SLCR #200: Ben Folds and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (May 21, 2014)

May 29, 2014

Review number two hundred!




This is ridiculous. I feel like I should throw a party. A concert review party. Best kind. Chicken fingers and mozza sticks for all. The DJ can make questionable choices. Patrick can rearrange the furniture and make the bathroom smell like oranges. A LOT of oranges.

Maybe this is a good stopping point. But I’ve felt like stopping for years, off and on, and here we are.

I want to put all these things in a book. Have I mentioned that? Self-published, because nobody would pay for these and they’ve all been free on the internet at one point or another anyway. An ebook, because it would be big and we all have too many books and books are heavy. Hard to move. Though maybe I’ll order up a handful of print copies if I can pull it off without bankrupting myself, just for my own ego. I have a plan. I’ve had a plan for a while, if that isn’t becoming apparent. Re-read everything. Edit everything. Fix typos. Don’t fix horrible opinions. Restore self-censored content. Re-post the old reviews to the internet. Add pictures where possible. Scan tickets. Write a new introduction for each review. Introduce the cast of characters properly so you know why I want Patrick to make the bathroom smell like a lot of oranges.

I’m big on the “planning” part and not so much into the “doing.” But now you can all publically shame me when review #300 rolls around and I’ve done nothing.

I may never get to #300. When the book goes to print, the reviews end. Or when the reviews end, I’ll get the book ready. I don’t know. Something like that, in some order.

I couldn’t finalize the book and then write more reviews. I can’t leave stragglers, waiting forever for a second volume that will never come.

I bought my dad a set of all the James Bond Blu-Rays for Christmas. It’s very nice but it is also kind of silly. I mean, it’s not like they’ll never make more Bond movies, you know? He’ll have this nice fancy box set and a stack of separate individual discs that he’ll buy as future movies come out. So yes, when my concert review book is done, I’m leaving the game.

But can you live without my opinions of Gordon Lightfoot? Or Glass Tiger? Or this year’s Folk Festival? I guess it’s not like I don’t know them already:

GORDON LIGHTFOOD: Good to see him, but would have been better to see him many years ago. Also, I don’t know many of his songs and he skipped at least one of them. And I am NOT fixing that typo up there because “Gordon Lightfood” is the funniest thing I’ve written in some time.

GLASS TIGER: Not bad, all things considered, but I didn’t enjoy them as much as Deserée did. Also, she was way more excited for Glass Tiger than anyone should be in 2014 – or, indeed, ever – but didn’t do anything crazy like rush the stage to profess her undying love for Alan Frew, much to my disappointment (and probably to his).

REGINA FOLK FESTIVAL: This one will vary depending on the weather and my overall mood, but I expect I will like Friday night best of all because Joel Plaskett.

You know, if I only write a sentence for each review, I could keep doing this forever. But that’s not what these are about, is it? These are about documenting all the shenanigans (or lack thereof) that surround these nights, and briefly touching on whether or not I actually enjoyed the performance and whether or not I thought it was any good, all while trying to camouflage my lack of musical knowledge. And with that in mind…

You know I love Ben Folds. I have been a fan ever since first being introduced to Ben Folds Five on a free CD sampler that came with CMJ New Music Monthly, back in the time before you could instantly hear every single song ever recorded for free. I have seen Ben Folds in Fargo (an eight-hour drive – each way – from my house), and with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (also an eight-hour drive), and with Ben Folds Five in Minneapolis (twelve hours). All three shows were great. I would gladly see him again anytime, though I could do without the long-distance drives. I don’t ever expect he’ll play Regina (even though Americans find it so fun to say), but c’mon, Ben. At only six hours away, even Winnipeg would be an improvement. And you have no idea how much it pains me to say that, though I admit that the sting is lessened by the knowledge that I am the first person ever in the history of all humankind to string the words “Winnipeg would be an improvement” together in that exact order.

My friend Candice likes Ben Folds a lot too. If memory serves, this would be her first appearance in an SLCR. She’d never seen Ben before. Whenever I’ve gone to see him, the timing didn’t work out for her. This time, she made it work, so I made it work. Folds’ last concert with the Edmonton Symphony was just over two years ago – March 29, 2012. Like I said, I loved it, but if Candice hadn’t been able go this time, I don’t think I would have bothered either. Between the travel time, the cost, and knowing that the set list was bound to be very similar (when you’re playing with a symphony, your opportunities to mix things up are limited), I would have lived with missing this one. But with a good excuse to go? Couldn’t miss out.

After much deliberation and schedule juggling and plan changing, I caught a bus to Saskatoon on the weekend before the concert. I had the whole week off, so I spent a few days with family and friends before Candice and her husband Ryan picked me up around noon on the day of the show. They brought me Wendy’s! Delightful of them.

The drive was uneventful, which pretty much always beats the alternative. We listened to satellite radio comedy for most of the way there, which was its usual mixed bag. Lots of garbage, a few good lines here and there, and one of my favourite Bill Cosby routines (chocolate cake). And for the first time in a very long time, I found myself having run out of turns to play in my iPhone games.

When we got to Edmonton, we went straight downtown, not stopping at the hotel, to ensure that we had time to eat beforehand. Dinner was at a Ricky’s. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at a Ricky’s before and am in no great rush to do so again. It wasn’t bad or anything; it was just one of those meals that could best be described as “a thing that happened.” Completely forgettable… so, of course, I’m writing about it for future generations. Hey future Earthlings and associated spacemen! On May 21, 2014, I ate a Greek chicken wrap with a Caesar salad! It was acceptable! Please take this information and build your culture around it. I expect many songs and chants, which you can upload into the hard drive that now contains my consciousness.

If I’d been in the milestone frame of mind, I’d have had chicken fingers and mozza sticks, the only appropriate meal. But I have a question for you: am I just old now, or were mozza sticks maybe never really all that good? Ones from the oven are always disappointing, sure, but even the deep fried “good” ones? I guess I just don’t know why anyone would get mozza sticks when deep fried dill pickle spears are a thing.

Anyway. We were only a few blocks from the Winspear Centre, so one quick walk and we were in our seats. After the last show, I remarked that the Winspear is a beautiful venue and I’d love to see something like it here. Candice said pretty much the same thing upon seeing it. Speaking of the seats, I did much better, ticket-wise, than the previous show – sixth row and close to the middle. Close enough to get hit with Ben Folds’ spit if he was determined to do so, and that’s what you’re after in a concert experience.

Actually, no. We were close enough to justify me sending Jeff a picture showing just how close to the stage we were. He replied “Hate you so much” which is what I was truly after in a concert experience. Also, it’s what he replies anytime I text him anything, or when I send a bottle of sparkling apple juice to his house. Hypothetically.

Showtime! As I expected, the setlist was very similar to the last symphony show – almost all of the same songs, just in a different order. They opened with Effington, and I still enjoy the choir singing “If there’s a god, he’s laughing at us and our football team.” The first half of the show closed with Steven’s Last Night In Town; the orchestra gives the song a swing/big band feel and it was one of the highlights of the evening. I like this version much better than the studio album. He came back out of intermission with Zak and Sara, and closed the second set with Narcolepsy (which followed a version of One Angry Dwarf which tore the place down – he could have had everyone leave after that one and then return for Narcolepsy as the encore and that would have worked well too).

I think the first half of the show also included (in some order) Smoke (also better with the symphony than on the record), Jesusland, Picture Window, and Landed. The second half featured Annie Waits, Cologne, Brick, and Not The Same. Of course, someone yelled out “ROCK THIS BITCH” – actually, in this case it was “JAZZ THIS BITCH” – so we got an impromptu, jazz-inspired number which again put the choir to good use. I wonder if he prepped them beforehand? “Hey choir guys, just so you know, there’s a good chance that tonight I’ll make you sing ‘rock this bitch in Edmonton’ over and over. Also, very pregnant lady, if you suddenly need to leave early, I totally get that.”

Two songs from the previous show were dropped (Gracie and The Ascent of Stan) in favour of two movements from Ben’s new piano concerto. I believe this was the first time these pieces had been played live since he debuted the concerto a few weeks ago, so it was neat to be able to hear these. An album release is planned but won’t be for a while yet. We have established that I don’t know anything about music proper, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed these pieces and look forward to hearing the whole thing. Ben explained that back in the day, a great piano concerto could “put seats in asses,” much to the amusement of the crowd and the conductor. This was not the conductor’s first show with Ben, so he could also get away with sarcastically applauding Ben’s choice of title for his piano concerto (“Piano Concerto for Symphony”).

The symphony didn’t play the encore; instead, Ben came out alone to do a few songs. Like last time, he did Army and The Last Polka. He also performed The Luckiest by himself and, earlier, had played Annie Waits with the symphony – at the last show, it was the reverse. (Thanks, mystery person who posted the setlist for the last show online. You saved me literally minutes of re-reading my own review!)

I will admit to a tinge of disappointment that he didn’t surprise us with a new symphonic rendition of his song from Community. Don’t you think a 70-piece orchestra could do fine work with Ass Crack Bandit? I think they’d class it right up. If I close my eyes, I can already tune out the outside world and hear the choir singing “A-S-S-C-R-A-C-K bandit.” This must happen. I really needed to mobilize Twitter behind this cause before the next Ben Folds show I see.

We were seated close to the end of our row, with only one spot to my right before the aisle. I don’t know if the girl who sat there was at the show by herself or just not sitting with her friends; either way, she was super excited for Ben Folds and mouthed along with all the songs, including the more obscure ones. Her enthusiasm was contagious and I found her to be delightful. Meanwhile, the guy ahead of me took a picture during the show and spent several minutes cropping it, selecting the right filter, perfecting the caption, and posting it to Instagram. This seemed like a massive waste of show time – there’s a #latergram hashtag for a reason – but he later redeemed himself by going absolutely bonkers for songs like Army and Zak & Sara. Thank you, strangers! It is fun to be around fun people.

Speaking of fun people, Candice and Ryan seemed to really enjoy the show. I didn’t doubt that they would, but I’d hate for it to have sucked after all this time. As for me, the evening did feel like a bit of a re-run. I expected as much, but even a lot of the stories were the same – Steven kept asking for parties, Ben made up a song on the spot about that astronaut, bringing in a rock star is basically the symphony’s equivalent of a wet t-shirt contest. Having said that, I still had a fine time and have spent the past week with one song or another stuck in my head – usually ones that hadn’t previously been favourites like Cologne, Last Polka, or Last Night in Town. And I’d still happily go see Ben again, especially if it was a solo show and/or closer. Preferably both.

On our way out of the Winspear Centre, some guy was handing out cards promoting the free download of his band’s album. I like free! And you probably like free too. But I can’t recommend you get something that might suck, right? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bonus album review right here? I thought so, but my iTunes Match is being a giant dick. My phone sees that I have the album but won’t actually let me play it. Also, it is showing up as having been split into three separate albums for reasons known only to iTunes. So instead of a proper review, I will just say that I heard the first few songs the other night while I was making supper and I liked them well enough on first (distracted) listen.

So if you feel like it, you can sample or download your own free copy of Over Land and Sea (deluxe edition! is there a non-deluxe edition somewhere?) by Lauren Mann & The Fairly Odd Folk at—deluxe-edition. I bet they’d like it if you tipped them, too.

After getting to the hotel, I slept, ate an expensive room service omelette, played black light mini-golf, lost to Ryan at air hockey in a nail-biter, lost to Ryan at air hockey in a blowout, ate a burger with bacon and peanut butter and jelly on it, got a ride to the airport, and flew home. In that order.

• Regina Folk Festival (Serena Ryder, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Sam Roberts Band, Indigo Girls, Los Lobos, Mo Kenney, Geoff Berner, more – August 8-10)
• Son of Dave (August 14)
• Glass Tiger (September 27)
• Gordon Lightfoot (November 7)

SLCR #199: Bastille w/To Kill a King (April 4, 2014)

April 14, 2014

Review Number One-Ninety-Nine was supposed to be Mounties. A Canadian indie-rock supergroup of sorts, Mounties (is? are?) my favourite guy Hawksley Workman, Steve Bays from Hot Hot Heat, and Ryan Dahle from Limblifter and Age of Electric. Over the past year, they’ve released a few songs online and just put out Thrash Rock Legacy, their first album (hence the tour). It’s catchy dancey pop that sometimes wanders off into extended jams. Unsurprisingly, there are parts of the album that sound like Hawksley got to sing on some Hot Hot Heat songs, but that doesn’t quite describe it unless you add in those jams, and also a time machine. These are kids of the 80s.

Unfortunately, Mounties skipped Regina in favour of a Saskatoon show at Amigo’s. I knew what that meant but bought tickets anyway. It’s Hawksley, right? I’ll work for it. My fears were confirmed when I Twittered at @mountiesband to find out what time they would take the stage. “Midnight!” was the brief but enthusiastic response. That was about what I was expecting – if anything, that’s early for Amigo’s. But the concert came at the tail end of the two busiest weeks of Mika’s classes, and the night before the show, I came down with a crippling stomach bug. The good news is that we’re both okay – school is winding down for the semester and WebMD diagnosed me with a case of “maybe you shouldn’t have eaten ALL the spring rolls, fatass” – but neither of us were really up for a three-hour highway drive in the dark for a show that wouldn’t let us get to sleep until 3:00 a.m. so we passed. Deserée was coming with us but opted out after we did. I hear the show sold out. I hope it was awesome, and if you went, I hope you enjoy the extra breathing room that three absentees provided.

I won’t lie; I was pretty disappointed about this one. I get it. I do. There will always be new 19-year-olds to replace those of us who age out of staying awake forever. Maybe Amigo’s isn’t meant for me. Maybe this earring isn’t meant for me. Maybe this goatee isn’t hiding any chins and maybe it’s half-grey anyway. Maybe I should avoid Amigo’s because they only have almond chicken fingers at lunchtime and only on Tuesdays and I don’t live in Saskatoon so when am I ever going to have those again, assuming they even offer them anymore, how would I know, I haven’t eaten at Amigo’s in years and I haven’t seen a show there since the second night of JunoFest, seven years ago.

Maybe I should avoid Amigo’s because it instills existential angst and dread.

Anyway, when the Mounties show fell through, I briefly considered going to Kings of Leon in Calgary. (I was going to go be in Calgary anyway, which I’ll get to.) My general thought on Kings of Leon is “I give no shits as it pertains to Kings of Leon” – I don’t hate them, I don’t love them, I don’t know much about them. They’re just there. I know Sex on Fire and it’s okay enough. Mika tells me that I’ve heard other Kings of Leon songs, but I can’t prove it. Mark told me that their newest album is good, and I trust his judgment, but the biggest selling point for the show was that I could get a nosebleed seat for cheap and the Saddledome is within walking distance of my grandparents’ place. However, I eventually opted to skip this show too; not because I didn’t really care about it, but because I mistakenly thought the show was on Wednesday. That morning, I was thinking “I really need to decide if I want to go do this” when I opened the newspaper and saw their review of the show. Apparently, it was good.

That brings us to Bastille. To see this show, I did something that I’ve never done before: way overpaid for a ticket from a scalper. I’ve only ever bought tickets through legitimate means. But I wanted to go to Calgary to visit my grandparents, as I will do, and there weren’t a lot of bands playing that interested me. Bastille interested me.

Because I am an Old and I associate almost exclusively with fellow Olds, I didn’t know of Bastille until their January appearance on Saturday Night Live. I asked Mika the same question I ask her regarding every SNL musical act: “What’s a Bastille? Will I hate it?”

She said that I might not. Promising!

And indeed, I liked their first song, Pompeii (the one you’ve heard if you’ve heard one), enough to pick it up on iTunes. I wasn’t as sold on their other song (Oblivion) right away – Oblivion is a slower song and Pompeii is ridiculously catchy and full of hooks and probably not any good, depending on who you ask, but you’re asking me, and who asked you?

Anyway. I YouTubed some of their other singles and was convinced to Complete My Album. It’s good! Then I saw the concert listed on Pollstar.

It’s worth noting that I had no idea if Bastille was a Big Deal at all. They had to be some sort of Deal if they were playing on SNL, but their Calgary show was scheduled for the MacEwan Ballroom (relatively small) and tickets were a reasonable $27.50. I decided to buy one and hope the timing of the trip worked out.

You are probably aware that this line of thinking was foolish.

Near as I can tell, they sold out the MacEwan Ballroom right away, were moved one floor down to the larger MacEwan Hall, and then sold THAT out right away too. There were no tickets anywhere. With no assigned seating, I had no hope of picking up a single ticket that nobody else wanted. I poked around Twitter, Craigslist, StubHub, and Kijiji, and learned valuable lessons about supply and demand.

Remembering last year’s costly The God That Comes mistake, I hadn’t bought plane tickets yet, so my schedule was wide open. I went back to Pollstar, determined to find a show I’d like even better. There just wasn’t much of anything, though. Lots of “yeah, I could go see them, I guess” types of shows. Kings of Leon types of shows.

Bastille was the only show that really stood out to me. Plus, the timing of everything worked out perfectly – drive to Saskatoon with Mika, see Mounties (or, you know, not), spend time with family, Mika goes home, I fly from Saskatoon to Calgary, spend a week, fly back to Saskatoon, watch Wrestlemania with the usual people because we never grow up and we never learn, catch a bus back to Regina. It’s like three trips in one.

It was so stupid, really. I found plane tickets. They cost X. The concert cost Y. X + Y = Z. Does it really matter what X and Y are, as long as I’m fine with Z? Stupid algebra, convincing me to spend $97.90 (!) USD (!!) for a $27.50 CDN ticket. This show needed to be good or I was going to be SO CROSS.

Off I went to MacEwan Hall, and dang, these guys don’t mess around. The ticket said 8:00; I got there around 8:05 and the opening act, To Kill A King, had already started. I really liked these guys! I’d never heard of them before, so it was a delightful surprise. They sounded very much like a band that would be opening for Bastille, if that makes any sense. English folk-rock. Like Bastille with a smaller budget, so you didn’t get the rock band light show. More vocal harmonies too. Quite nice. Would see again.

Between sets, I decided to pick up the TKAK album (is this an acronym anyone uses? It is now, I guess) and discovered that there was a Jugo Juice across from the stuff table. And it was open! As someone who doesn’t drink a whole lot of beers and doesn’t want to fight the bar crowd for a soda, this was a godsend. I picked up a smoothie and texted Mika and declared that every concert venue needed a Jugo Juice. Unfortunately, the instant I finished the smoothie, the last drop landed inside me with a thud and I spent a good chunk of time wondering if it was going to stay put. As such, I can’t give the Jugo Juice my full endorsement, though I am fully prepared to blame a week of Calgary eating or even residual spring roll aftereffects.

But before I hit that point, I had to get the TKAK CD. By the time I got my smoothie, the 19-year-old girls who had been waiting at the stuff table had moved on, so a few members of the band were just hanging out, chatting with people and signing stuff. I wound up with a few seconds to talk to the lead singer, the amazingly-named Ralph Pelleymounter. Autocorrect doesn’t even KNOW what to do with that. I felt way too old to be doing such things, but regardless, he was a delightful fellow. Good chat.

Back I went into the concert hall, CD in hand. Smoothie in other hand. Jacket over arm, phone in pocket, wallet also in pocket, keys there too, glasses on face, shoes on feet, all non-jacket clothes in their appropriate places, really… ready for the show.

The highlight of the show – and one of the highlights of my entire life – came close to the end of the evening. During their song Flaws, the lead singer of Bastille (whose name is probably not as great as “Ralph Pelleymounter” and I am not about to look it up to confirm/deny) jumped into the crowd and ran around singing among the people. For most of this, I couldn’t see anything. I knew where he was, roughly, from the general movement of the crowd. But then he came near where I was standing. And he’s singing, and people are patting him on the back, and… I don’t know if he was going for a high-five or what, but he managed to completely pie-face this girl about two feet from where I was standing. He hugged her in apology and never stopped singing. For what it’s worth, she was unhurt and, really, seemed completely delighted by this whole sequence of events.

I wouldn’t pay extra for someone to get smacked in the face at every show I attend, but as a one-off? What the heck.

As for the rest of the show, it was about what you’d expect. Energetic pop. Young band. Young crowd. I felt exceedingly old. Fancy lights. Good sound. Very professionally done. No real spontaneity. I liked Oblivion better here than on SNL. Most of the singles were slotted in towards the end of the show, with the biggest hit saved for the encore. They brought out To Kill a King at the end to sing Pompeii with them, which I thought was a nice touch. A relatively short show, which is to be expected when there’s only one album (albeit with an optional bonus disc) to draw from.

It was definitely better than a $27.50 show. It wasn’t the revelatory, new-number-one-fan-forever experience that I would have hoped for, but I had a fine time. I’d see them again, preferably for the advertised price. And with more face-punching.

• Ben Folds & Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (May 21)
• Regina Folk Festival (Serena Ryder, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Sam Roberts Band, Indigo Girls, Los Lobos, Mo Kenney, Geoff Berner, more – August 8-10)
• Gordon Lightfoot (November 7)

SLCR #198: A Tribe Called Red (February 18, 2014)

March 17, 2014

“Who do you think we’re going to see more of tonight, Native people or hipsters?”

“Are there Native hipsters?”

I assumed there had to be, but having never seen any, I didn’t really know. I can now tell you that they exist and are plentiful.

I went into this evening not knowing much of anything, if we’re being honest. A Tribe Called Red combines dance/techno with traditional Native music, and I really liked the few songs I’d heard via some combination of Mika and CBC Radio 3. Their most recent album, Nation II Nation, was short-listed for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize, and given that I already liked a few songs, you’d think that I would track it down and give it a proper listen. Unless you know me, I mean.

This show took place on a Tuesday evening, which – if you’re not familiar with Tuesdays – means it was a weeknight. Needless to say, this is where I segue from the “I didn’t listen to much of the band’s music before the show” trope to the ever-popular “we were tired and didn’t really feel like going.” Someday, I will be able to write one of these things by doing nothing but copying and pasting full sentences from reviews that came before it. At that point, I can retire from review writing.

I had bought my tickets online months before this show, but didn’t get around to picking them up until the morning of. I didn’t actually look at them, so it was a bit of a surprise when we were getting ready to leave the house and I found someone else’s ticket packed in with ours. I handed the extra in when we got to the show and the girl taking the tickets said “ohh, THAT explains it.” I do not know what it explained. I suspect it was maybe something not good.

When we walked into the Exchange, there was a DJ playing songs and nobody seemed to be paying him too much attention. Everyone was getting drinks and finding optimal places to stand. This didn’t last too long – the Regina Folk Festival concert series shows adhere pretty strongly to their scheduled times – before the CBC’s newest meteorologist came out to start the show. Have I written that before? Because it seems like every time I go to something at the Exchange, the show is started by a new CBC meteorologist. It’s their thing. I don’t know how this talent exchange has come to pass and, for that matter, I don’t know why they never actually tell us what the weather is. Can news anchors and sports guys not convincingly claim that they’re excited for a concert? At least this one actually said “meteorologist” and not “weather specialist.”

The band took the stage and the dance floor filled up, and… yeah, there really wasn’t all that much to see. Mostly it was three guys on laptops. At a few points, a dancer joined them on stage for some hoop dance-inspired breakdancing (or breakdance-inspired hoop dancing?). This was entertaining and a fun supplement to the show. Or really, from a visual standpoint, it WAS the show.

The thing about dance music – apart from my limited tolerance for it, due in part to my disinterest in actually dancing – is that it’s often pretty much indistinguishable from someone pressing play on Winamp. I’m sure they were doing… stuff, but I wouldn’t know what. And if I was there to dance, I likely wouldn’t care. But I wasn’t, so, y’know.

I mean, I can’t tell someone who’s really good at guitar from someone who’d just noodling around, but even someone who’s noodling gives me something to watch, you know?

So yeah. The music was good for what it was, but I have a low ceiling for dance music and we didn’t stay all the way until the end. Maybe it would be more your thing?

I don’t think I have much else to say, really. I’m basing this on the fact that everything above this paragraph has been written out in a text file for three weeks, waiting for me to come back and tack on an ending. Also, I just opened this text file to write this ending, but decided that trimming my toenails was a more urgent task. I mean, yeah, my toes were in rough shape, but we’re still weeks away from sandal season here.

• Mounties w/Rich Aucoin & JPNS GRLS (Friday, March 28)
• Bastille w/To Kill a King (Friday, April 4)
• Ben Folds & Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (Wednesday, May 21)
• Regina Folk Festival (Friday, August 8 to Sunday, August 10)
• Gordon Lightfoot (Friday, November 7)

SLCR #197: Neil Young w/Diana Krall (January 17, 2014)

January 27, 2014

“Should I get tickets to Neil Young?”

This was a trick question; not in how it was asked, but that it was asked at all. I asked it of my coworkers for whom shopping is something of a lifestyle. It’s their favourite hobby. You might wonder how they can afford this, and if you did, I would point out that “returning things” is their second favourite. At any rate, I knew they’d say “yes,” and sometimes I need a push.

I don’t usually need a push when it comes to concert tickets. This may sound hypocritical coming from someone who has so much stuff, but I would much rather have experiences than things. However, this was not a particularly cheap experience – the two tickets were going to run us around $375 once you got the taxes and fees in there. And my history with Neil Young is relatively limited. Of course, I know he’s a Canadian legend and I’ve heard most of his more famous songs, but I don’t think I’ve ever thought “man, you know what I could really stand to listen to right now? Some Neil Young.” But whatever, it’s only money, I can always make more. And besides, Neil is, in fact, not young, so who knows how many more chances I’ll get to see him? He also had Diana Krall as his opening act, and she’s a pretty big star in her own right. Plus, the show was in the Conexus Arts Centre, a smaller concert venue (holds 2,000 or thereabouts) and not at a big hockey rink. And finally, this tour was for a good cause.

Yeah, so about that cause. This concert was one of four that were held across Canada to raise funds for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which is locked in perpetual legal fights against the federal government and the oil companies which aim to expand tar sands development, some of which could impact the band’s traditional land and could have serious environmental consequences. Young took no payment for the shows, and the Honour The Treaties tour raised over $500,000 for the band’s legal fund.

However, two of the shows took place in Regina and Calgary, major cities in oil-rich (and, let’s be honest here, highly racist) provinces. This led to the concerts stirring up a giant mess of controversy, which was compounded by Young in several interviews where he did things like comparing the mine sites to Hiroshima after the atomic bomb hit. Newspapers were filled with angry editorials and letters. These were accompanied by shocking exposés (?) that revealed that the alleged environmentalist Young sometimes flies on private planes and that his tour buses were left running during the Calgary show, despite being empty. Also, Neil Young is a rock star, which apparently invalidates his opinions on any other subject.

I can’t imagine anyone giving a damn about my opinion on such things, but I can’t imagine you giving a damn about whether or not I thought a concert was any good and here you are, so:


  • No matter how much oil is still in the ground, it’s a finite amount, so the priority really should be finding/improving alternate sources of energy.
  • If you’re going to tell other people what to do, don’t be surprised when they hold you to those standards.
  • If you’re going to tell other people what to do, don’t be surprised when they find reasons to not like you.
  • If you don’t want to honour treaties, then you’d best renegotiate them instead of just doing whatever you feel like.
  • One person (or group of people) using wasteful transportation methods is a small problem; treaty rights, the environment, how much energy we (as a society) use, where this energy comes from, and what are the consequences – those are all big problems.
  • Small problems have a funny way of distracting people from big problems.
  • I really just wanted to hear Heart of Gold.

Enough politicizing.

We got to the Conexus Arts Centre about a half-hour before the show began. I didn’t get tickets right when they went on sale, so we missed out on the two seats at the end of the fabled Row L for Legroom. Not that I would have paid that much anyway – I choked a bit on the $375 and that only got us into the cheap seats. Based on the seating chart on venue’s online ticketing system, I went for the two seats at the end of Row R, as it appeared to stand for Room, Leg. No such luck. Instead, we stood (and sat, and stood, and sat – that’s what happens if you take the aisle seats and show up early).

We had initially tried to avoid that whole scene, thinking we could wait in the lobby until the show started. However, there was an unannounced opening act of sorts. From the lobby, we could hear someone talking so we took our seats. A Native man with a guitar – if he said his name, we missed it – was talking about the drive from the north to the show. He then brought out someone who I assume was a Chief – again, I didn’t catch the name, but as soon as he walked out on stage, every First Nations person in the audience immediately stood up, followed by about two-thirds of the white people in attendance who were much more tentative about it.

I should note that despite the racial makeup of the province, this might be the first show I’ve ever attended where a significant percentage of the audience was First Nations. Many of them were wearing “Got Land? Thank an Indian” hoodies in support of a local student who was (briefly) banned from wearing the hoodie to school. I suspect we’ll see some of those next month when A Tribe Called Red is at The Exchange.

Anyway, the man who I thought was a Chief spoke in a language I did not understand. I assume he was opening the evening with a prayer, because when he finished speaking, there was no applause – he just walked off and everyone sat back down. The guy with the guitar came back and sang a song which he dedicated to water. Then he left, at which point they dimmed the lights, closed the doors, and began the show in earnest.

I have never listened to Diana Krall. Apart from the fact that one time, she was a jerk to a friend of Mika’s, I had always assumed that I would think “wow, that was very well done and not my thing at all.” Sometimes I am right about things. She played some piano and sang some songs. No band, just her. She told a few stories and seemed kind of nervous when she talked. I was not familiar with the Fats Waller song Your Feet’s Too Big but it was a delight. She also sang Don’t Fence Me In, a song which has forever been ruined for me because I first heard it on the old Air Farce radio show and their lyrics – “give me fish, lots of fish, and a great big jug of beer / don’t piss me off” – have always stuck with me for God-knows-what reason. These are the extent of my thoughts on Diana Krall.

I do have thoughts about the people who can’t show up on time for things and make entire rows of people stand up to accommodate them. You know what those thoughts are. Furthermore, I have thoughts about the crabby lady who told the latecomers to wait until between songs to take their seats. Those thoughts consist primarily of high-fives.

I also have thoughts about people who hang out in the lobby, open the doors, look to see if Neil Young is playing yet, leave, and repeat this action every five minutes. These thoughts are like high-fives, only with a closed hand. So they’re more like a fist-bump, but instead of hitting the other person’s fist, you go for their face or balls.

We hung out in the lobby during intermission until, again, we could hear someone on stage. We came back to watch a drum circle, but this time we were smart enough to lean against a wall and not even bother with the sit-stand-sit-stand routine.

Finally, Neil Young took the stage. Again, no band – just him, two pianos, and a multitude of guitars. He told stories about both pianos and some of the guitars. Everything has a history.

I had always understood Young to be kind of, well, a cantankerous old grouch. I don’t know if this is a commonly held opinion or just something I picked up somewhere. Instead, he was quite funny and seemed very laid-back and even a little self-deprecating. I was surprised at how likable he came across. And despite the cause he was promoting, there was no sermonizing during the show.

Young is 68. I know this from Wikipedia, as much as anyone can know anything that comes from Wikipedia. Despite his age, when Neil Young sings, he still sounds just like Neil Young, for better or worse – you decide which. Mika said she knew about half the songs he played; I did not. I can come up with a longer list of songs he didn’t play: Harvest Moon, Hey Hey My My, Rockin’ in the Free World, The Needle and the Damage Done, Cinnamon Girl. Luckily, Young is popular enough that someone out in the vast internets filled in a setlist of questionable accuracy for the less-informed of us:

  • From Hank to Hendrix
  • On the Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)
  • Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  • Love in Mind
  • Mellow My Mind
  • Are You Ready for the Country
  • Someday
  • Changes (Phil Ochs)
  • Harvest
  • Old Man
  • A Man Needs a Maid
  • Ohio
  • Southern Man
  • Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield)
  • Pocahontas
  • Four Strong Winds (Ian & Sylvia)
  • Heart of Gold


  • Comes a Time
  • Long May You Run

I will say that I had absolutely no idea what to make of A Man Needs a Maid. But the rest of the show was pretty great – very simple and stripped down. Just a guy, some songs, a few stories, and a completely devoted audience. I suppose you might have to expect that, given the ticket prices. Young got a standing ovation just for showing up. People yelled “thank you!” and “we love you!” and hooted and hollered for every song, especially the hits. It’s a bit weird to greet Ohio with screams of delight. Maybe people don’t know the words?

As for the effectiveness of the concert at getting his message across… well, he got people talking, so that’s good. There’s more shouting than talking and not enough listening, but that was pretty much a given. If nothing else, the environmental message gave us a big laugh when we were leaving the parking lot and found ourselves behind a giant Hummer.


  • A Tribe Called Red (Tuesday, February 18)
  • Mounties w/Rich Aucoin (Friday, March 28)
  • Ben Folds & Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (Wednesday, May 21)
  • Regina Folk Festival (Friday, August 8 to Sunday, August 10)

SLCR #196: Herman’s Hermits (November 20, 2013)

January 6, 2014

After the success – and you can define that however you see fit – of the Bobby Curtola show in September, Mika, my dad, my stepmom, and I reconvened at the casino for Herman’s Hermits.

To be clear, this was Herman’s Hermits Starring Peter Noone. Depending on what country you’re in, I could get into legal trouble for calling them the wrong thing. Wikipedia goes into great detail about the split between lead singer Noone and the rest of the band. The short version is that they’re like the Beach Boys, with different band members fighting over the name (and variants thereof). My dad repeatedly reassured me that we were getting the real deal because Peter Noone WAS Herman. Good to know.

Like the last casino show, we went for dinner at said casino beforehand. And like last time, every senior citizen in Regina had the same idea, so (like last time) we wound up spending a half-hour in line before getting seated. We made it to the show on time but it was a bit of a photo finish. I really need to leverage Toastmasters to perfect my elevator pitch for eating at a different restaurant a block away and avoiding this nonsense. I mean, the casino restaurant isn’t bad but it’s decidedly unmemorable.

Peter Noone is in his late 60s, a fact he mentioned repeatedly. He looks great for his age, in a way that non-surgically-altered 60+ year olds can’t manage. He had CDs for sale in the lobby; maybe his plastic surgeon should have been booking appointments at the merch table too. There’d be money in that.

I will confess to not doing detailed internet research, but I’m pretty sure that the rest of Noone’s band had nothing to do with the original Herman’s Hermits. The remaining originals toured without Noone for a while and just called themselves The Hermits; maybe Noone’s band should be named… okay, I just spent too long in an online thesaurus, trying to come up with something more clever than “Herman & Whoever He Could Get.” No luck. Moving on.

I went into great detail about my history with my dad and his love of Bobby Curtola’s music. However, when it comes to Herman’s Hermits, I think of one thing and one thing only – Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley skipping down the beach in The Naked Gun, hand-in-hand, clotheslining another couple to the tune of I’m Into Something Good. So when Noone opened with that one, I thought I might be in for a whole lot of songs that I didn’t know.

Of course, this was not the case. Herman’s Hermits had lots of hits and Noone played a big ol’ pile of them – I’m Henry VIII, I Am; Silhouettes; Sea Cruise; There’s a Kind of Hush; Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (which I had somehow never actually heard before, despite being a very famous song with a memorable title)… I’m sure I could give you a more complete list if I wasn’t writing this nearly two full months after the show. Funny how that works.

This does remind me of a funny moment a while after the show, when I mentioned that Herman’s Hermits didn’t seem to have written very many of their hits. In response to this, my father explained the concept of a “cover song” to me, using the small words and patient tone with which one might talk to a preschooler. “You see, a song like ‘Sea Cruise,’ that was a hit for Herman’s Hermits. But before that, it was a hit for someone else.” I think I did a good job of nodding earnestly. I had to; he was paying for lunch.

So how was the show? It was pretty okay, if dangerously close to one of those just-a-show shows that doesn’t leave me with much to talk about.

There were a handful of jokes that… well, they likely wouldn’t have gone over at most shows I go to. Not offensive things, just eye-rollers; things along the lines of “my father is Mick Jagger, and my mother is Elton John,” and one unfortunate attempt at a South Asian accent. You play to your audience, I guess.

However, that was a minor thing. As a whole, the show was a lot more polished than Curtola’s, and Noone’s voice was stronger. Noone also did a good job of tailoring the show to the crowd (and not just in a dated-joke way), working Regina’s name into one of the songs and making references to the unseasonably cold weather and that weekend’s Grey Cup championship game. It showed a degree of effort compared to the usual “I’ve played a lot of shows, but the best crowds are right here in Your Name Here” shtick that too many bands still do (and too many people still fall for).

Ultimately, for a show that my dad picked, this was about as good as it was going to get. I dread the day that the casino books Ray Stevens.

• Neil Young w/Diana Krall (January 17)
• A Tribe Called Red (February 18)
• Ben Folds & the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (May 21)
• Regina Folk Festival (August 8-10)

catnip catnip catnip catnip bus bus bus bus bus bus bus

December 18, 2013

Awesome morning. I was on the bus and these two people get on, a guy and a girl. They come sit in the back where I am sitting along with three or four other morning bus regulars. She sits down and laughs “someone’s gonna want to buy this.” I assume that they’re finishing up a conversation and I’m hearing one line out of context. No. She opens her bag and pulls out a Sylvania DVD player, still in the box. “I can’t believe I walked out of the store with this,” she says. She shoves it in one guy’s face. “Look at how small they make them now! AHAHAHAHAHA. They call them ‘compact.'” The guy does one of the best dismissive nods I’ve ever seen. It does not dissuade her, however.

Her man wants to see the DVD player, so she hands it over. While he examines it, she goes back into her bag. She’s got CDs, “DVD movies,” and “Axe products” (which she helpfully spells out as A-X-E, just in case we were confused). I am completely fascinated by this display, and yet I am avoiding eye contact as though my life depended on it. Meanwhile, she’s laughing because one of the CDs is by Rod Stewart. “How old is this?! HAHAHAHA. But still good!”

Absolutely nobody on the bus is acknowledging that anything at all is happening.

Meanwhile, her boyfriend is pawing through the DVD box. “I thought this was a Blu-Ray,” he says. “It is!” she replies. “It says so right there!”

In giant print on the front of the box: HDMI DVD PLAYER

He flips the box around, openes it up, pulls out the remote, looks it over with some degree of confusion, all while she’s trying to convince him that he has a Blu-Ray player. He gives up and hands it back. She starts reading specs out loud. “H… D… M… I… DVD player with U… S… B… I can’t believe I walked out the door with this!” She pauses… she’s got something. And she delivers: “…the STORE door!” The rhyme makes her cackle.

I decide that this is clearly God’s way of telling me that I should get off the bus a stop early and pop by Tim Hortons on the way in to work. Hooray for breakfast wraps.

SLCR #195: Loretta Lynn (October 23, 2013)

November 15, 2013

The first thing that struck me about going to see Loretta Lynn was that everyone seemed to think it was a bad idea. I’d tell my friends that I was going, and I’d inevitably get a reaction that said, in so many words, “ew, why?” This struck me as odd. I get liking her music, because hey, not everyone is going to like everything. But the extent of the negativity caught me off guard. I guess I just figured that she sort of had that elder statesman, living legend status, where even if you weren’t a fan, you had to respect her just for doing this for so long.

Maybe an endorsement from Jack White counts for less than I thought. Maybe it’s a negative? Maybe he can talk her into doing a song with the Insane Clown Posse. Holy crap, do I ever want this to happen now.

But that’s for another day. Today (by which I mean a few weeks ago), I caught the C-Train to the Jubilee Auditorium, making me our nation’s foremost expert on getting to Calgary concert venues by train. I wear this title with pride and humility.

The auditorium itself was nice enough. I don’t really have anything to say about it. It’s your standard venue for shows where everyone is expected to sit down. Regina’s is about as nice, but smaller. The Winspear Centre in Edmonton, where I saw Ben Folds, was decidedly prettier.

Our opener was Brett Kissel. The name sounded familiar but I hadn’t heard any of his songs and didn’t know anything about him. He was very excited to have signed a new Nashville record deal, and he sounds like he’d fit right in on modern country radio – and now you know if his style of music is of interest to you. He also played a few country classics, which seemed like a good idea, given the audience. And hey, everyone loves The Gambler. But you know what I don’t love? Okie From Muskogie. “We like livin’ right and bein’ free,” so here’s a bunch of stuff you aren’t free to do, you goddamn dirty hippie. Despite playing that song, Kissel seemed like a likeable enough guy, so I hope he doesn’t sleep with Juliette Barnes. That girl is BAD NEWS.

(Ten years from now, I will re-read this and have absolutely no idea what that meant. Really, I’m a little sad that it makes sense to me now.)

I was thinking more about my friends’ reactions to Loretta Lynn, so in between sets, I polled Facebook. Loretta Lynn concert, thumbs up or thumbs down? The reaction was strongly and unanimously positive. Maybe I wasn’t clear about what I was asking, or maybe the people who’d be opposed to going to Loretta Lynn weren’t about to speak up given the strong wave of pro-Lynn support at the start. Maybe people just like to Like things on Facebook? At any rate, the poll was ultimately a dubious idea, since it meant my phone buzzed in my pocket all through the rest of the show. However, this was not nearly the most distracting part of the evening – as previously observed at the Leonard Cohen show, the nation’s elderly REALLY need smartphone etiquette lessons. There’s a business opportunity here; I’m thinking a line of instructional faxes. Old people LOVE faxes.

After the intermission, Lynn’s twin daughters came out to hawk merchandise. To be honest, this whole bit was pretty tacky. I expect a certain amount of shilling, but ideally, it should be related directly to the music. And if there’s something extra in it for me, so much the better; Kissel mentioned that his new CD was available, but he also offered to meet people, take pictures, and sign the CD (he even offered to sign Garth Brooks’ and George Strait’s names instead of his own, in case we’d prefer that). So I guess I draw the line somewhere in between “my new CD is available at the merch table” and “mom’s new box set is available at the merch table, and so is this limited edition poster, and look at these t-shirts and hoodies, we’re selling these too.” I get that nobody buys music anymore and you’ve got to make your money where you can, but still.

After the sales pitch, we got two songs by Lynn’s band (one of whom, I’m certain, is Michael “P.S.” Hayes) before Lynn finally took the stage.

If the most common question I got before the show was “why are you going,” the most common question after the show was “so… was she still… good?” It’s a fair question. Lynn is now 81, which puts her close to my grandpa’s age. She’s a touring musician, and he doesn’t travel much further than the grocery store.

I guess the best answer to that question is that I had limited my expectations, and they were met. Lynn took the stage, still in her trademark flowing gown, but only stood for two songs. She spent the rest of the show seated, and over the course of the evening, made a few references to the health issues that come with age. She mentioned her glaucoma, saying “if you ain’t never had a shot in the eye, you ain’t never had a shot,” and the entire audience shuddered as one. There were also a few points where would chat with members of her band but seemed to have a bit of trouble following the conversation.

But could she still sing? You know, she really could. Granted, I’m sure can do those songs in her sleep by now, and she didn’t exactly try to challenge her voice too much, but everything she did, she did well. I enjoyed one particular bit of showmanship; she’d ask the crowd for requests, everyone would yell out titles, and she’d pick a song and play it. In all that hollering, did she actually hear someone specifically requesting Fist City? I am certain she did not, but whatever. It was a bit of theatre that made people happy, and besides, I like that one.

She fit in most of the must-haves, including You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man, The Pill, Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind), One’s on the Way, and a few gospel songs. There was nothing from the Van Lear Rose album, but I suspect that those weren’t the songs most people were there to hear.

Instead of taking a break before an encore, Lynn remained seated on stage while her band and her daughters did a few songs, before Lynn closed with – of course – Coal Miner’s Daughter. It was quite a short set – only an hour from start to finish. Given the demographics of the audience, I don’t imagine people would have wanted to stay out much later anyway. Sometimes it’s fun to go to a show where I don’t feel like the creepy old man hiding out in the corner.

That’s it for this year’s Calgary adventures. I have vacation days that I have to use up by the end of April next year, so I may as well time it to include the kickoff of Mounties’ Canadian tour (“March 26, 2014,” he said, mostly so he’d have a convenient place to find it later).

SLCR #194: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (October 22, 2013)

November 15, 2013

Another trip to Calgary, another week with the grandparents. And once again, I cleverly scheduled my trip to catch a few shows while there. I’d go visit my grandparents either way, of course (though I’m not sure they believe that), but if I can conveniently see someone who’s skipping Regina, well, that’s a win/win.

This brings us to Frank Turner. I saw him open for Joel Plaskett last year in Saskatoon. He was a great new-to-me discovery and I became an instant fan. This time around, Turner was headlining his own tour, but there was no Regina gig. He was playing in Saskatoon, and I thought about going, but that would have meant leaving right after work on a Friday, racing to Saskatoon (and at the end of October, there’s no guarantee that the weather or the roads will allow for that), and cramming into Louis’, where I had seen him before. I don’t expect you to remember reading about that show, but I remember being at that show, and the crowd at that show was hateful. I spent a good part of the show fantasizing about someone barricading the doors and lighting the place on fire. Despite the deaths of myself, my friends, and the artists, it would still have been a net gain for humanity.

But I digress.

My ticket promised two opening acts: The Smith Street Band and Koo Koo Kanga Roo. You’d think the kangaroo thing would have made me do some advance research, but I did not. I am glad that I did not ruin the surprise for myself.

I did not take the time on the ticket seriously, which means that Minneapolis’ Koo Koo Kanga Roo was already playing when I got to the MacEwan Ballroom. This is what I saw when I walked in the doors: the stage was bare. A good portion of the crowd was on the floor, standing in a circle around these two guys who were racing around, energetically singing about throwing a cat party, “so bring your cat and something to share.” Yes. I had no idea what I had just walked into. They then moved into a song called Unicorns R Real (“because, because, I BELIEVE IT”). Then they made everyone pick a favourite colour before bringing out a grade school gym class parachute. It was impossible for me not to enjoy this, and I’m not just saying that because the unicorn from the song was named James. Like me! I’m a unicorn!

A good portion of the crowd stayed in the beer garden and never saw this, and I get that. I don’t think I’d have appreciated this when I was 21. I don’t know what it means that I’m more apt to enjoy kids’ music now that I’m older, but whatever. Even if I’m mentally regressing, I’m glad I saw this when I did and I wish I’d made it for the whole set.

Before the Smith Street Band took the stage, I hit the stuff table to buy a Frank Turner CD and, more importantly, an official $5 CD-R from one of Koo Koo Kanga Roo themselves (Bryan – the one without the mustache). He was a very friendly guy, though I didn’t spend a lot of time with him since I figured he was better off talking to the actual children who were there. I didn’t see many, but the ones who were there really seemed to enjoy themselves.

The Smith Street Band hail from Melbourne and were a much more straight-forward rock band. They sounded like a band who should be touring with Frank Turner, if that means anything to you. These guys were really tight, and on any other night they’d likely have been the standouts. I enjoyed them, and I thought everyone else did too, but I’m not sure the lead singer agreed. Or at least that’s what I took away from “Don’t worry, we only have two more songs. I’m sorry for whatever we did to your families.” At least he got to stay in a nice hotel and take four trips to the sauna. He seemed to like that.

Finally, Frank Turner and his band, The Sleeping Souls, took the stage for Turner’s 1,748th show. Does he actually keep count? Who knows. He said it and I took notes. For you. Because I care.

Apart from the presence of the full band, another notable change from last year’s show was that Turner himself was not playing guitar. He told us that he’d developed back problems and his doctor advised him to cancel six months’ worth of tour dates. Turner declined, opting to keep the shows but turn guitar duties over to someone else. I’m not sure how guitar hurts your back more than constant touring does, but whatever. Backs are mysterious things. Mine sometimes gets mad when I load the dishwasher or tie my shoes. Anyway, the new guitarist was Irish, a fact that Turner seemed quite delighted by and brought up repeatedly. This made for quite the multicultural, if monochrome, show.

With no guitar, Turner seemed like he felt personally responsible for keeping up the energy level in the room. He sang his heart out, bouncing back and forth across the stage. Every other song, he led audience singalongs and encouraged dancing, jumping, clapping, anything. By the end of the show, everyone on stage was soaked.

I’d tell you what songs he played, but would you care? This is my clever way of deflecting the fact that I don’t know from titles anymore. If I listen to music, it’s in my car, on my phone, or at work, and I never really look to see what songs are called. It was probably about 1/3rd “ooh, I know this song, I like it,” 1/3rd “I think I know this one, I like it,” and 1/3rd “nope, don’t know this one – but I like it.” So it was a nice diverse mix. Or maybe it wasn’t. Like I’d know?

For the encore, Turner first came out by himself with the dreaded backbreaking guitar, saying he figured he could break the doctor’s rule for one song per night. He explained that he liked to play a local band’s song in every city, but since Feist was too obvious a choice and he wasn’t cool enough to know any Chixdiggit songs, he had to settle for playing a Canadian band’s song. “I have a tattoo on my arm of a cat named Virtute,” he said. Not everyone knew what that meant, but those that did (me me me I know things) were super excited. Turner added that The Weakerthans are one of his favourite bands (ooh ooh me too we’re pals now) and launched into Plea From a Cat Named Virtute. I had been good all show about keeping my phone to myself, but I had to record this. I wasn’t near the front, but you can at least hear it clearly.

The full band came back out for a few more songs, and that was the evening. And it was great. Super great. If you get the chance to see any of these bands – or even better, all of them together – I highly recommend you take it. I’m finishing this off on November 15, 2013, and if there was a way I could get to Charlotte, North Carolina tonight to see this show again, I’d do it. I looked back at my reviews for this year, and this show is battling Leonard Cohen for Show Of The Year status. They were two very different evenings and I’m not sure how you compare the two – clearly, we need Cohen to sing Unicorns R Real while Koo Koo Kanga Roo covers Hallelujah. Preferably while standing on Aaron’s front lawn, because if you’re going to have ridiculous wishes, you may as well go all out.

Speaking of Koo Koo Kanga Roo, they were waiting in the lobby for the crush of people making their way out of the ballroom, taking one last shot at selling more CD-Rs. “24 hit songs, only $5!” A lot of hustle goes into silly cat songs.

SLCR #193: Mo Kenney (September 24, 2013)

September 28, 2013

In recent reviews, I have complained about how I feel like I’m not getting into a lot new music these days. Between the increasing fragmentation of mass media, the fact that new pop music just isn’t meant for me, and my old-man reluctance to try something that I don’t already know and love, it often feels like the only new albums I hear are from my old favourites.

Luckily, Mika listens to CBC Radio 3. Last year, whenever we had to drive somewhere, she started loading up her iPhone with a few installments of their countdown show, the R3-30. It has its share of stuff that I don’t care for, but the hits-to-misses ratio is surprisingly decent. I just made a new CD for the car – because I am old and set in my ways and dang it, I enjoy my outdated technology – and close to half of it is composed of songs I first heard on the R3-30.

One of the first standouts from those podcasts was Mo Kenney’s song Déjà Vu, a song so catchy that I’ll go through the effort of adding the accents even though this is America and we speak English here. I probably first heard the song over a year ago, but I seemingly can’t make myself sick of it. It’s like pizza, which is a comparison that I’m not certain Kenney would appreciate, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Mika bought her debut album – not specifically because it was produced by Joel Plaskett, but that certainly didn’t hurt – and I really enjoyed it, so I was excited for the show. I’d say that the $10 tickets certainly didn’t hurt, but I hate reusing my clichés so close to each other.

We got to the Artful Dodger mere moments after Other James had arrived. We bought drinks and got caught up, by which I mean we mostly swapped cat stories. They climb so high and land so hard and talk so much, but my cat kills birds. Other James would not stand for such behaviour.

Other James had red wine and Mika got a rum and Coke. In my true boring fashion, I opted for a Diet Coke. They served it in this heavy clay glass that got insanely cold. I had to keep switching hands. I fell in love with this glass. People on the internet who don’t know me might think this is a weird statement. People who know me closely will think it is even weirder. I mean, I am 37 and my primary drinking glasses came from Rogers Video and had the logos of James Bond movies emblazoned on them. I am not even kidding about this. You just can’t tell because they’ve gone through the dishwasher often enough to take off most of the lead paint. Other James – because he knows everyone in the province – told me that my glass was made by Martin Tagseth, an artist from Lake Lenore. I cannot prove this to be true and some preliminary googling raises a very important issue; namely, I can’t see a restaurant or bar paying those kinds of prices considering how often glasses get smashed. However, I am gonna put this link right here in case the glass was made by Tagseth, he puts something similar up for sale someday, and a wealthy benefactor wants me to have drinkware that I can also use to kill a man:

Man. I wanted to steal the glass and Mika said “no” and I wasn’t really going to do it anyway but now that I had to relive its heft and coldness, I’m sad that I didn’t.

Our opener was Andy Shauf, a singer-songwriter from Regina. I didn’t know a whole lot about him, though I’d seen his name everywhere; it seems like he is one of those Indigo Joseph/Julia McDougall types who plays a ton of shows here and you’ll wind up seeing him every now and then, even if by accident. In voice and mannerisms, he reminded me of some sort of bizarre cross between Will Forte and my friend Colin, a comparison which means precisely nothing to anyone on Earth apart from me. And maybe Colin, if he watched Saturday Night Live a few years ago. But I don’t think he did. Anyway, I thought his songs were pretty decent, though I occasionally had a hard time making out the lyrics and I had a feeling that I might actually prefer the recorded versions. I’m currently listening to a few of his tunes on the Bandcamp page for his newest album – because apparently I’m linking to everything today – and it seems like that might be the case.

I see that his page has five tags: pop, dark, folk, Regina, and clarinet. There was, indeed, a clarinet on stage. When Mika first saw the clarinet, she was skeptical. Other James, on the other hand, was delighted. But when is he not?

Between sets, Other James spent part of the evening chatting with roller derby girls, and he also pointed out the lead singer of Library Voices in the crowd. Like I said, everyone in the province.

Mo Kenney has had two songs that did really well on the R3-30 (that I’ve heard, anyway; I tend to skip the show for weeks at a time). One thing I’ve noticed is that people who’ve heard both seem to have distinct preferences for one or the other – Sucker or Déjà Vu. I’ve already established myself as being firmly in the Déjà Vu camp, but I have a newfound appreciation for Sucker after having learned that it was written while drunk, dumped, and depressed about making pizzas for Sobey’s. It all makes sense now.

Kenney’s album has ten songs and clocks in at only about 34 minutes, so it’s not surprising that she played the whole thing. She was on her first tour with a band – a bass player and a drummer – though they left the stage for about the middle third of the set so Kenney could do some songs by herself. Like on the album, In My Lungs segued into Déjà Vu. Before playing Eden, she mentioned making a video for it with director Greg Jackson; she did not say that this was NOT the same Greg Jackson who is Georges St-Pierre’s coach, so I choose to assume that it was. This was for a contest and they won, so let’s continue with today’s linkfest:

The songs from the record were supplemented by some new songs that she’d recently written with some Swedes, as well as a cover of Joel Plaskett’s Somewhere Else. I half-thought Mika might consider this to be blasphemy, but she doesn’t have the no-covering-my-favourites rule that some of my other friends have. Kenney also played Five Years, introducing it as “the first song on a record that my dad gave me; I won’t tell you what it is.” I decided it was a Leonard Cohen song and then I googled it to make sure and haha no whoops it’s David Bowie and probably everyone on Earth knew that but it turns out I sometimes don’t know things about things at all. I suppose this is how one learns.

Kenney seemed a little nervous at times, especially when she was talking between songs. She seemed to loosen up a bit as the show went on, and she also has a dry sense of humour that I found really appealing. Mika noted that her voice seemed the strongest when she was singing other people’s songs. I’m not sure about that; maybe it’s just that most of her own songs are quieter and aren’t really designed to be belted out.

The band closed with a cover of Shakin’ All Over, which was a fun and energetic way to end a really good show. The only real negative during the evening was the crowd; there seemed to be quite a few people who either left as the show was getting going or who just weren’t interested in paying attention. I think some people were only there to see Andy Shauf (I get that; he’s local and he was good and all), and the low ticket prices probably didn’t help matters either. I’ve said before that I’d rather pay to go to a show rather than go to a free show, since the cost weeds out some of the people who aren’t really interested in being there. Maybe raising ticket prices – even $5 or so – might have kept a few not-really-interested people out but brought in as much money? Who knows how these things work.

Kenney said she was planning to stick around after the show and sell CDs, and she also said that people could just talk with her or they could “embrace.” We didn’t stay for that, since Mika already bought the album, and the Artful Dodger had been really warm (which is one reason why I loved that cold glass so much) and it seemed cruel and unfair to ask anyone to embrace me at that point. Other James hung around for a bit; I haven’t talked to him since the show, but I assume him and Mo Kenney are bestest friends now, since that’s just how he works.

• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls w/The Smith Street Band & Koo Koo Kanga Roo (October 22)
• Loretta Lynn (October 23)
• Herman’s Hermits (the Peter Noone version) (November 20)
• Ben Folds & Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (May 21, 2014)

SLCR #192: Bobby Curtola (September 6, 2013)

September 10, 2013

Travel with me, if you will, back in time to some indeterminate point in the middle of 2013. Those were good days. It was roughly six weeks after Mika and I saw Dr. John at Casino Regina, and I was struggling for content so I could finally scratch the concert review off my to-do list. Digressing from my main point (that being “Dr. John was fine. Hey, what’s new to read on the internet?”), I wrote out the following:

We got to the casino to discover that Bobby Curtola will be playing there in September. I texted my dad with this news. As I suspected/feared, he immediately insisted that we all go together as a family. Yes. And we’re doing this. Given our (I should probably be polite here) divergent tastes in music, I suppose it isn’t surprising that it will have taken 190+ reviews for my dad to make his official SLCR debut, but let me tell you, I am pumped for this opportunity. Half of that review is already written in my head and we’re still almost two months out.

Bobby Curtola, for those among you who aren’t eligible for the Denny’s senior’s discount, had a series of hit songs in the 60s. Fortune Teller was the biggest of the bunch. If you don’t know it, go look it up on YouTube and you’ll likely go “ohhhh, THAT one.”

Curtola’s peak of popularity occurred just as my father was becoming a teenager, and my dad was a big fan. It is now roughly a billion years later and the bands I liked in my 20s now only get played on the radio as ironic Retro Jams (I am assuming that “radio” is still a thing), but my dad never got off the Curtola train.

It’s weird. I remember my dad always listening to music when I was a kid. He played multiple instruments, he was in bands before I was born, and yet he’s largely shown no interest in new music. He likes what he likes, and in 2013, that’s largely certain country music and the Elvis satellite radio station. I won’t say that he’s out of touch, but he once famously said “CSI must be really popular; I heard the theme song on the radio today.”

This is where people tell me to quit making up stories. I assure you I did no such thing.

More time traveling. Let me tell you about the early 90s. Garth Brooks was selling millions of records and leading a commercial revival of country music. My dad went to the Calgary Stampede in 1993 or thereabouts, and who should be playing there but Bobby Curtola. Hoping to ride the new-country wave of success, Curtola had just released a new record, called “Gotta Get Used to Being Country.” The combination of Curtola and country proved irresistible, and my dad brought the CD home.

Actually, he brought the CD into his car, which was worse. I didn’t live with him but I did drive places with him. I heard that record a lot. In fact, it was the only thing my dad played for months, apart from breaking out the song 18-Wheeler by Alabama for special occasions.

In my advancing age, I’m hesitant to call a band or an album “bad” when it doesn’t do it for me. I don’t feel qualified; I can’t play an instrument, I can’t sing, I can’t tell a genuinely good musician from someone who’s just putting on a big show. But I feel confident in stating, unequivocally, that Gotta Get Used to Being Country is… SO VERY MUCH not my thing. If you get what I mean.

Its greatest offense was that it just felt so disingenuous. I have nothing against Curtola’s older songs and I wouldn’t have cared if he genuinely wanted to record some country songs for whatever reason, but it felt like trend-hopping in the hope of a quick cash-in. Even the album cover, with Curtola posing awkwardly in western wear, just grated on me. Bear in mind that at the time, I was listening mainly to Nirvana and Public Enemy*, so, y’know. Not my thing.

* it’s my review and I can choose to single out the bands that have retained their high critical praise if I feel like it and you can’t stop me

It has been many, many years since I’ve heard or even seen that record. I have no idea if my dad still has it or if it has been lost to time. And I had no idea what this show would actually be like. I asked my dad “I wonder if he’s used to being country yet?” and I wasn’t being facetious. I really did want to know. And after twenty years – TWENTY YEARS, GOOD LORD – I was about to find out.

My dad and stepmom picked us up and drove us to Casino Regina – correction, the SOLD OUT Casino Regina – to have dinner before the show. We were there in plenty of time, or so I thought, but it seemed like everyone else who was going to the show had the same idea. I shouldn’t have been surprised; it’s a restaurant in a casino on the night of a concert by a 60s star, no wonder the place was packed like the Co-op on seniors’ day. We waited in line for a while for a table, but the casino restaurant staff are pros at this sort of thing and we wound up seated and fed with time to spare. I had chicken, making this the first official concert since… I can’t even remember when. Since the last time I remembered that thing from early concert reviews about chicken being a requirement, I guess.

Our server asked my dad about Bobby Curtola’s biggest songs. He effortlessly rattled off a half-dozen titles. “But what was his biggest,” she asked, and he drew a blank. I felt a twinge of self-consciousness which kept me from jumping in with “Ooh! Ooh! I know! Fortune Teller!” And it’s good that I didn’t, because otherwise, she wouldn’t have sang it to us. She turned to me and Mika. “You’re too young! You don’t know what you missed out on.” Lady, you have no idea.

We strolled over to the show lounge and found our table. True to casino form, the show started right on time. Curtola’s band, the Sensational Hot Rods, took the stage to play The Twist while Mika and I wondered if Chubby Checker was still alive. (Wikipedia says he is.) After the song, one of the Rods (*snicker*) introduced “Canada’s rock-n-roll legend.” This was how Curtola was introduced at the start of the second set and at the end of the encore as well, which is good, because up until the very last time I heard it, I was convinced the guy was saying “Canada’s rock-n-roll engine.” and that seemed weird. It kinda makes sense, though. Maybe?

Curtola took the stage wearing a smile that never once wavered, even for a second. I have to think his face must hurt by the end of a show. He played a mix of tunes. Maybe one-third were ones he was famous for, including Corrina Corrina, Three Rows Over, Hand In Hand With You, and Fortune Teller (of course). No country, but they did play a Coke jingle, which made my dad sad that he didn’t bring his record (which he got at the Red Deer, Alberta Coca-Cola plant) to get signed. The majority of the songs were various hits from the 60s, all stuff you’d know. Covers of Paul Anka, Roy Orbison, Louis Armstrong, Ben E. King, and a pair of medleys.

Curtola came across like someone who truly loves his job. And why wouldn’t he? 50 years removed from his biggest hit, here he was, still doing his thing in front of a sold-out crowd. From the ages in attendance, you could tell that the vast majority of the people there were fans dating back to when he first hit it big. At one point, he introduced a lady who’d been the president of his fan club in 1960.

There was a lot of audience interaction, some of it amazing and awesome and the best. Curtola would walk through the floor of the show lounge, singing. When he got to a repeating chorus, he’d sing it and then hold the mic to an audience member to give them a shot. Some did well. Some did… not. There was some screeching. One gentleman did not understand that microphones amplify your voice and thus there was no need to yell. This was great.

While singing Mambo Italiano, Curtola and one of the Rods danced on stage with big stuffed animals. I had no idea what to make of this. Then they threw them into the crowd, causing mini stampedes. I feared for hips, but nobody got hurt. One of the stuffed animals was a blue hippo! I wanted that one, but we were too far removed from the splash zone.

Near the end, the hippo made his return. Curtola started singing Old-Time Rock n’ Roll, then segued into The Loco-motion. He went out onto the floor and found the lady who caught my hippo, and invited her to do said Loco-motion with him (you gotta swing your hips now). She brought the hippo along. So there’s Bobby Curtola leading a three-person conga line of himself, one lady, and a stuffed blue hippo. This proved to be irresistible to a certain demographic, and women from all over the show lounge ran up to join in. He moved into singing Mony Mony but the train kept a-rollin’. There were probably 15-20 people at its peak. I tried offering Mika $100 to join the chain but wasn’t even allowed to finish the sentence. She did suggest that I ask my dad, which I did. He thought this idea was hilarious but declined to take me up on the offer. Anyway, Curtola eventually went back up onto the stage and most of the women dispersed, but there was one who followed him up the ramp and was REAL mad that none of the other women would rush the stage with her. So great.

Curtola has probably done 10,000 shows by now, so much of the evening felt like it was “just part of the show,” if that makes sense. When he’d chat with his band members, you knew that they have the same conversation every night. The impromptu moments, like the lady wanting to rush the stage, were the most fun for me. My favourite was when he was talking to the crowd and found a man who was from Italy. The band tried to start into the next song (they always seemed to start in about a sentence or two too early when Curtola was talking) but Curtola cut them off. He talked to the fan, telling him what his parents’ last names were and what part of Italy they were from, and then said “I’ll just do this without the band” and sang a brief song in Italian for him. This was a pretty cool moment. Mika noted after the show that Curtola’s voice actually seemed the strongest when he was singing in Italian, and I had noticed that too.

Much like how I felt about the country CD years ago, Curtola seemed at his best when he wasn’t trying to be someone else. His voice isn’t quite what it once was, but it seemed at its weakest when he was singing covers. If you’re singing Stand By Me or What A Wonderful World or Oh Pretty Woman, you’re setting the bar pretty high for yourself. And it’s anecdotal, but I could really tell that my dad enjoyed the Curtola originals much more than the covers. Makes sense, right? He IS who we were there to see, after all.

Curtola also made a few off-hand remarks along the lines of “You never expect a song to take off like this one did… and I’ll tell you, you don’t realize when it’s over, either.” The brief hints at introspection were intriguing and I’d have been interested to hear him talk more about this sort of thing, but I suppose that’s not what anyone was there for.

There was an undeniable Vegas show lounge feel to this concert – the permanent smile, the rehearsed patter, so much audience interaction – if I’ve ever seen a show that I would compare this to, it would be seeing Wayne Newton at the same casino a few years ago. Which, I suppose, is not bad company for Curtola to be in.

As for my dad, he declared loudly after the show that he’d had a fine time. 17-year-old me might kick my ass for saying this (not true; he’d just scowl and make fun behind my back), but for something that was not my thing, I did too. We’re going to head out again in a few months when Herman’s Hermits (the Peter Noone version, even) come to town, so we’ll see if lightning strikes twice.


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