SLCR #259: Prozzäk (September 22, 2016)

September 30, 2016

“What kind of people go to a Prozzäk show?” asked Mika. “Apart from you, I mean.”

Well, there goes my joke answer.

Judging from this show, I’d have to say 30-year-olds. And me. Which I guess makes sense. I can’t say it’s what I expected, but I didn’t really know what to expect, going to see a band that sort of doesn’t actually exist.

For the uninitiated, Prozzäk is made up of two guys, Simon and Milo, who I will surely call “Milo and Otis” at least twice in this thing. Simon is lovelorn and has no neck, while Milo is less expressive and kinda beefy. They’re also cartoon characters, so I wasn’t sure how this whole thing was going to work. Would this just be me watching cartoons for 90 minutes?

Answer: not JUST that.

Prozzäk was formed by two members of the Philosopher Kings in the late 90s. I remember being very surprised when I found this out. The two bands don’t sound anything alike, though I suppose the reason why you’d start a second band when you already had a reasonably successful first one would be to do something different.

The Americans among us may not have heard of Prozzäk but some of their songs that were released in the States as being by “Simon and Milo,” presumably to ward off any litigious pharmaceutical companies. They (the band, not Eli Lilly & Company) also had some sort of deal with the Disney Channel at one point, which seems like a questionable fit – they were cartoons, but not a kids’ band.

Prozzäk’s music is catchy electronic dancey pop that is not normally my thing, and yet here we are. I never bought any of their CDs – I could see that being too much of a good thing – but always found them to be kind of a guilty pleasure. So off I went to the casino, expecting a nostalgia trip and not sure what else.

I got there just before the show was scheduled to start. A DJ was on stage, playing music while standing between inflatable Simon and Milo heads. A local radio host came out to start the show, but we got 20 more minutes of who I learned was named “DJ Ageless” before abruptly shutting things down to make way for Prozzäk. He did not look particularly ageless to me, but to be fair, I was standing in the back.

There was a cartoon intro to the show that told the Prozzäk origin story, about how they were enemy warriors who were chosen by God (presumably) to travel through time to present day and search for true love. In looking things up for this review, there’s an element of truth to this – apparently, in the Philosopher Kings, “Milo” and “Simon” (they have real names but who cares) didn’t get along to the point where Milo hauled off and decked Simon. This led to them working out their issues, eventually forming Prozzäk (and a production company called Lefthook, named after the fateful blow).

After the cartoon intro, there were… more cartoons. Videos ran the full length of the show as a backdrop for the three actual humans on stage – Simon, Milo, and a girl who didn’t seem to be part of the Prozzäk mythology but added a much-appreciated energy to the proceedings all the same. When she wasn’t singing backing vocals, she was jumping up and down and running around, trying to get the crowd into things.

Prozzäk

it is Prozzäk

Like I said, I only know the singles, and on this show, they were bunched together, so it was Strange Disease and Ombolasire, then a looooooooooooong stretch of songs I’d never heard, followed by Saturday People, Be As, their cover of Wild Thing, and http://www.nevergetoveryou, with Sucks to Be You as the encore. Looking at album tracklists, I know they also played Tsunami, Pretty Girls, Hot Show, and at least two new songs from their album coming out next year – Love Fools Anonymous and Baby I Need Your Love (Pussy Cat Pussy Cat).

They sounded exactly like you remember, though they’re playing live over backing tracks and have to keep things timed to the cartoons, so that doesn’t lend itself to experimentation. Not that this is a bad thing, it’s just one of those shows where it will be pretty much exactly the same from night to night. But if it works, why not? It was a fun show with a lot of energy. They played everything you’d want to hear in a tight 90 minutes and everyone seemed to have a good time.

They still sound very much of their time, back from when internet was still pretty new and pretty neat. Not only did they name a song after a URL, but they somehow ignored the .com part, choosing to focus instead on the www. – and it made liberal use of the ICQ “uh-oh!” chime (which I would like for my text message notification noise).

I just checked, and http://www.nevergetoveryou(.com) is available… as long as you want to spend $5,850 on it. Maybe leaving the .com part out of the song was genius. You can get http://www.nevergetoveryou.mom for only $44.99. Still too much? http://www.nevergetoveryou.republican is only $32.99. http://www.nevergetoveryou.click is a steal at $9.99. Right now, I am learning a lot about the vast selection of top-level domains, and I would like someone to edit the song so that it’s now http://www.nevergetoveryou.pizza

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Fred Eaglesmith w/Tif Ginn (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• BreakOutWest (October 14-16)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)

SLCR #258: Dolly Parton (September 13, 2016)

September 21, 2016

Two down, one to go. Until Thursday. And I’m not feeling well. I threatened to get drunk and write the Billy Bob Thornton review late Saturday night, but neither of those things happened. I’m trying now, but with some very expired cherry NeoCitran instead of weird mango beer. Probably not as effective. And really, late Saturday night would have been the perfect time because I had been at a wedding and the DJ played Islands in the Stream and my cousin had the audacity to disparage the song. I threatened to fight him. That didn’t happen either but it should have put me in the right mindset.

So yes, Dolly Parton. I bought tickets the instant they went on sale. I was going to tell you that I delayed a trip out of town in order to do it, but thinking back on it now, I realize that I just delayed a trip to drop the car off for service. That is less of a story, perhaps. Still shows commitment if you ask me.

But not too much commitment. We wound up with tickets in the second row, which is pretty fantastic, but we didn’t get the super expensive front row tickets that came with a meet-and-greet. This was not due to any Weird Al-inspired life lesson (except insomuch as my every action is rooted in Al’s teachings); rather, those tickets were bonkers expensive. As in, I’m pretty sure they were over $1,000 apiece. There were lesser VIP experiences as well (SIP experiences?), but we just got normal seats. Expensive normal seats, to be sure, but they felt downright sensible by comparison. Which is probably why they’re there.

After work, we drove out to Moose Jaw for the show, listening to Brad Trost embarrass himself on an episode of Canadaland Commons. Two points for being upfront and honest about who he is; minus a million points for who he is. The other Conservative Party leadership candidate they interviewed, Michael Chong, came out looking like a million bucks by comparison. Chong should send Trost flowers. Or maybe some sort of Edible Arrangement; Trost would probably think flowers are too gay.

I gotta say, between this NeoCitran, my fuzzy robe, and 20-year-old Animaniacs fuzzy slippers, I’m feeling pretty good right now. Just opened up my new Jack White record. Got a Yahtzee dice duel going as I write this. Might evolve some Pokémon later. I’m earning more and more pity with each life-describing sentence. Things are okay. I mean, I used “fuzzy” twice in short order, so things could be better from a writing standpoint, but I’ll blame this cold I’m fighting. And I think the use was justified in both cases. But I digress. I’m supposed to be talking about Dolly Parton or something.

We found Mosaic Place with no problem, thanks to my ill-fated trip to see Meat Loaf a few months back. We got there close to the start time, so we wound up parking pretty far away. By which I mean “a few blocks” – nothing is that far from anything else in downtown Moose Jaw. Despite a bit of a convoluted path upon entering the arena, we got to our seats with time to spare.

So about these seats. Very close. Great. But. This was like sitting in the middle seat in an airplane, except without the generous legroom. I have no pictures from the first half of the concert because moving my arms in any way was too disruptive to those around me. The arena just announced that Parton set an attendance record and I believe it. And I’m pretty sure they were all in my row.

Look, I get it. You need to sell tickets to make money. And pulling one chair from a long row won’t make any difference in anyone’s comfort level; you’d have to remove enough seats to result in a noticeable hit to the bottom line. And I am bigger than your average dude (though even the skinniest folks we saw were sitting shoulder to shoulder and sidebutt to sidebutt). So there probably isn’t a good answer here. But after a great show (uh, spoiler, I guess), “man, those seats were uncomfortable” shouldn’t be my #1 takeaway.

There was no opener. Dolly and her band took the stage and we were off. It turns out I know more Parton songs than I had thought. It also turns out that she has ridiculous stamina. Seriously, I thought they were wrapping up the show but it was only the end of the first half. She went about three hours, including the intermission. I find it hard to sit for that long. Amazing.

The show itself felt like what I imagine a Vegas show to be (the only Vegas show I’ve ever seen was hosted by a drag queen and involved topless underwater acrobats) (it was a pretty good show). You know what I mean – very professional but very rehearsed. Same set every night, same jokes every night. I lost count of the number of times Dolly said “But seriously…” Some of the lines were old enough that I knew them despite having never seen her perform live before – they’ve just been around forever. “It costs a lot to look this cheap,” indeed.

None of this took away from the show. She knew what she was doing and the crowd ate it up. The woman sitting directly in front of us was a particular delight. I was pretty afraid she was going to rush the stage. At one point, security came over and had a little chat with her in what I assume was a preemptive measure.

I didn’t save a setlist, but I found one from Toronto that looks to be identical. It’s ridiculous how many great songs were on here. Hot take: Dolly Parton is real good, you guys. I mean, Jolene is a stone-cold classic that I assumed would close the show and it came five songs in. It was shortly after Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That which it turns out I know super well? I can only assume my dad had this tape at some point. That song was stuck in my head for several days after the show and now it’s back – good job, me – and I might have to go watch some Filet O’Fish ads on YouTube to dislodge it.

The first half also featured My Tennessee Mountain Home, Coat of Many Colours, I’ll Fly Away, a curious medley of old hits like American Pie that had nothing to do with Dolly Parton, and Parton playing Yakety Sax on a wee tiny saxophone. The awe-inspiring nature of this visual encourages me to set aside my suspicion that maybe your fingers need to move sometimes when you’re playing the saxophone.

Current Mood: feelin’ saxy! ??#pureandsimpletour

A photo posted by Dolly Parton (@dollyparton) on Jul 23, 2016 at 12:42pm PDT

Between sets, everyone around me complained about the tight seats. Then they all left to pee. Then the show started up again. For a few brief, glorious seconds, I enjoyed Parton’s singing AND some shoulder room. I even got to snap a few pictures while she was singing what I believe to be Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire.

Dolly Parton in Moose Jaw

A photo posted by J. Underscore Kalyn (@j_kalyn) on Sep 13, 2016 at 10:42pm PDT

 

The second half was a little shorter than the first, which is to say it would still have been a reasonable length concert all by itself. She saved a number of hits to close out the show, playing Here You Come Again, Islands in the Stream, 9 to 5, and I Will Always Love You back to back (to back to back). People went ape for all these.

I often leave shows by… “more experienced” artists thinking “I wish I’d seen them back in the day.” Not this time. Despite a not-very-noticeable case of the sniffles, at no point did I think the show would have been better 10 or 20 years ago. Her voice is solid as ever and she went for hours, alternating between belting out hits and telling stories and cracking corny one-liners. It’s also worth noting that she plays a ton of instruments (I am not including the saxophone) and her band was great too.

If I could compare this to past shows I’ve seen, it would be like some ungodly hybrid of Loretta Lynn, Leonard Cohen, and Wayne Newton. And that analogy doesn’t work at all and yet I think it does? Lady country singer, ridiculously ageless, kinda schmaltzy in a good way. You know what I mean. If not, blame the cold medicine.

Immediately after the show, the booming voice of some unseen announcer thanked us for coming – or at least, that’s what I was expecting. Instead, he let us know that there’d been a big car accident and a bunch of people (presumably attending this show) had their cars towed away. I do not know how so many parked cars got quite so damaged in one accident. I would kind of like to know but I am also appreciative that I didn’t have to find out the hard way so I shall just leave well enough alone.

And then I wanted to get a drink and some Doritos for the drive back but we didn’t pass a gas station on the way out of town THE END

Here’s that Toronto setlist I mentioned:

Hello, Dolly
Train, Train
Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That
Pure & Simple
Jolene
Precious Memories
My Tennessee Mountain Home
Coat Of Many Colors
Smokey Mountain Memories
Applejack
Rocky Top/Yakety Sax
Banks Of The Ohio
Medley: American Pie/If I Had A Hammer/Blowin’ In The Wind/Dust In The Wind/The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
The Seeker
I’ll Fly Away

(Intermission)

Baby I’m Burning/Girl On Fire
Better Get To Livin’
Outside Your Door
The Grass Is Blue
Those Memories Of You
Do I Ever Cross Your Mind
Little Sparrow
Two Doors Down
Here You Come Again
Islands In The Stream
9 To 5
I Will Always Love You
Light Of A Clear Blue Morning

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith w/Tif Ginn (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• BreakOutWest (October 14-16)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)

SLCR #257: Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6, 2016)

September 19, 2016

I don’t really understand how this happened.

I mean, logically, I get the rationale behind it. I was at the casino anyway, buying a ticket to Prozzäk – in itself, probably a questionable choice – and I got carried away. I’d probably just gotten paid or something. Or not. I mean, I don’t think that hard about my finances, which is something I should probably work on if I don’t want to alternate my time between concert venues and a refrigerator box in the alley.

Really, what I was thinking about was wanting to hit 40 concerts in my 40th year. That, and the whole Jian Ghomeshi thing.

Not THAT thing. The other thing.

Remember that other thing? Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters were guests on Q, Ghomeshi had the temerity to mention in passing that Thornton was famous for acting, and Thornton immediately turned defensive and basically shut the interview down like a petulant child. THAT thing. Who’d have guessed that Thornton would ultimately gain the PR upper hand in this battle?

Anyway, I wound up at this show for a combination of stupid reasons, is what I’m getting at. Mika opted out. Not due to school, or homework, or fatigue, or a prior commitment. No reason was given and none was needed. I got it. But I was curious. What if these dudes are really good? Low expectations can sometimes lead to great experiences. And what else was I going to do on a Tuesday night?

The first thing I noticed upon arriving at the casino was that I have never seen their parkade so empty. I had written up a big long description of the parking garage but who could care about that? It was largely empty. This is all you need to know.

I had a seat by myself in the upper level. I mean this nearly literally. The balcony is split into two halves; there were three people in my half, including myself. It didn’t look like the other half was any more crowded. The floor looked reasonably full but wasn’t sold out.

As with most casino shows, there was no opening act. The emcee was a local DJ who made a bunch of jokes about the miserable performance of our football team, particularly the kicker who missed a crucial conversion that would have tied the most recent game. Given that our team HAS been pretty terrible this year, you wouldn’t think these jokes would have died quite the death they did, but I don’t think anyone really felt like piling on.

Now that we were all warmed up (?), Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters took the stage. Thornton’s stage presence as a lead singer could be generously described as “aloof.” He kept his sunglasses on for the entire set, standing there, barely moving, looking down at the ground. He came across as either being disinterested or trying to look cool. I’m going to go with the latter, since between songs, he’d talk with the audience and he was actually pretty engaging and funny. He walked out on the floor and chatted with audience members at one point, and gently handled one die-hard fan who tried to rush onto the stage at another.

(He also talked a lot about having never played Regina before, which I’m pretty sure isn’t true? I feel certain that they had a previous casino date at one point. Maybe it got postponed? Or maybe I’m imagining things – if they were scheduled to be here, I never even mentioned it in a previous review.)

The Boxmasters were quite good, despite having a late substitution when their normal drummer found himself unable to cross into Canada for… reasons. However, I really don’t know how to rate Thornton’s performance as a singer, except to say it seemed like his mic was kept quite low and I found myself wondering if maybe that wasn’t intentional. I mean, I never thought he was terrible, but nothing stood out as being particularly good, either.

They played all original numbers, I think; if there were any covers, I didn’t pick up on them. The songs were like the vocals, in that nothing stood out as being particularly awful or particularly interesting. Is it super insulting to say that if they had a frontman who brought some energy to the performance, they could be a really great bar band? Because I don’t mean that in a dick way but it probably sounds like it. Oh well.

I don’t feel like I was alone in my lack of enthusiasm for this show. After they finished their set, there was the most tepid applause for an encore that I’ve ever heard, like “we all know what happens now and we are playing our roles” but there was no enthusiasm behind it. And then something really telling happened. The band (minus Thornton) came back out on stage to some cheers, and they began to play. Thornton followed, and when he walked out, there was no spike in cheers at all. I’ve never seen that happen before. Some bands try to paint everyone as equals, and others are the Front Man and the Other Guys. This was clearly meant to be Front Man and the Other Guys. And yet, when the Front Man came back, there was no reaction from the crowd to indicate that he was a bigger star than anyone else on stage. And really, if you’re bringing one person out separately, you’re presenting that one person as the star and trying to get that big reaction. And I’ve never seen it not work.

So yeah. This was an interesting experiment but not so hot and not really my thing. Which is about what I was expecting.

SLCR #256: Greg MacPherson (September 1, 2016)

September 17, 2016

Ah hell crap dammit I have three of these things to do. I want to do other things but I also don’t want to have FOUR of these particular things, so here we go.

I just looked up my last Greg MacPherson review and it was from four years ago and I can’t even fathom that. I’m fine with being 40, I can handle any of the “Want to feel old? _____ came out _____ years ago” posts (though the idea that Snakes on a Plane has been around for a decade is a bit disconcerting), but four years since that concert? Really? I do not understand how this is possible.

I remember that show well. It was an intimate setting (the first show I saw at the Artful Dodger) and a fantastic performance, one that made me into much more of a fan than I’d been going in. I know he’s come back through town a few times since then, but he has a knack for showing up on nights when I’m already booked. Also, he really seems to like to play here around tax time, much to Jeff’s frustration.

I actually had a ticket to see him earlier this year, but I would have had to go by myself, it was him sharing the stage with a few other folks to talk about songs (the format actually sounded really neat, but it wasn’t really what I was after), and it was up against a UFC PPV so I sat it out. Sometimes I am fine with going to shows by myself and sometimes I am very not. Regardless, I was glad that he came back through town so I’d get the chance to see him.

Like the last show, this was my first time at a new venue – this time, Creative City Centre. I feel like Stefon describing where it is: “Located above a jazz club situated in a former shoe store in Regina’s downtown, this place has everything.” But then it trails off because it has two flights of narrow stairs, a dozen tables, bowls of pretzels, and Jeff and his friend, who beat me there. No human Roombas.

But seriously, this is a really tiny space. I said that the Artful Dodger show was intimate, but that place holds twice as many people. I’d have to think 50 people would sell out Creative City Centre unless they pulled the tables out.

Possibly the highlight of the night came when the lady who (I think) runs the place opened the show by listing off all the upcoming events. She got to the guitar jam, where guitarists of all skill levels come together to play and learn and talk guitar… stuff. Anyway, they’re going to hold Regina’s largest ever guitar jam in the park downtown, and they’re all going to play the Experience Regina song – making this four straight public events I’ve attended with Jeff where that song has come up. I don’t know if I should take him with me everywhere? Or would that just jinx things?

Our opening act was a collabo of two local artists, Dan Holbrow and Leo Keiser, about whom I knew pretty much nothing at all. I still know very little. They played six or eight songs with the two switching off on vocals. Keiser had a song called “I’m Bored and You’re an Asshole,” which is, I guess, really what a lot of songs are about, but I’ve never heard of one that outright said it before.

The venue filled up as the show went on, and it looked pretty close to capacity by the time Greg MacPherson started. Good for him, but that did prevent us from stealing a bowl of pretzels from a nearby unoccupied table. The only open spot was, oddly, front and centre, but MacPherson started off the show by insisting that someone move up from the back and sit at that table.

It was a very different show, possibly because it was a very different tour – not a tour at all, really. He and his partner were off to Edmonton for a wedding and he just picked up a few gigs along the way. He said he was out of practice and hadn’t even remembered to bring any records or CDs to sell us (to think, I raided Mika’s purse for nothing). His voice was a little hoarse and it did seem like he didn’t have a set list and was just going to play for as long as his voice would hold out.

Last time, he played all of his songs that I know and love. This was decidedly not that. The bartender had requested the song Heatwave; someone requested it at the last show too, and I didn’t know the song at that time. Here, it was the only song I’d heard before. Even Jeff, who knows much more of MacPherson’s music than I do, only recognized a few songs. It seemed like he was trying out a lot of new material, and he was talking a lot too – lots about the political climate and general state of things, both globally and on a local level.

So it was quite an interesting show, and whenever I see him play, I think “this dude is super good and I really need to listen to his music more often.” Just not quite the show I was expecting, which isn’t a bad thing.

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)