Well, Dear Readers, we’ve reached the penultimate item from my finds at Sonic Boom! I told Mike, I had to find a copy of this album during our foray, and there it was right by the door on the way in. We’d honestly been in the shop about 10 seconds and it was already in hand! The Universe is good!
The 5th Annual Toronto Expedition Series, Part 43 (CD)
There’s an ache and a yearning to Samson’s work. Witness the thoughtful austerity in the slower tunes, and a desire to temper the energy of the faster tracks, as though being this powerful musically is gift enough, steady on.
A songwriting masterclass, and the Weakerthans’ rhythm section is here, among others, too!
I loved Winter Wheat. It’s perfect music for these times. It will easily figure high in my year end list of Best Albums Of 2016.
Many moons ago, a friend-of-a-friend and I had a spirited discussion about Weakerthans concerts. I didn’t get tickets to the Regina Folk Festival that year because I was going to be out of town for most of that weekend, but I was around on the Friday night, so I spent some time in the park listening to The Weakerthans from behind a fence. Without being able to really see the band, and without any friends around, I came to the conclusion that Weakerthans shows sound pretty much exactly like Weakerthans albums, only you have to stand while you listen to them and (on that night, at least) your legs get chewed on by mosquitoes.
The mosquitoes may have accounted for any surliness that I may have felt. Hypothetically. At any rate, I took my bad mood to Facebook, where said FOAF opined that some of the best shows he’d ever been to were Weakerthans concerts. And this was coming from a guy who attends way more shows than I do.
To be fair, he said less about the shows themselves and more about the experience of attending them with friends, singing along to favorite songs, and I get that. Thinking back, those were my favorite things about Weakerthans shows as well; singalongs and road trips and friends and being in the middle of a crowd of people all singing “I hate Winnipeg” in Winnipeg.
Whether fair or not, the thought that Weakerthans shows are not all that special by themselves kinda stuck with me. I still bought tickets for lead singer John K. Samson’s solo show, though my hopes for a good time dwindled as various Weakerthans-loving friends bowed out of the evening (stupid work conference). My last hope was a coworker from a different department, but he declined because, well, he’s just not a Weakerthans fan. So I made Mika go; she doesn’t really care for them either, but she married me so I get to pull rank sometimes. MARRIAGE PRO TIP: I find it helps to complain about having to do things that I don’t really mind doing; this helps earn favor points which can be redeemed at a later date.
For the second show in a row, we aced the arrival time, showing up just as the emcee was taking the stage. We took seats at the back as someone introduced someone to introduce our opening act, Shotgun Jimmie. I am not sure why Jimmie needed two introductions and he seemed equally perplexed by this. If you think about it, it could be construed as insulting. You’ve heard “here’s a man who needs no introduction?” Well, Shotgun Jimmie was apparently a man who needed two introductions.
I had seen Jimmie at this past summer’s Folk Festival, but I think he was serving as an emcee and thus only played a few songs on the main stage. I picked up the split EP he released with Joel Plaskett, and going into this show, his song on that EP was the only song of his that I knew. As it turned out, given some time to actually listen to his music (you could hear the lyrics and everything!), I found that I quite liked the guy. I’ve always had a soft spot for singer-songwriter types, and I can appreciate some clever lyrics, so I wound up picking up his newest album between sets.
The last time we were at The Exchange was to see Michael Bernard Fitzgerald. I mentioned that he asked the crowd to shut up, and I also mentioned that the phenomenon of talkative dinks is not a new one. The thing is, it usually doesn’t affect me in any real way; I hear a lot of chatting during a show and I wonder why people bothered to show up, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying the concert. On this night, though, holy. There were these two girls sitting to my right. One of them was halfway reasonable, but her drunken idiot friend needed to get stabbed in the face. Loud talking, loud laughing, the stupidest stories, and a voice like a crying baby’s nails on a dentist’s chalkboard. I will admit to being interested when she was discussing her “Wednesday night fuckfest” (no, iPad, I did not mean “ficklest”), but as her story carried on, I realized that it was actually a Wednesday night DRUNKfest, which was much less interesting. After Shotgun Jimmie was done, they left to go get beers (why you have to wait until the set ends when you’re not listening in the first place is another mystery) and I gave their seats away to a very nice couple who weren’t jerks at all and I didn’t feel the slightest bit bad about it. I later saw the annoying pair down at the front of the stage, hollering and swaying off-time while John K. was playing, so they did alright for themselves.
I don’t know why I feel like I should call him “John K.” instead of “John” or “Samson.” Someday I should write a concert review style guide.
Anyway, the man in question recently released a solo album, Provincial, which sounds more or less exactly like a Weakerthans album. I am fine with this. And to no surprise, his show (where he was accompanied by The Provincial Band, which included Shotgun Jimmie) sounded an awful lot like a Weakerthans show. But what did surprise me – again, perhaps unfairly – was how much I enjoyed it.
Granted, he did open with One Great City and I already mentioned how much I love singing along with the “I hate Winnipeg” refrain. But there were a nice mix of new songs and Weakerthans classics; everything from ballads to punk; songs by himself and with the full band; and some new arrangements thrown in for good measure.
And, of course, the crowd was appreciative and sang along. Weakerthans fans are a devoted lot. Having said that, it really was apparent that as good as the new material may be, people were (unsurprisingly) much more into the older songs. There were no singalongs to When I Write My Master’s Thesis, despite the fact that it would fit right into any of the Weakerthans’ albums. I had to laugh at one point when he said “this next one is an old one” and everyone went WOO! And then he swerved me by playing an old Propagandhi number. He played another punk song too; I can’t remember which band he said he was about to cover, but it made one guy in the crowd yell “WHAAAAAAT?!” which was pretty funny.
Especially on the songs where it was just John K. playing guitar by himself, it struck me how many Weakerthans songs sound like each other. The guy is one of my favourite lyricists, but a lot of his songs are quite similar, musically. I can’t remember which songs off the top of my head and I am too lazy to listen to music right now (yikes), but there was one song in particular that had the exact same guitar part as One Great City (I swear he played more than just this one song, despite how many times I may reference it) and when he went to play it, I thought “hey, dummy, you already played that one.” But it was I who was the dummy.
This led to a discussion on the drive home about how The Weakerthans generally appeal to people who are mostly interested in the lyrics and not so concerned with the music. I can see that; I mean, I AM that. I don’t know from music, but I understand how hard it is to writing so the words am good.
This might also explain why I have known really devoted Weakerthans fans and people who couldn’t care less, and not really anyone in between. I don’t think this show would have changed anybody’s mind one way or the other, but it was a great show for those of us who wanted to be there. And much like the other times I’ve seen them, the best parts were singing along to old favorites with the rest of the room.
Prior to becoming the lead singer and songwriter for the Weakerthans, John K. Samson played bass for Propagandhi. This EP, recorded in 1993 and re-released thirteen years later, offers some insight as to how Samson found his voice.
I wonder what a Propagandhi fan, circa 1993, would have thought of these recordings. They certainly don’t sound like any Propagandhi that I’ve ever heard, which admittedly isn’t much. As a Weakerthans fan, though, these songs sound familiar, if unpolished. When I say Samson hadn’t yet “found his voice,” I mean that literally; I tend to think of him as a songwriter first and a singer second, so it’s interesting to notice just how much his singing has improved over the years. On these recordings, his voice sounds sharp and untested. His songwriting has also improved over time, though even here, clever turns of phrase and other Samson trademarks fill the lyrics. There’s no mistaking who wrote these songs. The opener, Maryland Bridge, stands as the strongest track on the album, and if re-recorded, could fit right into a new Weakerthans release.
And in the end, that’s what I really want – a new Weakerthans CD. That’s not quite what Little Pictures is, though it will help tide me over. If you’re not a Weakerthans fan, then there’s not really anything here for you, but if you enjoy the band, this is an interesting EP that’s well worth hearing. Should you buy it? It’s cheap enough that you can’t do much harm, but you might want to give it a listen first – these aren’t studio-quality recordings, and they really only NEED to be owned by completists.