This was a real last-minute call for me. Steven Page announced a big ol’ spring Canadian tour, and he wasn’t coming here. Disappointing, but months later, the symphony booked this show, taking place before said tour. It sounded like very much my thing, but I didn’t really know what it would entail. Remembering Tanya Tagaq’s appearance with the symphony, where she was a highlight of the evening but not the focus, I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to just be a whole night of Steven Page playing Steven Page songs with the orchestra. Instead of rushing out to buy tickets, I decided to wait on it and find out more. Then I promptly forgot about it.
Jump ahead to the afternoon of the concert, and there’s a picture on Instagram of Page, guitarist Craig Northey (of Odds), and cellist Kevin Fox eating lunch at a Regina pizza chain. I felt like they should be made aware of some better dining options, but that’s just my preferences. Possibly more importantly, I realized that the concert – whatever it was – was that evening. Tickets were cheap, so I decided to go.
I thought it a bit odd that there was no option to pick up a ticket at the box office, only to realize (well after I bought the ticket, but thankfully, before I left the house) that there was no box office. Instead of the usual concert hall, Page and the orchestra were at the Mâmawêyatitân Centre, a community centre in Regina’s North Central neighbourhood. For those unfamiliar, this neighbourhood doesn’t have a sparkling reputation, which is a nice way of tiptoeing around the fact that a certain national news magazine once named it the worst neighbourhood in Canada. That this neighbourhood currently seems to be doing better than said magazine is a little funny to me. The centre itself is relatively new and very nice. The name means “let’s all be together,” and the complex is home to a high school, public library, daycare, recreational facilities, and numerous community groups.
The email and the ticket PDF all told me to print my ticket, but nothing in our house is connected to our 15-year-old printer and I wasn’t about to sort that out. I showed up, flashed my phone, and was let inside. I’m pretty sure they saw the Gmail app on my phone and just called it good. Inside, the orchestra was setting up in a large open area, with chairs on the floor facing them and extra seating available up some stairs off to the side. This was nice and sparsely occupied so that’s where I went, though it did leave me facing Page’s back while he played piano.
The concert was scheduled as part of the Forward Currents Festival, an annual (twice counts as annual) series of concerts aiming to spark conversation about topics of societal importance. This year’s theme was “music and mental health.” There had also been a talk on the subject before the concert, though I didn’t attend that part.
The music director opened the show and briefly outlined that there would be two musical pieces in the first half, followed by Steven Page after the intermission. The first piece was Tchaikovsky’s “Mozartina” orchestral suite, while the second was called My Name is Amanda Todd, composed by Jocelyn Morlock and written about a BC teen who died by suicide after being bullied and assaulted. I generally don’t comment on performances of classical music because what the heck do I know, really, but I will say that it was all very lovely and nobody applauded in the breaks between the four miniatures that make up the orchestral suite and certain people I know would be very pleased by that. From where I was sitting, I was mostly watching the percussionists; one in particular was all over the place, moving from instrument to instrument, hitting things and quickly silencing them and hitting other things. This is probably not the deep appreciation that I should have for this music but it was fun to watch. Also, re-reading this paragraph, you can easily tell which words came from the program (“orchestral suite”) and which came from me (“hitting things and other things”).
Between sets which I know isn’t the right word, people near me were meeting internet-only friends in person for the first time and making other new friends and this all seemed nice.
After the break, we got, well, Steven Page playing Steven Page songs with the orchestra, along with Northey and Fox. They played six songs, alternating between Page’s solo tunes (There’s a Melody, No Song Left to Save Me, and Looking for the Light) and ones he wrote while with Barenaked Ladies (Call & Answer, War on Drugs, and Brian Wilson). Mental illness is a recurring theme in these songs, though it’s more obvious in some cases than others (before explaining the connection to one song, Page joked “let me ruin this one for you too”). He also talked a lot about his own challenges with mental illness, and the importance of being there for people who are struggling, going into detail about a time whenfriends were there for him during a challenging period in his life. Or as he put it, “if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I was arrested on drug charges ten years ago. Google it,” before jokingly adding “the charges were dismissed – that means I didn’t do it, right?”
The songs were all very nicely done. The ones from the BNL days were more famous, but it was nice to get a mix of the old and the new. And though Brian Wilson might be his most famous song and Call & Answer has that one yelly part I really like, I think War on Drugs was my favourite. It wasn’t a single, but I remember liking it back when it came out (despite my BNL fandom waning at that time), and it fit the evening well and the new arrangement (done by Page’s son) was quite good. I think I preferred it to the original.
All told, it was a delightful and thought-provoking evening that I could easily have missed out on if not for Page’s habit of taking pictures of soup. If you’ve ever seen some asshole in a restaurant who has to Instagram his lunch before he can eat it, be kind; he might be accidentally doing someone a favour.
Sarah Slean is coming here in February. While looking at the Artesian’s website to determine if I should be buying tickets now (answer: probably, but I still haven’t yet done so), I saw that Steven Page would be here three nights later. I knew Mika wasn’t interested, so I asked Mark and James if they wanted to go. When they couldn’t make it, I made plans to spend the night of the show finishing up my Christmas shopping. But Mark told Mary that I was going (which was not, technically speaking, true), and so on Wednesday afternoon, plans changed.
I was glad to get the chance to go. My fandom of Barenaked Ladies has waned greatly over the years. I saw them a few years ago and still had a good time, but I really only went because Joel Plaskett was opening. I think the departure of Steven Page from BNL is a big part of why my interest has lessened. Barenaked Ladies’ first record without Steven Page was decidedly not my thing, but I liked Steven Page’s first post-BNL solo record, Page One, a fair bit. I hadn’t seen him live since the split and had wanted to see what his shows were like. In fact, in one of those weird coincidence things, I’d been wondering what he was up to just one day before finding out about the show.
Mika dropped me off at Mary’s house so she could carry on with Christmas shopping while Mary and I set out for the Artesian. On the way to the show, Mary told me the most amazing story about the time she met Steven Page 20 years ago. Most of the details must unfortunately be left off the internet; let’s just say that the part where he was riding in her Volvo to a Fishbone concert while they all sang Word Up by Cameo wasn’t even the highlight.
The Artesian is a relatively new venue and it was a lovely, cozy little place. I believe it’s a converted church. There’s a bar downstairs where Mary treated us to Stellas and we chatted with the owner. She said that the place holds about 160 people at capacity. Upstairs, there’s a decently-sized stage with raised benches at the back of the room. The floor had seating for the show, but it could have been removed if a dancier band was playing. By the time the show began, I figure there was around 100 people there. Since we made it early, we were able to snag two seats in the front row.
The opener, for lack of a better term, took the stage about ten minutes after the scheduled start time. Just as I’m thinking “hey, that guy looks really familiar,” he introduced himself as Craig Northey from Odds. I liked them a bunch and had no idea he’d be here, so I was pretty delighted by this development. He opened with a song that he’d co-written with Jesse Valenzuela of the Gin Blossoms; given our proximity to the fictional town of Dog River/real-life town (and film site) of Rouleau, I was half-expecting it to be the theme to Corner Gas but that was not the case. He then played a new song from the upcoming Odds record which I really enjoyed. Steven Page joined in on melodica halfway through the song, at which point the show began in earnest.
When talking about this show with friends, the thing they ask most often is “so, did he just play Barenaked Ladies songs?” Probably about half the show was BNL classics, but it was interesting to see which ones. I’m not about to go digging through liner notes right now to see who wrote or co-wrote what, but the BNL songs Page played in Regina had a distinct lack of their trademark silliness. It wasn’t one week since anything, there were no postcards from chimpanzees, this was not him in Grade 9. We got a lot of the songs that always made me feel like there was a real band behind their on-stage goofiness: Brian Wilson, Jane, The Old Apartment, What A Good Boy, Alternative Girlfriend, Break Your Heart, Call and Answer. These songs are similar in tone to the ones on his solo records Page One and The Vanity Project, and tracks from these albums comprised most of the rest of the show. Page also played a few new songs and Northey sang two Odds hits (Someone Who’s Cool and It Falls Apart). I could have done with more Odds songs, but it’s not really fair to ask for that when it wasn’t an Odds show.
And Page talked. The show ran about three hours with a brief intermission, and a lot of that time was spent conversing with Northey and the crowd. The night before in Swift Current (seriously, why does everyone play Swift Current these days?), someone had suggested to Page that maybe he should spend less time talking while he’s on stage, and I’m glad he didn’t listen. The small crowd and intimate venue made the show feel very personal, and the ongoing dialogue only helped enhance that mood. He cracked jokes and talked about everything from his inspirations to road stories to life with his kids.
When I saw Barenaked Ladies a few years ago, they seemed determined to show their fans that despite Page’s departure, nothing had really changed. They played all of their old songs with Ed Robertson taking over where Page used to sing lead vocals, but I preferred the handful of songs where Kevin Hearn took over. Page and Hearn sound nothing alike and the songs had to change accordingly. It was more interesting to hear the familiar songs with a completely new voice instead of Robertson’s (perfectly adequate) Page impression.
I mention this because Page’s approach is the complete opposite. Not only did he play songs that the Barenaked Ladies made famous, he openly discussed his removal from the band. He told stories from the past and came across like he remembered that time with fondness, but he also went into detail about how he’d disappointed people along the way and how difficult, in retrospect, he’d been to work with. The openness helped contribute to the personal feel of the show, but I suppose there’s no reason for him to try and avoid anything. His drug arrest (charges were eventually dropped) and subsequent departure from the band were well-known, and his solo career really is like starting over, in a way. Even now, over a decade removed from Barenaked Ladies’ greatest commercial success, they come to Regina and still play a 2,000-seat theatre. That’s a step down from the hockey arena I’d previously seen them at, but it’s still twenty times the people who were at Page’s solo show. But if nothing else, it does give him the freedom to do what he wants instead of what the crowd expects.
For the encore, Page and Northey were joined by Regina’s Jason Plumb and his iPad. Plumb was a member of The Waltons, officially completing the Canadian mid-90s trifecta – how did we not get a Crash Test Dummy on stage for this? Was the guy from Wide Mouth Mason busy? What about the non-Jians from Moxy Früvous? Barenaked Ladies, The Waltons, and Odds had played together in various combinations before, but this marked the first time these three played on stage together. They covered Better Be Home Soon by Crowded House and Throw Your Arms Around Me by Hunters & Collectors, with the iPad providing lyrics.
After the show, we went back to the Artesian’s basement to meet up with Page so Mary could reminisce with him about that Fishbone show (and all the events surrounding it). I first got to chat a bit with Jason Plumb; the first time I saw Barenaked Ladies, they covered the Waltons’ song Nothing Colder Than You but rewrote the lyrics to commemorate a time that Plumb had accidentally sat on the hot rocks in a sauna (alcohol may have been a factor) and burnt his ass. It turns out that Plumb was actually at that show – and on a first date, no less. “I’m so glad someone remembers that,” he said, in a way that suggested he may not have been entirely truthful. A friend he was talking to joined in with “I’ve never burnt my ass,” said in the most deadpan, matter-of-fact manner. I thought this was about the funniest thing ever. I’d say “you had to be there” but even those that were there seemed unaffected.
Anyway, after a quick chat with Plumb, we got to spend a minute talking to Page and Northey. I talked to Northey about the time I saw Odds in Saskatoon and they didn’t turn off the TVs in the bar and the band was distractedly watching WCW Monday Nitro while playing. “Did I comment on the wrestling?” Northey asked. I assured him that he had. Specifically, he asked if there was anyone out there who could stop Meng. Before reliving memories of the Fishbone show with Page, Mary grabbed a few pictures of me with Page and Northey, and while I look like a tremendous goofball in both shots, I’m glad to have them as souvenirs of the evening. Plumb, Northey, and Page were all very gracious and came across like really nice guys.
On the drive home, Mary repeatedly said that she had a great time and was glad that we went, and I had to agree. I figured the show would be decent, but I was blown away. Page was entertaining from start to finish, we got a nice diverse mix of songs, and the sound at the Artesian was great. The appearances of Northey and Plumb were great surprises. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a three-hour show, and even longer since I went to one and wasn’t ready to leave well before the artist was done. This was right up there with the best shows of the year.