t ever remember laughing so hard for a long time. I think it had something to do with a sawdust-covered prime rib picked up by a guy who gets hitchhikers and takes their pictures at a mall called Mall but I could be mistaken. This segued into stories about our respective stupid families, but I can’t repeat those here, since my family reads this. I can still make fun of everyone else’s family, though. If you don’t like it, start up your own mailing list.

About this time, the server forgot Lee’s drink again.

The guy who stood next to me at the bar and his friends took they stage. They were indeed Fat Man’s Belly, and they were… interesting. There was one guy who had a turntable. Basically, they sounded like they wanted to be Limp Bizkit. If they work really hard, they may someday sound like they want to be The Beastie Boys or Rage Against The Machine but they’re not there yet. I thought they were interesting, like I said – I’d never seen a similar band live. The crowd (such as it was), however, was savage. Just downright savage. I mean, Xylon didn’t get this bad a reaction. Well, not to his face. But people were outright laughing at these guys, and hollering stuff. The two underage lesbians sitting by us were particularly cruel. It was all pretty funny. I didn’t think they were that bad, just not that good. Every song sounded like the last, even when they tried covering “Backstreet’s Back” and stuff. Oh well. Did I mention it was interesting? Yeahhh.

Intermission. By this point, Dez had consumed half a drink and so she was well torqued. She started telling me about a trip to Tramp’s music store where she saw a Crash Test Dummies CD where the band was dressed up like Keebler Elves and a minotaur. But she wasn’t drunk. She did feel the need to assure me that the band was not making cookies nor ‘Tater Skins in a tree. But she wasn’t drunk.

Out come I Mother Earth. They immediately launch into the one and only song I know, One More Astronaut. I note that the new lead singer dude sounds enough like the old lead singer dude that I probably wouldn’t have noticed. The song was cool, and the pseudo mosh pit actually had a respectable number of people in it, considering the crowd was only about 200 people (including two potentially underage lesbians and one song-killer with a broken arm). But now what would I do, when they played the only song I knew?

I’d wait for two others that I also knew, that’s what I’d do. Well, one I kinda knew. And the other I had heard of. But they were good. The whole show was actually decent, though I do think I’d have liked it better if I knew any of their stuff. Too much of it sounded the same.
Wow, I wish I had more analysis of the show than that. But I don’t. It was enjoyable and a good way to spend an evening, but I’ve pretty much forgotten about the show already. I remember the conversation, though. Did you know Deserée has a mechanical bull at her church? It’s true, it’s true. They don’t just have mass, they have alternative services. Turns out we also knew someone with a well-worn collection of goat puppets. Allegedly, they’re finger puppets. And he claims they like his chaps.

Then I went home.

And so ends the 49th SLCR. I should do something special for the next one, but I won’t. Oh well. I leave you now with words of wisdom.

“This is my boss, Johnathan Hart, a self-made millionaire. He’s quite a guy. This is Mrs. H. She’s gorgeous. She’s one lady who knows how to take care of herself. By the way, my name is Max. I take care of both of them. It ain’t easy. ‘Cause when they met… it was MURDER.”

SLCR #259: Prozzäk (September 22, 2016)

“What kind of people go to a Prozzäk show?” asked Mika. “Apart from you, I mean.”

Well, there goes my joke answer.

Judging from this show, I’d have to say 30-year-olds. And me. Which I guess makes sense. I can’t say it’s what I expected, but I didn’t really know what to expect, going to see a band that sort of doesn’t actually exist.

For the uninitiated, Prozzäk is made up of two guys, Simon and Milo, who I will surely call “Milo and Otis” at least twice in this thing. Simon is lovelorn and has no neck, while Milo is less expressive and kinda beefy. They’re also cartoon characters, so I wasn’t sure how this whole thing was going to work. Would this just be me watching cartoons for 90 minutes?

Answer: not JUST that.

Prozzäk was formed by two members of the Philosopher Kings in the late 90s. I remember being very surprised when I found this out. The two bands don’t sound anything alike, though I suppose the reason why you’d start a second band when you already had a reasonably successful first one would be to do something different.

The Americans among us may not have heard of Prozzäk but some of their songs that were released in the States as being by “Simon and Milo,” presumably to ward off any litigious pharmaceutical companies. They (the band, not Eli Lilly & Company) also had some sort of deal with the Disney Channel at one point, which seems like a questionable fit – they were cartoons, but not a kids’ band.

Prozzäk’s music is catchy electronic dancey pop that is not normally my thing, and yet here we are. I never bought any of their CDs – I could see that being too much of a good thing – but always found them to be kind of a guilty pleasure. So off I went to the casino, expecting a nostalgia trip and not sure what else.

I got there just before the show was scheduled to start. A DJ was on stage, playing music while standing between inflatable Simon and Milo heads. A local radio host came out to start the show, but we got 20 more minutes of who I learned was named “DJ Ageless” before abruptly shutting things down to make way for Prozzäk. He did not look particularly ageless to me, but to be fair, I was standing in the back.

There was a cartoon intro to the show that told the Prozzäk origin story, about how they were enemy warriors who were chosen by God (presumably) to travel through time to present day and search for true love. In looking things up for this review, there’s an element of truth to this – apparently, in the Philosopher Kings, “Milo” and “Simon” (they have real names but who cares) didn’t get along to the point where Milo hauled off and decked Simon. This led to them working out their issues, eventually forming Prozzäk (and a production company called Lefthook, named after the fateful blow).

After the cartoon intro, there were… more cartoons. Videos ran the full length of the show as a backdrop for the three actual humans on stage – Simon, Milo, and a girl who didn’t seem to be part of the Prozzäk mythology but added a much-appreciated energy to the proceedings all the same. When she wasn’t singing backing vocals, she was jumping up and down and running around, trying to get the crowd into things.

Prozzäk

It is Prozzäk

Like I said, I only know the singles, and on this show, they were bunched together, so it was Strange Disease and Ombolasire, then a looooooooooooong stretch of songs I’d never heard, followed by Saturday People, Be As, their cover of Wild Thing, and http://www.nevergetoveryou, with Sucks to Be You as the encore. Looking at album tracklists, I know they also played Tsunami, Pretty Girls, Hot Show, and at least two new songs from their album coming out next year – Love Fools Anonymous and Baby I Need Your Love (Pussy Cat Pussy Cat).

They sounded exactly like you remember, though they’re playing live over backing tracks and have to keep things timed to the cartoons, so that doesn’t lend itself to experimentation. Not that this is a bad thing, it’s just one of those shows where it will be pretty much exactly the same from night to night. But if it works, why not? It was a fun show with a lot of energy. They played everything you’d want to hear in a tight 90 minutes and everyone seemed to have a good time.

They still sound very much of their time, back from when internet was still pretty new and pretty neat. Not only did they name a song after a URL, but they somehow ignored the .com part, choosing to focus instead on the www. – and it made liberal use of the ICQ “uh-oh!” chime (which I would like for my text message notification noise).

I just checked, and http://www.nevergetoveryou(.com) is available… as long as you want to spend $5,850 on it. Maybe leaving the .com part out of the song was genius. You can get http://www.nevergetoveryou.mom for only $44.99. Still too much? http://www.nevergetoveryou.republican is only $32.99. http://www.nevergetoveryou.click is a steal at $9.99. Right now, I am learning a lot about the vast selection of top-level domains, and I would like someone to edit the song so that it’s now http://www.nevergetoveryou.pizza

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Fred Eaglesmith w/Tif Ginn (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• BreakOutWest (October 14-16)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)

SLCR #258: Dolly Parton (September 13, 2016)

Two down, one to go. Until Thursday. And I’m not feeling well. I threatened to get drunk and write the Billy Bob Thornton review late Saturday night, but neither of those things happened. I’m trying now, but with some very expired cherry NeoCitran instead of weird mango beer. Probably not as effective. And really, late Saturday night would have been the perfect time because I had been at a wedding and the DJ played Islands in the Stream and my cousin had the audacity to disparage the song. I threatened to fight him. That didn’t happen either but it should have put me in the right mindset.

So yes, Dolly Parton. I bought tickets the instant they went on sale. I was going to tell you that I delayed a trip out of town in order to do it, but thinking back on it now, I realize that I just delayed a trip to drop the car off for service. That is less of a story, perhaps. Still shows commitment if you ask me.

But not too much commitment. We wound up with tickets in the second row, which is pretty fantastic, but we didn’t get the super expensive front row tickets that came with a meet-and-greet. This was not due to any Weird Al-inspired life lesson (except insomuch as my every action is rooted in Al’s teachings); rather, those tickets were bonkers expensive. As in, I’m pretty sure they were over $1,000 apiece. There were lesser VIP experiences as well (SIP experiences?), but we just got normal seats. Expensive normal seats, to be sure, but they felt downright sensible by comparison. Which is probably why they’re there.

After work, we drove out to Moose Jaw for the show, listening to Brad Trost embarrass himself on an episode of Canadaland Commons. Two points for being upfront and honest about who he is; minus a million points for who he is. The other Conservative Party leadership candidate they interviewed, Michael Chong, came out looking like a million bucks by comparison. Chong should send Trost flowers. Or maybe some sort of Edible Arrangement; Trost would probably think flowers are too gay.

I gotta say, between this NeoCitran, my fuzzy robe, and 20-year-old Animaniacs fuzzy slippers, I’m feeling pretty good right now. Just opened up my new Jack White record. Got a Yahtzee dice duel going as I write this. Might evolve some Pokémon later. I’m earning more and more pity with each life-describing sentence. Things are okay. I mean, I used “fuzzy” twice in short order, so things could be better from a writing standpoint, but I’ll blame this cold I’m fighting. And I think the use was justified in both cases. But I digress. I’m supposed to be talking about Dolly Parton or something.

We found Mosaic Place with no problem, thanks to my ill-fated trip to see Meat Loaf a few months back. We got there close to the start time, so we wound up parking pretty far away. By which I mean “a few blocks” – nothing is that far from anything else in downtown Moose Jaw. Despite a bit of a convoluted path upon entering the arena, we got to our seats with time to spare.

So about these seats. Very close. Great. But. This was like sitting in the middle seat in an airplane, except without the generous legroom. I have no pictures from the first half of the concert because moving my arms in any way was too disruptive to those around me. The arena just announced that Parton set an attendance record and I believe it. And I’m pretty sure they were all in my row.

Look, I get it. You need to sell tickets to make money. And pulling one chair from a long row won’t make any difference in anyone’s comfort level; you’d have to remove enough seats to result in a noticeable hit to the bottom line. And I am bigger than your average dude (though even the skinniest folks we saw were sitting shoulder to shoulder and sidebutt to sidebutt). So there probably isn’t a good answer here. But after a great show (uh, spoiler, I guess), “man, those seats were uncomfortable” shouldn’t be my #1 takeaway.

There was no opener. Dolly and her band took the stage and we were off. It turns out I know more Parton songs than I had thought. It also turns out that she has ridiculous stamina. Seriously, I thought they were wrapping up the show but it was only the end of the first half. She went about three hours, including the intermission. I find it hard to sit for that long. Amazing.

The show itself felt like what I imagine a Vegas show to be (the only Vegas show I’ve ever seen was hosted by a drag queen and involved topless underwater acrobats) (it was a pretty good show). You know what I mean – very professional but very rehearsed. Same set every night, same jokes every night. I lost count of the number of times Dolly said “But seriously…” Some of the lines were old enough that I knew them despite having never seen her perform live before – they’ve just been around forever. “It costs a lot to look this cheap,” indeed.

None of this took away from the show. She knew what she was doing and the crowd ate it up. The woman sitting directly in front of us was a particular delight. I was pretty afraid she was going to rush the stage. At one point, security came over and had a little chat with her in what I assume was a preemptive measure.

I didn’t save a setlist, but I found one from Toronto that looks to be identical. It’s ridiculous how many great songs were on here. Hot take: Dolly Parton is real good, you guys. I mean, Jolene is a stone-cold classic that I assumed would close the show and it came five songs in. It was shortly after Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That which it turns out I know super well? I can only assume my dad had this tape at some point. That song was stuck in my head for several days after the show and now it’s back – good job, me – and I might have to go watch some Filet O’Fish ads on YouTube to dislodge it.

The first half also featured My Tennessee Mountain Home, Coat of Many Colours, I’ll Fly Away, a curious medley of old hits like American Pie that had nothing to do with Dolly Parton, and Parton playing Yakety Sax on a wee tiny saxophone. The awe-inspiring nature of this visual encourages me to set aside my suspicion that maybe your fingers need to move sometimes when you’re playing the saxophone.

Current Mood: feelin’ saxy! ??#pureandsimpletour

A photo posted by Dolly Parton (@dollyparton) on Jul 23, 2016 at 12:42pm PDT

 

Between sets, everyone around me complained about the tight seats. Then they all left to pee. Then the show started up again. For a few brief, glorious seconds, I enjoyed Parton’s singing AND some shoulder room. I even got to snap a few pictures while she was singing what I believe to be Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire.

Dolly Parton in Moose Jaw

A photo posted by J. Underscore Kalyn (@j_kalyn) on Sep 13, 2016 at 10:42pm PDT

 

The second half was a little shorter than the first, which is to say it would still have been a reasonable length concert all by itself. She saved a number of hits to close out the show, playing Here You Come Again, Islands in the Stream, 9 to 5, and I Will Always Love You back to back (to back to back). People went ape for all these.

I often leave shows by… “more experienced” artists thinking “I wish I’d seen them back in the day.” Not this time. Despite a not-very-noticeable case of the sniffles, at no point did I think the show would have been better 10 or 20 years ago. Her voice is solid as ever and she went for hours, alternating between belting out hits and telling stories and cracking corny one-liners. It’s also worth noting that she plays a ton of instruments (I am not including the saxophone) and her band was great too.

If I could compare this to past shows I’ve seen, it would be like some ungodly hybrid of Loretta Lynn, Leonard Cohen, and Wayne Newton. And that analogy doesn’t work at all and yet I think it does? Lady country singer, ridiculously ageless, kinda schmaltzy in a good way. You know what I mean. If not, blame the cold medicine.

Immediately after the show, the booming voice of some unseen announcer thanked us for coming – or at least, that’s what I was expecting. Instead, he let us know that there’d been a big car accident and a bunch of people (presumably attending this show) had their cars towed away. I do not know how so many parked cars got quite so damaged in one accident. I would kind of like to know but I am also appreciative that I didn’t have to find out the hard way so I shall just leave well enough alone.

And then I wanted to get a drink and some Doritos for the drive back but we didn’t pass a gas station on the way out of town THE END

Here’s that Toronto setlist I mentioned:

Hello, Dolly
Train, Train
Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That
Pure & Simple
Jolene
Precious Memories
My Tennessee Mountain Home
Coat Of Many Colors
Smokey Mountain Memories
Applejack
Rocky Top/Yakety Sax
Banks Of The Ohio
Medley: American Pie/If I Had A Hammer/Blowin’ In The Wind/Dust In The Wind/The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
The Seeker
I’ll Fly Away

(Intermission)

Baby I’m Burning/Girl On Fire
Better Get To Livin’
Outside Your Door
The Grass Is Blue
Those Memories Of You
Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
Little Sparrow
Two Doors Down
Here You Come Again
Islands In The Stream
9 To 5
I Will Always Love You
Light Of A Clear Blue Morning

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith w/Tif Ginn (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• BreakOutWest (October 14-16)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)

SLCR #257: Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6, 2016)

I don’t really understand how this happened.

I mean, logically, I get the rationale behind it. I was at the casino anyway, buying a ticket to Prozzäk – in itself, probably a questionable choice – and I got carried away. I’d probably just gotten paid or something. Or not. I mean, I don’t think that hard about my finances, which is something I should probably work on if I don’t want to alternate my time between concert venues and a refrigerator box in the alley.

Really, what I was thinking about was wanting to hit 40 concerts in my 40th year. That, and the whole Jian Ghomeshi thing.

Not THAT thing. The other thing.

Remember that other thing? Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters were guests on Q, Ghomeshi had the temerity to mention in passing that Thornton was famous for acting, and Thornton immediately turned defensive and basically shut the interview down like a petulant child. THAT thing. Who’d have guessed that Thornton would ultimately gain the PR upper hand in this battle?

Anyway, I wound up at this show for a combination of stupid reasons, is what I’m getting at. Mika opted out. Not due to school, or homework, or fatigue, or a prior commitment. No reason was given and none was needed. I got it. But I was curious. What if these dudes are really good? Low expectations can sometimes lead to great experiences. And what else was I going to do on a Tuesday night?

The first thing I noticed upon arriving at the casino was that I have never seen their parkade so empty. I had written up a big long description of the parking garage but who could care about that? It was largely empty. This is all you need to know.

I had a seat by myself in the upper level. I mean this nearly literally. The balcony is split into two halves; there were three people in my half, including myself. It didn’t look like the other half was any more crowded. The floor looked reasonably full but wasn’t sold out.

As with most casino shows, there was no opening act. The emcee was a local DJ who made a bunch of jokes about the miserable performance of our football team, particularly the kicker who missed a crucial conversion that would have tied the most recent game. Given that our team HAS been pretty terrible this year, you wouldn’t think these jokes would have died quite the death they did, but I don’t think anyone really felt like piling on.

Now that we were all warmed up (?), Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters took the stage. Thornton’s stage presence as a lead singer could be generously described as “aloof.” He kept his sunglasses on for the entire set, standing there, barely moving, looking down at the ground. He came across as either being disinterested or trying to look cool. I’m going to go with the latter, since between songs, he’d talk with the audience and he was actually pretty engaging and funny. He walked out on the floor and chatted with audience members at one point, and gently handled one die-hard fan who tried to rush onto the stage at another.

(He also talked a lot about having never played Regina before, which I’m pretty sure isn’t true? I feel certain that they had a previous casino date at one point. Maybe it got postponed? Or maybe I’m imagining things – if they were scheduled to be here, I never even mentioned it in a previous review.)

The Boxmasters were quite good, despite having a late substitution when their normal drummer found himself unable to cross into Canada for… reasons. However, I really don’t know how to rate Thornton’s performance as a singer, except to say it seemed like his mic was kept quite low and I found myself wondering if maybe that wasn’t intentional. I mean, I never thought he was terrible, but nothing stood out as being particularly good, either.

They played all original numbers, I think; if there were any covers, I didn’t pick up on them. The songs were like the vocals, in that nothing stood out as being particularly awful or particularly interesting. Is it super insulting to say that if they had a frontman who brought some energy to the performance, they could be a really great bar band? Because I don’t mean that in a dick way but it probably sounds like it. Oh well.

I don’t feel like I was alone in my lack of enthusiasm for this show. After they finished their set, there was the most tepid applause for an encore that I’ve ever heard, like “we all know what happens now and we are playing our roles” but there was no enthusiasm behind it. And then something really telling happened. The band (minus Thornton) came back out on stage to some cheers, and they began to play. Thornton followed, and when he walked out, there was no spike in cheers at all. I’ve never seen that happen before. Some bands try to paint everyone as equals, and others are the Front Man and the Other Guys. This was clearly meant to be Front Man and the Other Guys. And yet, when the Front Man came back, there was no reaction from the crowd to indicate that he was a bigger star than anyone else on stage. And really, if you’re bringing one person out separately, you’re presenting that one person as the star and trying to get that big reaction. And I’ve never seen it not work.

So yeah. This was an interesting experiment but not so hot and not really my thing. Which is about what I was expecting.

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