SLCR #255: 54-40 (August 19, 2016)

August 20, 2016

I turn 40 in two- wait. That won’t work twice. And it’s 20 minutes to midnight anyway.

This was a last-minute decision for me. I had forgotten the show was even happening until it popped up on Facebook a little while ago, and I only bought my ticket a few hours before the show. I like 54-40 well enough and all, but I saw them a few years ago and described it as the most just-a-show show that I’d maybe ever seen. I really wasn’t sure that I needed to pay to see that again. Plus Mika didn’t feel like going, even when good seats opened up on the day of the show.

But then I was looking them up online, which can be a bit tricky, because if you google 54-40, you get 14. But I still found their website and it described this show as acoustic. “Featuring intimate and unplugged versions of 54-40’s greatest hits performed as you’ve never heard them before.” That would make sense – their newest album is a collection of acoustic reworkings of their biggest hits. I haven’t heard it, but Aaron says it’s good. This intrigued me, as it would be a different show from the last time I saw them. On the other hand, the last show dragged until it got to the more high-energy second half. Should I risk the $37.13? I asked Aaron, which meant I already knew what I wanted the answer to be, because what was he going to say? No?

So I got my ticket, rushed through a dinner of Indian food while finishing off the Weird Al review, and made my way to the casino. I was up in the balcony. The show wasn’t sold out, and I had an entire row to myself. Actually, several rows as pretty much everything behind me was also open. This is a fine way to watch a show.

Right at 8:00, some local radio guy introduced the band and we were underway. The first thing I must note is that there was nothing acoustic at all about this show. This was a straight up rock show, and oddly (considering last time), the crowd was into it right from the start. By the second song, there were people standing up at the front of the stage, with more joining with every song. By the end of it, the people at the first few rows of tables wouldn’t have been able to see anything and those tables were largely abandoned.

I didn’t take notes about the set list, but I’m pretty sure they opened with Easy to Love and from there, it was all hits, all the time. I didn’t keep track of the setlist, but if you know a 54-40 song, they played it. I mean, not if you’re some kind of superfan or something. But if you know only the radio songs, like me? They didn’t leave you wanting much. I Go Blind, Since When, Baby Ran, Crossing a Canyon, Lies to Me, Love You All, One Day in Your Life, Ocean Pearl, Nice to Luv You, Crossing a Canyon, One Gun, She-La, Radio Luv Song, Blame Your Parents, Casual Viewin’… it turns out that 54-40 had way more hits than I realized, and I knew pretty much everything.

I guess there was one song that wasn’t a hit – a new song from their upcoming album. The song was based on a Winston Churchill quote: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The song was probably called something like Keep Walking, while lead singer Neil Osborne offered the suggested title of “Grizzled, Chiseled, and the Wine is Fine” for the new album; about this, I can only say it received the reaction it deserved. Interpret that as you will.

Questionable album title aside, the new song was good, and the whole show was great – much better than last time out. There were big singalongs for Ocean Pearl and Casual Viewin’, but there was much more energy from both the band and the fans as compared to before. I don’t know what changed in the crowd, but whatever it was, it was there right from the start. It’s amazing the difference that the atmosphere makes. It created this loop where the band was having more fun because the crowd was really into it, and because the band was enjoying themselves, the crowd got MORE into it. It’s too bad the show ended after 90 minutes (plus a two-song encore) because we could have been on the verge of discovering some sort of perpetual energy machine.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

SLCR #254: “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14, 2016)

August 19, 2016

I turn 40 in two days.

This is an excellent way to start a concert review. For one, it ensures that I have to finish it today instead of letting it sit for another week or two. Also, it advises you, the reader, that there will be very little distracting music talk getting in the way of me nattering on about myself, which is what you’re all here for.

This fact is also relevant because these concert tickets were my 40th birthday present to myself. I’ve seen a ton of concerts this year, but this one was special – I forked over a not-insignificant amount of cash to get the Mandatory Czar VIP tickets – not only do you get premium seats, but also a bag of stuff and – most importantly – a meet-and-greet with Weird Al himself. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, which is why I made up the “40th birthday present” justification after the fact. I needed something. These were the most expensive concert tickets I’ve ever bought.

Which is a questionable purchase to make, you know? I love Weird Al, but I also know how his shows go. You have a good idea of what he’s going to play, because there are so many costume changes and special sets that things can only vary so much from tour to tour. If you’ve been once, you kind of know what you’re getting.

Though to be fair, the VIP tickets promised some new experiences. There were two tiers of VIP tickets; ours (the pricier ones) came with the meet-and-greet, but both had the gift bag and also the pre-show experience. And that’s two sentences in a row ended with “experience,” but that really is the best word for it. They let people in at 5:30, but we didn’t get there until after 7:00 as I didn’t think it would really be my thing. They gave us our stuff bags at the door – nothing too exciting. There was a flag, a lanyard, a beret, and a copy of the Mad magazine from last year that Al edited. We walked into the hall, and right into the middle of a costume contest and lip-sync battle. There was an Amish guy, some Jedi, lots of tinfoil hats, and some girls in Weird Al costumes who gave me really conflicted feelings. There were also some costumes where their relevance was… dubious. Either these were some deep references that I didn’t understand, or else it was just random dressing-up.

At the back of the room, there was a small touring museum with a selection of props from videos, lots of pictures, things like that. That stuff was really neat to see. There were snacks set out, a cash bar, and a merchandise stand so you could shop for your Weird Al paraphernalia without being interrupted by the masses. I wanted an action figure but it was cash-only and I had brought none, so I had to hit up an ATM later and shop at the normal souvenir stand like some sort of god damned commoner.

We were only there for a few minutes before the festivities wrapped up, concluding with the host tearing around the room singing Leggy Blonde (which is decidedly not a Weird Al song, but I guess it does say “goodbye” a lot) and knocking things over. We took this as our cue to leave so Mika took a picture of me with the Wheel of Fish, and then went off to our seats. The VIP tickets had us front row, just slightly right of centre. No complaints there.

Weird Al may be wacky but he is super serious about starting a show on time. 8:00 on the nose. I know it’s the same show from night to night – you can’t mix it up too much when it’s that choreographed – so I don’t want to go into too many details here. The structure of the show itself was as I remembered – lots of songs from the newest album (Mandatory Fun), lots of classics (I wonder if Canadian Idiot gets added to the tour specifically for the Canadian shows?), lots of video clips between songs while the costume changes were happening. Hearing the new songs done live was cool, and like before, there was a medley with a mix of songs from all through his career so you could hear things you might not expect. This time, there was also an acoustic set partway through that offered new versions of some of his classics. This was new to me and it was a great way to mix things up. He’s been playing some of these songs for over 30 years so it’s probably nice for him and his band to do something different too.

Anyway, this was a delightful time. Al was in fine form – I’m pretty sure he ages at one-third the speed of the rest of us – and his band was excellent as ever. Sitting front row adds to the experience, as Al once again serenaded Mika during Wanna Be Ur Luvr, putting his foot up on her chair and singing “Have you seen my picture? It’s in the dictionary, under ‘kablam’.” We also got splattered with water during Smells Like Nirvana when Al threw the contents of his cup out into the crowd. And during Fat, Al’s cries of “hooooooooo” drew an appearance from Santa Claus, who got punched, sending “teeth” across the stage. One of Santa’s teeth hit me in the ankle, which is not a sentence I’ve had much reason to say before now.

And while the show was familiar, there was a lot of new material – not only were there the new songs, but many of the video clips used during the show were new to me, and lots of the classic clips had been retired. Al has had a renaissance of sorts in the past few years, with Mandatory Fun being the first comedy album to hit #1 in 50 years, and the first one ever to debut at #1. Plus he’s been the bandleader on Comedy Bang Bang and done lots of TV guest spots and voiceover work, so there was a lot of material to draw from.

Once the show was done, after the Star Wars songs (he always ends with the Star Wars songs), it was time to meet the man. About 50 people had the purple VIP badges that allowed for the meet-and-greet. We got the rules (have your camera or phone ready, have your item to get signed ready, decide beforehand if you want individual pictures or a group shot). The host said he’d be the one taking the pictures, and that we could trust him because he used to work for Sears before he got fired. As someone who’s been paying close attention to the goings-on at his local Sears Portrait Studio, this joke did not fill me with confidence. Search Instagram for #searsyqr for more details. Anyway, once that was done, we were led to a side area of the centre. There was a bit of a wait; occasionally, someone would leave to use the bathroom, and then disappoint everyone upon their return. Not every door that opens leads to “Weird Al” Yankovic. Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers, who made an on-stage appearance during the Star Wars songs, stood behind the table to serve as a backdrop for photos with Al. Some other Stormtroopers wandered the line and chatted with people, posed for pictures, that kind of thing.

Before too long, Al showed up. They moved through the line at a pretty good clip. I got my phone ready, and I decided to just get the concert tickets signed (in part because I’d already taken all our stuff to the car before the show started). Al posed for a picture with us, signed our tickets, and I got to thank him for the show and for all the music over the years. Not only have I been a big fan since childhood, but he comes across like a really down-to-earth normal guy. I’ve never heard of anything that suggests otherwise.

And with that, we were out the side door and back to the car. Would I do it again? That’s a tricky question. I cannot stress enough that these tickets were really expensive and by most anyone’s estimation, buying them was a really dumb idea. I could live without the pre-show deal and the bag of stuff – I’m almost 40, I’m not going to wear a Weird Al hat or hang a Weird Al flag (and I already had the magazine because Aaron’s got my back). But we had great seats for a great show, and I got to meet one of my favourite celebrities ever, if only for a minute. That part of it was really cool. Ultimately, I certainly have no regrets that we did it once. I don’t know if I’d do it again for the next Al show, though. I had my moment with him, I got what I wanted, I’m good. For someone else? Maybe. For the right band at the right price, especially if they come with great tickets. But there just aren’t that many celebrities I really care about meeting. Watching from afar is usually good enough. This might be a one-off – but it was worth it.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• 54-40 (August 19)
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

SLCR #253: Regina Folk Festival (August 5-7, 2016)

August 9, 2016

SATURDAY, 3:40 p.m.

Here we go again. Let’s see if I can talk about 15 bands in fewer words than it took me to talk about one.

I was honestly not super excited for the folk festival this year. The first band they announced was the Cat Empire, who I saw in Calgary a few years ago and enjoyed, but the rest of the lineup didn’t do a ton for me. Then Ry Cooder dropped out; to be honest, I know way less about him than I probably should, but I know the guy is a legend and I was looking forward to seeing him for that reason alone.

We considered getting rid of our tickets – we buy early when they’re cheap, which makes it easy to sell them later at cost if we need to unload them – but ultimately decided to go. Mika made the point that if you don’t support (what you see as) the weaker years, they won’t have money to bring you (what you see as) the better years. Fair enough. And sometimes acts you don’t know about can take you by surprise. Like last year. Lisa Leblanc? Never heard of her. Who cares? And then she tore it the heck up and was awesome and I’m sad that she hasn’t been back out this way since then. So there’s hope.

Each day, the gates open at 5:00, which on Friday is a bit of a pain for someone who works normal hours. I’m done at 4:02 (union reasons) but I figured Mika wouldn’t be able to leave the office until at least 5:00. After considering a dozen options, none of them ideal, I decided to drive my lawn chairs to the office on Thursday night so I could easily take them and get in the festival line on Friday. “Easily” being a relative term; the chairs are comfortable, but they’re also mighty solid. But whatever; I dragged them from the office, through the mall, then got to the park. I set up one of the chairs and had a nice sitdown, listening to podcasts and catching Pokémon until they let us in.

Walking up, I was surprised to see that there wasn’t much of a line. I got there at 4:15 and was on the corner of Scarth and Victoria. Last year, Mika made it to the line at 3:30 and was a block further back. It certainly seemed like there were fewer people in the park this year, at least on the Friday. The food lines were shorter too.

I was inside with the chairs set up by the time Mika made it downtown. I got our usual spot, though a few rows closer than normal. Taking a cue from Jeff, I took a picture of the weekend schedule and set it as my phone’s lock screen. So handy!

The Friday night host was children’s entertainer Al Simmons. I will say that lots of people enjoyed his shtick. I will also say that I do not understand those people. At one point I joked that he was my second-favourite performer of the evening and everyone else was tied for first. During one particularly interminable bit, a friend messaged me that Simmons was dipping into third place. Solid enough joke but absolute gold-star timing.

The festival was kicked off by Terra Lightfoot, who we saw open for Blue Rodeo earlier this year. I liked her well enough then and a few people I know said they preferred her to Blue Rodeo at that show. I hope those folks were at this festival because she was great here – almost like she was holding back last time. Great songs and a likeable, charismatic personality with lots of energy. As one of only a handful of artists I knew on this year’s festival, I was really looking forward to her set and she exceeded my expectations.

The first teaser was Twin Peaks, a duo from BC. I question the wisdom of choosing a band name that will be so tricky to search, but they were charming and fun so I’ll just put the link to http://twinpeaksmusic.ca/ here and now the world doesn’t need Google anymore. It feels good to know that I fixed the internet forever. They’re playing a full show at 3:00 on Sunday and I’m thinking about checking it out. I mean, let’s be honest, I never get around to the daytime stages unless Hawksley Workman is there, but I’m considering it.

Next up was IsKwé, a First Nations performer from Winnipeg who performed what I would describe as hip-hop-influenced pop. I thought this was pretty interesting; in particular, I really enjoyed the first song. She also covered a Björk song (Army of Me), though I don’t know from Björk and didn’t recognize the song. Mika knows these things. She should write these. Though I think I enjoyed this set more than she did so maybe not.

Somewhere in here, I got Indian food. I suspect I will write this sentence two more times in the coming days. Mika went for falafel, and later on, we split a box of salted caramels. Kettle corn truck, I’ll see you later.

The next teaser was by Twin Bandit, another pair of ladies from BC. I wonder if Twin Peaks are their mortal enemies? Or maybe best friends? OR BOTH? Someone write me some fan fiction about two bands you’ve never heard of.

DAMMIT I am out of time and will have to finish the Friday night wrap-up later. I skipped ahead and wrote the last part first, so uh here it is I guess:

The first night’s headliners were The Head and the Heart. I knew the name but no songs, so Mika played me some. They were pleasant, if aggressively dull – so much so that not only did I not remember a note ten minutes later, I think I was actively forgetting them as they were playing. Point being, I wasn’t really looking forward to them. I can tell you that live, they were much better than what she played for me. However, this still didn’t interest us much and we packed it in halfway through. The screaming girls down at front would surely have a different opinion of this performance. Maybe I am a stubborn old poop or maybe they just weren’t for me. Or maybe anyone would have struggled to follow the one-two punch of Ginkgoa and the Cat Empire.

=======

MONDAY, 8:25 p.m.

Okay, my plan of writing this in short, reasonable chunks over the weekend didn’t pan out.

Also not panning out: my plan of getting downtown in time on Sunday for the Twin Peaks set. Unsurprising. Oh well, I bought their CDs instead so that’s probably better for them anyway.

Feeling that I had to keep one promise, I did indeed eat Indian food all three nights. Specifically, the samosa platter with curried chickpeas and a Diet Coke. I mixed it up dessert-wise, though. Gotta expand those horizons. With mini-donuts.

Given that chronological order has already gone to hell, I suppose I could talk about Sunday now, since it’s freshest in my mind. I don’t have much to say about it, though. The mainstage acts were, in order, the Barr Brothers, Frazey Ford, Bobby Bazini, the Strumbellas, and the Mavericks. You know how sometimes I see a show and it’s good, but I don’t have much to say about it? That was all of Sunday night for me. Nothing was bad. Bazini was delightfully funky. The Strumbellas had fun banter and I enjoyed their sing-along clap-along tunes more than I was expecting to, especially the one song that I knew (it’s their one song everyone knows, even if you think you don’t) (even you). IsKwé was our host for the evening and she did a mighty fine job. We didn’t stick around for the very end – we left about halfway through the Mavericks – but this was all fine. Not the most memorable evening I’ve spent at the festival, but there was nothing wrong with it either.

As I mentioned above, that was all kind of my opinion about the Head and the Heart too. They were mightily upstaged by the bands that came before them. Ginkgoa, in particular, were the highlight of the festival for me. From France, they played an updated take on swing music, adding in some modern pop twists. The crowd loved these guys, going from “who?” to “OMG” over the course of their set – to the point that there were boos when they said it would be their last song. I bought their EP – it’s not exactly the one that’s featured at http://ginkgoa.bandcamp.com/releases. I haven’t listened to either yet to see if they’re entirely different; if they are, I’ll get the online version too.

Two years running that French speakers stole the show. I should have tried harder in grade school.

The next main stage act was the Cat Empire, who played another very energetic batch of tunes, though I thought the restricted length of their set (roughly an hour) may have hurt them a bit. They’d go on these extended jams that were fun enough, but when you only have an hour, I don’t know that you have time to do that too often. But whatever, I’m nitpicking. This was very well received and the one-two punch of Ginkgoa and the Cat Empire made Friday the best night of the three.

Before the Head and the Heart, I went in search of a Diet Coke but instead found the T+A Vinyl & Fashion tent in the marketplace, so I dug through their crates and found a 12″ of Love Junk by the Pursuit of Happiness for $7. This delights me.

Okay, so I covered Friday, then Sunday, then back to Friday. Time for Saturday. And I legitimately almost wrote “Thursday,” which would make this a recap of me writing my Tragically Hip review. Or, more likely, my procrastination techniques (usually logic puzzles).

The host for Saturday night was the artistic director of the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon. He did fine work and I will note that his job title is not “professional entertainer.”

Additional amateur entertainment was provided by the family in front of us. Specifically, the grandma, who brought a bag of dried apricots (“DON’T STEP ON THE FOOD” she said) and who loudly told one of the grandkids “Come sit by me. Mama wants to drink.” But alas, my fond memories of them were stained when they went home, leaving all their trash behind on the lawn like idiot garbage people despite the numerous bins all over the park. Fred Penner’s gonna hunt you down, grandma.

It is interesting to note that if someone was littering, letting their friends cut into very long lines, or obstinately parking their lawn chairs in the middle of the walkway and then getting upset if you tried to use said walkway for its intended purpose (hypothetically), it was a senior citizen. There were lots of older folks who were perfectly pleasant, though. Maybe festivals like this just bring out people who don’t normally go to concerts and thus don’t know how to behave? Or maybe I’m just grasping at straws, desperately attempting to delude myself into thinking that I’m still young.

Anyway. The first two main stage performers were Ayrad (Moroccan music from Quebec – and NOT my Sociology professor) and Boogat (Latin music, also from Quebec). These were both enjoyable and not at all like what I usually listen to. Again, not a ton to say about either of them; sometimes it’s just nice to kick back and enjoy something a little different.

The next act was supposed to be Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, & Sharon White, but instead wound up being Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. So it goes. Earlier that day, my dad said he’d be interested in my opinion of Skaggs, who he described as very talented but also a “hardcore conservative.” Coming from my dad, this says something. Anyway, I wondered how receptive a folk festival would be to that kind of talk, but apart from one “bluegrass matters” aside that I rolled my eyes at, politics were a non-issue. But yeah, this was really good. Kentucky Thunder (guitars, banjo, fiddle, bass) were amazing musicians.

Next up was Bettye LaVette. This is yet another one where I am not informed enough to say anything of value, but what the hell, if you were going to tune out over that, you’d have done it years ago. People loved this lady. They cheered when she said her age (70! I should be half as active then) (or now). They cheered every songwriter she mentioned working with, including Dolly Parton and Lucinda Williams. I cheered when some girl went WOOOOO and LaVette said “I’ll give you a quarter if you never do that again. That’s piercing. But you’re very beautiful.” So that was fun. And she sings real good too. I’ve got all the hot takes tonight.

Finally, we had the Sam Roberts Band. I did not figure this would happen. Two years ago, Roberts was scheduled to headline the Friday night of the festival when, in his words, “the world came to an end.” The lightning shut down the festival, and the rain made everyone flee, but it was the plow wind that ripped off sections of my friend’s roof and caused another friend to walk home over downed power lines. Maybe not a good idea. Don’t do that.

Anyway, we’ve had lots of late night storms this summer, so when I saw Roberts was on last, I didn’t think it would actually happen. Somehow, it did – we actually had beautiful weather for all three nights – so Roberts and his band and the fans all got to settle some unfinished business.

Oddly, I’d never actually seen Sam Roberts before, which seems amazing considering he’s been a big deal in Canadian music for 15 years now. Though in all fairness, I was never a superfan; never disliked the guy, but never quite understood why everyone else seemed to like him SO much. I think that maybe this was the perfect Sam Roberts show for me – a handful of new songs and deep cuts, but this was mostly a greatest-hits performance, and it turned out that I knew and liked more of said hits than I thought.

The night peaked when the encore was starting and Mika showed me her phone – she got an alert from the Weather Network saying that lightning had been seen in the area. This was perfect. Too little, too late, God. We made it all the way to the end of Don’t Walk Away Eileen, so now who’s omnipotent?

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

SLCR #252: The Tragically Hip (August 1, 2016)

August 5, 2016

Beloved Canadian legends. One final tour. An impossible ticket.

For my money, the Tragically Hip are most iconic band in Canadian history. But I might be biased; timing-wise, I’m about the perfect age to be a Hip fan. I’m also quite willing to discount Rush’s potential claim to the title due to not caring in the slightest about Rush. They join SCTV and Trailer Park Boys and hockey and beer on the big list of Canadian exports that I just can’t get behind.

Nevertheless. The Hip came on the scene as I was getting into high school. By the time I got to university, they’d cemented their spot as the top band in Canada. They seemed to skip over Saskatchewan on every tour (at least when I was old/interested enough to want to see them), so when they finally played Saskatoon on November 18, 1996, it was probably my most anticipated concert ever at that point. That said, it was SLCR #5 so it didn’t have a ton of competition.

I saw them twice more after that. Once was at Another Roadside Attraction (SLCR #18, July 21, 1997), an outdoor festival that also featured Sheryl Crow, Wilco, Los Lobos, Ashley MacIsaac, Ron Sexsmith, and others. The only other time was February 27, 1999 (SLCR #35), when I really only went because my mom won free tickets at work.

It may make you very sad to consider that 1999 was 17 years ago. That’s a long time to go without seeing a band that I have always really liked. Part of the reason was that having seen them, I chose to direct limited time and funds to other shows. Part of it was that the Hip shows I went to were packed full of the kind of drunken oafs I can’t stand being around. And part of it was simply that it’s so easy to say “there’s always next time.” Funny thing about that.

As anyone who cares enough to read this knows by now, a few months back, the Hip went public with the news that lead singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. This was pretty much a national day of mourning here, and I’m not even kidding. But the announcement was accompanied by other news; namely, the band was going to head out on tour, feeling that “this feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us.”

The dates were announced, and the band was skipping over Saskatchewan. I joked that this should allay any fears about the quality of Downie’s performances – the band was already touring like it was 20 years ago. I briefly resigned myself to missing out, but of course, my mind did as it will do; namely, it got a dumb idea and then started to figure out how to make it feasible. The Calgary show would work without taking any time off – I’d just have to move an EDO. Simple. Mika couldn’t go; she couldn’t get the needed day off work. That would be sad for her and a long drive by myself.

This was all hypothetical, of course, as I’d still need a ticket. Luckily, I was only up against an entire country of Hip fans and an army of scalpers looking to corner the market. No big deal.

On the morning of the on-sale, I heard about the instant sellouts of the Ontario shows with some alarm. Finally, at 10:00 local time, I was up – and nothing. Refresh. Nothing. Try again. Nothing.

Please re-read those last six words for about twenty minutes, okay? It’s important to my artistic vision.

I can’t really build any suspense here. I’m writing a concert review; obviously, I got in. I hit my give-up point a few times, but convinced myself to log back in and check just one more time. It finally paid off, with a seat on the 20th row of the floor. Not that the chairs were ever used once the music started.

So that’s it, I was going. I was really curious what the show would be like. Could they still deliver? Would it be sad? And what would they play? The Hip has 14 studio albums if you count their first EP – could any setlist satisfy everyone? Reports from the first few shows were promising, both in terms of their performance and the song selections.

It was finally time to hit the road. (Which means that it only took me 13 paragraphs or so to get to the parts you didn’t already know.) I left quite early on the Saturday morning, having gotten up at 5:20 a.m. as I do on workdays. I had high hopes of getting the drive out of the way quickly. This lasted until around Swift Current (about two hours from Regina), where I saw a billboard for the T.rex Discovery Centre in Eastend. I’d always wanted to check that out, and realized that I wasn’t likely to ever have a better chance. The detour took me about 2.5 hours out of the way, but I saw some rad dinosaur bones so I figure it was worth it.

Leaving the centre, the sky was pretty ominous. However, the windy road back to the main highway seemed designed to circumnavigate the storm. I was in the clear!

(I’m an idiot.)

I stopped for lunch at Medicine Hat’s finest Subway before nearing Calgary around 5:00 p.m. It was at this point that all hell broke loose. Between Strathmore and Chestermere, the car started handling really poorly. I am nervous about the car at the best of times, and the service light had come on earlier in the trip. I assumed it was just the reminder that we were due for an oil change upon my return, but the handling was really concerning. Then I realized it wasn’t the car – it was suddenly just that windy out. I discovered this when I encountered a dust storm so bad that you couldn’t see through it. I got past it, albeit slowly and cautiously. On the other side, I could see that the sky was a really strange colour. I later heard reports of funnel clouds in the area around the time that I was near. So that was a thing. And not even the worst of it – when I did get into Calgary, the skies opened up and unleashed a wicked hailstorm. I tried to find shelter but was unsuccessful. I then decided to just try to get to my grandma’s place, but the hail got worse so I abandoned that idea too. I pulled into a hotel parking lot and was somewhat shielded under a tree. This was loud and horrible and sucked and I hated it.

But I need to be thankful. It could have been much worse. After the hail ended, I got back on my way and passed all kinds of accidents and emergency vehicles. When I finally made it to my grandma’s place and stowed the car in the underground parking, my initial assessment didn’t reveal any damage. I don’t know how that could be possible – and I did find a windshield chip later on, so there was at least that – but we’ll get a car wash and see what we see. I’m still here and the car’s insured. Though I’m insured too so maybe we should run a cost-benefit analysis before declaring that everything worked out for the best.

I spent that night visiting with my grandma. I did get an invite from Colin to go out with him and some folks, but after that drive, our evening of frozen pizza and Lawrence Welk and NCIS reruns was just fine.

The next day (which was still not the day with the concert but I am trying to give you the full experience here), I walked to the Chinook Centre and saw some adorable bunnies on the way. Then I caught the C-Train to Colin’s neighbourhood and we explored the Harry Potter launch day celebrations. As Mika pointed out, me at a Harry Potter event would be like her going to a wrestling convention, but whatever, this was neat to see. Nobody was expecting this turnout and some places ran out of their Potter-themed specials two hours into the day. When we got there, the candy store had probably 100 people lined up out the door. After dinner, two hours after everything was supposed to be done, there was still a line just to get into the store.

The next day, I spent the afternoon walking around the neighbourhood, by which I mostly mean I spent it catching Pokémon. In music news, I popped by a record store where I found a used Refreshments vinyl for $12. Hopefully I like it as much now as I did in 1996. The deal was made even sweeter with the inclusion of a free Jason Collett CD that I’m about 80% sure I was allowed to take and didn’t just shoplift. They’d have said something, right?

Finally, it was time for the show. Multiple emails said it was doors at 6:30, show at 8:30 sharp. There were no physical tickets; you swiped the credit card you paid with at the door. I got there reasonably early, around 7:00, as I’d been expecting chaos trying to get in, but I needn’t have worried. There was no line, the swipe method worked fine, and I was inside in short order. I went in through the Chrysler Club entrance, and it took much longer to actually find my seat than it did to get inside. To go down, you must first go up. Very well.

For all the struggles people had getting tickets, I lucked out – 20th row on the floor, dead centre. It was such a good seat, in fact, that someone else claimed it too. We each went for the little slips they gave us when we did the swipe thing, and sure enough – Row 20, Seat 23. A matching set. Luckily, there was someone missing on the other side of the dude to my left, so he shuffled down a bit and all was well. This remained a mystery until I got home and examined my slip more closely. The slips have a perforation, and the printer deal doesn’t print real well on the perforation, so if you look really closely at my 23, you’ll see the telltale traces of ink that indicate it was actually a 28. Hahahaha whoops – I’m an idiot, but in fairness, that other dude didn’t notice it either. It WOULD explain why the other guy had room to move down.

If this all sounds relatively civil, well, it was. We all got along nicely. Fears of drunken yahoos – which escalated when I heard about the pre-party at Cowboy’s – were unfounded. Not that nobody was partaking (so so so much pot), but at least where I was, people weren’t rowdy at all. The mood wasn’t somber – far from it – but you didn’t get the people who were only there just to drink. I mean, I did hear one guy loudly belt out Boots or Hearts as I was leaving, but if that’s as bad as it gets, it’s been a good night.

There was no opening act. I figured this was for the best, since Hip crowds can sometimes be… single-minded in their interests, let’s say. The first time I saw the Hip, the Rheostatics were the openers and the crowd was having NONE OF IT. But in front of this audience… I don’t know, maybe? I don’t think people would have been outright mean to an opener here, but I also don’t think they wanted anything to take time away from the Hip.

As time passed, we got brief updates; a voiceover booming “THE SHOW WILL BEGIN IN 30 MINUTES” and an accompanying graphic on the big screen. Again at the 15-minute mark. Finally, it was “THIS IS ROB FROM THE HIP. THE SHOW WILL BEGIN IN 5 MINUTES, AND IF YOU ARE NOT IN YOUR SEAT, I WILL BE VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU.” Hilarious. Also, they were not messing around. At 8:30 on the nose, the lights dimmed, the band took the stage, everyone stood up (and stayed on their feet the entire time), and the show began.

The energy from the crowd was off the charts. Much like the Spirit of the West farewell show I saw earlier this year, everyone in attendance knew the story and they were ready to turn this into a great concert by sheer force of will if need be. However, the Hip – Gord in particular – didn’t need any help. He’s always been an entertainer and a showman and that’s what he was there to do. You’d never know that he’d had health issues – his voice was in fine form, as were his trademark… let’s go with unique dance moves. If anything, he seemed happier than the other times I’d seen them. More in the moment, with lots of big smiles, playful waves at the audience, and the ongoing struggle to pick his towel up off the floor with his feet. The costume changes helped the mood too. It’s probably hard to be sad when you have your choice of three shiny lamé suits to wear; gold, silver, and pink. With matching top hats. And a Jaws t-shirt underneath for good measure.

I broadcast the first four songs from the show on Periscope, more just as an experiment to see what would happen. I had over 300 live viewers at the peak, and it seemed like the sound came through okay – I haven’t watched it back. The idea was to set it up, stick my phone in my shirt pocket, and just kinda hope it worked out. But then it’s like… you want this to be good, right? So I’d hold the phone for a while, and then back to the shirt pocket, and then hold it some more, and then that aforementioned conversation with that dude about our “matching” tickets… ultimately, I shut it down pretty quickly. Too bad – it could have been a nice souvenir for me, and the folks who tuned in seemed really appreciative. But one only has so much battery and data, and I was finding it distracting. Still, a limited success. Will try again in the future with other shows.

As to what those songs were, the Hip were gracious enough to put the full setlist online so I don’t have to fight to remember specifics:

Three Pistols
Twist My Arm
Fiddler’s Green
Little Bones
In a World Possessed by the Human Mind
What Blue
Ocean Next
Machine
(five-minute break for the whole band)
In View
The Kids Don’t Get It
World Container
Yer Not the Ocean
So Hard Done By
Grace, Too
Yawning or Snarling
Daredevil
(Gord takes a brief break while the band plays on)
Something On
Escape is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man
Poets
Bobcaygeon
(encore break)
Giftshop
Flamenco
Ahead by a Century
(second encore break)
Boots or Hearts
Blow at High Dough

First, you’ll notice it was kind of like they were their own opening act, with eight songs (around 35 minutes) and then a quick break leading into a longer set. But what I didn’t notice in the moment is that all the songs are grouped together by album. Check it: four songs from Road Apples, four from Man Machine Poem, four from World Container, four from Day for Night, four from Phantom Power, three from Trouble at the Henhouse, and two from Up to Here. I did notice that a lot of album-mates were played close together, but only after I got home did I realize just how segmented it was.

This also means that there was nothing from We are the Same, Now for Plan A, In Between Evolution, In Violet Light, Music@Work, and – gasp – Fully Completely, once my favourite Hip album (I still love it, but I go back and forth with Henhouse and Day for Night now too).

The second Calgary show, this past Wednesday, followed a similar format. It featured blocks of songs from Up to Here, Man Machine Poem, Day for Night, In Violet Light, Trouble at the Henhouse, Phantom Power, and Fully Completely. I want to say that about half the songs repeated but I am not about to count it all up right now to be sure. I can’t say for sure which night I’d rather have seen. There were some obvious omissions in my show, but what can be done about that? They could play a six-hour show and there’d still be people who didn’t get to hear their favourites. On the drive home from Calgary, I tried to come up with my ideal setlist for a second show with no repeats. This was a hard game to master but an easy game to play – it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Hip have a ton of great songs.

And in Calgary, they played them all so well. The songs weren’t really messed with in any way; there were no fancy new arrangements and Gord didn’t really play with the lyrics as I’d seen him do before. The songs were all largely as we know them. The band was – well, as good as you’d expect musicians with 30 years of experience to be, which is to say, fantastic.

I have now ended two straight paragraphs with the most obvious “insights.” Maybe I should also mention that people cheered everything but they were much louder for the big hits.

Though I have to make special mention of Grace, Too. I’ve been asked if the show was sad, and it really wasn’t. People – both fans and the band, really – were there to celebrate, not to mourn. But there’s that part near the end of Grace, Too where Gord is just yelling, right? So they’re playing this song, and the crowd has been singing along, and they get to that part, and he’s just wailing, and you can clearly see his face on the big screens and he looks sad. The more he wails, the louder the crowd gets, and this carries on as far as you’d think it could go, and then just keeps on still. It was just so intense and cathartic – probably more for the crowd than for Gord – that when it finally ended, I was just in awe of what had happened. In 252 reviews – and with openers, festivals, and whatnot, surely well over 500 individual performances – I’m confident that this was the best single song I’ve ever seen done live.

“It’s one of those nights,” said Gord, and it was. Maybe he says that every night. Maybe every night is one of those nights now. I said that show wasn’t sad but it was bittersweet, especially at each break when the band would leave Gord alone on stage to soak in the adulation for a few moments before he joined them, and when they all hugged at the very end. He never talked about why we were all there, but it couldn’t be avoided.

Near as I can tell, the band has never said this is their last tour. I hope it’s not. Ideally, Gord will Magic Johnson this thing, and 30 years from now, we’ll all be asking him “I thought you said you were sick?” But I also know those are long odds. If this is the last time I see them, they went out on a high. Of the four Hip concerts I’ve seen, this was easily the best of the bunch. But though I know how lucky I am to have gotten into this one, I left wanting more, and I don’t think I can make another stupid plan pan out.

The CBC is broadcasting the final concert of the tour on Saturday, August 20 – live and commercial-free on TV, radio, and online. The casino here has announced that they’ll be showing it on the big screen in their concert lounge – it’s free to get in, but they’re taking donations to the Canadian Cancer Society. I don’t know if events like that will be happening everywhere, but I think that would be a fun way to watch the show; not quite the concert atmosphere, but maybe the next best thing. Whether this really is a farewell tour or just a much-deserved victory lap, it’s an opportunity to join the rest of Canada in a celebration of the band that defined Canadian music. (Eat it, Rush.)

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #251: Gateway Festival (July 22, 2016)

July 29, 2016

Hey, so this was fun. There’s a tiny town in Saskatchewan called Bengough and they host a music festival every summer and we’ve never been but now we’ve been! And I suppose I could stop right there but then you’d miss out on the murdering part.

I was actually ready to murder before we ever left Regina. The day before the festival, Mika’s friend Shannon came to visit and she complained bitterly about the difficulty of navigating the Regina traffic with all the summer construction. And while I was sure it was bad, I figured she was exaggerating. She was not. Not even close. She was being kind. Getting gas, avoiding the worst road, actually getting out of town, all of those things were much more difficult and infuriating than they needed to be.

It was so bad that when we initially stopped for gas and Mika asked if I was going to get a snack, I said “No. Too angry.” But then I saw the hot dog-flavoured Pringles. The flavour scientists have worked their magic yet again. You can really taste the wiener.

The actual drive was smooth an uneventful once we got out of town. It was a fine way to spend an evening and we weren’t even there yet. I almost never speed to any real degree but I went 130 km/h pretty much the whole way. We listened to podcasts and tunes, and the GPS recovered from its miserable performance on our recent drive into Calgary where it tried to make us cross a river without the use of a bridge.

They had lots of signs up to let us know where to go, and a ton of volunteers to help with the wristbands and parking. It’s a smaller festival than the local folk festival we attend every year, but it seemed really well run. Also, the wristbands were these nice cloth ones and not that waxy paper you get everywhere else.

We stopped at the campground restroom on the way into the grounds. There was a sign outside the women’s washroom advising the ladies not to have water fights in the bathrooms. Women, amirite? Though I suppose it’s worth noting that both washrooms had signs saying that you’d be “punished and banned” for putting sand or dirt in the sinks.

We found our way into the grounds and met up with Jeff and his wife. Despite the traffic woes, we got out of town earlier than I had been expecting, so we showed up in time for the end of Quinton Blair’s set. I didn’t see much of it but enjoyed what I saw. Countryish singer-songwritery stuff, with a good sense of humour when chatting between sets. That says very little!

Unlike the folk festival here, the Gateway Festival has two stages, so as soon as one act ends, the next one starts up right away with no delay. Bands alternate between the main stage and the slightly smaller stage that faces the beer gardens. It’s a pretty good system, though sometimes it results in things like Fred Penner playing to the beer gardens.

To be fair, it was still early and that section of the grounds was not yet closed off to minors. But still.

Jeff’s wife disappeared as soon as Penner started playing; we didn’t see her again until well into Limblifter’s set, when she returned with a picture of her and Fred together. This was not the first time she’d met Fred Penner. We may have a superfan on our hands. As one who is less of a Penner diehard, I took this time to get some dinner. The wiener Pringles weren’t gonna cut it. I wound up with a grilled chicken wrap that was actually pretty great. Kudos, chicken wrap stand! Mika went for a gluten-free salad from another stand; “gluten-free salad” was its actual name on the menu and maybe that should have been a red flag. The server also said something like “I don’t know what’s in it and nobody’s ordered it yet, so come back and tell me how it is!” which was equally ineffective at inspiring confidence. Mika did not go back and tell her how it was. She did tell me and Jeff – not directly, but she said “have you ever wanted to open a can of chickpeas and eat it with a spoon?” which I think says enough.

As a reward for surviving the salad (or about half of it, anyway), Mika went and got some cotton candy. I made her bring me some too. I have never eaten cotton candy while having a beard before. I did not anticipate that it would be so challenging.

I don’t know what to say about Fred Penner. He’s Fred Penner. Maybe he is a cherished part of your childhood? I’m a few years too old for that, and as he was playing, it occurred to Jeff and I that we knew very few Fred Penner songs. The first one I recognized was about sandwiches and I’m pretty sure the only reason I knew that was because he played the folk festival a few years ago. At least I think he played songs there. Mostly I remember him chastising us to pick up after ourselves.

I did eventually recognize Puff the Magic Dragon. Also, the Cat Came Back, which Penner amended with cat-themed versions of Happy Together and Hit the Road, Jack. This was not dissimilar to every song Mika ever sings, as they all have the lyrics changed to be about Carl.

The cover songs led us to talking about the recent trend of bands I see covering the Tragically Hip, and who would do it this weekend, and what songs. This turned into talk of Penner covering the Hip, and what the best (read: most inappropriate) song would be. At the risk of sounding immodest, I declare that my pick of 38 Years Old was the winner.

For the record, I heard no Hip songs at the festival (though I am hopeful that the next show will deliver at least one). But Mika and I only came to the Friday night; Jeff did report that on Saturday, Odds snuck the chorus of Poets into the end of Make You Mad.

Next up was Limblifter, which you’d have known if you read that bit up there. Ryan Dahle, who we saw with Age of Electric a few months ago, was back with his other band. Or one of them, anyway. Jeff said he might have been the only person there who knew more Limblifter songs than Sloan songs, but I bet Dahle did too. Actually, maybe not – there are a LOT of Sloan songs that Dahle might know. Me, I knew Tinfoil because heck yeah Big Shiny Tunes. Also Ariel vs. Lotus and Screwed It Up. So maybe I never listened to a whole lot of Limblifter – and somehow, I’d never managed to see them in concert before now. No time like the present, I suppose. We stood right down at the front and had a great view, and this was all quite delightful. Would see again. (I did maybe like Age of Electric better, though.)

Next up was Bry Webb of the Constantines. Formerly of the Constantines? I don’t know what they are doing nowadays. I won’t lie; I paid very little attention to this. What I heard was fine.

I think it was in here that I went looking at the stuff table. I mean, I went a few times, but was hopeful that I’d discover a copy of Sloan’s One Chord box set, as I had promised to check for Mike. No dice. No Sloan stuff at all, actually. But I did pick up two records: Corb Lund’s Counterfeit Blues, and also You Can Count on Me by the Karpinka Brothers, a band out of Saskatoon who were here hosting the side stage. I went to high school with Shawn Karpinka, and actually ran into him on the way to the merch tent. We chatted for a few minutes and it was nice to get caught up – I don’t think we’d talked in a decade. We weren’t super close friends in high school, but he was never a dick and that is higher praise than it sounds like.

I rushed the records back to the car. Luckily, the host of the main stage was asked to stall for a few minutes before Sloan began. I can only assume this was specifically to give me time to get back. So considerate! But then Sloan came out and the dude kept talking. And then it would look like he was about to stop, and then he’d talk some more. I was never able to tell if this was needlessly aggravating or hilarious trolling.

But whatever. You know it’s a festival show because of the lack of people yelling SLOOOOOOOOO-OOOOOOOOAN. Also because Sloan knows enough to know that a festival crowd doesn’t want the deep cuts – this was pretty much a greatest hits collection. No Underwhelmed, because of course there wasn’t, but there was most every other single you’d want – Money City Maniacs, The Good in Everyone, Everything You’ve Done Wrong, The Lines you Amend, The Other Man, Unkind, If it Feels Good Do It, People of the Sky, Coax Me, Losing California, The Rest of my Life, Who Taught You to Live Like That… there was more but you get it.

So yeah, in a shocker, Sloan played Sloan songs.

I don’t know what was talked about beforehand, but when the band traded off instruments and Chris Murphy got on drums, dude was determined to prove a point. I have seen him play drums before but never with this much showboating. Jeff accused him of showing off to the “cute girl” at the back of the stage, but then we figured out it was actually the drummer from Limblifter. He’s got some nice long blonde hair, but I don’t know if I’d say “cute.” Maybe just not my type.

I’d have to read old reviews but I’d have to think that this wasn’t the best Sloan show I’ve seen – if nothing else, there seemed to be sound issues where it was hard to hear the vocals every time they switched who was singing – but I don’t remember getting their songs so doggedly stuck in my head before. The past week in my brain has been pretty much non-stop Maniacs or California or Everyone or Underwhelmed and they didn’t even play Underwhelmed, I just like it.

Once they wrapped up, I was off to the side stage for Shotgun Jimmie. Mika described Jimmie as “if Joel Plaskett fronted a BA Johnston tribute band” and I love that description and you have no idea how badly I want to actually see this happen. Shotgun Jimmie is someone I know very little about. Every time I hear one of his songs, I think “this is a dude I could really dig if I gave him half a chance” and then somehow I never remember to do so. Gotta change that. This was great fun. He opened with Late Last Year, basically the only song of his that I could actually say I know, and then played his new song Join the Band, making it the second time in a few months I’ve heard someone sing “experience Regina.” I enjoyed it all, though I did duck out before the last song or two in order to get a good spot for Corb Lund, a move that was a mistake in several ways.

First off, Corb Lund might be my #1 reason to constantly quote Sloan: “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans.” The casino show earlier this year wasn’t too bad, but there have been a few times where the drunken yahoo assholery in the audience has been too much for me. Although I can maybe forgive it this time due to the excellence that happened when a drunk girl staggered over to near where we were and slurred (not to us) “is this the party zone?”

“No?” said Jeff.

“It’s the standing and listening respectfully zone,” added Mika.

The drunk girl stumbled away, saying “I hate it when old people are rude.”

Died. I’m dead now. That killed me and I am reporting back from the afterlife. I hate it when old people are rude. Oh my god. This was the best the best the best the best. I am bad at coming up with titles and I have never liked “Stupid Little Concert Reviews” so now I want to rename all of these to “When Old People are Rude.” When Old People are Rude, Volume CCLI: the Gateway Festival.

This is where you say “shut up and get to the music” and I WOULD say “I hate it when old people are rude” but you have a point in that I am not talking about music BUT I have no more music to talk about. The dark night sky was seeing more and more lightning, so they made the call to delay Corb’s set. As the lightning got worse, Jeff and his wife (and their friends – they had friends there too! I never mentioned them before but they were there) the hell was I talking about? Oh, right. All those people left.

Then I made a plan. Let’s take the chairs to the car now – since we weren’t planning on staying after Corb anyway – so either we can then leave, or we can go back, listen to Corb, and then have an easier time leaving later. So we did. Chairs to car. They’re still in the car now, a week later, in fact, because I am bad at simple human tasks. But we sat there for a bit as the lightning got worse and the thunder got louder. I decided that the show was likely not going to happen and so we left.

Corb did play. I don’t know how long the delay was. Jeff said the grounds were bone dry the next day. This amazed me, as the drive home took us through the worst rainstorm I’ve ever driven in, and it lasted almost the whole way. At one point, I had to pull over. I made up for my 130 km/h earlier by going 50 km/h for long stretches. It all averages out. That’s the law. The law of averages.

The rain brought out the animals – I saw a badger, three deer, a raccoon, some frogs, and oddly, ducks. The water had pooled on the road, and we drove by a duck just sitting in the water, seemingly disinterested in the big loud metal headlight machine that went whipping past it. We remarked on the stupidity of this duck. Then we saw no fewer than three other ducks at various points, all sitting in road puddles. Two of them are probably still ducks to this day. One of them took its sweet time getting out of my way, and I didn’t feel like swerving into either the oncoming car or the ditch, so the duck bounced off our bumper. Sorry, duck. I mean, it was your own fault for being an idiot, but I guess all ducks are stupid so you couldn’t help that. At least the rain washed off any pieces of you that got stuck to the car.

So yeah, it started with a bad drive getting out of town and ended with a bad drive all the way back, but everything in between was pretty great. The festival site was nice, there were decent food options (skip the chickpea salad), the bands were good, the weather was nice (right up until it wasn’t, anyway), would go again. And there was a whole other day of fun that we missed out on. 21 bands, just on the Saturday alone. Lots of local artists, as well as Odds, Mo Kenney, Chixdiggit, the Stampeders, and way more. (Hey Jeff, how was it?) Mika and I aren’t camping people so to go both nights means a lot of driving, but we had a good time so we’ll see what the lineup is like next year. There are too many ducks anyway.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #250: Mother Mother (July 1, 2016)

July 18, 2016

TWOOOOOOOOOOOO HUNDRED AND FIFTY! My goodness. To celebrate the occasion, Mika and I celebrated Canada’s birthday with Mother Mother. And my mother! And Mika’s mother! And Mika’s dad and brother, who are no less important, except in the context of this story where they totally are.

To make this review extra special, I have spent the past two+ weeks perfecting it and totally not procrastinating at all. I have not spent this weekend paying too much attention to Mika’s repeats of Grey’s Anatomy when I should have been writing this. Don’t believe what anyone tells you.

But seriously why does Arizona gotta be such a b to Callie

We were in Victoria, British Columbia for Canada Day at about the half-way point of our summer vacation. All in all, it was a delightful trip – lots of driving through gorgeous scenery and onto SEVERAL boats, lots of family time and friend time and a wedding and a podcast taping (not at the same time) (that I know of) and I saw seals up close and whales from a distance and an otter who PEED and you should really be following my Instagram if you’re interested in otter pee action.

We were staying with Mika’s family at a place we were renting in Victoria. Canada Day started when she and I went to pick my mom up at the ferry before catching up with everyone else for breakfast at the Days Inn near the house. I had some deal where they put poached eggs on samosas and topped it with a curry sauce and the whole thing was a bit on the salty side but in an amazing way? I don’t think this dish will ever be common enough to replace chicken fingers as the official food of the SLCR series but maybe it should.

Then we did what people do on Canada Day – walk around with a billion other people in red and white shirts and hats and whatever else. Our group was very conspicuously non-patriotic with only one red shirt in the bunch and I’m pretty sure that one was accidental. But our home base was a block from the legislature buildings where all the festivities were taking place, so we looked at all the vendors (Mika bought a painting), roamed the grounds of the legislature, and took our picture with a Mountie in full dress uniform which is about as Canadian a thing as there is. Satisfied with our Canada Day experience thus far, we returned (via a most circuitous route) to the Days Inn to do some drinking.

Suitably refreshed, we headed back out. There were bands playing for Canada Day – in case you were wondering what the heck the point of this overlong unnecessary blog post was – and we came across the merchandise stand. It was suggested that maybe the Mother Mother “I’m not antisocial, I’m just tired of the people” shirt would be an appropriate purchase for me. What are you trying to say, MOM?

We wandered over to where the bands were playing. Mika left to find a washroom and came back to report she saw someone getting arrested for being too drunk, and when he cops were frisking him, he was giggling “tee hee hee, I’m ticklish!” and this was great and I’m sad that I missed it.

We hung out there for about an hour and saw a local, no-audition choir called The Choir who sings all your favourite pop hits. I was… let’s say, skeptical. But they opened with Birdhouse in Your Soul by They Might Be Giants and that won me over. They sang for about 45 minutes, including Call Me Maybe, With or Without You, Dancing in the Dark, Summer of ’69, and Mass Romantic. There was a David Bowie song and a Taylor Swift song and as is now mandatory in Canada, a Tragically Hip cover – this time, Wheat Kings. Which, I gotta say, is maybe not the fun-time summer jam I would have picked.

As it had at this point been a good 90 minutes since we’d shoved anything into our face holes, we wandered away in search of food. On our way, we watched another drunk get arrested – unfortunately, this one wasn’t amusingly ticklish. We met up with more of Mika’s family at some place I don’t remember the name of, but the burger I had was good, so get that if you go there. Wherever it was.

While there, we were treated to exclusively Canadian music in the background – lots more Hip, but also everything from Anne Murray to Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Sarah McLachlan, Great Big Sea, and whatever else. This all inspired me to look up what was happening back home in Regina. Victoria got Mother Mother, and Regina’s Canada Day headliners were Doug and the Slugs. Yes. I then had to do research to determine if this was the original lineup, and it was not. Sadly, Doug has passed away. He was replaced with a new singer who is not even named Doug. In fairness, I can see how making it mandatory would limit their options.

HEY there was a kid eating with us and he had chicken fingers I’m pretty sure! I legitimately just realized this now and I am oddly delighted about this thing that I completely forget about nine reviews out of ten these days.

Anyway. With dinner done, we wandered back to the legislature and oh my. I had thought it was busy there before. I did not even know. It was now completely mobbed with people in their finest red and white dollar store novelty Canadian flag t-shirts. We wandered down to the docks to find a place to sit and watch some girl get raised to the top of a boat’s mast so she could take selfies at the top. Mika’s brother and I went in search of mini-donuts, but returned empty handed as I’m quite certain it would have taken an hour to get through the mini-donut line and nobody needs mini-donuts that badly. Though a lot of people seemed to think they do.

While we were on this mission, George Leach was playing. He played a fine set of rock that I really have nothing to say about. There were a million people all over and we never even saw the stage and we were searching for mini-donuts and trying to stop my mom from kidnapping someone’s dog and trying to stop Mika’s mom from kidnapping someone’s baby. It was busy work and we didn’t really pay the music much attention. I mean, I listened enough to think “this is good” but nothing beyond that.

In between sets, there were some nattering DJs from a local radio station. The lady was in a band called Carmanah and she sang a few songs and she was fine.

When it was time for Mother Mother to start, Mika and I wandered away from the docks and off toward the stage. This was maybe not the most effective thing we have ever done. I mean, we got closer, close enough to even see the stage, though it was still pretty hard to discern the actual humans who were performing. We could have gotten closer if we really wanted to swing some elbows, but staying further back seemed preferable. We were on the street, with me in a prime spot to watch people nearly turf it as they didn’t realize they were stepping off a curb. This happened 50 times and was never not funny.

I am not the biggest Mother Mother fan in the world – I don’t dislike them either, they’re just one of those bands that are good but who I don’t think about a lot. I saw them once before at the Regina Folk Festival and liked it, and this set was really fun too – lots of energy and a really enthusiastic crowd. And at least where we were, an oddly well-behaved crowd given what I’m sure they’d all been consuming. Anyway, we got the handful of Mother Mother songs I know – Monkey Tree, Let’s Fall in Love, and later on, Get Out the Way. No Hip song (though I thought one was coming at one point), but we did get Nirvana’s In Bloom for some reason.

It wasn’t a super long set – about 45 minutes or so as per the schedule. This was fine by me – they didn’t overstay their welcome and had to wrap things up in time for fireworks. They were nice – maybe a little better than what we get for Canada Day at home, but not much. The fireworks were out over the water and our folks probably had a better view than we did, but I am certain we got to smell way more pot stink, so that’s a thing. There wasn’t much when the bands were playing, but my goodness, the fireworks brought it out.

We had agreed that the house would be our rendezvous point after everything was over. This turned out to be wise, as there was no way we could have swam upstream to meet up with our people. Instead, we joined the hordes leaving the grounds, listening to throngs of drunks singing O Canada. One recurring theme of the day that I’ve yet to mention is that they recently changed the lyrics from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command” and nobody seemed sure whether this is actually an official thing yet, so the crowd-approved technique is just to quietly mumble your way through that line and hope everyone else carries it. Unfortunately, everyone else singing has the same idea, so it’s a lot of O Canada / our home and native land / true patriot love / in allllaaaahhmmmmuhhhh command – which at least has the benefit of not needing to be translated into French.

We got back to the house and everyone else met us there. We hung out for a while and got into the chips while the crowd dispersed. I have been stuck in traffic for hours leaving Canada Day celebrations in Saskatoon, so I was really impressed with how quickly they cleared everything out. We drove my mom to her hotel after a short while, and you’d never know there’d been a big party just an hour or so before. Except for getting spot-checked three times over the course of the drive. That was a clue.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Gateway Festival w/Sloan, Corb Lund, Limblifter, Shotgun Jimmie, Bry Webb, more (July 22)
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #249: Northcote (June 22, 2016)

June 25, 2016

I was supposed to go see The Besnard Lakes yesterday. About a week ago, I was going through all of my tickets for upcoming shows, of which I have many. As I have previously mentioned, they’re always in the cheese drawer in the fridge, and the drawer was getting cluttered with no room for cheese. I got everything sorted out, but couldn’t find my Besnard Lakes tickets. Thought maybe I forgot to print them off. Checked my Ticketfly account, but no – no tickets there. I just entirely forgot to buy them. It’s not like I couldn’t have done so right then – it was another show where I’m betting attendance was soft, judging from the tweets and Facebook posts I saw – but this week was a busy one and we leave on vacation right away. Just decided against going.

I was also supposed to see BA Johnston tonight – I should be there right now, in fact. He was my favourite new musical discovery last year and I was busy the last time he came through town, but… I don’t know. I just don’t feel like standing around a bar by myself tonight, I guess. Feeling kind of self-conscious and awkward about being the weird old guy alone in the corner. I’m sure nobody would actually care but it still bugs me sometimes, especially when it’s in a place I’m not familiar with. Hopefully I can see him next time.

But among cancellations of all sorts, we did get out to see Northcote this week. You may recall that I saw him/them (like City and Colour, it’s a deal where it’s a band but it is primarily one guy, in this case a guy named Matt Goud) (no, Jeff, I did not throw a shue at him) (maybe I need to start this paragraph over)

But among cancellations of all sorts, we did get out to see Northcote this week. You may recall that I saw him earlier this year in Calgary, opening for Frank Turner. He seemed like a delightful fella, positive and energetic. I listened to some of his records when I got home and they were fun enough, but lacked a bit of that spark that a live show has, so I was looking forward to this.

With doors at 8:00, we expected the show to start at 9:00. We got there a few minutes before 9:00, just in time to catch the last few notes from some guy on stage. We would later learn this was Josiah. I will assume he was fantastic – as I do every time I miss an opening act – but we did get a chance to see him later on.

Between sets, we stumbled through the dark to the stack of chairs against the wall, took two, and made ourselves a place to sit. I then stumbled back to the bar for a Diet Pepsi for me and a raspberry iced tea for Mika. They had peach iced too and it sounded better than Diet Pepsi and I should have had it instead. It was a hard-partying Wednesday night is what I’m getting at here.

We were supposed to see Jordan Klassen earlier this year at a Library Voices show that we ultimately didn’t go to, and I’m always glad to catch an artist that I missed, of which there might be many if this skipping shows trend keeps up. Klassen was accompanied by Todd; Todd’s name was invoked repeatedly but no last name was ever given. I don’t know what Todd actually did – I’m assuming guitar, but there was a support beam directly between me and him so I only ever saw him walk onto and off of the stage. Anyway, Klassen played some singer-songwritery stuff. Mika recognized at least one song from CBC Radio 3. This was all very pleasant if not super memorable.

As mentioned, Matt Goud is energetic. Two songs into his set and he had jumped into the crowd with the mic stand – not just the mic, but the whole stand – to get people to sing along. It wasn’t long before he was dripping with sweat. I’m not super familiar with his stuff but I recognized some songs from last year’s Hope is Made of Steel, including the title track and You Could Never Let Me Down.

In what is becoming a trend among Canadian musicians of a certain age, they played a Tragically Hip cover – in this case, Springtime in Vienna. That’s now four acts I’ve heard doing Hip songs since Gord Downie’s diagnosis (City and Colour played Bobcaygeon when I saw them, and Feist covered Flamenco and Hey Rosetta! did Ahead by a Century). The varied selections are a testament to the quality of the Hip’s output over the decades. It’s not just everyone doing their own versions of New Orleans is Sinking or something.

Northcote immediately followed the Hip cover with a version of the Weakerthans’ Left and Leaving. It was real nice, but… John K. Samson is doing okay, right? Health-wise? This is just a song Matt Goud likes, right?

Apart from sharing songs he likes, Goud also seems gracious about sharing the stage. When I saw him in Calgary, he brought Mo Kenney back out to do a song or two with him, and at this show, he brought both Jordan Klassen (and Todd!) and Josiah back out to do an extra song during his set. He was also wearing a Josiah t-shirt. In both cases, he let the guests take centre stage and gave them a little extra time in the spotlight. I can confirm that Josiah probably would have been good to see earlier; also, I have no idea how he crossed the border into Canada without being accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Anyway, I have to get to bed so I can get up and drive forever, and I don’t have much more to say anyway. Northcote is real fun and you should go see him. Get the peach iced tea. Don’t skip concerts, especially for dumb reasons. I’d say you should put that all on my tombstone when I die but I don’t want a tombstone, so, I don’t know, skywrite it or something.
UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Gateway Festival w/Sloan, Corb Lund, Limblifter, Shotgun Jimmie, Bry Webb, more (July 22)
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #248: City and Colour (June 12, 2016)

June 16, 2016

We were supposed to go see Meat Loaf at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw on Saturday night. I had clearly underestimated the demand for Meat Loaf in 2016 – the show sold out in about 10 minutes. That’s approximately 5,000 tickets. It was easier to get tickets for the Tragically Hip’s summer (farewell?) tour – at least you can buy those from scalpers if you really want to. But if you missed out on those first ten minutes of Meat Loaf ticket sales, you were out of luck. Lucky for me that Josy, possibly the biggest Meat Loaf fan there is, was on the ball. But it turned out that my stepmom really wanted to go too and all of the usual sources were dry. StubHub had nothing. Tickets posted to Kijiji sold in minutes. Remembering the George Thorogood show, I checked the Mosaic Place website daily in hopes that some last minute tickets would be released. And they were! Finally, success! I grabbed her two tickets and was very pleased with myself.

Josy and his people drove from Saskatoon to Regina, picked me up, and we hit the road for another 40 minutes to Moose Jaw. We parked the car and it occurred to me that there seemed to be a lot of people walking away from the arena. Sure enough, there were “ushers” stationed all around to let people know that the show had been postponed and would be rescheduled soon.

We picked up our tickets from Will Call anyway, then wandered back out and chatted with one of the ushers. He told us that the show was called off ten minutes before doors were set to open and that Meat Loaf had been taken from the arena on a stretcher. Later on, a Twitter search showed someone claiming that Meat Loaf had been transported to Regina and was hospitalized there. I have no idea if any of this is true. One rumour said he suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care. Another said that it was nothing serious, he was resting in a hotel and would resume the tour as soon as he’s feeling up to it.

As I’m writing this (five days after Meat Loaf and four after City and Colour), there’s been no real update on Meat’s health, but I guess he’s doing okay. The Calgary show on Monday night was also postponed, but he’s supposed to play Edmonton tonight, and thus far, it looks like that show is going ahead. As for our show, I just got an email announcing that it has been rescheduled for Saturday, July 2. Good for Meat, but not great for me – we’re away and I won’t be able to go.

Having said that, I was looking up reviews of earlier Meat Loaf shows on this tour, and hoo-boy, “unkind” is putting it mildly. Lots of “worst concert I’ve ever seen,” “time to hang it up,” “we walked out after three songs,” and disturbingly, a number of comments about how Meat looked like he was in pain, couldn’t walk, seemed ready to collapse. So maybe I dodged a bullet here. Whatever, I hope he puts on a great show for Josy and that the complainers on the internet don’t reflect the views of the majority. And now I’m going to rush through the actual concert review that I’m supposed to be working on because I’ve rewritten this section nearly daily as new info has come out and I really have no need for a Meat Loaf-themed text file that only I get to see.

So. City and Colour. Yep. I don’t really know anything about him, apart from his name (Dallas Green) and that he’s also the lead singer of Alexisonfire. You may note that “Dallas” and “green” are a city and a colour, respectively. I am ashamed at how long I’ve known about City and Colour without putting that together. I had to be told.

We were supposed to see him some years back at the Regina Folk Festival, but he got rained out. I wasn’t all that disappointed – Buck 65 was the big draw for me that evening, and Buck wrapped up right before they called it a night – but I still feel good whenever I get caught up on a missed show like this. Later this summer, Sam Roberts – the other headliner who got rained out of a Folk Festival we attended – will be playing there again. If all goes well, that’s two names checked off the missed list. What if they become my new favourite singers, and I almost missed out on seeing them?

I mean, I know the odds aren’t great. There can only be one favourite at a time. And I bought Mika two City and Colour CDs at the CJTR sale last year and haven’t actually managed to listen to them yet, which doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with them, but my motivation isn’t there. She was excited to go to this, and I will go to pretty much anything; that’s how I looked at this evening.

We left the house fairly early, as a few days ago, I got an email saying that there wasn’t going to be any on-site parking at the arena because they were already set up for the Farm Progress Show. Welcome to Saskatchewan. The email suggested parking downtown and walking. This seemed like a decent idea until we actually got downtown and realized just how far the arena still was. We ultimately parked at the field house – still a bit of a hike, but not that bad. We were much closer to the arena than we were to our proposed downtown parking space. This was all well and good until we had to climb over a fallen chain link fence while ducking under barbed wire to get onto the grounds. “And we only looked somewhat old in doing so,” Mika said.

Yeah, this was very much a show where I was the creepy old guy in the corner. I’m pretty sure the average age of the attendees was about half of my own. I wasn’t expecting anything else, but I definitely felt it strongly – I got too used to casino and Folk Festival shows.

Anyway, once inside, we walked a loop around the arena, past the one merch table that had probably a couple hundred people in line. I got the merch that counted – an excessively salty soft pretzel and a Coke Zero with ice crystals in it. The day was officially a success.

We hiked up to our seats in the bottom row of the upper level. Not too bad. A good view of the stage, decent leg room, minimal people walking past us, and a place to rest our drinks.

Shakey Graves was the opener, and okay, you know how everyone who comes to Regina for the first time has to joke about it rhyming with vagina? Well, I have never seen someone take such delight in doing so. In general, the locals seem to be tiring of it – the other week, Werewolves Beware heard crickets after busting out the tired old “city that rhymes with fun” line – but Shakey Graves was so pleased with this situation that we all just let him get away with it.

It helped that he was really fun. He did the first few songs by himself and then brought out a band. The sound wasn’t ideal – I found the vocals really hard to make out, and it didn’t help that I was completely unfamiliar with him – but there was great energy and he was very entertaining. The crowd really seemed to enjoy him and I think he’d be sensational in a smaller venue.

Before the show and during the intermission, I was texting with Feely, who referenced the City and Colour song Save Your Scissors. Sure, he did it in a way intended to make me feel super old, but he reminded me that the song existed and, therefore, I actually did know one City and Colour song. Needless to say, he didn’t play it. “He” bring City and Colour, and not Feely.

He did play a few things where I thought “hey, I think I’ve heard this before.” And they were fine. This was all fine, I guess. I don’t know. Mika said she liked it. That’s good. I thought it was all kind of dull, but a pleasant dull. It went by quickly and never dragged, and I never thought he or his band were bad in any way, but it was never really that interesting to me.

It’s weird. “Dull” is usually much more my speed than hers.

For the first song of the encore, they played Bobcaygeon as a tribute to ailing Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, which was really nice, but even that lacked something. The sentiment was there and appreciated, but given the circumstances, it felt to me like there should have been more emotion to it. I don’t know. Needed more oomph.

Which is kind of how I felt about the whole thing, really. Needed more oomph. Though it seemed I was in the minority. It looked to me like everyone else enjoyed themselves. I was clearly not the target audience for City and Colour and he just wasn’t my thing. At least Shakey Graves was a delightful discovery.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Northcote w/Jordan Klassen and Josiah (June 22)
• BA Johnston w/Partner (June 24)
• Gateway Festival w/Sloan, Corb Lund, Limblifter, Shotgun Jimmie, Bry Webb, more (July 22)
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #247: The Pack a.d. (May 28, 2016)

June 2, 2016

One day after the Age of Electric, a little sleepy and still half-deaf, Mika and I headed back to the Exchange for the Pack a.d.

Then we headed away from the Exchange and drove around for an hour. Tickets said doors at 8:00, but Twitter and Facebook said doors at 7:00, and presumably those were accurate since they added two openers and you can’t update a ticket once it’s been printed, but you can update a social media post whenever, right? So yeah, doors at 8:00. I will never understand why something so simple is wrong so often, but people probably say that about me, so whatever. The drive was nice.

We returned to a street as devoid of parked cars as when we left. I had noticed a lot of plugs for this show on Facebook and Twitter, and had guessed that tickets were moving slowly. At its peak, I don’t think there were half as many people there as at the sold-out Age of Electric show the night before. There were maybe 30 people there in time for the start of the opening act.

Those that didn’t show up early missed out on the Ultimate Power Duo. They hail from Saskatoon and I am very glad that someone asked the question I needed answered: “Why are there three of you?” “Because we’re the ULTIMATE Power Duo,” was the reply, which somehow made no sense and complete sense at the same time. According to them, they play “destruction rock,” which is very loud and sometimes involves just picking up the bass guitar and punching it to make noise. Their newest album is the soundtrack to their graphic novel about fighting evil robot space Nazis. There’s an hour-long video you can watch if you want this experience for yourself – I just found out about this but hope to check it out soon. Anyway, these guys had tons of energy, lots of charisma, and were entertaining as all get out. Would go see again.

The second band was Werewolves Beware, or WEREWOLVES BEWARE, or Werewolves, Beware! depending on what source you choose when you google their name. I’m going with Werewolves Beware so as to not muck up my pretty sentences, though that comma really changes things. Is “werewolves, beware” a warning TO werewolves or ABOUT werewolves? And these folks DID howl when they took the stage, so maybe they were warning us about themselves? Very considerate, though we were a week removed from a full moon so we were probably safe.

Anyway, this is a duo from Calgary (I think?). He plays guitar, she plays synths. And they howl, as mentioned. There’s some singing too, but most of the songs were largely instrumental. If you like synth-heavy dancy pop, this might be your thing. It wasn’t so much mine.

Finally, The Pack a.d. took the stage; specifically, a stage festooned with Dollarama party decorations. I am not sure that the budget surpassed five dollars. Thankfully, one of their choices was a sign reading THE PARTY IS HERE which was handy for assuring us that we were in the right place.

I went into this show not knowing a ton about them. I feel like I got one of their CDs for free from Mint Records some years back (Funeral Mixtape, maybe?), but if so, I can’t find it. And if I did, I honestly don’t know if I ever listened to it. Not for any good reason; I just sometimes don’t get around to things. And then I get around to things and wonder what took me so long. Really, I don’t need to buy another CD, book, or video game for years. I’ve got a backlog that will surely outlive me.

But enough about my failings. I listened to the newest Pack a.d. album and enjoyed it, then we went to the show and I dug that too. Mika suggested that it was more of a her-show than a me-show, and that’s probably fair. She does tend to like rockier stuff than I do, and the combination of my relative unfamiliarity with the source material and the somewhat muddy sound meant I couldn’t really hear the lyrics well, resulting in it all sounding kind of samey after a while. But a good samey. Loud and driving and fun. Not sure I have a ton to say about them, or this evening as a whole, but so it goes.

Actually, there’s one thing – and I noticed this at Age of Electric too so it was unrelated to the bands – the Exchange seems to have bought themselves a new lighting rig. And they seem very proud of it. And that’s great! I like lights. Lights are pretty. But goddamn if you could quit shining them directly into my eyes every 17 seconds, that would be swell. Though I didn’t have it as bad as the security guard positioned at the corner of the stage. Where he was sitting, he took a blast right in the eyes from about a foot away, over and over and over. He looked like this was possibly not what he thought life would be like. I tried to get a picture of this but failed miserably and it is a regret I will carry to my grave.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Meat Loaf (June 11)
• City and Colour w/Shakey Graves (June 12)
• Northcote w/Jordan Klassen and Josiah (June 22)
• The Besnard Lakes w/ Traces and Slow Down Molasses (June 23)
• BA Johnston (June 24)
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart; Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder; Sam Roberts Band; The Mavericks; Bettye LaVette; The Cat Empire; The Strumbellas; Frazey Ford; more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #246: The Age of Electric (May 27, 2016)

May 30, 2016

Last week, I learned that the Age of Electric will be coming to the Saskatoon Event Centre on July 28. According to the poster, this will be their first show in Saskatchewan in 18 years.

This seems unlikely.

Unless maybe impostors played in Regina on Friday? On one hand, I can think of better people to impersonate. But then this show sold out in a hurry, so maybe I actually can’t. If you want to move tickets, you can do worse than the triumphant return of semi-hometown heroes after nearly two decades.

I didn’t see that last Saskatchewan show 18 years ago, but I did see Age of Electric once before. It was September 4, 1997 – or, to use me-specific dating, SLCR #21. I have mentioned before that I am glad that I’ve been writing these reviews because they contain all kinds of memories even after my own flawed human meat brain lets them go. Almost 19 years later, it’s a show I barely remember and Zuckerbaby was the opener AND I only paid $8 for my ticket with my student ID, so surely Mika is reading this and cursing the fact that I went to this show and didn’t even appreciate it like she would have. At least I had a good time, or so the review says. I’d share it with you, but it is really not my finest work. Even by my usual “doesn’t actually review concerts” and “doesn’t know anything about music” standards. If I ever get around to compiling these things into a book, that one might need to be accidentally left out.

On the way to the show, I got Mika to walk me through the history of the Age of Electric and at least some of the members’ other bands. It gets complicated and I never really understood it. A graphic might have helped. Basically, AoE (look at me using the shorthand like a cool guy) are comprised of the Dahle brothers from Regina and the Kearns brothers from Lanigan. Kurt Dahle was the drummer for New Pornographers and Ryan Dahle is in Mounties. Together, they were both in Limblifter. Todd and John Kearns were also in Static in Stereo. This is not everything, but it might be enough to get by. Or it might be very wrong.

Also, the Kearns brothers look like rock n’ roll degenerates. The Dahle brothers look like they should be building a soapbox derby racer or something. Maybe launching model rockets in the park? It’s not hard to pick out who’s related, is my point.

We got to the Exchange about a half-hour after the doors opened and the place was already packed. We got some ciders and found ourselves a decent place to stand. That review from 1997 is full of drunken shenanigans (not mine, but still). This one has us nursing one drink each while playing iPhone Yahtzee with each other to kill time before the show. This is what getting old is. It’s iPhone Yahtzee. And complaining about the heat in the place. Even in rain-inappropriate shorts, I was sweltering.

The openers were a local band, Almost Alien (not, to Mika’s chagrin, Hep Alien). They made me feel like I was in even more of a time warp, as they were the kind of band you’d have seen opening at Louis’ back in the day. And of all the venues I regularly go to, the Exchange does come the closest to simulating the Louis’ dank. It’s not a perfect replica – you can’t get anything deep fried, the layout of the Exchange generally makes sense, and I’m not convinced that anyone in Almost Alien was alive as of the last time I saw Age of Electric, but whatever. You get my point. These guys had an enjoyable 90s pop-punk sound that fit the evening. Having said that, it was interesting to me that what I liked was pretty different from back when I was (counts on fingers) 21. They had one song about bad roommates which had the lyrics (and I’m paraphrasing here) “fuck those fucking assholes / fuck those fucking fucks” and at 21, I’d have thought that was hilarious and rushed to buy their new EP (oh yeah, this was the launch party for their new EP). At 39, I rolled my eyes at that bit and mostly didn’t listen to the rest of the lyrics, paying much more attention to the music.

This is the part where I’d say it was a “brief intermission” but it wasn’t that brief and we were dying of heatstroke. Eventually Mika bought us bottled waters and they were delightful.

The Age of Electric eventually took the stage to a heroes’ welcome. This was loud and great – the band hadn’t lost a step and the crowd was into everything – even the new stuff. They played at least three new songs – Elephant in the Room, Kids Break Bones, and Kings (or “Keys,” maybe?). Of these, I thought Kids Break Bones was the best; however, I strongly encourage you to not Google it in hopes of finding a recording. There might be one out there. That is not what I found.

As for everything else, Mika said “they played ALL the singles.” I will take her word for it. I was as unprepared for this show as I was for that one in 1997. I knew Ugly once it got to the chorus. And of course I knew Remote Control (and of course it was the last song of the night), but as Todd Kearns said, “If you don’t know this song, why the fuck are you here?”

There were some funny moments over the course of the night. At one point, a girl up in the front row demanded to tell her Age of Electric story. This went on for a while. Todd eventually gave her the mic. This did not speed things up any. I do not really know what her story was – I think she was at a 7-Eleven in Lloydminster and the band stopped there? Looking around the crowd, all you could see is people asking each other what was happening. I think someone was actually doing the Steve Austin “WHAT?” at one point.

But the best comedy of the night came when Todd led a singalong. Not of one of their songs (or is it?!), but Experience Regina, a video from the “Tourism Board of Saskatchewan” (possibly not a thing?). Jeff and I had been joking about the video earlier in the week, so when Todd sang this – completely out of nowhere – I about died. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Mika has spent most of the time since the show with this song in her head. Just the subject line of this review will be enough to set it off again.

The most amazing part of this was walking back to the car, I mentioned the video and she said “…there’s a video?”

I am talking too much about fake tourism videos and not this show. This show was great, even for those of us who had 19 years to prepare and completely failed to do so. The band tore it up and I’ll gladly go see them again when I’m 57.


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