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

November 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SLCR #330: Headstones (November 13, 2018)

November 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLCR #329: Classified (November 10, 2018)

November 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLCR #327: Reuben and the Dark (November 2, 2018)

November 5, 2018

Here’s a surprise bonus review because I need to generate Content to maintain the Perception of my Brand. And because I’m getting good at remembering to check the Facebook pages of Regina media outlets a few days before any concerts that I wouldn’t mind going to for free. Thank you, CJTR, for sending me to this show because I commented “Comment!” when you asked for a comment. I’m glad my hard work paid off.

With Mika still tied up with school, I sought out the newly-retired Other James (retired from work, I mean – he’s still James) to join me as my +1. I looked up the start time when inviting him, and it was good I did, because I’d have wound up sad and lonely at the Exchange when this show was actually at Westminster United Church. I also had to look up the location of the church, and that was also good, because I learned you can give churches Google reviews. The best by far was a two-star review, saying “it’s ok if that’s what you’re into.”

Other James and I were to meet at “8-ish,” and I would have been there right at 8:00, but there’s a candy store across the street so I had to stop and browse. With treats acquired, we met in the lobby, the ticket folks found my name on the list, and we were inside. It’s a very nice looking church. At least a 3 out of 5. As a concert venue, it has some of the drawbacks that you’d expect from a church – few washrooms, no food or drinks. They should have had old ladies in the basement selling funeral specials – ham sandwiches with one slice of ham on buttered (well, margarined) bread, cut into quarters and served with sweet pickles, slices of marble cheese, watered down orange drink, and date squares.

I knew nothing about either Reuben and the Dark or openers nêhiyawak, apart from having heard their names before. I had a little more than 24 hours between winning the tickets and the show starting, but chose not to seek out any of their music and just enjoy the show as a brand new experience. Doesn’t that sound nicer than saying “I started off ignorant, became aware of my ignorance, and decided to remain ignorant?”

nêhiyawak is a three-piece from Edmonton – guitar, drums, and synthesizers. The synths in particular give them a unique sound, driving some songs while adding a dreamy edge to others. The trio are all of Plains Cree ancestry and sing songs that draw on that history. It wasn’t always easy to make out the lyrics, so I wound up relying on the singer’s explanations as to the songs’ meanings. It was a short set, but powerful and compelling – the kind of music that I suspect is best experienced live. And probably in a smaller venue – Other James said he’d seen them at the folk festival this summer, but thought this was a better showcase for them.

Reuben and the Dark are a five-piece from Calgary. The lead singer is, in fact, Reuben, though the other guys didn’t look particularly Dark. Reuben was clad in all white, so I guess they were kind of darker by comparison. Also, he’s a brave man who clearly eats more neatly than I do.

Whereas nêhiyawak had the synths as a differentiator, if I can use obnoxious business words, Reuben and the Dark had great vocal harmonies that stood out for me. All five had mics and the harmonies added warmth to songs that were already great on their own.

Like I said, I was going in blind, but one song, Rolling Stone (not THAT one) (or that other one) seemed so familiar to me. Either I’ve heard it before, enough to know it, or it’s just one of those songs that feels like an old favourite from the first time you hear it. There were a few other songs that sounded a little recognizable, so I’m assuming Mika played them in the car at some point. And the first song of the encore was a cover of Bobcaygeon, which was really well done. The band recorded and released the song as a single, donating the profits to the Downie Wenjack Fund. So, if you have a spare $1.29 in iTunes credit and want to direct whatever fraction of that to a good cause, you could do worse.

Reuben is a charismatic fellow, holding the audience’s attention with songs and stories, or leading the crowd in song. A few times, he walked up and down the church aisles, crouching down to sing directly to individuals (including one very appreciative young fan in the front row). The last song of the night was done entirely off-mic, capping off a great evening and making the small venue feel even more intimate.

This was the kind of concert I love, where you go in with no expectations and leave with a new favourite. Great songs, killer harmonies, and a really enjoyable show. I left humming their songs and next time, I won’t rely on luck to get me in the door. By which I mean I’ll buy a ticket, but it sounds pretty underwhelming when you put it that way.

For the most part, I thought the sound in the church was pretty good. I thought the mix was a little better for Reuben and the Dark and I had an easier time hearing what he was saying than with nêhiyawak, though a few songs in, someone up on the second level yelled to turn the snare drum down. Everyone laughed and this became a recurring theme throughout the evening, with Reuben later checking in about the volume of the snare, and later saying that Bobcaygeon would have benefitted from a little more of it. Though when Other James was chatting with the sound tech on the way out, she said that the snare really did come through excessively upstairs. Maybe Mr. Two-out-of-five had a balcony seat.

SLCR #326: Stone Temple Pilots (October 31, 2018)

November 2, 2018

Welcome to the first-ever bone chilling, spine tingling, Halloween SLCR spooktacular! Oooh, scary! A night of ghosts and goblins, witches and draculas, your credit card debt, giving a presentation and PowerPoint won’t open, making eye contact with a stranger, 63 million Trump voters, the ceaseless passage of time reflected in your ever-decaying body. And a full-size Snickers if your costume is special enough.

For only the second time in SLCR history, I went to a show on Halloween. The last was when Pat and I saw The Tea Party at Louis’ in 1996 – 22 years ago, SLCR #4 – see above re: ceaseless passage. I didn’t know the band and only went because Pat had a spare ticket at the last minute. It was sold out, absolutely jam-packed, and there was a girl in a genie costume. Barbara Eden genie, not Robin Williams genie. Beyond that, I don’t really remember what she looked like anymore so much as I remember being very invested in what she looked like. As far as The Tea Party, I liked them fine, probably. I don’t remember anything being spooky.

However, I picked an appropriately frightening show for this occasion. An arena full of Halloween drunks! Four bands on a worknight! One of which I’ve never heard of, two I actively don’t care about, and what amounts to a tribute band as a headliner!

Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland battled addiction issues for pretty much his whole career. The band broke up, got back together, they kicked him out, they brought him back – it was constant chaos. I finally saw them with Mika and Dave in 2009 – fifteen years after I was really into them – and though I was expecting a trainwreck, it was actually pretty fun. They played tons of the songs I would have wanted from my high school days, and Weiland sounded great. (We’ll quietly move past the incident at a concert a few months after ours where Weiland fell off the stage but somehow kept right on singing.) Unfortunately, Weiland’s issues continued; he was eventually replaced in the band one last time before dying of an accidental overdose in 2015. A sad end that, frankly, most people saw coming but nobody was able to stop.

The new Stone Temple Pilots’ singer is Jeff Gutt, previously best known as a contestant on the reality show The X Factor. I had some curiosity about what they’d sound like these days, but not enough to get me in the door. Not at $100 for a general admission standing ticket. Not when I also had to buy tickets for Jack White and the Headstones (not together) (but now I wish they were). Not when the openers are Seether and Default, two bands I could happily go my whole life without ever seeing, and Age of Days, who I don’t know but I assume fall into a similar category.

I don’t know if a lot of people felt the same way I did or if everyone had Halloween plans, but I got an email out of the blue. Those $100 tickets? On sale for $25. Much more reasonable for a night I might not enjoy. I’d have been spitting nails if I’d spent $100 when tickets went on sale, but I didn’t, so hooray for a brief flash of fiscal responsibility and subsequent irresponsibility! Premium parking pass? No thank you, the free lot will have room enough for all.

I was flying solo for this one. Mika had to do school stuff and also had no interest in this clown show. And I should clarify, there were plenty of costumes, but not enough that I could call it a literal clown show. Probably for the best. No genies, but there were hundreds of random wigs and painted faces. I found Jesus AND several Waldos. I also got to play lots of my favourite Halloween game, “costume or oddball?” The answer may surprise you, but likely won’t.

After showering, dawdling, skipping supper, and handing out candy to all of three trick-or-treaters (policeman, princess, zombie princess), I got to the Brandt Centre as Age of Days was playing one of their first songs. I didn’t expect to recognize it, and I didn’t expect it to be a cover of Roxette’s The Look, but there we were. It was pretty good but you’d have to put effort into wrecking something that catchy.

I wandered around the stadium, passing some people enjoying a newly legal substance in a still illegal place, and taking a quick look at the stuff table. Eventually I found a spot to stand on the concourse level. I could have gone down to the floor, but why bother?

Age of Days played perfectly competent late 90s/early 2000s rock, the kind that I find kind of catchy but not super memorable, which is exactly what I think of both Seether and Default, so they were a good fit on this bill. I enjoyed it while it was happening, wouldn’t be in a rush to listen to more of their stuff, but wouldn’t turn them off if you put their record on. And that’s how you say “this was fine” in a paragraph’s worth of words.

Is it obvious I wrote most of this (to this point) before the show started and I wrote the bit about Age of Days while waiting for Default? I feel like I’m being inconsistent with my verb tenses and I don’t feel like caring.

As predicted, there aren’t a ton of people here. Or weren’t a ton there. Whatever.

Default got to use the lighting rig, so they’re officially a bigger deal than Age of Days. I liked Age of Days better, though. I thought I knew one Default song (Wasting My Time), but I knew two! So that was nice. They said the other song, Deny, was on the soundtrack to NHL 2003. Also, their new guitarist “refused to play Default songs in his high school cover band, in case you wanna know how fuckin’ old we are.” The highlight was when a crayon stood right by me, turned his back to the stage, and excitedly jumped up and down while his girlfriend, a dragon, shot a video.

Mika just texted. She’s back home and has had 2 more trick-or-treaters, bringing our combined total to 5. Verily, the gods have blessed us and we will feast for weeks on Mikes and Ikes. Which is good because I’m starting to regret skipping supper. I don’t want booze and not much else is open here. Maybe I can find a big pretzel while Seether is playing. I suspect my knowledge of Seether songs will make me feel like an expert on Default.

I spent $10 on a soft pretzel and a Coke Zero. The pretzel was crispy and chewy and salty and warm and the Coke Zero had little ice crystals in it. I’m not saying it was the best $10 I’ve ever spent, but it was worth arena prices.

Seether gets the lighting rig AND video screens, so we’ve leveled up again. We’ll see if Stone Temple Pilots can take things even further, though maybe not – Seether is technically a co-headliner. I’m just not giving them their due because I don’t care about them. I know one (Remedy) and a half (they did one with Evanescence lady I think?) Seether songs and they played all of them. I walked laps around the concourse and a very nice Brandt Centre employee offered to let me onto the floor, that area I have a ticket for but haven’t visited. The highlight, apart from “dinner,” was the fans throwing random costume parts on stage and the band gamely wearing everything, even though one wig/mask “smells like a ham sandwich. Did you smoke cigars in this thing?”

I should point out that there are people here really into Seether and Default. Don’t take my lack of enthusiasm at face value – the fans are having a great time. This just isn’t entirely my thing and I knew that going in. Age of Days are still my favourite so far.

The place is starting to fill up. The drunks haven’t been too bad; one just had a nice chat with me about what I was doing. (He guessed “texting” and I went along with that.) There are some couples where only one of them wore a costume and it’s never not funny. I wonder how their dinner went. One couple wore themed costumes and it made their fight in the lobby that much more distressing. I hope you can find happiness and peace, Wayne and Garth. You’re both worthy.

I just took another lap around the concourse. In the empty area behind the stage, another drunk told me how lonely everything looked. As a security guard passed us, the drunk loudly said “I come back here so I can put drugs in my drinks!” The security guard kept walking. The drunk laughed. Then he found another friend of his and I slipped away.

STP up shortly. I hope this doesn’t suck. I bet they play a bunch off their new album. I maybe should have listened to it once.

I’m home now. First things first – STP had the big lighting rig but no video screens. Seether wins. Anyway, the concert. I was way wrong about the setlist. Only two new songs. I took notes, and also had to google some of the titles because with STP, I have the hardest time associating titles to songs:

Wicked Garden
Vasoline
Crackerman
Down
Big Bang Baby
Big Empty
Plush
Letter
Interstate Love Song
Roll Me Under
Dead and Bloated
Sex Type Thing
-encore-
Piece of Pie
Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart

The real question is how did they sound, and – yeah, a Stone Temple Pilots cover band. A good one, mind – on Wicked Garden, Jeff Gutt sounded so much like Scott Weiland that with my eyes closed, I wouldn’t have known the difference. For the other songs, he sounded more like himself, though sometimes still sounding like he was doing an impression. But I don’t know how you avoid that and still give people what they expect from an STP concert.

The one misstep was Plush. It started with just Gutt and guitarist Dan DeLeo, and it felt like they were on entirely different pages. The rest of the band came back out one at a time and eventually everything came together, but it began on a really rough note. But that could just be the relatively short time they’ve played together, or maybe everybody loved it and I’m wrong here. Either way, beyond that, everything sounded really good. Big Bang Baby and new song Letter were particular highlights, as was Sex Type Thing (shame about those lyrics, though).

Gutt had big shoes to fill, but he delivered with confidence. I really enjoyed their set, but it’s hard to praise the show and the band without having it sound like a backhanded compliment. “He’s no Scott Weiland, but…” “It’s not the same, but…” And he’s not and it’s not, which isn’t meant as a knock. It just is what it is.

While I was watching the show, there was a baseball player and a nurse standing next to me and I was pretty sure they were going to start having sex right there on the concourse about three songs in. They left after a few more songs and I’m certain they just found a quiet corner somewhere to finish what they’d started. Then another guy came along and his costume was an insulation bag. Rockwool insulation, specifically. He cut armholes and eyeholes in it and that was that. Sounds scratchy.

SLCR #325: They Might Be Giants (October 20, 2018)

October 27, 2018

I first started getting into They Might Be Giants in 1999. I remember watching the then-new video for Doctor Worm with Steve when I went to Toronto for the first time. If anything, it’s weird that it took me that long to become a fan; they’ve been making music together since 1982 and their particular brand of weirdo oddball alt-rock is right up my alley. It wasn’t long after that until they climbed to the top of the shortlist of bands I wanted to see in concert that I’d never seen before. As I cleared out the list over time, TMBG eventually secured the undisputed top spot.

I did have a ticket to see them in Minneapolis about five years ago, but that’s a really long drive. I wound up opting against the trip when work got busy and I realized that to pull it off, I’d have to leave Saturday morning, drive 13 hours, go straight to the show, sleep, and turn around and come home the next day. I’m capable of some incredibly stupid things, but even I have my limits.

Earlier this year, on their mailing list, TMBG began teasing a real Canadian tour, giving me high hopes that it would be more than just the usual combo of Vancouver/Toronto/somewhere else maybe. I assumed Calgary would be my best option to see them, so I held that in mind for my fall trip. When they finally released the dates, I was delighted to see Saskatoon made the cut. Even better, it was at the Broadway Theatre and not the loud hot place with terrible sound and terrible people, or the bar that sometimes has tasty foods but shows don’t start until after midnight.

Needless to say, this was a pretty highly anticipated show for me. However, as the day grew near, I started thinking about it, and I wasn’t sure if my TMBG fandom had kept up with this “most wanted concert” idea. Some of it is just volume – they have 20 albums out and release a song a week onto their Dial-a-Song service. It’s a lot to keep up with. And some of their music is different for different’s sake, which means that while I really dig some of it, there are other songs that just don’t click with me. I was still really excited for the show, but wasn’t sure they’d live up to years and years of my own hype.

I also wasn’t sure how much Mika would be looking forward to show, especially since it fell on our seventh wedding anniversary. On the one hand, it would ensure that we actually did something for our anniversary, or indeed, remembered it at all. However, I don’t know if a big ol’ nerd-rock show in another city was what she had in mind. But as fate would have it, my mom won a silent auction this summer for one night in a suite at the Sheraton and a giftcard to the fancy steakhouse therein, and gave it to us as an early anniversary gift. What better day to use it than our actual anniversary?

The drive was uneventful and podcast-laden and I said that last week. But checking into the hotel? Also uneventful. We changed into what I’ll say were nice clothes – Mika looked nice, I looked business-casual at best – and made our way down to the restaurant. I may still have been the best-dressed man there, which is not boasting, merely a reflection of societal standards plummeting, a trend that I unabashedly support. Dinner was great; I steaked it up and ate way too much even before dessert. This did not stop me from actually ordering dessert and I shoveled in beignets until it hurt. I had to leave one behind and I still regret that. Mika had some fish thing – I don’t know, she said she liked it, whatever, it was fish, I’m not responsible for her choices – and a chocolate truffle bar that was the size of a small brick and nearly as dense. It bent light towards itself with its gravitational pull. This was a lot of chocolate. All the chocolate. There is none left for anyone. I tried a bit and it was incredible.

After changing back into normal slob clothes, we drove to the Broadway Theatre. Could have walked it – would have done well to walk it – but it was chilly out and the meat inside me was repositioning itself with every step.

I bought tickets online right when they went on sale, ultimately settling for two seats in the centre about four rows back. Or at least that’s what I thought; I might have gotten myself confused in my attempts to nab the best seats I could. Anyway, the seats we actually got put us in the second row, but far off to the left. I thought we were on the aisle, but no, this was the farthest left possible, past the aisle, right up against the wall, all squished in and at an awkward angle. Not ideal. Then the band came out and immediately told everyone to stand, so we did, and told everyone to come up to the front, so we did that too. We wound up standing in the aisle, maybe six feet back from the stage, right in line with John Flansburgh. Much better!

What happened next was a nearly three-hour show played for some of the happiest nerds you’ve ever seen. I had kind of expected them to focus on new songs – and there were plenty, including Dial-a-Song songs that were only a month old – but the classics and cult favourites were out in full force. I don’t know if that’s a regular occurrence or if the set was chosen knowing this was going to be the first time most of the crowd had seen the band, but either way, it was welcome.

They’re switching up their setlists every night and the internet is only being somewhat helpful, so some of this might be out of order. The first song I recognized was Your Racist Friend and the first one I got really excited for was Doctor Worm. “This next one is called ‘Vogelhaus in deiner seele’ in German,” said John Linnell. Or something like that, I can’t speak German but I can use Google Translate. More importantly, I know “haus” and Birdhouse in your Soul is my favourite TMBG song and with that, I would have been fine with anything. But we didn’t just get just anything, they played Fingertips and The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) and Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal and How Can I Sing Like a Girl and I Like Fun and The Mesopotamians. Someone at some point has sent you the song Older on your birthday; they played that. Don’t know any TMBG but you enjoyed Tiny Toons? You’d think they’d be sick of Particle Man and Istanbul (Not Constantinople) but they played those too.

Musically, the band was killer. John F. stuck to guitar while John L. alternated between keyboards (including with a little bleep bloop blorp pad that he called a “chaos pad” for wacky effects) and accordion. The two Johns were joined by their regular backing band of Marty Beller on drums, Danny Weinkauf on bass, and Dan Miller on guitar – all fantastic musicians. Trumpet player Curt Ramm doesn’t always tour with them, but he was on this tour and every email leading up to the show mentioned his presence. He was given plenty of opportunities to shine and was a definite highlight – he also plays in Bruce Springsteen’s touring band and yeah he’s real real good. As I suppose one should expect.

The band also brought tons of energy to the show, moving around the stage, switching up instruments, letting everyone get some time in the spotlight, and changing up arrangements. More than most bands, it felt like they were trying to play to everyone there and make sure everyone got into the show. At one point, John F. handed a pick to a fan and then held out his guitar to let the guy strum away.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the band was so good – in a shocker, professional musicians discovered to be good at music – but TMBG plays a lot of wacky stuff and some songs would fall into the novelty song category. I suppose Weird Al also works really hard and has a super talented band too and maybe people (by which I mean me) should quit automatically associating “funny” with “easy.”

Speaking of funny, at the end of the intermission, they dimmed the lights and played a music video to get everyone’s attention for the second set. Not a TMBG video, exactly – the video for Walk This Way by Run-DMC and Aerosmith. One of the first songs I remember really getting into as a kid, and it’s still great. Except they didn’t play that song – it was a whole new song perfectly synced to the video. Google tells me it was a demo for the song Last Wave off their most recent album, I Like Fun. Apparently it’s been on the internet all year and I just missed it.

There was another funny moment when the show came to a screeching halt due to the presence of a maple bug on the keyboards. Maple bugs are harmless but I guess you don’t know that if you don’t have them where you’re from. It was shuffled onto the chaos pad, where a little camera allowed the bug to be projected onto the big screen behind the band. Everyone cheered for the maple bug and it’s certainly the first time that’s ever happened. It was at this point They Might Be Giants discovered that maple bugs have the power of flight. They were dismayed to lose their new friend, but someone in the crowd correctly observed “there’s more of them.” It eventually came back and landed on John F’s shirt where it may still be to this day, but probably isn’t.

For the encore, we got a drawn-out version of Why Does the Sun Shine? which was another favourite that was great to hear live. After a few more songs, they left – and then came back for a second encore, starting with a cover of the Cub song, New York City. I was familiar with they They Might Be Giants version and it was such a good fit for them that I had no idea it was a cover, while Mika knew the Cub song and didn’t know TMBG had covered it. Anyway, I was singing along and John F. saw me and shot me a smile back in a neat little moment. Finally, they played my favourite of their new Dial-a-Song songs, The Communists Have the Music, which I wasn’t expecting and was a great note to end on.

This was the kind of show where I could have gone in blind and left a fan. But even having waited so long for the experience, it went way beyond what I was hoping for – just a super fun, high-energy show. Tons of the songs I wanted to hear (though it speaks to their ridiculous output that I could list many more that I would’ve liked), great band, great crowd, great venue. It better not take 20 years until I get to see them for the second time.

SLCR #324: Colter Wall (October 16, 2018)

October 20, 2018

Colter Wall is another one of those folks where it’s been cool to watch his progression. It wasn’t all that long ago that he was playing a teaser set at the Regina Folk Festival, not yet being a big enough deal for a main stage spot. Then he’s selling out the Exchange. Now he’s in the hall at Conexus Arts Centre, and I recognize that these place names only mean something to about three of you. It’s bigger, is the point. I think you got that from context.

Steve Earle called Wall “the best singer-songwriter I’ve come across in years.” High praise. And Brock Lesnar and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had an animated discussion about their shared fandom of Wall on WWE Network and while I’ll defer to Earle as far as musical knowledge goes, that was still weird and unexpected enough that I’ll bring it up anytime Wall’s name is mentioned. Like the last time I had to write one of these things about him.

I just looked back to confirm that last point and this review, thus far, is thematically so similar to the last one that it reads like I just re-wrote it. Which I didn’t do, but should have. I could be in bed by now.

Doors at 7:00, show at 8:00. There are good reasons to be late for a concert, but switching over the laundry and finishing up washing dishes probably aren’t among them. I should be careful, lest I damage the rock n’ roll cred I’ve so carefully built up over the years. And anyway, I only missed opener Blake Berglund’s first few songs, arriving just before he was joined on stage for a few songs by (his wife? his fiancée? did I mishear that whole thing?) Belle Plaine.

I might have misheard it. The sound – and this was true for Colter later on too – didn’t do anyone any favours. Really heavy on the bass and muddy vocals. I got better at deciphering things as the night went on, but if I wasn’t familiar with the song beforehand, I was often pretty lost. That said, I still enjoyed the set well enough, especially when Plaine was out there. It’s hard to say she made a surprise appearance when they’re always popping up at each other’s shows, so let’s just say she was unannounced and welcome.

Colter Wall has been likened to Johnny Cash, which seems like the most unfair thing you can do to a young musician but that’s not going to stop me from repeating it here. Apart from a comparably deep voice, Wall has clearly been raised on Cash and the other legends of classic country, taken that history, and put his own spin on it.

And now we’re back to guy with guitar and me not having a lot to say, the most familiar of all SLCR territories. Wall did the first few songs by himself, then brought out his band, and then had Blake and Belle back out with him for the encore. Sound issues aside, this was all good. I don’t know if it was a significant upgrade from listening to his albums, though.

I should have shown up earlier and stood closer to the front – normally, I’m all about hiding at the back, but the front seemed to be for people standing and listening, and the back was for the drinkers and partiers. Only a handful of Wall’s songs are rockers; most are better for listening and it wasn’t always the easiest to do that. Nobody was being a jerk, it was just kinda loud and distracting.

Well, almost nobody – I did think I was going to see a fistfight between Happy Loud Drunk and Angry Quiet Drunk. Happy Loud honestly didn’t seem that loud to me – no worse than 50 other people near me – but Angry Quiet had other thoughts and most of them were the f-word. Nothing happened but eventually a security guard took a permanent spot near them. Earlier, I’d seen two security guards keeping watch over a few ice cubes that had been spilled on the floor, so they were probably thankful for having something more interesting to do.

SLCR #323: Crash Test Dummies (October 11, 2018)

October 17, 2018

You may recall that last summer, I saw the Crash Test Dummies at the Canada Games in Winnipeg.

You may also recall that I became a fan long ago, somehow wound up running their website, and still keep in touch with them a little bit, by which I mean mostly Ellen, and mostly through cat pictures and Letterkenny quotes. I’ve told that story enough.

Anyway, as a long-time fan, I’ve seen them go from being big stars to… let’s just say the opposite of that. The band never officially split up, but album sales dropped off and everyone eventually moved on to do their own thing. That show last year would have made a perfect final chapter to their story. After years apart, the band (mostly) reunites to headline a festival in front of a huge adoring hometown crowd who’s singing along with every word. The concert even ended with fireworks. Freeze frame, roll credits, bonus scene where they’re all enjoying shawarmas.

However, things took a different turn. The band enjoyed their Winnipeg show so much that there was talk of a reunion tour – just a few gigs. That turned into a half-dozen dates in western Canada, eleven in the US, and others to be announced soon. And what’s more, they’re doing well. The press release announcing the US shows got picked up by some large outlets, and Calgary, Saskatoon, and Regina sold out. When they were here last time in 2010, they only half-sold the Exchange. This is a little unexpected (at least by me), but I’m happy and excited for them.

And then we almost didn’t get into the show.

Mika and I got to the casino a little after 7:30 and went to pick up our tickets from the will call. And… nothing. No tickets printed out and waiting in their little ticket box. No record of the purchase on my file. They checked my ID, ran my info repeatedly, found other tickets I’ve bought for upcoming shows. But for the Dummies? Nothing. Jeff showed up and joined Mika off to the side while the boring drama unfolded. The guy at the ticket booth next to me appeared to be having the same issue. The people behind us in line were loving us. I had my phone with the email receipt, which probably saved the day. Eventually, the clerk took some blank tickets, handwrote our seat info, and sent us inside. I was quite certain that this would fail, but it didn’t. And I was even more certain that someone would be waiting at our table, but again, no. Unlikely success!

In retrospect, I do remember the pre-order being particularly glitchy and having to fight to get my order through. And this might also mean the show wasn’t technically sold out, since there was an empty seat at our table. I bought three tickets at a table that seats four; later, I looked into buying the fourth ticket to prevent some random weirdo from sitting with us (I only want weirdos of my choosing), but it said it had been sold. Thanks, God or random ticketing system glitch! You saved me some money. And since the seat wasn’t available to be sold, I declare that the sellout stands.

With no opener, the show was underway at 8:00 on the nose. Business was meant and bedtimes were to be adhered to. As mentioned, the band was (mostly) reunited, with Brad Roberts, Ellen Reid, Dan Roberts, and Mitch Dorge joined by touring guitarists Murray Pulver and Stuart Cameron, and a keyboardist I don’t think I’ve seen before who I’m about 60% sure was named Marc. No sign of original member Benjamin Darvill, who’s still finding success as blues harmonica beatbox oddball Son of Dave. I’m mostly out of the loop these days, but the one piece of insider gossip I’d love to know is whether or not anyone asked Ben if he wanted to do the tour. I suppose it doesn’t matter since I can’t imagine he had any interest.

The setlist for the show wound up pretty similar to last summer’s, which was mostly a greatest hits collection with a few new songs thrown in. They opened with God Shuffled His Feet (during which Ellen spotted me and gave me a subtle wave) and Replacements cover Androgynous. I’ve seen the Dummies six times now and these are two of the five songs that they’ve played at each show; the others being the only two songs most of you would know, Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm and Superman’s Song, and Ellen’s big showcase (and XTC cover) The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead.

After all these shows, I still heard a few songs that I hadn’t seen them play live before. In preparation for their US dates, where they’re playing the God Shuffled His Feet album all the way through, they did When I Go Out With Artists. During a block of songs from their most recent album Ooh-La-La (now eight years old), they played Not Today Baby. And then Ellen stepped up to sing one of Brad’s songs, her favourite Dummies song. I was pretty excited for this – I’d never heard her do one of his songs before.

“And not only is it my favourite Crash Test Dummies song, but my favourite Crash Test Dummies fan is here tonight.”

I may have quietly said one tiny swear word.

Ellen called me out by name, pointed at our table, and dedicated the song My Own Sunrise to me.

“Well, it’s an overtly sexual song, so it’s not FOR YOU. But it’s for you.”

That she’d say or do anything at all was really sweet, especially coming at least a full decade since I’ve had any sort of official involvement with the band. But moreover, it was a song I hadn’t heard live before in a way I’d never heard. Over the years, I’ve tracked down all the rarities that are out there – I’m pretty sure that McSweeny’s article was about me – but this was brand new and super exciting and honestly really special.

Mika, as soon as the song was over: “Did Ellen just sing you a song about boners?”

I mean, technically, yes. A radio-friendly song about boners. My own sunrise! Metaphors!

So. Ellen’s take on the song was great, but I might be biased now and you’ll have to go see them live to hear it anyway. She followed it up with Make You Mine, introducing it with “This song is about being angry, which I’m not, because I’m 52 and I’m over it.” This is my favourite song off her 2001 solo album, something else I’d never heard done live before and something I definitely wasn’t expecting. At this point, I was all in – hearing these two songs back-to-back made me feel like I was back at that first concert at the peak of my fandom. I had been looking forward to the show but really wasn’t expecting to get this invested in it.

The main set was done in about an hour, though they did four more songs when they came back out. I may have gotten chastised for not standing to applaud. And then told to remain standing once I did get up. A highlight of the encore was my favourite Dummies’ song, Afternoons and Coffeespoons, with just Brad and Ellen singing and Stuart on guitar – a real showcase for him. Of the Dummies shows I’ve seen, this was probably the best one musically, but hiring Stuart and Murray to play in your band is like hiring Daryl Strawberry and Ken Griffey Jr. to play on your company softball team. Just keep those boys away from the brain and nerve tonic.

The band killed it, Ellen stole the show, and Brad sounded like he ever did, except more relaxed. Really, what stood out to me was that everyone seemed to be having so much fun. Especially Brad – there were moments where he was genuinely smiling and laughing and I know that sounds super weird, but he always comes across as very performative when he’s on stage, so it was good to see him let his guard down.

Here’s the whole setlist:

God Shuffled His Feet
Androgynous
The Ghosts That Haunt Me
Swimming in Your Ocean
The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
Heart of Stone
Not Today Baby
Songbird
In the Days of the Caveman
When I Go Out With Artists
My Own Sunrise
Make You Mine
Two Knights and Maidens
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
-encore-
Afternoons & Coffeespoons
He Liked to Feel It
Put A Face
Superman’s Song

Jeff headed out when it was over (after facilitating a vital Pokémon trade between me and his wife which I did my best to thwart), and Mika and I stuck around to quickly say hi to the band and get handshakes and hugs and a brief serenade. Possibly this all didn’t happen quickly enough, according to the people in line behind us, but that’s why we waited until almost everyone else had gone through the line. Apparently it was a day of being bad at casino lines.

SLCR #322: Jonathan Richman (October 6, 2018)

October 14, 2018

A few years ago, Jonathan Richman was playing… somewhere. As musicians will do. Saskatoon? Winnipeg? Fargo? I can’t remember where and it doesn’t matter anyway. The relevant point is that Mika and I were visiting whatever city it was, and we saw the ad that said he’d be playing there a few days after we were leaving. She was disappointed that we wouldn’t be around to see him. I offered to come back for the show, but knew that it really wasn’t feasible. Wherever it was. So when I heard about this show at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon, I grabbed us a pair of tickets.

On the drive up, I had visions of struggling to write this review. Jonathan Richman’s career has spanned nearly 50 years that I know pretty much nothing about. Mika’s played me a few of his most famous songs, and I wasn’t familiar with them. He and drummer Tommy Larkins (who was also at this show) were in There’s Something About Mary, in what I gather were pretty prominent roles, but somehow I’ve never seen it. I pretty much expected this would be guy-with-guitar accompanied by guy-with-drums singing songs I don’t know, which can be quite pleasant, but always leaves me challenged to find something to write about.

And it was that, kind of. But nothing like I was expecting.

Doors at 7:00, show at 8:00. Rush seating, so we didn’t want to be too late, nor did we want to spend a ton of time sitting around. We left as late as we could to give Mika as much homework time as possible, but timing drives is tricky. After an uneventful, podcast-laden road trip, we got to the theatre right at 7:00 – the third and fourth people to arrive. They let us into the theatre and we took our seats – front row centre were available, so why not?

We walked into the theatre past quite a few NO CELLPHONE signs. I took a picture of the drum kit set up on the empty stage and put my phone away – after we spent, like, 45 minutes scrolling through our respective Instagram feeds, showing each other cute animal pictures. It’s become our pre-concert tradition. I should mention that we also walked past a sign that said they’d ask for ID unless you look older than 45. And they didn’t. I took a picture of that too.

More people trickled in; though the place was never that full, the people who were there were devoted fans. And me, I guess. One girl sat by us and got Mika to take her picture in front of the stage. As she reviewed the picture, Richman and Larkins emerged from the back of the theatre and walked the aisle up to the front. Richman passed our new friend and chastised her for illicit cellphone usage. Those signs meant business! He did, however, compliment the vintage tour t-shirt she was proudly wearing.

With no instruments, Richman began singing Not So Much to Be Loved as to Love. Starting a song a capella was something he would do throughout the show. His songs were sweet, often simple, and catchy. He sang of love and human connection and art and wine, with more than you’d expect in Italian and French. Not that I knew enough to expect any.

For “just” guitar and drums (and a bit of simultaneous shaking of maracas and hips), the two had a great sound. Sitting up at the front, I could closely watch Richman’s guitar playing and the guy is an incredible talent. I might go so far as exceptional, just because that’s the kind of skill you have to display for me to notice. Not to be outdone, Larkin easily handled a freeform, no-setlist show and was given several chances to take centre stage. Metaphorically, I mean. You’re not going to move a whole drum kit just for one solo. You understand.

Looking through Richman’s more recent albums, I can tell you he played Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild, Le printemps des amoreux est venu, and He Gave Us the Wine to Taste. A few times, people called out for older songs and they were soundly denied. One person asked for Abominable Snowman in the Supermarket after he’d already said what he was going to play next; he blew off the request saying he was ready to play the other song and couldn’t think of two things at once. A later request for Roadrunner got a longer, very thoughtful explanation as to why he doesn’t play that song anymore, which I will artlessly sum up as “I play what I feel and I haven’t felt that song in 30 years.” He said it better, though, and the crowd heartily applauded his explanation.

They also really liked it when he told off the guy who was using a cellphone. I’ll be honest, when I see “no cellphone” signs, I put my phone away during the show and I say it’s out of respect for the artist’s wishes but really I just don’t want to catch hell in front of everyone.

The night was over relatively quickly, at just under 90 minutes. He left as he entered, walking back up the aisle to the lobby, though he stopped halfway to since one more song a capella in Italian. Or maybe it was Spanish and I just think everything is Italian now?

The show was charming, delightful, and, to this newcomer, curiously different. About as different from “guy-with-guitar accompanied by guy-with-drums singing songs I don’t know” as it could be while still perfectly fitting that description.

There was one fellow there whose behaviour during the show might be best described as unconventional. First he paced back and forth in front of the stage for a few songs. Then he removed his glasses and did it again, seven or eight more times, all while ceaselessly rubbing his hands through his hair. He disappeared for a bit, came back with a beer, and sat on the stairs leading up to the stage. At one point, in the middle of a song, he got up and used the flashlight on his contraband cellphone to examine the artwork painted on the walls of the theatre, an act so out-of-place that Richman thought better than it best to just ignore. Anyway, I guess he liked the show, because a few minutes after Richman was done, just as we were leaving, he hollered “maybe THIS will end war!!!” I guess there’s a chance? I mean, I’d be okay with it. Doesn’t look like we’ve made any progress so far but maybe I have to post this first.