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SLCR #204: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald (October 28, 2014)

We are entering winter, which is the worst season for concerts. Not only does nobody want to come to town when it’s -40 and the highway might ice over – and I don’t blame them – but actually going to a show is a pain. What do you wear? Do you dress for the chilly weather, or do you dress for the inevitable sweatbox that is whatever venue you’re going to? Basically, you have to be really uncomfortable, but when?

And yes, I get that some places have coat checks. I do not care. Waiting to get your coat back is a MILD INCONVENIENCE that I do not have time for. Also, they sometimes want you to pay for it. Outrageous, I say.

On this evening, I opted to wear something that would be tolerable whilst indoors, which made the walk from the bus stop a frosty one. After two years of being an unofficial single-car household, we’ve finally sold off the one car after it tried to die on us one too many times. This works really well about 98% of the time. And then you have nights when Mika has school, and I want to go to a show, and the timing doesn’t work out that well, and all of the other usual concert suspects are sick or tired or disinterested or in other cities or whatnot. So I caught a bus to work and walked to the Exchange from there. I’m sure I could have caught another bus that would have taken me closer, but that would require learning a new bus route and I know two already and I’m just one guy, you know? So I walked. I’m trying to get 10,000 steps a day anyway.

The previous week, I collected some of those steps by walking to the record store to buy my ticket for the show – an actual physical ticket. Not a PDF. That doesn’t happen much anymore. And then, at the door, instead of taking the ticket stub, they took the whole thing. And so it goes.

Along with my 10,000 steps a day, I have also given up soda. A friend of mine went four months without. I said “I could do that.” Mika did not agree – I don’t know who would have – and so here we are. It’s been two months. Most days, this isn’t too bad. But sometimes you wind up at the bar and you don’t want to drink booze because then you’re not the creepy old guy alone at the show, you’re the creepy old guy drinking alone at the show, which seems worse. And you can’t have pop, and you dislike paying for bottled water on principle, and you’re not sick and thus can’t qualify for the sickness Gatorade exemption and they don’t have Gatorade ANYWAY. Your options are limited, is what I’m saying. Or at least mine were. I don’t know about yours. But there is a brand of unsweetened iced tea you can get here now – this is not a common thing in Canada – and it has helped me through many a soda-related jam. And they have it at the Exchange, and I don’t know why they have it anywhere, because I have never once seen anyone drink it but me. But I’m glad it’s there.

As I was buying my iced tea, I noticed the sign behind the bar which said that you had to be born before this date in 1995 in order to buy alcohol. This did a fantastic job of making me feel like the oldest person on earth. I took my iced tea and found a nice quiet spot in which to sit my old bones down. The attendance was decent, but the place was far from packed, so I had no problem getting a good spot.

One thing I’ve noticed about MBF’s shows is that he really seems to like to give exposure to up-and-coming bands. There were four openers before his birthday show in Calgary, and we had two for this show. First up was Layten Kramer, who MBF later said was from Canmore, Alberta, “where life moves a little bit slower.” I am not sure Kramer is ready for the pace of big city life, as he told an extended story about being at Boston Pizza earlier in the day, and his band order schooners of booze, which meant he had to drive, and he was so frustrated by this development that he punched his pasta. He also didn’t finish said pasta, as he offered to get it from the pasta-scented van and show it to us.

Also, there were songs! Not about pasta. The band was a three-piece, with Kramer singing and playing guitar, a guy named Dean on bass, and someone who I initially thought was named Conway on drums. Kramer said the drummer’s name again later in the set, and I was disappointed to learn that it was not Conway, so I am refusing to write his real name out of spite. Take that, drummer who had nothing to do with this situation. The music was pretty good, though the band had a bit of a tendency to drift off into extended instrumental bits which aren’t so much my thing.

Next up was Danny Olliver from Regina. He warned us that the night might get wild, but also graciously invited us to stay sitting. Mostly, it was just him and a guitar, though he was joined by his sister Samantha who sang on a number of the songs. There was a large contingent there to see him, and I assumed they were family, especially when Olliver introduced one song as being “about a dad – not OUR dad, just A dad.” Eventually, he introduced his dad, after a fashion (“My dad hasn’t even yelled anything tonight.” “WOOOOOOOO.” “There we go.”) and it was who I expected. His dad, like most dads, could use a lesson regarding the effectiveness of the built-in camera flash.

I’m pretty sure that somewhere around this point, Layten Kramer went to his van and came back with the pasta.

Olliver’s songs are singer-songwriter type stuff, complemented by some flashes of impressive guitar playing. He especially won people over with his last song, an untitled instrumental number where he played the guitar like a drum while strumming the neck. He also had a good story about meeting and going watersliding with MBF’s band earlier in the day, and one of the band members – apparently named Alec Baldwin (with the emphasis on the “lec”) – grabbing his leg and tickling his foot underwater in a case of mistaken foot identity.

Between sets, I bought another unsweetened iced tea because I am a wild man.

Fitzgerald took the stage by himself, opening with Love is an Easy Thing to Miss, which I always think sounds like Follow at the start. He thanked us for coming out on whatever night it was… Tuesday?

Some girl, right up at the front: “TUESDAY WOO”

MBF: “I feel like that is going to be your role all evening.”

That was pretty funny, but it was no “This song is best enjoyed in silence.” That remains one of my favourite things that anyone has ever said from the stage during a show.

Over the next three songs, his bandmates joined one by one. I have no last names for anyone, but Lisa came out first to play keys on I Will, and then Alec (again, this is pronounced aLEK) Baldwin came out for Follow. On a few occasions, aLEC was accidentally referred to as “Andrew,” which goes to show what I’ve known all along – there are no real Alecs. If you say your name is Alec, you’re a no-good dirty liar. Finally, Adam joined the band – both Adam and aLEC were on drums, with Lisa spending most of her time on bass.

So we had Love is an Easy Thing to Miss, I Will, and Follow. As MBF said, they got the love jams out of the way first. It was suggested that if you were there with a special someone, you should grab them by the earlobe and then shove them away. Play hard-to-get. I have yet to try this with my special someone but I will let you know how it goes. Maybe I should practice on the cat first.

I Will is that song that maybe you recognize from Additionelle commercials if you watch TV and live in Canada and don’t skip commercials for lady clothes. Or, I guess, if you saw some reference to the ads online like I did. I am iffy about songs in ads. I probably would not be if I needed to make money from music in order to pay rent and punch food or do whatever it is musicians do. So far, the ad hasn’t tainted the song for me, mainly because I have only ever seen the ad twice – once in that story online and then once on TV when I was skipping by (via the DVR, not on foot) and thought “hey, I bet that ad has that song.” We aren’t at the point yet like with Gimme Sympathy by Metric, where I hear the song and it only ever makes me think of that ad for… whatever it was. Advertising is super effective.

More songs! I didn’t take notes, but I know they played Firecracker, Man Overboard, In Your Room Tonight, World of Black and White, Last Train to Georgia, Reach You, and Movie Life, along with several new songs that I didn’t recognize but enjoyed. As per usual, he played a bit of Low before moving into Dancing in the Dark. I had also hoped for Brand New Spaces so I could stomp (and stomp and stomp) and clap and was not disappointed. I wonder if the stomping (and stomping and stomping) added extra steps to my pedometer? I hope so – that Wii Fit U walking tour of Italy isn’t going to walk itself.

The full band and extra percussion really brought the energy up and these were the best versions of these songs that I’d heard. Fine work all around. Fitzgerald mentioned that the band had left Lethbridge, Alberta after midnight the night before to arrive in Regina in time for an appearance on CTV – “In retrospect, this was not a wise idea” – but the fatigue, if any, did not hold them back.

We also got an extended version of the waterslide story from earlier – “it is not possible to nap in a hotel that has waterslides.” Apparently the Travelodge pool has a tunnel to a second waterslide, which they used even though it was out of commission. MBF went first down the dry slide, and those that followed used his wetness. Actually, I think this whole story was an excuse to use the phrase “used my wetness” as often as possible and to that end, he was quite successful, so kudos there.

The encore was – as it usually seems to be – Care For You, though this one got interrupted by the sound of a nearby train. MBF told a story about one time they’d played the Exchange (I think this would be the last time I saw him there? Not sure) where a girl, upon leaving the show, got her car hung up on the train tracks (I think a snowbank was involved?) and everyone had to help move the car lest a train come. “THAT WAS ME” yelled someone from far behind me. All involved were glad to see that she and her car were both okay.

After the show, I stopped by the stuff table to buy a copy of Live at the Grand, an MBF live CD that I assume is relatively new. Most of the songs are from his last studio album, so maybe this is new for this tour? I do love tour-only treats at the stuff table. I think I have the rest of his records, so I skipped the cassette tape from the future, but that looked like a heck of a deal. Anyway, MBF was taking pictures and whatnot and I had to wait for my ride to get there, so I took the opportunity to get my CD signed and thank him for coming through Regina. Over the past few months, I can think of a half-dozen bands I would have seen who’ve skipped over Regina on tour. I don’t know if it’s a lack of quality venues, or if nobody here wants to book bands, or if it’s just that nobody shows up when bands do come to town – and I have been to several shows that should have had a lot more people there (including this one) – but whatever the reason, it’s become a real treat just to have someone I like come to town. And when a show was this good, so much the better.

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SLCR #187: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald’s Birthday Spectacular (March 23, 2013)

Whenever I go to Calgary to visit my grandparents, I always seem to find a few shows to go to. Michael Bernard Fitzgerald is not one of those acts that’s too big to play Regina, but I hadn’t seen him in a while, and it doesn’t look like he’s touring right now. Besides, it was his birthday party – how could I not go? He’d have been so disappointed.

The show was at the MacEwan Ballroom, which is several floors above MacEwan Hall, site of last year’s Kasabian and Cat Empire shows. I got there shortly after the doors were supposed to open and took my place in a big ol’ line. The holdup was caused by security checking bags and frisking each person as they entered; I had no idea MBF fans were so prone to violence. If anything, I thought I noticed an above-average number of hugs among people at the show. I don’t think they were secret knife hugs.

For his birthday, MBF asked people to wear their finest Canadian tuxedoes to his show; that being, of course, a denim shirt with blue jeans. I even overheard people in line wondering how strictly this dress code was going to be enforced. I did wear jeans, but I don’t own a denim shirt or jean jacket and didn’t feel like tracking one down just for the occasion. This probably makes me a bad sport. Fortunately for me, there were enough people who didn’t join in that I didn’t stand out (no more so than usual, anyway), but lots of people did play along. Some went all out; I’m talking jeans, denim shirt, denim tie (!), jean jacket combos. In a Calgary Herald interview printed before the show, Fitzgerald said that he’d gone to a tailor to have something special to wear for the evening.

As befits a celebration, the show was stacked. There were four opening acts that played for over two hours, and the first was my favourite of the bunch. Scenic Route to Alaska is a two-piece act from Edmonton (their website says there are three of them, but I only saw two, and I refuse to dispute mine own eyes). They played very energetic straight-up rock with a hint of… not country, exactly, but sort of? I wouldn’t describe them as a country act but if you only like country, you could still really enjoy these guys. I don’t know if they ever make it out to Regina, but if they do, I’d be likely to go check them out.

Next up was Cole Hruska, a Calgary singer-songwriter. I think he said he was 15, which, Jesus, really? Is that even possible? I’m pretty sure when I was 15 I was playing Mega Man IV despite not having beaten any of the previous ones (though I told people I did). Anyway, this was just him and a guitar playing some very earnest songs. It wasn’t so much my thing, but he won the crowd over – judging from the reaction, a good number of people were there just to see him. Closing with Call Me Maybe (segueing in and out of Thrift Shop for good measure) was a crowd-pleaser.

Our third performer was Mark Mills. He sang and played guitar over prerecorded beats and possessed a sweet mustache and sweeter dance moves. I cannot stress the sweetness of these dance moves enough. I mean, it was more flailing, you know? Spastic flailing. But sweet spastic flailing. At the time, I had no idea what to make of this, and I still don’t. I am not 100% convinced that this wasn’t some sort of elaborate practical joke. Whatever it was, I was greatly entertained.

After Mills wrapped up, a local radio DJ came out and plugged his station and the night’s sponsors; standard DJ stuff. He also said we’d be joined shortly by our fourth and final opener, Teddy Celebration. Contrary to what you might assume based on that last paragraph, it was only here when we truly entered the WTF? portion of the evening. After three musical acts, a guy wandered out onto the stage to zero fanfare and played standard dance music. It took a while before I realized that this was not just the random music they were playing between sets. There was a distinct lack of dancing among the people in attendance; mostly, people just stood around and talked. Some swayed back and forth a bit while they did it but it looked like they were just trying to be polite. They did seem to like it when he played Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.

After about 15 minutes of this, the person I assume to be Teddy Celebration was joined by someone I initially thought was a vocalist, but no, he was a roadie doing the soundcheck for Fitzgerald. Just smack dab in the middle of the music, “check check one two” on the mics, testing out the drums, that sort of thing. It was very strange. Eventually, Soundcheck Man tapped Possibly Teddy Celebration on the shoulder and gave him the sign to wrap it up. Teddy Celebration is apparently a man who takes orders seriously, as he immediately shut off the music and walked off. Soundcheck Man gestured for the audience to applaud, which they did politely.

Finally, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald took over the stage with an army of musicians. For most of the show, there were somewhere around a dozen people on stage including two drummers, three horn players (who you may recall as The Horny Boys from the Regina Folk Festival), three backup singers, and MBF himself. All of the openers came out for one of the closing songs, and there was barely room enough for everyone.

And of course, everyone was wearing denim. And they all seemed really hot. After a few songs, MBF took off his jean jacket to reveal a denim shirt, and lost the shirt in short order to show off his denim muscle shirt, which he had specially made for the evening and he believed to be the only one in existence. I’m sure someone else has had the idea at some point, but I am not going to let Google Images ruin this moment for me.

A few songs in, the crowd spontaneously launched into singing Happy Birthday. As soon as they were done, some of the crew brought a giant bottle-shaped cake out on stage (alas, I didn’t see what kind of bottle) and everyone sang again. MBF gets a decent reaction in Regina, but in his hometown of Calgary, he is beloved. It sounded like he’s had a lot of radio support there, and the crowd sang along with his old songs and the new ones – Care For You, Movie Life, Firecracker, Follow, and especially Brand New Spaces – people near me were yelling for that one all night and the crowd didn’t need to be told to stomp stomp stomp CLAP along. He also covered It Ain’t Me, Babe, and wrapped up the show as he last did in Regina, by starting off with Low and turning it into Dancing in the Dark. And he did let us know that despite Earth Hour taking place during the course of the show, he wasn’t allowed to kill the lights for Dancing in the Dark. Something about a “fire hazard.” Killjoys.

All told, the show was great fun. MBF is always great and the crowd put it over the top. If I was going to nitpick anything, MBF’s set was surprisingly short. With the encore, he wrapped everything up in just under an hour. I’d been there for close to four hours at that point, so I shouldn’t complain, but Fitzgerald was the guy I was there to see and I’d have preferred more of him and maybe not so much soundcheck-enhanced dance hits of the 80s and 90s.

But whatever, MBF was off to mingle with fans and celebrate his birthday and I was off to retrieve my parka from the coat check and catch the train back home. I’m pretty sure that I was in the coat check line for about a hundred years, but seeing as how I’m not dead or anything, that’s likely not right.

SLCR #165: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald (March 2, 2012)

Remember when I was gonna quit doing these? It turns out that I’m good at slowing down but bad at actually stopping. Normally, I stick a list of upcoming shows at the bottom of each concert review, but what the heck, let’s put the list first this time.

UPCOMING SHOWS:
 – March 28: John K. Samson w/Shotgun Jimmie
 – March 29: Ben Folds and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
 – April 6: The Cat Empire
 – April 7: Kasabian w/Hacienda
 – April 12: Kathleen Edwards w/Hannah Georgas
 – April 18: Whitehorse
 – April 20: Joel Plaskett Emergency w/Frank Turner
 – August 10-12: Regina Folk Festival

I managed to avoid writing reviews for the Norm Macdonald stand-up show (very funny) and the Regina Symphony playing cartoon themes (cute idea, but not executed all that well), but still, I’ll be hitting seven shows in four cities in the next five weeks. And it would have been even worse if I’d made it to the Electric Six show I had tickets for, but I spent that night in the office, getting home a little after 2:00 a.m.

Perhaps I don’t know what “worse” means.

Luckily, I’ve got a bit of time off coming up, so I can take care of essential tasks like driving or flying from town to town, writing reviews, and catching up on my old man sleep. I might see midnight from somewhere other than my house or my office. Time to man up.

Fortunately, the concerts put on by the Regina Folk Festival tend to stick to a reasonable schedule. We got to the Exchange about 20 minutes after the doors opened, and the emcee – a “weather specialist” (conspicuous by its absence was the word “meteorologist”) from a local station – was already getting things underway. We had just enough time to seat ourselves before the first act took the stage.

“Lola Parks” is not Lola Parks’ real name. I know this from the internet. I will not tell you what her real name is, since if you’re anything like me, you have a vision in your mind of a showgirl who refused to dance at the back of a bus, and I’d hate to destroy the magic. Instead, it was a lady from BC who wrote some songs and sang those songs while playing the guitar. This was all very straightforward and it was fine enough, though she was never able to capture the interest of the crowd. You could hear the talking gradually get louder as her set progressed.

Next up was Regina’s own Indigo Joseph, a local quartet (or quintet if you include the light-up statue of the Virgin Mary which sat at the side of the stage). These guys brought a lot more energy to their set, and got a reaction befitting local favourites, which is to say that some people stood at the front of the stage, and a few even danced. It was almost as though there was live music playing. They traded off instruments throughout their set and were generally pretty entertaining. I’ve heard of these guys for a while now, so I was a bit surprised when they were talking onstage as though an upcoming show in Saskatoon was a big step for them. But then, they all looked to be about 12 years old, so I suppose they have lots of time. And now I will find out that they’re all, like, late-20s and I will feel even older than I normally do.

I had never heard of Michael Bernard Fitzgerald before last year’s Regina Folk Festival, but he caught my ear with a delightful rendition of Baby Got Back: my one weakness. Luckily, I also really enjoyed his original songs; I’ll listen to your hilarious rap covers, but you’d best back them up if actually want me to care. Take notes, Dynamite Hack.

For no particular reason, I was expecting the show to basically be one guy and his guitar, so I was surprised to see the stage fill with around eight additional musicians, including two horn players who you can apparently follow on Twitter @TheHornyBoys but I’m writing this at lunchtime at the office and I’m not about to do a search to confirm that. That’s for after hours. Anyway, in front of a lighting rig that consisted of maybe a half-dozen plain lightbulbs, this mass of humanity played a great set in front of a largely adoring crowd.

I say “largely” because there are always those jerks who talk through the whole show. I’m sure I’ve gone off on a dozen rants in my SLCR history about people who pay a cover charge to ignore the entertainment and disrupt others, so I’ll leave it at that, but ol’ MBF was determined to take a stand, occasionally saying things like “this song is best enjoyed in silence” and “how about you shut up now.” (Some guy: “WOOOOOO!” MBF: “That is doing the opposite.”) It was wonderful, and brought back memories of the time that I saw Jian Ghomeshi try to murder a man with a stare for playing pinball through a Moxy Früvous set at The State.

MBF has a new studio album on the way. It wasn’t ready for our show, but there was a tour-only EP for sale with five new tracks. I think he played four of them, but let’s be honest, I’m writing this more than three weeks after the fact. I feel bad for neglecting his original songs, but I’m going to; I’m notoriously bad at remembering song titles, and the few people who read these reviews won’t likely know any of them anyway. However, if I tell you that he segued from Flo Rida’s Low into Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark and it was awesome, that might mean something.

At one point while writing this, my notes read:
 – lights
 – springsteen
 – shut up
 – touch butts

…and I felt that I needed to share this tidbit with you.

Touch butts! I almost forgot. At one point he played a love song and suggested that people in the crowd should “make out or touch butts or do whatever it is you do.” I wasn’t sure if this meant you were supposed to just grab butts, or if it was specifically restricted to butt-on-butt contact. Either way, I was too lazy to get off my chair. I’m sure MBF would be disappointed in me for being one of the quiet sitters instead of one of the enthusiastic standers, but I didn’t blab through the whole show so hopefully that evens out.

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