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SLCR #168: The Cat Empire (April 6, 2012)

Here’s everything I know about The Cat Empire, written before the show: they’re from Australia. A year or so ago, they may or may not have played a show in Regina; the local weekly paper mentioned the show on their website, and included a link to one of their videos (The Car Song), which I liked. However, I couldn’t find any additional information about the show – not on The Cat Empire’s website, not on the venue’s website, and I’m sure I looked elsewhere but really, who knows – so I didn’t go.

By not going, I disappointed Ross. Ross is one of those people that you meet online and while you’re never closest and bestest friends, you’re always sort of aware of each other’s doings. Facebook and Twitter are great for that kind of half-assed keeping in touch. I asked Twitter if I should go to that Regina show, and Ross said YES YES YOU MUST GO DOOOOO IT (paraphrased), but I did not. I asked again a month or two ago when I found out that The Cat Empire would be in Calgary when I was there, but I knew the answer ahead of time.

To make it to MacEwan Hall, which is on the University of Calgary campus, I had to figure out how the C-Train worked. I am writing this part about 15 minutes before my walk to the C-Train station and I think I have it aced. I’ll let you know.

And I’m back! The C-Train is largely really easy, and the MacEwan Centre website has clear directions, so I found the place without incident. More challenging was leaving my grandparents’ place without any bananas, granola bars, cookies, sandwiches, or leftover chicken. Some of you think I am kidding. Others know that I am not.

The MacEwan Ballroom is reminiscent of Prairieland, which is to say, it’s kind of like a warehouse with a stage. They even split it in two, reserving the back for drinkers and leaving the front open to all ages. Given that my drinking habits usually trend to diet sodas, I joined the all-ages section and… yeah, that’s a great way to feel old. I leaned against a wall and played my DrawSomething games as I waited for the show to start (JamesEarthquake, if you’re looking for opponents).

Our opener was Tinpan Orange, a female-fronted five-piece (or four-piece? It’s not like I take notes) from Melbourne, Australia. They were quick to win over the crowd with their songs; plus, they just came across as being really nice. I’d never heard of them before, but that means nothing; maybe they’re famous? If not, the fact that people booed when they said “this is our last song” is that much more impressive. Someone in the crowd yelled “We like you!” which about summed it up.

The Cat Empire has seemingly never met a style of music that they didn’t try to incorporate into their own sound. The list of genres I didn’t hear on this evening would be a short one, and would also probably mean that I didn’t listen hard enough. It was some sort of pop infused with reggae and ska and scat singing and there was a DJ and it was all kinda smashed together into something that I hadn’t really heard before. I have no idea what songs they played, other than they skipped over the one song I knew. That was a bit disappointing, but no big deal.

For a band with seemingly limited visibility around these parts, this place was jam-packed with completely devoted fans; the sing-along-with-every-word types who cheer at each song’s opening notes because they’re excited for what’s coming. Maybe these guys are superstars and I’m just that out-of-touch? It’s entirely possible. It did seem like they play Calgary fairly regularly. I thought they’d be a great fit for our folk festival, and about 10 minutes later, they talked about having played Calgary’s a few years ago.

I really enjoyed this show. The Cat Empire has a really unique sound and great stage presence. They packed the hall with die-hard fans who loved every second of the show. But having said that, I left wishing that I’d been introduced to this band back when I was 21 or so. They’re a great party band and everyone there had a blast, and I could see young me spending all night jumping up and down and singing and cheering and thinking I’d seen the best show ever. This is the kind of concert that Deserée and Pat and I would have gone to in 1997 with no expectations just because we had nothing better to do, and walked away as devout new converts. But 35-year-old me, standing by himself off to the side, felt a bit like maybe this scene wasn’t really meant for me. Again, it’s not like I had a bad time in any way, but I was a bit on the outside looking in.

And with that, I was back on the train, headed home. Mostly. The University stop doesn’t seem to have any of those handy signs saying “this way to downtown/this way to the northwest” so I had a brief detour on the way back. These things happen, especially to me.

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