SLCR #220: Regina Folk Festival (August 7-9, 2015)

August 10, 2015

Thursday
8:17 a.m.: Can I write an entire concert review on my phone? While the festival is going on? No. That would be dumb. But I can do everything but the conclusion and the final editing on my phone, and maybe this thing won’t take three weeks to get posted.

Here’s what we all need to know about this year’s festival:

  • Sinéad O’Connor was scheduled to headline, but cancelled a few weeks out, leaving the festival scrambling for a replacement. They got Blind Boys of Alabama, who I’m sure will be good, but I was really looking forward to the bizarre novelty of seeing Sinéad O’Connor singing in a park in downtown Regina after being introduced by a shitty children’s entertainer. PHOTO OP PHOTO OP PHOTO OP
  • I am most looking forward to seeing Bahamas, Jenny Lewis, Blue Rodeo, Basia Bulat, Andy Shauf, and the Karpinka Brothers (one of whom I went to high school with)
  • I don’t know what a Vance Joy is but I gather he was a big “get”
  • I need to remember to put in the bullets for these here bullet points
  • Kettle corn is rad

Friday
5:20 p.m.: We are in our usual chairs in our usual spots. The grass is damp from days of rain, but it’s not swamplike as I was expecting so I’ll take it. Too many wasps around, though.

Probably should have charged my phone this afternoon.

Expected attendees: Mark and Arlette, Other James, Glenn and Shelan, Colin, and surely some cameos from work and Toastmasters folks.

Mika wants me to tell you that she carried both chairs from the car to the entrance line and that I am very thankful.

5:58 p.m.: I went straight to the park from work and I finally managed to take my bag to the car. Already bought a Bahamas record (Pink Strat). You know, since I had to put stuff in the car and all, it only made sense to do some early shopping.

Ran into Other James and made a joke about his predilection for snarking at people to keep the walkway clear. I can’t make too much fun; I already did some of that too. Plus he was kind enough to murder a wasp with his bare hands for us.

The host is Jeffery Straker. His mic is too loud but he seems fine otherwise. Energetic and charismatic.

6:52 p.m.: Got rained on. Am cold and damp. Not bringing a jacket was a poor choice.

Forgot to mention that the line to get in was much more organized this year. So, kudos! I like to think it was all because of my perpetual whining in previous years.

First band was The Dead South, a local bluegrass four-piece. Played all originals, as far as I know. They were real good! Would see again. There was one very loud superfan down in front and he was a nice added bonus.

Danny Olliver is playing a teaser set right now. I’ve seen him before and liked him too. Successful evening so far.

Good sound for the music. I still think the volume is turned up a bit high for the talky parts though.

I find that on the phone, I feel justified in saying very little about each individual act. I trust this will continue. Also, I have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the text file every time I open this. Minor irritant.

SO many babies in ear protectors. The one nearest us has the best sweater. I want it in my size.

Alysha Brilla up next.

7:57 p.m.: If I go to jail for murdering the loudass stupid unfunny fucker behind me, know it was deliberate and enjoyed and I would happily do it again.

Until then, I’ll get you caught up. Alysha Brilla seems like a very nice person. Very positive and earnest. Almost aggressively so. Her music wasn’t really my thing, though. Upbeat pop with a horn section and a keyboard too. After a while, we each left for food. Mika got Afghani and I went for Indian. It was lovely but eating curry in the wind might have rendered this shirt splattered and unwearable for work. I hope not. I like it.

I came back with dinner as Brilla got people to cheer for equality. Would have been awkward if they didn’t, I guess.

Little Criminals’ teaser set (as we speak) is pretty good. A local two-piece, guitar and violin, both singing. I really want the joke about them winning a Kenaston Grammy to be secretly, amazingly true.

Basia Bulat is up next. She once opened for a friend of a friend’s band at Amigo’s, which seemed odd at the time and downright insane now. Will I finally learn how to pronounce her name?

8:17 p.m.: “basha boo-la,” apparently

9:04 p.m.: Nope, “boo-lot.”

She was quite good but it was just her and whatever instrument she was playing at any time (guitar, keyboard, Autoharp). It sounded a little sparse for this big park. Would have been great in a more intimate setting but I was finding it awful hard to remain attentive. Was still good though.

Have chatted with Other James, Mark, and Colin so far. Waved at Arlette and Dan. Saw Paul and David and one of my former neighbours. None of those names mean anything to you.

Saturday
4:06 p.m.: The problem with my phone concert review plan is not the battery (it held out) or the rain (we waited it out), it’s that it gets chilly at night and I was not about to bring my hands out from under my blanket until it was time to leave. If I didn’t even spend time with my one true love (kettle corn), I’m not about to take time to write to you. Sorry, but you should never have expected otherwise. Anyway, I’m playing catch-up on the computer now.

So yeah, the guy behind me was a giant d-bag. He was only there to see the Sheepdogs, which he said repeatedly and loudly. Actually, he said everything repeatedly and loudly, including his ace-in-the-hole #1 joke: that there were a lot of people at the festival who look like the guy from Coldplay. He said this one over and over and was very proud of himself every time. “I think he thinks that’s what hipsters listen to,” said Mika, who added that she didn’t see a lot of guys who looked like Chris Martin unless you loosened the definition to encompass “men with t-shirts, jeans, and haircuts.”

The dude immediately to Mika’s left was giving the loud guy a run for his money in the obnoxious department. A stumbling slobbering drunk who once went fifteen whole minutes without visiting the beer gardens, this dude would not stay seated for any length of time, so he was always falling into people (literally). And when he was in his chair, he was always kneeing/elbowing/leaning on someone. Usually Mika, though he did try to break my chair at one point when gravity got the best of him. I texted Mark about my murderin’ plans and he graciously offered the use of his shovel. That’s what friends are for!

Bahamas is one of my favourite guys, but I don’t have a ton to say about his set. It was real good and he played most of his bigger songs (no Hockey Teeth, but pretty much anything else you’d expect), though I didn’t know the D’Angelo cover. He said that Regina has a very nice Hudson’s Bay store, which may have been the biggest lie ever told. He didn’t talk a lot, though, which is a bit of a shame. I know he had limited time (it felt like his hour flew by) but his stories are always delightful. And if you’re wondering what Jason Tait is doing in his post-Weakerthans career, he’s drumming with Bahamas. And presumably doing lots of other stuff too, that dude was always busy.

Steph Cameron played a teaser set before Bahamas and I liked her well enough. Would see again. Her one song, Sad-Eyed Lonesome Lady, seemed really familiar to me; not sure where I would have heard it before. Colter Wall played a teaser set after Bahamas and I thought he was decent, though it didn’t help that there were folks onstage setting up for the Sheepdogs while he was playing. I expect he’ll be in a ton of future reviews; it does seem like this kid is playing all over the place these days. I’m sure his last name has nothing to do with anything.

Finally, the evening ended with the Sheepdogs, who I could not care less about. They got a ton of hype in their/my hometown of Saskatoon for winning a contest to get themselves on the cover of Rolling Stone. I have heard a bit of their music and it sure is music, alright. 70s-inspired rock that I’m just not interested in. Plus it doesn’t help that I’ve noticed a distinct correlation between people who are really into the Sheepdogs and people who could die in a ditch as far as I am concerned. It’s not 1:1 but there’s something there that’s beyond coincidental. We stuck around for three or four songs and called it a night. Mark and Arlette did the same. Actually, there seemed to be a significant post-Bahamas exodus.

And now I need to put on some proper pants and find a jacket and head back out for Day Two.

7:08 p.m.: Son of a bitch of a phone crashed and died and ate a paragraph. Paragraphs are time consuming on this thing!

ANYWAY. Before I was so rudely interrupted, I was saying that the theme of the night thus far has been distant brushes with fame. The first act was Birds of Chicago, one of whom is Mika’s cousin’s cousin, or something to that effect. They were followed by the Karpinka Brothers, and as I mentioned, I went to high school with one of them (Shawn). We weren’t close pals, but I remember him being a decent human being, which put him far above most people there, myself included. I think the last time I talked to him was probably a decade ago at one of these here folk festivals.

I thought Birds of Chicago were pretty great, continuing a trend of really enjoying the first band of the evening. The pressure’s on for tomorrow, Andy Shauf! I don’t know how I’d describe them, because I am bad at my self-assigned job, but they were quite enjoyable. Would see again.

The Karpinkas were two guys with guitars and sounded like two guys with guitars. Nice harmonies. I’d say that I’ll think about coming down for their full band show tomorrow morning, but I suspect that seems like a better idea right now than it will when I’m laying in bed tomorrow.

Cécile Doo-Kingué is playing now and is singing about an ass whipping so I should probably listen.

7:57 p.m.: I got Thai pork skewers and injured myself on a skewer :(

Aside from that, I’m enjoying The Mariachi Ghost’s teaser set. They put “mariachi” right in their name, saving me from having to describe them to you. How kind!

Zarqa Nawaz from Little Mosque is our host. She’s a little stiff but not nearly as loud as Straker was, so take your pick. And while I was writing that sentence, she disappeared? It was like she stopped mid-introduction and got raptured and now Vox Sambou is playing. Either that or I got so into writing this that I lost time. Either way, time to join the Guilty Remnant.

Sambou is in Nomadic Massive, who I really liked two years ago. I didn’t know this until just now, so that’s a delightful surprise.

10:34 p.m.: Did you guys know that Jenny Lewis ruuuuuuuuules? Best set of the festival so far. Great voice great band great songs the best. Mika thought I only knew one song but I knew THREE like some sort of G D music expert (Bad News, One of the Guys, Rise Up With Fists). But they were all great. Must get albums. Hopefully Mika already has them?

I asked and she’s checking.

Yay, she’s buying the newest album so I don’t have to!

They sent a bunch of giant balloons into the crowd and Lewis said “balloons are so fun!” and that’s a bigger lie than saying our Bay store isn’t a dump. Though to be fair, everyone in the Boogie Zone seemed to enjoy them.

She also said something like “We’re going to play a new song for you, it’s called ‘Girl on Girl'” and a voice from behind me said, curmudgeonly, “I don’t approve,” and I didn’t see who said it so I can’t say with 100% certainty that it was a big name in local politics. But 99% certainty? Sure, I’m good with that. Was he joking? I don’t know. He didn’t sound like it but speaking as a guy who is often taken seriously when not meant that way, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Some of us just have the male version of resting bitchface. (And the song didn’t even mean it in THAT way.)

Whoever that guy was, he also really enjoyed Jeffery Straker’s teaser set. So if he wasn’t kidding, well…

Also they hauled some screaming crying drunk lady out of here and she was fighting and then sobbing and hollering and it was some kind of scene. I had no idea Jenny Lewis attracted such a rough crowd.

Vox Sambou was really good too. Super energetic. And like I said, Jeffery Straker played a teaser set and he was pretty good. I have also decided that he was the better emcee of the two nights.

I still haven’t had any kettle corn. I don’t even really feel like any. I got a popcorn ball instead. Is something wrong with me? I find this confusing and frightening. Should I go to the library and get a book to explain these weird feelings?

Mike Edel is playing right now and he’s pretty good! Singer songwriter stuff, two guitars and a violinist.

Blue Rodeo is coming up next. I suspect they will play some songs I know and some I don’t, and they’ll all be good. I know how this goes wait wait OMG wait I mean… THIS ISN’T MY FIRST RODEO ahahahaha nailed it

Sunday
1:32 a.m.: Home. I was right about Blue Rodeo but also I was wrong in that they were waaaaay better than I was expecting. If you have only ever heard them on CD or the radio, you’re missing out. They played a greatest hits set, but I thought Diamond Mine was their best song, though I don’t know if I’d ever heard it before. Certainly not often if I have.

The crowd loved them, singing the entire first verse and chorus of Hasn’t Hit Me Yet with no vocal accompaniment from the band. I think that happened the last time I saw them too. Maybe they were this great then too and I’ve just forgotten? Will need to reread my old review. I forget things. A few weeks ago I was going through old reviews and discovered that Mika and I saw the Mountain Goats. They were opening for the New Pornographers. I have zero recollection of this – when I found the review, I swore loudly in surprise – but my review says I liked them, so that’s good. I hope they come back sometime.

[Okay, so I re-read that old review, and I thought Blue Rodeo was way better this time out. Though last time they had guest vocalists in Cuff The Duke, Sarah Slean, and Amy Millan – and the fans sang Hasn’t Hit Me Yet that time too.]

Mika just asked if I am working on my review right now. I think she’s making fun of me, but she’s watching a taped football game where we already know who wins. I mean, I don’t think anyone’s told her who wins, but it is the Riders. So, y’know, you know. But despite me knowing the result, her enthusiasm is making this exciting. But, you know, also heartbreaking. She still has hope. Poor girl.

But Blue Rodeo! Wonderful. The one-two of them and Jenny Lewis was sensational. This would be one of the better nights in my RFF history. We’ll see if tomorrow can compare. If we even go.

5:43 p.m.: We’re back. The line to get in snaked all the way down Scarth Street to Pat’s Patio. Bonkers. They kept it moving real well, though.

For next year, they do need to make a longer playlist for the stretch before the shows. I have heard Bahamas’ Lost In The Light, Steph Cameron’s Sad-Eyed Lonesome Lady, and Alysha Brilla’s Immigrant at least 10 times each. They’re all good songs, but mix it up maybe?

6:46 p.m.: I’d seen Andy Shauf before, but not with a full band. I thought he was really good, but very quiet for the size of the park. Another set that was a little hard to focus on, but would have been fantastic in a smaller venue.

Our host is Kirby Wirchenko, who seems to have hit the sweet spot between Straker and Nawaz, in that he’s confident and energetic, but still relaxed, all without being painfully loud. No children’s acts as hosts this year? A treat!

Veronique Poulin (aka Vaero) is playing a teaser set right now. The schedule for the rest of the night is Lisa Leblanc, George Leach (teaser), Geomungo Factory, Malika Tirolien (teaser), Blind Boys of Alabama, Kim Harris (teaser), and Vance Joy. I mention all this now because I feel like I’m about to half-ass the evening with not much to say or interest in saying it. We’ll see if I’m right.

Vaero’s stuff seems nice. Pretty. French.

7:16 p.m.: And then she plays two songs in English. Gotta make me a liar. And now Lisa Leblanc is killing it – guitar, banjo, and drums, singing in French and English and French again (#gaston). There are always people milling around the park and the food/shopping area, but after the first notes, Mika said “now watch everyone come streaming back in.” This rules and I’d rather listen to it than talk to you so bye

7:43 p.m.: Her band just played Ace of Spades and it was the best. THE BEST.

7:47 p.m.: I think she asploded her guitar. Her last song was supposed to have an outro but she rocked her guitar to death so they were just done. She got a standing ovation. That was fantastic and I am so glad we came tonight. Now to do some iTunes shopping since she sold out at the merch tent. RULED RULED RULED

8:35 p.m.: In line for kettle corn, mostly out of tradition and obligation. Geomungo Factory is playing instrumental South Korean music which is lovely but hard to pay attention to. Anyone following Leblanc would have problems, I think. Though George Leach’s teaser was really good – the guy’s a great guitarist.

8:52 p.m.: I got chocolate-dipped cheesecake and bought Mika some kettle corn. I tried some and it’s great as always, but I’m just not feeling it this year. I say that knowing I will surely down the remainder of the bag before bed.

The host runs the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon, and he just told us Bahamas is playing there on November 19. They’re making the public announcement tomorrow. If I get my act together and post this all quick like, I can scoop them on the Internet, breaking the news to my fives of readers!

Malika Tirolien is playing piano and singing and it’s lovely.

9:59 p.m.: Blind Boys of Alabama were amazing. I suspect this is not the first time someone has held this bold opinion. I can’t imagine Sinéad O’Connor would have been as good or received such a great reaction. People LOVED these guys. Even the hipster looking dork with his mustache and dumb sweater like the guy from Coldplay.

The festival’s artistic director is talking now. Did I win the 50/50? No? Well hell dammit anyway.

10:25 p.m.: Holy hell so much teen girl screeching for Vance Joy. So high pitched.

11:57 p.m.: Home now. We lasted halfway through Vance Joy. He was perfectly acceptable but nothing to write home about, either. The shrieking teens would disagree. To listen to them, you’d think every song he played was a #1 hit. He’d say “this next song is called _____________________” and they’d go “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” Every time.

All in all, a very successful festival. I left with one LP (Bahamas) and three iTunes albums (The Dead South and two Lisa Leblanc), a massive bag of kettle corn we haven’t really gotten into (but the night is young), one tiny skewer scar on my upper lip, tired thumbs from a weekend of popping in and out of the Notes app on my phone, and a new appreciation for a bunch of bands. Fine work! Now we wait eight months or so to see who they announce for next year. At one point, a volunteer came around with a survey that asked (among other things) for artist suggestions. And I gave them some. So when the White Stripes shock the world by reuniting for one show only in a park in downtown Regina, well, you’re welcome.

UPCOMING SHOWS

  • Chad VanGaalen (September 24)
  • Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)
  • Ron Sexsmith (September 30)
  • Hawksley Workman (October 16)
  • Lee Harvey Osmond (November 7)

SLCR #219 – Gin Blossoms (July 31, 2015)

August 6, 2015

That is one misleading title. You’d think that seeing the Gin Blossoms in 2015 would be enough for one day, but this was not just the Gin Blossoms, oh no. It was the Gin Blossoms AND Fastball AND the Rembrandts. Outdoors at the Queen City Ex. Yes.

Two years ago, we went to South Dakota for a summer trip to Mount Rushmore, and Smash Mouth was playing the fair in Rapid City. On my birthday. We did not go to this. It had been a long day of riding jackalopes and petting goats and doing other touristy junk. While I still had enough energy to go watch a band that I was honestly interested to see, I wasn’t really up for a few hours at the fair just to be able to say “I drove eight hours to South Dakota to see Smash Mouth play a fair on my birthday.” I do kind of regret this, especially since that time a few months ago where Smash Mouth played some other fair and got bombarded with bread thrown by drunks and the lead singer swore a bunch while the band played the starting notes to All Star for like ten minutes in hopes that things would turn around. That was a very good day on the internet.

Point being, it was high time I saw a band at the fair. I have never done so, unless you count five minutes of some local metal band I saw when I was 10 or so. I didn’t do concert reviews then but they were memorable enough; imagine if Kiss sucked and was fat and didn’t try very hard with their makeup. There you go.

In fact, I hadn’t even been to the fair at all in about 20 years by my estimation. I’m not much of a ride guy, and while I AM a games guy and also an eat-garbage guy, they both seem like bad ideas. The fair is expensive, the prizes are cheap, and the food will most likely kill you slowly. But it had been 20 years, so what the heck.

We got to the fair around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday evening and parking was… shockingly easy? I did not expect that. The whole process was painless. We took a big ol’ walk around, checking out rides and games and foods and whatnot. Ultimately, I passed on all the really epic-sounding treats – donut grilled cheese, maple bacon donut burger, deep-fried Philly cheesesteak – it seems I have limits. And also I’d gone to Regina’s new Carl’s Jr. earlier in the day (vacation woo). I did get a corn dog, but didn’t even make it through half of it before realizing that corn dogs are so much better in theory than in practice. Sad. But a caramel apple made things better.

Our first concert experience of the day was listening to some cover band play Van Halen and Def Leppard. They were better than the corndog and worse than the caramel apple. If they ever find this by googling whatever (not their name, since I neither know nor care what it is), they should know that I like caramel apples a lot. But on the flipside, it was a really disappointing corndog so that was a low bar to clear.

Eventually we wandered over to the concert stage where we were joined by… very few others. At the start, there were probably about as many people as at the Geoff Berner show. I was pretty surprised by this. I mean, I get that these bands were big (to whatever degree) 20 years ago, but it was a free show, and I’d seen recent pictures from the Saskatoon Ex of what appeared to be massive crowds for shows by Our Lady Peace and Great Big Sea (both of whom are certainly bigger in Canada and they’re also still making music and all, but still).

I should mention that a while back, Colin had suggested that he might be interested in coming to the show with us were he available. However, when I texted to let him know that we were, in fact, committed to going, he’d already made other plans and was actually on his way to Edmonton to see the Roughriders play.

The stage was big, the park-type area had room for lots of people, and there was even a big screen for those of us who were further back. It was a pretty nice setup. Our host was a local radio DJ who I only know of because he posted some screencaps to Facebook a month or two ago where he’d been texting back and forth with a scammer who was claiming to be trapped in Uganda. Most of their conversation centered around trying to get Kamala’s autograph. Papa Shango was also mentioned. I approved.

First up were The Rembrandts, or as you may know them, The “Theme from Friends” Band. More than one person I know suggested that they’d walk out, play I’ll Be There For You, and leave the stage. Justin Shapiro, noted Friends superfan, offered up the instrumental end credits version of IBTFY as a second song (and, in fact, he DID use that acronym when doing so; luckily, I was able to deduce its meaning from context and didn’t have to out myself as a Friends poseur). This one-song idea, of course, is vastly unfair to the Rembrandts, who also covered Making Plans for Nigel on an XTC tribute album I have. Plus, there’s… hmmm… did I mention they did the theme from Friends?

I sent Colin a picture of the very sparsely populated front-of-stage area. He said that it was good that we were there for them, because it clearly hasn’t been their day, their week, their month, or even their year. At this point, a random Edmonton number texted me to suggest that their job’s a joke, they’re broke, their love life’s DOA. I did not know who this was. Eventually, this person revealed himself to be Colin’s old roommate. This was an interesting development because he was texting me jokes all night (and the occasional complaint about the Riders) and… you know, I don’t think I know this guy or have even ever met him before. I think I’ve only ever met one of Colin’s roommates and that was only one time – back when Colin’s car got locked up in the parking lot of the mean hockey equipment store and his roommate had to come rescue us.

Jokes and asides aside, I actually read a really interesting article about the Rembrandts on AV Club about six weeks ago, about how they’d had some success before Friends, weren’t really sold on the idea of performing a TV show theme (one which they didn’t write), and wound up overwhelmed and burdened by it when it took off. You should check it out if you want to read some real writing from a real writer.

Anyway, the Rembrandts played for a little better than a half an hour, just the two guys on guitars and vocals. The sound started off a little shrill, but it improved as the set went on. I thought I recognized one other song, and Mika did too (but a different other song). Looking over their singles online, I know they played Rollin’ Down the Hill and Just The Way It Is, Baby, and I think they played This House Is Not A Home. They were reminiscent of the less-rockier Odds songs, and that’s not a bad thing. I did think that having some drums to fill out the sound might have helped – when they closed with IBTFY, they even joked about not being able to hear the drums. And you can’t really help the attendance, but when the crowd is small and the venue is big, maybe trying a singalong part isn’t the best plan. It might have sounded good to the 50 people at the front of the stage, but we were a little further back (by a tree! optimal sitting/leaning spot) and you couldn’t really hear the response part of the call-and-response bit.

Fastball took the stage about ten minutes before their scheduled 8:00 p.m. start time, causing one of the cameramen to have to sprint back into position. Like the Rembrandts, Fastball is primarily known for one song (The Way), but they did have more radio success with some followups, namely Out of My Head, You’re an Ocean, and Fire Escape. They played all those, and also Warren Zevon’s hockey song Hit Somebody – unsure if that is a standard part of their set or if they threw it in to appeal to the locals. A quick Google search for “fastball hit somebody” just brings up videos of baseball accidents (like that time Randy Johnson made a bird explode!) so I’m guessing it was special for us – the song itself kinda made me roll my eyes but I will always give a band credit for trying something special in concert. They seemed alternately confused and amused regarding the pronunciation of Regina, as Americans so often do. The full-band sound and slowly-increasing attendance helped their set, but a lot of the time, they felt like they just weren’t quite in sync. Like a new band that hasn’t gelled yet, or like they were rusty after a long layoff. There was one song in particular where it felt like they were all a half-second off from each other; this coincided with some singing that wasn’t quite in tune and yeah that song was really not very good. Mostly they were okay enough, but I figure the Rembrandts were better overall, despite not being as well suited to the venue.

Between sets, Mika ducked out to get some fair nachos and they were the exact opposite of my sad corndog, in that they were delicious. The chips were still warm from the fryer and they were topped with a fresh tomato salsa. I only stole a few chips but could have easily gone through the whole thing. This was shockingly good; the nacho stand apparently didn’t get the memo that fair food is supposed to be garbage. I then snuck away for some poutine and a Cherry Coke. Tasty, but I really can’t do full-sugar soda anymore. (Full-fat poutine is not a problem, it seems.)

By the time I came back with my bounty, the field had filled out nicely with fans. The Gin Blossoms started a little late, so I had time to finish eating and even text Colin and his roommate some more about the other bands we were expecting to see (Monster Magnet, Lifehouse, Better Than Ezra, Harvey Danger, Marcy Playground, Chumbawamba).

I can’t lie. I’d have been pretty excited for Marcy Playground. Or Chumbawamba. Or Better Than Ezra. Or Harvey Danger if they promise to play their Christmas song.

Seconds into the Gin Blossoms, something happened right by us. I didn’t see exactly what happened but it looked like some dude took a swing at some girl or shoved her or whatever, and WHAM – Security was right there to hammerlock said dude and drag him out of the fair. It was dark, there was a lot of ground to cover, it had finally become crowded, the band was playing, but Security was still right on top of things. It was impressive.

The Gin Blossoms, it seemed, had had a hard day. I gather they’d been playing out in the Maritimes the day before, and today, they learned about one of the problems that come with living in Saskatchewan – namely, there aren’t that many flights in and out of here. The singer complained on a few occasions about how they’d have to get up at 3:00 a.m. to make their flight out of town. But the real issue was that one of their flights into town was cancelled, leaving some of the Gin Blossoms crew stuck out east. With their drummer. Local sound techs and equipment guys were enlisted, as was the drummer for Fastball, who’d spent the afternoon learning all of their songs. I know they’re not super complex drum parts, but something like that still blows my mind. Want to play an entire set of songs you’ve barely practiced? Like, this evening? You could see a few moments between songs where the lead singer was coaching the drummer a bit, but all things considered, he did a fine job.

This was the best of the night’s three acts. The atmosphere had finally come together and the band was the right fit for the venue. It helped that the Gin Blossoms had a few big hits – the singer mentioned that while they’d had no #1 hits in the US, they had two in Canada. Of course, they closed their set with one (Hey Jealousy) and came back out to play the other one (Follow You Down) for the encore. Alison Road and Until I Hear It From You were big songs here too. Unlike the vast majority of people who were alive in the 90s, I never had the Gin Blossoms’ two big records; I suspect that those who did would have known far more songs. They did seem like a bit more of a party band than I would have suspected – lots of getting people to clap along or sing out certain lines (I don’t think the singer ever once said “let the cops chase us around”) – but the crowd seemed really into everything, so it all worked.

All in all, a fun night. Maybe next year they’ll bring in Smash Mouth and I can live the dream.

Actually, who are we kidding? I’m already living the dream – on our way back to the car, we stopped to play a round of Whack-a-Mole and I WON A COW. His name is Bob. Or her name. I’m not sure. I won Bob on the first try, so he only cost me $4. I am very proud of this. Also very ashamed that I heard “$4 for one game of Whack-a-Mole” and thought this was a good idea.

I also won a giraffe by shooting water into a clown’s mouth, but one of the other players looked sad to lose so I gave her the giraffe. Mika later said “she was probably like ‘what a nice old man!'” This is depressingly true, in most aspects. I mean, I was old enough to be her dad and she was old enough to be done with high school. But I’m not so sure about nice. I mean, that giraffe felt pretty cheap. No way I’d have given up my cow.

UPCOMING SHOWS
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Sinéad O’Connor, Vance Joy, Jenny Lewis, Bahamas, Blue Rodeo, Blind Boys of Alabama, Basia Bulat, more (August 7-9)
• Chad VanGaalen (September 24)
• Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)
• Ron Sexsmith (September 30)
• Hawksley Workman (October 16)
• Lee Harvey Osmond (November 7)

SLCR #218 – Geoff Berner (July 29, 2015)

August 6, 2015

I was on the fence about this one.

PRO: The first time I saw Geoff Berner was a fantastic night of music that made me a fan of Ford Pier, and then made me a fan of Berner, and then made me a fan of Carolyn Mark, and it’s in my top 10 shows ever

CON: One time I saw Berner at O’Hanlon’s and it was full of people who didn’t pay to get in and didn’t know who he was and weren’t interested in his weirdness or his accordion or his politics and he responded by not caring in kind

PRO: The Artful Dodger is a nice venue, much more suited to Berner

CON: I thought it would be well suited to Danny Michel too, but it was full of people who didn’t appear to pay cover and weren’t interested in listening and wouldn’t get out of my way

CON: Nobody wanted to go with me

PRO: It was during my vacation week from work so what the hell

That last one only brings it up to a tie and really shouldn’t count anyway, but it pushed me over the line somehow. VACATION WOO

So yeah. I went alone to the Artful Dodger for the show. I wandered in past an unattended pile of CDs and books, and hit the bar to pay for my ticket and get the least beer-flavoured beer I could identify (Shock Top). My fears of Berner being drowned out by the chatty supper crowd were unfounded. I got there right before the scheduled 8:00 start time – the opening act was already on stage, doing their soundcheck while Berner sat at a table down in front with some friends – and I was the first person to sit in the bench seats at the back. At the peak of the evening, I don’t think there were more than 70 people in attendance, including the staff and musicians. I am pretty bad at guessing attendance, but I had time enough to count people, so I think this one is reasonably accurate.

The openers were the Whiskey Jerks, a six-piece from Saskatoon. They brought a nice mix of instruments with them, including an accordion, a violin, a standing bass, and a range of wind instruments (he said, hiding his inability to confidently identify anything beyond a flute). It was folk music that had a real swing to it, delivered with a good sense of humour. These folks seemed like they were having a good time and that was contagious. They played for about 45 minutes or so, stopping at one point to ask Berner how much time they had left (he didn’t know and didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned). I was only familiar with the last song they played, which was one of Berner’s. This all worked out well. You could tell they really liked that song, Berner seemed to enjoy the tribute (they’d obviously cleared it with him beforehand), and I got to hear one of my favourite Berner songs, Wealthy Poet. That was actually the third time I’d heard someone else play that one; it’s performed by Maria in the Shower on the Festival Man album (a collection of Berner songs performed by other artists), and I heard some random band playing it on Scarth Street one noon hour a few years ago. It’s a good one. A nice mix of catchy and horrifically bleak.

I think Geoff Berner has opinions. I say “I think” because lyrics are poetry and poetry is subjective, right? I’m an English major, I know that you can bullshit any sort of “meaning” out of any random collection of words. But I am reasonably confident when I say that Geoff Berner has opinions. He played a new song with what he described as a subtle political message. This song was called “I Think That We Should Probably Just Vote NDP This Time.” This song has not yet been released, so I don’t know if “When we get proportional representation, then you can go ahead and vote your Greens” was part of the official title. Maybe in parentheses?

If you’re still unclear about Berner’s political leanings, another new song included the lines “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious / I hope Stephen Harper dies of multiple sclerosis,” to which he added “preferably in a First Nations health centre in a reserve in northern Ontario. Or a ditch!”

That song was about one the great joys of being Jewish; namely, you get to dance and celebrate when bad things befall your enemies. He also played a new one called “I Feel Less Mad At God When I See You In Your Summer Dress,” as well as the song he opened his set with, “We Are Going To Bremen To Be Musicians.” That one is the theme song to the new children’s book he just put out. Because of course he did and of course it is. Really, the majority of the show was made up of new songs; I have all of Berner’s albums, and I still only recognized a handful of tunes – That’s What Keeps The Rent Down Baby, Maginot Line, Mayn Rue Platz, and the closing number, When DD Gets Her Donkey, Everything Will Be Alright. And Daloy Polizei, which translates into “fuck the police.” Berner graciously offered other klezmer bands the opportunity to cover the song and replace some of the lyrics with their own stories of police brutality, “you know, for that local flavour. There’s lots to choose from right now.”

I was a little disappointed that the set was so short. He shut things down after about an hour, which surprised me. He has a ton of songs, and despite the relatively low turnout, the folks who did show up were really into it. That, or it’s just easy to get people to shout along to “STUPID, STUPID” or “FUCK THE POLICE.” Either way, I had a good time.

SLCR #217 – Moist (July 11, 2015)

August 5, 2015

It has now been several weeks since the Moist concert. As of this writing, I am a little better than an hour away from going to see Geoff Berner (or deciding against doing the same), and I don’t want these reviews to pile up, so here we go.

The last time I saw Moist was in 1999. It was in Toronto, and they were the headliners of a day-long free outdoor concert which also included Jeff Healey, Moxy Früvous, Tal Bachman, Kim Stockwood, and others. After spending the whole day outside listening to music, our little group was about done, so when another friend joined us and wanted to go foraging for food, we all left with him. I’m pretty sure I lasted for about two songs of Moist’s set. Couldn’t tell you which songs.

Don’t feel bad, Moist. I didn’t see Emm Gryner’s set either.

Moist was never one of my favourite bands, but they were fine. Via Columbia House, I had their first album, Silver (or “Sliver,” depending on which one of the CD case spines you chose to believe). Mika, on the other hand, liked them a bunch and was really looking forward to seeing them again. The four-year age gap between us isn’t that significant, but I suspect it played a role here. Gender gap too.

The show was at the casino. We are at an age where the bands we liked in high school now play early-ending shows at the casino. Perhaps more significantly, we are at an age where this mostly sounds perfectly fine.

As is the standard with casino shows, it started right on time. There was no opener. The MC was an ad writer for a local radio station – maybe all the on-air talent had somewhere better to be. I actually knew of the writer guy through work; the professional thing to do would probably have been to find him and introduce myself. I did no such thing. You should not be surprised.

Moist took the stage and launched into one of their hits. I probably should have taken notes as to what got played in what order, but that would have required knowing more than their biggest singles. So it goes. A handful of women stood up at the front of the stage, soon joined by others. The crowd was close to an even split, but the most ardent (read: loud) fans were female by a 10:1 ratio. I tells ya, if you ever wanted to meet a bunch of (what’s a polite word for “horny?” Hmm, let’s go with) interested women in their late 30s, go to a Moist show. Any guy who knew the deep cuts from Mercedes 5 and Dime was set.

The crowd at the stage grew throughout the night, and as our view diminished, Mika joined them. I stayed back at the table to guard drinks and purses. Well, “drink and purse,” singular – though my services were available had anyone else cared to take me up on them.

I thought this whole thing was fine. They played well. I knew some of the songs but didn’t know most of them. They sounded like they always did and their newer material (from last year’s Glory Under Dangerous Skies) meshed well with everything else. David Usher wandered out into the crowd and sang while posing for selfies. They closed with Push because of course they did. The night ended early – they played under 90 minutes including the encore. I was fine with that too. Really, this was the very definition of “just a show” for me and not in a negative way at all.

If nothing else, I got to hear one of my OWF themes played live for the first and most likely only time in my life. I am not sure how this sentence makes me feel nor am I super confident regarding its inclusion here. Luckily, anyone who gets it was there too. Besides, if I want to feel dumb, I can point out that though I was disappointed that this show was concurrent with UFC 189 (featuring the Conor McGregor title win), it never once occurred to me that I could simply order the replay when I got home, nor did I think to order and DVR the original broadcast. A colossal lack of imagination resulted in the failure to resolve the simplest problem. Oh well, hopefully it will be on Fight Pass before my subscription expires. And so concludes the most “pad the word count” paragraph I’ve ever written.

SLCR #216: Danny Michel (June 13, 2015)

June 15, 2015

I bought my first Danny Michel CD about 12 years ago. I’d never heard any of his music before. The purchase was based entirely on two factors; 1) I’d heard this guy’s name somewhere, and 2) I had some credit at the used CD place and little else was calling out to me. It was an excellent find. I got a few other CDs on that trip, most of which wound up eventually returning to the bins from whence they came. But that copy of Fibsville has stuck around and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Looking through old reviews, it occurs to me that I have told some variant of this story any time I’ve ever had to mention Danny Michel in one of these reviews. Whatever. At least I’m consistent.

Anyway, I think I’ve bought all of his albums since then, and have enjoyed them all. However, the live experience, at least in my experience, hasn’t always been able to measure up. The first few times I saw him, I thought he was fantastic, but the last few times I’ve seen him weren’t so hot. One time, he was clearly exhausted after driving something like 10 hours to get to a show with an apathetic crowd in a half-filled Exchange. Most recently, I saw him as part of the Songwriters’ Circle at Junofest, where he was good, but I found him upstaged by the likes of Kathleen Edwards and Bahamas.

But this would be my first chance to see a proper Danny solo show in… my goodness, seven years? And this is a special tour. Have you ever seen something stupid and amazing and ridiculous online and daydreamed about buying it? The short version is that unlike most of us*, Danny Michel has some follow-through. And that is how he bought a 1970s van airbrushed with Star Trek murals. And with a red velvet interior. Yes. He’s taking it on tour across Canada and filming a web series along the way, with people like 54-40, Jann Arden, Chris Hadfield, and Barney Bentall recording songs in the space van. On the very day of our show, he was in a parade in Vulcan, Alberta, because of course he would have to be. So I had high hopes.

*I own a set of four prints I bought off Etsy featuring the cast of The Golden Girls as zombies. This does not compare to the financial commitment of buying a space van, nor the intestinal fortitude required to take the dang thing on a cross-country tour, but I can’t throw dumb-purchase stones without acknowledging my own glass house.

Sadly, the curse of the Danny Michel show struck again. A curse of… mild disappointment. Which is a pretty good curse to have if one has to have a curse, I guess. But still.

I will preface my whinging by saying that none of this was Danny’s fault. I thought he was delightful and was on pace to be up there with the better shows of his that I’d seen. But the environment left enough to be desired that we ultimately didn’t stick around.

We parked about a block from the venue and I took a few pictures of the sweet space van before we went inside. It was everything I’d hoped it would be; namely, a really awesome van that I am very glad I’m not responsible for.

Again, let me state for the record that I thought Danny was great. He played a set of about 45 minutes before taking a break; in that time, we got Whale of a Tale (from Fibsville), Sweet Things, Feather Fur & Fin, and Wish Willy, among others. He told some fun stories about the space van tour and about the work he’s done with a school in Belize. And most importantly, he asked the crowd to quiet down, which didn’t happen to the degree anyone would have wanted, but I appreciated the effort.

We’ve been to the Artful Dodger twice, for Mo Kenney and for Greg MacPherson. This was quite a while ago now, back when the place was very new. The finishing wasn’t done, and they weren’t serving meals yet. They’ve come a long way since then and I’ve heard lots of great reviews of the food and the venue. Unfortunately, everyone else has apparently heard the same things. Our tickets said 8:00 p.m., which could mean anything from a start time of 8:00 to midnight, in my concert-going experience (in this case, it was around 8:30). We got there at 7:45 and the place was full. Wall-to-wall, no seats open, packed with diners. And the thing about the Artful Dodger is that there is no good place to stand. The stage is small, the floor in front of it is filled with tables, and there are bleachers in the back of the room. Walking from Point A to Point B is difficult and you cannot stand anywhere without being obnoxiously and obviously in someone’s way. We took the best spot that we could in the back of the room but this still put in in the path of the servers and I don’t think 30 seconds went by without one of us (most often Mika) having to move out of someone’s way.

I’m not sure what the rules are at the Artful Dodger. If someone comes in for dinner at 6:00, do they get to stay for the show at 8:00 without buying a ticket? My suspicion is yes; this would explain why we were in between three groups of people, two of which had no interest in the show at all and were just going to keep on having their conversations despite the guy on stage trying to play guitar and sing some songs. There is no crowd so disrespectful as those that did not pay to attend.

The third group could be described as Danny Michel superfans and though I rolled my eyes a bit at their… let’s go with “intensity” – they were really into the show and I find it hard to find fault with that. Especially when there were so many other people nearby with whom I could find all kinds of fault.

Anyway. Like I said, Danny played for 45 minutes before taking a bit of a breather, promising to come back for a second set. I will assume he did and I will assume it was great, but I wouldn’t know. We took the opportunity at the break to call it a night. I gave it a fair shot. I made it to intermission, I enjoyed some songs, I laughed at some stories (especially the Wish Willy one), I had as good a time as I was going to have given the surroundings. Which wasn’t enough to justify staying. The full restaurant and its wood-fired oven meant that it was awfully warm in there. To counteract that, there was a big fan directly behind us, blowing in cool air from the street. Between the ignorant jackasses at the tables around us, the fan noise from behind us, and the general not-ideal standing spot we found ourselves in, we really couldn’t hear all that well, and it was hot (though the wood smoke did lend a certain ambience to the nature-themed Feather Fur & Fin), and it just wasn’t that fun. Mika isn’t a big Danny Michel fan anyway, so instead, I took her for ice cream. I think there’s a lesson there. If you can’t answer yes to “is this better than getting ice cream?” then you may as well just go get ice cream.

space van

space van

red velvet

red velvet

the space shirt is a space magnet to cover painted-on space boobs

the space shirt is a space magnet to cover painted-on space boobs

UPCOMING SHOWS
• Moist (July 11)
• Geoff Berner w/Whiskey Jerks (July 29)
• Lucinda Williams (July 30)
• Gin Blossoms w/ Fastball & The Rembrandts (July 31)
• Fred Eaglesmith w/Tif Ginn (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Sinead O’Connor, Jenny Lewis, Vance Joy, Blue Rodeo, Bahamas, more (August 7-9)
• Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)
• Hawksley Workman (October 16)

SLCR #215: Charley Pride (May 20, 2015)

June 8, 2015

“Do you want to go see Charley Pride?” asked my dad.

“I’ve got school that day,” said Mika.

It’s worth noting that at this point, none of us knew exactly when the concert was. Though in her defense, that statement is true as often as not. A safe bet, as it were.

Me, I can’t say that seeing Charley Pride was #1 on my list of things to do either. But the guy is a legend, and I was getting my ticket paid for, and none of us are getting any younger, so what the heck, you know? I was substantially less keen on the idea when I realized it meant missing out on watching the NXT special* live, but whatever. I could watch it when I got home, right?

*(a wrestling thing – you either already knew that or don’t care)

And so it was me, my dad, and my stepmom’s parents, immortalized together in a concert review at last. Mika, as it turned out, did have school on the evening of the show. And my stepmom gets up too early for work on weekdays to make it through an evening concert, even one that keeps reasonable casino hours. Or at least this is what I was told. If I were to someday learn that secretly they got together and drank wine and laughed at us for going to this show, I would not be shocked.

The plan was to forego the standard pre-show casino meal and mad dash to the show lounge in favour of getting a pizza after the concert. From a scheduling point, I was a fan of this idea. Not so much the pizza part, as these days, I’m trying to eat in a manner vaguely resembling that of a normal human (do not ask how many cookies I had today) (as it was a lot) (a lot of cookies) and pizza can be hard to fit into that regimen. Especially late-day pizza. But some carefully limited eating ensured that I could at least have some pizza, assuming I blatantly lied to myself regarding how many calories pizza has. One sacrifices where one must.

My dad picked me up first and we set out to collect the in-laws. I hadn’t seen them since before Christmas, and, well, there are some mobility issues that weren’t there the last time I saw them. She looked to be doing okay, but him… just getting from the apartment door and into the car proved challenging. I suppose this is just one of those things that happens, but it was a bit shocking that it seemingly came on so fast.

Needless to say, the walk from the parking lot was out. My dad dropped us off by the door, and while he went to park the car, it was my job to keep everyone upright or sitting down until it was time to move again. I tried to suggest that we could find a place to sit inside, but no – my stepmom’s dad found a ledge, sat down, and made friends with everyone else who got dropped off while the more mobile were parking and walking.

While we were waiting, Charley Pride walked right past us into the casino, about 15 feet from where I was standing. I appeared to be the only one who noticed.

Eventually, my dad found us – after looking around inside, where he might have reasonably expected to find us – and we made the slow trek into the show lounge. I could see why trying to make it from the restaurant in time would have been a struggle. I tried to keep a pleasant conversation going while my inside voice was screaming “stop walking so fast he can’t walk that fast why aren’t these people watching where they’re going quit getting in the way AAAAAAAAAAAAAA” and yeah anyway I was pretty glad when we got to our seats. Normally I would collect our tickets and trade them for free slot play vouchers, and maybe check out the merch table, but I didn’t want to leave anyone by themselves or try to drag them with me.

On the way in, we were handed brochures, listing tour dates and merchandise (of course), and introducing our opening act, Stephen Pride. Our guess was that this was Charley’s son, but later found out it was his brother. He played for about a half-hour; a few originals but mostly covers of older country songs. He seemed a little awkward when talking with the crowd – tripped over his words a few times – but by and large I thought he was okay enough. Not particularly of interest to me, not great, but also not awful. The rest of my table, however, just wanted to talk about how he didn’t have Charley’s voice or Charley’s presence. Which wasn’t untrue, I guess, but it bothered me less than it did them. Not the first time I’d disagree with the consensus viewpoint on this night. We were, however, all in agreement that the highlight of the set was sitting near the sound booth and watching Charley Pride chat with the sound tech for a good 10 minutes.

Between sets, I amused myself by playing a game of “Who Here is Younger Than Me?” The goal was to find someone – a paid attendee, not someone working there – who was obviously younger than 38-year-old me. I couldn’t do it. I saw a few people that MIGHT have been younger but not definitively so. Obviously, casino shows tend to skew old just based on who performs at casinos, but I’ve seen Wayne Newton and Bobby Curtola and Dr. John and Gordon Lightfood and Herman Hermit and this was the oldest audience of them all.

So I said I disagreed with the consensus of the table. Let me just say that if you’re tired of the concert review trope of “I wish I’d seen him back when,” you can pretty much close this down and hope I get my Danny Michel review written in under a month. Basically, from the time Charley Pride finished until I got dropped off at home, I lied. I said he put on a great show. I agreed that he still had his voice. I talked about what a fan I had become. I was not about to do anything to take away from anyone’s enjoyment of the concert. But man…. this was not very good at all. Pride sang for 90 minutes, which would have been impressive enough except he really only had 60 minutes in him. The first hour was okay, though it seemed apparent to me that his voice wasn’t what it once was. Not that it would be fair to expect it to be – the guy is pushing 80, after all. But he had this trick of ending songs by singing them really low, and it was an obvious cover that he couldn’t hit the high notes anymore. This got worse in the last half-hour, which also had him telling stories and getting lost halfway through. Or he had these cards with people’s birthdays on them, and he’d say happy birthday to them, only he’d get the names wrong, and couldn’t see them if they waved at him and wasn’t listening when his band tried to help him out, and then he’d just throw the cards on the floor and kind of mutter about it.

But you know. I was not a Charley Pride fan going into the evening. I looked up some of his singles online before the show, thinking that I’d know a bunch of them – this is the kind of music my dad always liked, so surely I heard lots of it growing up, right? Apparently not; I only knew a few of his biggest hits. So I wasn’t coming at this from a place of nostalgia. The rest of my table was. I think my dad sang along with every song. His mother-in-law said that the show was the “highlight of the year.” And the guy got a standing ovation. So… maybe it was just me? I don’t know. Maybe I was just grumpy and hungry. I thought this was a Lightfoot-level show and I do not mean that in a complimentary way. But a room full of people disagreed with me – or, actually, two rooms full of people, since he was booked for a second night.

I did a bit of reading on Charley Pride when putting this together, and this guy lived on heck of an interesting life. If Wikipedia isn’t lying to me, he played Negro League baseball, was the first black performer at the Grand Ol’ Opry in over 20 years, is part owner of the Texas Rangers, and did a show in Belfast at the height of the IRA conflict. And The Rock is making a movie about his life. I’d watch that, and my tolerance for Rock movies is pretty minimal.

So yeah, I wish I’d seen him back when.

Anyway, we headed to the lobby to wait while my dad got the car. This took only slightly less than forever since everyone was leaving the show at once. We got everyone loaded into the car with much nervousness on my part but finally got everyone settled – just in time to see an old lady leave the casino and wipe out face-first. My dad and I went over to help her out, but she was fine; a little embarrassed, and disappointed that she cracked the cases of her new CDs, but otherwise okay.

We went for that post-show pizza, only the find that the pizza place closes at 11:00 and it was 10:55 when we got there. Oh well. At least it meant I got home in time to grab some chips and watch the NXT special. Except that when I went downstairs to get said chips, I found that there had been water leaking into the basement for two days. Not enough to cause any real damage, but a mess. And enough to incite mild-to-moderate stress which took me out of the mood to watch the show or eat anything, so I went to bed, looking forward to my already-booked vacation day which was now to be spent dealing with the plumber.

This was not a very good day, is what I’m saying.

(Postscript: my dad still talks about the greatness of this concert. His mother-in-law was so pleased that she baked him a pie. The plumber arrived promptly and the problem tap has been fixed. The NXT special was really good and I even managed to avoid spoilers. I’m still due for some pizza.)

UPCOMING SHOWS

  • Danny Michel (June 13)
  • Moist (July 11)
  • Geoff Berner w/Whiskey Jerks (July 29)
  • Fred Eaglesmith w/Tif Ginn (August 2)
  • Regina Folk Festival feat. Sinead O’Connor, Jenny Lewis, Vance Joy, Blue Rodeo, Bahamas, more (August 7-9)
  • Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)
  • Hawksley Workman (October 16)

SLCR #214: Joel Plaskett Emergency (May 15, 2015)

June 8, 2015

I knew this show would be really great, and it was. And I’m tempted to just stop here.

Here are some people and things that I dig. You already know I dig them:

  • Joel Plaskett
  • Mo Kenney
  • Darke Hall
  • concerts
  • any mixed and/or matched combination of the above

Liking things is great! But my stock in trade is disliking things, or at least making fun of things. Or as some people would call it, “generally being unpleasant to be around.” Being pleasant (or at least tolerable) and productive is hard, but my alternate option – namely, staring at a blank text file for the better part of a month – wasn’t getting the job done.

Having said that, I have so little to say about this show that at this point in writing this review, I just stopped and skipped ahead to write my Charley Pride review in its entirety instead. I had some things to say about that show and that day as a whole. But that is for another time; namely, it is for five minutes after I finish writing and posting this thing, so I best get a move on.

So what do you need to know? Well, Plaskett was touring in support of his newest album, The Park Avenue Sobriety Test. He’d debuted the title track (at least to my ears) at last year’s folk festival, and I really liked it. The new album is a good one, though I need to spend some more time with it. Thus far, I can safely recommend it if you like Joel’s previous work and also like swear words. There’s a marked increase; not overwhelming, but noticeable.

In fact, both Mo and Joel – which doesn’t quite rhyme well enough to bother repeating – have relatively new albums, and I’d seen both performers in concert within the past year. In that sense, this show was a bit of a re-run, as there wasn’t much that I hadn’t seen before. This is not a bad thing, since I loved both of those shows, but I WAS tempted to just copy and paste old reviews and see if anyone noticed. Mind you, there are enough repeating themes and turns of phrase in my reviews that most of you likely think I do that already.

In fact, I think copying and pasting would have been much better than this:

  • The ticket people said that I’d need my order number and photo ID to pick up my tickets, and I had no idea what my order number was, but I emailed them and they told me. And then they just checked my photo ID at the door anyway.
  • There was a food truck outside the venue. We didn’t get any food.
  • There was a lots of stuff at the stuff table, including tons of vinyl – Kenney’s newest album and most of Plaskett’s catalogue. Neither of us bought anything. I would have bought my favourite Plaskett album – Ashtray Rock – on vinyl, but I already had it on order from MapleMusic.
  • The host of the show was some local CBC person. At one point, she tried to talk, but her mic was turned off. Then the sound guy turned it on.

I am very tempted to rewrite the entire review so that the whole thing is comprised of the dullest bullet points imaginable.

Mo Kenney’s set was very similar to when I saw her last fall, though she played for a bit longer and managed to include the song Take Me Outside, which was sadly missing last time. I feel like it might have replaced the cover of Five Years, which is a fair trade-off in my books. I like both but Take Me Outside is one of my favourites of hers. She told a few of the same stories (such as the origin of the creature on the drum kit – though this version seemed to have been expanded a bit), but there were some fun unique moments interacting with the crowd. At one point, Kenney showed off her new guitar; so new that it didn’t even have a name yet. Someone from the crowd yelled out his suggestion – something along the lines of “Red Lucille.” Kenney replied with the most polite “that could work” which was so transparently a secret code for “no” that even she cracked up. She then went on to name the guitar “Foot,” which, why not?

She also plugged her new record. “Will you sign it?” asked a random person. “Absolutely,” said Mo, quickly adding “Oh… you meant right now” as the aforementioned person rushed the stage with a record and a Sharpie.

Also, she was wearing an “Italians Do It Better” shirt which I believe was from Christie’s Bakery in Saskatoon. “I am not Italian. And I have no knowledge of whether they do it better.”

If anything stood out from this set, it’s that the improvement in Kenney’s confidence and stage presence from the first time we saw her to now is amazing. I am delighted for her as she is a lovely human who writes and sings great songs and deserves to be well-known and successful. I am, however, a little fearful. This progression cannot be allowed to… um… progress unchecked. Otherwise, give her another few years and she’ll be leading cults.

Joel Plaskett is also a lovely human, but I’ve been a fan for long enough now that I’m just used to him being completely charming. Maybe that means I’m already in a cult? Whatever. The entertainment is top-notch and there’s a food truck on site. I’ve got no complaints.

Plaskett had much more time than he had at the Folk Festival, and he used it to play most of the tunes off the new album, as one would expect. There was about a 50/50 mix of new stuff and old favourites, which never vary all that much. Compared to the Folk Festival, we got the same Do Wa Diddy Diddy intro into Work Out Fine, but no Mamma Yamma Fashionable People – I don’t think we got Fashionable People at all, come to think of it, but most of the usuals were played.

As per usual, the older stuff got the best reactions, but there was one family there who was trying their damndest to balance everything out. I have never seen so many Joel Plaskett superfans in one group. All ages. Standing, dancing, singing along with every song, leaving notes on the stage, the whole shebang. I bought our tickets for this show back in December and I don’t remember what they cost, but at one point I was trying to figure out just how many people were part of this clan and whether the bill for the evening would have topped $1,000. Wouldn’t have been impossible. It was kind of remarkable, really.

So yes, a good time was had by all. Especially by those folks. It would be really hard to have a bad time at a Joel Plaskett show, and I should know. I once tried and ultimately couldn’t do it. The guy comes across as the nicest dude ever and writes catchy songs that are made to be sun along with. A++++ would go again – but you already knew that.

SLCR #213: Danko Jones (April 10, 2015)

April 21, 2015

 

 

I think you can click these guys to see them full-sized.

Danko SLCR part 1

20150410Danko2

SLCR #212: The God That Comes (April 3, 2015)

April 8, 2015

This marks the third time I have seen Hawksley Workman’s musical/cabaret/ode to debauchery The God That Comes (and it would have also been the fourth time, had Mark’s sinuses not revolted earlier in the week), so you already know what I think of this (it ruled) so I will forego a full review but must touch on some highlights.

By “highlights,” I mostly mean I want to complain about my old neighbourhood. I moved to Regina in 2004, and lived in the same apartment until buying a house around five years ago. You know how people go back home after a long time away and they’re sad about what happened to their old stomping grounds? Well, that’s me, but not because everything there went to hell. No. Since I moved out of that neighbourhood, they renovated the grocery store and drug store, opened a Subway, opened a coffee shop, opened a CAKE SHOP for God’s sake. All within easy walking distance. I could be picking up a cake on the way home from work every day instead of riding the bus to a house like a chump. It’s like the whole neighbourhood hated me and couldn’t wait for me to leave. Which is not impossible.

The daycare just down the block from my apartment is gone too, having been renovated and turned into Shynok, an authentic Ukrainian restaurant. I say “authentic” despite knowing very little about the food of my people because Deserée has been to the Ukraine and reports that the restaurant’s salads are authentically full of beets.

We went to Shynok before The God That Comes (“so THAT’S your point”) and it was fantastic. Best borscht. Best perogies that aren’t my grandpa’s recipe. Tasty cabbage rolls. Perogies for dessert! Colin drank some bizarre prune beverage and we were all concerned about its possible after-effects. I have not heard from him since that evening. I am not certain if no news is good news in this case.

The show was at the Artesian, which is a lovely venue and was well suited for the play. There were tables down in front with raised benches (pews?) in the back. We managed to get seated right up close and in the centre, near some other work people. Everyone but me had wine, which means I am now Hawksley’s least favourite amongst our little club. This makes me sad, but we’ll always have Twitter dolloping.

As for the play itself, it hadn’t changed much since I saw it in Calgary. I won’t go into too much detail – the soundtrack CD includes all of the night’s songs, but I think there are still parts of the show that are best kept under wraps. I say this mostly because I had forgotten about one of the little surprises (even though it was hinted at) and the crowd reaction to it was my favourite part of the show.

There were a few little tweaks from before. The show felt a little longer this time, due largely to a few spots where Hawksley padded things out a little bit. Notably, there was an audience call-and-response part added during one song that everyone seemed to enjoy (complete with a little impromptu back-and-forth during our show) (that might sort of be a double entendre). The introduction to the show-closer, They Decided Not To Like Us, was changed up a little and while I still think that the song feels tacked on, the new lead-in did help it a bit. I wonder if it might be best to end the play after He’s Mine and come back to perform Decided as an encore.

Oh, also, Hawksley said “fuck” way more this time. I kind of wish that I’d been charting the frequency of his swearing through the years. He goes through phases, and I’d love to figure out if they’re connected to sunspots or something.

UPCOMING SHOWS

  • Danko Jones w/The Lazys (April 10)
  • The Joel Plaskett Emergency w/Mo Kenney (May 15)
  • Charley Pride (May 20)
  • Danny Michel (June 13)
  • Regina Folk Festival feat. Sinead O’Connor, Jenny Lewis, Vance Joy, Blue Rodeo, Bahamas, Basia Bulat, The Sheepdogs, more (August 7-9)
  • Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)

SLCR #211: Amelia Curran (March 27, 2015)

April 8, 2015

There are shows where I think “dang, I am not going to have anything to write about.” This was one of those times. The sum total of what I knew about Amelia Curran is that Mika liked her. Mika also liked the opener, Ryan Boldt, about whom I knew precisely one other thing, which is that he is the lead singer of Deep Dark Woods. I know one song that they do, and it’s off a compilation album. So clearly we were off to a fine start.

One thing I did not know is if I’d actually seen Amelia Curran before. The answer would become clear to me later on, but she’s one of those people I’ve heard about forever, you know? The kind of person who would maybe tour with someone else I like, or who would play at the Folk Festival – this show was part of the Festival concert series, in fact. But while it seemed plausible, a quick scan of old reviews reveals that her only mention was from when we were supposed to see her at Junofest but she was playing at the Six Shooter event that we couldn’t get into, so now I’m mad about that, and that’s awesome.

We got to the Exchange with plenty of time to get good seats. The place got pretty busy but never truly filled up. Having room to move and breathe delighted me, but later on, I just felt bad for people who missed out. But I will get to that. If I cannot fill this review with shenanigans, I will at least take up space with repeated foreshadowing.

Mark did not miss out. With about 15 minutes left before the show started, it struck me to text him and let him know that we were at the Exchange and that he should pop by if he was bored at home. I assumed he’d be off cutting up a deer or something – unlike me, Mark has hobbies – and in no way did I actually expect a response of “Save us seats. On our way.” but I was delighted to receive it. The Artistic Director of the Folk Festival introduced the show; this always involves the reading of a long list of upcoming concerts and a longer list of sponsors. That gave Mark and Arlette precious extra minutes which enabled them to take their seats just as the show was starting.

Ryan Boldt played a selection of Deep Dark Woods songs, as well as traditional songs from his album Broadside Ballads. I mean, I’m assuming he did. Like I’d know? It seems like a safe thing to say. He played guitar and was accompanied by another guitarist, and it was a relatively laid-back affair. After the first few songs, Boldt got a little chattier with the crowd, with a dry delivery that made him come across quite likeable.

Not so likeable? Bram. What a dick that guy turned out to be.

Anyway, I thought he was real good. If you want an assessment of this performance from people who actually know things about things, Mark said that Boldt was worth the admission price by himself, and at one point during the show, Mika disappeared for a minute and came back with his album. Unanimous approval from our little crew.

Between sets, Mark chatted with Boldt while Arlette took a picture of a sweater (I know that is not exactly the right word for what this thing was) with a bulldozer on it. I am not sure who made better use of their time. I took the opportunity to pee, so maybe me?

As soon as Amelia Curran took the stage, I realized that I had never seen her before, because I would have remembered someone that charming and funny and delightful. And also I apparently have been pronouncing her last name wrong for as long as I’ve known of her existence and I like to think that I would have fixed that somewhere along the way had I known.

Anyway. She was great! I am a lyrics guy and she writes great songs.

(Let us take a moment to praise both The Exchange and the sound guy here. I could hear the singer clearly! Fine work! I wish all venues and techs, respectively, were like you.)

Great songs. Yes. As with Boldt, I was entirely unfamiliar with the music going into the evening, but I am listening to her newest album now (“They Promised You Mercy,” which Mika also bought) and she played pretty much all of these. And I know she played The Mistress because she mentioned the title when introducing the song with a fun story that I won’t spoil here. iTunes lists this as her #1 most popular single. Maybe you know it? I did not but it was real good.

Curran was backed by a full band that was as good as they were untalkative. The drummer declared at one point that he was “good,” or maybe “fine,” I forget. Beyond that, they let Curran do all the talking, which was fine because she came across really well on stage. She seemed a bit nervous in an endearing way with a great sense of humour and I was totally disappointed in my fellow Reginans that more people didn’t laugh at the Simpsons reference. But she did promise/threaten a series of Kiss covers which didn’t materialize (in favour of “more sad songs about my feelings”) and I did think it was a shame we missed out on something that Mike would consider so sacrilegious.

Overall, this night was one of the great underdog success stories of the SLCR series. I hung out with good people and got introduced to new favourites and in a no-drunken-shenanigans, infrequent-chicken-fingers era, what more can one ask for? (Aside from drunken shenanigans and chicken fingers, I mean.) I knew Dan Mangan would be in the running for my show of the year, and I have high hopes for Joel Plaskett, but we have a new surprise contender. The year is off to a good start.


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