When I wrote the big long recap of the Jazz Festival (and, like, a million other things), my intent was to group a bunch of shows together so that I could keep each section relatively short. And I failed miserably. So I can see why you might be leery now. So if you don’t read any of the rest of this, just know that July Talk is now in the lead for Show of the Year in my non-existent year-end awards. So good.
But you should probably read the rest of this because it’s mostly about disgusting delicious fair foods. And I promise I will not start three straight sentences with “so” again in this. (But six straight sentences starting with conjunctions, on the other hand…)
The Queen City Ex is our local fair. Rides, contests, garbage food, bands, you know the deal. Despite what the title above might indicate, it runs for five days. We only went for two, cherry-picking solid lineups for our visits: July Talk with The Zolas on Thursday, and a double-bill of The Watchmen and I Mother Earth on Friday. This left us skipping (in order) Gord Bamford with Nice Horse, Ruth B with Christian Hudson, and Brett Kissel with hypnotist Wayne Lee and why is a hypnotist opening for a country singer? Too late to find out now even if I wanted to. And I don’t really want to.
Thursday was not only our first day at the fair, but it was also Mika’s birthday. I took her to a place with next to no gluten-free options and she got to watch me eat stuff she would have enjoyed, and then we saw a band I really like. Don’t ever say that I don’t know how to treat my wife on her special day.
As we both had to work on Thursday, we got to the fair fairly (oh man that’s some good comedy) late. We strolled around and pondered our food options while searching for the Great Western Stage, which was not where we remembered it. After making our way from one end of the Ex to the other, we checked our little map to discover that they’d moved it into the Brandt Centre. Seating! Air conditioning! No chance of getting rained out (as happened to the July Talk show at the Edmonton fair)! This was a pretty decent deal. And I suppose it makes sense – during our last fair visit two years ago, you didn’t have to deal with the giant new stadium on the fairgrounds.
The Thursday night openers were The Zolas and we got there just in time for them to begin. I knew one song, Swooner, but the rest of their stuff was new to me. Mika, however, was surprised to discover how many of their songs she’d heard – I gather they’re CBC Radio 3 favourites. Pop-rock, heavy on the keyboards and made me feel like I might be just a bit too old to really get into them, though the singer gained some bonus points by getting everyone to clap along to a song and then saying “now keep doing that until it’s awkward.” I mean, that’s what we do, but I’d never heard it spelled out so plainly before. These guys were fun enough, though they were probably my least-favourite set of the two nights. But that shouldn’t be taken as a knock – they were just up against some stiff competition.
Between sets, we headed back out onto the midway in an attempt to give ourselves coronaries. We were both saddened to discover that the nacho truck from our last fair visit was nowhere to be found. Tasty warm homemade chips with fresh toppings, right by the entrance to the Great Western Stage. You were too beautiful to live, nacho truck. Mika eventually found a place that made fries and didn’t fry anything else, so she could eat them. And they were good, but they’re not as ridiculous as you want from the fair, you know?
However, as mentioned, I had my pick of absolute crap. Last time, I started with a corndog and realized that I don’t like corn dogs as much as I think I do. This time, I went back for the corndogs, but with a twist – they stuck a dill pickle in there too. The perfect solution. I also got something called “bacon pickle balls” but they turned out to be just smaller pickle corn dogs that had an infinitesimal amount of bacon in there somewhere. Still good.
We made our way back to the Brandt Centre for July Talk. I first heard of them when the AV Club had the premiere of their video for Summer Dress, and – for reasons unknown to me – I actually bothered to watch the thing instead of skipping it like I do most web videos. (Sorry, people who ever send me links to anything.) I really dug it, which is not something I say about new bands these days because I am a miserable old fart who is set in his ways. And then I liked their album. And then their new album. So I was looking forward to this, was my point.
We’d sat in the stands for The Zolas, but moved down to the floor for July Talk, passing Mark and Arlette on the way down. The crowd for The Zolas was pretty respectable, but it had to be at least double that for July Talk. Sometimes good things become popular and that is rad!
The band took the stage and started by welcoming “ladies, gentlemen, trans, non-binary and genderfluid folk” before acknowledging that we were on Treaty 4 land. And then they blew the roof off the place. They played Summer Dress two songs in and I thought that would be the highlight for me but then it just kept getting better. Ridiculous levels of energy all night long. Two very different singers, with Leah Fay’s sultry vocals providing a sharp contrast to Peter Dreimanis’ guttural rasp. Great, catchy songs. Great musicians. Charismatic performers. This was the kind of show that made me want to tell everyone I know that they should have been there. I did text that to some of you. Not sorry.
At one point, Fay walked out into the crowd and asked everyone on the floor to sit down, and they all just did it. (I mean, WE didn’t, that floor is kinda nasty – but we were also far enough back so as to remain somewhat inconspicuous.) And then she rode back to the stage on a fan’s shoulders. She asked his name and he was the most excited Bob you ever did hear.
And then the encore. A fan threw something onto the stage. I couldn’t see what, but I assumed it was a stuffed animal, since we’re at the fair and all (even though most of the prizes were either Pokémon plushies or fidget spinners as far as I could tell). But no. Fay picked it up and said “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being in a band, you never give the people what they want right away. But I like you.” And she put on a rubber horse mask. And Fay and Dreimanis did a song together – the only one all night with just the two of them – with her in this horse mask. I use the word “ridiculous” a lot, and this was, but it is just as true to say it was amazing. Then Horse Fan (she had a name but that is not relevant right now) got to come up on stage and dance with the band for the last song. In the horse mask.
This ruled. This all ruled. The horse mask was just the icing on the cake. Horse icing. It cost $37 to get into the fair (two adults at $15 each, plus one car at $7) and I would have paid more than that for one ticket to July Talk and it would have been a deal. Go see them.
We ran into Mark and Arlette again on the way out – by which I mean I saw them leaving and chased after them – and we got to chat for a bit. Then with the show over, we set out to make some more bad decisions. Mika got a lemonade (again, tame by fair standards) while I went for the more ridiculous deep fried cookie dough. It was pretty good. Then I packed up my regrets and we went home, ready to do it all over again the next day.
Sometimes people ask me “how’s work?” and all you need to know is that on Thursday before the concert, I went from “I can come in this weekend” to “I’m taking tomorrow off because everything’s so broken that I can’t do anything” in the span of about 15 minutes. So I had Friday off, which was nice and restful. It let me prepare myself for another day of punishing my eardrums and my stomach.
Speaking of which, on Thursday, we discovered that one of the BBQ places was selling corn on the cob coated in Flammin’ [sic] Hot Cheetos dust. We reported this to Jeff and he had a day to build this up in his mind. By the time we got to the fair on Friday, he was already there, had already eaten the Flammin’ Hot Cheetos corn, and reported that it lived up to his imagination. Mika tried to have some too, but they misheard her order and gave her regular corn instead. She also got some blue slushie drink. Again, good but not fair-worthy craziness.
I, on the other hand, took my time to find the ideal monstrosity for dinner, and found the perfect combination of ridiculous and a short line – the bacon-wrapped foot-long hot dog topped with macaroni and cheese. With the optional fried onions, for… vitamins. Or fiber or something. Antioxidants? This was as delicious as it was challenging to eat. I wound up with mac and cheese on my nose and my hat. Not surprised. Didn’t care. Worth it.
We made our way to the Brandt Centre for the Watchmen, stopping to sample some apple whiskey on the way in. Not bad.
This was the only night where the two bands were given equal billing, though in essence, the Watchmen were opening. We debated whether the Watchmen or I Mother Earth should have gone on last, with Jeff firmly on the side of the Watchmen. I wasn’t sold on this. I mean, I know way more Watchmen songs than I Mother Earth songs, and having seen both bands recently, I liked the Watchmen better, but I figured that was just me. I Mother Earth just seem like the bigger band to me. And I was way wrong. There were tons of people in there for the Watchmen, on par with the crowd for July Talk. They opened with Boneyard Tree and closed with Stereo – in between, you got most of the singles you’d want (Incarnate, Any Day Now, All Uncovered, Absolutely Anytime and more) with some interesting covers, including The Only Living Boy in New York by Simon and Garfunkel and part of Superman by R.E.M.. This was a great set.
I’m writing this weeks after the fact. I think we got dessert between Watchmen and I Mother Earth, but I could be wrong. Maybe it was before? Who cares, if I’m wrong, only two people will know and they can write their own reviews if they’re so concerned about historical accuracy. Either way, I had red velvet mini donuts and Jeff got an Oreo churro. The mini donut people got my donuts from somewhere behind their stand. I don’t know where or why. I didn’t really want to know.
Having seen I Mother Earth last year, I realized that I only know one of their songs and also I only have so much interest in guitar solos. This show didn’t really change my opinion. That song was good! And the guitar solos were well done and all, but I can only care to a degree. I called this set “very good but not entirely my thing.” And I love this format of cramming tons of shows into one review because I can stop there, but I do need to mention that the crowd for I Mother Earth was shockingly smaller than it was for the Watchmen. At one point near the end of the set, I turned around and realized how bad it would look if they turned up the lights. They had maaaaaaybe half the crowd that the Watchmen did.
As soon I Mother Earth was over, Mika went to the bathroom and Jeff left, which was a real shame. The leaving part, I mean, not the bathroom part. Because if Jeff had left the arena with us, he’d have been treated to one lady’s rant about people bringing their fuckin’ kids to loud concerts and it’s not good for their hearing and you should get a fuckin’ babysitter or else just suck it the fuck up and don’t come – made all the better when I realized that some guy and his kids were 10 feet behind us. Then I got a caramel apple because I never learn anything.