In Calgary again, visiting my grandma again, timed it to coincide with a show again. Baked her some bread again, sharpened her knives again, got my suitcase inspected again (for packing an electric knife sharpener again). You know the drill. I’m pretty sure I’ve done this exact opening before.
I could add “seeing Hawksley again” (third time since January) and “symphony show again” (following Steven Page, with Weird Al still to come this summer). Got some themes going on this year.
I met Colin for an early dinner at a downtown BBQ joint where he also goes to punk concerts. Some things about that sentence are odd and that’s okay. It was a bad day to eat early; lunch had come late because I hit up Record Store Day first and also had to stop at London Drugs and buy my grandma some printer ink. Calgary priorities. That said, though I wasn’t really hungry, dinner was pretty good, with the side of bourbon apples a particular standout.
After dinner, we walked over to Arts Commons for the show, which was in the Jack Singer Concert Hall. It was rush seating and I had a goal of getting there “earlyish, but not stupidly so” and I feel like we succeeded.
Rather than rushing to claim seats, we got drinks first. I’m not much of a drinker, nor a line-stander-inner, but they had a concoction called The Workman – how could I not? Besides, Colin handled the lining up and the buying all by himself. The drink, while tasty, demonstrated the effectiveness of branding. Fun theme drink I can talk about in a review? Sure! But call it what it is – namely, just Maker’s Mark and Coke – and I’d have passed. (Or maybe not; I’d already had those apples and Bourbon Day is always an option since I like themes so much).
Out of the lobby and into the hall itself, and we spent way too much time looping around trying to decide on seats. Paralyzed by choice, we were. With no ideal options, we wound up sitting centre-right, a little better than halfway to the back. I think that somewhere in this paragraph is a metaphor for the Alberta provincial election if I bothered to suss it out.
In an unusual move, Hawksley posted the full setlist on his Instagram before the concert began. Since I saw it before the show, you may as well get it before the review:
Goodbye to Radio (with orchestra)
A House or Maybe a Boat (with orchestra)
Autumn’s Here (with orchestra)
Safe and Sound
Oh You Delicate Heart (with orchestra)
Your Beauty Must be Rubbing Off
No More Named Johnny (with orchestra)
1983 (with orchestra)
Song for Sarah Jane (with orchestra)
Jealous of Your Cigarette
Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky (with orchestra)
Battlefords (with orchestra)
No Beginning, No End (with orchestra)
That’s a nice, career-spanning mix. As you can see, about half the songs were accompanied by the orchestra, and half were just Hawksley and Mr. Lonely. Honestly, I was initially a little disappointed in the number of songs that didn’t feature the symphony, since that was the big draw for me. I mean, I love Hawksley and was going to enjoy this either way, but this was the 24th time I’ve seen Hawksley in concert and the symphony songs promised to be something new and different.
Having said that, as seems to be the norm with these symphony shows, there weren’t a ton of surprises in the arrangements. The orchestra usually seems to be used to accompany the original song, rather than drastically change it. The new songs, 1983 and Battlefords, had arrangements by Sarah Slean, and both were nicely done. Hearing Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky – a song that I love but is also kind of ridiculous? – with the symphony was great, just because it made a weird song that much stranger. That said, Song for Sarah Jane was the surprise standout. On record, I’ve always found it kind of unsubstantial. Pretty, but not much to it. With the orchestra, though, the music swelled as the song went on and it became almost anthemic.
Hawksley is normally pretty emotive when he sings, and this was no exception. If anything, he was hamming it up more than usual. I’m sure part of it was having the symphony backing him up, and part of it was the size of the venue; apart from some folk festival shows (and those are outdoors, which have an entirely different vibe), this is easily the biggest place I’ve seen him play. He was also his usual chatty self, at least before the less-structured songs with just him and Lonely. He joked about his unseasonable song picks with Autumn’s Here and the Christmas tune A House or Maybe a Boat, and had introductions for other songs, including the same story about Snowmobile as he told last time in Regina.
Hawksley can be a bit of an oddball and I’m sure the symphony brought out some people who wouldn’t normally go to his concerts – like when we saw him with the Vinyl Cafe years ago. You can always spot those people because they’re the ones laughing at lyrics, hearing them for the first time. The older lady sitting to my right took incredible delight in some of the more risqué lines in songs like Jealous of Your Cigarette and especially Paper Shoes. We were also sitting near some diehards who knew all the words and sung along at every opportunity, most often during fan favourites like Smoke Baby, Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off, and Safe and Sound. They were also really good singers, which added nicely to the atmosphere in those parts.
All told, this was really great, with a new twist on a bunch of songs, a great performance, and a crowd that was super into everything. Not that it matters, because you likely saw Hawksley in the title, figured my feelings on the show were a foregone conclusion, and skipped this. And for those of you who didn’t, should have gone with your gut, I guess. Could have saved yourself a few minutes.
Last summer, I bought a notebook of fancy Clairefontaine paper, the kind Hawksley Workman sings about. I did this solely because of that song, not really thinking that I don’t ever write anything by hand anymore and already have ample paper supplies. With no pressing use for this impulse purchase, I decided to save it for the next Hawksley concert, breaking it in by writing the review. It seemed fitting, and it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these by hand. I come up with entirely different reviews when writing by hand, for sure. I even bought Baby’s First Fountain Pen to class it up. But then one show turned into two, and the paper and pen sat and sat as I contemplated hand cramps. So here I am, two weeks later, back in Notepad.
The first Hawksley show, announced late last year, was part of the Regina Folk Festival’s annual Winterruption series of concerts. A delightful surprise, as I wasn’t thinking we’d see him until after his new album, Median Age Wasteland, comes out in March. The second show, added a fair bit later, promised to be pretty unique. Titled “A Night on Drums,” it was a fundraiser for a local women’s shelter where Hawksley would… well, I didn’t really know. Play the drums. Talk about the drums. They’re his first instrument – and still clearly his favourite – but you don’t usually get to see him play them in concert for more than one song. I didn’t know what we were getting, but I figured it would be interesting.
For the Winterruption show, Mika and I got to the Exchange shortly before the first band was to start. I had promised there would be seats and I was turned into a liar. Oh well, we dumped our parkas at the coat check, got iced teas, and stood around looking at cute animal pictures until the show was underway.
About those parkas. The past few years, Winterruption has coincided with spurts of unseasonable warmth, which is a delight, though is it really Winterruption if there’s nothing to Winterrupt? This year, we’re in the middle of a stretch of -30C or worse with no end in sight. Winterminable cold. Attendance at this show was decent but it certainly wasn’t sold out, and the weather couldn’t have helped. It’s anecdotal, but I know of Hawksley fans – even some who already bought tickets – who skipped out rather than brave the elements.
The openers were local folk band Suncliffs and calypso band Kobo Town. Heard of both, never seen either, not much to say about either, both were good. Suncliffs had a short, laid-back, enjoyable set, while Kobo Town brought a lot more energy. Very summery music that clashed with both the bitter weather and some occasionally dark lyrics. Riots in Karachi might be a perfectly valid topic for a song, but an unusual choice for a fun fan singalong part.
Finally, Hawksley took the stage, joined for the first time in quite a while by Mr. Lonely, his long-time keyboard player. They opened with fan favourite Safe and Sound, which always gives Lonely a nice showcase. He also gave us the opportunity to whistle along which was not what I would describe as a nice showcase. Next up was Jealous of Your Cigarette, which included Hawksley sheepishly apologizing for some of the more risqué lyrics. “People really like this song and I can’t take that back now. But that’s what I was thinking about when I was 23.”
Next up was The City is a Drag, which segued in and out of Karma Chameleon, which I’ve seen him do a few times before. He starts with “Desert loving in your eyes all the way” and you can hear it dawn on individual audience members as they figure out what song it is.
As ever, Hawksley talked a lot throughout the show, going into detail about the writing of The City is a Drag (it involved poop everywhere, but I’ll let you guess whose) and repeatedly mentioning his resolution to talk less. He also introduced each new song by acknowledging that nobody ever goes to a concert to hear new songs. A lot of the time, sure, but I’m biased; Hawksley could have played all new stuff and I’d have been thrilled. I’m still a little disappointed that he wasn’t selling the new album six weeks before its street date, just for us.
Two of the new songs, Battlefords and Lazy, have already been released as singles. Battlefords in particular was beloved, with people in the crowd asking him to play it a second time. I went for coffee with one of my former bosses a month or two ago, and he brought the song up to me, not knowing that I like Hawksley, just that it was a song he really enjoyed (particularly the use of the word “akela,” which I admit I had to look up and am not doing so again to see if it should be capitalized).
Two other songs, 1983 and (he called it Oh Yellow Snowmobile but the tracklist just says Snowmobile so whatever) were new to me. Both were a delight. Everything from the new album is very nostalgic, but the part in 1983 about owning a VIC-20 but begging for a Commodore 64 spoke to me in an alarmingly specific way. I mentioned this to him on Twitter and he replied that at that time, they actually had a TRS-80, so I can only assume that he wrote this part just for me. Thanks, dude!
All told, the show was on the short side but delightful as ever. Here’s the full setlist, with a few notable deviations from the norm:
Safe and Sound
Jealous of Your Cigarette
The City is a Drag
Clever Not Beautiful
A Moth is Not a Butterfly
Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky
encore: Your Beauty Must be Rubbing Off
The night before, Hawksley had played another unique show, this time in Saskatoon in the restaurant at the top of the Sheraton Hotel. Seemed like an odd venue. The premise was that half the show would be whatever he wanted, and half would be fan requests. This was suitably different and tempting enough to make me consider the drive. It’s also a real bad time of year to be out on the highway, and I’ve been to back-to-back Hawksley shows before; they’re never that different. For those reasons, I leaned against going, though the final call was made for me when the Saskatoon show sold out in short order.
He didn’t take requests at our show. At one point, someone yelled out for the song Teenage Cats, to which Hawksley replied “I love that you love that song! I was singing it to myself a lot lately because I just met a new teenage cat. Anyway I’m not playing that song.”
Ultimately, of the two “real” concerts, the Saskatoon show sounded like the better one. With no openers, Hawksley was able to go a little longer and they wound up getting everything we did and five or so songs that we didn’t. Nothing new, thankfully – I’d have really felt like I missed out if that had been the case. And our openers were fun and good and worthwhile and all that. But still.
That said, Regina got the shorter concert, but also a whole other show. Teacher and drummer Brian Warren organized a drum-centric second night. Tickets were cheap, the show raised money for a good cause, and it promised to be unique, so I was totally down with this, even if I had no idea what I was getting into.
What it was wasn’t really a concert. Hawksley played drums twice – once for about 10 minutes near the start, which he described as “practicing, but with an audience,” and once where he put on a Jay-Z song and drummed along with it. Turns out he’s good at the drums, guys. Most of the show was talking, first Hawksley by himself, then a conversation with Warren who acted as host, and finally a Q&A. Hawksley’s stories are often quite polished, but he really seemed to let his guard down and was even a little nervous. I’m not going to tell his stories for him, but he spoke a lot about his childhood and how he got into drumming, how he and his music changed over the years, aspects of his personal life, his writing process, and more. I’m not a drummer or a anything, but that was never an issue – there were only a few points that got technical, and I might not know the names of different ways to grip drumsticks, but I get the idea, you know?
This also marked the only time I was at an event with a Q&A where I didn’t sink my head into my hands in embarrassment for someone asking a question. All the questions were good and relevant. And they were all questions! Anyone who starts with “This is actually more of a comment” should be immediately slapped and ejected and slapped again. We got none of that. Good work, local Hawksley fans.
This might be the most expensive show I’ve ever been to. I once spent $250 per person to see Simon & Garfunkel, but that was my mom’s money and at any rate, that show was cancelled due to “illness” (a symptom of which is an overabundance of good seats still available weeks after the on-sale date).
My ticket to The God That Comes, on the other hand, was only $40, but you know how they get you with the hidden fees. For example, I paid an extra $2 to have the ticket mailed to me, and an extra way-too-much to change my flight.
See, I knew that Hawksley Workman’s musical was coming to Calgary. And every spring, I spend five days or so in Calgary visiting my grandparents and burning off last year’s unused vacation days. Naturally, I had hoped these two events would overlap. When WestJet had a seat sale, and I still hadn’t heard about when the musical would run, I booked a week off in April and hoped for the best.
Being the hip, ever-connected, social-media-savvy dude that I am, I figured I’d hear about the Calgary dates as soon as they were available. As such, I Googled nothing. This would prove to be unwise, since the show dates had been available for months and my trip put me in good ol’ Cowtown two weeks late. I spent about a day bemoaning my fate before a burst of motivation encouraged me to FIX ALL THE THINGS and I sucked it up, paid WestJet’s reasonable rescheduling fee, ate the less reasonable difference in fares (did I mention that the seat sale had ended?), and looked forward to the show.
All told, this bit of stupidity cost me somewhere in the range of $200, not including the show ticket itself. I chalked it up to an expensive life lesson (“just payin’ the ol’ idiot tax”) and I was okay with it until actually writing the dollar value down and telling you fine people. I feel it is relevant to the story and needs to be noted for posterity, but Jesus Christ, I get irrationally mad when I forget about some grapes in the fridge and I have to throw away the bad ones.
But oh well, what’s done is done. And then I called my grandparents two weeks before the trip and my grandma wanted to know if I had anything planned for the Thursday night. I don’t need to tell you that was the night I had the ticket for, right? It wasn’t the first performance – there were two preview shows – but it WAS the official opening night. And now my aunt was in town for one night only and family was coming over. Sucked it up, fixed all the things, bought a ticket for Friday night. Another $42.
You will note the presence of the $2 fee to have the ticket mailed to me. I left for Calgary on Tuesday morning. A ticket-shaped envelope was in that day’s mail. The mail comes in the afternoon because OF COURSE IT DOES. I was prepared to suck up fix things yadda yadda but the nice box office lady I called assured me that I could show up with the original credit card and some photo ID and all would be well. I am pleased to report that this actually worked out. These are the benefits of not dealing with Ticketmaster.
The God That Comes was held at the Big Secret Theatre, which is not all that big and if it’s supposed to be a secret, they might want to consider taking down all the signs that point the way. The Theatre is part of the EPCOR CENTRE for the Performing Arts. I picked my ticket up at the box office for the Martha Cohen Theatre (which is also part of said oddly-capitalized CENTRE). The show was put on by the 2b theatre company (again with the capitalization) as part of the Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays (“playRites” – somebody’s screwing with me), which is under the auspices of Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP). All of this is a long way of saying I have absolutely no idea who was really behind this. Possibly it took all of Alberta to stage this production. I do not know.
According to the website, the Big Secret Theatre seats 190 people. There were a number of small tables close to the stage; these were reserved for people who were ATP subscribers. There was some auditorium-type seating a bit further back (but still quite close – the theatre was pretty small) and a balcony which I never saw. There was a bit of confusion at first; When they let us in, one (usher? attendant? host?) said that we could sit in the auditorium seating if we weren’t at a table. When some of us did so, the other host said that we couldn’t. This seemed odd as there were twice as many people milling about as there were table seats. Anyway, pointless story short, they sorted everything out and eventually filled up the tables, the auditorium seating, and part of the balcony. I had an aisle seat in the second row, so I got to do lots of stand sit stand sit stand sit as people came and went.
In talking to people, it became clear that none of my Hawksley-fan friends knew what, exactly, The God That Comes actually was, whether it was a concert or a play and who all was involved. I’d read a bit about the show but wasn’t entirely sure myself. It turns out that it’s a one-act play entirely performed by Hawksley. There’s some talking, but it’s mostly sung. You’d be forgiven for thinking of it as a concert with the setlist known in advance. Hawksley plays all the instruments himself, though Mr. Lonely is credited (under that name, which is awesome) as the Sound Operator. I saw him after the show at the soundboard, but he was never on stage.
The play is the story of Bacchus, the god of wine and sex. (“He’s bringing sexy Bacchus” has already been used in reviews and I’m sad I didn’t get to it first.) People worship this god by, appropriately, getting drunk and boning en masse. The king does not approve of this, especially once his mother gets involved, so he has his soldiers bring the god to him. The god says “if you want to know what we’re doing, why don’t you dress up as a woman and go spy on us?” The king sees nothing wrong with this plan, so he gets all ladied up and heads off for the orgy. In the darkness, the writhing mob mistakes him for a wild animal and murders him. His own mother tears his head off.
That’s basically the whole story, minus a few minor details. Hawksley opens the show by explaining all this (hence the lack of a spoiler warning above), and then he spends the next 75 minutes or so telling it again through song. The prologue made following along a lot easier and was appreciated, at least by me. Maybe you are a mythology genius and don’t need the hand-holding?
The accompanying album, Songs From The God That Comes, was released on Tuesday. As the only way to buys a physical CD are to get one at these shows or online, I didn’t get a chance to hear it before going. I did listen to the samples on iTunes, and was decidedly optimistic. They were weird in a way that reminded me of the Hawksley of old, of his first album, For Him And The Girls, of the Hawksley that made me a fan.
That’s exactly what I got at this show, and it was amazing. The songs had the dramatic flair and strangeness and played with gender in the same way that Hawksley did on that first record. It’s a sound and style that Hawksley has strayed far from in more recent albums and it was great to hear it again. When he picked up two poles, I wanted to turn to the people near me and freak out. “He’s going to beat them against the ground and stomp and it’s going to be AWESOME” and it WAS. I haven’t seen him do that in concert in years!
There were lots of new additions too. There was a light show the likes of which I’ve never seen at a Hawksley show (with notable changes as the story progressed – if you ever see this and think “hey, that text looks blurry,” you’ll find out it’s for a reason). More interestingly, Hawksley played all the instruments but used looping pedals to create layers of sound – it’s something I’ve never seen him do before and he was able to really build the intensity, even though he’d already told you how the story went.
There’s only so much detail I want to go into. There are lots of surprising touches that you really should see and hear for yourself. This won’t be easy; it’s in Calgary for the next few weeks, and stints in Halifax and Toronto are planned, but if you’re not in one of those places, you’re out of luck for the time being. The CD will surely be a decent substitute, but without the lights and props and whatnot, it will be missing something. I’m hoping that he eventually releases a video.
I really only had two nits to pick about the evening. One was the length; 75 minutes just felt short. I know that it isn’t a concert and it’s not really fair to compare it to one, but I wouldn’t have said no to an encore with some classic Hawksley songs. And in a related (and somewhat contradictory) note, the last song, “They’ve Decided Not To Like Us,” didn’t really have anything to do with the story and felt tacked on. I liked the song when I first heard it at Hawksley’s Saskatoon show last year and I liked it tonight – but it didn’t quite fit. So there you go; my complaints are “I loved it and wanted more” and “yay, extra song.” I need to learn how to bitch better.
Right after the show, I said on Twitter that the show is a must-see if you’re any kind of fan of Hawksley Workman. If you’re not a fan, then I’m not so sure. I’ve told this story before, but the first time I heard For Him And The Girls, I didn’t like it at all. It was just too weird and I was immediately put off. Obviously, it grew on me (to the point that it’s one of my all-time favourite albums), but it took some time and multiple listens (I’ve been known to give that album as a gift and tell people that they need to listen to it at least twice before making up their minds on it). I can see this show having the same effect on some people. I’m not saying that non-fans shouldn’t go; just adjust your expectations and your weirdness tolerance levels accordingly.
As for me, I went back and caught the matinee the next day, and I didn’t have to change my flight to do it. If my grandpa has taught me anything, it’s that you should always average down.
Sitting in the Broadway Theatre, waiting for the show to start, Deserée got a text from Nicholas asking if I was excited for the show. Considering that I’ve never met Nicholas, I appreciated his concern.
And I was excited, or excited enough, anyway. I checked and this was my fourteenth time seeing Hawksley Workman. I didn’t read all my old reviews in detail, but at least as far back as the fifth show, I was saying that I’d felt like I’d seen everything before. And while I always enjoy Hawksley’s shows, it does sometimes feel like he only ever plays the same small selection of his many songs.
I told Deserée to tell Nicholas that I was excited for the show, but probably not as excited as she was. This is an understatement. For many years, she’s been using the social media of the day to try and convince Hawksley that he needed to play the song Baby This Night in concert. So far, no luck. But about a week before the show, Hawksley tweeted that he was rehearsing for the tour. She asked if he was rehearsing Baby This Night for Saskatoon, and he said “yes!” and she said OMGOMGOMGAgdfsnhoaiigsndrvsldknhfslvnh, or words to that effect.
She bought tickets long before the show but never picked them up, so we were relying on the Broadway Theatre website to find out when the show was to start. It said doors at 6:30, show at 7:30, so we agreed to split the difference and meet at 7:00. I took the afternoon off work so I made it to Saskatoon in plenty of time. After a quick sub with Dave, I made it to the theatre at about 7:05, or five minutes after the doors actually opened. I’m never sure why tickets, printed over a month in advance, can be right, but websites are almost always wrong.
Since this has mostly been Deserée’s story so far, and I’m feeling a bit reviewed out at this point, I’ll just liberally steal from her post on Facebook:
I arrived around 6:40 to pick up tickets at will-call, only to discover I was the first one there. There was a sign saying that doors opened at 7 and the show started at 8. So instead of standing around being cold, I decided to grab a coffee at Starbucks. It’s a few doors down from the theatre. While I was waiting for my drink, who should walk in but Hawksley Workman himself?! Did I play it cool and say hello? Did I casually introduce myself as the person who has been harassing him for 10 years to play my favourite song in concert? No. I texted my friend that he was there, and then walked out of Starbucks with my heart in my mouth.
Went back to the theatre, where I was still the first one there. I was joined shortly after by a guy and his girlfriend. He was a big HW fan, and it was her first show. We chatted about the olden days, shows gone by, other acts we had seen at Louis’, back when it was The Dank, and not all Star Trekky and over-priced. As we were chatting, Hawksley walked up to the door. He asked why it was still locked and knocked on it a few times. We asked him if he didn’t have some pull to get us inside. He said “man, you’d think I would, but I’m telling you, I have no pull at all. I mean, I’m the performer, but I have to stand out here just like you”. We all laughed, and he asked our names. I told him my first name, and then my last name, and he said “Oh yes, I know who you are!” I said “are you really playing my song tonight?” and he said “Yes, I am!”
I got there too late to see any of this.
We found our way to our seats and promptly doubled back to check out the stuff table. Apart from the shirts, most of which were for ladies, I had every single thing. Back to the seats, where Deserée showed me how to work her little video camera for when (if?) they’d play her song.
Before the show, a representative from the theatre came out to thank sponsors and whatnot. He mentioned that someone was studying to be a sommelier (and not, as Deserée thought a “Somalian”) and had paired wines (one red, one white) specifically to Hawksley’s music. The Broadway mostly shows movies, so you could buy hot buttered popcorn with your wine. Popcorn feels weird at a concert. Wine feels weird at a movie theatre (not that I usually drink wine anyway).
There was no opening act. Hawksley and Mr. Lonely took the stage, and I’ll turn it over to Deserée again:
The only part of the night that was more exciting was when Hawksley and Lonely STARTED the show with “Baby, This Night”. That’s why the first line is chopped off of this video. And it starts a little wobbly because James had to record and get set at the same time. But I’m quite delighted with it and hope you will also enjoy 🙂 The crowd seemed mostly confused by it, and I chalk that up to a lot of HW fans being the ones that came on with “Striptease”, so they don’t know the earlier stuff as well. It was well-received though, even if people did think it was a new track 🙂
So yes. After years of hoping and begging and “it was a great show, but…” he opened the show with the song she’d waited forever for, and now she even has it (well, 99% of it) on video. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen him play it before – if we have, it was one of those very first shows back in 2000. I think it’s fair to say that as much as she built the song up, Hawksley and Lonely lived up to expectations. I don’t know if he’s playing it at every show on this tour or if it really was special for Saskatoon because she asked, but whatever the case may be, she said it was her all-time favourite concert-going moment.
Right now, the video is only posted on Facebook, but if she posts it to YouTube, I’ll link to it. And yes, the video WAS a little wobbly. In my defense, I had to shoot around an old man’s massive head while simultaneously covering up the viewfinder so as not to blind anyone sitting behind us.
So what could follow that? We actually got one of the better setlists in recent memory, but I might be biased since he played Claire Fontaine, which is one of my all-time favourites, and I’m reasonably certain it was the first time I’ve ever heard him sing the whole thing. (I’m still a bit bitter about the time many years ago he sang a few lines and then moved onto another song.)
The whole show was a nice mix of my personal favourites, old and new, from Bullets and Safe & Sound from his first album, through We Will Still Need A Song, and more recent songs like Piano Blink, We’ll Make Time, and Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky. We also got some of the songs that always seem to show up – it’s pretty rare that you see Hawksley and he doesn’t play Autumn’s Here or Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off (this time, it segued in and out of the theme from The Greatest American Hero; in a related note, Deserée’s TV show theme-identifying abilities are top-notch). He also played Smoke Baby, but a version unique to Saskatoon, as he was joined by local guitarist Megan Lane.
I like Hawksley enough (you: “we know”) and have seen him often enough (you: “again, we know”) that I’d rather have a whole show of new material than the greatest hits (does he have hits? I guess Striptease, kinda, but he didn’t play that), so I was delighted to get a song I’d never heard before. Hawksley’s written a musical called The God That Comes, about Bacchus, the god of wine. It’s still talked about on his website as a work in progress, though I know it’s been performed in Victoria and Toronto (more trial runs than anything) and it will be performed in Calgary at some point next year. I really enjoyed the new song and if I’m going to be visiting my grandparents in Calgary at some point anyway…
He also played “something weird” that the CBC asked him to make, which was the song Where They Left It Wild from the CBC Radio 2 Great Canadian Song Quest. I really never expected to hear this one in concert but it was pretty great and would be a welcome addition to the regular rotation.
Somewhere in here was an intermission, which Hawksley repeatedly stated was not a sign of weakness on his part; rather, an opportunity to sneak backstage and lift some weights. I tried to take the opportunity to buy some popcorn and special Hawksley wine (so while Hawksley was pretending to work out, I was looking to inflate myself with trans fats and alcohol), but the lobby had about seven intermission’s worth of people in something that was almost (but not entirely) completely unlike a line. Oh well, I didn’t need that popcorn anyway. I bet it was sour.
Hawksley also likes to chat between songs (and sometimes during songs). I don’t generally go into too much detail here, since I’d hate to spoil anything for future concertgoers. I know he recycles bits; I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the story about his dad and the kayak at the past four straight shows. Same with the one about him and his brother visiting their grandmother. They’re enjoyable stories every time, but it’s always more fun to hear new stuff. Accordingly, I left the show tempted to register twitterwhichisbullshit.com just so he could access Twitter by a more fitting URL and post tales of the bygone days of Sears.
Driving to Saskatoon and back in a day isn’t quite as challenging as Minneapolis and back in three days, but I could still do without it. You can’t see anything at night, there’s nothing to see during the day, and if there was anything there, I’d have seen it all during the hundreds of times I’ve made that trek. But if I can keep being happily surprised 14 shows in, I’ll keep going.
James sent me these Hawksley singles. Thanks, James!
‘Sweetest Thing There Is’ starts out with a lovely, almost searching solo piano and quickly explodes into a soaring melody as only Hawksley can imagine it, that wall of sound (to steal a phrase) he creates where the lyrics are almost an afterthought, before slipping back to that haunting piano again.
‘Hockey, The Greatest Game In The Land’ is the theme song for Score: The Musical. James says it’s decidedly the most un-Hawksley song he’s heard, but doesn’t hate it. I love it! It’s so goofy. And it covers everything we think of when we think of the game, cliché and otherwise. Plus, the songs rocks. And it has a nice Hip guitar reference in the middle. Haha sweet.
‘I Loved You Too Much’ is Hawksley’s contribution to the recent Garth Hudson Presents A Canadian Celebration Of The Band record. It’s another rocker, of course, and it’s clear he’s doing the track with the glee of a guy who remembers bouncing around the living room and lip-sync singing to the Band as a kid, and now here he is with Hudson playing on the track with him! Definitely lots of bombast here, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Oh, Hawksley. You rock.
Have I tried writing one of these things in an airport before? Specifically, the Regina airport? For a second, I thought we were breaking new ground here, but this now seems awfully familiar.
Things seeming awfully familiar may become a theme here. This is now the XXth time that I’ve seen Hawksley in concert – I’d look up the exact number, but I’m not paying $10 for a half-hour of weak airport Wi-Fi – and I really feel like I’ve seen all of his tricks before. This is not a bad thing, necessarily – I love his tricks; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t keep going back. But it really kind of left me feeling like I didn’t have a lot to write about. We are now almost two weeks removed from the show, and the only reason that I’ve finally started into the review is because I have been conditioned to get to airports way earlier than necessary, I’ve already finished my bagel, and the aforementioned ridiculous cost of Wi-Fi here.
The first time Hawksley played Darke Hall, four years ago, I wound up having friends over unexpectedly after the show and I had nothing to feed them. Last time, two years ago, I was prepared. But this time out, things were tricky. There were a lot of people I knew at this show. And they were bringing friends. At the peak, it looked like there would be 18 friends (or friends-of) at the show, and that’s too many to cram into my one-bedroom apartment. When the show was announced, back in… December, I think, I gave serious thought to whether I could buy a house, get moved in, and have it party-ready for March 19. This seemed like a very bad reason to buy a house, but I bought a car because it was yellow, so it would be keeping in character. Ultimately, I decided that the best thing I could do was invite the friends who were visiting from Saskatoon and call it good. Hopefully I’ll have a house by the time his next show rolls around. Good thing he’s not playing the Folk Festival this year.
You can’t review Hawksley in Darke Hall without comparing it to the two other shows that he’s played there. There’s something about the combination of the performer and the venue that guarantees a special night. There were three friends in attendance who’d driven up from Saskatoon for the show, even though he played Saskatoon the night before.
One thing this show most certainly did not have going for it was the weather. Last time out, our special tickets from the website let us wait inside the building’s main doors well before they started actually taking tickets. This time, with a windchill well below freezing, it didn’t work. We still got in 15 minutes before the masses with their normal tickets, but my desire for good seats and hopefulness that they’d actually let us wait inside left us very chilly. I would rather be early than late, but this doesn’t always pan out either.
While waiting, we ran into Jeff and Mandi, who did not have the special tickets, and opted to wait in Jeff’s gloriously heated car rather than in line outside like us chumps. I did not think of telling him to just drive the car into the line, so I will tell him now. It seems like an idea that can’t possibly go wrong. We also ran into Heather and her friend, who had tickets waiting at the will-call. Once they got their tickets, they disappeared into the normal ticket line. Or possibly they just left and got coffees. So I guess what we’ve established is that everyone is smarter than me.
That is, excluding the nice girl who detached our ticket stubs, threw the tickets in the garbage, and gave us our stubs back. I collect those, I wasn’t impressed. Everyone else got to keep their tickets except Mika and me.
So after a long wait in the cold, we got some nice second-row seats. Deserée, Reagan, and Jenn all had the special tickets too and wound up in the same row, as did Mark and Chad. And Colin, since we saved a seat for him. Really, we just kind of took over the whole second row. It wasn’t planned, it just kind of happened. Meanwhile, Jeff and Mandi, finally brave enough to tackle the elements and the longer, later line, walked right in and took two seats in the front row. I found this awfully amusing; more so when Heather and her friend showed up and took two more front row seats. Lesson: if you don’t get the special first-day website tickets and you don’t wait outside forever in the cold, the universe will provide for you anyway. I assume I will not remember this in two years when he plays here again, which goes back to our previous lesson: "everyone is smarter than me."
Before the show, Deserée and I took a brief trip to the stuff table. With no ticket, I had to rely on my handstamp to get back in. Given that the same girl was working the door, I wasn’t confident that this would work. I became less confident when the girl refused to issue Deserée a handstamp unless she showed her ticket. "It’s in the auditorium," Dez replied, "the one you just saw me walk out of." The girl mulled this over while we looked at CDs and shirts. I thought about getting Hawksley’s new album on vinyl but decided I didn’t feel like carrying it around all evening. Also, I don’t (yet) own a record player. I snuck back to my seat while the ticket-taking girl was looking at something shiny.
The last time I saw Hawksley was last year in Winnipeg. On the way there, I listened to an interview with him where he pointed out that he’d recorded something like 200 songs, but only ever played the same 20 or so in concert. After, in the review, I noted that this was true – there was nothing new or unusual played during that show. This show started with Mr. Lonely playing a piano medley of some of Hawksley’s most famous songs. And that was all we would hear of them.
With one and three-quarters new albums out (stupid releasing a single every week online nonsense) not long before the show, there were a lot of new songs available, and he played most of them. This was fine for me, but it was a bit of a disappointment to the first-timers there. There was no Anger As Beauty, no Striptease, no Jealous Of Your Cigarette, no We Will Still Need A Song, no Bullets, and no Safe And Sound. There was no Autumn’s Here, which is a shocker for a show Mika attended. And despite Deserée’s passionate one-woman Twitter campaign, there was still no Baby This Night. At this point, I like to think he’s doing it on purpose.
The full band was back, including Derrick Brady on bass and Jesse Zubot on violin. And a drummer whose name I don’t recall; Hawksley has to come up with a funny name for him. At one point, while everyone else was changing into bedazzled jumpsuits (yes), Zubot got an extended solo – according to a setlist Dez found on Twitter, this is called the "Zubocalypse." I laughed.
Despite all the new tunes, I’d kind of seen it all before. Hilarious chatting with the audience. Mid-show costume change. Hawksley songs interrupted by snippets of covers – this time out, it was Surrender by Cheap Trick, Raspberry Beret by Prince, and I’ve Got A Secret by… someone. Hopefully I will remember to look up the artist before I post this. Or maybe I will hilariously leave this in? Can you tell I still have a half-hour to kill before I can board?
And no stomping! What the heck, Regina, I love it when you stomp at Hawksley and he loves it too. And don’t try to pass off your stomping during the applause before the first encore – that does not count. Stomp in time with a song for no discernable reason. That is awesome.
This sounds like an awfully grumpy review, doesn’t it? I assure you it is not. I had a great time at the show, I would be first in line to go again, my feet warmed up nicely once we were inside, there were tons of good people there, I made too much food after the show, and the concert was the start of my vacation; one which I’m still on (and have only been sick for most of). I do not want to sound disappointed because the show hit the expected level of awesome but did not surpass it. But I will note that the first-timers seemed the most impressed. Maybe now they’ll believe me when I say something is awesome. Or maybe they figure that I’m a blind clock or a broken squirrel or something.
Upcoming Showsoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooollllllllllliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii <- that was me cleaning off my keyboard
– Barenaked Ladies w/Joel Plaskett in a little under two weeks
– Conan O’Brien, which isn’t technically a concert but I don’t care; anyway, it’s about a week after BNL
– Our Lady Peace playing an album I really liked when I was 20 or so; I think it’s about six weeks away
This has nothing to do with anything, but there’s a woman in this airport lobby whose voice sounds like a recording. I can’t explain it. The sound, the tone, I don’t know from the right words but if you heard it, you’d know what I mean. It’s like she has a built-in echo in her own throat. It is amazing.
Putting The Elephant Back In The Cage
Two comments on my last post, both letting me know that Cage The Elephant was not, in fact, very good live on the particular night that they were seen by the commenters. Well, maybe they could just get people together in a space and play the CD really loud? That’d sound alright. It’s also been ages since I saw a live show (and the last one was Leonard Cohen), so maybe my rock record ears are out of practice?
Laughing At Cake
Our infant son has a real sense of humour. Many are the body-shaking belly laughs emanating from this kid (which we completely love). And, recently, some of the best guffaws we get from him come every time we play Cake’s cover of Manha Manha on the For The Kids CD. Man, he just LOVES it! Of course, we’ll tire of it before he will, but for now that’s the height of brilliance to him. Fun!
First Four Tracks Of The New Hawksley!
James got us these, and man they are SWEET! Let Workman’s new album be the first CD you buy in the New Year and the rest of the year should proceed in a fantastic fashion! This genuine freak-out awesomeness, as though someone left the musical-genius Hawksley alone in a room with the best equipment money could buy and came back after the smoke had settled. Fuckin’ brilliant.
Classic Rawk Radio Can Blow Me
Man, just because it was recorded in the 1970’s does not mean that it is actually GOOD!!! For the love of all things holy in music, do you even play this shit before you air it? Do you hear me, 94.5 The Bull? Do you?
Yes, kiddies, I am currently compiling my annual list of the best albums of 2009, so be ready to run out and buy what I list that you so ignorantly ignored this year! Haha, er, I mean, there was a ton of cool stuff and I’m having trouble limiting myself to a list anyone would read, but I’ll give it a shot for the sake of your love of the KMA! It’s the love I have for you, baby!
Also, we have our first reader-submitted album! And a review is forthcoming! That’s right, if you’re an indie artist dreaming of being the very first to have your album actually sent to us and reviewed in these pages, you’ll just have to get in line ‘cos somebody finally beat you to it! But you should totally still send us your music. Honestly. Please, send it to us. We’d LOVE to hear it! Fire away!
Yes, it’s been a pathetically long time since my last appearance here. But remember, it’s like John Lennon said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making plans,” and man, I have been busy making plans to post here for WAY too long. So here’s some of the shit I’ve been listening to. More to come, ‘cos I’ve filled my iPod with all kinds of stuffs. Wahoo!
Terrible Hostess, Volume 2
Hooray for our friends at Mint Records! As you all know, Carolyn Mark and NQ Arbuckle have just released a tasty new disc of excellent music called Let’s Just Stay Here. Talk about making our year! So, in honour of this release, our great friends at Mint sent us some really sweet swag… buttons and stickers (love the airline ‘Fragile’ stickers with Air Carolyn on them!), a Carolyn and NQ luggage tag, and a blood red dish towel to go with a beautiful copy of Carolyn’s Terrible Hostess: Recipes For Disaster, Volume 2 cookbook! Some of the recipes look downright tasty and I can’t wait to try them (with recommended music playing and recommended drink in hand).
Slayer – World Painted Blood
Business-as-usual chaos as only Slayer can muster it. Play this as loud as your player can go. SLAYER!
Slipknot – Slipknot 10th Anniversary Edition
The CD’s the real draw in this set, with all the brutal honesty and aggression intact… and bonus tracks! Sweet.
Hawksley Workman – We’ll Make Time (Even When There Ain’t No Time)
New Hawksley is coming! Get ready! James found this radio broadcast world premiere. It’s a one-idea slow build with enough lyrics to make anyone run out of breath, crashing full-on into rock-out bliss. Ah, Hawksley.
Guided By Sloan
Just noticed that in the liner notes for Sloan’s Navy Blues, Guided By Voices is listed as having shared the stage. Imagine THAT show! I think I’d pass out with bliss…
Big Pink – A Brief History Of Love
Spent the whole time listening to this recognizing all of the influences that have given them their sound (U2, Oasis, Coldplay and tiresomely beyond). Shame they haven’t found their own sound out of the list.
Cage The Elephant – Cage The Elephant
This would sound great live. Kind of reminds me of the Trews although, if they meant what they said in the first track, they don’t give a shit what comparisons I can make. Just a great, fun rawk record.
Wild Beasts – Limbo, Panto
Oddly compelling, with weird party music and falsetto vocals. Could almost be the soundtrack to a 60’s stage show musical. Are we sure this isn’t a Darkness side project?
Yim Yames – A Tribute To
My Morning Jacket dude’s tribute to George Harrison. Stripped-down renditions show the strength of the originals and let the covers shine too.
Miranda Lambert – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
New country meets the moxy of the classic country ladies of days gone by, with a few dud tracks thrown in. This lady can sing, that’s for sure. One foot in a bold new direction, the other stuck in the same old schtick.
Iggy Pop – Preliminaires
Man, Iggy rules. Only this particular wild man could foist such a collection of jazzy. bluesy, rock-ish and Parisian-sounding stuff on our ears and get away with it. And without ridicule, too. Strangely compulsive, and not just because it’s Iggy (and therefore we must love it). A welcome diversion, so long as it’s not an admission that he’s finally slowing down for good.
Harry Connick, Jr. – Blue Light, Red Light
This takes me back to high school .Yes, I was THAT guy back then. Still am now, I’ll have you know. Great swing, astounding arrangements in the best of this style’s traditions. Could be the soundtrack to a grainy-colour 60’s musical, and that’s a very, very good thing.
Flight Of The Conchords – I Told You I Was Freaky
We all love these guys by now, with their quirky humour that’s laugh-out-loud funny. Even if you set aside the images from the TV show in your mind, this is still an hilariously danceable record. These guys are really onto something.
This was the show that nearly failed to happen. Twice. Back in February, I had a ticket to see Hawksley in Brandon, Manitoba. Brandon is about a four-hour drive (one way) from Regina and that’s a bit much to see a guy who I’ve seen in concert probably ten times already. Plus, February is not the time when you really want a long drive on the Prairies. And true to form, work got really busy right before the show. Work cleared up on the day that I was supposed to leave, but that also turned out to be the day of our biggest blizzard of the year and I wasn’t about to take a chance on the highways. No February Hawksley in Brandon for little James.
Oh well, four hours really is pretty far to drive for a concert, which is why it only made sense that I’d get tickets for a show in Winnipeg, which is an additional two hours beyond Brandon.
Really, I had no plans to go to this show, but when it was announced, I forwarded the information to Kristin, who lives in Winnipeg. Not sure why I bothered – I think she’s on the same mailing list that I am – but it seemed like the thing to do. The night of the presale, she complained to me that Ticketmaster had already sold out. Nothing turns me into a sucker more quickly than artificially limiting the supply of something, so I went through Hawksley’s website where some presale tickets were still available. Suddenly, I had a show to go to.
And again, it very nearly didn’t happen. Usually, I know about my biggest work projects well in advance, but this most recent one came out of nowhere and was scheduled to end just as quickly – right when I was supposed to be gone. I decided I’d go anyway, no I wouldn’t, yes I would, I wouldn’t. Mika says this debate happens pretty much every weekend when I have something planned and she is exaggerating only slightly. Eventually, I came up with a plan whereby I’d bring my work laptop on the trip, find a hotel with internet access, and work on the most pressing projects after the show. I thought this was a brilliant (if less than ideal) plan up until a coworker called me at home on Sunday afternoon to let me know that our customer had pushed their due date back a week. And that is how the plan came together.
I left for Winnipeg on Monday morning with nothing more than a bag full of technology and a change of clothes. I didn’t have a hotel booked and didn’t have much of a plan. I was to pick Kristin up at her house, we were going for Ethiopian food and watching the show, and that was all I knew. If I had no reason to spend the night in Winnipeg, I’d consider heading home right after the concert. This would be seriously stupid, but a kind of stupid I am familiar with. I’ve done the Saskatoon-to-Regina, Regina-to-Minot, and Saskatoon-to-Edmonton one-day round trips in the past. Of course, some of these nearly killed me, but still.
The drive was uneventful, which is how I like it. I saw some baby geese, and I played "guess the gender of the person behind the till" at a small-town Dairy Queen. No idea if I won or lost that game. I hadn’t made the drive to Winnipeg in over five years, and was waiting to be pleasantly surprised by the little things that I’d forgotten about. Still waiting. The whole thing felt very new to me. I don’t think I saw anything that looked familiar until I made it to Winnipeg itself.
Kristin’s new house was easy to find and the Ethiopian food was good – better, I dare say, than the Ethiopian place a block down from my apartment. It was good to spend some time with her, getting caught up. I will admit that I wasn’t in her house for 30 seconds before I thought "man, I did not miss getting repeatedly punched in the balls by her dog." I thought age might dull said dog’s hyperactivity but I thought wrong on that one. At least you can leave remote controls out in the open now, without fear of them getting eaten. Maybe.
The Hawksley show sold out quickly as it was the grand re-opening of Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Centre. I had never been there before, so I can’t judge the renovations. It looked a little bit unfinished in spots, and the evening’s host (who looked kind of like Norm MacDonald’s less successful younger brother) admitted as much on stage. Kristin seemed to like some of the design decisions and question some of the others. At least the bathrooms were no longer next to the stage. Hawksley later said "it’s pretty much the same as it was except the toilets are in a smarter place now."
We got a chance to check out the stuff table before the show, but there wasn’t much. CDs I already have, whatever t-shirts Hawksley had left from his previous tour, and the Treeful of Starling cards.
The opener was Greg MacPherson, a Winnipeg musician who I last saw in Regina at the 2004 Folk Festival. Hawksley doesn’t always have opening acts so I was thrilled to find out that there not only was one, but it was someone I liked. According to Kristin, MacPherson had moved away to Toronto and she hadn’t heard anything about him after that, but here he was and there was talk of a new album coming sometime this year. MacPherson’s first-ever show had been at the WECC, so he seemed pretty excited to be there for the re-opening, even debuting a few songs he’d never performed live before. There were also some old favourites, including Slow Stroke which you can download for free from Greg’s site.
A brief intermission and it was time for Hawksley Workman. I was curious about what Hawksley’s show was going to be like. This wasn’t part of a tour, just a one-night special performance – possibly because the WECC was the first building that Hawksley ever sold out in Canada. I assumed we wouldn’t get the costume changes and full band that his last Regina show had. Indeed, it was just Hawksley on guitar (and briefly on harmonica) and Mr. Lonely on piano. No toy instruments, no jumpsuits – and no real surprises on the setlist. I had been listening to a Calgary radio interview with Hawksley on the drive up, where he mentioned that his shows tend to go all over the place, but the music is very familiar – he made a joke about having recorded 120 songs, but always pulling from the same 25 when populating his set lists. In that same interview, Hawksley said that when he went to shows as a kid, he didn’t want to hear new stuff, and that seemed to be reflected in this evening’s song choices. Apart from The City Is A Drag, I don’t think there was anything from his two newest albums, and only two songs – Ice Age and You And The Candles – from Treeful of Starling. As for the rest, let’s see… one song from Almost A Full Moon (A House Or Maybe A Boat) and a fine selection from his first three albums, including Smoke Baby, Bullets, Papershoes, Clever Not Beautiful, Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off, Tarantulove (which he claimed was a children’s book), Jealous Of Your Cigarette, Anger As Beauty, and We Will Still Need A Song. No Striptease, I don’t think, which I’m pretty sure is still his biggest hit. Maybe someone out there took notes and can correct me if any of this is wrong.
This seems like a good place to awkwardly jam in a link – I recorded a video of Hawksley singing Bullets, which you can find here.
After his first song, Safe And Sound, Hawksley started talking and said that he would be fine with talking all night long. Really, that’s kind of what he did. Each song started with a story which may or may not have related to the song in any way. He claimed that he was inspired by comedians, which caused one audience member to laugh a lot; this, in turn, caused Hawksley to laugh a lot. Clever Not Beautiful was said to be inspired by Gary Larson. He thought We Will Still Need A Song was destined to be a huge hit, but the swearing held it back. You And The Candles was described as his one political song; he also said it was terrible. This got a good laugh, so he called it bad (in various ways) for several minutes – I think he just wanted to see how long he could drag the joke out for. He did the same thing later on when reflecting on the brand and contents of the bottled water he had, and again moments later when he used the word "Google" several thousand times in short, rapid-fire sentences.
The crowd seemed very much into everything and was contributing to the show. Smoke Baby went on forever because one dude in the crowd yelled "somewhere on the outside" louder than Hawksley was singing that part, so Hawksley made him do it over and over. At one point, Hawksley was trying to play his bottled water as an instrument by blowing on the bottle, but at the end of the song as he was about to do it again, someone in the crowd blew on their beer bottle, beating Hawksley to it, and he laaaaaaaaaaughed and laughed and laughed. "Well done," he said.
Between (and during) his songs, Hawksley switched in and out of a lot of old songs – not HIS old songs, just random old songs, including Riders On The Storm, Happy Together, Holding Out For A Hero, and Son Of A Preacher Man – whether or not he actually knew the words. I thought I knew the words to Holding Out For A Hero, but I didn’t know the part that says "he’s gotta play Scrabble real good." After struggling with the words to Happy Together, Hawksley walked off-mic to ask Lonely how the song went. As Lonely kept playing Happy Together, Hawksley returned to the mic, only to start singing The Logical Song.
Really, Mr. Lonely spent about two hours frantically trying to keep up with whatever Hawksley was doing. I have no idea how he does it. Great skill and ability, I guess. During Bullets, one of the few dancing fans complained that the venue had no dancefloor, so Mr. Lonely actually spoke – of course, all he said was "burn it down." Hawksley laughed and said that was "so Lonely" and played a bit of the Police song of the same name.
A one-song encore – which song it was completely escapes me – and we were on our way. The show was well worth the 12-hour round trip, even though we came up empty-handed in our post-show expedition to the 24-hour Shoppers Drug Mart in search of La Cocina tortilla chips (only available in Manitoba). I had to get Kristin to navigate because Winnipeg roads are designed solely to confuse. But even that nonsense worked out well – I turned my BlackBerry on as soon as the show ended, but found nothing apart from a text message reading – in its entirety – "ENOS!!!!!!!!" Don’t ask. If I’d taken Kristin straight home, I might have just skipped town, but the extra time spent in search of chips and complaining about road signs meant that I was still in Winnipeg when I received an email from my buddy Mitch saying that he was free for lunch the next day, which was all the encouragement I needed to stick around.
The Travelodge just off St. Anne’s was clean and comfortable, and more importantly, it was right next to a Safeway that was stacked to the gills with the good tortilla chips. Lunch was fun; I got caught up on gossip with Mitch and found out everything he’s been up to, and I got to live out a longstanding dream of having a Salisbury House Cheese Nip Plate. This actually WAS a longstanding dream of mine, for reasons far too nerdy for me to admit in public. The drive back was sunny and went by very quickly, though I did have to stop at the Grenfell Esso to buy car wipes since I had been eating peanuts and managed to coat my entire dashboard in fine peanut dust. But that happens on all good road trips.
Stuck On The Gimmes
My first car, a ’93 Honda Civic that I got in ’97 or so, kicked a whole lotta ass. It was a 5-speed, low and wide, and man, I drove the snot out of that thing. The last tape in that car’s tape deck was a mix of Me First And The Gimme Gimmes which, as I discovered when I went to sell the car in ’99, had become irrevocably stuck in the tape deck. So, the only options for music in the car at that point were the radio, and the Gimmes. I choose Gimmes!
Well, here I am a decade later with an ’03 Ford Taurus, and it has a tape deck in it too. Yes, in this day and age! Imagine! And so I have made a new mix tape of the Gimmes for this car. It’s only fair. Of course, they have released several more albums in the intervening decade, so the mix is much expanded and improved.
My only hope is that this mix, too, will get stuck in the tape deck. Call it Car-ma. OK, sorry, that was bad. But funny! And if that kid who bought that Honda ten years ago played his cards right, he could still be driving that car, and still grooving to the Gimmes, same as me!
The Tracks Of My 2009 (60 min) Gimmes Mix:
Nothing Compares 2 U
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
Stand By Your Man
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
It’s Raining On Prom Night
Only The Good Die Young
Nobody Does It Better
Who Put The Bomp
The Times They Are A-Changin’
End Of The Road
You’ll notice I left off tracks from the Live At Jonny’s Bar Mitzvah record, favouring album tracks instead. And the Bob Dylan cover on Side B is from the Turn Japanese EP. For those of you who care.
As you all know, Pearl Jam has released a very limited edition of their Ten re-release. It comes in a big beautiful box, with CDs, a DVD, some vinyls, a tape and a book (and who knows what else).
Recently, I held a copy of it in my hands. It was $220.
As a fan, I wanted it. I felt joy just holding it. I love that album, and that band. I knew I would appreciate it to no end. As a collector, I knew that getting one of only 1200 copies would be special, probably precious but, more importantly, worthwhile to me personally.
As a man who will become a father (for the first time) any day now, I didn’t buy it. I have lots of other priorities. And that’s not to say that having a baby made me wuss out. No, it just didn’t feel right. There was a time I wouldn’t have thought twice and just bought it. Now, well, I guess not… Interesting. The collector in me will regret it. The practical person in me won’t.
My next foray into the difficult task of creating mere 60 minute car mix-tapes of my favourite bands has led me, as I am always happily led, back to Sloan. How I do love this band. Imagine how difficult it was to make only one tape! Nevertheless, my attempt yielded the following:
The Rest Of My Life
Keep On Thinking
Nothing Left To Make Me Want To Stay
Believe In Me
So Beyond Me
I Am The Cancer
G Turns To D
The Good In Everyone
Money City Maniacs
Who Taught You To Live Like That?
If It Feels Good Do It
Everything You’ve Done Wrong
The Lines You Amend
And still there were a ton I wanted on there. So awesome.
The Someday iPod
Yes, someday I will have an iPod. True, just about everyone else seems to have one (except for me). True, I do own Weed King, the 1GB player my parents got for me, and it is indeed great. I even have the tape deck adapter for it for my car. But I can fill 1GB in the time it takes me to blink. I just have to start loading all the Hip, Sloan, Hawksley, Weaker… oh wait, the Weakerthans won’t fit. Shit. I didn’t even finish with a fraction of my Canuck faves, let alone my punk or metal or… See what I mean?
And so, one day I will have an iPod to be a companion for my super-amazing MacBook Pro. And it will be one of the ones that has something huge for storage capacity. To heck with these Nanos and those touch-screens with their still-tiny memories. For the same price I can skip out on the touch interface that I’d hate and actually have some leg room for all the music I want to take with me everywhere which is, admittedly, a substantial amount of tunes.
I’ve also noticed that Apple offers two free lines of engraving on iPods, too, and I already know what mine will say, it’ll say “It’s about fucking time/Aaron got an iPod.”
Of course, probably by the time I can afford one, it’ll just be an iChip that you plug into the port that Apple wet-wires behind your ears (for a fee), and you’ll control albums and tracks by altering how you flex your butt cheeks and wink your eyes, or whatever. But still, it is good to have a goal.
The Hawksley Project
Recently, I resolved to attempt a Hawksley Workman mix that’s limited to a 60 minute mix tape for the car. To mitigate the obvious difficulty inherent in such oppressive selectiveness, James kindly offered his services and so he and I split the duties by selecting a side’s worth of tracks apiece. I very much doubt that our selections reliably indicate the different aspects of what we like about this genuine artist’s output, since it’s categorically impossible to dislike anything the man does.
So, James chose his 8 tracks, and I chose mine, and then I fleshed it out to make an 80 minute CD for the other car (which actually has a CD player in it), so the end result looks like this:
Side A: Chosen With Love By James
We Will Still Need A Song
Kissing Girls (You Shouldn’t Kiss)
Alone Here (Ballad Of Bunches Of Things)
Clever Not Beautiful
Spider In The Salt
Every Creepy Pusher
Side B: Chosen With Glee By Aaron
Jealous Of Your Cigarette
Anger As Beauty
Is This What You Call Love?
Your Naked Body
Safe And Sound
Extra Tracks On The CD Version:
19 And The Morning Here Is Cold
21 Even An Ugly Man
22 Piano Blink (Los Manlicious version)
23 Sweet Hallelujah
What a great mix. When I listen to this on my way to work, I just know it’ll be impossible for me to have a bad day! Hawksley rules!
My ninth time seeing Hawksley Workman, this was easily my most-anticipated concert since the White Stripes came to Saskatoon last summer. Two years ago, Mika and I saw Hawksley twice in two days. The show in Saskatoon was great – Hawksley is a wonderful performer with an unbelievable stage presence. But the impact of that show was lessened by seeing Hawksley in Darke Hall in Regina on the previous night. If the Saskatoon show was great, the Regina show was unforgettable. The perfect venue, the perfect crowd, and my favourite singer – and for the first time that I’d seen, he just happened to pull out Claire Fontaine, my favourite song of his. It’s a love song to paper!
After the last Regina show, friends converged upon my apartment. Made sense, since I only live a few blocks from the venue. But since I wasn’t expecting them to come over, I didn’t really have anything to offer them. Smartass comments have since been made about “one bag of chips and one jug of Kool-Aid.” This time, I decided to overcompensate and I planned a party with foodstuffs and Rock Band. Could I fit 12 people into my one-bedroom apartment’s living room? I was determined to find out.
So to sum up, this show was the spiritual successor to one of the best concerts I’d ever seen in my life, and it was to be immediately followed by the first real party I’d thrown since moving out four years ago. Plus, Deserée had even started a Facebook group called “Hawksley Workman – please sing ‘Baby This Night’!” because she has never seen him play her favourite song, and when she yelled out for it last time, he said he couldn’t sing it because his mom wrote it and they were in a legal battle. It’s more likely that he forgets the words to songs that he doesn’t play often. But there had been reports that he’d played Baby This Night at other shows on this tour, and with Deserée’s Facebook group populated by a whopping 14 fans, she was quite hopeful. So clearly there was a lot riding on this evening.
Mika came down on Thursday night, and the two of us spent Friday buying groceries, cleaning my apartment (Mika did a ton of work and deserves all the credit for my apartment looking presentable), and preparing whatever food we could. The final menu was as follows:
- slow-cooker BBQ meatballs
- veggie tray (carrots, celery, cucumber, snap peas, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower) with homemade onion dip and store-bought spinach dip
- a fruit tray (pineapple, cantaloupe, grapes, and papaya) with homemade brown sugar/cinnamon dip
- baked Tostitos with peach salsa
- baked dill potato chips
- many kinds of sodas
I saved some of the fruits and veggies to prepare as people arrived, since I didn’t know how well they’d keep. I told Mika that if the pineapple tasted even half as good as it smelled, it would be the hit of the evening. She nodded politely. She doesn’t like pineapple.
I had ordered tickets for Mika and I through HawksleyWorkman.com. I just wanted to make sure that we got tickets as soon as possible, but as a surprise bonus, people who preordered got preferred access to the rush seating. I felt kind of bad that we couldn’t save seats for our friends, but I didn’t think it would be allowed. And even if we could have, we would have been saving a lot of seats for a lot of people (Deserée, Reagan, Jen, Amie, Heather, Leah, Chris, Maureen, Mary, and another Chris – plus some of these people were bringing friends), and that would just make us jerks. Nobody wants to be THOSE guys. So as to offend nobody, we decided to treat everyone equally and save seats for nobody. Everyone seemed to understand.
This did not stop me from being a jerk and sending Deserée text messages when we were seated inside and she was still lined up outside. I didn’t save all the messages, but the exchange went something like this:
- we are inside and you are not
- You suck.
- there is nothing left but balcony seating
- You had better be lying or I am going to break your legs. In half.
- the show has started already and he is singing baby this night and it is sooooo good
- Yeah well I had lunch with Hawksley today and he sang Claire Fontaine and he said he was going to break your legs.
- he already broke my legs and it ruled so hard
Eventually they got inside and were sitting a whopping three rows behind us. I called them from my cell and waved at them from my superior vantage point. Reagan got sweet revenge by blinding me with her camera flash.
There were a ton of instruments on the stage. Most of the time that I’ve seen Hawksley, it’s been just him and his pianist Mr. Lonely. This time, though, there was a toy piano, toy drums, a saxophone, a bass clarinet, a violin, a flute, a banjo, and two sets of keyboards.
Somewhere around 8:30, Hawksley took the stage and sat down at the toy drums. Mr. Lonely sat by his side at the toy piano. Three other musicians joined them. We Will Still Need A Song (complete with a segue in and out of Sloop John B) sounded neat on the toy instruments, but Don’t Be Crushed was amazing and stole the first half of the show. Safe and Sound was pretty cool too, but in the past, Hawksley has performed it with almost a honky-tonk piano sound and that remains my favourite version of the song.
After a long spiel about the CBC, Hawksley played You and the Candles, which he termed the only political song of the evening. It wasn’t so much political as it was inspired by the CBC radio news, which arrives every hour on the hour to tell you that humanity has yet to pull itself together.
Toy instruments, hilarious stories, snippets of other artists’ popular songs – you really never know what you’re going to get with a Hawksley show. He has a way of playing old favourites in new ways and freshening them up. During Smoke Baby, they were joined on stage by a local guitarist who played a great solo. The whole band went off-mic to do acoustic versions of When These Mountains Were The Seashore and Canadian Motorcycle Gangs (which I’d never heard live before). There were quite a few songs I’d never heard live, actually – I didn’t think we’d ever get a live performance of Addicted or Blindness, and there were two songs (Organic Coast and Polishing Shoes) that were entirely new to me. There were a few songs of his newest record as well, of course – Prettier Face, Piano Blink, and All The Trees Are Hers.
During the last Hawksley show, the crowd stomped along with a song instead of clapping. I don’t know who started it or why it happened, but it was great fun and Hawksley seemed really amused by it. We stomped to applaud after the song, and we stomped when he laughed at us in bemused delight. If I had to pick one magical moment from that show, that was it. Well, during When These Mountains Were The Seashore, we stomped. It wasn’t as loud as last time, but it was there. And Hawksley heard it, and he turned to his backup singer. He cracked up. She smiled. You could read his mind. It said “See? I told you, they stomp here.” This was the best moment of the show for me.
Before he played When These Mountains Were The Seashore, he apologized in advance in case he messed up the words. He said he didn’t play the song often because his mom wrote it, and they were in a legal battle. I flashed back to the last show, leaned over to Mika, and said “expect to hear Deserée shrieking in about five seconds.” But alas, it was not to be – not then, and not at any point in the evening. I didn’t get Claire Fontaine either. Deserée and I both like Hawksley a lot but that does mean that there will always be favourites that we don’t get to hear at any given show. No Anger as Beauty? I would have expected that one for sure.
After the two off-mic songs, the band left the stage while Hawksley changed into a green jumpsuit. His band came back in green jumpsuits as well. Mr. Lonely played the drums, which I’ve never seen before. Hawksley is a drummer, though he usually only drums for a few songs in a set. But he’s very good. Hawksley and Lonely, I noticed, both do the same thing when they’re drumming. Ever scratch a cat under its chin? And it sticks its head forward and squints and almost smiles? They each make that face when drumming. Mr. Lonely didn’t appear to have as much technical skill on the drums as Hawksley does, but he made up for it by drumming hard. I mean HARD. There was a four song set of Alone Here (my favourite song off his new album), The City is a Drag (my second-favourite off the new album), Striptease (a great song that was made better by the addition of – oh yes – cowbell), and Jealous of Your Cigarette. These songs were played loud and hard, louder and harder than anything I had ever heard from a Hawksley show. I loved every second of it and would pay lots of cash moneys to get an entire show like this.
Again, you never know what you’re going to get. Last time, Striptease was nice and slow (and we stomped to it). This time it was loud, hard, and segued in and out of Crazy in Love. I loved both versions, as well as the song on the CD which is different still. The City is a Drag became first Karma Chameleon, and then We Built This City, while Jealous of your Cigarette bridged into Bootylicious and back. And somewhere in here I heard The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.
After those four songs, the main show was done. There was a standing ovation (complete with some stomping, but that’s hard to do when you’re standing) until the band came back out. Hawksley and Lonely took their spots at the toy instruments again. They launched into Every Creepy Pusher, which I had also never heard live before. This was another special moment, because Hawksley rocked so hard as to wreck his toy drum kit. He stopped, mid-song, to voice his displeasure with the $95 toy drums that only had to last two more shows. He kept going, eventually tipping over one of the remaining drums, leaving only one. And he drummed that toy drum harder than any toy drum would possibly deserve. He was bound and determined to break it, I’m sure of it.
Then came Addicted, which ran for a good ten minutes and somehow became all about licking toes. To be fair, it started off being about selling shoes (which in no way resembles the original song).
Only one encore. I was sad. Two and a half hours flew by in minutes. It is very, very rare – no matter how much I like a show – that I’m not ready to leave when it’s over. But for Hawksley, I would happily have stayed all night. But it was not to be. They were off to Winnipeg, and I had a party to get to.
On the walk home, I ran into Chris and Maureen. They had been planning on joining us, but Maureen found the second half of the show to be far too loud. Her ears were hurting, so they headed straight home. Interesting – the part of the show that I loved so much was the part that would probably ensure that she won’t come back. I certainly thought it was louder than anything I’d heard from Hawksley before, but I didn’t find it too loud – and I’ve taken to bringing earplugs to rock shows just in case. But I suppose “too loud” is a different standard for everyone. At any rate, it was a shame that she didn’t like the show and especially that it left her feeling unwell. Heather and her friends also skipped the party. I guess she had a sinus infection and had to drive to Medicine Hat the next day. So in both cases, the no-shows were for understandable reasons. They were still missed, though.
Having said that, we wound up with eight people in my apartment, which was probably about the maximum that it can comfortably hold. So I guess everything worked out okay. To my dismay, the pineapple had gone bad (and I was so looking forward to using my pineapple cutter) and I forgot to include the cucumber in the veggie tray, but we still had tons of food. The BBQ slow-cooker meatballs (dump frozen meatballs into slow-cooker; add bottle of BBQ sauce; let cook forever) were a genius idea, because the smell filled the room and made people hungry. And even without the pineapple, the fruit dip (take a pack of light sour cream; add cinnamon and brown sugar until it tastes good) was a big hit and I will make it again and again and again. The spread was helped out by Reagan, who brought two buckets of daiquiri mix and a microwave pot roast with buns. Because, really, what else would a person bring?
From there, we played Rock Band and told hilarious stories until the last folks left at 3:00 a.m. We talked of the Hawksley song Safe and Sound and its line “we fit together like the ignition and the key.” In concert, Hawk always adds an “if you know what I mean” just to ensure we get the point. This led to a long, long list of car-themed euphemisms involving stalling, flooding, tailpipes, grinding gears, needing an automatic because you aren’t skilled at driving stick, taking driving lessons from your dad, and drying things out with WD-40 even though it might cause a fire. And making car noises, of course. VROOOOM!
But back to more pressing matters. Was the show better than the last one in Regina? Well, I don’t really know. I’ve been asked that a lot, and I think I’d have to say that the show was a better show, but it wasn’t quite as good. Which makes no sense. There was a wider variety of songs and a wider variety of sounds, and it was more of a full rock show. But was it as… I hate to say “magical,” but I don’t know if I have a better word. And I don’t think it was. This might have been due to my own expectations being too high, but it’s hard not to set the bar high for your favourite singer ever. I did find the show a bit less spontaneous than previous shows. I guess that’s what happens when you’re playing with some new musicians. Hawksley and Lonely have played together forever, and they seem to know each other really well. The two of them can change things up as they go along. The new musicians were very talented, but being new to the group, I guess things had to be a bit more planned out. Having said that, they sounded great, I was glad they I got to see them, I loved the show, and I left wishing that I could head to Winnipeg to catch the last show of the tour the next night. Which says an awful lot, because that’s a long drive and Winnipeg is a hole.
The Saskatoon show from two years ago was a great show that didn’t quite measure up to the Regina show the night before. Maybe this is the same thing? Maybe that show was so good that it’s spoiled me. I don’t know. I feel like I’m filling out a report card, giving an A+, and trying to explain why that isn’t good enough. I mean, this easily ranks in my 10 favourite shows of all time. So maybe I should forget about the last Regina show and just love this one? Because I sure did love this one.
For several drafts of this review, that last paragraph included the line “Ultimately, this show lacked the certain I-don’t-know-what that separates the great shows from the mythical shows.” And you know, that’s not true. This show was fantastic. Better than the Saskatoon show from two years ago, better than the Regina Folk Festival show, better than most times I’ve seen Hawksley. This was a show that could convert a non-fan into a diehard. This show left me with the biggest smile during the whole time. That last show in Regina was something really special; a show I’ll never forget. And while I don’t think it’s unfair to compare the two, this show could stand on its own as one of my favourites. Sequels rarely recapture the magic (there’s that word again) of the original experience, but sometimes they’re pretty great in their own right.