Category Archives: posts by james

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.

SLCR #256: Greg MacPherson (September 1, 2016)

Ah hell crap dammit I have three of these things to do. I want to do other things but I also don’t want to have FOUR of these particular things, so here we go.

I just looked up my last Greg MacPherson review and it was from four years ago and I can’t even fathom that. I’m fine with being 40, I can handle any of the “Want to feel old? _____ came out _____ years ago” posts (though the idea that Snakes on a Plane has been around for a decade is a bit disconcerting), but four years since that concert? Really? I do not understand how this is possible.

I remember that show well. It was an intimate setting (the first show I saw at the Artful Dodger) and a fantastic performance, one that made me into much more of a fan than I’d been going in. I know he’s come back through town a few times since then, but he has a knack for showing up on nights when I’m already booked. Also, he really seems to like to play here around tax time, much to Jeff’s frustration.

I actually had a ticket to see him earlier this year, but I would have had to go by myself, it was him sharing the stage with a few other folks to talk about songs (the format actually sounded really neat, but it wasn’t really what I was after), and it was up against a UFC PPV so I sat it out. Sometimes I am fine with going to shows by myself and sometimes I am very not. Regardless, I was glad that he came back through town so I’d get the chance to see him.

Like the last show, this was my first time at a new venue – this time, Creative City Centre. I feel like Stefon describing where it is: “Located above a jazz club situated in a former shoe store in Regina’s downtown, this place has everything.” But then it trails off because it has two flights of narrow stairs, a dozen tables, bowls of pretzels, and Jeff and his friend, who beat me there. No human Roombas.

But seriously, this is a really tiny space. I said that the Artful Dodger show was intimate, but that place holds twice as many people. I’d have to think 50 people would sell out Creative City Centre unless they pulled the tables out.

Possibly the highlight of the night came when the lady who (I think) runs the place opened the show by listing off all the upcoming events. She got to the guitar jam, where guitarists of all skill levels come together to play and learn and talk guitar… stuff. Anyway, they’re going to hold Regina’s largest ever guitar jam in the park downtown, and they’re all going to play the Experience Regina song – making this four straight public events I’ve attended with Jeff where that song has come up. I don’t know if I should take him with me everywhere? Or would that just jinx things?

Our opening act was a collabo of two local artists, Dan Holbrow and Leo Keiser, about whom I knew pretty much nothing at all. I still know very little. They played six or eight songs with the two switching off on vocals. Keiser had a song called “I’m Bored and You’re an Asshole,” which is, I guess, really what a lot of songs are about, but I’ve never heard of one that outright said it before.

The venue filled up as the show went on, and it looked pretty close to capacity by the time Greg MacPherson started. Good for him, but that did prevent us from stealing a bowl of pretzels from a nearby unoccupied table. The only open spot was, oddly, front and centre, but MacPherson started off the show by insisting that someone move up from the back and sit at that table.

It was a very different show, possibly because it was a very different tour – not a tour at all, really. He and his partner were off to Edmonton for a wedding and he just picked up a few gigs along the way. He said he was out of practice and hadn’t even remembered to bring any records or CDs to sell us (to think, I raided Mika’s purse for nothing). His voice was a little hoarse and it did seem like he didn’t have a set list and was just going to play for as long as his voice would hold out.

Last time, he played all of his songs that I know and love. This was decidedly not that. The bartender had requested the song Heatwave; someone requested it at the last show too, and I didn’t know the song at that time. Here, it was the only song I’d heard before. Even Jeff, who knows much more of MacPherson’s music than I do, only recognized a few songs. It seemed like he was trying out a lot of new material, and he was talking a lot too – lots about the political climate and general state of things, both globally and on a local level.

So it was quite an interesting show, and whenever I see him play, I think “this dude is super good and I really need to listen to his music more often.” Just not quite the show I was expecting, which isn’t a bad thing.

SLCR #255: 54-40 (August 19, 2016)

I turn 40 in two- wait. That won’t work twice. And it’s 20 minutes to midnight anyway.

This was a last-minute decision for me. I had forgotten the show was even happening until it popped up on Facebook a little while ago, and I only bought my ticket a few hours before the show. I like 54-40 well enough and all, but I saw them a few years ago and described it as the most just-a-show show that I’d maybe ever seen. I really wasn’t sure that I needed to pay to see that again. Plus Mika didn’t feel like going, even when good seats opened up on the day of the show.

But then I was looking them up online, which can be a bit tricky, because if you google 54-40, you get 14. But I still found their website and it described this show as acoustic. “Featuring intimate and unplugged versions of 54-40’s greatest hits performed as you’ve never heard them before.” That would make sense – their newest album is a collection of acoustic reworkings of their biggest hits. I haven’t heard it, but Aaron says it’s good. This intrigued me, as it would be a different show from the last time I saw them. On the other hand, the last show dragged until it got to the more high-energy second half. Should I risk the $37.13? I asked Aaron, which meant I already knew what I wanted the answer to be, because what was he going to say? No?

So I got my ticket, rushed through a dinner of Indian food while finishing off the Weird Al review, and made my way to the casino. I was up in the balcony. The show wasn’t sold out, and I had an entire row to myself. Actually, several rows as pretty much everything behind me was also open. This is a fine way to watch a show.

Right at 8:00, some local radio guy introduced the band and we were underway. The first thing I must note is that there was nothing acoustic at all about this show. This was a straight up rock show, and oddly (considering last time), the crowd was into it right from the start. By the second song, there were people standing up at the front of the stage, with more joining with every song. By the end of it, the people at the first few rows of tables wouldn’t have been able to see anything and those tables were largely abandoned.

I didn’t take notes about the set list, but I’m pretty sure they opened with Easy to Love and from there, it was all hits, all the time. I didn’t keep track of the setlist, but if you know a 54-40 song, they played it. I mean, not if you’re some kind of superfan or something. But if you know only the radio songs, like me? They didn’t leave you wanting much. I Go Blind, Since When, Baby Ran, Crossing a Canyon, Lies to Me, Love You All, One Day in Your Life, Ocean Pearl, Nice to Luv You, Crossing a Canyon, One Gun, She-La, Radio Luv Song, Blame Your Parents, Casual Viewin’… it turns out that 54-40 had way more hits than I realized, and I knew pretty much everything.

I guess there was one song that wasn’t a hit – a new song from their upcoming album. The song was based on a Winston Churchill quote: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The song was probably called something like Keep Walking, while lead singer Neil Osborne offered the suggested title of “Grizzled, Chiseled, and the Wine is Fine” for the new album; about this, I can only say it received the reaction it deserved. Interpret that as you will.

Questionable album title aside, the new song was good, and the whole show was great – much better than last time out. There were big singalongs for Ocean Pearl and Casual Viewin’, but there was much more energy from both the band and the fans as compared to before. I don’t know what changed in the crowd, but whatever it was, it was there right from the start. It’s amazing the difference that the atmosphere makes. It created this loop where the band was having more fun because the crowd was really into it, and because the band was enjoying themselves, the crowd got MORE into it. It’s too bad the show ended after 90 minutes (plus a two-song encore) because we could have been on the verge of discovering some sort of perpetual energy machine.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

SLCR #254: “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14, 2016)

I turn 40 in two days.

This is an excellent way to start a concert review. For one, it ensures that I have to finish it today instead of letting it sit for another week or two. Also, it advises you, the reader, that there will be very little distracting music talk getting in the way of me nattering on about myself, which is what you’re all here for.

This fact is also relevant because these concert tickets were my 40th birthday present to myself. I’ve seen a ton of concerts this year, but this one was special – I forked over a not-insignificant amount of cash to get the Mandatory Czar VIP tickets – not only do you get premium seats, but also a bag of stuff and – most importantly – a meet-and-greet with Weird Al himself. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, which is why I made up the “40th birthday present” justification after the fact. I needed something. These were the most expensive concert tickets I’ve ever bought.

Which is a questionable purchase to make, you know? I love Weird Al, but I also know how his shows go. You have a good idea of what he’s going to play, because there are so many costume changes and special sets that things can only vary so much from tour to tour. If you’ve been once, you kind of know what you’re getting.

Though to be fair, the VIP tickets promised some new experiences. There were two tiers of VIP tickets; ours (the pricier ones) came with the meet-and-greet, but both had the gift bag and also the pre-show experience. And that’s two sentences in a row ended with “experience,” but that really is the best word for it. They let people in at 5:30, but we didn’t get there until after 7:00 as I didn’t think it would really be my thing. They gave us our stuff bags at the door – nothing too exciting. There was a flag, a lanyard, a beret, and a copy of the Mad magazine from last year that Al edited. We walked into the hall, and right into the middle of a costume contest and lip-sync battle. There was an Amish guy, some Jedi, lots of tinfoil hats, and some girls in Weird Al costumes who gave me really conflicted feelings. There were also some costumes where their relevance was… dubious. Either these were some deep references that I didn’t understand, or else it was just random dressing-up.

At the back of the room, there was a small touring museum with a selection of props from videos, lots of pictures, things like that. That stuff was really neat to see. There were snacks set out, a cash bar, and a merchandise stand so you could shop for your Weird Al paraphernalia without being interrupted by the masses. I wanted an action figure but it was cash-only and I had brought none, so I had to hit up an ATM later and shop at the normal souvenir stand like some sort of god damned commoner.

We were only there for a few minutes before the festivities wrapped up, concluding with the host tearing around the room singing Leggy Blonde (which is decidedly not a Weird Al song, but I guess it does say “goodbye” a lot) and knocking things over. We took this as our cue to leave so Mika took a picture of me with the Wheel of Fish, and then went off to our seats. The VIP tickets had us front row, just slightly right of centre. No complaints there.

Weird Al may be wacky but he is super serious about starting a show on time. 8:00 on the nose. I know it’s the same show from night to night – you can’t mix it up too much when it’s that choreographed – so I don’t want to go into too many details here. The structure of the show itself was as I remembered – lots of songs from the newest album (Mandatory Fun), lots of classics (I wonder if Canadian Idiot gets added to the tour specifically for the Canadian shows?), lots of video clips between songs while the costume changes were happening. Hearing the new songs done live was cool, and like before, there was a medley with a mix of songs from all through his career so you could hear things you might not expect. This time, there was also an acoustic set partway through that offered new versions of some of his classics. This was new to me and it was a great way to mix things up. He’s been playing some of these songs for over 30 years so it’s probably nice for him and his band to do something different too.

Anyway, this was a delightful time. Al was in fine form – I’m pretty sure he ages at one-third the speed of the rest of us – and his band was excellent as ever. Sitting front row adds to the experience, as Al once again serenaded Mika during Wanna Be Ur Luvr, putting his foot up on her chair and singing “Have you seen my picture? It’s in the dictionary, under ‘kablam’.” We also got splattered with water during Smells Like Nirvana when Al threw the contents of his cup out into the crowd. And during Fat, Al’s cries of “hooooooooo” drew an appearance from Santa Claus, who got punched, sending “teeth” across the stage. One of Santa’s teeth hit me in the ankle, which is not a sentence I’ve had much reason to say before now.

And while the show was familiar, there was a lot of new material – not only were there the new songs, but many of the video clips used during the show were new to me, and lots of the classic clips had been retired. Al has had a renaissance of sorts in the past few years, with Mandatory Fun being the first comedy album to hit #1 in 50 years, and the first one ever to debut at #1. Plus he’s been the bandleader on Comedy Bang Bang and done lots of TV guest spots and voiceover work, so there was a lot of material to draw from.

Once the show was done, after the Star Wars songs (he always ends with the Star Wars songs), it was time to meet the man. About 50 people had the purple VIP badges that allowed for the meet-and-greet. We got the rules (have your camera or phone ready, have your item to get signed ready, decide beforehand if you want individual pictures or a group shot). The host said he’d be the one taking the pictures, and that we could trust him because he used to work for Sears before he got fired. As someone who’s been paying close attention to the goings-on at his local Sears Portrait Studio, this joke did not fill me with confidence. Search Instagram for #searsyqr for more details. Anyway, once that was done, we were led to a side area of the centre. There was a bit of a wait; occasionally, someone would leave to use the bathroom, and then disappoint everyone upon their return. Not every door that opens leads to “Weird Al” Yankovic. Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers, who made an on-stage appearance during the Star Wars songs, stood behind the table to serve as a backdrop for photos with Al. Some other Stormtroopers wandered the line and chatted with people, posed for pictures, that kind of thing.

Before too long, Al showed up. They moved through the line at a pretty good clip. I got my phone ready, and I decided to just get the concert tickets signed (in part because I’d already taken all our stuff to the car before the show started). Al posed for a picture with us, signed our tickets, and I got to thank him for the show and for all the music over the years. Not only have I been a big fan since childhood, but he comes across like a really down-to-earth normal guy. I’ve never heard of anything that suggests otherwise.

And with that, we were out the side door and back to the car. Would I do it again? That’s a tricky question. I cannot stress enough that these tickets were really expensive and by most anyone’s estimation, buying them was a really dumb idea. I could live without the pre-show deal and the bag of stuff – I’m almost 40, I’m not going to wear a Weird Al hat or hang a Weird Al flag (and I already had the magazine because Aaron’s got my back). But we had great seats for a great show, and I got to meet one of my favourite celebrities ever, if only for a minute. That part of it was really cool. Ultimately, I certainly have no regrets that we did it once. I don’t know if I’d do it again for the next Al show, though. I had my moment with him, I got what I wanted, I’m good. For someone else? Maybe. For the right band at the right price, especially if they come with great tickets. But there just aren’t that many celebrities I really care about meeting. Watching from afar is usually good enough. This might be a one-off – but it was worth it.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• 54-40 (August 19)
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

SLCR #253: Regina Folk Festival (August 5-7, 2016)

SATURDAY, 3:40 p.m.

Here we go again. Let’s see if I can talk about 15 bands in fewer words than it took me to talk about one.

I was honestly not super excited for the folk festival this year. The first band they announced was the Cat Empire, who I saw in Calgary a few years ago and enjoyed, but the rest of the lineup didn’t do a ton for me. Then Ry Cooder dropped out; to be honest, I know way less about him than I probably should, but I know the guy is a legend and I was looking forward to seeing him for that reason alone.

We considered getting rid of our tickets – we buy early when they’re cheap, which makes it easy to sell them later at cost if we need to unload them – but ultimately decided to go. Mika made the point that if you don’t support (what you see as) the weaker years, they won’t have money to bring you (what you see as) the better years. Fair enough. And sometimes acts you don’t know about can take you by surprise. Like last year. Lisa Leblanc? Never heard of her. Who cares? And then she tore it the heck up and was awesome and I’m sad that she hasn’t been back out this way since then. So there’s hope.

Each day, the gates open at 5:00, which on Friday is a bit of a pain for someone who works normal hours. I’m done at 4:02 (union reasons) but I figured Mika wouldn’t be able to leave the office until at least 5:00. After considering a dozen options, none of them ideal, I decided to drive my lawn chairs to the office on Thursday night so I could easily take them and get in the festival line on Friday. “Easily” being a relative term; the chairs are comfortable, but they’re also mighty solid. But whatever; I dragged them from the office, through the mall, then got to the park. I set up one of the chairs and had a nice sitdown, listening to podcasts and catching Pokémon until they let us in.

Walking up, I was surprised to see that there wasn’t much of a line. I got there at 4:15 and was on the corner of Scarth and Victoria. Last year, Mika made it to the line at 3:30 and was a block further back. It certainly seemed like there were fewer people in the park this year, at least on the Friday. The food lines were shorter too.

I was inside with the chairs set up by the time Mika made it downtown. I got our usual spot, though a few rows closer than normal. Taking a cue from Jeff, I took a picture of the weekend schedule and set it as my phone’s lock screen. So handy!

The Friday night host was children’s entertainer Al Simmons. I will say that lots of people enjoyed his shtick. I will also say that I do not understand those people. At one point I joked that he was my second-favourite performer of the evening and everyone else was tied for first. During one particularly interminable bit, a friend messaged me that Simmons was dipping into third place. Solid enough joke but absolute gold-star timing.

The festival was kicked off by Terra Lightfoot, who we saw open for Blue Rodeo earlier this year. I liked her well enough then and a few people I know said they preferred her to Blue Rodeo at that show. I hope those folks were at this festival because she was great here – almost like she was holding back last time. Great songs and a likeable, charismatic personality with lots of energy. As one of only a handful of artists I knew on this year’s festival, I was really looking forward to her set and she exceeded my expectations.

The first teaser was Twin Peaks, a duo from BC. I question the wisdom of choosing a band name that will be so tricky to search, but they were charming and fun so I’ll just put the link to http://twinpeaksmusic.ca/ here and now the world doesn’t need Google anymore. It feels good to know that I fixed the internet forever. They’re playing a full show at 3:00 on Sunday and I’m thinking about checking it out. I mean, let’s be honest, I never get around to the daytime stages unless Hawksley Workman is there, but I’m considering it.

Next up was IsKwé, a First Nations performer from Winnipeg who performed what I would describe as hip-hop-influenced pop. I thought this was pretty interesting; in particular, I really enjoyed the first song. She also covered a Björk song (Army of Me), though I don’t know from Björk and didn’t recognize the song. Mika knows these things. She should write these. Though I think I enjoyed this set more than she did so maybe not.

Somewhere in here, I got Indian food. I suspect I will write this sentence two more times in the coming days. Mika went for falafel, and later on, we split a box of salted caramels. Kettle corn truck, I’ll see you later.

The next teaser was by Twin Bandit, another pair of ladies from BC. I wonder if Twin Peaks are their mortal enemies? Or maybe best friends? OR BOTH? Someone write me some fan fiction about two bands you’ve never heard of.

DAMMIT I am out of time and will have to finish the Friday night wrap-up later. I skipped ahead and wrote the last part first, so uh here it is I guess:

The first night’s headliners were The Head and the Heart. I knew the name but no songs, so Mika played me some. They were pleasant, if aggressively dull – so much so that not only did I not remember a note ten minutes later, I think I was actively forgetting them as they were playing. Point being, I wasn’t really looking forward to them. I can tell you that live, they were much better than what she played for me. However, this still didn’t interest us much and we packed it in halfway through. The screaming girls down at front would surely have a different opinion of this performance. Maybe I am a stubborn old poop or maybe they just weren’t for me. Or maybe anyone would have struggled to follow the one-two punch of Ginkgoa and the Cat Empire.

=======

MONDAY, 8:25 p.m.

Okay, my plan of writing this in short, reasonable chunks over the weekend didn’t pan out.

Also not panning out: my plan of getting downtown in time on Sunday for the Twin Peaks set. Unsurprising. Oh well, I bought their CDs instead so that’s probably better for them anyway.

Feeling that I had to keep one promise, I did indeed eat Indian food all three nights. Specifically, the samosa platter with curried chickpeas and a Diet Coke. I mixed it up dessert-wise, though. Gotta expand those horizons. With mini-donuts.

Given that chronological order has already gone to hell, I suppose I could talk about Sunday now, since it’s freshest in my mind. I don’t have much to say about it, though. The mainstage acts were, in order, the Barr Brothers, Frazey Ford, Bobby Bazini, the Strumbellas, and the Mavericks. You know how sometimes I see a show and it’s good, but I don’t have much to say about it? That was all of Sunday night for me. Nothing was bad. Bazini was delightfully funky. The Strumbellas had fun banter and I enjoyed their sing-along clap-along tunes more than I was expecting to, especially the one song that I knew (it’s their one song everyone knows, even if you think you don’t) (even you). IsKwé was our host for the evening and she did a mighty fine job. We didn’t stick around for the very end – we left about halfway through the Mavericks – but this was all fine. Not the most memorable evening I’ve spent at the festival, but there was nothing wrong with it either.

As I mentioned above, that was all kind of my opinion about the Head and the Heart too. They were mightily upstaged by the bands that came before them. Ginkgoa, in particular, were the highlight of the festival for me. From France, they played an updated take on swing music, adding in some modern pop twists. The crowd loved these guys, going from “who?” to “OMG” over the course of their set – to the point that there were boos when they said it would be their last song. I bought their EP – it’s not exactly the one that’s featured at http://ginkgoa.bandcamp.com/releases. I haven’t listened to either yet to see if they’re entirely different; if they are, I’ll get the online version too.

Two years running that French speakers stole the show. I should have tried harder in grade school.

The next main stage act was the Cat Empire, who played another very energetic batch of tunes, though I thought the restricted length of their set (roughly an hour) may have hurt them a bit. They’d go on these extended jams that were fun enough, but when you only have an hour, I don’t know that you have time to do that too often. But whatever, I’m nitpicking. This was very well received and the one-two punch of Ginkgoa and the Cat Empire made Friday the best night of the three.

Before the Head and the Heart, I went in search of a Diet Coke but instead found the T+A Vinyl & Fashion tent in the marketplace, so I dug through their crates and found a 12″ of Love Junk by the Pursuit of Happiness for $7. This delights me.

Okay, so I covered Friday, then Sunday, then back to Friday. Time for Saturday. And I legitimately almost wrote “Thursday,” which would make this a recap of me writing my Tragically Hip review. Or, more likely, my procrastination techniques (usually logic puzzles).

The host for Saturday night was the artistic director of the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon. He did fine work and I will note that his job title is not “professional entertainer.”

Additional amateur entertainment was provided by the family in front of us. Specifically, the grandma, who brought a bag of dried apricots (“DON’T STEP ON THE FOOD” she said) and who loudly told one of the grandkids “Come sit by me. Mama wants to drink.” But alas, my fond memories of them were stained when they went home, leaving all their trash behind on the lawn like idiot garbage people despite the numerous bins all over the park. Fred Penner’s gonna hunt you down, grandma.

It is interesting to note that if someone was littering, letting their friends cut into very long lines, or obstinately parking their lawn chairs in the middle of the walkway and then getting upset if you tried to use said walkway for its intended purpose (hypothetically), it was a senior citizen. There were lots of older folks who were perfectly pleasant, though. Maybe festivals like this just bring out people who don’t normally go to concerts and thus don’t know how to behave? Or maybe I’m just grasping at straws, desperately attempting to delude myself into thinking that I’m still young.

Anyway. The first two main stage performers were Ayrad (Moroccan music from Quebec – and NOT my Sociology professor) and Boogat (Latin music, also from Quebec). These were both enjoyable and not at all like what I usually listen to. Again, not a ton to say about either of them; sometimes it’s just nice to kick back and enjoy something a little different.

The next act was supposed to be Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, & Sharon White, but instead wound up being Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. So it goes. Earlier that day, my dad said he’d be interested in my opinion of Skaggs, who he described as very talented but also a “hardcore conservative.” Coming from my dad, this says something. Anyway, I wondered how receptive a folk festival would be to that kind of talk, but apart from one “bluegrass matters” aside that I rolled my eyes at, politics were a non-issue. But yeah, this was really good. Kentucky Thunder (guitars, banjo, fiddle, bass) were amazing musicians.

Next up was Bettye LaVette. This is yet another one where I am not informed enough to say anything of value, but what the hell, if you were going to tune out over that, you’d have done it years ago. People loved this lady. They cheered when she said her age (70! I should be half as active then) (or now). They cheered every songwriter she mentioned working with, including Dolly Parton and Lucinda Williams. I cheered when some girl went WOOOOO and LaVette said “I’ll give you a quarter if you never do that again. That’s piercing. But you’re very beautiful.” So that was fun. And she sings real good too. I’ve got all the hot takes tonight.

Finally, we had the Sam Roberts Band. I did not figure this would happen. Two years ago, Roberts was scheduled to headline the Friday night of the festival when, in his words, “the world came to an end.” The lightning shut down the festival, and the rain made everyone flee, but it was the plow wind that ripped off sections of my friend’s roof and caused another friend to walk home over downed power lines. Maybe not a good idea. Don’t do that.

Anyway, we’ve had lots of late night storms this summer, so when I saw Roberts was on last, I didn’t think it would actually happen. Somehow, it did – we actually had beautiful weather for all three nights – so Roberts and his band and the fans all got to settle some unfinished business.

Oddly, I’d never actually seen Sam Roberts before, which seems amazing considering he’s been a big deal in Canadian music for 15 years now. Though in all fairness, I was never a superfan; never disliked the guy, but never quite understood why everyone else seemed to like him SO much. I think that maybe this was the perfect Sam Roberts show for me – a handful of new songs and deep cuts, but this was mostly a greatest-hits performance, and it turned out that I knew and liked more of said hits than I thought.

The night peaked when the encore was starting and Mika showed me her phone – she got an alert from the Weather Network saying that lightning had been seen in the area. This was perfect. Too little, too late, God. We made it all the way to the end of Don’t Walk Away Eileen, so now who’s omnipotent?

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

SLCR #252: The Tragically Hip (August 1, 2016)

Beloved Canadian legends. One final tour. An impossible ticket.

For my money, the Tragically Hip are most iconic band in Canadian history. But I might be biased; timing-wise, I’m about the perfect age to be a Hip fan. I’m also quite willing to discount Rush’s potential claim to the title due to not caring in the slightest about Rush. They join SCTV and Trailer Park Boys and hockey and beer on the big list of Canadian exports that I just can’t get behind.

Nevertheless. The Hip came on the scene as I was getting into high school. By the time I got to university, they’d cemented their spot as the top band in Canada. They seemed to skip over Saskatchewan on every tour (at least when I was old/interested enough to want to see them), so when they finally played Saskatoon on November 18, 1996, it was probably my most anticipated concert ever at that point. That said, it was SLCR #5 so it didn’t have a ton of competition.

I saw them twice more after that. Once was at Another Roadside Attraction (SLCR #18, July 21, 1997), an outdoor festival that also featured Sheryl Crow, Wilco, Los Lobos, Ashley MacIsaac, Ron Sexsmith, and others. The only other time was February 27, 1999 (SLCR #35), when I really only went because my mom won free tickets at work.

It may make you very sad to consider that 1999 was 17 years ago. That’s a long time to go without seeing a band that I have always really liked. Part of the reason was that having seen them, I chose to direct limited time and funds to other shows. Part of it was that the Hip shows I went to were packed full of the kind of drunken oafs I can’t stand being around. And part of it was simply that it’s so easy to say “there’s always next time.” Funny thing about that.

As anyone who cares enough to read this knows by now, a few months back, the Hip went public with the news that lead singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. This was pretty much a national day of mourning here, and I’m not even kidding. But the announcement was accompanied by other news; namely, the band was going to head out on tour, feeling that “this feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us.”

The dates were announced, and the band was skipping over Saskatchewan. I joked that this should allay any fears about the quality of Downie’s performances – the band was already touring like it was 20 years ago. I briefly resigned myself to missing out, but of course, my mind did as it will do; namely, it got a dumb idea and then started to figure out how to make it feasible. The Calgary show would work without taking any time off – I’d just have to move an EDO. Simple. Mika couldn’t go; she couldn’t get the needed day off work. That would be sad for her and a long drive by myself.

This was all hypothetical, of course, as I’d still need a ticket. Luckily, I was only up against an entire country of Hip fans and an army of scalpers looking to corner the market. No big deal.

On the morning of the on-sale, I heard about the instant sellouts of the Ontario shows with some alarm. Finally, at 10:00 local time, I was up – and nothing. Refresh. Nothing. Try again. Nothing.

Please re-read those last six words for about twenty minutes, okay? It’s important to my artistic vision.

I can’t really build any suspense here. I’m writing a concert review; obviously, I got in. I hit my give-up point a few times, but convinced myself to log back in and check just one more time. It finally paid off, with a seat on the 20th row of the floor. Not that the chairs were ever used once the music started.

So that’s it, I was going. I was really curious what the show would be like. Could they still deliver? Would it be sad? And what would they play? The Hip has 14 studio albums if you count their first EP – could any setlist satisfy everyone? Reports from the first few shows were promising, both in terms of their performance and the song selections.

It was finally time to hit the road. (Which means that it only took me 13 paragraphs or so to get to the parts you didn’t already know.) I left quite early on the Saturday morning, having gotten up at 5:20 a.m. as I do on workdays. I had high hopes of getting the drive out of the way quickly. This lasted until around Swift Current (about two hours from Regina), where I saw a billboard for the T.rex Discovery Centre in Eastend. I’d always wanted to check that out, and realized that I wasn’t likely to ever have a better chance. The detour took me about 2.5 hours out of the way, but I saw some rad dinosaur bones so I figure it was worth it.

Leaving the centre, the sky was pretty ominous. However, the windy road back to the main highway seemed designed to circumnavigate the storm. I was in the clear!

(I’m an idiot.)

I stopped for lunch at Medicine Hat’s finest Subway before nearing Calgary around 5:00 p.m. It was at this point that all hell broke loose. Between Strathmore and Chestermere, the car started handling really poorly. I am nervous about the car at the best of times, and the service light had come on earlier in the trip. I assumed it was just the reminder that we were due for an oil change upon my return, but the handling was really concerning. Then I realized it wasn’t the car – it was suddenly just that windy out. I discovered this when I encountered a dust storm so bad that you couldn’t see through it. I got past it, albeit slowly and cautiously. On the other side, I could see that the sky was a really strange colour. I later heard reports of funnel clouds in the area around the time that I was near. So that was a thing. And not even the worst of it – when I did get into Calgary, the skies opened up and unleashed a wicked hailstorm. I tried to find shelter but was unsuccessful. I then decided to just try to get to my grandma’s place, but the hail got worse so I abandoned that idea too. I pulled into a hotel parking lot and was somewhat shielded under a tree. This was loud and horrible and sucked and I hated it.

But I need to be thankful. It could have been much worse. After the hail ended, I got back on my way and passed all kinds of accidents and emergency vehicles. When I finally made it to my grandma’s place and stowed the car in the underground parking, my initial assessment didn’t reveal any damage. I don’t know how that could be possible – and I did find a windshield chip later on, so there was at least that – but we’ll get a car wash and see what we see. I’m still here and the car’s insured. Though I’m insured too so maybe we should run a cost-benefit analysis before declaring that everything worked out for the best.

I spent that night visiting with my grandma. I did get an invite from Colin to go out with him and some folks, but after that drive, our evening of frozen pizza and Lawrence Welk and NCIS reruns was just fine.

The next day (which was still not the day with the concert but I am trying to give you the full experience here), I walked to the Chinook Centre and saw some adorable bunnies on the way. Then I caught the C-Train to Colin’s neighbourhood and we explored the Harry Potter launch day celebrations. As Mika pointed out, me at a Harry Potter event would be like her going to a wrestling convention, but whatever, this was neat to see. Nobody was expecting this turnout and some places ran out of their Potter-themed specials two hours into the day. When we got there, the candy store had probably 100 people lined up out the door. After dinner, two hours after everything was supposed to be done, there was still a line just to get into the store.

The next day, I spent the afternoon walking around the neighbourhood, by which I mostly mean I spent it catching Pokémon. In music news, I popped by a record store where I found a used Refreshments vinyl for $12. Hopefully I like it as much now as I did in 1996. The deal was made even sweeter with the inclusion of a free Jason Collett CD that I’m about 80% sure I was allowed to take and didn’t just shoplift. They’d have said something, right?

Finally, it was time for the show. Multiple emails said it was doors at 6:30, show at 8:30 sharp. There were no physical tickets; you swiped the credit card you paid with at the door. I got there reasonably early, around 7:00, as I’d been expecting chaos trying to get in, but I needn’t have worried. There was no line, the swipe method worked fine, and I was inside in short order. I went in through the Chrysler Club entrance, and it took much longer to actually find my seat than it did to get inside. To go down, you must first go up. Very well.

For all the struggles people had getting tickets, I lucked out – 20th row on the floor, dead centre. It was such a good seat, in fact, that someone else claimed it too. We each went for the little slips they gave us when we did the swipe thing, and sure enough – Row 20, Seat 23. A matching set. Luckily, there was someone missing on the other side of the dude to my left, so he shuffled down a bit and all was well. This remained a mystery until I got home and examined my slip more closely. The slips have a perforation, and the printer deal doesn’t print real well on the perforation, so if you look really closely at my 23, you’ll see the telltale traces of ink that indicate it was actually a 28. Hahahaha whoops – I’m an idiot, but in fairness, that other dude didn’t notice it either. It WOULD explain why the other guy had room to move down.

If this all sounds relatively civil, well, it was. We all got along nicely. Fears of drunken yahoos – which escalated when I heard about the pre-party at Cowboy’s – were unfounded. Not that nobody was partaking (so so so much pot), but at least where I was, people weren’t rowdy at all. The mood wasn’t somber – far from it – but you didn’t get the people who were only there just to drink. I mean, I did hear one guy loudly belt out Boots or Hearts as I was leaving, but if that’s as bad as it gets, it’s been a good night.

There was no opening act. I figured this was for the best, since Hip crowds can sometimes be… single-minded in their interests, let’s say. The first time I saw the Hip, the Rheostatics were the openers and the crowd was having NONE OF IT. But in front of this audience… I don’t know, maybe? I don’t think people would have been outright mean to an opener here, but I also don’t think they wanted anything to take time away from the Hip.

As time passed, we got brief updates; a voiceover booming “THE SHOW WILL BEGIN IN 30 MINUTES” and an accompanying graphic on the big screen. Again at the 15-minute mark. Finally, it was “THIS IS ROB FROM THE HIP. THE SHOW WILL BEGIN IN 5 MINUTES, AND IF YOU ARE NOT IN YOUR SEAT, I WILL BE VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU.” Hilarious. Also, they were not messing around. At 8:30 on the nose, the lights dimmed, the band took the stage, everyone stood up (and stayed on their feet the entire time), and the show began.

The energy from the crowd was off the charts. Much like the Spirit of the West farewell show I saw earlier this year, everyone in attendance knew the story and they were ready to turn this into a great concert by sheer force of will if need be. However, the Hip – Gord in particular – didn’t need any help. He’s always been an entertainer and a showman and that’s what he was there to do. You’d never know that he’d had health issues – his voice was in fine form, as were his trademark… let’s go with unique dance moves. If anything, he seemed happier than the other times I’d seen them. More in the moment, with lots of big smiles, playful waves at the audience, and the ongoing struggle to pick his towel up off the floor with his feet. The costume changes helped the mood too. It’s probably hard to be sad when you have your choice of three shiny lamé suits to wear; gold, silver, and pink. With matching top hats. And a Jaws t-shirt underneath for good measure.

I broadcast the first four songs from the show on Periscope, more just as an experiment to see what would happen. I had over 300 live viewers at the peak, and it seemed like the sound came through okay – I haven’t watched it back. The idea was to set it up, stick my phone in my shirt pocket, and just kinda hope it worked out. But then it’s like… you want this to be good, right? So I’d hold the phone for a while, and then back to the shirt pocket, and then hold it some more, and then that aforementioned conversation with that dude about our “matching” tickets… ultimately, I shut it down pretty quickly. Too bad – it could have been a nice souvenir for me, and the folks who tuned in seemed really appreciative. But one only has so much battery and data, and I was finding it distracting. Still, a limited success. Will try again in the future with other shows.

As to what those songs were, the Hip were gracious enough to put the full setlist online so I don’t have to fight to remember specifics:

Three Pistols
Twist My Arm
Fiddler’s Green
Little Bones
In a World Possessed by the Human Mind
What Blue
Ocean Next
Machine
(five-minute break for the whole band)
In View
The Kids Don’t Get It
World Container
Yer Not the Ocean
So Hard Done By
Grace, Too
Yawning or Snarling
Daredevil
(Gord takes a brief break while the band plays on)
Something On
Escape is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man
Poets
Bobcaygeon
(encore break)
Giftshop
Flamenco
Ahead by a Century
(second encore break)
Boots or Hearts
Blow at High Dough

First, you’ll notice it was kind of like they were their own opening act, with eight songs (around 35 minutes) and then a quick break leading into a longer set. But what I didn’t notice in the moment is that all the songs are grouped together by album. Check it: four songs from Road Apples, four from Man Machine Poem, four from World Container, four from Day for Night, four from Phantom Power, three from Trouble at the Henhouse, and two from Up to Here. I did notice that a lot of album-mates were played close together, but only after I got home did I realize just how segmented it was.

This also means that there was nothing from We are the Same, Now for Plan A, In Between Evolution, In Violet Light, Music@Work, and – gasp – Fully Completely, once my favourite Hip album (I still love it, but I go back and forth with Henhouse and Day for Night now too).

The second Calgary show, this past Wednesday, followed a similar format. It featured blocks of songs from Up to Here, Man Machine Poem, Day for Night, In Violet Light, Trouble at the Henhouse, Phantom Power, and Fully Completely. I want to say that about half the songs repeated but I am not about to count it all up right now to be sure. I can’t say for sure which night I’d rather have seen. There were some obvious omissions in my show, but what can be done about that? They could play a six-hour show and there’d still be people who didn’t get to hear their favourites. On the drive home from Calgary, I tried to come up with my ideal setlist for a second show with no repeats. This was a hard game to master but an easy game to play – it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Hip have a ton of great songs.

And in Calgary, they played them all so well. The songs weren’t really messed with in any way; there were no fancy new arrangements and Gord didn’t really play with the lyrics as I’d seen him do before. The songs were all largely as we know them. The band was – well, as good as you’d expect musicians with 30 years of experience to be, which is to say, fantastic.

I have now ended two straight paragraphs with the most obvious “insights.” Maybe I should also mention that people cheered everything but they were much louder for the big hits.

Though I have to make special mention of Grace, Too. I’ve been asked if the show was sad, and it really wasn’t. People – both fans and the band, really – were there to celebrate, not to mourn. But there’s that part near the end of Grace, Too where Gord is just yelling, right? So they’re playing this song, and the crowd has been singing along, and they get to that part, and he’s just wailing, and you can clearly see his face on the big screens and he looks sad. The more he wails, the louder the crowd gets, and this carries on as far as you’d think it could go, and then just keeps on still. It was just so intense and cathartic – probably more for the crowd than for Gord – that when it finally ended, I was just in awe of what had happened. In 252 reviews – and with openers, festivals, and whatnot, surely well over 500 individual performances – I’m confident that this was the best single song I’ve ever seen done live.

“It’s one of those nights,” said Gord, and it was. Maybe he says that every night. Maybe every night is one of those nights now. I said that show wasn’t sad but it was bittersweet, especially at each break when the band would leave Gord alone on stage to soak in the adulation for a few moments before he joined them, and when they all hugged at the very end. He never talked about why we were all there, but it couldn’t be avoided.

Near as I can tell, the band has never said this is their last tour. I hope it’s not. Ideally, Gord will Magic Johnson this thing, and 30 years from now, we’ll all be asking him “I thought you said you were sick?” But I also know those are long odds. If this is the last time I see them, they went out on a high. Of the four Hip concerts I’ve seen, this was easily the best of the bunch. But though I know how lucky I am to have gotten into this one, I left wanting more, and I don’t think I can make another stupid plan pan out.

The CBC is broadcasting the final concert of the tour on Saturday, August 20 – live and commercial-free on TV, radio, and online. The casino here has announced that they’ll be showing it on the big screen in their concert lounge – it’s free to get in, but they’re taking donations to the Canadian Cancer Society. I don’t know if events like that will be happening everywhere, but I think that would be a fun way to watch the show; not quite the concert atmosphere, but maybe the next best thing. Whether this really is a farewell tour or just a much-deserved victory lap, it’s an opportunity to join the rest of Canada in a celebration of the band that defined Canadian music. (Eat it, Rush.)

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #251: Gateway Festival (July 22, 2016)

Hey, so this was fun. There’s a tiny town in Saskatchewan called Bengough and they host a music festival every summer and we’ve never been but now we’ve been! And I suppose I could stop right there but then you’d miss out on the murdering part.

I was actually ready to murder before we ever left Regina. The day before the festival, Mika’s friend Shannon came to visit and she complained bitterly about the difficulty of navigating the Regina traffic with all the summer construction. And while I was sure it was bad, I figured she was exaggerating. She was not. Not even close. She was being kind. Getting gas, avoiding the worst road, actually getting out of town, all of those things were much more difficult and infuriating than they needed to be.

It was so bad that when we initially stopped for gas and Mika asked if I was going to get a snack, I said “No. Too angry.” But then I saw the hot dog-flavoured Pringles. The flavour scientists have worked their magic yet again. You can really taste the wiener.

The actual drive was smooth an uneventful once we got out of town. It was a fine way to spend an evening and we weren’t even there yet. I almost never speed to any real degree but I went 130 km/h pretty much the whole way. We listened to podcasts and tunes, and the GPS recovered from its miserable performance on our recent drive into Calgary where it tried to make us cross a river without the use of a bridge.

They had lots of signs up to let us know where to go, and a ton of volunteers to help with the wristbands and parking. It’s a smaller festival than the local folk festival we attend every year, but it seemed really well run. Also, the wristbands were these nice cloth ones and not that waxy paper you get everywhere else.

We stopped at the campground restroom on the way into the grounds. There was a sign outside the women’s washroom advising the ladies not to have water fights in the bathrooms. Women, amirite? Though I suppose it’s worth noting that both washrooms had signs saying that you’d be “punished and banned” for putting sand or dirt in the sinks.

We found our way into the grounds and met up with Jeff and his wife. Despite the traffic woes, we got out of town earlier than I had been expecting, so we showed up in time for the end of Quinton Blair’s set. I didn’t see much of it but enjoyed what I saw. Countryish singer-songwritery stuff, with a good sense of humour when chatting between sets. That says very little!

Unlike the folk festival here, the Gateway Festival has two stages, so as soon as one act ends, the next one starts up right away with no delay. Bands alternate between the main stage and the slightly smaller stage that faces the beer gardens. It’s a pretty good system, though sometimes it results in things like Fred Penner playing to the beer gardens.

To be fair, it was still early and that section of the grounds was not yet closed off to minors. But still.

Jeff’s wife disappeared as soon as Penner started playing; we didn’t see her again until well into Limblifter’s set, when she returned with a picture of her and Fred together. This was not the first time she’d met Fred Penner. We may have a superfan on our hands. As one who is less of a Penner diehard, I took this time to get some dinner. The wiener Pringles weren’t gonna cut it. I wound up with a grilled chicken wrap that was actually pretty great. Kudos, chicken wrap stand! Mika went for a gluten-free salad from another stand; “gluten-free salad” was its actual name on the menu and maybe that should have been a red flag. The server also said something like “I don’t know what’s in it and nobody’s ordered it yet, so come back and tell me how it is!” which was equally ineffective at inspiring confidence. Mika did not go back and tell her how it was. She did tell me and Jeff – not directly, but she said “have you ever wanted to open a can of chickpeas and eat it with a spoon?” which I think says enough.

As a reward for surviving the salad (or about half of it, anyway), Mika went and got some cotton candy. I made her bring me some too. I have never eaten cotton candy while having a beard before. I did not anticipate that it would be so challenging.

I don’t know what to say about Fred Penner. He’s Fred Penner. Maybe he is a cherished part of your childhood? I’m a few years too old for that, and as he was playing, it occurred to Jeff and I that we knew very few Fred Penner songs. The first one I recognized was about sandwiches and I’m pretty sure the only reason I knew that was because he played the folk festival a few years ago. At least I think he played songs there. Mostly I remember him chastising us to pick up after ourselves.

I did eventually recognize Puff the Magic Dragon. Also, the Cat Came Back, which Penner amended with cat-themed versions of Happy Together and Hit the Road, Jack. This was not dissimilar to every song Mika ever sings, as they all have the lyrics changed to be about Carl.

The cover songs led us to talking about the recent trend of bands I see covering the Tragically Hip, and who would do it this weekend, and what songs. This turned into talk of Penner covering the Hip, and what the best (read: most inappropriate) song would be. At the risk of sounding immodest, I declare that my pick of 38 Years Old was the winner.

For the record, I heard no Hip songs at the festival (though I am hopeful that the next show will deliver at least one). But Mika and I only came to the Friday night; Jeff did report that on Saturday, Odds snuck the chorus of Poets into the end of Make You Mad.

Next up was Limblifter, which you’d have known if you read that bit up there. Ryan Dahle, who we saw with Age of Electric a few months ago, was back with his other band. Or one of them, anyway. Jeff said he might have been the only person there who knew more Limblifter songs than Sloan songs, but I bet Dahle did too. Actually, maybe not – there are a LOT of Sloan songs that Dahle might know. Me, I knew Tinfoil because heck yeah Big Shiny Tunes. Also Ariel vs. Lotus and Screwed It Up. So maybe I never listened to a whole lot of Limblifter – and somehow, I’d never managed to see them in concert before now. No time like the present, I suppose. We stood right down at the front and had a great view, and this was all quite delightful. Would see again. (I did maybe like Age of Electric better, though.)

Next up was Bry Webb of the Constantines. Formerly of the Constantines? I don’t know what they are doing nowadays. I won’t lie; I paid very little attention to this. What I heard was fine.

I think it was in here that I went looking at the stuff table. I mean, I went a few times, but was hopeful that I’d discover a copy of Sloan’s One Chord box set, as I had promised to check for Mike. No dice. No Sloan stuff at all, actually. But I did pick up two records: Corb Lund’s Counterfeit Blues, and also You Can Count on Me by the Karpinka Brothers, a band out of Saskatoon who were here hosting the side stage. I went to high school with Shawn Karpinka, and actually ran into him on the way to the merch tent. We chatted for a few minutes and it was nice to get caught up – I don’t think we’d talked in a decade. We weren’t super close friends in high school, but he was never a dick and that is higher praise than it sounds like.

I rushed the records back to the car. Luckily, the host of the main stage was asked to stall for a few minutes before Sloan began. I can only assume this was specifically to give me time to get back. So considerate! But then Sloan came out and the dude kept talking. And then it would look like he was about to stop, and then he’d talk some more. I was never able to tell if this was needlessly aggravating or hilarious trolling.

But whatever. You know it’s a festival show because of the lack of people yelling SLOOOOOOOOO-OOOOOOOOAN. Also because Sloan knows enough to know that a festival crowd doesn’t want the deep cuts – this was pretty much a greatest hits collection. No Underwhelmed, because of course there wasn’t, but there was most every other single you’d want – Money City Maniacs, The Good in Everyone, Everything You’ve Done Wrong, The Lines you Amend, The Other Man, Unkind, If it Feels Good Do It, People of the Sky, Coax Me, Losing California, The Rest of my Life, Who Taught You to Live Like That… there was more but you get it.

So yeah, in a shocker, Sloan played Sloan songs.

I don’t know what was talked about beforehand, but when the band traded off instruments and Chris Murphy got on drums, dude was determined to prove a point. I have seen him play drums before but never with this much showboating. Jeff accused him of showing off to the “cute girl” at the back of the stage, but then we figured out it was actually the drummer from Limblifter. He’s got some nice long blonde hair, but I don’t know if I’d say “cute.” Maybe just not my type.

I’d have to read old reviews but I’d have to think that this wasn’t the best Sloan show I’ve seen – if nothing else, there seemed to be sound issues where it was hard to hear the vocals every time they switched who was singing – but I don’t remember getting their songs so doggedly stuck in my head before. The past week in my brain has been pretty much non-stop Maniacs or California or Everyone or Underwhelmed and they didn’t even play Underwhelmed, I just like it.

Once they wrapped up, I was off to the side stage for Shotgun Jimmie. Mika described Jimmie as “if Joel Plaskett fronted a BA Johnston tribute band” and I love that description and you have no idea how badly I want to actually see this happen. Shotgun Jimmie is someone I know very little about. Every time I hear one of his songs, I think “this is a dude I could really dig if I gave him half a chance” and then somehow I never remember to do so. Gotta change that. This was great fun. He opened with Late Last Year, basically the only song of his that I could actually say I know, and then played his new song Join the Band, making it the second time in a few months I’ve heard someone sing “experience Regina.” I enjoyed it all, though I did duck out before the last song or two in order to get a good spot for Corb Lund, a move that was a mistake in several ways.

First off, Corb Lund might be my #1 reason to constantly quote Sloan: “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans.” The casino show earlier this year wasn’t too bad, but there have been a few times where the drunken yahoo assholery in the audience has been too much for me. Although I can maybe forgive it this time due to the excellence that happened when a drunk girl staggered over to near where we were and slurred (not to us) “is this the party zone?”

“No?” said Jeff.

“It’s the standing and listening respectfully zone,” added Mika.

The drunk girl stumbled away, saying “I hate it when old people are rude.”

Died. I’m dead now. That killed me and I am reporting back from the afterlife. I hate it when old people are rude. Oh my god. This was the best the best the best the best. I am bad at coming up with titles and I have never liked “Stupid Little Concert Reviews” so now I want to rename all of these to “When Old People are Rude.” When Old People are Rude, Volume CCLI: the Gateway Festival.

This is where you say “shut up and get to the music” and I WOULD say “I hate it when old people are rude” but you have a point in that I am not talking about music BUT I have no more music to talk about. The dark night sky was seeing more and more lightning, so they made the call to delay Corb’s set. As the lightning got worse, Jeff and his wife (and their friends – they had friends there too! I never mentioned them before but they were there) the hell was I talking about? Oh, right. All those people left.

Then I made a plan. Let’s take the chairs to the car now – since we weren’t planning on staying after Corb anyway – so either we can then leave, or we can go back, listen to Corb, and then have an easier time leaving later. So we did. Chairs to car. They’re still in the car now, a week later, in fact, because I am bad at simple human tasks. But we sat there for a bit as the lightning got worse and the thunder got louder. I decided that the show was likely not going to happen and so we left.

Corb did play. I don’t know how long the delay was. Jeff said the grounds were bone dry the next day. This amazed me, as the drive home took us through the worst rainstorm I’ve ever driven in, and it lasted almost the whole way. At one point, I had to pull over. I made up for my 130 km/h earlier by going 50 km/h for long stretches. It all averages out. That’s the law. The law of averages.

The rain brought out the animals – I saw a badger, three deer, a raccoon, some frogs, and oddly, ducks. The water had pooled on the road, and we drove by a duck just sitting in the water, seemingly disinterested in the big loud metal headlight machine that went whipping past it. We remarked on the stupidity of this duck. Then we saw no fewer than three other ducks at various points, all sitting in road puddles. Two of them are probably still ducks to this day. One of them took its sweet time getting out of my way, and I didn’t feel like swerving into either the oncoming car or the ditch, so the duck bounced off our bumper. Sorry, duck. I mean, it was your own fault for being an idiot, but I guess all ducks are stupid so you couldn’t help that. At least the rain washed off any pieces of you that got stuck to the car.

So yeah, it started with a bad drive getting out of town and ended with a bad drive all the way back, but everything in between was pretty great. The festival site was nice, there were decent food options (skip the chickpea salad), the bands were good, the weather was nice (right up until it wasn’t, anyway), would go again. And there was a whole other day of fun that we missed out on. 21 bands, just on the Saturday alone. Lots of local artists, as well as Odds, Mo Kenney, Chixdiggit, the Stampeders, and way more. (Hey Jeff, how was it?) Mika and I aren’t camping people so to go both nights means a lot of driving, but we had a good time so we’ll see what the lineup is like next year. There are too many ducks anyway.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #250: Mother Mother (July 1, 2016)

TWOOOOOOOOOOOO HUNDRED AND FIFTY! My goodness. To celebrate the occasion, Mika and I celebrated Canada’s birthday with Mother Mother. And my mother! And Mika’s mother! And Mika’s dad and brother, who are no less important, except in the context of this story where they totally are.

To make this review extra special, I have spent the past two+ weeks perfecting it and totally not procrastinating at all. I have not spent this weekend paying too much attention to Mika’s repeats of Grey’s Anatomy when I should have been writing this. Don’t believe what anyone tells you.

But seriously why does Arizona gotta be such a b to Callie

We were in Victoria, British Columbia for Canada Day at about the half-way point of our summer vacation. All in all, it was a delightful trip – lots of driving through gorgeous scenery and onto SEVERAL boats, lots of family time and friend time and a wedding and a podcast taping (not at the same time) (that I know of) and I saw seals up close and whales from a distance and an otter who PEED and you should really be following my Instagram if you’re interested in otter pee action.

We were staying with Mika’s family at a place we were renting in Victoria. Canada Day started when she and I went to pick my mom up at the ferry before catching up with everyone else for breakfast at the Days Inn near the house. I had some deal where they put poached eggs on samosas and topped it with a curry sauce and the whole thing was a bit on the salty side but in an amazing way? I don’t think this dish will ever be common enough to replace chicken fingers as the official food of the SLCR series but maybe it should.

Then we did what people do on Canada Day – walk around with a billion other people in red and white shirts and hats and whatever else. Our group was very conspicuously non-patriotic with only one red shirt in the bunch and I’m pretty sure that one was accidental. But our home base was a block from the legislature buildings where all the festivities were taking place, so we looked at all the vendors (Mika bought a painting), roamed the grounds of the legislature, and took our picture with a Mountie in full dress uniform which is about as Canadian a thing as there is. Satisfied with our Canada Day experience thus far, we returned (via a most circuitous route) to the Days Inn to do some drinking.

Suitably refreshed, we headed back out. There were bands playing for Canada Day – in case you were wondering what the heck the point of this overlong unnecessary blog post was – and we came across the merchandise stand. It was suggested that maybe the Mother Mother “I’m not antisocial, I’m just tired of the people” shirt would be an appropriate purchase for me. What are you trying to say, MOM?

We wandered over to where the bands were playing. Mika left to find a washroom and came back to report she saw someone getting arrested for being too drunk, and when he cops were frisking him, he was giggling “tee hee hee, I’m ticklish!” and this was great and I’m sad that I missed it.

We hung out there for about an hour and saw a local, no-audition choir called The Choir who sings all your favourite pop hits. I was… let’s say, skeptical. But they opened with Birdhouse in Your Soul by They Might Be Giants and that won me over. They sang for about 45 minutes, including Call Me Maybe, With or Without You, Dancing in the Dark, Summer of ’69, and Mass Romantic. There was a David Bowie song and a Taylor Swift song and as is now mandatory in Canada, a Tragically Hip cover – this time, Wheat Kings. Which, I gotta say, is maybe not the fun-time summer jam I would have picked.

As it had at this point been a good 90 minutes since we’d shoved anything into our face holes, we wandered away in search of food. On our way, we watched another drunk get arrested – unfortunately, this one wasn’t amusingly ticklish. We met up with more of Mika’s family at some place I don’t remember the name of, but the burger I had was good, so get that if you go there. Wherever it was.

While there, we were treated to exclusively Canadian music in the background – lots more Hip, but also everything from Anne Murray to Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Sarah McLachlan, Great Big Sea, and whatever else. This all inspired me to look up what was happening back home in Regina. Victoria got Mother Mother, and Regina’s Canada Day headliners were Doug and the Slugs. Yes. I then had to do research to determine if this was the original lineup, and it was not. Sadly, Doug has passed away. He was replaced with a new singer who is not even named Doug. In fairness, I can see how making it mandatory would limit their options.

HEY there was a kid eating with us and he had chicken fingers I’m pretty sure! I legitimately just realized this now and I am oddly delighted about this thing that I completely forget about nine reviews out of ten these days.

Anyway. With dinner done, we wandered back to the legislature and oh my. I had thought it was busy there before. I did not even know. It was now completely mobbed with people in their finest red and white dollar store novelty Canadian flag t-shirts. We wandered down to the docks to find a place to sit and watch some girl get raised to the top of a boat’s mast so she could take selfies at the top. Mika’s brother and I went in search of mini-donuts, but returned empty handed as I’m quite certain it would have taken an hour to get through the mini-donut line and nobody needs mini-donuts that badly. Though a lot of people seemed to think they do.

While we were on this mission, George Leach was playing. He played a fine set of rock that I really have nothing to say about. There were a million people all over and we never even saw the stage and we were searching for mini-donuts and trying to stop my mom from kidnapping someone’s dog and trying to stop Mika’s mom from kidnapping someone’s baby. It was busy work and we didn’t really pay the music much attention. I mean, I listened enough to think “this is good” but nothing beyond that.

In between sets, there were some nattering DJs from a local radio station. The lady was in a band called Carmanah and she sang a few songs and she was fine.

When it was time for Mother Mother to start, Mika and I wandered away from the docks and off toward the stage. This was maybe not the most effective thing we have ever done. I mean, we got closer, close enough to even see the stage, though it was still pretty hard to discern the actual humans who were performing. We could have gotten closer if we really wanted to swing some elbows, but staying further back seemed preferable. We were on the street, with me in a prime spot to watch people nearly turf it as they didn’t realize they were stepping off a curb. This happened 50 times and was never not funny.

I am not the biggest Mother Mother fan in the world – I don’t dislike them either, they’re just one of those bands that are good but who I don’t think about a lot. I saw them once before at the Regina Folk Festival and liked it, and this set was really fun too – lots of energy and a really enthusiastic crowd. And at least where we were, an oddly well-behaved crowd given what I’m sure they’d all been consuming. Anyway, we got the handful of Mother Mother songs I know – Monkey Tree, Let’s Fall in Love, and later on, Get Out the Way. No Hip song (though I thought one was coming at one point), but we did get Nirvana’s In Bloom for some reason.

It wasn’t a super long set – about 45 minutes or so as per the schedule. This was fine by me – they didn’t overstay their welcome and had to wrap things up in time for fireworks. They were nice – maybe a little better than what we get for Canada Day at home, but not much. The fireworks were out over the water and our folks probably had a better view than we did, but I am certain we got to smell way more pot stink, so that’s a thing. There wasn’t much when the bands were playing, but my goodness, the fireworks brought it out.

We had agreed that the house would be our rendezvous point after everything was over. This turned out to be wise, as there was no way we could have swam upstream to meet up with our people. Instead, we joined the hordes leaving the grounds, listening to throngs of drunks singing O Canada. One recurring theme of the day that I’ve yet to mention is that they recently changed the lyrics from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command” and nobody seemed sure whether this is actually an official thing yet, so the crowd-approved technique is just to quietly mumble your way through that line and hope everyone else carries it. Unfortunately, everyone else singing has the same idea, so it’s a lot of O Canada / our home and native land / true patriot love / in allllaaaahhmmmmuhhhh command – which at least has the benefit of not needing to be translated into French.

We got back to the house and everyone else met us there. We hung out for a while and got into the chips while the crowd dispersed. I have been stuck in traffic for hours leaving Canada Day celebrations in Saskatoon, so I was really impressed with how quickly they cleared everything out. We drove my mom to her hotel after a short while, and you’d never know there’d been a big party just an hour or so before. Except for getting spot-checked three times over the course of the drive. That was a clue.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Gateway Festival w/Sloan, Corb Lund, Limblifter, Shotgun Jimmie, Bry Webb, more (July 22)
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #249: Northcote (June 22, 2016)

I was supposed to go see The Besnard Lakes yesterday. About a week ago, I was going through all of my tickets for upcoming shows, of which I have many. As I have previously mentioned, they’re always in the cheese drawer in the fridge, and the drawer was getting cluttered with no room for cheese. I got everything sorted out, but couldn’t find my Besnard Lakes tickets. Thought maybe I forgot to print them off. Checked my Ticketfly account, but no – no tickets there. I just entirely forgot to buy them. It’s not like I couldn’t have done so right then – it was another show where I’m betting attendance was soft, judging from the tweets and Facebook posts I saw – but this week was a busy one and we leave on vacation right away. Just decided against going.

I was also supposed to see BA Johnston tonight – I should be there right now, in fact. He was my favourite new musical discovery last year and I was busy the last time he came through town, but… I don’t know. I just don’t feel like standing around a bar by myself tonight, I guess. Feeling kind of self-conscious and awkward about being the weird old guy alone in the corner. I’m sure nobody would actually care but it still bugs me sometimes, especially when it’s in a place I’m not familiar with. Hopefully I can see him next time.

But among cancellations of all sorts, we did get out to see Northcote this week. You may recall that I saw him/them (like City and Colour, it’s a deal where it’s a band but it is primarily one guy, in this case a guy named Matt Goud) (no, Jeff, I did not throw a shue at him) (maybe I need to start this paragraph over)

But among cancellations of all sorts, we did get out to see Northcote this week. You may recall that I saw him earlier this year in Calgary, opening for Frank Turner. He seemed like a delightful fella, positive and energetic. I listened to some of his records when I got home and they were fun enough, but lacked a bit of that spark that a live show has, so I was looking forward to this.

With doors at 8:00, we expected the show to start at 9:00. We got there a few minutes before 9:00, just in time to catch the last few notes from some guy on stage. We would later learn this was Josiah. I will assume he was fantastic – as I do every time I miss an opening act – but we did get a chance to see him later on.

Between sets, we stumbled through the dark to the stack of chairs against the wall, took two, and made ourselves a place to sit. I then stumbled back to the bar for a Diet Pepsi for me and a raspberry iced tea for Mika. They had peach iced too and it sounded better than Diet Pepsi and I should have had it instead. It was a hard-partying Wednesday night is what I’m getting at here.

We were supposed to see Jordan Klassen earlier this year at a Library Voices show that we ultimately didn’t go to, and I’m always glad to catch an artist that I missed, of which there might be many if this skipping shows trend keeps up. Klassen was accompanied by Todd; Todd’s name was invoked repeatedly but no last name was ever given. I don’t know what Todd actually did – I’m assuming guitar, but there was a support beam directly between me and him so I only ever saw him walk onto and off of the stage. Anyway, Klassen played some singer-songwritery stuff. Mika recognized at least one song from CBC Radio 3. This was all very pleasant if not super memorable.

As mentioned, Matt Goud is energetic. Two songs into his set and he had jumped into the crowd with the mic stand – not just the mic, but the whole stand – to get people to sing along. It wasn’t long before he was dripping with sweat. I’m not super familiar with his stuff but I recognized some songs from last year’s Hope is Made of Steel, including the title track and You Could Never Let Me Down.

In what is becoming a trend among Canadian musicians of a certain age, they played a Tragically Hip cover – in this case, Springtime in Vienna. That’s now four acts I’ve heard doing Hip songs since Gord Downie’s diagnosis (City and Colour played Bobcaygeon when I saw them, and Feist covered Flamenco and Hey Rosetta! did Ahead by a Century). The varied selections are a testament to the quality of the Hip’s output over the decades. It’s not just everyone doing their own versions of New Orleans is Sinking or something.

Northcote immediately followed the Hip cover with a version of the Weakerthans’ Left and Leaving. It was real nice, but… John K. Samson is doing okay, right? Health-wise? This is just a song Matt Goud likes, right?

Apart from sharing songs he likes, Goud also seems gracious about sharing the stage. When I saw him in Calgary, he brought Mo Kenney back out to do a song or two with him, and at this show, he brought both Jordan Klassen (and Todd!) and Josiah back out to do an extra song during his set. He was also wearing a Josiah t-shirt. In both cases, he let the guests take centre stage and gave them a little extra time in the spotlight. I can confirm that Josiah probably would have been good to see earlier; also, I have no idea how he crossed the border into Canada without being accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Anyway, I have to get to bed so I can get up and drive forever, and I don’t have much more to say anyway. Northcote is real fun and you should go see him. Get the peach iced tea. Don’t skip concerts, especially for dumb reasons. I’d say you should put that all on my tombstone when I die but I don’t want a tombstone, so, I don’t know, skywrite it or something.
UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Gateway Festival w/Sloan, Corb Lund, Limblifter, Shotgun Jimmie, Bry Webb, more (July 22)
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #67: The Skydiggers (May 22, 2003)

The followup to yesterday’s throwback review. My only Paul MacLeod concert experience and more early Aaron/James shenanigans. Only 5 reviews later but 14 months have passed. I think I’m around 20 reviews in for the first six months of this year, with at least one more show before June is out.

When I originally posted this, I got an email from the drummer from Honchie because of the random shuffle playlist at the end. I’m pretty sure this review was on the 10th page of search results for Honchie, so dude was egosurfing DEEP.

 


 

Some concert reviews seem to write themselves. Some, on the other hand, do not. And some take two weeks for me to even begin. Sometimes, those ones are the best. Oftentimes, they’re short, spotty, and filled with forced jokes. Let’s see how this goes.

So a while back I found out that the Skydiggers were coming to Louis’. I told this to Aaron, and he said “yahoo!” Literally. He’s the only person I’ve ever known who actually says that. I admire his enthusiasm. It is a powerful force, and I only fear that it will one day fall into the wrong hands. Like maybe the Communists’.

Anyway, Aaron was happy because he likes the Skydiggers, and he also likes Paul MacLeod. Aaron had introduced me to MacLeod’s solo tunes, which I really liked, but – somewhat unbeknownst to me – Paul MacLeod was also in the Skydiggers. I knew he had something to do with them, but I didn’t know he was actually in the band.

Man, that story sucked.

But yeah. Aaron and Cindy and I went to see the Skydiggers. Others were invited but to a one, they all declined. Their loss.

The day of whatever it was – I think the 22nd, but I appear to have lost my ticket and it was long ago, so who knows – we drove to the show. Before entering the pub, Aaron and I engaged in the now near-ritual exchange of big piles of stuff. I now have enough music that I could live the rest of my life and never hear the same song twice. Given that, you might find it odd that I am listening to my Winamp playlist while writing this. What can I say? I am a creature of habit and also laziness and also I am a fan of familiarity. As an added bonus, read all the way to the end where I’ll pad out this review by listing all the songs heard while writing this. If you really care, you can figure out how long it takes to write one of these things.

So we got to Louis’ and it was empty. I wasn’t really surprised, as Louis’ often has crappy turnouts. It’s also filled with metal (the material, not the music), which according to Emm Gryner’s journal, means that it’s a hard place to play because there’s all kinds of feedback and you can’t do much about it. People who are smart about music might pick up on this by themselves, but I myself did not. Anyway, my point is that Louis’ kinda sucks. This is a shame, ‘cause I used to really like it. But the march of progress is inevitable, and in the name of progress, Louis’ underwent million-dollar renovations to make me like it less.

Aaron’s nachos did look good, though. And they even had chicken, thus making this an official concert. Cindy and myself both opted for Louis’ fries, which are like regular fries except topped with cheese, tomato, and green onion. Also, they are apparently served without cutlery. Perhaps the thrill is in the challenge? More on this later, I’m getting ahead of myself. We had all kinds of crazy time to kill before Special Guest, whoever they were, would take the stage. We sat around and talked, mostly about the songs playing at the moment. Paul MacLeod would wander through the bar every so often, and we’d all be like “hey, it’s HIM, it’s THAT GUY” and stuff. At one point, he bought something from a vending machine.

During the pre-show festivities, Aaron also discovered that Skydiggers spelled backwards is Sreggidyks. I suppose this wasn’t up there with the discovery of the atom or DNA or America, but at least it didn’t lead to entire nations of misnamed Indians being slaughtered or shipped off to reservations or given blankets with cholera or whatever exactly it was Columbus and his cowboys did.

History was never my strong suit. But I mean well. Sometimes.

Anyway, Sreggidyks is, of course, pronounced sreg-a-dicks, which made us all giggle. Far too much, probably, but what can you do?

Our opening act turned out to be a band who didn’t mention their name until the very last song. They seemed – and I probably can’t phrase this in a way that won’t sound insulting, but I really don’t mean for it to be so – older than the average opening act that we tend to get, and I thought a couple of the tunes sounded a bit familiar, but what did I know? Besides, due to waiting a bit before placing our food order, the food showed up right as the band started. Now, remember how I said that Louis’ Fries came without cutlery? This meant that we had really good seats, but I now had to try and manage these fries with their toppings and not look like an idiot while this was happening. Of course, Louis’ was empty when we showed up, so we had really great close seats. I had a great view of the band playing, and they, in turn, had a great view of me dropping tomato and onion bits all over myself.

When I say “I’ve never smoked pot in my life because I’m paranoid enough as it is,” this is the kind of stupid thing I am referring to.

Anyway, the lead singer mentioned that he’d been in a band before, revealing that he was Jason Plumb of The Waltons. For a second, I felt my music geek cred slipping because I didn’t recognize him before he said his name, but then Aaron didn’t recognize him either, which made me feel better. The song was Nothing’s Colder Than You, which I like. It reminds me of seeing Barenaked Ladies in Regina, because they had a little story about one Mr. Plumb. I recapped it in my review of that show, and because I like it when people read stuff on my Web site, I will make you go read it there.

If you need any incentive, the story involves Jason Plumb’s naked ass.

Anyway, Jason Plumb and The Willing (I don’t know if he often performed with them; it sounded like he said he didn’t but I wasn’t sure) were pretty good. The songs were a little rockier than the few Waltons songs I know, but I’ve never seen the Waltons in concert, so I really can’t compare. Plumb has a CD coming out relatively soon, produced by Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies. I think that will be worth checking out.

During the break between sets, I decided that Paul MacLeod was secretly a ninja. I forget why, though. And really, Paul MacLeod is secretly the spitting image of Kristin’s brother in law, which I guess is cool, but it’s not up there with ninjatry. And can you believe that my stupid spellchecker says ninja isn’t a word?

Anyway, the Skydiggers took the stage, and I really didn’t know what to expect. The sum total of what I knew about the Skydiggers can be summed up thusly:

  • They were featured on that CBC show that featured bands. You remember? It was on back when I was in high school.
  • Paul MacLeod would be involved in some way, or at least was involved in the making of their new album, or something.
  • One or all of them has something to do with MapleMusic, which is this very good site for buying Canadian CDs.

They came out and the lead singer guy – I could look up his name and I guess I will and MapleMusic says it’s Andy Maize – read a poem and I was like “hmm, what have I gotten myself into? Also, is it proper to say ‘got’ or ‘gotten’?” See, I often find poetry to be frightful. Also, I’ve never studied English grammar.

But anyway, the poem was just a fake-out, because the Skydiggers are all about rocking and it was a really awesome show. Paul MacLeod sang a few songs, as did guitarist Josh Finlayson (thank you MapleMusic). As per usual, I knew none of the songs going into the show, which makes writing the actual review part very hard, but then that’s never been what this is about anyway. Really, I need to find some people who will get drunk and then perform drunken antics, since that’s what I am best at recapping.

Oh well, not every show can have Ian shouting CAN YOU MAKE ME NOT A CHICKEN? But really, every show should.

Anyway, I have no idea if the Skydiggers are going to be touring for a long while. They had apparently been on a long hiatus, and maybe they’re going back to one. Or maybe not.

I am a hard-hitting journalist who digs deep to uncover the facts for YOU, dear reader.

My point – I have a point! – is that if you get the chance to see the Skydiggers, you should go see the Skydiggers. Or the Sreggidyks, if you prefer. You’ll have a good time. Maybe smuggle in some cutlery.

SPECIAL BONUS: SOUNDTRACK TO SLCR 67: THE SKYDIGGERS, MAY 22/03

  • Sour Girl, Stone Temple Pilots
  • Mean-Eyed Cat, Johnny Cash
  • Absolutely Anytime, The Watchmen
  • I’d Like That, XTC
  • No One Knows, Queens Of The Stone Age
  • Confessions Of A Futon-Revolutionist, The Weakerthans
  • Dies Ist Unverschämtheit, The Darkest Of The Hillside Thickets
  • Souljacker Part 1, Eels
  • Fire On The Moon, Bellrays
  • Love You Madly, Cake
  • Fight The Power, Barenaked Ladies
  • Dancing Barefoot, U2
  • The One, Foo Fighters
  • Gel, Collective Soul
  • Bitch Stole My Liquor, Honchie
  • United States Of Whatever, Liam Lynch
  • Keep Fishin’, Weezer
  • Wonder Wheel, The Josh Joplin Group
  • Imitation Of Life, R.E.M.
  • Little Miss Communication, Jim’s Big Ego
  • Citronella, Tuesday’s Girl
  • Casual Viewin’, 54-40

SLCR #61: Martin Tielli (March 23, 2002)

I was shocked and saddened to read the news of Paul MacLeod’s passing. I didn’t follow his career super closely, but I have a few of his CDs and always enjoyed what I heard ever since Aaron introduced me to his music.

A while ago, Aaron asked about the time we went to see Paul MacLeod only Paul MacLeod wasn’t there. I sent this to him – I don’t think he’d ever seen it before. He seemed delighted. Anyway, I promised him that I’d post it on here sometime and this is sometime. Here’s how Aaron and I met.

Tomorrow I’ll post about the time we actually saw Paul MacLeod.

 


 

It has been quite a while since I’ve had the chance to write one of the fabled Stupid Little Concert Reviews, over five months, at least. I must admit that the thought of tackling yet another one doesn’t fill me with confidence. I’m not afraid that I’ve forgotten how to write one, but… see, around a year ago, Kristin and I went to see Ashley MacIsaac. During this show, Ashley told all sorts of stories, including some about his sister, Lisa. His stories were highly entertaining (if not necessarily true) and so I mentioned them all in my review of the show.

The quicker among you already know where this is headed.

So Ashley MacIsaac said untrue things about his sister and told us not to tell her. Being hilarious, I put his stories and his warning on the Internet. It was a funny joke, see… Ashley said “don’t tell her,” so I put it on the Internet ANYWAY but I also included the warning that we weren’t supposed to tell her… get it? I swear, I am a comedy genius.

Besides, who knew that Lisa MacIsaac would do a web search for her name and read the review?

So one day I come home from work and there’s an email from someone complaining about the content of my concert review and I’m all like “whatever” because part of my website deals with the trading of wrestling tapes and so I get lots of email that doesn’t make sense. It barely registers now. I grabbed a soda and reread the message, though I really didn’t see why someone would care about what I had written about Lisa MacIsaac except maybe no oh no GAH

As it turns out, she was actually quite friendly. She just wanted me to change the review because what Ashley said wasn’t true. I did, because she asked nicely and I am a good guy at heart (if somewhat mischievous and unaccustomed to the fact that anyone can read my web site). Don’t go rushing to read the review now or anything, it’s been (very slightly) changed.

But that was that review and this review features Martin Tielli, although he wasn’t who we were going to Louis’ to see. No, see, Hawksley Workman is awesome, so when Deserée got her friend Aaron (am I spelling his name right? who knows) hooked on Hawksley, I was glad. When said Aaron told her that Paul MacLeod was awesome like Hawksley (and also that Hawksley had produced MacLeod’s album), I thought it would be good to check him out.

By a striking coincidence, MapleMusic.com listed a show date for Paul MacLeod in Saskatoon at Louis’, sharing the bill with Martin Tielli of the Rheostatics (and Christine Fellows who is not, presumably, of the Rheostatics). Deserée and I made plans to go.

MapleMusic.com is a lying bitch. I mean, if you want to order CDs by Canadian bands, it’s great. Super service, decent prices, what more could you ask for? Well, maybe accurate tour dates.

Actually, I shouldn’t blame MapleMusic, necessarily. It could be that Paul MacLeod actually was supposed to be at Louis’ that night, but failed to show for whatever reason. However, knowing that Benjamin Darvill of Crash Test Dummies had a string of tour dates listed at MapleMusic – dates that were never actually scheduled in real life – I know who I think is at fault here.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I talked to Dez on the day of the show, and we made plans to meet upstairs at Louis’ at 8:00.

Upstairs.

Louis’.

8:00.

Meet upstairs.

So I got to Louis’ at about 8:02 or so, and Dez was nowhere to be seen. This was no surprise, I never expect anyone I know to show up on time, except in cases when I’m seriously late. When that happens, they inevitably show up a half-hour early. But I digress. 8:02 became 8:05 became 8:10 became 8:20 became “I’m taking off at 8:30 if she doesn’t show” became 8:29 and “didn’t you see the note?” Of course I hadn’t – I was looking for a person upstairs, not an orange note on the door saying “I am already downstairs.” But whatever, these things happen.

We got downstairs where Aaron and his… girlfriend? Wife? Person? I don’t know. I think she said her name was Cindy but it’s hard to hear things in bars.

You know, I like that. I want to use it as an excuse all the time. “Sorry I’m late, it’s hard to hear things in bars.” “Sorry I forgot to rewind the tape, it’s hard to hear things in bars.” “Sorry about driving over your cat, it’s hard to hear things in bars.”

Anyway, we sat around and talked and Aaron immediately revealed himself as a good guy by knowing who Big Rude Jake is and Dez ate chicken fingers and I was going to as well, but then I didn’t. Now it’s 2:30am on a Friday night (or Saturday morning, if you prefer) and I wish I had chicken fingers. Of course, if I had the chicken fingers then, it wouldn’t likely have any bearing on my wanting chicken fingers now, unless those chicken fingers were all covered in pus and scabs or something so I swore off chicken fingers for life. Maybe it’s good that I didn’t have any then. Or maybe it’s not.

Anyway (again), the people that I believe to be Aaron and Cindy are new to Saskatoon by way of… I think Montreal and Toronto, but as always, it’s hard to hear things in bars. I do believe that they had been there for almost two hours by the time I had shown up, and they were there to see Paul MacLeod. I do believe that they are still waiting. Goddamn you, MapleMusic.

With a fair bit of time to kill, I brought out my Palm Pilot to pass the time. Specifically, the Palma Sutra. The Palma Sutra is a fantastic piece of freeware which, as you might have guessed, is the Kama Sutra with a hilarious name. Anyone who wants to visit http://www.freewarepalm.com can download a collection of low-fi pictures of… well, positions, complete with descriptions in broken English. A better conversation piece, I have not seen.

After another hour or so, Christine Fellows took the stage. I swung my chair around to view the stage, the end result being that I was blocking the aisle and tripping the servers. Oh well. Her show was pleasant enough, very singer-songwritery (which is to say, she did not rawk furiously). I really don’t know if I have a whole lot to say here. It did seem that her guitarist (bass player?) and drummer didn’t know the songs all that well, and that the songs ended rather abruptly amid much giggling. This mystery was solved when the same guitarist (bass player?) and drummer came out to perform with Martin Tielli.

Ah yes, Martin Tielli… well, I don’t really know a lot about the Rheostatics, either as individuals or as a group. I do know that his set was long. Like, two-and-a-half hours, long. I liked the songs! The songs were fun. I wasn’t as fond of the parts where there was random singing and random drumming and random guitaring (?) and the thought seemed to be that if they played long enough, eventually they’d uncover some sort of pattern. Somewhere in this mess, there was an excellent 90-minute show waiting to be discovered.

I think I had more to say (likely, I was wondering why the guy at the next table felt the need to get up and come back like 50 times), but I’m very tired. Suffice to say that the show was interesting and all, but… I don’t know. I wouldn’t be in a huge hurry to catch a return show. Maybe it would have been better if we had actually seen the person we were there to see…

SLCR #248: City and Colour (June 12, 2016)

We were supposed to go see Meat Loaf at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw on Saturday night. I had clearly underestimated the demand for Meat Loaf in 2016 – the show sold out in about 10 minutes. That’s approximately 5,000 tickets. It was easier to get tickets for the Tragically Hip’s summer (farewell?) tour – at least you can buy those from scalpers if you really want to. But if you missed out on those first ten minutes of Meat Loaf ticket sales, you were out of luck. Lucky for me that Josy, possibly the biggest Meat Loaf fan there is, was on the ball. But it turned out that my stepmom really wanted to go too and all of the usual sources were dry. StubHub had nothing. Tickets posted to Kijiji sold in minutes. Remembering the George Thorogood show, I checked the Mosaic Place website daily in hopes that some last minute tickets would be released. And they were! Finally, success! I grabbed her two tickets and was very pleased with myself.

Josy and his people drove from Saskatoon to Regina, picked me up, and we hit the road for another 40 minutes to Moose Jaw. We parked the car and it occurred to me that there seemed to be a lot of people walking away from the arena. Sure enough, there were “ushers” stationed all around to let people know that the show had been postponed and would be rescheduled soon.

We picked up our tickets from Will Call anyway, then wandered back out and chatted with one of the ushers. He told us that the show was called off ten minutes before doors were set to open and that Meat Loaf had been taken from the arena on a stretcher. Later on, a Twitter search showed someone claiming that Meat Loaf had been transported to Regina and was hospitalized there. I have no idea if any of this is true. One rumour said he suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care. Another said that it was nothing serious, he was resting in a hotel and would resume the tour as soon as he’s feeling up to it.

As I’m writing this (five days after Meat Loaf and four after City and Colour), there’s been no real update on Meat’s health, but I guess he’s doing okay. The Calgary show on Monday night was also postponed, but he’s supposed to play Edmonton tonight, and thus far, it looks like that show is going ahead. As for our show, I just got an email announcing that it has been rescheduled for Saturday, July 2. Good for Meat, but not great for me – we’re away and I won’t be able to go.

Having said that, I was looking up reviews of earlier Meat Loaf shows on this tour, and hoo-boy, “unkind” is putting it mildly. Lots of “worst concert I’ve ever seen,” “time to hang it up,” “we walked out after three songs,” and disturbingly, a number of comments about how Meat looked like he was in pain, couldn’t walk, seemed ready to collapse. So maybe I dodged a bullet here. Whatever, I hope he puts on a great show for Josy and that the complainers on the internet don’t reflect the views of the majority. And now I’m going to rush through the actual concert review that I’m supposed to be working on because I’ve rewritten this section nearly daily as new info has come out and I really have no need for a Meat Loaf-themed text file that only I get to see.

So. City and Colour. Yep. I don’t really know anything about him, apart from his name (Dallas Green) and that he’s also the lead singer of Alexisonfire. You may note that “Dallas” and “green” are a city and a colour, respectively. I am ashamed at how long I’ve known about City and Colour without putting that together. I had to be told.

We were supposed to see him some years back at the Regina Folk Festival, but he got rained out. I wasn’t all that disappointed – Buck 65 was the big draw for me that evening, and Buck wrapped up right before they called it a night – but I still feel good whenever I get caught up on a missed show like this. Later this summer, Sam Roberts – the other headliner who got rained out of a Folk Festival we attended – will be playing there again. If all goes well, that’s two names checked off the missed list. What if they become my new favourite singers, and I almost missed out on seeing them?

I mean, I know the odds aren’t great. There can only be one favourite at a time. And I bought Mika two City and Colour CDs at the CJTR sale last year and haven’t actually managed to listen to them yet, which doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with them, but my motivation isn’t there. She was excited to go to this, and I will go to pretty much anything; that’s how I looked at this evening.

We left the house fairly early, as a few days ago, I got an email saying that there wasn’t going to be any on-site parking at the arena because they were already set up for the Farm Progress Show. Welcome to Saskatchewan. The email suggested parking downtown and walking. This seemed like a decent idea until we actually got downtown and realized just how far the arena still was. We ultimately parked at the field house – still a bit of a hike, but not that bad. We were much closer to the arena than we were to our proposed downtown parking space. This was all well and good until we had to climb over a fallen chain link fence while ducking under barbed wire to get onto the grounds. “And we only looked somewhat old in doing so,” Mika said.

Yeah, this was very much a show where I was the creepy old guy in the corner. I’m pretty sure the average age of the attendees was about half of my own. I wasn’t expecting anything else, but I definitely felt it strongly – I got too used to casino and Folk Festival shows.

Anyway, once inside, we walked a loop around the arena, past the one merch table that had probably a couple hundred people in line. I got the merch that counted – an excessively salty soft pretzel and a Coke Zero with ice crystals in it. The day was officially a success.

We hiked up to our seats in the bottom row of the upper level. Not too bad. A good view of the stage, decent leg room, minimal people walking past us, and a place to rest our drinks.

Shakey Graves was the opener, and okay, you know how everyone who comes to Regina for the first time has to joke about it rhyming with vagina? Well, I have never seen someone take such delight in doing so. In general, the locals seem to be tiring of it – the other week, Werewolves Beware heard crickets after busting out the tired old “city that rhymes with fun” line – but Shakey Graves was so pleased with this situation that we all just let him get away with it.

It helped that he was really fun. He did the first few songs by himself and then brought out a band. The sound wasn’t ideal – I found the vocals really hard to make out, and it didn’t help that I was completely unfamiliar with him – but there was great energy and he was very entertaining. The crowd really seemed to enjoy him and I think he’d be sensational in a smaller venue.

Before the show and during the intermission, I was texting with Feely, who referenced the City and Colour song Save Your Scissors. Sure, he did it in a way intended to make me feel super old, but he reminded me that the song existed and, therefore, I actually did know one City and Colour song. Needless to say, he didn’t play it. “He” bring City and Colour, and not Feely.

He did play a few things where I thought “hey, I think I’ve heard this before.” And they were fine. This was all fine, I guess. I don’t know. Mika said she liked it. That’s good. I thought it was all kind of dull, but a pleasant dull. It went by quickly and never dragged, and I never thought he or his band were bad in any way, but it was never really that interesting to me.

It’s weird. “Dull” is usually much more my speed than hers.

For the first song of the encore, they played Bobcaygeon as a tribute to ailing Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, which was really nice, but even that lacked something. The sentiment was there and appreciated, but given the circumstances, it felt to me like there should have been more emotion to it. I don’t know. Needed more oomph.

Which is kind of how I felt about the whole thing, really. Needed more oomph. Though it seemed I was in the minority. It looked to me like everyone else enjoyed themselves. I was clearly not the target audience for City and Colour and he just wasn’t my thing. At least Shakey Graves was a delightful discovery.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Northcote w/Jordan Klassen and Josiah (June 22)
• BA Johnston w/Partner (June 24)
• Gateway Festival w/Sloan, Corb Lund, Limblifter, Shotgun Jimmie, Bry Webb, more (July 22)
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

I’m total pro, that’s what I’m here for

On the morning of Tuesday, May 24, I got up around 5:20 like I do every workday. Staggered around. Checked my phone. Saw email from Aaron trying to arrange a day for group posts about Gord Downie. Didn’t think much of it. Aaron does stuff like that. Looked backwards in my email. Saw one from Brian. Cancer. Okay. That explains the group post. Still wasn’t overly concerned. Scrolled back one more. Opened the email message the band sent to their mailing list.

Terminal.

***

Later that day, a friend took a picture of one of his Hip concert stubs and posted it to Facebook. This inspired me to do the same:

image

The first was one of my most anticipated concerts. It came at the height of their status as Canada’s Band and came after a long string of skipping Saskatchewan on their cross-Canada tours. (Anyone concerned that Downie’s health will affect the quality of their upcoming shows can rest easy – they’re back touring like they did in their prime.)

I remember lots of little things about those shows – an audience willing to murder the Rheostatics to get to the Hip, Sheryl Crow’s dog at Roadside, Gord shaking a banana. But looking at these tickets now, the most interesting story they tell me is that they stop at 1999. For all the shows I go to, it’s been over 17 years since I’ve seen them.

***

As is the case for an awful lot of people my age, the Hip are – as I mentioned – Canada’s Band. They got big as I got into high school and ever since have remained something that Canadians share. Something we have in common.

Weird thing about Canadians. We celebrate failure in America as much as we covet success there. The Hip’s inability to break through in the States only made them OURS that much more. Of course YOU wouldn’t get it. It’s a Canadian thing. Only WE get it. And yet it seemed like every story I read about Downie in the past week had to reference the band’s 1995 Saturday Night Live appearance as though it was a career highlight and not a favour from Lorne Michaels to Dan Aykroyd.

Everyone has their story. My boss at the pizza place where I had my first job used to see them at a dive bar in Saskatoon when they were first starting out – they’d come to town and play for a week, no cover charge. I was so envious. He was likely lying, but still. Envious.

I read someone online this week who said that nothing outed him as an immigrant like the lack of a deep attachment to the Tragically Hip.

***

I think this was supposed to be about my favourite Downie and/or Hip moments or songs or something. Not doing that. Don’t know from moments, can’t rank the songs. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The Hip as a concept, as an entity, means more than any one song. Or ten songs.

And I’m not the right guy to do it anyway. As the years went by, I listened to new Hip albums less and less. Still bought them all, but didn’t give them all a fair shake. Stuck to what I already knew. It’s very strange to think there have been about as many Hip records released after the last time I saw them as before. I still think of Phantom Power as being one of their newer albums.

***

I often think about things ending. I unload the dishwasher and consider that at some point, I will unload a dishwasher for the last time. I wonder if I’ll know when it happens?

But I had never really considered that the Hip could end. It feels like they’ve been around for as long as I can remember; and more importantly, they’re a Canadian institution. Part of us. Saying they could end is like saying Canada could end. Sure, it could happen, my logical brain gets that, but my emotional brain says that it won’t happen in my lifetime. Right?

Of course they’d have to end at some point, right? All bands end. They have to. All people end. 2016 has made sure we remember that.

I look back at the morning of the 24th and wish I could blame my naiveté on being half-awake. Group post for no reason? That’s fine. Cancer? Sucks, but that happens. Probably no big deal.

Terminal?

Couldn’t wrap my head around it. Still can’t, really.

Alan Cross said that we’re not allowed to eulogize Downey yet. I’m trying not to. But we’re all celebrating his life, his career, his art, his band, him. And you know why. Nobody wants to think about why, but we all know why.

After a 17-year self-inflicted drought, I got a ticket to the August 1 show in Calgary. Spent too much money. 8-hour drive – each way. Thrilled to see them again, incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity. And we all know why.

***

You were very kind to read all that, so here are some pictures of my Roadside program and sampler CD for your amusement.

 

SLCR #247: The Pack a.d. (May 28, 2016)

One day after the Age of Electric, a little sleepy and still half-deaf, Mika and I headed back to the Exchange for the Pack a.d.

Then we headed away from the Exchange and drove around for an hour. Tickets said doors at 8:00, but Twitter and Facebook said doors at 7:00, and presumably those were accurate since they added two openers and you can’t update a ticket once it’s been printed, but you can update a social media post whenever, right? So yeah, doors at 8:00. I will never understand why something so simple is wrong so often, but people probably say that about me, so whatever. The drive was nice.

We returned to a street as devoid of parked cars as when we left. I had noticed a lot of plugs for this show on Facebook and Twitter, and had guessed that tickets were moving slowly. At its peak, I don’t think there were half as many people there as at the sold-out Age of Electric show the night before. There were maybe 30 people there in time for the start of the opening act.

Those that didn’t show up early missed out on the Ultimate Power Duo. They hail from Saskatoon and I am very glad that someone asked the question I needed answered: “Why are there three of you?” “Because we’re the ULTIMATE Power Duo,” was the reply, which somehow made no sense and complete sense at the same time. According to them, they play “destruction rock,” which is very loud and sometimes involves just picking up the bass guitar and punching it to make noise. Their newest album is the soundtrack to their graphic novel about fighting evil robot space Nazis. There’s an hour-long video you can watch if you want this experience for yourself – I just found out about this but hope to check it out soon. Anyway, these guys had tons of energy, lots of charisma, and were entertaining as all get out. Would go see again.

The second band was Werewolves Beware, or WEREWOLVES BEWARE, or Werewolves, Beware! depending on what source you choose when you google their name. I’m going with Werewolves Beware so as to not muck up my pretty sentences, though that comma really changes things. Is “werewolves, beware” a warning TO werewolves or ABOUT werewolves? And these folks DID howl when they took the stage, so maybe they were warning us about themselves? Very considerate, though we were a week removed from a full moon so we were probably safe.

Anyway, this is a duo from Calgary (I think?). He plays guitar, she plays synths. And they howl, as mentioned. There’s some singing too, but most of the songs were largely instrumental. If you like synth-heavy dancy pop, this might be your thing. It wasn’t so much mine.

Finally, The Pack a.d. took the stage; specifically, a stage festooned with Dollarama party decorations. I am not sure that the budget surpassed five dollars. Thankfully, one of their choices was a sign reading THE PARTY IS HERE which was handy for assuring us that we were in the right place.

I went into this show not knowing a ton about them. I feel like I got one of their CDs for free from Mint Records some years back (Funeral Mixtape, maybe?), but if so, I can’t find it. And if I did, I honestly don’t know if I ever listened to it. Not for any good reason; I just sometimes don’t get around to things. And then I get around to things and wonder what took me so long. Really, I don’t need to buy another CD, book, or video game for years. I’ve got a backlog that will surely outlive me.

But enough about my failings. I listened to the newest Pack a.d. album and enjoyed it, then we went to the show and I dug that too. Mika suggested that it was more of a her-show than a me-show, and that’s probably fair. She does tend to like rockier stuff than I do, and the combination of my relative unfamiliarity with the source material and the somewhat muddy sound meant I couldn’t really hear the lyrics well, resulting in it all sounding kind of samey after a while. But a good samey. Loud and driving and fun. Not sure I have a ton to say about them, or this evening as a whole, but so it goes.

Actually, there’s one thing – and I noticed this at Age of Electric too so it was unrelated to the bands – the Exchange seems to have bought themselves a new lighting rig. And they seem very proud of it. And that’s great! I like lights. Lights are pretty. But goddamn if you could quit shining them directly into my eyes every 17 seconds, that would be swell. Though I didn’t have it as bad as the security guard positioned at the corner of the stage. Where he was sitting, he took a blast right in the eyes from about a foot away, over and over and over. He looked like this was possibly not what he thought life would be like. I tried to get a picture of this but failed miserably and it is a regret I will carry to my grave.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Meat Loaf (June 11)
• City and Colour w/Shakey Graves (June 12)
• Northcote w/Jordan Klassen and Josiah (June 22)
• The Besnard Lakes w/ Traces and Slow Down Molasses (June 23)
• BA Johnston (June 24)
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart; Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder; Sam Roberts Band; The Mavericks; Bettye LaVette; The Cat Empire; The Strumbellas; Frazey Ford; more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #246: The Age of Electric (May 27, 2016)

Last week, I learned that the Age of Electric will be coming to the Saskatoon Event Centre on July 28. According to the poster, this will be their first show in Saskatchewan in 18 years.

This seems unlikely.

Unless maybe impostors played in Regina on Friday? On one hand, I can think of better people to impersonate. But then this show sold out in a hurry, so maybe I actually can’t. If you want to move tickets, you can do worse than the triumphant return of semi-hometown heroes after nearly two decades.

I didn’t see that last Saskatchewan show 18 years ago, but I did see Age of Electric once before. It was September 4, 1997 – or, to use me-specific dating, SLCR #21. I have mentioned before that I am glad that I’ve been writing these reviews because they contain all kinds of memories even after my own flawed human meat brain lets them go. Almost 19 years later, it’s a show I barely remember and Zuckerbaby was the opener AND I only paid $8 for my ticket with my student ID, so surely Mika is reading this and cursing the fact that I went to this show and didn’t even appreciate it like she would have. At least I had a good time, or so the review says. I’d share it with you, but it is really not my finest work. Even by my usual “doesn’t actually review concerts” and “doesn’t know anything about music” standards. If I ever get around to compiling these things into a book, that one might need to be accidentally left out.

On the way to the show, I got Mika to walk me through the history of the Age of Electric and at least some of the members’ other bands. It gets complicated and I never really understood it. A graphic might have helped. Basically, AoE (look at me using the shorthand like a cool guy) are comprised of the Dahle brothers from Regina and the Kearns brothers from Lanigan. Kurt Dahle was the drummer for New Pornographers and Ryan Dahle is in Mounties. Together, they were both in Limblifter. Todd and John Kearns were also in Static in Stereo. This is not everything, but it might be enough to get by. Or it might be very wrong.

Also, the Kearns brothers look like rock n’ roll degenerates. The Dahle brothers look like they should be building a soapbox derby racer or something. Maybe launching model rockets in the park? It’s not hard to pick out who’s related, is my point.

We got to the Exchange about a half-hour after the doors opened and the place was already packed. We got some ciders and found ourselves a decent place to stand. That review from 1997 is full of drunken shenanigans (not mine, but still). This one has us nursing one drink each while playing iPhone Yahtzee with each other to kill time before the show. This is what getting old is. It’s iPhone Yahtzee. And complaining about the heat in the place. Even in rain-inappropriate shorts, I was sweltering.

The openers were a local band, Almost Alien (not, to Mika’s chagrin, Hep Alien). They made me feel like I was in even more of a time warp, as they were the kind of band you’d have seen opening at Louis’ back in the day. And of all the venues I regularly go to, the Exchange does come the closest to simulating the Louis’ dank. It’s not a perfect replica – you can’t get anything deep fried, the layout of the Exchange generally makes sense, and I’m not convinced that anyone in Almost Alien was alive as of the last time I saw Age of Electric, but whatever. You get my point. These guys had an enjoyable 90s pop-punk sound that fit the evening. Having said that, it was interesting to me that what I liked was pretty different from back when I was (counts on fingers) 21. They had one song about bad roommates which had the lyrics (and I’m paraphrasing here) “fuck those fucking assholes / fuck those fucking fucks” and at 21, I’d have thought that was hilarious and rushed to buy their new EP (oh yeah, this was the launch party for their new EP). At 39, I rolled my eyes at that bit and mostly didn’t listen to the rest of the lyrics, paying much more attention to the music.

This is the part where I’d say it was a “brief intermission” but it wasn’t that brief and we were dying of heatstroke. Eventually Mika bought us bottled waters and they were delightful.

The Age of Electric eventually took the stage to a heroes’ welcome. This was loud and great – the band hadn’t lost a step and the crowd was into everything – even the new stuff. They played at least three new songs – Elephant in the Room, Kids Break Bones, and Kings (or “Keys,” maybe?). Of these, I thought Kids Break Bones was the best; however, I strongly encourage you to not Google it in hopes of finding a recording. There might be one out there. That is not what I found.

As for everything else, Mika said “they played ALL the singles.” I will take her word for it. I was as unprepared for this show as I was for that one in 1997. I knew Ugly once it got to the chorus. And of course I knew Remote Control (and of course it was the last song of the night), but as Todd Kearns said, “If you don’t know this song, why the fuck are you here?”

There were some funny moments over the course of the night. At one point, a girl up in the front row demanded to tell her Age of Electric story. This went on for a while. Todd eventually gave her the mic. This did not speed things up any. I do not really know what her story was – I think she was at a 7-Eleven in Lloydminster and the band stopped there? Looking around the crowd, all you could see is people asking each other what was happening. I think someone was actually doing the Steve Austin “WHAT?” at one point.

But the best comedy of the night came when Todd led a singalong. Not of one of their songs (or is it?!), but Experience Regina, a video from the “Tourism Board of Saskatchewan” (possibly not a thing?). Jeff and I had been joking about the video earlier in the week, so when Todd sang this – completely out of nowhere – I about died. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Mika has spent most of the time since the show with this song in her head. Just the subject line of this review will be enough to set it off again.

The most amazing part of this was walking back to the car, I mentioned the video and she said “…there’s a video?”

I am talking too much about fake tourism videos and not this show. This show was great, even for those of us who had 19 years to prepare and completely failed to do so. The band tore it up and I’ll gladly go see them again when I’m 57.

SLCR #245: Hawksley Workman & the Art of Time Ensemble (May 13, 2016)

This was a pleasant surprise. There was no big announcement for this show – at least not one that I saw. Instead, I heard about it on Twitter – really, just offhandedly retweeted – a unique one-off concert with a favourite singer joining forces with the Art of Time Ensemble to perform an evening of covers of one of their biggest inspirations. I didn’t seriously think I could go – I mean, I’d have to hop on a plane for it – but I checked the ticket availability just to satisfy my own curiosity and dang if there wasn’t one seat still available in the very front row. It was a sign from a god that I don’t believe in except for when I need justification for doing something extravagant.

So yeah, I got on a plane and spent a week in Toronto, which should not surprise you if you read the other reviews I’ve been posting this week. And if you didn’t, you’re probably not reading this one either, so I don’t know why I’m addressing you. At any rate, after a week of touristy stuff and hanging out and the Hydraulic Press Channel and record shopping and food, it was time for the show that set this whole week in motion.

Steve and I took the subway and then the other subway and then failed to take a streetcar to the show. We waited in line at the stop for about 20 minutes while the sign told us that the next streetcar was 7 minutes away, then 6, then 5, then 7 again, then 5, then 12 somehow? Steve checked the transit tracking app thing and it looked like there was something stopping up all the streetcars – presumably an accident. Hopefully nothing serious. By this point, there was a pretty significant number of people waiting for the streetcar, so we abandoned our transit plans and set out on foot.

The good news is that this took us past the beaver tail stand. The bad news is that I was still so full from supper that I just couldn’t do it. Steve seemed a little disappointed. I was disappointed in myself. It would be closed by the time the show was over, and we would not be able to return. Godspeed, fried dough.

The Harbourfront Centre is a lovely place and I arrived feeling underdressed for the occasion, despite wearing one of my very limited number of shirts with “buttons” and a “collar.” Could have at least tucked it in, I guess, but if I’m going to bother with that, it’s only out of fear of fire, and I figured that my scare from the night before would keep me alert. And I didn’t catch fire even once so this worked out swimmingly.

Steve got us tasty sodas and we hung out in the lobby until it was time to go our separate ways. I got my front row seat on the day tickets went on sale, but having procrastinated when it came to getting Steve’s ticket, he wound up with an “obstructed view” seat in the balcony. At least it was cheap. And also, they don’t know what “obstructed” means, as he was at a bit of a weird angle – basically viewing the stage from the side – but could see quite well. And while I was closer to the stage, I was far right and Hawksley was far left, so I spent most of the show looking off to the side. No matter. I persevered.

It was clearly a special night for Hawksley. I believe his wife was in attendance (more on that later) and he mentioned that his brother was there too. I’ve heard him say before that Cockburn was a major inspiration in his decision to become a musician. He talked about how that all started for him, talked about meeting him, reading his memoir, and recently interviewing him for the Globe and Mail. Hawksley always tends to go off on delightful tangents and this night was no exception. The tangents just had a theme.

I am familiar with Bruce Cockburn singles, and not so much the back catalogue. There wound up being four songs I knew: Call it Democracy, If a Tree Falls, If I Had a Rocket Launcher, and Waiting for a Miracle. There are a few obvious exclusions there (Wondering Where the Lions Are, Tokyo, Lovers in a Dangerous Time) but this was meant to be a night of protest songs and not so much a greatest hits collection. The rest of the songs – I know this because they listed them in the program – were Beautiful Creatures, Burn, Gavin’s Woodpile, Going Down Slow, Red Brother Red Sister, Rose Above the Sky, Stolen Land, and The Trouble with Normal.

Of all of them, the only one I’d heard Hawksley sing before was Call It Democracy, which he played on the Strombo Show last year. You can see the video here  – this is all you get, sorry. The Art of Time shows have a “no photography” rule and while I don’t know how seriously they take it, sitting front row left me too exposed to take chances. Though it would be hilarious to fly three hours to go to a show and get thrown out for an illicit 15-second smartphone video clip. I took a picture of what the stage looked like before everyone came out and that’s it.

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That video doesn’t give you the full experience, though. The Art of Time Ensemble consisted of six musicians, including Artistic Director Andrew Burashko on piano – he was there in Calgary for the Sgt. Pepper show a few months back. I can’t speak to the songs I was hearing for the first time, but the singles, at least, had been creatively arranged. Of the four, I only picked up on If A Tree Falls from the very first notes; for the rest, I needed to get to the lyrics. The musicians were incredibly talented and it was a really interesting way to hear (or discover) these songs. Great stuff and I really hope they recorded the show. I have some other Art of Time CDs with folks like Steven Page and Sarah Slean and would love to add this one to the collection.

There were a few extra tunes as well. There were two sets with an intermission, and at the start of each, the Art of Time performed an instrumental piece based off an old chain gang song. And Hawksley is not known for protest songs, but for the encore, they played his take on the genre with We’re Not Broken Yet, his own song from last year’s Old Cheetah album.

We stuck around after the show so that I could chat with Hawksley for a bit. Waiting, I picked up a vinyl copy of For Him And The Girls, Hawksley’s first album and my leading contender for all-time favourite album. I already have it on vinyl; this was for Steve and Audrey. I gave them strict instructions that they had to listen to it twice because once doesn’t work. It won’t click for you the first time. It takes two times. This was true for me and that, of course, means it is true for everyone.

Of course, if they like it straight away, they can stop listening to it after the first time.

Hawksley came out after a little while and wound up entering near where we were standing. I’ve talked to him after shows a few times, though I usually don’t bother because what could I say that anyone would care about? But the guy and his music means a lot to me after so long, and it’s good to say that sometimes, you know? I mean, and I said this much to him, what Cockburn was to him, he is to me. I don’t fly across the country for shows by just anyone. I mentioned coming in from Regina for this and Hawksley gave me a big hug.

Then I brought up titty-fucking cakes.

Did I explain this after the last Hawksley show? I can’t remember and I can’t be bothered to go look right now. Here’s the thing. On his newest album, Hawksley has a song (I Just So Happen to Believe) with the line “you’ll gorge upon the starters, you’ll titty-fuck the cake” and I was not expecting that on first listen! Then I started wondering how this would work. I mean, you need two cakes for this, right? Can’t do it with one cake. Then I pestered Hawksley (and Deserée) about this on Twitter for the better part of a day. Strangers got involved. Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat and Mounties was liking tweets. I discovered that I was devoutly committed to opinions that I had never considered. I don’t want to hear about novelty cake pans. We’re talking about normal cakes here. Several people suggested you could titty-fuck the layers of a layer cake. No. You cannot. Then you’re just fucking a cake. There are STANDARDS.

note to self: bookmark this review for the next time I apply for a job that requires a writing sample

Anyway, I mentioned how much I enjoyed our time discussing titty-fucking cake logistics and he doubled over laughing. That day made an impression on both of us, it seems. I was greatly amused. He called a lady over.

Hawksley: “This guy came in from Regina for this, and one time, he had a tweet about titty-f-”

the aforementioned lady: “Titty-fucking cakes!”

SO greatly amused.

I am assuming this was Hawksley’s wife, because really, who else do you talk about titty-fucking cake tweets with? At any rate, we chatted for a bit and she was a delight.

Steve and I left shortly thereafter – I didn’t want to take up a ton of their time and I said all I wanted to (and probably more than I should have – the next time I go to a Hawksley show, I expect to see my picture at the door on a sign reading “DO NOT LET THIS MAN IN (RE: CAKE)”). I think I told that joke in the last Hawksley review too, and also, that punctuation got real wonky. I think it is time I hit “save” and go to bed.

SLCR #244: Danny Michel (May 12, 2016)

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“Shit is crazy, isn’t it? Shit’s bonkers.”

I don’t usually take notes while a show is going on. That mostly happens either between sets or, more often, after I get home. But I made a point of writing down that quote from Danny Michel, and I’m glad I did. It was in reference to the current political situation in the US, and it sums that whole thing up nicely, but it was also fitting for a night where Danny Michel saved me from catching fire.

I always seem to have some weird or awkward moment at a Danny Michel show. More than my own innate awkwardness would suggest, I mean. I have never before, however, come close to catching fire in front of him.

But that was after the show. Before the show, Steve and I went from subway to streetcar to the Lula Lounge, a venue that was new for both of us. Now, when I travel, I usually go through my wallet before I leave and ditch everything I won’t need on vacation – things like my city bus pass and library card. Well, somehow, I thought “I won’t be driving, I won’t need my driver’s licence” and left it at home too. Luckily, I brought my passport to use as ID at the airport, and even more luckily, I thought to keep my passport with me in case we went to one of those venues that cards everyone. And I did need to present photo ID at the Lula Lounge, since there were no tickets – just my name on a list. The guy working at the door loved this and took the opportunity to ask if I was importing any fruits or vegetables into the venue.

The coda to this whole stupid story is that my driver’s licence was in my wallet all along – I’d been looking at the empty space where my bus pass normally goes, not my licence.

Luckily, this whole situation distracted the bouncer from my footwear – Lula Lounge has a dress code of no ball caps and no running shoes. I’m glad he didn’t enforce the shoe situation, as all of my other shoes were in Saskatchewan. We’d have been in enough trouble if they’d been back at Steve’s place at the other end of Toronto.

We walked into the place and I immediately spotted Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies. I half expected Danny to have some surprise guests at this show – he does a semi-regular series of shows in Toronto called School Night Mondays where there’s always a special guest and the shows end at a reasonable hour – but no, Ed was just there to enjoy himself. I think this might be the first time I’ve ever spotted a celebrity in the wild. We saw him again two days later going into the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, so clearly I know all the best places to go in Toronto and rock stars look to me for recommendations.

For all the times I’ve seen Danny, I’m pretty sure this was the first time he had a band with him. It’s always been just him and a guitar and maybe some sampler pedals. There was no opener – instead, he and his band basically opened for themselves, playing a short set, taking a cake break, and then coming back out for more.

Cake! This show was the record release party for Michel’s new album, Matadora, and a rep from Six Shooter Records showed up with a giant cake with the album cover on it. Danny got a taste of the icing, and his guitar neck did too (he was still finding icing on the guitar the next day, judging from his Instagram). Steve figured that if you got the slice where Danny poked the icing, that meant good luck, like if you got the wax-paper wrapped quarter in the birthday cake. We got cake between the two sets, and though we didn’t get the lucky piece, it was very tasty cake. On Instagram, Danny later said that he didn’t actually get a slice, which was too bad for him, but he and the band did get a round of shooters in the middle of the show. I’d say that’s just as good, but he said it tasted like gasoline and later blamed it when he let a cuss word or two slip out, so yeah, that’s probably a step down from tasty cake.

Of all the Michel shows I’ve seen, I think this was the best one – the band had lots of energy and seemed to be having a really good time. They played lots from Matadora, of course, but there were songs from throughout Danny’s career. He opened with Wish Willy (didn’t tell the delightful story from last time) and White Lightning before getting into the new tunes. After the show, I tried to get a picture of Danny’s red guitar, the one painted with “this machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” The picture didn’t turn out that well, but since I was there anyway, I snagged Danny’s setlist. As such, I have a list of what was played, but even so, it still takes some translation to deduce that “RUBY” means he played Rubicon, or that “TENNIS” is Tennessee Tobacco, things like that. They also started into Suspicious Minds after making an Elvis reference, but Danny called a stop to it pretty quickly, to the seeming disappointment of his bandmates.

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After the show, I went to buy a vinyl copy of the new album, which seemed like the thing to do at an album release party. Amid the cluster of people near the door, I wound up standing next to Ed from BNL, so I chatted with him for a few seconds. Dude was very friendly.

I got close to the front of the line and saw that there was a sign next to the stack of stuff that suggested that the records and money had been unmanned for the evening and that we were on the honour system. That kind of faith in humanity made me smile. And also if you want some Danny Michel CDs, email me, I have a few dozen to get rid of.

Finally, I made it to the front and bought my record. I got him to sign it and the setlist, which he took a picture of before I was allowed to abscond with it. I probably should have offered to give it back to him, seeing as how it was actually, y’know, HIS, but oh well. Anyway, I was leaning in to chat with Danny, talking about one of our previous wacky occurrences, when he pushed me back a bit and pulled a candle away – my untucked shirt (so slovenly!) was dangling around the flame. I thought he was just being overly cautious until I touched said shirt tail and “oh, shit, that’s actually hot.” So yeah. Nearly caught fire. It derailed whatever I was trying to tell him but I am pretty sure that nearly catching fire was more interesting than anything I could have said anyway. After the first time I saw him, I joked that he owed me a Sharpie; after a more recent show, he said he’d buy me a drink. But after preventing my untimely demise in some sort of one-man inferno, I think we’re square.

SLCR #243: Ben Folds & yMusic (May 11, 2016)

Hello. I am back home after my week in Toronto. I went to many shows, and while I took many notes (usually on my iPad before bed), I somehow found that doing “anything else” was preferable to writing reviews while I was there. I was too busy hanging out with pals and doing touristy things and eating delicious foods and walking 120,000+ steps, if my Fitbit is to be believed. My legs and feet suggest that it is accurate. But now I am home and have been home for a week and it is time to knock these guys out so that they’re done before the next shows come.

What generally happens with Toronto is I book a trip for one reason (in this case, a rash ticket purchase for a special Hawksley Workman show) and then other stuff magically happens to happen. In this case, I got an email from Ben Folds (well, presumably not directly from Ben Folds) announcing tour dates, and I thought “hey, wouldn’t it be rad if he was playing Toronto when I’m there?” And this is where Jeff says “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuuuuuuu.”

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this picture got a “fuuuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuuuuu” as well

In honesty, I hadn’t booked my plane tickets yet. The original plan was to fly in on Thursday, fly home on Sunday. Folds’ Wednesday show extended the trip a bit; I ultimately settled in Monday to Sunday, as Monday to Forever wasn’t financially sustainable. I wish it was. So many shows! So many tasty foods! To think that I could also have gone to see Pearl Jam AND Sloan AND Ring of Honor wrestling AND a Canadaland taping and goodness knows what else. I can’t tell what would happen if we moved to Toronto – would we either be busy and broke all the time? Or would the novelty wear off, resulting in us never leaving the house?

Hahahaha I said “house.” As if we wouldn’t be living in a refrigerator box. Toronto isn’t cheap.

Anyway. After a day spent touring Casa Loma, eating a fancy burger, record store browsing, and taking one last spin through Honest Ed’s, I took the subway back to meet up with my delightful hosts, Steve and Audrey. We took the train to a BBQ place for dinner, where I had a fried chicken sandwich, and it occurs to me that I ate chicken before all three concerts this week, so I can go back to making that a requirement for an official concert, until I forget or don’t care or whatever.

From there, we were a short walk to the Danforth Music Hall. Steve used to work there, so I was seeing a vital part of Steve history. We got inside and I pined over the list of upcoming shows, particularly case/lang/veirs. Toronto, you get all the nice things. Like when we went into the hall proper, it had TWO bars; East Bar and West Bar. We debated drinking at both bars so as to sample the regional differences.

The opener was Dotan (and Mark), a Dutch singer making his first-ever appearance in Canada. It was a stripped-down set; he mentioned that normally he has a six-piece band, but on this day, there was Mark. Mark had a guitar. Dotan also had a guitar. It was a short set – about 30 minutes – but delightful. Dotan (and Mark) was touring in support of his record 7 Layers, and played us some tunes from it, including the title track, which he said was the most personal song he’d ever written. If I wrote a song with that title, it would be about having to pick the black olives off your nacho chips. That is why I am not a songwriter. That and my complete lack of musical aptitude. He closed with the song Home, which had a crowd singalong bit, which most everyone took part in. It was a very nice crowd, I thought – more on that in a second. But yeah, Dotan (and Mark) was a fine opener. Would see again.

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Dotan (and Mark) – this was the best picture I got

So the crowd. Remember how I went to Sloan and everyone was shovy drunk dickheads? Well, everyone here was… nice. We had a drunk near us – there always has to be at least one – but even he was just really excited to see Ben Folds. Okay, so he accidentally smacked into someone. That wasn’t great. But it seemed to me like it was out of musical enthusiasm and not just dickishness. So that’s something. And at one point, he asked Audrey to hold his spot (so he could get another beer) (which he really did not need at this point), and there was no need – the space just didn’t fill in. The vultures in Winnipeg would have trampled innocent bystanders for those few square feet of unoccupied floor. And I know vultures don’t trample things, technically, but it is a METAPHOR. One that says that Toronto is lovely and Winnipeg is a dump.

I’ve only ever seen one Ben Folds solo show, but I’ve also been to a Ben Folds Five reunion concert, and I saw Ben twice Ben with the Edmonton Symphony. This show, with yMusic (and a drummer who was neither Ben Folds nor part of yMusic and thus was uncredited), was different still – somewhere between Ben Folds Five and a symphony show. yMusic is an orchestral six-piece from New York; Ben partnered with them for his last album, So There. Of course, they played almost all the pop songs from the album – seven out of eight – but didn’t get into Ben’s piano concerto, and they skipped the smutty musical pun F10-D-A.

After the show, the drummer handed out the performers’ setlists, and I was lucky enough to get one. As such, I can give you the detailed breakdown of what they played, but be warned that this set list isn’t quite right:

1. Beautiful Mechanical – yMusic
2. So There
3. Long Way To Go
4. Not A Fan
5. Effington
6. Yes Man
7. Phone In A Pool
8. Mess
9. Music In Circles – yMusic
10. I’m Not The Man
11. Erase Me
12. Song For The Dumped
13. Capable Of Anything
14. Steven’s Last Night In Town
15. You Don’t Know Me

Evaporated
Army
Not The Same

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or, you know, just look at this

To start with, Evaporated was played earlier in the set, and Still Fighting It took its place as the first song of the encore. This worked out well – Audrey, who wasn’t super familiar with Ben Folds going into the show, late said that Fighting was her favourite song of the evening.

Being a Ben Folds show, some of the changes were impromptu. Obviously, someone had to yell out for Rock This Bitch – this came fairly early on, I want to say it was after Effington. This particular version of Rock This Bitch (it’s different every time) made reference to traveling from the West Bar where they serve Budweiser to the East Bar where they serve Budweiser. This was tremendous and made my night right there. He then went on to sing about crossing into Canada and getting the dreaded Canada-style cavity search at the border. The crowd loved it. “Encore!” yelled some guy (possibly the guy who had called for Rock This Bitch in the first place), so Ben immediately launched into another minute or two of the East Bar West Bar Cavity Search Rock This Bitch. Tremendous.

Later on, someone (and I really hope it was just the same guy over and over) yelled for Bitches Ain’t Shit. “They don’t know that one,” said Ben, “but it’s a special night so I think we can figure it out.” I don’t know if someone yells for this at every show (it’s not the first time I’ve seen it happen), but Ben went through the motions of quickly teaching yMusic a few necessary chords before launching into the song – and then when it got to Snoop’s verse, the drummer took over and nailed it. So there mayyyy have been some advance preparation, is what I’m saying.

Anyway. This show was great! I suppose that is unsurprising as I always think Folds’ shows are great. The crowd seemed to love it. The whole thing was a big singalong, with the usual aaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAA during Not The Same and a slower version of Song for the Dumped being particular favourites. I thought the song of the night was a killer version of Steven’s Last Night in Town. And each member of yMusic (and the drummer) had a chance to shine – the clarinet player, in particular, stole the show. I have never heard anyone (same guy again?!) yell “that was some badass clarinet!” at a rock show before but there is a first time for everything.

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Ben, leading the aaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAA part – note the badass clarinet

Goddamn laptop touchpad just made me delete like two paragraphs so I shut it off. Let that be a lesson to everything else in my life that irritates me. If I can figure out where your shut-off button is in the control panel, you’re in for it.

Oh well, all that was left was the closing. After the show ended, we hung out a bit to let the crowd disperse, which gave me time to snag that setlist from the drummer. On our way out, Dotan (and Mark) was selling albums at the stuff table, so Audrey and I each bought one and got them signed. Nice guys. Handsome too. Before the show, Audrey put a picture of herself, Steve, and I on Facebook saying we were waiting for the show, and a friend in Edmonton – early SLCR favourite Spiky Tom – said he was jealous. I said he’d have an hour to make it to Toronto if he didn’t mind kissing the opener. This, of course, was an autocorrect, but I think that maybe my iPhone might have been onto something. Siri, you’ve done worse.

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handsome signatures

Rampant consumerism

Before we begin, there was discussion in the comments of Aaron’s post about the new RHCP song about my copy of Californication which is signed by all four members of Moxy Früvous. Here is proof with signatures from Murray Foster and… you know… that guy:

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Now. Aaron did a fine job talking about all the fun human interaction parts of the day we spent together, and I have three (!) concert reviews coming shortly – spoiler: they were all great – so this post is mostly about none of those things. Instead, as sometimes happens around here, it’s a collection of stuff I bought. Gather around and be prepared to mutter “he spent actual money on that?!”


CONCERTS

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Again, full details forthcoming, but from the Ben Folds & yMusic show, we have a signed LP from Dotan, our opener. We hung around a bit after the show to let the crowd disperse, and a bit of luck and timing meant I left with a setlist – a generous and appreciated gift from Ben Folds’ drummer. (It’s also not entirely accurate, but I’ll get into that later.)

The next night, we went to Danny Michel’s album release party, so I bought a copy of his record and stole his personal setlist – he signed both (after taking a picture of the setlist for his records – I suppose I should have offered to give it back at that point, but I didn’t think of it and he didn’t seem that concerned about it).


MAGAZINES

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Okay, this is a little dumb.

Obviously, the jewel here is the issue of Wrestling World from 1973. I bought this from Suspect, a little video and collectibles store right by Honest Ed’s and The Beguiling. I can’t wait to dig into this beauty.

The other magazines… see, when I was a kid, there were a few stores out here that carried hundreds of magazines. That was the main thing they sold. I used to love going to those places and exploring. I bought tons of wrestling stuff, but also video game magazines, puzzle magazines, funny stuff like Mad and Comic Relief, all that. There are no places like that left in Saskatchewan that I know of. The closest to it is right by my work but they’ve cut their selection down to maybe 1/5th of what it was when I moved to Regina and there’s nothing that interests me anymore. Finding a store like that in Toronto was like revisiting my childhood and I couldn’t help but pick up a puzzle book and a few video game magazines (about games from my youth, at that).


SONIC BOOM

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I hit a number of record stores while in Toronto, including BMV and three Kops locations. Ultimately, I didn’t get much (I was saving up for TCAF) but found a few things when we got to Sonic Boom.

The two Ben Folds (/ Five) vinyls were new and yeah okay I paid too much for them. So it goes. They’re not super easy to find and I was on a Ben Folds high after the show.

The used finds include a vinyl copy of Jim Steinman’s Bad For Good for $5 (it has an EP packed with it, which I didn’t discover until I got home – bonus!). A friend of mine is possibly the biggest Steinman fan ever, so I have heard this album a lot. It is… not good. Steinman is not what one would call a “singer.” But I have fond memories of it anyway, you know? Mostly as a soundtrack to adventures and whatnot more than for the actual music itself.

The sole CD from the trip is a live Zoobombs record. I saw them in Minneapolis with an internet pal after seeing Ben Folds Five a few years back. For $3, I couldn’t resist. As an added bonus, this album was actually recorded at El Mocambo in Toronto.


TORONTO COMIC ARTS FESTIVAL

Here comes the picture flood and the proof of my insanity. This was a giant crazy huge convention with comics creators of all stripes and I got to meet lots of rad people and yeah I went bonkers.

I am going to try to go in chronological order here:

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Here is a print signed by Nicholas Gurewitch of the Perry Bible Fellowship. He was nice!

Next, here’s a copy of Harmontown, signed by Miranda Harmon. You can read it here. She was nice too! In fact, everyone here was nice so let’s not make me type that over and over.

A kids’ book, Hippopotamister, signed by John Green. He asked what I did for a living and seemed disappointed in “writer, but the boring kind, not the fun kind” because it doesn’t have a hat associated with it. So I got to pick a hat for my hippo, and this hippo got himself a beer can hat. “A foam dome!” offered another nearby cartoonist.

That was it for day one! Day two is where it really went off the rails.

We’re not quite in chronological order here, we’re in hippopotamus order. Ryan Pequin offered to draw something in my copy of the first volume of Three Word Phrase, and my default answer is “hippopotamus,” so here we are. This is wonderful and I love it. I love all my hippos.

 

Including this one! Here’s a hippo from KC Green in a copy of Anime Club. I also learned that Green was the originator of Dick Butt and it was an honour to be in the presence of such greatness.

But not everyone drew a hippo (I only offered the suggestion if asked):

Erika Moen of Oh Joy Sex Toy drew a vibrator. Yes. Appropriate for a comic that reviews sex toys (oh hey that link there was NSFW – and I had to crop out some drawings of naked people in the vibrator picture). I have said that everyone I met was nice and it is true but Erika was especially super duper friendly. Also, she asked where I was from and not thinking that I was talking to an American, I said “Regina” and she giggled a whole lot. Which I suppose is fitting given the subject matter.

Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics was also especially super nice! Also, tall. I had all his books (I was hoping for advance copies of Romeo And/Or Juliet for sale, but no dice) and I also have the Dinosaur Comics whiteboard (though not the fancy new steel one) so I went for the Dinosaur Comics magnetic poetry set. We talked about linguistics and Big Rude Jake and getting stuck in a hole.

Here’s ApocalyptiGirl! I knew nothing about it or Andrew MacLean but it looked neat. I think Steve said that he had another one of MacLean’s books and liked it.

Talk Dirty to Me, signed by Luke Howard. I don’t know where I heard about this one, but I was delighted to find it and meet him. Very nice guy too.

Sometimes I like smut and sometimes I like food. Here are two zines signed by Lauren Jordan.

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I… don’t know if I will like smut and food together? I guess we will find out.

I know I like movies!

I know it doesn’t look like it, but I seriously could have gone way way more nuts than this. For every book here, I passed on a few more that looked really good.

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And then! These were all freeeeeeeeeee thanks to the nice folks from Random House. Because what I need right now is “something to read,” clearly.

Okay I’m done bye

SLCR #242: George Thorogood & the Destroyers (April 29, 2016)

This one, this is even more inexplicable than Black Sabbath. At least Sabbath was within walking distance. Plus I knew seeing them would make Aaron jealous and that counts for something. Probably counted for too much in my internal decision-making process, if I’m being honest. And Sabbath was cheaper too.

Thing is, there’s a local weekly paper called the Prairie Dog. Their website has daily blog posts about upcoming events, and on Tuesday, they talked about George Thorogood playing the Conexus Arts Centre on Friday. More out of curiosity than anything, I clicked over to the Arts Centre’s website, just to see how much tickets were and see how well they were selling. Oddly, they looked pretty close to sold out – but with four open seats in the front row. I assume there were some tickets set aside for promotional uses that wound up not being used, and I happened to check at just the right time. After confirming that Mika had no interest in going, I picked myself up a ticket.

I’m well on pace to set a new personal record for concerts seen this year, so somewhere along the way I got the idea that I should see if I can see 52 shows in 2016. I think it’s possible but it will require moving out of my comfort zone and seeing some bands I’d normally skip. This is show #14 for the year, but I’d need to have seen 17 or 18 by now to be on pace. Gonna have to work on it.

I suppose if 52 isn’t doable due to finances, time, or opportunity, I’d accept 40 for godforsaken birthday reasons. This seems like a better midlife crisis than a tattoo.

Anyway, that’s all how I found myself sitting front row for George Thorogood & the Destroyers. But James, you ask, do you actually know any George Thorogood songs? Apart from Bad to the Bone? And I answer yes. I know Get a Haircut. I mean, I know all the songs everyone knows, pretty much, but I especially know Get a Haircut. When I was in high school, I knew a dude who love love LOVED George Thorogood. And in Grade 12 English class, we had to play a song and provide the class with the lyrics, and then provide our interpretation of the lyrics. Get a Haircut was the song that he picked:

I was a rebel from the day I left school
Grew my hair long and broke all the rules
I’d sit and listen to my records all day
With big ambitions of when I could play

My parents taught me what life was about
So I grew up the type they warned me about
They said my friends were just an unruly mob
And I should get a haircut and get a real job

Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don’t be a slob
Get it together like your big brother Bob
Why don’t you get a haircut and get a real job

I even tried that 9-to-5 scene
I told myself that it was all a bad dream
I found a band and some good songs to play
Now I party all night, I sleep all day

I met this chick, she was my number-one fan
She took me home to meet her mommy and dad
They took one look at me and said “oh my god
Get a haircut and get a real job”

Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don’t be a slob
Get it together like your big brother Bob
Why don’t you get a haircut and get a real job

I hit the big time with my rock ‘n’ roll band
The future’s brighter now than I’d ever planned
I’m ten times richer than my big brother Bob
But he’s got a haircut, he’s got a real job

Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don’t be a slob
Get it together like your big brother Bob
Why don’t you get a haircut and get a real job

Personally, I’m not sure how much interpretation is required to understand the deeper meaning therein, but when it came time to critique poetry, this dude picked an eight-line poem by Red Green, so he had a type. I chose the song The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel, which is much easier to bullshit symbolism about, though also pretty straightforward in retrospect. Mostly I remember people asking why I played the original and not the cover by The Waltons which was a big radio hit locally at the time.

Another girl picked Dust in the Wind and was shocked to discover that maybe it shouldn’t be her wedding song after all.

I was curious as to what the audience for this show would be like, a question that was answered within seconds of arriving when I ran into a lady from work, and then another once inside. In general, the audience was older, skewing slightly female, but with lots of couples. I had some college-age bros to my right. Behind me were some women who really wanted to complain about the state of music today and how they’d like to see those teenyboppers today go like Keith Richards when they’re his age!!!

The openers were the Ben Miller Band and I am glad that I was sitting close enough to the front to get some decent pictures because I’m not sure I can describe them adequately. To the far left was Scott Leeper, a very bearded man in a plaid shirt and suspenders playing a one-string washtub bass. Next to him was Smilin’ Bob Lewis, who appeared to be a survivalist Dr. Demento in a tie-dye t-shirt covered in kittens. This was accessorized with a long white coat that had shiny reflective cactuses on it, as well as a tall red top hat with black brim. Miller himself looked like Ozark Sheamus and yet barely stood out by comparison. Finally, we had Rachel Ammons, a fiddle player who had hair down past her ass and her own wind-blowing-machine-thingy* to make it fly around while she played.

*it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I could just call it a “fan” so I’m leaving the original description in

Anyway. I had no idea who these folks were and no idea what to make of them. And then… they KILLED IT. Unbelievable. It took a few songs for them to warm up and for the crowd to get into them, but around the third song, everything clicked and they blew the roof off the place. They had 45 minutes or so and they made the most of it. “Bluegrass-infused rock” is my short description but that doesn’t cover it – on their Facebook page, they list their genre as “who knows, who cares.” But seriously. They traded off instruments all night and everyone got a chance to sing. There was a banjo. There was a WASHBOARD. There was a bluegrass cover of House of the Rising Sun and another of Black Betty. There was incredible energy and the crowd responded in kind, going from polite applause for the first song to a standing ovation for the last one. When they were over, I was thinking that Thorogood was going to have an awfully hard time following them. I could have gone home at this point and it would have been worth it. Never skip the openers, kids.

Man, I love it when I go into a show not knowing an artist and leave as a fan. The chance of these kinds of discoveries is a big part of what keeps me going to all these shows. That, and I have no common sense.

As they left the stage, the lady behind me screamed “HEY JUSTIN BIEBER! I’D LIKE TO SEE YOU… DO… WHAT WE JUST SAW.” I endorse the sentiment but maybe make sure you’ve decided on what you’re going to yell before you start yelling.

During the intermission, I just hung around in my seat. I thought about going to the stuff table to get a record from the Ben Miller Band, but they said they’d be around after the show too, so I figured I had plenty of opportunity. You know how this goes.

After a short break, the lights dimmed. The bros to my right returned, having smoked all the weed there is. Sorry, world. We’re out. The lady behind me screamed “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! MY IDOL!” Yes. But she would have to wait, as first they shone a spotlight on the drum kit and played Eve of Destruction in its entirety. Only once that was done did we get the booming voice of a wrestling announcer, introducing the heavyweight rock and roll champions of the world.

I won’t lie. This was fun as heck. Now, admittedly, a huge part of that had to do with the front row seat. And not just front row, but right off centre, which meant that when Thorogood was walking around, he was often dead set right in front of me. At one point, he played about a two-minute guitar solo, lights dimmed, spotlight on him, his guitar two feet from my face the whole time. I could have hated his music and still had a blast. This would still have been fun from my traditional seat in Row L For Legroom but not nearly the same. This bodes well for Weird Al, as we have similar seats in August.

Now, being so close DID mean that I was also dangerously near some tongue waggling and some pelvic thrusts. Such are the risks when you are sitting in the splash zone. I do not believe I was ever splashed. Wouldn’t complain if I was. I knew the dangers.

Anyway, you surely know what George Thorogood sounds like and whether you like him or not. Of course he closed the main set with Bad to the Bone (complete with BONE lights behind him). And he played pretty much exactly what his fans would want to hear – Move it on Over; Who do you Love; I Drink Alone; One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. He played Get a Haircut and I was overjoyed.

He hammed it up as only an experienced frontman can – dancing around, making faces, posing, talking about what a fiiiiiiiiiiiiine city this is, dropping the name “Regina” into as many songs as he could (he’ll “make an old woman blush and a Regina girl squeal”). And people ate it up. There was one lady who was convinced she was part of the show and ran up to dance in front of everyone over and over, to the point that security quit trying to stop her from rushing the stage because the people she was with resigned themselves to handling it. At another time, when a bunch of people were standing and dancing, one guy hopped on one foot for the length of the stage, playing air guitar all the while. This was one of the most tremendous things I have ever seen. Dude looked like he was in a trance. Compelled by the power of the rock.

So yeah, this was great fun. And yet, I still have to give the Ben Miller Band the nod for the evening. They had more energy and great presence and didn’t have the advantage of, you know, people already knowing and liking them, but they still stole the show. On the way out, I got caught up in the rush of people leaving and never made it to the stuff table and I’m still a little disappointed about that, but oh well, there’s always iTunes.

UPCOMING CONCERTS

  • Ben Folds & yMusic w/Dotan (May 11)
  • Danny Michel (May 12)
  • Hawksley Workman & The Art of Time Ensemble (May 13)
  • Age of Electric (May 27)
  • The Pack a.d. (May 28)
  • Meat Loaf (June 11)
  • City and Colour w/Shakey Graves (June 12)
  • Northcote w/Jordan Klassen and Josiah (June 22)
  • BA Johnston (June 24)
  • Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart; Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, & Sharon White (cancelled); Sam Roberts Band; The Mavericks; Bettye LaVette; The Cat Empire; The Strumbellas; more (August 5-7)
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
  • Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
  • I Mother Earth (October 8)

TOO MANY PICTURES: BEN MILLER BAND

TOO MANY PICTURES: GEORGE THOROGOOD & THE DESTROYERS

SLCR #241: Jason Collett & Zeus (April 19, 2016)

This was a long-awaited gig for me. Jason Collett is one of those people who’s come to Regina seemingly a dozen times since I’ve been here, but I’ve always found a way to miss out. Mark, in particular, is a fan and has tried to get me to go on multiple occasions – so, of course, I finally buy tickets and this time Mark’s out of town. Oh well, I hope he had fun seeing Sloan in Vancouver and eating all the ducks.

Having said that – the part about the long-awaited show, not the part about Mark eating ducks – for all I’ve heard about Collett and as much as his singer-songwritery vibe should be right up my alley, I’d heard very little of his music. A handful of singles from CBC Radio 3, that’s about it, so I was looking forward to hearing more. You know, as if there wasn’t a vast collection of his recorded output at my fingertips.

We got to the Exchange about 15 minutes before the opener, Kalle Matteson, was to begin. Finding parking was not exactly difficult. I wasn’t surprised – given the number of ticket giveaway contests I saw, and the number of “hey, we got this show coming up, don’t forget” tweets, it seemed like tickets were moving a little slowly. Indeed, we had no trouble finding a place to sit once we arrived. It filled in reasonably well as the night progressed but wasn’t close to selling out, I don’t think.

This wasn’t put on by the folk festival people but it still started right on time. Our opener was Kalle Mattson; nobody seemed to know who he was, to the point that when he said his name, he paused for applause that was awfully late in arriving. His sense of humour about this situation won me over. “Tonight I’m going to play some old songs, play some new songs… which I am certain is completely irrelevant to all of you.” Later on, he said he was originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and scoffed at the one person who WOOed that.

This was the first night of the Mattson/Collett tour pairing and, I gather, the first show in a while for both musicians. Mattson played a sad song called Astronaut, which he wrote for his grandmother. In introducing the song, he said that this was its world premiere. After he finished, when someone in the crowd said they needed a Kleenex, Mattson offered to sell the fan a t-shirt. “You can do whatever you want with it.”

Going into this show, I knew very little about Mattson. I listened to a few of his songs on Apple Music before the show, including a cover of Hotline Bling he didn’t play at our show. Musically, he reminded me a bit of Andy Shauf – quiet guy with a guitar – only Matteson’s songs are a little sadder and he’s got a drier sense of humour when chatting between songs. He said “if you do know anything about me, you know I sing a lot about death” and I suppose that backs up both points. Anyway, this dude was good! Recommended.

After a brief intermission during which time we probably played iPhone Yahtzee and fed our iPhone cats, Jason Collett and his backing band Zeus were up. The sound wasn’t the best – the vocals seemed kinda muddy. I didn’t notice that during Mattson’s set, and they sounded better later on when Collett did a song or two by himself, so I’m not sure what the issue was. Whatever it was, it was tied to the vocals – Zeus sounded real good.

I recognized a few of the first songs – I Wanna Rob a Bank and I’ll Bring the Sun. We had also listened to his newest album, Song & Dance Man, and of course he played lots from it, including the title track, Forever Young is Getting Old, Singing American, and Black Oak Savannah. There was also a cover of She’s Gone by Hall & Oates, and like Mattson, Collett said that one of the new songs was being played in public for the first time ever. It maybe took them three tries to start it off right, but these things happen.

If you want a more complete setlist with a bunch of pictures from the show, my former neighbours were at the show and one of them posted a bunch of pictures to the local weekly paper’s website.

As for the show… I don’t know. Maybe I needed Mark to be there so I could get a dose of second-hand enthusiasm. I think at one point Collett referred to the crowd being “respectful,” which I’m pretty sure means “make some noise, you dopes.” Well, there was this one guy who yelled “YES!” at the opening notes of a bunch of Collett’s songs, but it soon became apparent that he was more into yelling YES than he was into Collett himself. Good to have hobbies.

But yeah, I enjoyed the show, but didn’t love it. The sound issues didn’t help any, but I don’t think that was it. It just wasn’t my thing. Not sure why it shouldn’t be – I like lots of musicians who would be in the same Canadian indie singer-songwriter category as Collett. And while this show was fine, it just didn’t really grab me. So it goes.

SLCR #240: Sloan (April 9, 2016)

This was… I dunno. A noble idea? An experiment, not to be repeated?

Sloan – Canadian rock royalty Sloan – were hitting the road to mark the 20th anniversary of their legendary One Chord To Another album (and sell some obscenely expensive deluxe vinyl reissues along the way). And they weren’t coming here. I wasn’t so concerned about the record (I got a pre-order link and thusly I pre-ordered – it’s a very nice set), but seeing the show sounded like it would be a good time. They were playing in Saskatoon, but it was on a Sunday night so it would have meant a late night drive back with work the next day. But Winnipeg was on a Saturday. We could leave after Mika was done at school in the morning, go on a bit of a road trip adventure, see the show, spend a night in a hotel… the idea seemed like a decent one on its surface. But it’s Winnipeg, so you know.

Saturday morning came and we got on the road in decent time. I held us up a bit by being sleepy and lazy but not so much that it mattered. We were on our way!

…and on. And on. One forgets just low long and monotonous that drive is. It doesn’t help that the built-in iPhone podcast app will just cut chunks off your podcasts for no apparent reason. Like podcasts? Have an iPhone? Switch to Overcast. It does all your podcast stuff right. There’s also Downcast, which has this hilarious thing going where every new version fixes one problem and creates another, but it too is better than the built-in app.

Anyway. The best thing I can say about the drive was that I got a Wunderbar at the Moosomin Co-op. Or was it the Whitewood Co-op? The Broadview Co-op? I know it was a Saskatchewan Wunderbar. Gotta keep my candy bar money in the province.

Rob, you’ll never read this, but if you do, I demand that you define the “Saskatchewan Wunderbar” and put it up on Urban Dictionary.

Our talking car robot lady led us into Winnipeg and to our hotel with only a minimum of “why is it taking us this way.” The hotel was the Delta, which I will name because it was nice enough. It was Fine. My hotel standards are really pretty low. I want a bed and a toilet and a shower and I want it to not be gross. These checkboxes were all checked.

With doors at 8:00 and me believing for some dumb reason that the show was starting at 8:30, we didn’t have a ton of time for dinner, so we just ate at the hotel restaurant. It, too, was Fine. Though after dinner, I looked at Sloan’s Twitter and realized that they weren’t planning on taking the stage until 10:00, so I guess we could have gone anywhere in the city and had lots of time. We could even have gone to Olive Garden like fancy big city folk.

The venue was the Pyramid – not shaped like its namesake – which was walking distance from our hotel. We found it with only one wrong turn, which was good, because it was getting pretty frosty out for April. Inside was the neon sign for the Spectrum Cabaret, which I believe was the Pyramid in a former life. It was one of those places like the Blue Note that I read about back in the day, integral to the early days of the Crash Test Dummies. There was also a signed Dummies poster behind the bar, old enough that everyone still had long hair and Mitch Dorge hadn’t joined the band yet. Beyond that, it seemed kind of like a larger version of the Exchange in Regina. Some of that old Louis’ dank but in a room that’s basically just a big box with a stage.

There was no opener. We waited around for a while and the length of the day really took its toll on me. The Pyramid was also sold out, and people were packed in tight, so we went from the freezing walk to being way too hot in short order. I could have gone to bed right then.

Sloan finally took the stage somewhere around 10:15-10:30 and I got an immediate second wind. The first set was the One Chord album in its entirety. In preparation for the show, I gave this album a listen, and then a few more because it turns out it’s real good. Groundbreaking and controversial opinion, I know, but that’s what you come here for. It has a few big singles in Everything You’ve Done Wrong and The Good In Everyone but really, you can’t go wrong with the whole thing. The live version didn’t stray too far from the recordings – they even brought in outside horn players whose names Chris totally knew and weren’t written on his hand in Sharpie at all. This was all fun and one of the better Sloan sets I’ve ever seen.

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There was an extended break between sets during which I was feeling pretty awake but would have been willing to murder someone for a bottled water. Instead, I gave the bartender some cash money and got us some orange Gatorades, which seems in hindsight like a better plan now that I’m not currently thirsty OR in jail.

The second set was all over the place. “Career-spanning,” I think they called it. I recognized some songs – Money City Maniacs being the big one, but also Unkind, Coax Me, and Losing California, among others. Mika said that the second set was heavy on songs from Between the Bridges and correctly surmised that I wouldn’t know lots of them. No The Other Man – I know Aaron will be disappointed. Also no Underwhelmed or The Rest Of My Life, which are both personal and crowd favourites.

To be fair, they may actually have played any or all of the above – we wound up bailing on the encore. I know. But we were exhausted from the drive and I have to say, there are some real dicks in Winnipeg* who will just shove you hard and not give a shit at all. Or they’ll scream along to the music. I don’t mind if they sing – even if they (like me) can’t sing well – as long as you’re not just hollering for the sake of hearing your own drunk voice and then laughing at your loudness. It got to be a bit much. “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans,” indeed. It was also the loudest I’ve ever heard Sloan, and the volume completely drowned Jay out when he was singing. Mika’s favourite Sloan song is False Alarm, and they played it, but she was disappointed that you couldn’t really hear it.

*okay they weren’t really Winnipeg-specific, they were just drunk b-holes and those are everywhere and these days I don’t go to many shows where they’re prevalent anymore so they bother me more than they likely should

I hate ending on the negative stuff because then people go “man, that show sounded terrible” and it certainly wasn’t! It was just a long day and the venue was hot (I don’t even blame them – it was packed) and some people were kinda turds. Most people weren’t turds. But it doesn’t take many turds, you know? Friggin’ turds.

So what else can I tell you? Well, Patrick (who had apparently celebrated numerous birthdays at the Pyramid/Spectrum in years past) has a long grey beard and Chris introduced him as Dumbledore. They had a basic light show set up with a disco ball, which I don’t think I’ve seen at a Sloan show before. It was nothing fancy but gave the whole thing some nice visual variety. At one point someone threw a big handful of ice into the crowd, confusing everyone, including the band. And apparently Craig Northey of Odds was at our show; I didn’t see him there, but he was posting pictures from the show on Instagram. I know he was in Winnipeg with Steven Page et al doing that Art of Time Ensemble Sgt. Pepper show, the one I saw in Calgary.

Anyway, after the chilly walk back to the hotel, we were more than done for the night. And the next morning it was snowing and windy because it is Winnipeg, so rather than brave the Ikea or the Human Rights Museum (and what does it say about us that those were our preferred choices? I feel like this could be a lengthy discussion all its own), we hit the road as soon as we were up and about. Our tourist stop for the day was at the finest Boston Pizza in Brandon, followed up with a second Saskatchewan Wunderbar when we stopped for gas.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Jason Collett & Zeus w/Kalle Mattson (April 19)
• Ben Folds & yMusic w/Dotan (May 11)
• Danny Michel (May 12)
• Hawksley Workman & The Art of Time Ensemble (May 13)
• The Pack a.d. (May 28)
• Meat Loaf (June 11)
• City and Colour w/Shakey Graves (June 12)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart; Ry Cooder, Sharon White, & Ricky Skaggs; Sam Roberts Band; The Mavericks; Bettye LaVette; The Cat Empire; The Strumbellas, and more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• I Mother Earth with Edwin (October 8)

SLCR #239: Spirit of the West (March 31, 2016)

This was destined to be bittersweet. The last time I saw Spirit of the West, lead singer John Mann had recently been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. We went, in part, expecting it to be our last chance to see the band. But that night, they promised they’d be back on a proper farewell tour. A year and a half later, here we are. Within minutes of tickets going on sale, they were snapped up and I got one of the last tables for four available. Not the best seats I’ve ever managed – we were off to the very far left – but I knew it wouldn’t matter since everyone would be standing anyway.

With Mika under the weather, Colin took her spot at the last minute to join Mark and Arlette and I. In exchange for the ticket, I gave him the important job of reminding me to pick up a sundae for Mika on the trip home. I saw a number of other work folks scattered throughout the casino.

The band took the stage right at 8:00 with no opener. Normally it takes a few songs to get people out of their seats at the casino, but not tonight. People crowded around the front right from the get-go and security didn’t hassle anyone. Probably because they’d pretty much be forced to hassle everyone.

The setlist was much the same as last time. I say this because I don’t know much Spirit of the West beyond their singles, but pretty much everything here sounded familiar. I suppose it’s the type of situation that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of variation. Really, the show was mostly a rerun from the last time out. You got most of your big hits – And If Venice Is Sinking, Sadness Grows, Is This Where I Come In – mixed in with fan favourites. I know they played Political, The Joneses, The Old Sod, Another Happy New Year, and The Rites of Man. Geoffrey Kelly handled pretty much all of the talking between songs. John Mann was glued to the iPad with the lyrics, but was a ball of crazy dancing energy otherwise. His “FUCK ALZHEIMER’S (in the arse)” shirt was new and got a great reaction.

So how was it? The band was as good as ever but if I’m being honest, you could see some deterioration from the last time. It looked like Mann had a little more difficulty following along with the lyrics now. Have you ever sung along with the radio, only you start singing a bit early and you have to hold back, or you start the wrong verse and you have to quickly switch it up? I noticed a few parts like that, or places where Mann just wasn’t singing where I thought he should be. He barely talked at all when not singing, but he still repeated himself at one point. Now, all of these could be nothing, you know? You hope it’s nothing. Stuff that I’m blowing out of proportion because I was specifically watching to see how he was doing.

I think that would be one of the worst parts about Alzheimer’s. Every little slip would seem like a portent of doom. You know? Forget your watch at home one day and it would feel like a terrible sign. I do it and it just means it’s Thursday.

Anyway, I don’t want to make it sound like it was a bad show or anything. Mann’s still got his voice and the band is still great, I just noticed a few moments. And the crowd was not going to be anything but 100% loving and supportive, dancing and yelling and cheers and we love yous all night.

I said the setlist was the same but they actually mixed up the ending a bit. Drummer Vince Ditrich sang a few songs while most of the band took a break. When everyone came back out, they said they’d wrap things up with two oldies. Okay. It was not going to be a surprise what songs those were, and I figured Dietrich’s intermission was done to set up this “encore.” Mark and Arlette got up and went to the stage – it felt like half the people with floor “seating” were there already – and Colin and I soon followed. Of course, it was Save This House followed by Home For A Rest. Mark demanded we pogo. We pogoed. Everyone else in the place was up and dancing and singing anyway. It was a great way to end an emotional show, so I was surprised that they came back out for two more songs. The Crawl is a fine song to end on, but it’s not Home For A Rest, you know? Seemed like a strange choice.

With that, they thanked the crowd and took their final bows. It was an emotional night and both Ditrich and Mann looked like they might have shed a few tears. I can’t imagine what their farewell shows next week in Vancouver will be like.

But the important thing is, I remembered that sundae.

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