Home again, and I wasted no time getting back at it. Back in the saddle. On the horse. The concert horse. My flight got in around 4:00 on Saturday afternoon and by 8:00, I was sitting in the Artesian awaiting Sarah Slean. I had my concert ticket before I booked the trip, so I scheduled my return flight accordingly and everything – somewhat surprisingly – worked out. Even if my seatmate did steal my aisle seat, leaving me squooshed up against the window.
By comparison, I had no seatmate at this show, which is always better than cuddling with strangers. The place wasn’t quite sold out, and though I arrived too late to get a seat in the… well, I guess they’re like a combination of bleachers and pews – anyway, they were full, but I got a seat at the back of the floor. The venue is small enough that there aren’t really any bad seats there.
Sarah and her band (guitar, bass, drums) started right at 8:00 with no opener. They played two sets that were about 45 minutes each, plus the requisite encore. A lot of the songs came from Slean’s new album, Metaphysics; it looks like she played most of the record. There were also some older songs like Pilgrim and California that (of course) got the best reactions. I did like all the new tunes, though. Slean was on the piano (or the piano-sounding keyboard if you’re a stickler for details) for every song except one – her version of Wayfaring Stranger that opened the second set.
For the encore, Slean first returned by herself and asked for requests. This turned into a remarkably well-organized three-way shouting match between the guy ahead of me who yelled for Book Smart, Street Stupid, someone behind me yelling for Willow, and someone up at the front yelling for Sweet Ones. I knew we weren’t getting Sweet Ones unless the band came back out, so it came down to two. “Book Smart, that’s interesting,” said Slean. “Yes,” said the guy, very emphatically. Not like he was excited that she might play it; he was just strongly in agreement. She opted to play it and hoped she wouldn’t forget the words. She only got lost once and the guy helped her out. Then the band came back out and they played Sweet Ones to close the show. That was the big crowd pleaser and I guess it’s her biggest song? I dunno, it’s real good, but I like Lucky Me more and she didn’t play that one. Shoulda yelled.
This was all delightful. For a while now, Slean has been someone that I seem to see every time she’s in town, and then I never listen to her music until the next time I go see her. This was a pleasant reminder that she has some good songs and I should spend more time listening to them. Her band was really good too. And the set lengths were just right for me; I got enough to make it worth the money and it never dragged, plus I wasn’t in the mood to stay out forever.
I will say that I know some people who really dislike Slean and this show wouldn’t have changed their minds. She has some affectations when she talks and sings and that’s part of what puts them off. Last time I saw her, I was sitting near two groups of people; one praised her for being “emotive” and the other derided her as “a ham” and though I told that story last time, I can think of no better way to sum up the issue. I can’t say it bugs me, though I see what they’re getting at and it did make me wonder how much of it is a persona and how much is just her.
The venue really upped my enjoyment of the evening. I believe the polite term for “this place is tiny” is “an intimate setting.” I might just call it cozy. It’s a nice looking space where you’re never too far from the stage or overrun by idiots. And the sound was fantastic, with the clearest vocals I’ve heard at a show in a long time. The instruments all sounded great too. My next two concerts are also at the Artesian and this pleases me.
While this all was going on, elsewhere in Regina, friends of mine were at the Brandt Centre watching wrestling. I skipped out to watch a tiny lady play piano. I’m not sure this is something that 16-year-old me would be able to fathom. But whatever; they had fun and I had fun.
- Martha Wainwright w/Mappe Of (October 22)
- David Myles w/Port Cities (October 24)
- Headstones w/SNAKEandtheCHAIN (November 17)
- Andy Shauf (November 18)
- Corb Lund (November 23)
- Cold Specks w/LA timpa (November 24)
- Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)
- Hawksley Workman (December 9)
- “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
BEFORE THE SHOW (SATURDAY AFTERNOON)
Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith – Jay & Silent Bob – are somewhere in my town. Probably somewhere near the casino. They’re doing one of their speaking gigs there tonight. I was supposed to go. It’s been a long time since I’ve considered myself a Kevin Smith fan, but when the show was booked, I decided to check it out. His speaking engagements are legendary; in fact, DVDs of his appearances are my favourite things that he’s put out in a long time. But then the original show was postponed and rescheduled for today. Around that time, I heard about the Sarah Slean show, also tonight, so I had a choice to make. I returned my Jay & Silent Bob ticket, claiming that I couldn’t make it to the rescheduled show, and used the money to get my Slean ticket instead. The Jay & Silent Bob show is sold out, so they won’t miss me. I’m glad my seat will still have a butt in it.
Slean is “reimagining Broadway” with the Regina Symphony Orchestra. I wonder if a lot of people had to make the hard choice between Kevin Smith and the symphony tonight? Or any night?
My ticket is in the front row. That sounds great, but I note that it was also relatively cheap – something like $40. Five rows back, tickets were $90. I suspect I may find myself to be TOO close, like at the Art of Time shows earlier this year. Oh well, I don’t really need to see much, I just need to be able to hear things.
AT THE SHOW
Yeah, this is really close. But I think it should be okay.
ALSO AT THE SHOW
Intermission. I’m just off centre, front row, 6 feet directly in front of Sarah Slean at all times. I thought she’d be playing piano but she’s only singing (not ONLY only – you know what I mean – not multitasking). There’s a trio with her on piano, drums, and upright bass. Been very good so far. She accidentally tried skipping a song but recovered nicely. I know more of these songs than I thought I would. Will list all songs later; hooray for programs.
They’re selling CDs later and also having a reception to welcome the new musical director. I likely won’t buy anything or go meet anyone but it’s nice that these things happen.
No encore listed in the program. I wonder what they have planned? If anything?
AFTER THE SHOW
The encore was Over the Rainbow. She tried to encourage people to sing. Most did. Me, no. I didn’t sing on request for Edelweiss either, but that time I had the excuse of not knowing it well enough to even try.
Songs! Here they are:
• Overture (I noticed Anything Goes and If I Were a Rich Man; there may have been other songs in the medley if you know more than I do, which you probably do)
• Oh What a Beautiful Morning (Oklahoma!)
• I’ve Never Been in Love (Guys and Dolls)
• Chim Chim Cheree (Mary Poppins)
• Somewhere (West Side Story)
• Edelweiss/My Favourite Things (Sound of Music)
• Mein Herr (Cabaret)
Intermission (not a song)
• NYC (Annie)
• Consider Yourself (Oliver)
• You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile (Annie)
• America (West Side Story)
• Falling Slowly (Once)
• I Dreamed a Dream (Les Miserables)
• There’s No Business Like Show Business (Annie Get Your Gun) (presumably a gritty reboot of Annie)
Encore (also not a song)
• Over the Rainbow (I dunno, maybe Hamilton, that’s a thing I’ve definitely heard of)
The show opened with a bunch of introductions of symphony people that you probably don’t care about even though they do important work and give important money and make the entire symphony possible and have you ever even thanked them? I thought not. For shame.
This led to the introduction of Sarah Slean and the Mike Janzen Trio. Like I mentioned, Slean was singing and Janzen was on piano, with George Koller on upright bass and Ben Riley on drums. Plus there was that whole orchestra thing. This was the setup for pretty much every song, apart from Consider Yourself and You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile; both of those numbers had Janzen singing, and Smile featured just the trio.
Whether or not you think this was a good show would depend on your thoughts about 1) the musicians, 2) show tunes, and 3) Slean herself.
The musicians were fantastic and so of course that means they’re going to get the shaft and I’m not going to talk much about them. But yeah. All great.
Show tunes… I don’t know. I’ve never been a musicals guy apart from comedy stuff. That said, I knew an awful lot of these songs just because how can you not, right? I thought the arrangements (all done by Janzen) were really well done – true to the originals but took full advantage of the orchestra.
As for Slean, I know some people who love her and some who don’t. Obviously, I’m a fan, but I can see how it could get to be too much of a good thing. This is probably best summed up by the reactions of the folks I was sitting near; the group to my right loved her and praised how “emotive” she is. The group to my right said very little as they were leaving beyond “she’s a ham.” Two sides of the same coin, I figure. Even more than her own songs, Broadway show tunes gave her the opportunity to emote as she sang. So basically, if you already liked her, you’d have enjoyed this. And if not, nothing here would change your mind.
Like I said, I’m a fan, and I thought this was quite good. I’ve seen Slean in concert a few times now, and I’d have gone to see her playing another “normal” gig, but I love unique shows like this. Very glad I went, would go again. They should bring in other people too. Like Ben Folds, so I could see him with an orchestra without having to drive to Edmonton. I need every one of you to go on Twitter and tell the symphony they should do this; they’ve got me blocked for some reason.
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Donovan Woods w/Joey Landreth (November 2)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)
I was pretty sure this one wasn’t going to happen. Tickets had been on sale for weeks and I kept putting off buying them. There were just too many shows last year that we wound up skipping out on. Finally, Mark offered to pick up tickets for me and (the other) James. This was on a Friday. On Monday, I got the Artesian’s email newsletter which mentioned the show being sold out.
I suppose trying for suspense is a useless endeavour, given that I’m posting a review of the show? Fine. Mark came through, snagging us some tickets right before they ran out.
And when the day of the show rolled around, I was almost a little disappointed that he did. This is where I’d insert my usual speech about being a tired old man who just wants to sleep his life away if I thought you hadn’t heard it 50 times already. But I had yet to pay Mark for the ticket and I would have felt bad about standing him up, so off I went.
We met at the Freehouse. I was about 20 minutes late, leaving me no time to grab a beer before the show. Instead, I picked at Mark’s sweet potato fries (not a euphemism) while James hugged all the servers goodbye. Mark and James both live downtown and appear to be on a first-name basis with every server in every restaurant within walking distance of their respective dwellings. Or at least the attractive lady servers.
We walked the cold, windy block to the Artesian. Once inside, Mark immediately disappeared while James and I checked our coats. We stumbled blindly into the hall, which was already half full, to discover that somehow, Mark had secured himself a seat in the second row, and two seats for James and me in the very front row. I have no idea how he was able to pull this off. Did he have to kill a man? Or maybe three men? If so, what did he do with the bodies? How did nobody see? Or did he scare everyone into silence? He IS both intimidating and resourceful…
Anyway, point being, I wound up in the exact same seat that I had for the Steven Page show. I immediately texted Mary to brag about this. Mark and James, meanwhile, were busy making friends with the people sitting all around us. I have never been that outgoing and I suspect I never will be. I’m not sure if that’s something you’re born with or if you can train yourself. Is there a course I can take? Preferably online so I don’t have to talk to anyone?
Our opening act was Ian Kelly, a singer-songwriter type from Montreal; specifically, the same neighbourhood in Montreal where Mark’s girlfriend lives. Of COURSE James and Mark would find this out within seconds of talking to him (or someone working the stuff table, or someone who had heard of him, or some random person). Why wouldn’t they?
Kelly took the stage, thanked us for our applause, and promised a fine round of depressing songs. He only had a short set, a half-hour or so, and spent a fair bit of the time just chatting with the crowd, at least in part about the really good lasagna he’d had backstage. This line of conversation continued when we briefly met with him on our way out after the show. “It had sweet potatoes in it!”
note to self: sweet potatoes in 2013 concert reviews could be the new chicken fingers in 1998 concert reviews – think about ways to beat joke to death
I was unfamiliar with Ian Kelly’s music (this is a nice way of saying I had never heard of this guy before), but the standout song was I Would Have You, a witty number about jetski love, dreams of opening for Rush, and not becoming an asshole. I later bought the song on iTunes and Mika said “it sounds like your kind of song.” I choose to take that as a compliment and I also choose to not think too hard about that choice. At any rate, I found Ian Kelly pretty entertaining and he was the rare opening act who understayed his welcome. I’d make a point of going to see him if he came back.
Sarah Slean was touring in support of her newest record, a double album called Land & Sea. Specifically, she was touring in support of Sea, the more mellow, orchestral disc. To recreate the sound in a live setting, there were eight or nine people packed onto the Artesian’s small stage; among them, a few violinists, a stand-up bassist (meaning that he was playing the stand-up bass, not that he was forthright) (although I don’t know that he wasn’t), a drummer, a backing vocalist, and Slean herself on piano. Apparently on some shows, Slean included additional local musicians, but here, there was literally no place for them. As it was, when Slean would step away from her piano and trade places with her backup singer, it took some creative maneuvering to make it across the stage.
Whether at the piano or the microphone, Slean was directly right in front of where we were sitting. Mark had managed to secure the two best seats in the house for James and I. He seemed quite pleased with himself, and deservedly so. He also noted that we appeared to be the only men at the concert who hadn’t been dragged there. He might have been right with that one. The crowd was predominantly female, and this was never more obvious then when Slean said she was tired of wearing heels and kicked her shoes off, and the crowd responded with a high-pitched squeal of appreciation and understanding.
She had more of a sense of humour than I would have guessed. This should not be, considering I copied and pasted that sentence out of my review from the first time I saw her. That was almost eight years and 100 reviews ago and I’ve only seen her once more since then, so I suppose I should allow myself a little forgetfulness, but c’mon now. She sings pretty songs, that doesn’t mean she can’t make jokes.
Hey, I suppose you want to know how the songs went. They were good!
I had never picked up Land & Sea, so I was going into the show blind. I figured you guys were probably tired of me saying “I bought the album and had good intentions of listening to it before the show, but then I never did,” so I decided to just skip that whole “good intentions” part. Gotta mix things up, keep it fresh.
With that in mind, I liked all the new songs, though I don’t know that any one in particular really stood out for me. I’m boring and predictable; my favourites were the few songs I already knew (primarily, a handful of songs off Day One). I do gravitate to the familiar and comfortable and non-threatening, and you’re all like “dude, you were at a Sarah Slean show, could that be any less threatening?” and I’m all “did you ever notice that the first line of Pilgrim is ‘a little blood and vomit on the car seat’ because I never really thought about that before and judging from the crowd all giggling out their ‘ewww’s, I’m guessing they didn’t either” and you’re all “but is that really THREATENING, per se?” and I’m all like “no, imaginary person, but I started making up this conversation with you before I had an ending in mind” and so here we are.
All of which is a long-winded, occasionally confusing, and possibly poorly punctuated way of saying that I liked the show. I’ll not likely get to see those songs performed in that way again, so that was really cool. She usually seems to do shows by herself on piano or with a more traditional pop band. But here’s the thing – saying “liked” might indicate that I was the least satisfied customer in attendance. I mean, there were people there who were completely blown away by what they’d seen. I almost felt guilty for merely “liking.”
After the show, James grabbed Sarah’s setlist. Each musician left one behind, but she’d marked up hers with last-minute changes and notes. He promised to get me a print-quality picture or scan that I could use when I someday put all my concert reviews in a book. I don’t intend to ever change this paragraph – you’ll have to wait until then to know whether or not he came through. Give me a decade or two.