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.
• 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)