SLCR #337: Shakey Graves (March 25, 2019)

March 28, 2019

We were running behind. Not late, but behind. Monday is a school night, so Mika had to wrap up around 7:00, drive home, and eat a thing so we could make it to the show for 8:00. As we made the last turn towards the Conexus Arts Centre, I wondered how many people would be there. “Judging by the number of Facebook ads for the show I’ve seen,” I said, “it might just be us.”

It wasn’t just us. But even that close to showtime, the parking lot was pretty bare. There was no line to enter, no line for the coat check, and when we ran into Rob, we learned he’d been evicted from his seat and moved to a much closer vantage point on the main floor because the call was made to close off most of the balconies. His group’s upgraded seats wound up actually being a lot better than the ones we’d chosen, though that was largely because we’d taken our customary spots at the end of Row L For Legroom; often so appreciated but on this night, overkill. There weren’t that many folks sitting in any of the rows behind us, apart from a few people at the very back. I can only assume they had plans involving drugs and/or handies.

The lowest of the balconies remained open, and while we waited for the show to start, a security guard wandered out in front of us to holler up at a balcony-dweller who had done the unthinkable and rested his drink on the ledge. I thought that maybe going up and talking to the guy would have been a more appropriate way to handle things; way less funny, though.

The opener was Cameron Neal, who played a 40-minute set of country tunes, just him and a guitar. Pleasant, hopeful, earnest. The kind of thing where you hear it and go “that was nice,” and then you try to write about it, and you come up with two sentences, stare at them for a while, check all your social media to see if anything life-changing has happened in the last ten minutes, and repeat.

We’d seen Shakey Graves a few years back opening for City and Colour and really enjoyed him; I actually liked him better than the headliner and was looking forward to seeing a full set in a smaller venue. Not that this was that small; the Arts Centre felt kind of cavernous. Maybe one-third full for the start of Neal’s set, closer to half-full by the end of the night. Split the difference and call it… five-twelfths, I suppose. It looks like he sold out every other Western Canadian stop on this tour, so maybe the venue was just too big? Shakey (Mr. Graves?) did comment repeatedly on the size of the stage itself and the amount of running around he’d have to do all night. To that end, at one point, he ran a lap just because.

He was immediately captivating, playing the first half-hour or so by himself with guitar and kick drum. The first song was Word of Mouth, a song full of advice that sounds like good advice but is actually bad advice, like all advice. He explained this mid-song. He explained many things. Eventually, he was joined by a full band, and I started to recognize a few songs off his newest album, Can’t Wake Up, from when Mika was playing it. I didn’t know that some of these songs made up a trilogy about someone named Garth Nazarth, a very interesting fact that may have been made up on the spot as he was telling us. He also played covers by Neil Young and Townes Van Zandt, who he insisted was a famous rapper.

At one point, someone asked where he got his name, and he joked “a cereal box” before telling the real story. Or what I assume was the real story, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. I also don’t know what a Shakey Graves cereal would entail. Crunchy corn caskets and crosses with marshmallow urns, with enough added sugar to give you the shakes? And when Neal returned to join Shakey in a song they’d co-written, Shakey told us to meet up with Neal in the lobby after to buy his stuff. “Where will you be?” hollered someone. A fair question. And he was going to be outside in a bear costume, apparently. I didn’t see him when we were walking to the car but we did get out of the building in good time.

It looked like everything was wrapping up and everyone stood to applaud, but Shakey was just sending the band away. He stuck around, did one last song by himself, and that was it. No encore, except it kind of was one, except he never left the stage. This seemed like a good way of avoiding the artificial feeling of an encore but also not leaving people feeling like they missed out on something.

This whole thing was a delight. Great tunes and a fun sense of humour. It deserved a bigger turnout, but the folks who were there were really into it. One dude in particular was as invested in this show as I’ve ever seen. So much standing, so much waving, so much yelling, so much insisting to the usher that she was going to love the show and become a new fan. She did give him two semi-enthusiastic thumbs up at one point but I don’t think she really enjoyed her night; at one point she walked over with her flashlight to help ensure someone made it to the bar safely and wiped the heck out in the process. The ushers need ushers. I suppose it was only a matter of time, given the numbers of people getting up and returning with drinks; a lot more of that than at most shows here. But I suppose it made them more enthusiastic, and at least they were polite; one drinker said “excuse me” so many times and so loudly while exiting her row that I initially thought she was trying to get Shakey’s attention. Maybe she needed more clarification on the bear costume situation.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)
• Morrissey (April 20)
• The Tea Party (April 25)
• BA Johnston (April 26)
• Foxwarren w/Hannah Cohen (May 29)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 21)
• Elton John (October 1)
• Thrush Hermit (October 4)

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SLCR #336: Steven Page and the Regina Symphony Orchestra (March 3, 2019)

March 19, 2019

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.

SLCR #335: Belle Plaine (February 16, 2019)

March 19, 2019

I ran into Other James during the afternoon on the day of this show. We briefly exchanged pleasantries, and we were both excited for that evening’s show. We didn’t talk long, though; he was in a hurry to return to his fancy art-making and I was in a rush to resume making a nuisance of myself in public catching imaginary creatures in a stupid phone game (reminder: I am 42) (in years). But no matter, we’d catch up later in the evening.

We would not. Belle Plaine really wanted to sell this show out in advance and she did so with hours to spare. “Shite,” Other James said on social media, as he will do. Last time he didn’t buy advance tickets, I was able to get him in for free. This time, I left him in the cold. By which I mean at his home or, more likely, with out with some of his zillions of other friends. I’d say we need to stage an intervention and convince him that buying tickets ahead of time is a worthwhile activity, but he’s probably doing better than me in all aspects of life apart from seeing this show.

So yes, this was a sold-out hometown (or close enough to it) album release party at the Artesian for Belle Plaine and her new record, Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath. The place was packed – lots of family and friends from what we could overhear – but there was room for us in our usual spots. The entire back wall of the stage was covered with big pink and white balloons for the occasion and it all looked suitably festive. Apparently blowing them all up was quite the chore that barely got done before the doors opened.

There was no opener. The evening’s host was another local country singer, Blake Berglund, who surely earned the role on merit alone and not because he and Plaine are newly married; something he alluded to when introducing himself as Blake Plaine at the start of the show.

As befitting an album launch, Belle and her band played everything off the new record. I’d heard plenty of them before when I saw her open for Colter Wall some months ago, and even a few when she was at Winterruption last year. You know they’re good because I actually remember them from one show to the next, which I don’t always do with artists I’m not super familiar with. Is it Cheating was again a standout and should be a hit. Maybe it is. Are there hit songs anymore?

She also told lots of stories, talking about her mom, her grandma, her neighbour, Blake, and her guitarist who broke his whammy bar so his dad made him a new one by cutting off a piece of the truck. I realize that the “and” in that sentence kind of makes it sound like they all broke the guitarist’s whammy bar, and I’m not saying that didn’t not happen.

The show was split in two by an intermission, and each half was noteworthy for Plaine having a different custom jumpsuit (one denim, one black and shiny). As the new record only has nine tracks, it would have been a short evening, but she threw in a few extra songs, including some covers. She sang Sunday Morning Coming Down and Raised on Robbery and I’m 99% sure Long Black Veil but this was a month ago now so really don’t trust any of this. My favourite was one that Belle and Blake sang both here and at their own wedding, Islands in the Stream. (I guess when you’re a musician marrying another musician and a bunch of your friends are musicians, you don’t hire a wedding band so much as you all just take turns.)

The night was great fun and I recommend the new album. Plaine is currently on tour opening for Colter Wall (who also appears on this record) in Europe, and it sounds like there are some great crowds. She’s probably already too big for the Artesian, and things are just looking up. It’s always a delight to see local musicians doing well, even if it means they outgrow us.

SLCR #334: Danny Michel (February 10, 2019)

March 10, 2019

I’ve been slacking on this one and letting the reviews pile up again. I always enjoy Danny Michel shows, but there never seems to be that much to say about them, unless we have some awkward interaction after the show. It happens more often than you’d think. I mean, I’m socially inept in general, but I can usually fake it long enough to get a CD signed or something. Not so much where Danny is involved. And as much as I’d love to pass the buck, it’s not his fault; he’s a good guy who legitimately saved me from catching fire once. After I stole his setlist.

His shows, though, I pretty much know what I’m in for. He doesn’t usually play with a band when on tour, so it’s him with a guitar and looping pedals (and maybe a piano, depending on where he’s playing). And he has a Hawksleyesque quality about him where he’s written hundreds of songs but always seems to draw from the same 20 or so when deciding what to play. None of this is a complaint, I should add. I know what I’m getting but I like what I’m getting.

We showed up at the Artesian and took what is becoming our usual spot at the end of the lowest pew on the left side. Same place we sat the last time we saw Danny there. There were fewer chairs on the floor than usual, with some small round tables available. Even with less seating available, the show still wasn’t sold out, which is a shame. Not that the attendance was terrible, but lower than it should have been. I don’t know what you can do to get more people out to shows here. The brutal cold deserves some of the blame, but every time attendance is soft, there are more Calgary-Edmonton-Saskatoon-day-off-Winnipeg tours. Musicians have to go where they’ll get paid.

Along those lines, Danny had a Facebook post go viral a few months back where he broke down some of the economic realities of being an independent musician. It’s one thing to know that streaming services have an effect on what artists make, but he was open about the scope of it, mentioning a 95% drop in album sales over the course of a year. That loss is counteracted, as such, by streaming royalties, though he also mentioned that a recent single (Purgatory Cove) spent 10 weeks in the CBC Radio 2 and Radio 3 charts but earned less than $50 in royalties. His post made it pretty clear that indie musicians are struggling and reconsidering their careers and futures. It was a sobering read.

Now that I’ve been nice and depressing, let’s get into the show! We started right at 8:00 with no openers. Like I said, I thought I knew what we were getting, so I was pretty surprised when he busted out Toledo for his second song. Apparently, a fan requested it the previous night in Swift Current, but Michel had to admit he didn’t remember how to play it, so he spent the afternoon before our show re-learning it. I don’t think this was hyperbole; when I entered the night’s setlist into setlist.fm, there wasn’t even an option to add Toledo. This is one of my favourite Danny Michel songs and as far as I can tell, it’s been over a decade since I’ve seen him play it live.

Similarly, he played Perfect later in the second set. That was another old one that doesn’t get much play. I say “old one” as though I didn’t just realize that Feather, Fur & Fin has now been out for over a decade, though I still consider it among his “new stuff.” I’m bad for that. Every Tragically Hip album after Phantom Power is “new stuff” and it came out in 1998 and only got added to “old stuff” last year.

As for the rest of the show, it was a really fun time. Few surprises, but he cracked jokes, told stories, and played a lot of old favourites with some new stuff from his latest album, White & Gold:

Born in the Wild
Toledo
Wish Willy
Khlebnikov
Whale of a Tale
Samantha in the Sky with Diamonds
Feather, Fur & Fin
Tennessee Tobacco
(intermission)
A Cold Road
Purgatory Cove
24,000 Horses
Perfect
What Colour are You?
Click Click
Who’s Gonna Miss You?
encore: Nobody Rules You

But we weren’t quite done. Michel explained that he was going to play one last song and consider the show over, but that he had something extra planned just for us, if we wanted. His birthday had been the week before, and his friend Rob Carli, who was recording with the Toronto Symphony, got them to play Happy Birthday for him. So Danny wanted to return the favour, but with a different song, a Regina-centric song, one that Carli had introduced to him. So he had the sound tech hit the music and led us all in a singalong of Experience Regina, which by now has to be the most mentioned song in any of these reviews. It was a fun time. He walked through the crowd recording everyone and later posted the video. You can see Mika and me singing in the background (by which I mean, I can point out which blurred smudges are us, but you’d never know without help). A fan sent in additional video, so it’s a two-camera shoot; in that footage, you can get a real nice look at the back of our heads.

I stopped by the stuff table to pick up White & Gold. Not only do I dig his music, but it was also a super value pack (LP, CD, and download code, all for one low price). A deal! We stuck around long enough so I could get it signed and… nothing awkward happened. No theft, no fire, no immediately regrettable topics, nothing to add to the list. Just a brief chat and a nice souvenir that I’ll add to the record shelf once we buy more shelves. Or thin out the cookbooks.

SLCR #333: Hawksley Workman (January 27-28, 2019)

February 11, 2019

Last summer, I bought a notebook of fancy Clairefontaine paper, the kind Hawksley Workman sings about. I did this solely because of that song, not really thinking that I don’t ever write anything by hand anymore and already have ample paper supplies. With no pressing use for this impulse purchase, I decided to save it for the next Hawksley concert, breaking it in by writing the review. It seemed fitting, and it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these by hand. I come up with entirely different reviews when writing by hand, for sure. I even bought Baby’s First Fountain Pen to class it up. But then one show turned into two, and the paper and pen sat and sat as I contemplated hand cramps. So here I am, two weeks later, back in Notepad.

The first Hawksley show, announced late last year, was part of the Regina Folk Festival’s annual Winterruption series of concerts. A delightful surprise, as I wasn’t thinking we’d see him until after his new album, Median Age Wasteland, comes out in March. The second show, added a fair bit later, promised to be pretty unique. Titled “A Night on Drums,” it was a fundraiser for a local women’s shelter where Hawksley would… well, I didn’t really know. Play the drums. Talk about the drums. They’re his first instrument – and still clearly his favourite – but you don’t usually get to see him play them in concert for more than one song. I didn’t know what we were getting, but I figured it would be interesting.

For the Winterruption show, Mika and I got to the Exchange shortly before the first band was to start. I had promised there would be seats and I was turned into a liar. Oh well, we dumped our parkas at the coat check, got iced teas, and stood around looking at cute animal pictures until the show was underway.

About those parkas. The past few years, Winterruption has coincided with spurts of unseasonable warmth, which is a delight, though is it really Winterruption if there’s nothing to Winterrupt? This year, we’re in the middle of a stretch of -30C or worse with no end in sight. Winterminable cold. Attendance at this show was decent but it certainly wasn’t sold out, and the weather couldn’t have helped. It’s anecdotal, but I know of Hawksley fans – even some who already bought tickets – who skipped out rather than brave the elements.

The openers were local folk band Suncliffs and calypso band Kobo Town. Heard of both, never seen either, not much to say about either, both were good. Suncliffs had a short, laid-back, enjoyable set, while Kobo Town brought a lot more energy. Very summery music that clashed with both the bitter weather and some occasionally dark lyrics. Riots in Karachi might be a perfectly valid topic for a song, but an unusual choice for a fun fan singalong part.

Finally, Hawksley took the stage, joined for the first time in quite a while by Mr. Lonely, his long-time keyboard player. They opened with fan favourite Safe and Sound, which always gives Lonely a nice showcase. He also gave us the opportunity to whistle along which was not what I would describe as a nice showcase. Next up was Jealous of Your Cigarette, which included Hawksley sheepishly apologizing for some of the more risqué lyrics. “People really like this song and I can’t take that back now. But that’s what I was thinking about when I was 23.”

Next up was The City is a Drag, which segued in and out of Karma Chameleon, which I’ve seen him do a few times before. He starts with “Desert loving in your eyes all the way” and you can hear it dawn on individual audience members as they figure out what song it is.

As ever, Hawksley talked a lot throughout the show, going into detail about the writing of The City is a Drag (it involved poop everywhere, but I’ll let you guess whose) and repeatedly mentioning his resolution to talk less. He also introduced each new song by acknowledging that nobody ever goes to a concert to hear new songs. A lot of the time, sure, but I’m biased; Hawksley could have played all new stuff and I’d have been thrilled. I’m still a little disappointed that he wasn’t selling the new album six weeks before its street date, just for us.

Two of the new songs, Battlefords and Lazy, have already been released as singles. Battlefords in particular was beloved, with people in the crowd asking him to play it a second time. I went for coffee with one of my former bosses a month or two ago, and he brought the song up to me, not knowing that I like Hawksley, just that it was a song he really enjoyed (particularly the use of the word “akela,” which I admit I had to look up and am not doing so again to see if it should be capitalized).

Two other songs, 1983 and (he called it Oh Yellow Snowmobile but the tracklist just says Snowmobile so whatever) were new to me. Both were a delight. Everything from the new album is very nostalgic, but the part in 1983 about owning a VIC-20 but begging for a Commodore 64 spoke to me in an alarmingly specific way. I mentioned this to him on Twitter and he replied that at that time, they actually had a TRS-80, so I can only assume that he wrote this part just for me. Thanks, dude!

All told, the show was on the short side but delightful as ever. Here’s the full setlist, with a few notable deviations from the norm:

Safe and Sound
Jealous of Your Cigarette
The City is a Drag
Clever Not Beautiful
A Moth is Not a Butterfly
Battlefords
1983
Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky
Snowmobile
Ice Age
encore: Your Beauty Must be Rubbing Off

The night before, Hawksley had played another unique show, this time in Saskatoon in the restaurant at the top of the Sheraton Hotel. Seemed like an odd venue. The premise was that half the show would be whatever he wanted, and half would be fan requests. This was suitably different and tempting enough to make me consider the drive. It’s also a real bad time of year to be out on the highway, and I’ve been to back-to-back Hawksley shows before; they’re never that different. For those reasons, I leaned against going, though the final call was made for me when the Saskatoon show sold out in short order.

He didn’t take requests at our show. At one point, someone yelled out for the song Teenage Cats, to which Hawksley replied “I love that you love that song! I was singing it to myself a lot lately because I just met a new teenage cat. Anyway I’m not playing that song.”

Ultimately, of the two “real” concerts, the Saskatoon show sounded like the better one. With no openers, Hawksley was able to go a little longer and they wound up getting everything we did and five or so songs that we didn’t. Nothing new, thankfully – I’d have really felt like I missed out if that had been the case. And our openers were fun and good and worthwhile and all that. But still.

That said, Regina got the shorter concert, but also a whole other show. Teacher and drummer Brian Warren organized a drum-centric second night. Tickets were cheap, the show raised money for a good cause, and it promised to be unique, so I was totally down with this, even if I had no idea what I was getting into.

What it was wasn’t really a concert. Hawksley played drums twice – once for about 10 minutes near the start, which he described as “practicing, but with an audience,” and once where he put on a Jay-Z song and drummed along with it. Turns out he’s good at the drums, guys. Most of the show was talking, first Hawksley by himself, then a conversation with Warren who acted as host, and finally a Q&A. Hawksley’s stories are often quite polished, but he really seemed to let his guard down and was even a little nervous. I’m not going to tell his stories for him, but he spoke a lot about his childhood and how he got into drumming, how he and his music changed over the years, aspects of his personal life, his writing process, and more. I’m not a drummer or a anything, but that was never an issue – there were only a few points that got technical, and I might not know the names of different ways to grip drumsticks, but I get the idea, you know?

This also marked the only time I was at an event with a Q&A where I didn’t sink my head into my hands in embarrassment for someone asking a question. All the questions were good and relevant. And they were all questions! Anyone who starts with “This is actually more of a comment” should be immediately slapped and ejected and slapped again. We got none of that. Good work, local Hawksley fans.

SLCR #332: The Jerry Cans (January 17, 2019)

January 29, 2019

I feel out of practice. Luckily, we’re hitting all the old familiar tropes so it should be easy to coast:

  • A new-to-me band that I paid to see based on name recognition alone, rather than streaming some of their music for free
  • A review I let sit for like a week and a half to ensure that I have since forgotten what little I’d had to say
  • A need to rush through the review with another concert coming tonight and another tomorrow

I first became aware of the Jerry Cans in the summer of 2017, when they released their cover of the Tragically Hip’s Ahead by a Century, translated into the Inuit dialect of Inuktitut. It wasn’t long before it felt like I was hearing about them all over, playing at the Junos and on CBC’s New Year’s Eve broadcast. Even having heard only one song, over a year ago – and a cover, at that – I was looking forward to seeing them from the hype alone. That said, it’s January and it’s cold and I’m lazy and I was on the fence until the Monday before the show, when I fell into another SLCR trope – buying myself concert tickets because I’m grumpy about being at work. This is why I wind up going to so many shows.

Really, I knew that if I left it until the night of the show, I’d wuss out and stay home (see above re: cold, lazy). Turns out this was correct, as the show sold out not long after I got my ticket.

I got to the Artesian and was immediately cautioned that the band wanted people dancing up at the front, so if I wanted to sit, I should sit up in the pews or the balcony. I don’t know if “balcony” is really the right word for it, but it’s upstairs and has chairs in it, so whatever, “balcony” it is. And I’d never been up there, so that seemed like a decent plan. It was already pretty full, but there was a lone chair just sitting there, and it was kind of perfect. Lots of legroom, nobody near me. I got to spend 20 minutes waiting for the show catching up on phone crosswords and watching the parade of people come upstairs, look for seats, and go back down, disappointed.

The opener was Josh Qaumariaq, lead singer of Iqaluit band The Trade-offs. He went by Josh Q, which I appreciate as a fat-fingered white guy who writes these things in a program that doesn’t have a spellchecker. He did a few songs solo before a few people wandered on stage to help out; he later identified them as half of the Jerry Cans (LIES – it was two-fifths). This was blues-inspired rock – lyrically, it was not so much my thing, but you’re listening for the great guitar playing and an incredible powerful voice. Qaumariaq went from polite applause at the start to a huge ovation at the end.

Having only heard that Hip cover, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the Jerry Cans, but that song actually worked as a fine introduction. Almost a Celtic pop/rock band – or maybe I’m going to say that about any band that incorporates a fiddle – but with the inclusion of Inuit throat singing. I can’t really speak too much about the content of the songs, since their lyrics were all in Inuktitut (almost – they didn’t translate their cover of Cypress Hill’s Hits from the Bong) though they did explain what some of the songs meant (Hits from the Bong didn’t require explanation). They asked for people to get up and dance, and the crowd was happy to do so – the band got a great reaction for their first-ever Saskatchewan show. And we might see them again soon – they hinted that they may be back for a certain festival this summer. Or else they were just trying to get booked on the show; either way, I’m good with it.

SLCR #331: The Glorious Sons (November 14, 2018)

November 19, 2018

With this, the fall 2018 concert marathon comes to a close. It was actually supposed to end the night before with the Headstones, but a week before this show, the Conexus Arts Centre put third balcony seats on sale for $20. I went into this not knowing much of anything about either the Glorious Sons or the opener, the Beaches, but figured $20 was a cheap-enough price to pay for some new music.

I remembered seeing Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt from the third balcony and often feeling like falling from a great height was an inevitability. This time, I bought my seat one row back, which shouldn’t have helped, but somehow did. The balcony was pretty much deserted when I bought my ticket, but it filled up quite well. I got to get nice and cozy with strangers. Next time I should worry less about being dead centre and more about being off to the side where there’s more likely to be a little room to breathe.

The Beaches – all ladies from Toronto. The Glorious Sons – all dudes from Kingston. The Beaches played on a plain stage in front of a big backdrop with their name on it; the Glorious Sons got the full fancy light and video screen setup. Both bands were absolutely beloved. A very vocal contingent was there specifically to see the Beaches. When the Glorious Sons led singalong parts, it was amazing how loud the crowd was. Cool atmosphere for both bands.

It’s not entirely fair to say I knew nothing about either band. I didn’t realize it going in, but I knew one whole song by each. I’ve actually heard (and enjoyed) the song T-Shirt by the Beaches about a million times, because it’s on Mika’s car playlist. And I knew S.O.S. (Sawed Off Shotgun) by the Glorious Sons because a burnout was loudly singing it on the bus last week. He was either on a lot of drugs at the time, or had the brain of someone who’d done a lot of drugs in the past. Maybe both. Regardless, at the concert (the real one, not the free one on the bus), it took me about 30 seconds to remember where I’d heard this song before. Then I remembered it was some dude on the bus hollering to himself about the taxman and Oxycodone and a sawed-off shotgun. This was when I got the giggles, so I was not only the old guy at the show by himself, I was the old crazy guy at the show by himself.

I knew two songs from each, actually, if you count the covers – Be My Baby from the Beaches and Gimme Shelter from the Glorious Sons. Beaches win on that front. The Ronettes are better than the Rolling Stones, don’t @ me

Or maybe it’s just that I liked Beaches better than the Glorious Sons. Don’t get me wrong, both were fun, the crowd loved both of them – really, if you’re looking to check out some new rock bands, you could do worse than either one. But the Beaches’ songs were a little catchier and a little poppier and just overall more my thing. Very deep, that. If you want thoughtful analysis of these two bands I’m completely unqualified to write about, you’re in the wrong place.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Hawksley Workman w/Kobo Town and Suncliffs (January 27)
• Danny Michel (February 10)
• Matthew Good (February 24)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)
• Elton John (October 1)

SLCR #330: Headstones (November 13, 2018)

November 19, 2018

Headstones reviews are hard to write. They’re really fun shows, but more or less the same every time out. You know it’ll be loud, lots of swearing, probably some spitting (though this has been dialed this back over time and I can’t say I mind), Hugh Dillon will run around in the crowd a lot. I even know which covers they’re going to play. All of this is fine – it doesn’t stop me from going to see them every time they come through town. But I could rerun old reviews for the most part. Hopefully I’ll have enough sense to make this short.

Got to the casino with plenty of time to pick up my ticket. No incidents this time out. Saw the same guy from work that I always see at Headstones shows. Killed time playing phone games until the show started. Christ, this is riveting.

Our openers were the Matchstick Skeletons, who got off to an inauspicious start through no fault of their own when the local radio idiot introduced them as the Matchbox Skeletons before correcting himself. They were fine. Decidedly better than Snake and the Chain from the last show, but far less memorable as a result. “You didn’t suck so bad that I’ll remember you forever” is probably not as much of a compliment as I intend it to be.

They felt restrained at points; the harder songs with more energy were fun, but too many just didn’t quite get there. They also covered Fame and (part of) When Doves Cry and it’s an interesting choice to cover well-known songs by legends. They can be crowd-pleasing numbers but you’re probably not going to compare favourably to David Bowie or Prince – few will. At least When Doves Cry was redone as a rock song, as opposed to the note-for-note soundalike version of Fame.

Speaking of covers, I am the last person on Earth to realize that the Headstones song Tweeter and the Monkey Man is a Traveling Wilburys cover. This is doubly egregious because Mika has played the Wilburys song for me before, years ago, but I forget things. Apparently the Wilburys version has more verses and makes more sense. Talking to Jeff about this, he said that it sounds more like the Wilburys slowed down a Headstones song than the Headstones sped up a Wilburys song. Personally, listening to the Wilburys’ version now, it sounds like when Mika and I are on a road trip and she makes us listen to podcasts at 1X speed instead of my normal 1.5X.

The Headstones were touring to promote the 25th anniversary re-issue of Picture of Health, their first album. This would probably make me feel super old if I was listening to them then. The entire set, before the encore, was the album in full. So a little less variation than their normal shows, but whatever, it’s a good album, lots of songs I like on it. As before, Dillon ran into the crowd a bunch and I felt for the poor techs and security staff who had to chase after him. And as before, they played a bit of Low Rider and New Orleans is Sinking.

After Tweeter, which is four songs in, Dillon asked the crowd to put their phones away so he could tell stories and we could watch the show, adding that he’d let us bring them back out later. Most folks cheered and happily did so. One guy tried taking a video of the next song, which seemed like an unwise choice given that he was close enough to the front for Dillon to see him, and Dillon had already shown a propensity for running out into the crowd. Phone went away. “I’m not going to kick you out or anything, I’m just asking you to be a man of your fucking word.”

The stage setup was pretty simple, but the lights, fog machines, and projector were all employed to good effect and gave the show a really cool look. I got a few pictures at the start and a few more during the encore once the ban was lifted, but I won’t lie – there were still a few times when I would have liked to snap a quick picture. Which is dumb; they never look good and I never go back and look through old ones. Regardless, I wasn’t about to risk incurring the wrath (or disappointment, which would be worse) of Dillon.

I won’t go into detail on the stories – if he didn’t want them recorded, he probably didn’t want them transcribed either – but it was a lot of stuff about growing up in Kingston. Some of it funny, some of it touching. Dillon went to high school with the guys from the Tragically Hip, Finny McConnell from the Mahones, and David Usher. What a ridiculous amount of talent in just a few years.

For the encore, they started with the cover of The Gambler that they now seem to do at every show. Dillon then polled the audience to see what they wanted to hear, and the calls for Cubically Contained lost out to Unsound. Or maybe that was just the plan all along. They also played Fuck You and Smile and Wave and, somewhere in there, a bit of The House of the Rising Sun. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. And Dillon said they’re coming back in 2020 and I’ll see it all again then.

SLCR #329: Classified (November 10, 2018)

November 18, 2018

Immediate disclosure: I didn’t go to this to go to Classified. I went because one of the three openers was Maestro Fresh-Wes, whose first big hit came nearly 30 years ago. I remember listening to Let Your Backbone Slide at my Grade 8 grad dance, when the song was still so new that the DJ didn’t have it so we made him play Cam McDonald’s dubbed copy that had a few seconds accidentally erased out of the middle.

Classified, I’d seen him do a few songs back when the Junos were here. Fun and all but not someone I’d necessarily have paid to see. Part of me considered leaving as soon as Wes was done and heading to the campus bar, where they were hosting Mac Sabbath, a Black Sabbath cover band that wears bootleg McDonaldland character costumes and sings the songs with new lyrics about fast food. I figured it would likely be terrible, but possibly the kind of terrible I should see. Or maybe not.

Doors at 8:00 and I got to the sold-out Exchange around 8:30. Had I checked Twitter for set times, I’d have stayed home a bit longer. I found my way in past the merch table adorned with DO NOT PUT YOUR FUCKING DRINK HERE! signs – really, I don’t know why this is the first time I’ve ever seen that – and found a post near the stage upon which I could lean.

I, a fat 42-year-old with a grey beard and thinning hair who mostly listens to singer-songwriter types, did not feel entirely at home at this rap show filled with near-children and the incessant smell of weed. Fortunately, I am at an age where I am largely invisible to the youth, so I just leaned on my post and played games on my phone while the place filled up. I bet I got a better time on the Saturday New York Times crossword than anyone else there.

According to the set times on Twitter, the opener, starting at 9:10, was Local Contest Winner. This turned out to be Kalem Moses, though he called himself Big Mo. And if you want to double check spelling and you google Big Mo Saskatchewan, you find our Premier’s Wikipedia page.

I’m not sure what exactly the Local Contest was that Big Mo Winnered, but he was very appreciative of the opportunity to open up the show, and it seemed like lots of people there knew him already. I think we’ve established that I have no business critiquing anyone here tonight, but he was pretty good. He said he was nervous but didn’t show it, and he rapped about being a recovering addict and the struggles that come with that, so I can’t fault the message.

At the end of his set, Big Mo tossed some CDs and shirts out to the people up at the front. One CD landed short, ending up behind the barricade at the front of the stage. This dude tried to reach over and grab it, but got stopped short by a large security guard who wasn’t approving of this at all. But then the guard got the CD for the guy, so everyone wins.

Next up was Choclair, who was a pretty big star in the late 90s and early 2000s, though I went looking back through his hits and really only kinda knew one or two. I wasn’t really listening to much rap then. This was only a half-hour but it was fun, and certainly felt like something I’d have been into if I’d heard it back when he first came around. Despite the age of the crowd, Choclair’s biggest reaction was saved for his 2000 hit Let’s Ride, so the kids today are clearly learning some history. Or maybe there were just more of my fellow olds in the crowd than I realized.

Up next was Maestro Fresh-Wes, much to the delight of 13-year-old me, and he opened with Drop the Needle, one of my favouites from back then. Really, he could have done that and Let Your Backbone Slide and I’d have been set, but we got a short set spanning his whole career. Lots of Canadian content included, with songs sampling The Guess Who, Rush, and Gowan, among others. And of course he played Backbone and of course I geeked out. Maestro Fresh-Wes does not age and this was super fun. The aforementioned large security guard also seemed to enjoy this set, with a few quickly suppressed smiles sneaking out. There may even have been some brief tapping of toes.

I never seriously considered leaving to see Mac Sabbath, but if I had thought about it, I’d have passed. I mentioned that this show was sold out, and the crowd was great. Jam packed, mostly not dicks, and super supportive of everything. These people loved Kalem Moses. They loved Choclair. They loved Maestro Fresh-Wes. They loved putting their hands in the air – like, a LOT. And they hadn’t even gotten to the guy most of them were really there to see yet. For atmosphere alone, this show was great.

I mean, not the literal atmosphere. When the Exchange is full, you might die of heat stroke. And again, it never didn’t smell like weed. Though I don’t really care about that, and I doubt anyone there considered that to be a negative.

My take on Classified – having heard all of two songs before this show, and only remembering one – is that he seems like he just wants everyone to drink and smoke and party and have a good time and feel good. And in a world that often sucks and is terrible, I can’t really take issue with this. I like having a good time and feeling good! In front of a backdrop made to look like the corner store in his hometown, Classified delivered party anthems to an adoring crowd. They sang along with everything, old and new, hits and deep cuts alike. You’ll be pleased to learn that he played the one song I know (Inner Ninja, the one Classified song everyone knows) and it was fun.

While I didn’t know many songs, one made an impression. Classified did one of his newer songs, Powerless, which talked about empathizing with sexual assault survivors and working to resolve racial inequalities (including the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women). Given the themes of the rest of his songs, the tonal shift was a little jarring, but that was more than offset by the importance of the message. And judging from the reaction (especially from female fans) when he introduced the song, people are paying attention.

But mostly, it was just a fun party show. At one point, he brought a fan on stage, did a song with her (always a risky move, but she did well), then had her stage dive back into the crowd as everyone cheered her on. I don’t think the large security guard liked that. I think he had a few objections to different things on this night, but mostly just tried to get through his shift with minimal hassle.

At the end of the show, he called Choclair and Maestro Fresh-Wes back up on stage. I’m sure this is a planned part of every show, but Choclair had been enjoying his Saturday night and seemingly forgot that this was going to happen. No matter – he found his way back to the stage and they pulled off a fun cover of Northern Touch (well, not a cover for Choclair, but you know) and Classified looked like he was loving it.

Ultimately, this was a really enjoyable show. The music was fun and the overall vibe was really positive. I did feel a little bit like an alien spying on another civilization – there was never a point where I wasn’t at least a tiny bit conscious of how little I fit in there – but whatever. It was a good show and I’m glad I went and that post probably needed someone to prop it up anyway.

SLCR #328: Jack White (November 5, 2018)

November 16, 2018

For Stone Temple Pilots, I initially decided against going and wound up getting in for a fraction of the original price. For Reuben and the Dark, I held off on buying a ticket and wound up winning my way in. When Jack White’s Canadian tour was announced, I really wanted to go and carefully considered my options, which amounted to Calgary and Winnipeg, but again, I stopped myself. Even short trips can be expensive and it’s not always fun to travel at this time of year. But no worries – when I decided not to go to Jack White, Jack White came to me, with the late addition of a Regina stop. There’s a lesson here. Never take any action to improve your miserable life. Fate will do it for you.

When the on-sale date rolled around, I was ready. I was at work when tickets went on sale, so I booked a ten-minute meeting with myself – this is not a euphemism for anything – so I’d have the best shot at getting tickets. Ticketmaster’s site chugged and churned, but finally, I got two general admission floor tickets – just what I wanted. I also got a premium parking pass to make leaving a little easier.

I needn’t have worried. The crowd was ultimately respectable but far from a sellout. There was even a student deal for cheap seats in a few specific sections. I could have bought floor tickets on the day of the show. The Brandt Centre is a much larger venue than TCU Place, where we saw The White Stripes (checks) eleven years ago?! Christ. Anyway. That show was an instant sellout. This one, decidedly not. I guess I do sense less interest in White’s solo material than in the White Stripes (even from myself), but I did think this show would be a bigger deal to more people.

In the email announcing the show and approximately thirty subsequent emails, we were warned that this was a phone-free show. It was the same message every time out and you may as well get to enjoy it too:

Please note: This is a PHONE-FREE show. No photos, video or audio recording devices allowed. We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON. Upon arrival at the venue, all phones and other photo or video-capturing gizmos will be secured in a Yondr pouch that will be unlocked at the end of the show. You keep your pouch-secured phone on you during the show and, if needed, can unlock your phone at any time in a designated Phone Zone located in the lobby or concourse.

What this means for you, dear bored skimmer: everything here is from memory and may be 100% wrong.

What this meant for us: not wanting to fart around with magic pouches, Mika and I left our phones at home. Between dinner out and the concert, I was without a phone for over five hours. Sad as this is, it might be the longest I’ve been truly disconnected in years. I actually considered bringing a pen and a notepad in case I wanted to take review notes. And during supper, I couldn’t check the exact date of my grandma’s birthday (December 20) and I couldn’t Shazam the familiar sounding song in the restaurant (Ophelia by The Lumineers). I think my phone is making me really dumb, guys.

Dinner was at Table 10, our favourite nearby spot. Monday is burger night and I got the day’s special, a barbecue bacon cheeseburger with grilled pineapple. I’ve had a few of their burger specials now and I think this one was the best. I also got chocolate peanut cheesecake, which was very good but I really didn’t more food. Mika had a veggie burger and raspberry creme brulé and enjoyed that. When I was paying the bill, the server asked if we had other plans; when I mentioned the concert, she got really excited. Not because she likes Jack White, but that this wasn’t just dinner, it was a date night. I guess it was. I’ll have to remember that it’s not date night unless there are at least two activities.

We drove to the Brandt Centre and parked in our special reserved lot. This was a better idea in theory than in practice. The fancy lot is a bit of a hike to the arena. Not enough that it would normally matter, but it was snowing and windy and generally awful out. And I was underdressed for the weather, since I didn’t think a parka in the arena for hours would be a good idea.

We found our way in and took a walk around the concourse. The line for the stuff table was orderly but ridiculous – I didn’t even consider getting anything. It was quite the contrast with Stone Temple Pilots, where I would have been no worse than third in line any time I went by. Jack White fans like to buy things.

We went down to the floor and stood around for a bit before Rob wandered over and invited us to come hang with him, Char, and Karen. We chatted about our respective concert histories and mostly-shared love for Frank Turner (I haven’t asked Mika but I suspect she would say “he’s fine”) before Crown Lands took the stage.

Now, about these here Crown Lands. They came out, got set to play, realized they forgot to hug, hugged, and then got back at it. They looked like modern-era “Weird Al” Yankovic on the drums and Will Forte in his Last Man On Earth beardy longhair phase on guitar – both wearing the Seventiesest outfits you ever did see. This is not entirely fair because I’m sure real Weird Al is old enough to be their dad, but Al doesn’t age anyway, so whatever. They walked onstage to Closer to the Heart and their last song was a cover of Kashmir, which tells you what they sounded like better than I ever could. Someone warn Greta Van Fleet that a new challenger approaches.

I tease. But this was actually pretty good! These guys were great musicians who won the crowd over during their short set. At one point, Will Forte traded his guitar for giant a two-necked bass/guitar hybrid and the crowd oohed appreciatively. If that whole Rush/Zeppelin thing appeals to you, check them out.

Then we had a break until Jack White. After a while, a countdown popped up on the big screen, looking like one of those old-timey alarm clocks where the numbers flip down. After a while, the silhouette of Jack White wandered out and knocked a few minutes off the timer. Everyone rejoiced! But then he added a bunch more time on. Then he messed with it for a while longer and ultimately left us more or less where we started.

While waiting, a lumbering oaf shoved past us, calling Mika “girl” in the process (his most egregious offense, I was told). He was very tall so he pushed his way to the front, and he was loud and stupid and acted like everyone in his vicinity was glad to see him, even the ones who were subtly backing away. I wanted to grab his braid, shove it up his ass, and pull it out his dickhole. Instead, we just moved a bit back.

Finally, Jack White and his band took the stage, the familiar red of the White Stripes’ peppermint motif replaced with blue. And before I get into anything else, this was a great-looking set. Jack White out in front with the band on risers around him, with giant rotating panels in the back – lights on one side, video screens on the other.

They opened with Over and Over and Over from White’s newest album. I’d wondered if they’d play his solo stuff exclusively, and that was answered with the second song, Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground from the White Stripes’ White Blood Cells. The set spanned most of White’s career, with White Stripes classics mixed in throughout, and even a Raconteurs song (Steady, As She Goes) as the first song of the encore.

Steady, As She Goes might have actually been my favourite performance of the night, just a killer version that brought an intensity that destroyed the album version. But there were other worthy contenders. My Doorbell is just a fantastic song. I really dig Love Interruption. And Hotel Yorba was made better with the addition of honky-tonk piano, as most things are. We’re Going to Be Friends, Ball and Biscuit, Blunderbuss – really, there were just a ton of great songs. This show ruled.

There was a long stretch in the middle where I wasn’t as familiar with everything. I haven’t spent as much time with his solo albums as I did with the White Stripes. That said, between the fantastic band and the visual spectacle I had nothing to complain about.

During the encore break, instead of calling for one more song, the crowd sang the bassline from Seven Nation Army. If you don’t watch wrestling, you’re wise for many reasons, not the least of which is hearing that song doesn’t remind you of Enzo Amore. And I thought his second-last song, Connected By Love, would have made a great show closer, but when that bassline hit for real, the place went nuts. And I know it’s not actually played on the bass (at least on the album) so leave me be.

Early on in the set, some dude fainted or passed out or something near me. He was able to leave under his own power with the help of medical staff, but it was interesting to see that White’s stage crew immediately saw what was going on and were there to help. We weren’t even that close to the front, but they were on it. I think maybe the bass player saw the commotion and alerted them – he kept scanning the area with concern.

In an unrelated note (I assume, anyway), I’ve discovered the reason why none of the cannabis stores here can get enough supply to open their doors: all of the pot was at the Brandt Centre. It’s gone now. I’m used to smelling weed at concerts but I’m not used to the smell never really going away. Tom Petty has been dethroned as the stinkiest concert I’ve been to.

I did miss my phone a little, but on our way out, it was nice to briskly skip past the lines of people waiting to unlock their phone sacks. “This is the worst invention ever,” hollered one guy, “I’ve got 300 people here who all hate this!” I laughed and Mika told me to not encourage him. We trudged through many snowdrifts to our special parking lot, but we did get priority when driving out, so that was nice. Not $15 nice. But nice.