SLCR #318: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12, 2018)

September 23, 2018

I went to Calgary this spring. That isn’t really news – I visit my grandma twice a year – but I didn’t go to any concerts so it was my first SLCR-less Calgary trip in some time. If you only know of my comings and/or goings through these reviews, you might not have known (or cared) that I was here. As though you care now. Anyway, at the end of that trip, when Colin dropped me off at the airport, he suggested I come back for the week of September 10, so we could go see The Book of Mormon. Some quick Googling confirmed that if I did, we could go see Frank Turner too. Though to be honest, I really didn’t think it would happen – They Might Be Giants had teased a Canadian tour announcement was coming and I figured Calgary would be my best bet to see them. I’ve been a fan for close to 20 years and they’ve never come any closer than Minneapolis. Then TMBG booked a date in Saskatoon, so suddenly, my Calgary trip was set.

There was quite a bit happening in Calgary this week; unfortunately, most of it was running at the same time as the stuff we had tickets for. Andrew WK was playing opposite our showing of The Book of Mormon. Greta Van Fleet and Frank Turner were on at the same time. Too bad. And yet, I wrote most of this on the Friday night of my trip with nothing better to do. I guess I could have overpaid to see Sam Smith at the Saddledome in hopes that he’d play the worst James Bond song since Madonna’s.

The Book of Mormon was on Tuesday night. I won’t bother giving it a full review here but while it was very different than what we were expecting, we both really enjoyed it. Also, for the longest time, I was convinced that we were seeing Frank Turner on the night BEFORE The Book of Mormon, so I briefly had a big ol’ freakout thinking I bought tickets for the wrong day. All was good, though as we were entering the theatre, the couple next to us actually HAD bought tickets for the wrong day. It turns out that in that situation, you go talk to a representative from Ticketmaster and hope for the best. I don’t know if they ever got in or not.

We got some tasty Thai food before the play, and we lingered a bit over dinner which led to a bit of a panic getting to the theatre on time. We made it to our seats with about a minute to spare. With that in mind, we planned to meet up earlier before Frank Turner. This was a good idea that didn’t pan out – Colin got held up at work so I took some time to explore his neighbourhood. I checked out the record store and the bookstore and saw a hairy crazy man on a bike (he had a big wordy sign that I couldn’t really read – also, he stopped to buy or possibly sell drugs) before meeting Colin at the same barbecue place we’d eaten at in the spring. I got smoked turkey breast, bacon-wrapped corn on the cob, and a corn muffin with honey butter. This was tremendous, and barbecue is a good choice if you’re in a hurry since everything’s cooked before you get there. Unfortunately, even the barbecue miracle workers can only do so much. We finished our dinner, found our way to the university, and got there in time for the last song from the first opener.

So yeah, my review of Bad Cop/Bad Cop is based on all of one song. They’re a four-piece all-female punk band and their one song – whatever it was called – was very loud. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt quite such overwhelming loudness. Also quite a long time since I’ve seen a straightforward punk band. Not that I’m complaining – I liked what little I heard and while it’s not my usual thing, there’s always something to be said for mixing it up.

Next up was Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs. As the band took the stage, we discussed which one we thought was Sam and which we thought were Lungs. This game got much less challenging when we saw that everyone was wearing denim vests, apart from one fellow, whose shirt could best be described as cape-like. Lead singers get capes. But even without the wardrobe hint, it would have been obvious. Coffey has an encyclopedic knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll frontman poses. Though he did run the risk of being upstaged by one of the guitarists, a large, tattooed, very smiley man with a rainbow-striped t-shirt under his denim vest.

I knew nothing about these folks going into this show but was quite impressed. Fun, high-energy rock from guys who really tried to put on a show. I could have written those two sentences about the Arkells – and in fact, I think I did – and I think if you liked one of those bands, you’d like both. Their set was about 45 minutes and it flew by. I’d make a point of seeing these guys again.

Someone in the crowd was wearing a NOT DEAD YET shirt, that being a line in Turner’s song Get Better, my favourite of his. Colin didn’t know the reference but still enjoyed the sentiment behind the shirt. After Coffey’s set, we checked the stuff table to see what was there – that shirt must have come from a previous tour. Also not available at the stuff table: the Bret “Hitman” Hart jacket that some dude was wearing. It was a bold fashion choice but I dug it.

This review is kind of pointless because I knew I’d dig the show and you likely did too. I was interested in what Colin’s reaction would be. He only knew one of Turner’s songs, Recovery, so he was going in pretty cold. He seemed to really like it; Turner played the one song he knew, as well as the song from that guy’s shirt, so he was happy. And like me, he enjoyed that one line from the song Try This at Home: “There’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music / some of them are just like us and some of them are dicks.” But more than the music, he seemed really taken with Turner’s relentless positivity. Turner has two rules for his shows – don’t be a dick, and sing along if you know the words – and he spoke a lot about how we can all come together for a rock show and treat each other well, and how we should take that positivity into the world when we left there. Unsurprising, I guess, from a guy who named his most recent album Be More Kind.

Of course, we got lots of songs off that album – so much so that Turner joked that “this fucker’s only playing new shit” before launching into old favourite If Ever I Stray. One new song, The Lifeboat, he said they’d only played three or four times before, and this was the first time ever in Canada. The old songs got great reactions, of course, but Turner’s got some devoted fans who sang along to everything, old and new. It is one of the rules, I suppose. For the most part, Turner played with the full band, the Sleeping Souls, but he did a handful of songs by himself. Toward the end, he got the crowd to make an open circle for people to run around in (I got sideswiped real good by a high-velocity passerby), then called everyone to some close and stand together, then eventually crowdsurfed while singing. Twice. A sign said you’d be thrown out after the second time you got caught crowdsurfing – I guess it doesn’t apply to you if you’re the guy people paid to see.

Want the whole setlist? Here it is anyway:

Don’t Worry
1933
Get Better
Recovery
Little Changes
The Next Storm
The Way I Tend to Be
Be More Kind
Demons
The Lifeboat
If Ever I Stray
Try This at Home
One Foot Before the Other
Balthazar, Impresario (solo acoustic)
Song for Eva Mae (solo acoustic)
Love Ire & Song (solo acoustic)
Blackout
Out of Breath
Photosynthesis
encore:
Get It Right
I Still Believe
Four Simple Words
Polaroid Picture

No real surprises, but does that matter? It was exactly what – and as good as – I was expecting. This was my fourth time seeing Frank Turner, and I’ve enjoyed watching his progression from opener to headliner, from MacEwan Ballroom to the larger MacEwan Hall. He tours relentlessly – as he told us, this was show #2,232 – and the effort is clearly paying off with larger, more devoted crowds every time out. Just a fantastic live show and a positive message at a time when people could use one.

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SLCR #317: Regina Folk Festival (August 11, 2018)

August 22, 2018

Festivals can be tricky to write about since you get a bunch of different artists, some you might not know anything about, and often not enough time for them to leave a lasting impression. And you – this time I mean you, specifically, whoever is reading this – probably don’t want to read a list of names with me going “it was fine” over and over.

Luckily for you, God intervened. An afternoon temperature of 42C before the humidex put a hold on our plans. We’d already foregone the weekend passes in favour of just the Saturday night, but the heat was such that we held off even further, opting to show up after 9:00pm. As we got exchanged our passes for wristbands, Pierre Kwenders was just wrapping up. We took a walk around the vendor area, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the food trucks so dead. I know it was later in the evening, but still. Only the places that specialized in cool drinks had significant lines. I think it was just too hot to eat.

Since we showed up so late, we left our chairs in the car and stood down at the front. Gotta be the first time I’ve done that at the folk festival in a decade. Between sets, Zoey Roy was doing a spoken word performance – very impassioned and got a great reaction from the crowd. I’m not sure that poetry readings will ever be 100% my thing, but when done well and in front of an appreciative, supportive audience, I have a better understanding of the appeal.

Of all the artists at this year’s festival, I was most excited for Tanya Tagaq. We’d seen her with the symphony recently, but this was our first opportunity to see a full performance. Her music is a modern take on traditional Inuit throat singing and she was accompanied by, among other musicians, a Theremin player. This is not music I would listen to every day but it fits certain moods very well. Specifically, the moods of “I want to completely discombobulate my brain” or “I want to get ready for war.” In a literal sense, I mean – if I had to grab a gun and charge into battle, I’d want this playing. Her music is powerful and vulnerable and otherworldly and scared at least one nearby small child. It sounds unlike anything else I’ve heard and makes me feel different than any other music too. When I was younger, I probably would have hated this. She sang for an hour and it flew by. Amazing.

Between sets, we found a bench, and, somehow, Rheanne. We run into her every year, apparently even when it’s dark out and we’re only there for a few hours.

On our way back to the stage, we passed a very drunk lady being walked out of the park by security. Or at least that was the goal; when we saw her, she’d stopped to give out high-fives, take selfies, and sing Sweet Child O’ Mine with other festival-goers. It’s not often you get to say “there’s a very patient security guard.” Anyway, I had no idea alcohol could make you so happy. I should investigate further.

The night’s headliner was Neko Case. I’d seen her a few times before, including once at the festival, and I always came away a little underwhelmed. In what I always felt was an unfair way, you understand. She’s so incredible that I went into her shows with sky-high expectations that were never quite met. This time, though, was easily the best of her shows that I’ve seen. It would be easy to chalk that up to my expectations but I don’t think that’s quite it. She seemed to really be inspired and emotional to be at the festival, having worked earlier in the day with Girls Rock Regina, a girls’ music camp (and wearing their shirt during her performance). She also talked about how excited she was to finally see Tanya Tagaq (they always play the same festivals but on different days) and dedicated a song to Zoey Roy. It seemed like she was really feeling the festival and that came through in her performance. Even if she was eating and being eaten by bugs because of the spotlights.

Case is touring her new album, Hell-On, which I’ve listened to, but not a ton. We got lots of songs off it, of course. Fewer of the old classics but “Hold On, Hold On” is my favourite of hers and she played that one, so no complaints here. But the best moment for my money was during the song Man, a song about masculinity and gender roles and also one of the rockier songs of the night. These two ballcap bro-dudes heard the opening notes and they were SO into it. They yelled WOOOO and threw up devil horns and hugged and rocked out like nobody’s business. And then they were joined by a third guy, and they all stood in a circle, holding hands, jumping up and down and pumping their arms to the music. The song is great. Their reaction was fantastic. The two combined? Perfect.

And then we went home. Makes for an abbreviated festival recap this year – I trust everyone had fun at Walk off the Earth and Shakey Graves and Bruce Cockburn and Michael Franti. Next year is the 50th annual folk festival, so we’ll see who they bring in. Better believe my expectations are already completely unreasonable and we’ve got seven months until the initial lineup announcement.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls with Bad Cop/Bad Cop and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Cadence Weapon with Fat Tony and Hua Li (October 2)
• Jonathan Richman (October 6)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• Colter Wall (October 16)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)

SLCR #316: Arkells (August 2, 2018)

August 20, 2018

This is relatively short and mostly about food but it’s also three weeks late, so whatever. This was our third year seeing a concert at the Queen City Ex and honestly, I thought it was kind of slim pickings this year. Two country acts, Burton Cummings, the Regina Symphony doing Michael Jackson and Prince songs, and the Arkells. I feel like we chose wisely despite my eventual realization that while I’d heard other musicians (Hawksley Workman, Frank Turner) say good things about them, I didn’t actually know any Arkells songs. Though I do confess some curiosity about how well the Symphony would pair with stifling heat, a giant plush Pikachu, and a corndog.

Mika and I went early this year, arriving at the fair shortly after 11:00am so that we could spend the first part of the day with her friend Christine and her kids. The kids rode rides and displayed passionate interest in every kind of carnival game. I sweated a lot and lost to Mika at both Whack-a-Mole and squirting water in the clown’s mouth. Also, I followed up some deep fried cheese curds with the stupidest thing I’ve ever eaten, deep fried bacon-wrapped Reese’s peanut butter cups. Eventually, we watched a scintillating performance from Doodoo the Clown, who was apparently in the movie Billy Madison. I don’t remember there being a clown in Billy Madison, but that might only be because I’ve never seen it. The kids had fun. Eventually, full of delicious sugars and fats, we were all overheated and so they headed home. With hours to go before the concert, we also headed home for air conditioning and a nap.

Dear future James, for your reference, if you leave the fair and come back, your handstamp will let YOU back in for free, but there are no in/out privileges as it pertains to parking.

Back inside, we went straight to the concert grounds for our openers, Sc Mira. You may remember that we saw them open for Buck 65 a few years ago. That felt like an odd pairing at the time, and even more so now when I did the “who did they open for again?” check through the old reviews. They felt like a much better fit with the Arkells, which makes it too bad that basically nobody saw this set. There were seriously maybe 20-30 people there when they started and it filled up a bit as they played, but really not that much. You wouldn’t have known it from their performance – it has to be challenging playing in front of a small, apathetic crowd (especially in such a big space) but they still brought it. Lots of new material and a marked increase in stage presence too.

With a lengthy break between bands, we went in search of dinner. Mika went one way to get some corn on the cob, which isn’t really fair-level crazy but non-glutenous options are scarce and limited. I went the other way in search of something I’d seen earlier, but I don’t know my directions got turned around. Luckily, this led to running into and chatting with Chad and his family for a bit. I eventually did find the “grilled cheese dog” that I was after, but whatever you’re picturing in your mind as a grilled cheese dog is more exciting and appetizing than what I got. Poor choice, me.

Dear future James, for your reference, just get the corndog with a pickle in it. You like corndogs. You like pickles.

We met back at the concert grounds, and dang. The Arkells fans are late arrivers, but when they get there, they show up en masse. The place was packed. We stood near the back.

It’s not entirely true to say that I didn’t know any Arkells songs. Mika’d played one of them in the car. Two others, I recognized a little bit from… somewhere? I don’t know. Being alive and often in the presence of background music? I didn’t know enough to sing along with anything, let’s put it that way. And yet, I didn’t really care. These guys had huge energy and were a blast to watch. Singalongs, clapalongs, running through the crowd, they were never not engaging with the audience. Fantastic live performers. And I did know one song after all, since the first song of their encore was Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Which seemed like a weird fit for about 5 seconds but then totally wasn’t. Would definitely go see these guys again. Worth the admission. Worth paying for parking twice. Worth that sub-par hot dog. Maybe I should listen to any of their stuff someday.

On the way out, determined to make one last bad decision, I got white chocolate cheesecake mini-donuts. The girl cautioned me that instead of your standard bag of mini-donuts, there were three of them. For $10. I was already committed to this idea so I went along with it. And I have to say, what they lacked in quantity they more than made up for in quality. These were sensational. Hot and crispy with cheesecake goo inside and white chocolate drizzle. I don’t even like white chocolate.

SLCR #315: Gateway Festival (July 28, 2018)

August 15, 2018

This show could have waited a few days and I’d have been fine with it. As far as festivals go, it had one of the most James-specific lineups I’d ever seen, so I should have been more excited, but it had been a really long week. I got home on time on Monday evening. Worked late and got home after 9:00 on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Only left an hour late on Friday to begin my two-week vacation (woo) but spent Friday night mowing the lawn, cleaning house, and doing all the other stuff I’d been putting off before my in-laws’ flight got in at midnight. Mika had worked late all week too. We needed groceries and I wound up buying bananas and milk at Shoppers Drug Mart at 11:30pm, which I think is a nice summary of how that week went.

All of which was great preparation for driving two hours to Bengough, watching a bunch of bands, and driving two hours back after midnight. I was actually feeling better on Saturday than I was expecting; sleeping in until 12:30 helped.

Soon enough, tickets in hand and lawnchairs in trunk, we were on the road. The drive was uneventful, which doesn’t give me anything to talk about but that’s still probably for the best. I mean, it’s fun to tell the story of how I hit a duck in the ass with the car on the way home from Bengough a few years ago, but I’d still have preferred to not hit the duck.

I had promised Mika we’d make it there in time for Library Voices’ set at 5:15 but that was before I was slow and lazy in the morning. And afternoon. And pretty much always. But I was still pretty sure that we’d make it, and they started their first song as we were walking into the grounds. Close enough. We found a place to park our lawn chairs and sat back for the show. Library Voices are one of the bigger bands to come out of Regina in the past decade, and yet, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a proper concert by them, just short festival sets where they never play the few songs I know. Needless to say, that didn’t change here, but this was a quick fun hit of power-pop that started our festival experience off on a good note.

Onto the parade of mostly-local people I don’t really know much about and don’t have much to say about! Country singer Ellen Froese was up next with a mix of covers and originals. I enjoyed her set and she’s local, so I imagine I’ll see her again soon. She was followed by Seth Anderson. No band – just him and a guitar. He had a good sense of humour, playing off the sounds of soundcheck happening on the other stage during his set. (He may also have dropped a few f-bombs during one of his songs and it looked like maybe someone suggested that he please stop doing so, since we hadn’t hit the drunkening hour yet – but I digress.) I liked this too. Would see again.

Next was Zachary Lucky. Country singer. Deep voice. Probably something I’d really dig but I didn’t get to see much of him. I decided that I should get something to eat before the Karpinka Brothers, which seemed like a solid enough plan but it went awry. First I went to the merch stand to take a peek. Didn’t get anything this year. Next, I made the arduous trek back to the car – like, almost three or four whole minutes each way, some sort of death march – so I could get my glasses. I have regular glasses and sunglasses and whichever pair is not currently on my head is inevitably forgotten in the car. Finally, I had to survey the food options, settling on a food truck that made a waffle hashbrown sandwich. Basically, you get bacon and cheese inside two waffles made out of hashbrowns. It needed an egg for breakfast sandwich perfection but this was still pretty great and I’m going to try making hashbrowns like that here sometime. This, however, was not the speediest process – or possibly this truck had some efficiency issues – anyway, by the time I was back at my chair, the Karpinka Brothers were nearly done.

I went to high school with one of the Karpinkas (probably both, really, but Shawn was in my grade). I’ve run into Shawn a few times since high school. He’s always been nice and I’m always happy to see him and that’s not something I’d say about 95% of my graduating class. Before this, though, I’d never actually seen them play (apart from maybe a few songs in a Regina Folk Festival teaser set, but I’m not even 100% certain about that and it’s way too late for me to be fact-checking now). I still can’t say I really saw them, but I could hear them from the food truck of eternal wait and they sounded really fun. I’ll have to make it a priority to get to one of their shows soon.

I saw Megan Nash earlier this year and was looking forward to her set. She’s one of my favourite local musicians. She had a strict 30-minute set so she wasn’t as talkative as last time (or maybe it’s that she wasn’t all hopped up on cold medication), but this was still really good.

Onto the folks you may have heard of! First up was former Weakerthans lead singer John K. Samson, a self-described “lefty talk-singer from Winnipeg.” It sounded like there were some Winnipegers near us who were very happy to learn where he was from. Then he opened with Weakerthans classic One Great City!, which says “The Guess Who sucked, the Jets were lousy anyway” and has a singalong chorus of “I hate Winnipeg.” I’d say it’s still kind of a love letter to the city but said Winnipegers seemed to disagree. Anyway, I’ve seen John K. as a solo act before and he was all about playing his own songs and very few Weakerthans songs, but we got the opposite here. There were a handful of his solo songs, including Post-Doc Blues and Vampire Alberta Blues (neither of which are particularly bluesy), but most were Weakerthans favourites. A personal highlight was hearing Samson play all three songs about Virtute the cat in a row. Looking up the lyrics of Virtute at Rest, I saw on Samson’s website that the human from those songs is the same person in the song 17th Street Treatment Centre, which makes perfect sense but still blew my mind a little. As an aside, he played that one too. And he also played Aside.

Samson’s set started at 8:15 and in retrospect, when it was done, we should have moved our chairs from the beer garden side of the park to the all-ages side. 8:00pm is the magic hour where the hipsters and families disappear and the people who’ve been drinking at their campsites all day show up. Plus then we’d be nice and close to the main stage but still comfortably on our respective butts. Though I suppose we’d have missed out on some… colourful characters.

When the Gateway Festival released the initial teaser poster for the event, all of the musicians’ names were blacked out but some were done in such a way that you could kinda make a guess at who they were. I was 99% sure one was Kathleen Edwards. This got me hyped and I may have spent several days meticulously poring over the poster like it was the Zapruder film. Mika and I saw Kathleen Edwards at the Exchange many years ago and it was a great great show. Moreover, a few years ago, she essentially retired from music to open up a coffee shop called Quitter’s in Stittsville, Ontario.

If you think I’m going to make a joke about Stittsville, think again. I’m far too mature for that. Plus I live in Regina, so, you know. Plus Kathleen Edwards made all those jokes already.

ANYWAY my point is that while Edwards has done a handful of concerts since her self-imposed retirement, I really didn’t think she’d ever come out this way again. And here she was! This was exciting enough that we actually left our chairs and went down to the main stage. Edwards was in fine form and seemed to be relaxed and really enjoying herself. There was a nice mix of songs spanning her whole career (Sidecars was a personal favourite) and one new one she wrote about turning 40. After Empty Threat, she asked if there were any Americans there since we were less than an hour from the border, which led to a story about opening for Bob Dylan in Montana. She also dedicated the song Hockey Skates to everyone affected by the Humboldt Broncos tragedy earlier this year. Kathleen Edwards is a treasure.

Then we were back to the side stages for Elliott BROOD and as ever, I’ll play along with the spelling once. I should listen to these guys more but I always seem to forget how much I like them. Their energy was especially welcome coming after a series of folkier artists. They’re coming back to Regina in the fall and I was thinking about skipping out since I’ve seen them a few times in the past few years but this was fun enough that I might just reconsider.

Somewhere in here I went to use the bathroom and found that apart from the portapotties, there were also two urinals, of sorts. Big covered tanks with funnels sticking out of them. As they say, when in Rome, pee in a funnel and then go find some hand sanitizer.

Finally, we had the last addition to the festival lineup, recent inductee to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and former Barenaked Lady, Steven Page. I’d seen one of his solo shows with Mary a few years ago and really enjoyed it, so when they added him to an already stacked festival, I was stoked. Much like with Samson, there were more Barenaked Ladies songs than Page solo songs, including Jane, Enid, The Old Apartment, Break Your Heart, It’s All Been Done, Alcohol, and I Live With It Every Day. He closed with Brian Wilson, which you had to expect. For solo stuff, he played Surprise Surprise, Manchild, Linda Ronstadt in the 70s, and A New Shore, among others.

There was also a bit where he did some happy strumming on his guitar and Page and the rest of his band took turns singing bits of different popular songs that fit the music. And while I’m sure this is a bit he does often, I suspect the snippet of Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure that Page sang was specifically because Samson was there. I mean, it’s not a happy song and it didn’t fit the music, but I know Page likes it and had previously recorded it with the Art of Time Ensemble.

Page didn’t play If I Had $1,000,000, much to the frustration of some of the folks around us who were expecting a Barenaked Ladies greatest hits show. I don’t know who wrote what in Barenaked Ladies, but I suspect Page only played stuff that he wrote (or at least co-wrote). Tough break for anyone who was expecting the chimpanzee song. But hey, he still played a lot of hits. Possibly too many for some folks’ tastes – Page was about 20 minutes over his allotted time when it looked like someone notified him it was time to wrap it up. Even then, after Brian Wilson, as we were starting to leave, just as I overheard a festival volunteer say “there hasn’t been an encore all weekend, there won’t be one now,” Page and his band came back out and played Call and Answer. The Badland Country Band was set to go on at midnight and it was nearing 12:30 and a handful of folks were growing impatient. One of the aforementioned colourful characters tried to start a “BADLAND BADLAND” chant but it was as successful as you might expect. “Sorry guys, we’ll be quick,” said Page to the Badlands when he came back out. I’m sure he meant it, but Call and Answer is a six-minute song and I cackled. I dug this whole thing, though to be fair, going over time? Not cool. But I’ll chalk it up to miscommunication somewhere along the way, mostly because we weren’t staying around for the Badland Country Band anyway. As we walked back to the car, we heard them start into a cover of You May Be Right and I’m pretty sure they messed up the words. Timing must have thrown them off.

The drive home was duckless and uneventful, which is exactly how I wanted to wrap up the day.

I should mention that the entire two-day festival was packed with musicians I like and basically consisted of one big SLCR all-star reunion show. I’m not a camping person and Bengough is a long drive from Regina – it would be pretty taxing to take in both nights if you’re going to drive home each night. So we skipped the Friday, since the organizers were kind enough to put all my nice-to-sees on Friday and my must-sees on Saturday. But seriously – Friday night had Big Sugar, Terra Lightfoot, William Prince, Belle Plaine, and Yukon Blonde (along with The Kentucky Headhunters and Chixdiggit, who I’ve never seen before). In Bengough! Population: 337! This whole festival is kind of ridiculous!

SLCR #314: The Flaming Lips (June 22, 2018)

July 10, 2018

It’s now been over two weeks since I saw the Flaming Lips and over two hours since I opened the blank text file and pasted in the list of upcoming concerts. It’s not that I don’t want to write this – it was a really fun show that I feel like talking about – I just don’t want to put in the effort, you know?

Really, this is not dissimilar to how I felt on the morning of the concert. I was excited when the show was announced – I love it when a band comes to town (or at least a semi-nearby town) and I never thought they’d play here. But when I was supposed to pack up and head out, I had to fight the little voice telling me “you know, we could just… not do this.” I mean, Saskatoon’s far, the weather wasn’t looking great, I didn’t know the opener, and I’m really not even super familiar with the Flaming Lips if we’re being honest. But! I persevered, for you. Mostly for me. But a little bit for you.

So let’s talk about what I do know about the Flaming Lips, or what I think I know. I first became aware of them through the song She Don’t Use Jelly, which I had on an MTV Buzz Bin CD that came out in 1997. To stoke your 90s nostalgia and give you a frame of reference, some of the other artists on that CD were Counting Crows, The Cardigans, and Primitive Radio Gods. (The song by Primitive Radio Gods is called Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in my Hand. And it IS on iTunes.)

If She Don’t Use Jelly sounds like a novelty song, that’s because it is, and I assumed these folks were doomed to one-hit wonder status. But over time, I started hearing that they were still making records and they were really good and not what you’d expect for a joke band. And then they weren’t a joke band, they were indie hipster darlings and everyone had their album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Wikipedia says that’s their tenth album and that was in 2002 and okay they put out way more music than I ever knew about. Maybe don’t look to me for the history lesson.

The drive up to Saskatoon was uneventful. A little rain but nothing serious – that was saved for when I got there. I got to Josy’s house mid-afternoon and within 10 minutes, the skies opened up. Massive downpour and lightning with the loudest, most immediate thunder. Something got hit and it was right near us. The power went out, probably not unrelated. I was starting to doubt whether this outdoor concert was going to be happening. A storm that big won’t last, but what condition would the grounds be in? I had further doubts when the storm passed and Josy and I went in search of food. We went down 8th Street and hit several patches where there was so much water left on the road that only one lane was usable. You’ll be relieved to know we were able to successfully obtain pizza.

Josy: “When did you stop caring about chicken in your concerts?”
me: “Most places I go to for concerts now don’t serve food. I still mention it when I can.”
Josy: “And what did you have on your pizza?”
me: “Chicken.”
Josy: “There you go.”

Indeed. Official concert status: conferred.

Pizza then Pokémon then back to Josy’s house and I was off to the show. The rain was long gone and the grounds were fine. I got there with five minutes to spare and without a ticket – I’d realized that morning that I’d never printed one out. Luckily, it’s the future and they can just scan your phone.

Now, if you remember last year’s trip to the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival to see Amanda Marshall, you may recall that we brought lawn chairs and wound up sitting way at the back, unable to really see the openers and eventually standing for Marshall. You may also recall that we were lucky to have anywhere at all to park our chairs ‘CUZ THERE’S NO PLACE TO PUT THEM but maybe only Deserée and I remember that. Point being, I was flying solo this year and didn’t want to fight with a chair and so I didn’t bring one. I… needn’t have worried. I walked in mere minutes before the opener was set to start – ran into Carver immediately upon arrival because of course I did – and the place was pretty bare. At this point, if I estimated there was 25% of the crowd that was there for Amanda Marshall, I’d be being generous. I could have set a chair anywhere. Instead I just walked right down to the very front because why not? On stage, the mayor cut a ribbon to open the Jazz Festival and we were underway.

The opener was Wand, from LA. When introduced, they were described as “breaking all barriers” and I don’t know if I’d go that far, though I don’t really know how to describe them. iTunes says “psych-rock” and sure, let’s go for that as long as you promise not to make me define it. There were long instrumental sections. I heard 90s rock influences in there. Some electronic music too. And Crimson & Clover. This was all pretty good in that way that I kind of immediately forgot about. I’m listening to some now, and again, hard to describe, but I’m digging it.

So. Okay. I’d never seen the Flaming Lips before and didn’t really know what to expect. After Wand’s set, stagehands (and singer Wayne Coyne) set up the stage with confetti cannons. Also, while Wand was playing, I could see Coyne walking around backstage with a big rainbow… thing. It later turned out to be wings. Had I known what I was getting myself into, this wouldn’t have been surprising.

The band came out and played the song from 2001: A Space Odyssey or Ric Flair, depending on your personal point of reference. Normally, I would check setlist.fm for reminders of the show, but I know it’s not entirely accurate, so instead I’ll go to the pictures on my phone. One song in and we were blasted with the aforementioned confetti cannons and giant balloons were launched into the crowd. As people threw the balloons around, Coyne left and came back with an eight-foot tall custom-made silver balloon reading FUCK YEAH SASKATOON. He threw it into the crowd who tore it apart like a pack of dogs. Though I did later see people leaving with individual letters they’d managed to save.

The first song I recognized – since I only ever had that one album – was Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1. We had to karate chop along with the song. There was an 18-foot tall inflatable pink robot on stage. Then came the Yeah Yeah Yeah Song where we all had to sing along (“yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah”). I was standing near a security guard and I was very curious as to his opinion of the evening. For the song There Should Be Unicorns, Coyne left again and returned astride a giant unicorn (and wearing the rainbow wings from earlier) (which went well with his suit and eyepatch that I forgot to mention). This did not reduce my curiosity re: the security guard.

Then came the smoke cannons, followed by the spotlights focused on Coyne’s face. Then the stagehands (who, I forgot to mention, were all wearing superhero costumes) started inflating a big ball. The more knowledgeable fans knew what was coming. I did not. Coyne, inside the ball, singing Space Oddity, rolled out off the stage onto the heads and outstretched arms of the crowd.

More smoke from the stage. The security guard looked unimpressed. There was also a sizable amount of smoke coming from the crowd, which should surprise nobody. Guys in giant eyeball costumes came out and danced. More confetti. A little girl behind me, riding her dad’s shoulders, caught one of the giant balloons after trying all night. We all cheered. Coyne wore giant hands that shot lasers into the crowd. Then the band left. A guy behind me in a Teletubby costume hollered for Do You Realize?? The band came back out. Played another song. Played The Star-Spangled Banner, as one does at the end of a rock concert in Canada. Left again. I thought the Teletubby was going to go apoplectic. Band back out. Do You Realize?? under a big inflatable rainbow. Everyone went bonkers. The end.

There was a lot to keep track of. I’m sure I’m missing stuff. I didn’t know all the songs. It certainly wasn’t necessary. You could have gone in blind and this would have been worth it for the spectacle alone. It could be different if you’ve seen it before, but there seemed to be lots of people who’d seen them multiple times and were loving it. Even if you lose the element of surprise (or just aren’t into, like, confetti and big hands), the songs are enough to carry a show on their own.

I went back to Josy’s once the show was done, but a friend from high school was also at the concert. I didn’t see him there but it’s 2018 so we had a nice brief chat via Instagram comments. He went to Amigo’s after the show to see another set by Wand and as they were playing, the Flaming Lips showed up, just looking to hang out. He got a picture with Coyne. I caught my first Alolan Rattata in Pokémon Go on the walk back to the car. So I think we had equally successful evenings.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, Steven Page, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, more (July 28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls with Bad Cop/Bad Cop and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show Starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Cadence Weapon with Fat Tony and Hua Li (October 2)
• Jonathan Richman (October 6)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)

SLCR #313 – “Weird Al” Yankovic – June 1, 2018

June 11, 2018

The thing about a Weird Al show is that the format is always the same. Lots of costume changes. Lots of video clips between songs to accommodate the costume changes. A bunch of songs off the newest album and lots of his classics – hey, he paid for that fat suit, may as well get as much use out of it as he can. And it ends with Yoda. There’s a chant in Yoda. It gets longer with every tour.

Understand, I’m not complaining. Just making an observation. There were eleven years between my first and second Al concerts, and even with that gap, that second show felt pretty familiar. You get some new songs, costumes, sets, and videos every time out, but still.

If this was a little samey for me, one wonders what it would be like for Al and his band. The theatrics and the choreography, while fun, mean that his show is heavily scripted and there isn’t room for improvisation or mixing things up. There’s no opportunity to say “screw it, let’s play Running With Scissors front-to-back tonight.” It’s pretty much set in stone.

A while back, I read an interview where Al talked of doing a different kind of tour, one geared toward hardcore fans. Smaller venues, no costumes or videos, and – the biggest change – he’d forego his famous parodies in favour of playing his lesser-known original songs. A different setlist every night, even. This was extremely my thing. I didn’t think it would actually happen, but sure enough, last fall, Al announced the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour. While I was definitely prepared to travel for this, instead, he was coming here. What a groovy guy! Now I just had to wait the eight months for the tour to get here.

Having experienced the VIP… uh… experience the last time out, Mika and I got normal seats this time like god damned commoners. We went to the show with Jason (from my work) and his wife Melissa – you may remember them from at least one previous concert (Corb Lund) that we went to (translation: I totally invited myself along to their night out). Lots of parenthetical asides in this paragraph but they’re all very important to give you the full story.

Before the show, Jason said he was hoping for Trigger Happy and The Night Santa Went Crazy (the extra-gory version) (obviously). My picks were The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, Stop Forwarding that Crap to Me, and Skipper Dan. Looking at setlists from other cities, I knew at least some of these were in play. I wasn’t about to get my hopes up, though.

We got to the show and I took a quick look at the stuff table. Nothing too exciting. The usual shirts and stuff. There were some enamel pins that were nice but expensive and I’d never wear them anyway. I also saw something that indicated that all of the concerts from this tour were going to be made available on Stitcher Premium, a for-pay podcast service. Took a peek and didn’t see anything yet. If this does come to pass, I’d give it a shot.

Long ago, Al used to have local comedians opening for him. I only ever saw this once, at my first Al show in 1996. I don’t remember much about the comedian. He worked clean, albeit with a lot of poop jokes. And hockey jokes. And he combined them to make Darren Puppa jokes. Again, it was 1996. Shortly thereafter – and probably having nothing to do with the guy who opened at my show – Al quit having opening acts. He found it hard to vet the comedians, so sometimes the opener would wind up using material that was inappropriate for the audience. Plus, as Al’s show became more elaborate, it also became longer, making an opener feel less necessary. But for this tour, he was bringing an opener with him – Emo Philips. Philips is best known to Al fans as the shop teacher who accidentally saws his fingers off in the movie UHF. Or at least best known to me for that – I hadn’t heard any of his actual stand-up before this. Turns out his delivery is actually quite similar to that of his UHF character, soft-spoken and stilted. I can see some people not being into that, though I thought he was pretty funny. He worked clean and mostly told one-liners – “I like to play chess with old men in the park, but where do you ever find 32 of them?” – with a few physical bits thrown in too. The crowd seemed to really like him, though there was one pun that didn’t get nearly enough love and one aside I loved that went completely unrecognized. So it goes.

Following a brief break, Al’s band entered and played the instrumental tune Fun Zone before Al entered and launched right into Close but no Cigar (with Al playing what I can only call the rattly percussion thing). We wound up with a 19-song set spanning Al’s entire career. There were classics (You Don’t Love Me Anymore), songs I’d entirely forgotten (I Remember Larry), and songs that would maybe be best forgotten (Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung). Buy Me A Condo stood out as particularly dated, both because I’m pretty sure a white guy trying to sound Jamaican wouldn’t fly today and, more so, it suggests that “wall-to-wall carpeting” is a status symbol instead of something to rip out.

There were also some of Al’s soundalike style parodies, like the Dylanesque all-palindrome song Bob and the I-didn’t-realize-it-was-supposed-to-sound-like-the-B-52s-but-in-my-defence-I-was-very-young-when-I-first-heard-it Mr. Popeil. And, what with it being June and all, they played Al’s entire catalogue of Christmas songs – both of them. And yes, it was the extra-gory version of The Night Santa Went Crazy, so I’ve now heard a theatre full of nerds cheer at the announcement that Santa Claus has been caught and compromised to a permanent end.

During the more energetic songs, there was one guy who’d jump out of his seat, run up to the front at the far edge of the stage, and, indeed, dance like no one was watching. I don’t know how one cultivates the attitude of “yes, I will be the only person at this whole concert dancing wildly to Party at the Leper Colony.” Maybe you have to be born with it? I don’t know. But I feel like maybe it’s something to aspire to. Not that particular song – even Al said he wasn’t proud of it – but the general idea. I think that dude probably had more fun at this show than the rest of us. And he was even considerate enough to not block anyone’s view.

For the encore, Al asked for requests and everyone went nuts. He finally decided that he’d choose one person and play whatever they wanted – so of course, he picked his guitarist, who wanted to hear some Black Crowes, so that’s what they played. Every night on this tour, they’ve been playing a different cover song. Not a parody – just a straight cover. Ours was Hard to Handle. Looking at some others they’ve played recently (including Rebel Rebel, Magic Carpet Ride, Summer Nights, All Right Now, Aqualung, Foxey Lady, and Good Lovin’), I’m very pleased with the one we got – it would have been my pick out of all of those. I suspect Al had a cheat sheet for the lyrics – he seemed to spend a lot of time looking at something that wasn’t the crowd – but maybe I was just seeing things that weren’t there. Either way, it didn’t hurt things any if he did.

People who really wanted the parodies weren’t entirely out of luck. For the last song before the encore, the band started into the unplugged version of Layla, but Al sang Eat It instead. This kicked off a medley of some of his most famous parodies, all with new incongruous arrangements. And after Hard to Handle, they finished with his American Pie parody, The Saga Begins. Always gotta end with Star Wars – though as different as this whole show was, not ending with Yoda and the chant still stuck out.

Here’s the whole setlist, taken from setlist.fm in a rare case where I don’t have to complain about how wrong it is:

Fun Zone
Close But No Cigar
Bob
Buy Me a Condo
Christmas at Ground Zero
Good Enough for Now
I Remember Larry
If That Isn’t Love
Airline Amy
You Don’t Love Me Anymore
I Was Only Kidding
The Night Santa Went Crazy (extra-gory version)
Party at the Leper Colony
Mr. Popeil
Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung
Jackson Park Express
medley: Eat It / I Lost on Jeopardy / Amish Paradise / Smells Like Nirvana / White & Nerdy / I Love Rocky Road / Like a Surgeon
–encore–
Hard to Handle (Black Crowes cover)
The Saga Begins

As we left, Mika asked if I got to hear all the songs I wanted. Honestly, I didn’t – I went 0-for-3 with my wishlist. So I definitely would have changed the songs up if given the chance, but I still was glad with what we got and happy just to see a show on this tour at all. I got a new appreciation for some songs I’d overlooked or forgotten, and do I even need to mention that Al and his band were great? (I pretend that these are “reviews,” so I guess, yeah.) They’re all super talented and complete professionals, switching seemingly effortlessly between musical genres from song to song. I suppose you don’t have a celebrated 40-year career without working hard and being good at your job. Good thing I’m fine with an uncelebrated one.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips w/Wand (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, Steven Page, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, more (July 28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show Starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Cadence Weapon w/Fat Tony and Hua Li (October 2)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)

SLCR #312: Donovan Woods (April 29, 2018)

May 14, 2018

There are some gaps in my SLCR history and it’s really satisfying when I can fill one of those in. I like finally writing up the bands that I first saw before starting these reviews, or bands whose concerts I missed for one reason or another (laziness, social anxiety, and it’s chilly out being chief among the reasons). Donovan Woods is one of those folks.

I had a ticket to see Woods at a sold-out gig at the Artful Dodger in 2016. I was really looking forward to the show but it didn’t work out for me. The Artful Dodger had the potential to be a great place to see smaller shows – I remember raving about it after the first few times I was there – but they had a tendency to sell more tickets than there were places to sit. I’m not opposed to standing for the length of a show, but the layout of the place meant that you couldn’t really stand anywhere without blocking someone’s view. Plus, it was also a restaurant, so if you weren’t having dinner there, there were limits to how early you really wanted to show up. Long story short, I got there close to the advertised start time and wound up with no place to sit. I tried to get over to the side and be as inconspicuous as possible, but a table of other folks were… how would I describe them? They were shitheads about it. Let’s go with that. Rather than escalate the situation and have it turn into a whole thing – especially since the opener, Joey Landreth, had already started playing – I just went home. Made it about halfway through the opener’s first song, which I’m pretty sure is a personal best in whatever the opposite of endurance is.

This wasn’t even an isolated incident; all the way back in SLCR #216 (or June 13, 2015 if you measure time the old way), I talk of leaving a Danny Michel concert halfway through because of similar issues (though to be fair, people weren’t shitheads to me, they were just shitheads near me, which it turns out is actually better).

I reached out to the Artful Dodger after the incident. The owner seemed sympathetic and upset over what had happened, which I appreciated. She made a point of telling me that all ticket money went directly to the musicians (which I took as a way of saying that she wasn’t going to reimburse me for my ticket – not that I asked for that in the first place). Ultimately, the tone of the reply was… it’s hard to describe. Kind of melodramatic, kind of all over the place, really. Mostly, I left our interaction thinking “how are you even in business?”

I decided I’d never go back, which sounds like a big protest on my part, but the number of concerts I wanted to see there was never that high and my resolve was only ever tested once. Sorry, Shotgun Jimmie. Please come back and play somewhere else.

And actually, it would have to be somewhere else. The Artful Dodger closed last year when the building was put up for sale. The owner created a crowdfunding page trying to raise $70,000 to renovate and move into a new location. Seven months in, and they’re up to $925.

Anyway, this show – the one I actually stuck around for, the one I’m supposed to be telling you was really good – was at the Exchange. It holds a fair bit more people than the Artful Dodger did and though they were still selling tickets at the door when I got there, it wouldn’t surprise me if it sold out by the end. It had to be close, the place was pretty full. I was on my own for this one (though I did briefly chat with Rob and Karen when they happened past), so I found a decent spot to stand at the back near the sound guy, only mildly preoccupied with the idea that there’d be another confrontation. Brains are GREAT you guys, they’re always laser-focused on things that are definitely important and real.

The opener was Wild Rivers, a four-piece folk group from Ontario. Three guys and a girl; guitar, bass, and drums; nothing groundbreaking, but all very well done and enjoyable. I may be underselling things; though they joked about playing sad songs and about how none of us knew who they were, the reaction for them was really positive. Not just polite applause, the kind of ovation where it’s obvious people were really into it. There wasn’t even a ton of talking during their set and I was at the back near the bar where you’d expect people to not care. I don’t have a ton to say about them, as evidenced by the fact that I wrote everything above this sentence nearly two weeks ago, but they were good and I’d go see them again.

Donovan Woods describes himself as “Canada’s answer to Paul Simon, only taller and not as good.” That’s a better description than I could come up with and it gives you some insight into his sense of humour. As well as his height, I suppose, but Paul Simon is 5’2″ so it really doesn’t narrow things down much.

So yeah, Woods writes pretty, often very sad songs, but also has a really dry wit – so, basically, right up my alley. Remember when I saw Port Cities opening for David Myles last year and I mentioned “On the Nights You Stay Home” as being one of my favourites of theirs? Because you memorize these things? Turns out that was Woods’ song, which probably everyone knew but me. I only figured it out when I listened to (what was then) his most recent album, Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled, before the show, and was all “hey, this song is real good and also surprisingly familiar.” Turns out he writes lots of songs for people who aren’t him.

He apologized for not being able to bring the complete show with him – he brought his full band, The Opposition, but unfortunately, The Exchange didn’t have enough wall space to hang his banner. So he described it instead. It has his name on it and it cost $1700. You, too, can get a banner with your name on it as long as you have $1700. “They don’t ask if you’re a super cool rock star or anything, they’re just like, it’s $1700.”

There was a lot of talking between songs and I won’t wreck everything for you in case you go to one of his shows. I definitely wasn’t the only one who enjoyed them. When I go to a show, I try not to be that asshole who has his phone out all the time, so I pick a point early on in the show, take a half-dozen pictures, and then I’m done. But I had to do this a few times at this show, because the woman standing in front of me was swaying back and forth and it kept messing up the focus. Which is fine – I complain about loud talkers but I have no beef with anyone enjoying the show. Except she wasn’t swaying to the music, she was swaying to Woods listing his top 5 zoo animals. I guess the right voice can make anything melodic.

In the two weeks from when I listened to Woods’ newest album and saw this show, he put out a whole new newest album, Both Ways. Though I’m pretty sure it’s been released at least three different ways. Either way, I’m not sure how I can ever be expected to keep up with this release schedule if he’s going to put out an album every time I finally get around to listening to the last one. Anyway, he played lots from the new album; Our Friend Bobby was a particular highlight, if that’s the correct word for something that dismal. Of his older songs, What Kind of Love is That got a big reaction, as did On the Nights You Stay Home (so it’s not just me).

So yeah, this was all really good. Charismatic guy, great songwriter, quality band too. A new favourite, we can add Woods to the list of people I need to see every time they’re in town. Maybe we can even crowdfund him a slightly smaller banner for next time.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, Steven Page, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, more (July 28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show Starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)

SLCR #311 – Sloan (April 6, 2018)

April 18, 2018

Seven Sloan shows in, and I pretty much know what to expect at this point. It’ll be really good. They’ll trade instruments a few times. Chris will lead the crowd in yelling SLOOOOOOOOOOAN. They won’t play as many songs that I know as I’d like; of course, there’s a simple solution to this problem, but educating myself is more time-consuming and less immediately gratifying than complaining on the internet.

So here we are. I’m listening to their greatest hits for the umpteenth time and I gave away the entire review in the first paragraph. Since we all know what we’re getting here, let’s talk about what’s new this time out; namely, Sloan’s new album, 12, which came out on the day of our show. You’ve got all of Canada to pick from and your de facto album release party is in Regina? I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter, they were still selling the album at the handful of live shows before ours on this tour and it’s 2018 and you’re just going to stream it anyway. Plus they didn’t really do anything to mark the occasion, at least on stage. Via Instagram, I learned they had album-release cake on their bus. That’s nice. Cake is nice. Anyway, I listened to the album before the show because sometimes I do things that make sense but you shouldn’t ever rely on it. My very short review is that it definitely sounds like Sloan. Nothing stands out above the rest but everything is good. This bodes well for its staying power. It feels like the kind of album where I’ll pick a different favourite song every time out.

The venue isn’t new but it was new to me. The Turvey Centre is a big ol’ hall on the outskirts of town (or just outside of town maybe?) and we’d never been to a concert (or anything else) there. I don’t know how many concerts it sees; I’d never even heard of one being held there before. It looks like they host a lot of conventions and weddings and whatnot. Functionally, it was a lot like when we saw Joel Plaskett at the WA WA Shrine Centre, with long cafeteria-style tables and a stage at one end. It’s bigger than the Shrine Centre but not nearly as ornately decorated, so if you’re looking to book a venue in Regina, you need to think hard about how many people you’re hosting, whether they can easily get out of downtown, and how much they enjoy fancy wallpaper in the bathrooms.

We met up with Mark and Arlette at the entrance and found our way in. We immediately lost Mika who bolted for the stuff table, though since she’d already ordered the new album (the fancy bundle with the watch and poster), there wasn’t anything she was interested in. I was intrigued to hear of the t-shirt bucket, with its assorted shirts in assorted sizes from assorted past tours, but not enough to go take a look for myself.

At other shows on this tour, there was no opener. Here, I think there actually was – a local cover band. If they did play, we didn’t see them, and I don’t remember their name, so… yeah. As is protocol, I’ll assume they were really good. Whoever they were.

Mika and I went down to the front when Sloan took the stage right at 9:00. Twitter is ruining our society but at least it lets bands tell you when they’re actually going to start. Sloan walked in to a song from Sesame Street; though the lyrics are just a list of numbers, if I say it’s the one that goes “one two three four five, six seven eight nine ten, eleven twelve” you know exactly which one I mean. They opened with Spin Our Wheels, the first single from the new album, and we were off.

From here, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. The show was split into two sets of probably about a dozen songs each, plus a two-song encore. For playing a lot of stuff I wasn’t familiar with, it seemed like it flew by. I think it ended even more quickly for some folks – it seemed like a surprisingly high number of people took off at intermission. I don’t know why; the sound was good and the band said they were coming back out. Lots of songs from the new album, of course – nearly the whole thing. Only a handful of singles, including Losing California, Who Taught You to Live Like That, If It Feels Good Do It, and The Good in Everyone. No Underwhelmed, but that’s a given and I know better than to expect it. Somehow I’m now 1-for-7. I checked. It’s a bit weird that there are some hits that they rarely seem to play (at least when I’m there) but there are others that you hear every time out like The Other Man or The Rest of My Life. The Other Man isn’t even that good apart from how badly it irritates Aaron and that only counts for so much when he’s not there.

So like I said (several times, because I don’t know that many different words), this was pretty much exactly what I was expecting. Which isn’t a bad thing when you’re expecting a good thing. Would go again, as if that decision was mine to make.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Donovan Woods w/Wild Rivers (April 29)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, Big Sugar, Terra Lightfoot, Yukon Blonde, The Kentucky Headhunters, Chixdiggit, William Prince, Library Voices, more (July 27-28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13, 2019)

SLCR #310: Letterkenny Live (March 29, 2018)

April 18, 2018

Tacking a half-assed bonus review onto the end of a real concert review (if you can call what I do that) (you likely shouldn’t) is a semi-regular feature that I haven’t used in a while. Or at least that’s what I thought. Looking back at the Big Word Document of Old Reviews, it turns out that I’ve done this all of three times. And the last one was in 2007. And it still is – this was going to be a rush job, a hidden treat (again, likely not) for anyone who bothered to read to the end of my Sloan review, but I’m pretty sure this is longer and I spent more time on it, so now it’s its own thing.

I don’t normally review non-concerts, but for this show, I had actual requests. Or a request, anyway, which is infinitely more interest than anyone – including myself – ever shows in these things.

Letterkenny is a Canadian comedy on CraveTV. For the rest of the world, you can find the first seasons of the show on DVD. More relevantly here in 2018, they’re surely on your choice of let’s-all-collectively-pretend-it’s-legal Android streaming box. Letterkenny follows the adventures of a small rural community’s hicks, skids, and hockey players; adventures which amount to a lot of drinking, fighting, and wordplay. Mostly that last one. Anecdotally, it seemed like a decent number of people I knew watched the show, but I didn’t realize it was popular enough to quickly sell out the casino, add a second show later that night, and sell that out too. They’d later tell us that Regina had the fastest sellouts on the whole tour. Pitter-patter indeed.

The shows were built around stand-up sets by Mark Forward (who plays the coach of the Letterkenny Irish) and K. Trevor Wilson, who plays Squirrely Dan. If I tell you the jokes, the jokes aren’t funny anymore. I suppose that doesn’t much matter now that I sat on this forever and the tour is long over. But still. Of the two, Forward was, well, more forward, berating the audience for a perceived restrained reaction, and going into the crowd to find one woman who had a particularly distinct laugh. Wilson’s set was decidedly less confrontational. Of the attendees I talked to (all three of them), they all enjoyed both but preferred Forward’s set. I can see the appeal of both. Wilson’s more traditional act would fit well in an episode of Just For Laughs – I can make this trenchant insight because I’ve seen him on Just For Laughs – while Forward was working harder to try different things and grab people’s attention. Though as someone in a floor seat, I do prefer to not run the risk of becoming part of the show. I might be 10-ply.

I’ll note that as Wilson took the stage, he entered to a familiar-sounding piano tune. Before I could say anything, yep, it was Bobby Roode’s Glorious theme. Half of you are very familiar with this. For the rest of you, it’s a wrestling thing, don’t worry about it (but maybe Google it because you should hear it at least once). Wilson was also wearing an Austin Aries t-shirt (another wrestling thing, don’t worry about it), which I tried to point out to Mika, but she cut me off, saying “yes, I noticed. This is my life now.” On one episode of Letterkenny, Squirrely Dan compares the subtle differences betweens the Texas cloverleaf and the scorpions deathlock; I thinks it’s safe to says he wrote that bit himself.

The rest of the show featured live skits starring the three main characters (Wayne, Daryl, and Squirrely Dan) – some new, some fan favourites. A bit of the new material was unique to Regina, which was appreciated. If you’ve seen the show, you might know what I’m referring to when I say one of the classic bits featured a game of Would You Rather, while another saw Squirrely Dan – not one to kiss and tell – recount his night out with a girl and where she reckoned attentions needs to be paid. There were also a few videos – one clip from the new Easter special, and two that were new (at least to me): motivational advice from the hockey coach and an ad for Daryl’s dairy.

The new videos were pretty funny, and the live material translated well from TV, which makes sense – the show focuses on witty dialogue and less on physical or visual humour which would be more difficult to replicate in a live setting. I really enjoyed this, and while I wouldn’t have said no to more new Letterkenny material and fewer bits lifted from the series, to be faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaair (you know they saved that until the end and you know it got the best reaction of the night) we got exactly what was promised and the adoring sold-out crowd ate everything up. I’d say it was ferda if I had any idea how to use that word properly or what it even meant.

SLCR #309: The Dears (March 17, 2018)

March 19, 2018

In a way, this concert has been a long time coming. The Dears have been one of Mika’s favourite bands for a long time, but despite that, I’d never managed to see them until now. They don’t seem to come around here all that often – I think Mika’s only seen them once since I’ve known her, and that was when she still lived in Saskatoon. During this show, singer Murray Lightburn said they hadn’t played Regina since 2009, which didn’t sound like that long ago, but then I had a think, and then I had a sad. But my point is, I probably should have seen this band a long time ago, but never did.

With doors at 8:00, we figured that shortly after 9:00 was a safe time to arrive. This worked out really well, as we didn’t have to wait long for the opener, and we were even able to get seats. Unfortunately, the availability of comfy(ish) chairs was largely due to this concert being yet another where Regina just didn’t come out. By the end of the evening, there were maybe a little over 100 people there. I really can’t blame a band for only showing up once a decade when this is the turnout you get. Oh well, it’s everyone else’s collective loss – this show was great.

The aforementioned opener was Lou Canon, another new-to-me artist. It was just her and a keyboard, which she mostly used to cue up prepared samples, though she also played live. Also, there were eyes projected onto the backdrop behind her. She didn’t talk to the crowd much, eventually explaining that she’d come down with a cold and was saving her voice for singing. Fair enough. The crowd was largely respectful, which she seemed to appreciate, thanking us for listening and pointing out how quiet we were. This led to one guy saying that it was, indeed, deathly quiet, which we all heard. Because it was quiet, you see.

As for the music, it was all fine, if not entirely my jam. It didn’t help that the sound wasn’t that great – certainly below the usual standards at the Exchange. This was an issue with The Dears as well, but more of a problem for Canon, since the keyboard parts didn’t interest me that much and I would have liked to make out more of her lyrics. The songs that I could best hear – Fever and Rosary among them – were the ones that I most enjoyed.

During intermission, two guys at a table near us got REAL excited about whatever happened in March Madness that day. I think the exact phrase was “FUCK YEAH MICHIGAN” at top volume. I made a mental note to dislike these people. Even if I also had Michigan winning (in the bracket that I made Feely pick out for me).

In short order, The Dears were up. I didn’t really know what to expect going into this. Despite Mika liking them so much, she hasn’t listened to a ton of their music around me and I and couldn’t have named a single song if you paid me. I mean, sure, I could have bothered to listen to their music before the show – or at any point in the last 13 years – but what can I say. This way, I wound up with a nice surprise instead of a nice… known… thing.

I didn’t even really know what type of music they played, but everything was a little rockier and a whole lot catchier than I was expecting. There wasn’t much time spent talking to the crowd, it was pretty much all music for 90 minutes that flew by. It’s rare that a show ends and I’m left wanting more, especially when I’m not going into a show already a fan. Though I did wind up recognizing three songs – Lost in the Plot; Who Are You, Defenders of the Universe?; and 22: The Death of all the Romance. These are all off No Cities Left, so I assume Mika played that with me around sometime somewhat recently. And I totally needed her help to figure out the titles.

On that note, she says they also played Whites Only Party, 5 Chords, and You and I are a Gang of Losers, along with stuff from their newest albums. And for the encore, when Lightburn came out by himself for one song, he played There Goes My Outfit. I’ll take her word for it.

Before the encore, the crowd chanted “one more song,” and when Lightburn returned, he said that was a decent choice for a chant. In another city recently (which he wouldn’t name and/or shame), when it was time for the encore, the crowd chanted “The! Dears! The! Dears!” which he said was like when white people clap on the one and the three. I don’t know anything about music but Mika thought this was super funny so I can only assume I do it.

I really enjoyed this show and I look forward to seeing The Dears again when they come back to Regina in 2027. But do you know who liked this show more than I did, and even more than Mika did? My two Michigan-loving friends. When the show started, they went right to the front of the stage – I have never before seen two dudes be the only people standing and dancing at the front at a concert – and they were SO into it. They knew every word to every song and were just in their glory the whole time. So much for my mental notes. They were a delight. Fuck yeah, Michigan, indeed, my dudes.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Sloan (April 6)
• Donovan Woods w/Wild Rivers (April 29)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, The Kentucky Headhunters, Chixdiggit, Yukon Blonde, William Prince, Library Voices, more (July 27-28)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Bruce Cockburn, Tanya Tagaq, Walk Off The Earth, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Shakey Graves, The Deep Dark Woods, more (August 10-12)