Around the fifth time I saw Hawksley Workman, I complained in my review that I didn’t have anything more to say about the guy. As ridiculous as that seems some 14 Hawksley shows later, I kind of find myself there with Joel Plaskett now. I can tell the whole story in one sentence: Mika’s favourite guy; she introduced me to his music; I like him a lot too; he’ll usually skip most of the songs I want to hear.
I did not say it would be a quality sentence.
Even the idea of seeing him in concert with his folk-singer father isn’t new; Bill Plaskett was a surprise guest on the 2009 tour for Joel’s album Three. What was new, however, was the venue. Regina has a shortage of concert venues, largely because Regina has a shortage of people who go to lots of concerts. So with Darke Hall being renovated, there’s not much left that’s smaller than the casino but bigger than the Exchange. Thus, we found ourselves at the Wa Wa Shrine Centre, a place I’d only ever gone to for the winter indoor farmers’ market.
It should be noted that when I call this a new venue, I very much mean it in the new-to-me sense. This is not a new building. It is, however, kind of amazing, a feeling shared by Joel Plaskett himself who posted lots of pictures of it to his Instagram. I always enjoy it when I see musicians I like interacting on social media as though they are regular humans, and it turns out I like it even more when said interaction involves Shotgun Jimmie being excited about some ornate wallpaper.
And amazing wallpaper it was, to the point that the host recommended selfies in the women’s washroom. I made Mika do this. The wallpaper there is a vibrant red floral pattern. But the aesthetic was everywhere – all over the place there are pictures, awards, signs, pins, more and different wallpaper – “style for miles,” as Joel said. The main hall where the concert was to be held was full of plastic chairs and cafeteria tables, with lights strung across the ceiling. When Joel posted a picture a few hours before the show, I was sure they’d move the tables. They did not. When we arrived, we sat six or eight to a table with our new best friends.
I went in search of sodas and returned with ciders. They had a drink ticket system. I wasn’t expecting that and panicked. This explains much of my life.
Our openers were the Mayhemingways, a duo from Peterborough who were on the whole tour with the Plasketts. They played an enjoyable set of folky rock and seemed like two likable guys. They got a good reaction from the crowd, which was weird – it seemed like a ton of applause after each song, but they’d talk and ignore the band while they were actually playing. Later on, there was one group of attendees (couldn’t call them “fans”) over by the drink ticket table that was so continually and carelessly disruptive that someone from the Shrine Centre or the Folk Festival (who put on the show) really should have had them thrown out.
But I won’t dwell on the negative, even though doing so is a great way to distract from the fact that I have very little to say about the Mayhemingways other than “they were good.” I suppose I can add that they came back out later as the rhythm section for the Plasketts and were, again, good.
The Plaskett concert itself wasn’t quite what I was expecting. For a show billed as “Bill & Joel Plaskett,” touring in support of an album also by Bill & Joel Plaskett, this was a lot closer to a Joel Plaskett solo show than I anticipated. This is not a complaint, mind you – Joel Plaskett shows are among my favourites. I just expected it to be closer to 50/50, when in actuality, Bill only sang lead on a few songs, and the whole band left Joel on stage by himself for a few more.
As you’d expect, they wound up playing most (maybe all?) of the new album, Solidarity. The album is much folkier than one expects from Joel Plaskett, who never rocks that hard to begin with. But as often happens, the live versions had a little extra energy which made me appreciate the album that more. Just spending some time focusing on the songs also helped – I paid more attention to the lyrics, and Joel and (especially) Bill talked about the stories behind some of the songs, which helped give them context and made them that much more interesting. One new song, Dragonfly, was about a purported paranormal encounter Joel had. I don’t think I’d have ever picked up on that without the backstory, which makes the song a little more interesting and a lot weirder. Another of the new songs was described as a union song, which really pleased the dude to our right, who ran off and bought the album as soon as they’d finished playing it. I don’t think the guy to my left was nearly such a fan of this whole union idea, based on his wife’s grin and condescending pats on the knee. Somehow, we narrowly avoided a riot.
The Plasketts also played a lot of songs from Three, including quite a few that aren’t normally on the setlist (and some that are, including closing with Wishful Thinking). This surprised me at the time, but makes much more sense now that I’ve gone back and reminded myself that Bill was on the Three tour. I’d really remember nothing about these shows if I didn’t write stuff down.
While Joel was on stage by himself, he took requests from the crowd, including Happen Now and North Star. I’ve still never heard him play Penny for Your Thoughts (or most of Ashtray Rock) and I wasn’t about to start yelling requests now. This was wise as Joel seemed kinda picky about what requests he’d play, turning down one song for being a downer and another for some other reason.
What a great story that was. Joel Plaskett didn’t play a song, I don’t know which one, for reasons that I also do not know. Thank god I’m immortalizing these events with carefully selected words.
Anyway, if you’ve been reading these things for any length of time, you should know by now that you can skip the Joel Plaskett reviews. They’re pretty much always going to say he’s great, show was great, will go again, you should go see him too. I guess I could add “and take lots of pictures in the bathroom” but that may have to be a judgment call every time out.
Poor neglected middle child. I wrote the Dandy Warhols review on the plane earlier today since it was freshest in my mind. The Kasabian review has been 4/5ths done for over a month, so I tuned it up and finished it off next. And then there’s this show, one about which I had very strong opinions at the time. I wonder if I can remember any of them?
With this show, two months of rapid-fire concerts came to close. It didn’t go exactly as planned; Kathleen Edwards had some issues with her voice and postponed her show until October, and I missed out on both Whitehorse and Electric Six due to work being work. These disappointments were mitigated by a killer Ben Folds show and Kasabian, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, and John K. Samson far exceeding my expectations. All in all, it’s been a good run.
Mika picked me up at work so we could skip town in a timely fashion. If Joel Plaskett won’t come to Mika, she will go to him. I am fine with this, since I dig Plaskett quite a bit, and I’m always down for a road trip and road trip snacks (but let this review document that no matter how many times I try them, Combos are never a good idea).
We made it to Louis’, my old stomping grounds, with plenty of time to spare. This would have been awesome if it didn’t mean lining up outside in the cold. I think it was cold? Maybe even drizzly? I have no idea. What did YOU do in the evening 36 days ago?
They eventually let us in, where we scanned the stuff table before meeting up with Laura and Heather and Heather’s friend Heather. Or was Heather’s friend also named Laura? I think she was Heather. I know it was a repeat and she wasn’t named Mika or James. We found a good (or so we thought) standing spot near the bar on the far side from the doors.
Our opening act was Frank Turner. I knew nothing about him, but one of Laura’s friends went to the show specifically to see him. And then a few days before the show, I was reading an interview with WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan, who singled out Turner as a musician that he was really enjoying these days. With these two endorsements from people I don’t know and whose musical tastes I know nothing about, I was hopeful. But even my heightened expectations were exceeded, as Turner, playing by himself, tore the house down.
Not everyone went into this set as ignorant as I; there was a small but very vocal contingent who were thrilled to see Frank Turner and who sang along with every song. Turner seemed genuinely surprised that there were people here who knew his songs; he fed off their energy and they fed off his. I was a convert well before the end of his set, and once he was done, I muscled y way over to the stuff table to pick up the two albums he had for sale.
Muscle was needed as Louis’ was packed. The show sold out well before the day, and it felt like it. Joel Plaskett has always done well in Saskatoon and this was no exception. Really, I would have preferred to see him in a larger venue, which is not how I usually feel after a show.
This was the last show at Louis’ before it shuts down for renovations. It feels like only yesterday that they were closed for months to get rid of the dank. I assume that’s what they’re doing again, as the dank was back with a vengeance. Sure, it still looked like new Louis’, all metallic and angular and generally poorly suited to hosting concerts, but it smelled like raw sewage. Intermittently at first, but increasing as the evening went on. This did not enhance the concert experience.
And sadly, it was a concert experience that could have used some enhancing. About a half- hour in, I was ready to take off. Between the date (4:20) and the fact that we were on a campus bar at the end of finals, we were surrounded by the loudest, stinkiest, most obnoxious collection of drunks and stoners that you ever did see. I do not want to smell your stale-smoke dreadlocks. I do not want to be spilled upon or shoved. I did not pay to hear you shrieking along with the band.
So yeah, I spent a good part of the show fantasizing about knifing everyone in sight, burning the place down, tweeting snark, etc. It’s a testament to how good Joel Plaskett really is that I managed to enjoy the music despite it all. It was a standard concert setlist – heavy emphasis on the new record with enough old favorites to keep people entertained. It was my first opportunity to hear the new stuff and I quite enjoyed it. Highlights included a very extended version of Love This Town, several songs with lyrics changed to be about Saskatoon, and – of course – a toy monkey with cymbals. Joel had the monkey wired up so he could turn it on and off with a foot pedal, which he called the best $70 he’d ever spent. I can see why; I mean, I want one and I don’t even have a stage to decorate.
The evening was off to a rough start. I walk to and from my office; normally, I find this a pleasant way to gear up for/wind down from the work day. However, this was not an average walk. Maybe it’s just that I’m outside more here, but I really do think that Regina’s weather tends to be more intense than in Saskatoon. Most of the time, this means that the wind gets windier, but on this day, the rain was rainier. Barenaked Ladies would later describe the rainfall as "biblical." By the time I was a block from my apartment, I had abandoned all hope, and was just plowing directly through the puddles, which at one spot hit mid-calf. The drainage system in Regina is most definitely not drainier.
So I got inside, showered, changed, ate, and prepared to head back out. And when I say "changed," I mean that I had to change everything. I figured for one night I could wear my dress shoes with jeans. They’re not THAT dressy, and besides, nobody would be looking at my feet anyway. Then I opened the closet and remembered that oh yeah, I WAS going to buy new dress shoes sometime. Guess I never got around to it. That left me with sandals, winter boots, or fuzzy Animaniacs slippers from 1995. I like how I had to mention the age there as though THAT’S the reason I chose not to wear fuzzy slippers to a concert. Anyway, given a nice varied range of unacceptable choices, I decided to stick with my wet shoes, hoping that wearing three pairs of socks would help. I can’t say it didn’t help, but it didn’t help a lot.
I got to the Conexus Arts Centre with about ten minutes to spare. I like these shows where I can time things properly and sit in chairs that are almost nice and be home on time. Despite what you must now be thinking, I was far from the oldest person at the concert – far from the youngest, too. Just a guy sitting in the second row. Good seats are easy to get if you’re going by yourself. I didn’t think I’d have a lot of luck getting someone to go with me. The tickets were fairly costly and I really don’t know how many people care about Barenaked Ladies these days. I haven’t thought the last few albums were anything special – really, nothing dating back to that song about the monkey postcards.
Before the show, I had just enough time to check out the stuff table. Nothing exciting. No shirts I’d probably ever wear, and albums I (or Mika) already own. BNL were selling their newest album but I didn’t pick one up since I got a free download with the ticket purchase. I assume a lot of people there got it too – does anyone buy tickets anywhere other than online anymore? Not that I don’t appreciate having a tangible physical album to take up space on my yellow shelf, but I really don’t listen to much music these days that isn’t being played off a hard drive or USB stick.
Joel Plaskett, accompanied by Peter Elkas, took the stage right on time. The short review is that their set was a delight, though it was way too short (about 35 minutes) and I wished it had been Barenaked Ladies opening for him instead of the other way around. Judging by what Mika said, they played the same songs at the Saskatoon show the night before, with one exception – someone in Regina yelled out for Fashionable People, so we got that and Saskatoon didn’t. Which is fine and all, I like that song and their two-man version of it was pretty amusing, but I prefer Penny For Your Thoughts, which they played in Saskatoon. Stupid people yelling from the crowd and taking my song away. But whatever – it was still a really fun performance. Joel Plaskett always comes across like he’s delighted that anyone has paid to see him and this delight is infectious. I’m not sure how anyone could have a bad time at one of his shows. And once again, we were told that he’d be back in the fall; I remain hopeful but I have been burned by that little white lie before.
Now, I didn’t have the highest hopes for Barenaked Ladies. I’d seen them before, many years ago, and have been a fan for many years, but either their music or my taste has changed over time. Like I said above, I haven’t really cared for their latest albums, and I haven’t listened to the older ones in a long time. Add to that the departure of one of the group’s key songwriters and vocalists, and I really wasn’t sure what I was in for.
All in all, I had a pretty good time. BNL has always been better live than recorded, and the recent lineup change hasn’t altered that. I really can’t say there were many times when I noticed Steven Page’s absence at all. Though each band member was given their own turns in the spotlight, it was Ed Robertson who handled most of the lead vocals, and… I can’t say he did a Steven Page impression, exactly, but it seemed like he sang Steven’s songs the way he was used to hearing them. In a few parts, Kevin Hearn took over Page’s vocals and those sounded quite different than what I was used to, but not in a bad way.
As expected, there was much wacky banter and made-up songs and running jokes as the evening went on. I’m not sure how I feel about that; sometimes this could be really amusing, but at times, the wackiness felt… if not scripted, then at least scheduled. Like, every night between song #4 and song #5, it’s time to crack wise at each other and make up a song about it.
Speaking of the songs, there was a decent mix of older numbers and new ones, with three songs from their first album, probably a half-dozen or so from their latest, and a few scattered about from the rest of their albums (as well as the theme song to The Big Bang Theory, which was a special request from someone in the crowd). Judging from what Mika said, the setlist was at least somewhat varied from the previous night’s show (from the sounds of it, Regina got more older songs, which is fine by me). And they didn’t play Another Postcard, a truly horrible song about chimpanzees that was one of the most ill-advised singles in the entire history of recorded music, so really, I have nothing to complain about, setlist-wise.
Since I’d bought the ticket specifically to see Joel Plaskett, it was an awfully pricey evening – more than double the cost of the last time I’d seen him, for a set that was less than half as long. But of course, that’s not a fair comparison, and it’s one that feels like nitpicking since I had a better time at the show than I expected. At the cost of the ticket (around $75 for just me, once you got all the fees and taxes in there), I wouldn’t automatically go again, but with the right opening act, I’d probably be there.
Over the past four years, Mika has done her best to convert me into a Joel Plaskett fan. Luckily, it turns out that Joel Plaskett is pretty great, so this hasn’t been a difficult undertaking for any of us. I saw him in concert for the first time a few… um… whiles ago. I can’t check my old reviews at the moment; all I can tell you is it was prior to March 17, 2008. Regardless, I know I enjoyed the show thoroughly.
On the previous tour, Plaskett was touring in support of Ashtray Rock, his concept album about a high school rock band that gets split up by a love triangle. A new tour means a new album, and Plaskett was arguably more ambitious this time out with Three – a triple-album whose songs have titles like "Run, Run, Run," "Deny, Deny, Deny," and "Rewind, Rewind, Rewind." Mika bought it as soon as MapleMusic had it available, which was great, because it came bundled with concert tickets. That’s how we wound up in the front row.
Needless to say, I didn’t get around to actually listening to the album before the show.
For supper, we grabbed pitas from the one pita place in Saskatoon that still has competent staff. I am willing to say this despite their attempts at charging me for 17 bottles of water; I believe that was an honest computer error and also it was really funny. Supper was necessary, for the show was at the Broadway Theatre where they put real butter on your popcorn with a ladel. Best to eat first and remove the temptation. Besides, I’d feel rude eating popcorn at a concert when sitting front row, like I was being disrespectful or something. No idea why. It’s not like I didn’t eat chicken fingers during dozens of concerts back in the day.
The theatre was also selling alcohol and that was weird to see. Also amusing, since people were drinking red wine out of tiny plastic cups.
We got to the show with plenty of time to spare, having learned our lesson at the Bloc Party show (and also, we were afraid that there wasn’t actually going to be assigned seating at the theatre and our front-row tickets would do us no good). We had lots of time to chat with Heather before the show and look at the stuff table. Didn’t get anything.
The show was billed as Joel Plaskett and Family and Friends, so there was no sign of his usual band, the Emergency. Instead, the show was divided into sections; some with Ana Egge and Rose Cousins on backing vocals and various instruments, some with his father Bill Plaskett on guitar and backing vocals, some with Joel by himself, and some with all four folks. Each of the guest musicians got a chance to sing one of their own songs as well. Possibly, the real star of the show was the eight-dollar keyboard who, sadly, did not get invited back out for the encore.
Mika tells me that Joel Plaskett has always done well in Saskatoon, to the point where he could sell out two Saskatoon shows on one cross-Canada tour; once while heading out west and once on his way back home. This show had sold out well in advance and the band got a great reaction with the singing along and the clapping and all that jazz. And apart from one guy who was a bit too irritatingly shouty, everyone was well-behaved, so the whole experience was pretty pleasant.
Looking online, I discovered that the setlist for his show a few days previously in Kelowna was much the same as the one we got, though in Saskatoon, he did play A Million Dollars for a young fan who held up a sign. I don’t know if Joel Plaskett has hits or singles, exactly, or what passes for a hit or a single these days, but he played pretty much what you’d expect – most of the favourites and a lot from the new album. I didn’t get Penny For Your Thoughts but I didn’t expect to hear it anyway. At any rate, the show was excellent – enough to make me wish I’d made it to the show in Regina a few weeks earlier.
I was glad to see that Joel and Kelowna have settled their long-standing feud. As the legend goes (because I am way too lazy to fact-check), Joel had done a show in Kelowna that was not well-received and he immortalized this in his song Love This Town:
I played a show
In Kelowna last year
They said pick it up, Joel
We’re dying in here
Picture one hand clapping
And picture half that sound
There’s a reason that I hate that town
However, his most recent Kelowna show worked out better this time around, and his version of the song on this evening described his recent, more pleasant experiences in Kelowna. He ended by saying "there’s a reason I can change my tune." The fans in Kelowna, meanwhile, got a nice long explanation of what had happened in the past and luckily, someone put this on YouTube in a video that I cannot recommend highly enough:
Anyway, back to Saskatoon. Our show ended with the new song Wishful Thinking and it concluded with all four folks singing the following lyrics:
CDs for sale at the back of the hall
Buy one, buy ’em all
Couple bucks cheaper than they are at the mall
Thank you, goodnight, we’ll be back in the fall
I was really looking forward to the return date, and was quite saddened when I finally listened to the new album and realized that these words were part of the actual recorded version of the song and (possibly) not an actual promise to return later this year. I wish I’d made a note of the CD prices to compare them with those at the mall – I could have spent a lot of time untangling this harmonious web of lies.
The day before this show, I was explaining to Mika that I had a good feeling about the concert. I find to get the best concert experience, you need a mix of anticipation and… well, when I was explaining this to her, I said “anticipation and ambivalence,” but that’s not entirely accurate. See, I like Joel Plaskett. He seems like a good guy, I’d never seen him in concert, and his new album – Ashtray Rock – is my favourite of his. Having said that, I can’t claim to be his biggest fan or to know all his work in depth, which meant there was room for me to be pleasantly surprised. And if the show stunk or got called off, well, I’d be sad, but these things happen. Whereas I’m going to see the White Stripes under two months; this idea makes me shiver with glee whenever I think about it, so if their show gets canceled, I’ll be heartbroken.
Anyway. The point of that jumbled mess was that I was going into the show with a nice mixture of anticipation and ambivalence, but that was just me. Mika, on the other hand, would have been heartbroken if the show had been called off. She’s a fan, he said in his usual understated manner. At random points in the past few weeks, she’d get a big grin and start hopping up and down in anticipation of the show. Or else she maybe just had to pee – you never know – but I think it was the show.
Spoiler: the show happened and it didn’t suck. Parts of it sucked, but this was no fault of Mr. Plaskett.
The first part that sucked was the pita I had for dinner. Chicken, of course, since that is a concert requirement. I don’t know what the deal is with Saskatoon, but I don’t think there’s a competent Extreme Pita in the whole city. One of them always looks sketchy and the food looks like it’s been sitting there a few days too long. I have learned to avoid that one, but I’ve now had three sub-par pita experiences in a row at the second one, so I’m done with it. There are two left in the city – one is hell and gone out of the way, and I haven’t been to the other in a while, mainly because it was super busy the last time I tried, so maybe there’s hope for that one. That would be nice, as I just got a whole big batch of coupons. It’s nice, this apartment living – even when the coupons are awesome, there are always some old ladies who don’t want them.
Anyway, we had our lame dinner and with time to kill, headed to the university. We wandered, which is something I like to do there every so often. The university is really pretty, but more importantly, they have bunnies! Four of them living in the biology building. When we showed up, one white bunny got very excited to see us and he popped up on his hind legs and pawed at the glass. It was adorable. Then he ran around the enclosure, hopping on all the other bunnies’ heads. By the time we had to leave for Louis’, all four bunnies were showing off for us. I think the brown bunny was the most adorable of bunnies, but it was a close call.
The tickets said the doors would be opened at 8:00. We showed up at about 8:15 and found a table. I looked at the merchandise booth but there was nothing that caught my eye. We sat around and some people came over to say hi to Mika, but they weren’t people that I knew. What the hell, how am I supposed to write stories about things like this?
Mika promised that the show would start relatively early, and it did when Peter Elkas took the stage at about 9:15 or so. I had been listening to his new CD, Wall of Fire, in preparation for the show, and I thought it was perfectly fine. Then he played some songs from this album, and they were perfectly fine too. He also played some songs from his previous release, as well as a Local Rabbits song (that was his old band), and though I don’t know those songs, I’ll assume that they were perfectly fine as well. Mika was delighted to hear the Local Rabbits song, so I’ll assume that means the song was perfectly fine. I don’t know if I have a lot more to say about the guy, but it should be mentioned that he was very skilled at getting the crowd to say “woo” and “yeahhh” on command, which he worked into a song later. This was pretty entertaining.
More entertaining, though, was the table directly in front of us. A group of Asian students were drinking beer and ignoring the show, and then two of them started doing magic tricks. This was AWESOME. It started with one guy pulling a coin out of a girl’s ear. She thought this was great. Then the coin was made to disappear and reappear. Then the deck of cards came out. Mika leaned over and asked “but where did the lighter fluid come from?” which means she is awesome.
Eventually, they started doing a trick which appeared to work as follows:
1)- Crumple up a napkin. Put it in one of your hands.
2)- Make two fists. Move them left and right in front of your face really quickly.
3)- At some point, pop the napkin out of your hand. It doesn’t really matter where it lands.
I am very disappointed that these people were not speaking English because I REALLY wanted to know what the point of this trick was, although that might have killed the magic of it. Anyway, you see why I maybe had a hard time paying attention to Peter Elkas.
I think Joel Plaskett started around 10:30 or so? Who knows. And do you really care? No.
Anyway, he’s great. Really great. I liked his CDs, but he’s one of those guys where the CDs don’t do him justice. Not to the same degree as Shout Out Out Out Out, but more than Danny Michel, as if that makes sense to anyone but Mika. So if you heard his CDs and maybe weren’t impressed, you should check him out in concert and you’ll probably change your mind. And if you DO like his CDs, well, then you are in for a treat.
On this night, a whole lot of people were in for a treat. The new Louis’ (which still sucks) holds a lot of people, which can be cool. If people don’t show, the place looks cavernous. But tonight they were there in droves , and that just made the atmosphere that much better. Well, mostly.
No surprise that the show focused on tunes from Ashtray Rock, but there were lots of songs from older albums too, for people who like that sort of thing. True Patriot Love, with which I’ve closed many a mixtape, was a singalong favourite. So was Nowhere With You, which might have been the song that got the best reaction – I guess that means a lot of people listen to the music in Zellers commercials. Not that I can blame them, it’s a great song. Anyway, yeah, either that one or Extraordinary, those were the favourites. No Come On Teacher, which saddened me a bit, as I do quite enjoy some half-assed French, but hey, you can’t have everything.
At one point, Joel introduced a song by saying that the crowd was acting like Drunk Teenagers, and, well, that was true. Certain people, anyway. It’s been a while since I got to talk about drunken antics in one of these. Sadly, they weren’t really hilarious drunken antics. I don’t get why someone would spend over $20 to go to a show and ignore the band, but whatever, I don’t really care as long as you’re not a dick about it. I don’t understand why people do that and talk and yell and generally act like asses to people who are trying to enjoy themselves, though. And I really don’t get why you’d spend $5 on a beer just to pour it on the floor – on purpose, mind you – and then hollering. At this point, I traded spots with Mika so as to put myself between her and the beer-spilling douchebag, and for a second, she had a look on her face like she was afraid I might punch the guy. Which I wouldn’t, probably, but the thought did cross my mind. It was a good thought. I liked it so much that I thought it repeatedly.
But despite that guy and his moron pals, I still had a good time. I credit Joel Plaskett because I was some kind of surly for a minute or two there, but then he sang more awesome songs and made me have a good time again. When he closed the set with Maybe We Should Just Go Home, I was sad. Then they came back and sang more songs, but soon they played the new single – Fashionable People – and it was all over. Great show. I’d go back. Tomorrow, even. Especially if I get to see bunnies again.