Are you ready for three opening acts? On a work night? On the day of our first real winter snowfall?
Probably not. I mean, I wasn’t.
This was a classic example of a night where if I hadn’t bought a ticket well in advance – this was announced back in May – I wouldn’t have gone. Even with the ticket, I still thought about skipping out. The ticket was only $15 and I’m old and I tire and I come from a long line of seniors who run the furnace in the middle of the summer. I like rest and warmth.
Apparently, my fellow citizens feel the same way. The tickets said doors at 7:30, show at 8:00. I arrived at 8:35, nothing had started yet, and the crowd consisted of 16 people. I counted. This number only got worse when I realized I’d accidentally included all three openers in my tally, since they were hanging out in the audience. A couple more folks showed up over the course of the evening, but that was all – even by the very end of the night, I think we’d have needed to count musicians and venue staff to break 30 people. This was the second-smallest audience for a concert that I’ve ever been to, topped (?) only by that ill-fated first Son of Dave tour over 15 years ago. Really, I’m not sure why nobody made the call to move the show into the Club, the smaller room at the Exchange. At least the room wouldn’t have looked quite so cavernous.
Anyway, I bought a pop, grabbed a chair from the stack along the wall, and found a place to park myself. I wind up going to a lot of shows by myself and I don’t really mind, since nobody pays attention to the old guy and I can just sort of blend into the crowd. That wasn’t happening here, not that it mattered. I did wind up making fast friends with two women who were sitting near me, by which I mean I held their table for them a few times when they went outside to smoke, and otherwise we didn’t talk. I don’t think it was in any danger of being taken but it’s good to have a purpose.
Local musician Loa, or possibly LOA, pronounced “low,” was first up, and immediately ran into some technical challenges. They shut off the background music so she could perform, but her mic wasn’t working, and that took a while to fix. Meanwhile, they didn’t turn the background music back on right away, and you could hear every conversation in the place, every footstep… it kind of felt like time stood still. Eventually they sorted things out, though another snafu shut off one of her prerecorded beats mid-song. She sounded a little nervous when she talked but ultimately handled a tough situation (or two or three) pretty well. Her music – electronic pop with R&B influences – wasn’t really my thing, though that’s just more my tastes than anything, it was all done well.
If they were making any concession to the small crowd, it’s that there was no messing around between acts. Maybe five minutes passed between Loa ending and Hua Li starting up. It really could have been a bit longer, since basically the entire audience except me all collectively went for a smoke when Loa finished.
As a female rapper from Montreal of Chinese descent, Hua Li is unique in my concert-going experiences. She took the stage with confidence and pretty much killed it. With everyone outside, she started her set in front of literally three or four people, but everyone swarmed back in as soon as they heard her. She held everyone’s attention with powerful fast flows and some slower grooves. At one point, Li called everyone up to the front so that she could tell a personal story about her mom and about the experience of growing up the child of an immigrant – I was going to stand but I happened to be on table-watching duty at that moment which is the worst legitimate excuse I’ve ever used. She also mentioned being appreciative of the opportunity to share the bill with another woman for the first time on the tour.
Literally seconds after Li was done, Fat Tony was on stage. I noticed that this tour is continuing into the US, and there, Tony, coming from Houston, is the headliner. This was my first exposure to him, and – rap expert that I am – I thought he was fantastic. He took the stage and brought the lights down low, the better to see that he was rapping in front of a projected background of Heathcliff cartoons and Space Channel Five game footage. And then he had the lights brought back up so he could actually see his pedals. He was funny, super charismatic, and prone to yelling. And while he was mostly focused on performing songs from his new record 10,000 Hours, which just came out, we even got a Regina-specific rap about how much he liked his lunch at Hunter Gatherer that day – “and they ain’t even pay me to say that shit.” I still haven’t been, but apparently the burger of the day and a cup of soup is the way to go.
Finally – I say that though it was still pretty early – Cadence Weapon came out with Hua Li as his DJ. I moved up to the front and found a nice pole I could lean on. Really, I think everyone there went up to the front. Cadence Weapon (is it cool to just say Cadence? Or Mr. Weapon?), the former poet laureate of Edmonton, treated us to songs spanning his entire career, everything from his recently released self-titled fourth album, to a few songs (including Sharks and Oliver Square) from his debut, Breaking Kayfabe. We even got some new unreleased tracks – all delivered with energy and finesse.
There was a funny moment when he introduced a new-ish song about the greatest hockey player. After dismissing one audience member’s guess of Kanye West, everyone decided that the song was about Wayne Gretzky. Cadence Weapon clarified that the song was actually about the greatest active player… Connor McDavid. And everyone in unison said “…oh.” It was one of the greatest mass disappointments I’ve ever heard. People didn’t even care enough to be angry about the pick. It makes sense, Edmonton and all. Just… oh. The song itself was fun, helped along by two girls who tried to hijack the call-and-response part where we were supposed to yell “Connor McDavid” by yelling “Wayne Gretzky” instead.
At the end of his set, Cadence Weapon made the closest thing to an acknowledgement of the crowd size, saying something along the lines of “tell your friends who aren’t here that they missed a hell of a show.” And they did – this was a great show and everyone gave it their all, even when you know their hearts couldn’t have been all the way in it. As much as I’d love to blame this on how hard it can be to get people out in Regina sometimes, I’m not sure it’s going better anywhere else. They were scheduled to play Calgary on the night after Regina, but that show wound up cancelled with no reason given. Earlier this week, I saw that there was a price drop on tickets for students for their upcoming Saskatoon show, but the deal was open to everyone since “we were all students once.” I don’t know what the deal is – I know Cadence Weapon went six years between albums, but that couldn’t be it exclusively. Maybe there are just too many shows right now and people are picking and choosing? October is my most loaded concert month this year, and I’ve passed some things by. Whatever the reason, I hope things turn around – something this good deserves to be seen.