SLCR #242: George Thorogood & the Destroyers (April 29, 2016)

May 1, 2016

This one, this is even more inexplicable than Black Sabbath. At least Sabbath was within walking distance. Plus I knew seeing them would make Aaron jealous and that counts for something. Probably counted for too much in my internal decision-making process, if I’m being honest. And Sabbath was cheaper too.

Thing is, there’s a local weekly paper called the Prairie Dog. Their website has daily blog posts about upcoming events, and on Tuesday, they talked about George Thorogood playing the Conexus Arts Centre on Friday. More out of curiosity than anything, I clicked over to the Arts Centre’s website, just to see how much tickets were and see how well they were selling. Oddly, they looked pretty close to sold out – but with four open seats in the front row. I assume there were some tickets set aside for promotional uses that wound up not being used, and I happened to check at just the right time. After confirming that Mika had no interest in going, I picked myself up a ticket.

I’m well on pace to set a new personal record for concerts seen this year, so somewhere along the way I got the idea that I should see if I can see 52 shows in 2016. I think it’s possible but it will require moving out of my comfort zone and seeing some bands I’d normally skip. This is show #14 for the year, but I’d need to have seen 17 or 18 by now to be on pace. Gonna have to work on it.

I suppose if 52 isn’t doable due to finances, time, or opportunity, I’d accept 40 for godforsaken birthday reasons. This seems like a better midlife crisis than a tattoo.

Anyway, that’s all how I found myself sitting front row for George Thorogood & the Destroyers. But James, you ask, do you actually know any George Thorogood songs? Apart from Bad to the Bone? And I answer yes. I know Get a Haircut. I mean, I know all the songs everyone knows, pretty much, but I especially know Get a Haircut. When I was in high school, I knew a dude who love love LOVED George Thorogood. And in Grade 12 English class, we had to play a song and provide the class with the lyrics, and then provide our interpretation of the lyrics. Get a Haircut was the song that he picked:

I was a rebel from the day I left school
Grew my hair long and broke all the rules
I’d sit and listen to my records all day
With big ambitions of when I could play

My parents taught me what life was about
So I grew up the type they warned me about
They said my friends were just an unruly mob
And I should get a haircut and get a real job

Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don’t be a slob
Get it together like your big brother Bob
Why don’t you get a haircut and get a real job

I even tried that 9-to-5 scene
I told myself that it was all a bad dream
I found a band and some good songs to play
Now I party all night, I sleep all day

I met this chick, she was my number-one fan
She took me home to meet her mommy and dad
They took one look at me and said “oh my god
Get a haircut and get a real job”

Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don’t be a slob
Get it together like your big brother Bob
Why don’t you get a haircut and get a real job

I hit the big time with my rock ‘n’ roll band
The future’s brighter now than I’d ever planned
I’m ten times richer than my big brother Bob
But he’s got a haircut, he’s got a real job

Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don’t be a slob
Get it together like your big brother Bob
Why don’t you get a haircut and get a real job

Personally, I’m not sure how much interpretation is required to understand the deeper meaning therein, but when it came time to critique poetry, this dude picked an eight-line poem by Red Green, so he had a type. I chose the song The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel, which is much easier to bullshit symbolism about, though also pretty straightforward in retrospect. Mostly I remember people asking why I played the original and not the cover by The Waltons which was a big radio hit locally at the time.

Another girl picked Dust in the Wind and was shocked to discover that maybe it shouldn’t be her wedding song after all.

I was curious as to what the audience for this show would be like, a question that was answered within seconds of arriving when I ran into a lady from work, and then another once inside. In general, the audience was older, skewing slightly female, but with lots of couples. I had some college-age bros to my right. Behind me were some women who really wanted to complain about the state of music today and how they’d like to see those teenyboppers today go like Keith Richards when they’re his age!!!

The openers were the Ben Miller Band and I am glad that I was sitting close enough to the front to get some decent pictures because I’m not sure I can describe them adequately. To the far left was Scott Leeper, a very bearded man in a plaid shirt and suspenders playing a one-string washtub bass. Next to him was Smilin’ Bob Lewis, who appeared to be a survivalist Dr. Demento in a tie-dye t-shirt covered in kittens. This was accessorized with a long white coat that had shiny reflective cactuses on it, as well as a tall red top hat with black brim. Miller himself looked like Ozark Sheamus and yet barely stood out by comparison. Finally, we had Rachel Ammons, a fiddle player who had hair down past her ass and her own wind-blowing-machine-thingy* to make it fly around while she played.

*it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I could just call it a “fan” so I’m leaving the original description in

Anyway. I had no idea who these folks were and no idea what to make of them. And then… they KILLED IT. Unbelievable. It took a few songs for them to warm up and for the crowd to get into them, but around the third song, everything clicked and they blew the roof off the place. They had 45 minutes or so and they made the most of it. “Bluegrass-infused rock” is my short description but that doesn’t cover it – on their Facebook page, they list their genre as “who knows, who cares.” But seriously. They traded off instruments all night and everyone got a chance to sing. There was a banjo. There was a WASHBOARD. There was a bluegrass cover of House of the Rising Sun and another of Black Betty. There was incredible energy and the crowd responded in kind, going from polite applause for the first song to a standing ovation for the last one. When they were over, I was thinking that Thorogood was going to have an awfully hard time following them. I could have gone home at this point and it would have been worth it. Never skip the openers, kids.

Man, I love it when I go into a show not knowing an artist and leave as a fan. The chance of these kinds of discoveries is a big part of what keeps me going to all these shows. That, and I have no common sense.

As they left the stage, the lady behind me screamed “HEY JUSTIN BIEBER! I’D LIKE TO SEE YOU… DO… WHAT WE JUST SAW.” I endorse the sentiment but maybe make sure you’ve decided on what you’re going to yell before you start yelling.

During the intermission, I just hung around in my seat. I thought about going to the stuff table to get a record from the Ben Miller Band, but they said they’d be around after the show too, so I figured I had plenty of opportunity. You know how this goes.

After a short break, the lights dimmed. The bros to my right returned, having smoked all the weed there is. Sorry, world. We’re out. The lady behind me screamed “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! MY IDOL!” Yes. But she would have to wait, as first they shone a spotlight on the drum kit and played Eve of Destruction in its entirety. Only once that was done did we get the booming voice of a wrestling announcer, introducing the heavyweight rock and roll champions of the world.

I won’t lie. This was fun as heck. Now, admittedly, a huge part of that had to do with the front row seat. And not just front row, but right off centre, which meant that when Thorogood was walking around, he was often dead set right in front of me. At one point, he played about a two-minute guitar solo, lights dimmed, spotlight on him, his guitar two feet from my face the whole time. I could have hated his music and still had a blast. This would still have been fun from my traditional seat in Row L For Legroom but not nearly the same. This bodes well for Weird Al, as we have similar seats in August.

Now, being so close DID mean that I was also dangerously near some tongue waggling and some pelvic thrusts. Such are the risks when you are sitting in the splash zone. I do not believe I was ever splashed. Wouldn’t complain if I was. I knew the dangers.

Anyway, you surely know what George Thorogood sounds like and whether you like him or not. Of course he closed the main set with Bad to the Bone (complete with BONE lights behind him). And he played pretty much exactly what his fans would want to hear – Move it on Over; Who do you Love; I Drink Alone; One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. He played Get a Haircut and I was overjoyed.

He hammed it up as only an experienced frontman can – dancing around, making faces, posing, talking about what a fiiiiiiiiiiiiine city this is, dropping the name “Regina” into as many songs as he could (he’ll “make an old woman blush and a Regina girl squeal”). And people ate it up. There was one lady who was convinced she was part of the show and ran up to dance in front of everyone over and over, to the point that security quit trying to stop her from rushing the stage because the people she was with resigned themselves to handling it. At another time, when a bunch of people were standing and dancing, one guy hopped on one foot for the length of the stage, playing air guitar all the while. This was one of the most tremendous things I have ever seen. Dude looked like he was in a trance. Compelled by the power of the rock.

So yeah, this was great fun. And yet, I still have to give the Ben Miller Band the nod for the evening. They had more energy and great presence and didn’t have the advantage of, you know, people already knowing and liking them, but they still stole the show. On the way out, I got caught up in the rush of people leaving and never made it to the stuff table and I’m still a little disappointed about that, but oh well, there’s always iTunes.

UPCOMING CONCERTS

  • Ben Folds & yMusic w/Dotan (May 11)
  • Danny Michel (May 12)
  • Hawksley Workman & The Art of Time Ensemble (May 13)
  • Age of Electric (May 27)
  • The Pack a.d. (May 28)
  • Meat Loaf (June 11)
  • City and Colour w/Shakey Graves (June 12)
  • Northcote w/Jordan Klassen and Josiah (June 22)
  • BA Johnston (June 24)
  • Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart; Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, & Sharon White (cancelled); Sam Roberts Band; The Mavericks; Bettye LaVette; The Cat Empire; The Strumbellas; more (August 5-7)
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
  • Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
  • I Mother Earth (October 8)

TOO MANY PICTURES: BEN MILLER BAND

 

TOO MANY PICTURES: GEORGE THOROGOOD & THE DESTROYERS

SLCR #241: Jason Collett & Zeus (April 19, 2016)

April 29, 2016

This was a long-awaited gig for me. Jason Collett is one of those people who’s come to Regina seemingly a dozen times since I’ve been here, but I’ve always found a way to miss out. Mark, in particular, is a fan and has tried to get me to go on multiple occasions – so, of course, I finally buy tickets and this time Mark’s out of town. Oh well, I hope he had fun seeing Sloan in Vancouver and eating all the ducks.

Having said that – the part about the long-awaited show, not the part about Mark eating ducks – for all I’ve heard about Collett and as much as his singer-songwritery vibe should be right up my alley, I’d heard very little of his music. A handful of singles from CBC Radio 3, that’s about it, so I was looking forward to hearing more. You know, as if there wasn’t a vast collection of his recorded output at my fingertips.

We got to the Exchange about 15 minutes before the opener, Kalle Matteson, was to begin. Finding parking was not exactly difficult. I wasn’t surprised – given the number of ticket giveaway contests I saw, and the number of “hey, we got this show coming up, don’t forget” tweets, it seemed like tickets were moving a little slowly. Indeed, we had no trouble finding a place to sit once we arrived. It filled in reasonably well as the night progressed but wasn’t close to selling out, I don’t think.

This wasn’t put on by the folk festival people but it still started right on time. Our opener was Kalle Mattson; nobody seemed to know who he was, to the point that when he said his name, he paused for applause that was awfully late in arriving. His sense of humour about this situation won me over. “Tonight I’m going to play some old songs, play some new songs… which I am certain is completely irrelevant to all of you.” Later on, he said he was originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and scoffed at the one person who WOOed that.

This was the first night of the Mattson/Collett tour pairing and, I gather, the first show in a while for both musicians. Mattson played a sad song called Astronaut, which he wrote for his grandmother. In introducing the song, he said that this was its world premiere. After he finished, when someone in the crowd said they needed a Kleenex, Mattson offered to sell the fan a t-shirt. “You can do whatever you want with it.”

Going into this show, I knew very little about Mattson. I listened to a few of his songs on Apple Music before the show, including a cover of Hotline Bling he didn’t play at our show. Musically, he reminded me a bit of Andy Shauf – quiet guy with a guitar – only Matteson’s songs are a little sadder and he’s got a drier sense of humour when chatting between songs. He said “if you do know anything about me, you know I sing a lot about death” and I suppose that backs up both points. Anyway, this dude was good! Recommended.

After a brief intermission during which time we probably played iPhone Yahtzee and fed our iPhone cats, Jason Collett and his backing band Zeus were up. The sound wasn’t the best – the vocals seemed kinda muddy. I didn’t notice that during Mattson’s set, and they sounded better later on when Collett did a song or two by himself, so I’m not sure what the issue was. Whatever it was, it was tied to the vocals – Zeus sounded real good.

I recognized a few of the first songs – I Wanna Rob a Bank and I’ll Bring the Sun. We had also listened to his newest album, Song & Dance Man, and of course he played lots from it, including the title track, Forever Young is Getting Old, Singing American, and Black Oak Savannah. There was also a cover of She’s Gone by Hall & Oates, and like Mattson, Collett said that one of the new songs was being played in public for the first time ever. It maybe took them three tries to start it off right, but these things happen.

If you want a more complete setlist with a bunch of pictures from the show, my former neighbours were at the show and one of them posted a bunch of pictures to the local weekly paper’s website.

As for the show… I don’t know. Maybe I needed Mark to be there so I could get a dose of second-hand enthusiasm. I think at one point Collett referred to the crowd being “respectful,” which I’m pretty sure means “make some noise, you dopes.” Well, there was this one guy who yelled “YES!” at the opening notes of a bunch of Collett’s songs, but it soon became apparent that he was more into yelling YES than he was into Collett himself. Good to have hobbies.

But yeah, I enjoyed the show, but didn’t love it. The sound issues didn’t help any, but I don’t think that was it. It just wasn’t my thing. Not sure why it shouldn’t be – I like lots of musicians who would be in the same Canadian indie singer-songwriter category as Collett. And while this show was fine, it just didn’t really grab me. So it goes.

SLCR #240: Sloan (April 9, 2016)

April 13, 2016

This was… I dunno. A noble idea? An experiment, not to be repeated?

Sloan – Canadian rock royalty Sloan – were hitting the road to mark the 20th anniversary of their legendary One Chord To Another album (and sell some obscenely expensive deluxe vinyl reissues along the way). And they weren’t coming here. I wasn’t so concerned about the record (I got a pre-order link and thusly I pre-ordered – it’s a very nice set), but seeing the show sounded like it would be a good time. They were playing in Saskatoon, but it was on a Sunday night so it would have meant a late night drive back with work the next day. But Winnipeg was on a Saturday. We could leave after Mika was done at school in the morning, go on a bit of a road trip adventure, see the show, spend a night in a hotel… the idea seemed like a decent one on its surface. But it’s Winnipeg, so you know.

Saturday morning came and we got on the road in decent time. I held us up a bit by being sleepy and lazy but not so much that it mattered. We were on our way!

…and on. And on. One forgets just low long and monotonous that drive is. It doesn’t help that the built-in iPhone podcast app will just cut chunks off your podcasts for no apparent reason. Like podcasts? Have an iPhone? Switch to Overcast. It does all your podcast stuff right. There’s also Downcast, which has this hilarious thing going where every new version fixes one problem and creates another, but it too is better than the built-in app.

Anyway. The best thing I can say about the drive was that I got a Wunderbar at the Moosomin Co-op. Or was it the Whitewood Co-op? The Broadview Co-op? I know it was a Saskatchewan Wunderbar. Gotta keep my candy bar money in the province.

Rob, you’ll never read this, but if you do, I demand that you define the “Saskatchewan Wunderbar” and put it up on Urban Dictionary.

Our talking car robot lady led us into Winnipeg and to our hotel with only a minimum of “why is it taking us this way.” The hotel was the Delta, which I will name because it was nice enough. It was Fine. My hotel standards are really pretty low. I want a bed and a toilet and a shower and I want it to not be gross. These checkboxes were all checked.

With doors at 8:00 and me believing for some dumb reason that the show was starting at 8:30, we didn’t have a ton of time for dinner, so we just ate at the hotel restaurant. It, too, was Fine. Though after dinner, I looked at Sloan’s Twitter and realized that they weren’t planning on taking the stage until 10:00, so I guess we could have gone anywhere in the city and had lots of time. We could even have gone to Olive Garden like fancy big city folk.

The venue was the Pyramid – not shaped like its namesake – which was walking distance from our hotel. We found it with only one wrong turn, which was good, because it was getting pretty frosty out for April. Inside was the neon sign for the Spectrum Cabaret, which I believe was the Pyramid in a former life. It was one of those places like the Blue Note that I read about back in the day, integral to the early days of the Crash Test Dummies. There was also a signed Dummies poster behind the bar, old enough that everyone still had long hair and Mitch Dorge hadn’t joined the band yet. Beyond that, it seemed kind of like a larger version of the Exchange in Regina. Some of that old Louis’ dank but in a room that’s basically just a big box with a stage.

There was no opener. We waited around for a while and the length of the day really took its toll on me. The Pyramid was also sold out, and people were packed in tight, so we went from the freezing walk to being way too hot in short order. I could have gone to bed right then.

Sloan finally took the stage somewhere around 10:15-10:30 and I got an immediate second wind. The first set was the One Chord album in its entirety. In preparation for the show, I gave this album a listen, and then a few more because it turns out it’s real good. Groundbreaking and controversial opinion, I know, but that’s what you come here for. It has a few big singles in Everything You’ve Done Wrong and The Good In Everyone but really, you can’t go wrong with the whole thing. The live version didn’t stray too far from the recordings – they even brought in outside horn players whose names Chris totally knew and weren’t written on his hand in Sharpie at all. This was all fun and one of the better Sloan sets I’ve ever seen.

sloan2016

There was an extended break between sets during which I was feeling pretty awake but would have been willing to murder someone for a bottled water. Instead, I gave the bartender some cash money and got us some orange Gatorades, which seems in hindsight like a better plan now that I’m not currently thirsty OR in jail.

The second set was all over the place. “Career-spanning,” I think they called it. I recognized some songs – Money City Maniacs being the big one, but also Unkind, Coax Me, and Losing California, among others. Mika said that the second set was heavy on songs from Between the Bridges and correctly surmised that I wouldn’t know lots of them. No The Other Man – I know Aaron will be disappointed. Also no Underwhelmed or The Rest Of My Life, which are both personal and crowd favourites.

To be fair, they may actually have played any or all of the above – we wound up bailing on the encore. I know. But we were exhausted from the drive and I have to say, there are some real dicks in Winnipeg* who will just shove you hard and not give a shit at all. Or they’ll scream along to the music. I don’t mind if they sing – even if they (like me) can’t sing well – as long as you’re not just hollering for the sake of hearing your own drunk voice and then laughing at your loudness. It got to be a bit much. “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans,” indeed. It was also the loudest I’ve ever heard Sloan, and the volume completely drowned Jay out when he was singing. Mika’s favourite Sloan song is False Alarm, and they played it, but she was disappointed that you couldn’t really hear it.

*okay they weren’t really Winnipeg-specific, they were just drunk b-holes and those are everywhere and these days I don’t go to many shows where they’re prevalent anymore so they bother me more than they likely should

I hate ending on the negative stuff because then people go “man, that show sounded terrible” and it certainly wasn’t! It was just a long day and the venue was hot (I don’t even blame them – it was packed) and some people were kinda turds. Most people weren’t turds. But it doesn’t take many turds, you know? Friggin’ turds.

So what else can I tell you? Well, Patrick (who had apparently celebrated numerous birthdays at the Pyramid/Spectrum in years past) has a long grey beard and Chris introduced him as Dumbledore. They had a basic light show set up with a disco ball, which I don’t think I’ve seen at a Sloan show before. It was nothing fancy but gave the whole thing some nice visual variety. At one point someone threw a big handful of ice into the crowd, confusing everyone, including the band. And apparently Craig Northey of Odds was at our show; I didn’t see him there, but he was posting pictures from the show on Instagram. I know he was in Winnipeg with Steven Page et al doing that Art of Time Ensemble Sgt. Pepper show, the one I saw in Calgary.

Anyway, after the chilly walk back to the hotel, we were more than done for the night. And the next morning it was snowing and windy because it is Winnipeg, so rather than brave the Ikea or the Human Rights Museum (and what does it say about us that those were our preferred choices? I feel like this could be a lengthy discussion all its own), we hit the road as soon as we were up and about. Our tourist stop for the day was at the finest Boston Pizza in Brandon, followed up with a second Saskatchewan Wunderbar when we stopped for gas.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Jason Collett & Zeus w/Kalle Mattson (April 19)
• Ben Folds & yMusic w/Dotan (May 11)
• Danny Michel (May 12)
• Hawksley Workman & The Art of Time Ensemble (May 13)
• The Pack a.d. (May 28)
• Meat Loaf (June 11)
• City and Colour w/Shakey Graves (June 12)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart; Ry Cooder, Sharon White, & Ricky Skaggs; Sam Roberts Band; The Mavericks; Bettye LaVette; The Cat Empire; The Strumbellas, and more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• I Mother Earth with Edwin (October 8)

SLCR #239: Spirit of the West (March 31, 2016)

April 9, 2016

This was destined to be bittersweet. The last time I saw Spirit of the West, lead singer John Mann had recently been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. We went, in part, expecting it to be our last chance to see the band. But that night, they promised they’d be back on a proper farewell tour. A year and a half later, here we are. Within minutes of tickets going on sale, they were snapped up and I got one of the last tables for four available. Not the best seats I’ve ever managed – we were off to the very far left – but I knew it wouldn’t matter since everyone would be standing anyway.

With Mika under the weather, Colin took her spot at the last minute to join Mark and Arlette and I. In exchange for the ticket, I gave him the important job of reminding me to pick up a sundae for Mika on the trip home. I saw a number of other work folks scattered throughout the casino.

The band took the stage right at 8:00 with no opener. Normally it takes a few songs to get people out of their seats at the casino, but not tonight. People crowded around the front right from the get-go and security didn’t hassle anyone. Probably because they’d pretty much be forced to hassle everyone.

The setlist was much the same as last time. I say this because I don’t know much Spirit of the West beyond their singles, but pretty much everything here sounded familiar. I suppose it’s the type of situation that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of variation. Really, the show was mostly a rerun from the last time out. You got most of your big hits – And If Venice Is Sinking, Sadness Grows, Is This Where I Come In – mixed in with fan favourites. I know they played Political, The Joneses, The Old Sod, Another Happy New Year, and The Rites of Man. Geoffrey Kelly handled pretty much all of the talking between songs. John Mann was glued to the iPad with the lyrics, but was a ball of crazy dancing energy otherwise. His “FUCK ALZHEIMER’S (in the arse)” shirt was new and got a great reaction.

So how was it? The band was as good as ever but if I’m being honest, you could see some deterioration from the last time. It looked like Mann had a little more difficulty following along with the lyrics now. Have you ever sung along with the radio, only you start singing a bit early and you have to hold back, or you start the wrong verse and you have to quickly switch it up? I noticed a few parts like that, or places where Mann just wasn’t singing where I thought he should be. He barely talked at all when not singing, but he still repeated himself at one point. Now, all of these could be nothing, you know? You hope it’s nothing. Stuff that I’m blowing out of proportion because I was specifically watching to see how he was doing.

I think that would be one of the worst parts about Alzheimer’s. Every little slip would seem like a portent of doom. You know? Forget your watch at home one day and it would feel like a terrible sign. I do it and it just means it’s Thursday.

Anyway, I don’t want to make it sound like it was a bad show or anything. Mann’s still got his voice and the band is still great, I just noticed a few moments. And the crowd was not going to be anything but 100% loving and supportive, dancing and yelling and cheers and we love yous all night.

I said the setlist was the same but they actually mixed up the ending a bit. Drummer Vince Ditrich sang a few songs while most of the band took a break. When everyone came back out, they said they’d wrap things up with two oldies. Okay. It was not going to be a surprise what songs those were, and I figured Dietrich’s intermission was done to set up this “encore.” Mark and Arlette got up and went to the stage – it felt like half the people with floor “seating” were there already – and Colin and I soon followed. Of course, it was Save This House followed by Home For A Rest. Mark demanded we pogo. We pogoed. Everyone else in the place was up and dancing and singing anyway. It was a great way to end an emotional show, so I was surprised that they came back out for two more songs. The Crawl is a fine song to end on, but it’s not Home For A Rest, you know? Seemed like a strange choice.

With that, they thanked the crowd and took their final bows. It was an emotional night and both Ditrich and Mann looked like they might have shed a few tears. I can’t imagine what their farewell shows next week in Vancouver will be like.

But the important thing is, I remembered that sundae.

SLCR #238: Metric & Death Cab for Cutie (March 28, 2016)

April 9, 2016

To be honest, I wasn’t really excited for this show. I like Metric well enough to have seen them a few times before, but their newest album just doesn’t do it for me. If something can be described as “electronic synth pop,” I think it’s a safe bet that I won’t like it.

Now someone will point out that term could be used to describe all of Metric’s music, maybe, and I like an awful lot of it, including their previous album, Synthetica. So I don’t know. All’s I know is lots of bands I like are moving toward a new sound and it’s the same sound and it’s one I don’t care for. But I like enough older Metric stuff that when Mika asked if I wanted to go, I was quick to agree – especially when she got our coveted Row L For Legroom end seats.

I didn’t know at the time that Death Cab For Cutie was also on this tour. I’ve never heard much of their stuff, and what I have hasn’t inspired me to seek out more. Just not my thing. Probably an age thing – I was too old to be paying attention when they first came along and I never bothered to make an effort. Everyone I know who likes them is five to ten years younger than me. But I know they’re a big deal and I was surprised to see that they were playing before Metric.

Really, my #1 Death Cab memory comes from the days of the Delphi boards:

Albert: (mentions “DCFC” when talking music)
someone: “What’s DCFC?”
Albert: “Death Cab For Cutie! One of my favorite bands!”
Scott: “Death Cab For Cutie! One of Albert’s favorite bands! I think they suck!”

Not that funny, but I don’t know. I’ve forgotten lots of great chattery material but that one has stuck with me since day one. Maybe that’s why I never got into Death Cab. Afraid of what Scott might think.

We got to the Conexus Arts Centre in time to enjoy our legroom for 6:45, the bizarre stated start time on the tickets. And at 6:45:01, the lights dimmed. We got three bands tonight, no time to mess around.

With the vast majority of fans not yet in attendance, the openers were Leisure Cruise. They are from Brooklyn. I know this because they said so. I know nothing else about them except their lead singer took the stage wearing a coat that appeared to be made out of fifty pounds of silver Christmas tinsel. Mika said she kind of wanted it. I will not get it for her. Carl spends too much time trying to get our attention by pulling coats down as it is.

In front of a giant screen and what appeared to be two giant white beachballs with stuff projected onto them, Leisure Cruise played electronic pop that made them a good fit as openers for Metric. Nothing I ran out to buy or anything, but it was fine. I have nothing else to say about that.

I can pretty much review Death Cab by saying that I went into their set not giving a shit about them, and I left not giving a shit about them, but they were much better than I had given them credit for. They played two songs I recognized, both about hearts. Ultimately still not my thing, but clearly very talented and the crowd loved them – they got a standing ovation and fans were really disappointed there was no encore. It was obvious that people saw them as the big stars of the evening. There wasn’t a huge number of people who left right after Death Cab were done, but there were some – and people trickled out throughout Metric’s performance.

Between sets, I went exploring and briefly ran into Mark and Other James. Mark gushed over Death Cab so maybe they’re the best and there’s just something wrong with me?

So yeah, Metric ran the risk of being upstaged by their co-headliners. When they took the stage, they almost had to beg people to stand up and get into the show. And it didn’t help that the sound seemed better for Death Cab than for Metric – they buried Emily Haines’ vocals to a degree.

But once they got going, the show was a lot of fun. The new songs worked a lot better for me in the live setting and there were lots of older songs that I knew well and enjoyed. Mika said she thought the newer material worked better than the older stuff, and I can see where she’s coming from. They mixed up the old stuff a lot – but I’d rather hear that than just note-for-note renditions of the album versions. And the staging was great – probably the best light show I’ve ever seen at a rock show. Apologies to anyone who had to sit through my Instagram flood that night – but you didn’t even get to see the confetti cannons.

Not that everything worked. Fans who bought VIP tickets were invited on stage to serve as a chorus backing the song Dreams So Real. I know that nobody buys music anymore and you’ve gotta make your money where you can. So I understand offering VIP packages where people can pay more to meet the band, watch the soundcheck, get exclusive stuff, or just get fancy parking or something. But inviting people on stage… I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Some of those folks looked terrified. It’s an experiment that was worth trying but probably not repeating.

But that was one song in a long night of music. By and large, the show was a good time and the evening exceeded my expectations. Really, all three bands wound up better than I thought they’d be. And after twenty minutes of sitting here trying to come up with a better conclusion than that, I’m going to accept that I don’t have one and just be done with this.

SLCR #237: The Watchmen (March 25, 2016)

April 8, 2016

Dang. I’m much better at getting these out on time when I’m on vacation.

Or maybe I’m not the right person to be writing this. Maybe Mika should, or Jeff, or Jeremy. Or maybe anyone else who was at this show. To me, the Watchmen were just one of those bands that were on the radio sometimes. A good band, one I liked well enough, but not one I ever really sought out. I don’t think I ever owned any of their albums, I never saw them in concert, I didn’t know anything beyond the radio hits. And because I am a dumb, I just kind of assumed that everyone felt the same way I did, because why would I ever consider another person’s perspective? So it came as a surprise to me when I went to buy our tickets – the day they opened the advance sale for casino Players Club members, two days before tickets went on sale to the general public – and I couldn’t get a table for four. The only way to get four seats together was to split a table for eight, further back from the stage. And I understand that Players Club cards are free and everyone in Regina has one so they can get $5 casino breakfasts, but still, it seemed fast. I seriously underestimated the demand for the Watchmen. I’m pretty sure the show sold out within days.

And so it was that I found myself at the casino with three people – and surrounded by hundreds more – who liked the Watchmen so much more than I do. Which is not to say that I dislike them at all! I don’t! They’re good! But I was out of my depth. There were favourite-album discussions, and hopes of hearing specific deep cuts, and debates about which anniversary of which album this show was celebrating, and there I was, thinking “hey, Stereo, that’s a song I know. And… um…”

Okay, so I had to check Wikipedia for a quick refresher of some titles (and, in some cases, check YouTube to match titles to songs): Boneyard Tree, Shut Up, All Uncovered, Incarnate, Any Day Now, Absolutely Anytime. At least I knew enough to not be tricked when I Googled “Watchmen singles” and it gave me the Watchmen movie soundtrack.

So we’re sitting at the long table, Jeff and Jeremy making friends with the other four randos who had joined us, and the voice of God booms. Or… it drones, maybe. God didn’t sound real into things. I suppose he’s seen it all. “Ladies and gentlemen. The Watchmen are here. But first-” and there were boos! Not that many or anything, but there were a handful of cheesed off people who had not counted on an opener and were NOT down with the idea of waiting even longer for the Watchmen. I haven’t heard the mere concept of an opening band get booed since the last time I saw the Tragically Hip.

The openers turned out to be fellow Winnipeggers Yes We Mystic, a name that seemed to confuse everyone. They were good enough to silence the handful of skeptics and that is pretty much all I can tell you about them. That, and the lead singer had a yellow and black checkered jacket that I couldn’t tell if I loved or hated. They were perfectly fine, playing rock with some folk influences, mixing some unexpected instruments into the usual guitar/bass/drums mix. Recommended if you like any of the songs played by Portland Cloud Orchestra in Guitar Hero Live.

So you know how I said I only know Watchmen singles, right? Well, after about 45 minutes of their set, I heard the first song I knew, not counting when they did a bit of Down Under for some reason. Meanwhile, everyone else at our table got to hear all the songs they were hoping for. Or so Mika tells me. How would I know?

The casino has recently started having general admission shows (I think the Headstones might have been the first one), and it would have maybe been a good choice here. As the show went on, people started to gather down at the front of the stage, as they will do. And security sent them all back to sit in their assigned seats, as THEY will do (to the amazement of people who haven’t seen this bit of party pooping before). So then one lady gets back up and everyone cheers. Security sits her back down. Two more women run along the front of the stage. Finally, the song ends, and singer Daniel Greaves says “I don’t know, it seems reasonable to me to stand up for a bit.” ROAR goes the crowd and everyone in the place pops to their feet. He seemed appreciative. “There, that seems more like… every other show we’ve ever done.”

The timing of it was surely coincidental, but once everyone got up and loosened up, the second half of the show became much more of a greatest-hits set. This was a delight for me but really, there wasn’t a bad song in the bunch, even out of the ones I was unfamiliar with. The Watchmen still sound as good as they used to and it’s a sound that holds up better than some of their contemporaries. It was a really solid show – lots of hits, lots of fan favourites, and a devoted crowd. I’d be surprised if tickets didn’t go even faster next time.

​SLCR #236: Amelia Curran (March 8, 2016)

March 11, 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 6:47 p.m.
Back in Regina. Got in late last night. The plan was to have a nice restful day off before I go to the show tonight and back to work tomorrow. That was booked before my car developed a nasty shake a week or so ago. So instead, I got up early to drive the car to the shop. In between dropping it off and picking it back up (and dropping nearly $1,200 in the process HECK YEAH CARS ARE GREAT), I spent the day on foot, eventually racking up 27,767 steps and 21.33 kilometres. Now I’m sleepy and my feet are sore. And I have conflicting information about whether the doors open at 7:00 or 7:30, with the show starting at either 7:30 or 8:00. I’m aiming for 7:45 or so. If I miss some or all of “local opener” Scott Richmond, let’s all assume he was fantastic.

I am trying to find the source of that “local opener” description but not finding it. I remember thinking it was funny in the way it was completely accurate yet went out of its way to say nothing at all.

I had some cookies an hour or so ago. Should I eat some real food y/n

7:34 p.m.
Decided on a not-very-spicy southwest beans n’ rice frozen dinner. It made my nose run. Blew my nose and now I gave myself a nosebleed hahahahahaha friggin’ tremendous

7:56 p.m.
Made it. Hemorrhaging abated. At a table in the back of the Exchange with a Diet Pepsi and pockets full of emergency Kleenex.

Lights dimmed!

7:59 p.m.
They don’t seem in a hurry to start, though. No standing area. Most tables have candles. Kind of nice atmosphere, really.

Okay NOW we’re starting.

9:03 p.m.
My nose has had better evenings. No more bleeding but it feels unpleasant. It is unsettling. I’m unsettled.

Tangientially and facially related: if you ever wondered how many days I can go without shaving before the itching becomes unbearable, it is 5.5. I might try to keep this going though.

It turns out that Local Opener Scott Richmond was real good! I just bought his first CD. He’s here tonight, taking a break from recording his second. Guitar and harmonica with occasional stomping tonight, though he normally has a full band (who were here manning the stuff table). He’s battling tonsillitis (with apple cider vinegar, which he discussed in detail) but his voice sounded fine to me. Good sense of humour when talking, largely (but not exclusively) sad songs when singing. Dude writes good songs and likes to talk and likes to tell us what the lyrics of his songs are.

I said “good” too much. He probably doesn’t mind. I also used too many parentheses. Dunno if he’d have an opinion about that.

He tried to get us to sing at one point and it didn’t work so well so he got an extensive case of the giggles. Aside from that, the crowd was surprisingly attentive. Bodes well for the main attraction.

Our host, Eric Anderson, is a radio host from the CBC who’d driven down from Saskatoon for the opportunity to see Amelia Curran. His enthusiasm is more authentic than we get from the usual CBC “climate specialists” that normally host these things.

And as if on cue, he’s back! I didn’t win the 50/50. Unsurprising as I didn’t buy a ticket.

For the record, I was at 28,380 steps before significant clapping began. Will report back later.

Wednesday, March 9, 12:47 p.m.
I don’t have exact numbers but I clapped somewhere around 700 steps. Exercise is easy.

Anderson’s story about how he discovered Amelia Curran’s music was cute and had a solid punchline. He was upstaged by the wee lass who helped him with the 50/50 draw, though. She won everyone over, including Curran.

I haven’t gone back to look at my review from last year but I think it would be much the same as this one. Very similar setlist with a big portion drawn from They Promised You Mercy (not too surprising as she hasn’t had a newer album since then) and she told the same story about The Mistress and… hm. Okay, let me go look at the old one.

::looks at old one::

Dang, I had nothing to say that time either. Huh. Okay, well, she was real good again. Seemed a little nervous again. Made some jokes about how sad most of her songs are (and how happy they can sound and how it can be hard to tell). It took three guys to get her guitar working at the start of the show (“Happy International Women’s Day,” she quipped, before telling an abbreviated version of her life story to fill time). She messed up the start of one of her songs and made the band restart (“Hold on, I know this, I wrote it”) – just one of those moments like that make the live experience unique and fun. Though I guess it’s really only somewhat unique since I’ve seen some version of a do-over on three shows so far this year.

11:31 p.m.
I had to put this away for work (booooo) and had high hopes of coming back this evening to wrap things up with a thrilling conclusion. That doesn’t look to be happening. Both folks were good. Would go see both again. I think that was already covered.

In lieu of a proper conclusion, I will share an anecdote. Our scheduled I Mother Earth show got cancelled because they brought their old lead singer back (much to Jeff’s chagrin) and need more time to get ready, or at least that’s how the nice man from the casino explained it to me. They’ll be coming through in the fall but it was refund-only, no option to save my tickets for then. With said refund, I thought about buying tickets to see David Francey next week, believing him to be one of the New Pornographers, but it turns out that David Francey and Todd Fancey are very different people so I didn’t do it.

That story was much better inside my head than outside of it.

Alternate closing anecdote: I was on the plane to Regina the other day, waiting for takeoff, when it seemed that two folks had been assigned the same seat.

“You are going to Regina, right?” said one.

The other one tore-assed it off that plane as fast as he could. The look on his face was the most perfect combination of WTF and OMG I have ever seen. It was kind of like

}:-[

…but you’d have to make the colon extra-bold for maximum accuracy.

Aaron later suggested that the dude just didn’t want to go to Regina. Fair enough – who does? – except his planned destination was Brandon, which I’d have to think is worse?

Two more Brandon-bound folks later found their way onto our plane. Maybe if you’re loading two planes from the same gate at once, you should check tickets at the plane door?

I learned the phrase “tore-assed it” from a Calgary newscast. Some guy claimed he tore-assed it to the window when he heard gunfire. If it was “I tore ass to the window,” at least the usage would be familiar to me. But either way, I don’t know if I want to be interviewed on the news for tearing ass regardless of context.

I don’t ever watch the news at home, but I see enough news when in Calgary to be irrationally upset that their weatherman shaved off his mustache.

Somehow this review devolved into some kind of throwback LiveJournal update. Not even one of the good ones with barely-concealed passive-aggressive drama, or at least some kind of desert island discs meme or “Which Hogwarts House Do You Belong To?” quiz. Just one of those obligatory “haven’t updated in a few days and have nothing to talk about except how little I have to talk about” posts.

I spent an hour on that closing bit. I think it might be bedtime.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• The Watchmen (March 25)
• Metric & Death Cab For Cutie w/Leisure Cruise (March 28)
• Spirit of the West (March 31)
• Sloan (April 9)
• Jason Collett & Zeus w/Kalle Mattson (April 19)
• Ben Folds & yMusic w/Dotan (May 11)
• Hawksley Workman & The Art of Time Ensemble (May 13)
• City and Colour w/Shakey Graves (June 12)
• Regina Folk Festival (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)

​SLCR #235: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (March 5, 2016)

March 10, 2016

It’s 1:00 a.m. and I really need to sleep. I did a lot of walking today and a lot of standing this evening. But I thought about making some notes about this show so I could write my review tomorrow (or, let’s be honest, two weeks from now), and I realized I didn’t have a ton to say, so I may as well just get this over with or pass out trying.

I was thinking on the way there that I didn’t have any kind of story about this show. The Art of Time nearly snuck past me, and Black Sabbath was a last-minute decision, but this was just a show. One I booked my trip around, to be sure, with two artists I already really like, but that’s not very interesting to read about. Luckily, I’m an idiot.

Frank Turner’s Twitter said doors at 7:00, first opener at 7:30, “done by 11:30.” I appreciate the announced times so much. Old-man jokes aside, it’s not like I can’t stay out late, I just don’t want to spend hours standing around playing Puzzle Craft 2 on my phone waiting for things to get underway. I can happily do that from home, thanks. So I caught the C-Train and got to the university with plenty of time. Or so I thought. Once inside, I found the line to get through security. I walked to the end of the line… and walked… and walked some more… and yet more. This was the longest line I had ever been a part of. Comically long. Impossibly long. It was moving at a decent pace, but I still had grave concerns about my ability to make it inside for the opening acts. Finally, after about a half-hour, a security guard said “Everybody here for Nightwish?”

Gwuh?

There’s MacEwan Hall and MacEwan Ballroom, and one is upstairs and one had Nightwish, apparently. I did think that there were an awful lot of stupid outfits for a Frank Turner show.

The line upstairs was far more manageable and I only missed half of the first Mo Kenney song. I think I have now seen Kenney four times and every time I think she is great and that her stage presence has improved from the time before. This was quite a short set – only a half-hour – but still delightful. I did not think she was as delightful as this other girl did, though. She decided that we weren’t making enough noise for Kenney and decided to remedy this by her lonesome, which made Mo (and me) crack up a few times.

Mo: “I’m from Dartmouth originally, but my first apartment was in Halifax-”
Girl: “YYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH”
Mo: “…are you from Halifax, by chance?”

She was.

The hell of it was, this girl actually seemed to get the crowd more into things. The crowd started off pretty subdued, but by the end of Mo’s set, they were reacting really well to her. There were no surprises in the setlist, apart from some personal favourites of mine presumably cut for time, but her closing cover of Bowie’s Five Years carried, of course, a little extra weight now.

There was maybe a 10-minute break before Northcote played. The lead singer introduced himself as Matt Goud and I don’t know why he didn’t name the band after himself. I knew nothing about these guys but they were really fun. Tons of energy and Goud was very charismatic. I can see these dudes on a CMJ CD with “recommended if you like: Frank Turner” under the little blurb about the band. Goud handled a few songs by himself on acoustic guitar and brought Kenney out to sing one with him as well. He also admirably defended Saskatchewan from an attempted besmirching – apparently he went to university in Regina. Anyway, these guys were good and I’d see them again and will check out whatever Apple Music has of theirs. Right now, in fact.

There was a longer break before Frank Turner and his band, the Sleeping Souls, finally took the stage for two hours of high-energy rock. His newest album is Positive Songs for Negative People and I don’t know about the negative people part, but the positive messages are always there. This is good music for the gym or to inspire you to take on the world in whatever manner you choose.

Like with Kenney, I’ve seen Turner a few times now, though I’m less familiar with all of Turner’s records (there’s a lot!). Maybe if you know all his songs, there’d be some setlist surprises you’d be really pumped for but I am not so knowledgeable in that regard. I got some old favourites and some newer stuff and lots I didn’t know and also half of Ace of Spades because why not? There was no Barbara Allen, disappointing a friend from work who wasn’t at this show anyway, but we got The Next Storm, Mittens, Josephine, The Way I Tend To Be, Eulogy, Peggy Sang The Blues, I Still Believe (with Matt Goud on harmonica), Get Better, Try This At Home… like I said, someone else could probably list 20 more songs.

Turner and the band had signed a drumhead and were going to give it to whichever side of the room was the most participatory. Our side was good at yelling and the other was good at jumping, so he decided on a tie-breaker. He called a friend out of the audience and had him crowdsurf around the entire room, touching the walls on both sides and high-fiving the sound engineer at the back – he could then return to the front and throw the drumhead to the winning side. I am proud to say I did my part and held that dude in the air for SEVERAL seconds. With lots of help. I think our side won but the drumhead arced in the air and wound up in Switzerland, the neutral zone down the middle of the room. I later saw the dude who caught the drumhead waiting for the train.

Turner is the kind of guy who has two rules for his shows – sing along if you know the words, and (more importantly) don’t be a dickhead. At one point he had us all sit on the floor (I did!) and make friends with a stranger near us (I did not!). But I sang (after a fashion) when he said to sing and jumped (sort of) when he said to jump and put my hands in the air when told to do so and I’m somewhat okay at following orders is I guess my point? Also I had fun. And I’m sleepy now.

In the interest of not being a dickhead (and because it was boring to read), I removed a lengthy complaint I’d written about a fellow fan. I’m glad you had fun. Just maybe leave your toys at home next time.

I caught the train back and walked towards my grandma’s place. The train stop is by a Humpty’s, which I noticed was still open. After a long day, the idea of midnight bacon and eggs by myself sounded both appealing and monumentally stupid. As I crossed MacLeod Trail and pondered this situation, looking at the Humpty’s, some girl crossing the other way sharply told me “If you look straight ahead, nobody’s gonna be messing with you.” I can add nothing to that except to point out that this paragraph is the most representative thing about my life that’s ever been written. When I’m dead, read this at my wake and make it the last post on my Facebook wall. It’s all that future generations will need to understand me.


For more Frank Turner goodness, check out Boppin’s interview! I even make a run-in at the end.

SLCR #234: Black Sabbath (March 4, 2016)

March 8, 2016

If you want to read a review from someone who actually knows a thing about things, go read Boppin’s review of the Hamilton show. We synced up our posts and everything!


 

I don’t really know how this happened. The Calgary trip was booked, timed to coincide with the Frank Turner show, and I happened to check Pollstar to see what else was going on while I was there, and somehow I wound up going to Black Sabbath? I am confused.

I know the show wasn’t originally scheduled for tonight. I was in my favourite Regina record store (Regina’s only record store) and overheard a customer telling the owner that he’d driven to Edmonton to see Sabbath – that’s about 8 hours one way, for those of you unfamiliar with western Canadian geography – only to get there and have Sabbath cancel two hours before showtime because Ozzy Osbourne was sick. He wasn’t able to go to the rescheduled concert since it was in the middle of the week. The guy was out gas and hotel, and because he’d bought his ticket from a reseller, he wasn’t eligible for a refund. He was talking about trying to come to this Calgary show instead. I wonder if he made it.

Black Sabbath is pretty far outside my wheelhouse. When I said I was thinking of going, I mentioned that I know Iron Man, and, well, Iron Man. Mike said that I’d surely know War Pigs and Paranoid, so I gave them a listen, and yeah, I sure did. That brings me up to three whole songs, one of which was wrecked for me by its inclusion on All Day by Girl Talk – I can’t hear War Pigs without wanting to add MOVE BITCH, GET OUT THE WAY, GET OUT THE WAY BITCH, GET OUT THE WAY. I should be prohibited from listening to mashups as they can corrupt (enhance?) perfectly good songs.

Despite being a classic pro wrestling song (the original entrance music for the Road Warriors), my familiarity with Iron Man actually began in high school when after thoroughly and justly tearing apart my taste in music, a classmate made me a mix tape which had Iron Man and other metal of that vintage on it. To be fair, Iron Man has held up a lot better than whatever shit I was listening to at the time.

Notice how I was humourously self-deprecating and yet somewhat vague, so that I don’t have to admit that I specifically remember that I bought an MC Hammer CD which was what set off his (again, 100% justifiable) teardown of my tastes – I mean, it was the one with 2 Legit 2 Quit on it, not even the one with U Can’t Touch This which I could at least defend somewhat as being popular and catchy. But I digress.

Anyway, I thought about going to Black Sabbath and asked Mike and Aaron if they thought it would be worth it for someone like me who ultimately gives no shits as it pertains to Black Sabbath. I knew full well what the answer would be so maybe I just wanted someone to convince me to go?

Honestly, if the show was in Regina, I would never have considered it. Driving? Parking? Leaving my house? Sounds awful. And if I had to take the C-Train or god forbid a bus or cab in Calgary? Forget it. But the Saddledome is walking distance. It was there. I was there. This is probably not a good enough reason. Maybe reading through all those old reviews, listening to Mika say “I can’t believe you saw (whichever band) and didn’t even appreciate it” made me want to give Mike and Aaron the same opportunity.

But I thought about it, and what the hell, right? I know three songs. That’s three more than a lot of bands I go see. And I like walking. And this is supposed to be their farewell tour (I’m sure by that they mean this is the setup for their reunion tour next year, but still). And it might be fun to write a review of something different. Consider this an anthropological expedition.

Walking around 17th Ave this afternoon, I saw a dude who reminded me of the typical metal guy from high school. Hair down to his ass, jean jacket covered in patches with logos of bands I’ve never heard of and that sound vaguely comical in their attempts to be scary. I wanted to ask if he was going to the show tonight. I later saw him there. There was quite a varied mix of folks at this thing – your stereotypical metalheads, for sure, but older folks and young kids and parents and some people who dressed the part and others who were just folks who were out for an evening. Basically the same as any other big arena rock show I’ve ever been to.

I got about 100 metres from the Saddledome when the first wave of pot stink hit me. Dave had predicted I’d wind up stoned by the end of the evening. I don’t know that he was right, but by god, the Calgarians tried their best. It was intermittent until Sabbath actually took the stage, at which point it never let up.

I walked up the stairs to the Saddledome and saw a notice posted on the doors – tonight’s show would feature strobe lights and pyrotechnics. Ah jeez, pyrotechnics, my least favourite of all the technics. I’m jumpy as heck and every time I go to the Saddledome, some shit has to explode and startle me. Either the Flames score a goal or Kane shows up or now this.

Whatever. Too late to back out now. I picked up my ticket at will call and wandered in through the metal detector. I set out in search of a stuff table – they were selling a tour-exclusive CD and Aaron and Mike had asked me to look for it. There were several merch stands, all of which were lined up 12 people deep and 8 across. It was insanity. As I stood in the line (it was more of a throng than a line, really), it occurred to me that if this was a band I was actually a fan of, no way would I bother with this. But being here and only being vaguely interested in Black Sabbath put me in an oddly calm headspace. It’s like how I feel wandering the mall at Christmastime after I’ve done all my shopping. Stress-free and relaxed in the midst of chaos.

I think I was in line for about 45 minutes. Right as I got to the front, they shut off the lights as the opener, Rival Sons, was taking the stage. This did not prevent me from buying three CDs – one each for me, Aaron, and Mike. Not sure why I got one for myself, as I’ll likely never listen to it.

(“You got one for yourself because they called it ‘Limited Edition’ and made it artificially scarce and you are a sucker and an idiot. Look at your amiibo collection.”)

Fair point.

When I was out and about in the afternoon, I bought a six-pack of bottles of Coke Zero. Continuing on the theme of me being a sucker and an idiot, I left the merchandise stand and bought myself a glass of Coke Zero that cost more than the six-pack did. To be fair, I think I’d have likely died of thirst otherwise. I think it’s justifiable.

I climbed more stairs and found my seat – I was on the second level, stage right, pretty far back. Good view. Not too bad for the cheapest available ticket on the day of the show. I caught most of Rival Sons and am struggling to have an opinion about them. They looked very small on that big stage with no help from lighting or a fancy set or anything. Musically, they were the quintessential opening band, perfectly acceptable but not memorable and not anything I’d go out of my way to see again. In fairness, I think I might have liked them a lot better in a smaller setting in front of a more interested audience.

At one point, the lead singer told us that there was a very powerful medicine and I predicted it was going to be “love” but it was “forgiveness” and either way, what about, like, the good Tylenols you need a doctor to prescribe? Or chemotherapy or something? I’ve never once forgiven a headache away.

The break was surprisingly short and soon we were watching some video about the hatching of some monster-type creature. The curtain fell and there was Black Sabbath and we were underway.

And honestly, it was all pretty fun. There’s something about a great big rock spectacle that you just don’t get at most of the shows I go to. Flashy lights, big screens, bright (but delightfully whisper-quiet) pyro – these guys got to use all the toys. There was even a confetti cannon for the final number, which struck me as being somewhat out of place (if still fun). Though there were times they’d superimpose fire or explosion effects on the big screen and that looked really cheesy. If you can’t make it look like a guitar is really on fire, it might be best to not bother.

For someone that seemed so dark and scary when I was a kid, it was weird to see Osbourne using all the standard frontman tricks. I mean, this guy once bit the head off a live bat on stage – or maybe he didn’t but people believed he did, which is just as good (better if you’re the bat) – so it was funny to see him doing all the “Let me see your hands!” stuff. “Make some noise! I can’t hear you! I’m gonna count to three and I want to hear you all scream! Come on, Edmonton did better than that last night, you can’t let them show you up!”

I’m paraphrasing, of course. There were more swears.

Musically, it was apparent that these guys know what they’re doing. I often say I can’t tell when a musician is just messing around or when they’re actually good, but “actually good” was on display here. Everyone got plenty of chances to show off, especially the drummer who played 10-15 minutes of solos in place of an intermission. As for Ozzy’s voice, he sounded like Ozzy. Fine by me. Ask someone with more of a frame of reference if you want details.

You will not be surprised to hear that they played the three songs I know. War Pigs came fairly early on, and Iron Man was first up after the drum solo break. And, um… Into The Void? Is that a song? What about Snowblind? Those are things I think Ozzy said, but I was also pretty sure at one point he said “this next tune is called ‘Where Are My Boobs'” so there’s a chance I wasn’t hearing him correctly. I mean, that’s not a good topic for a song. They’re right where you left them, Ozzy.

After leaving the stage, Ozzy could be heard saying “if you want us to come back, you better chant “one more song, one more song.” Not only was it obvious – even to me who knows nothing – that it was going to be Paranoid, but it was brilliant positioning on his part. You can’t disappoint people with a one-song-only encore if you made them ask you for it beforehand.

The band took their final bow and I took off. I headed towards Shoppers Drug Mart to grab some padded envelopes so I could mail out these CDs, but alas, you can only buy them from the post office and the post office wasn’t open. But it wasn’t a wasted trip – I got a giant bag of Chicago mix popcorn, which I completely annihilated as soon as I got back to my grandma’s place. I was absolutely ravenous for some reason.

SLCR #233: The Art of Time Ensemble (March 3, 2016)

March 4, 2016

This was a pleasant surprise. There was no big announcement for this show – at least not one that I saw. Instead, I heard about it on Twitter – really, just offhandedly retweeted – a unique one-off concert with a favourite singer joining forces with the Art of Time Ensemble to perform an evening of covers of one of their biggest inspirations. I didn’t seriously think I could go – I mean, I’d have to hop on a plane for it – but I checked the ticket availability just to satisfy my own curiosity and dang if there wasn’t one seat still available in the very front row. It was a sign from a god that I don’t believe in except for when I need justification for doing something extravagant.

I look forward to copying and pasting that paragraph in a few months’ time when I have to write about Hawksley Workman and the Art of Time playing Bruce Cockburn songs in Toronto. But I am in Calgary, where Steven Page (once of Barenaked Ladies), Craig Northey of Odds, Andy Maize of Skydiggers, and Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket played all of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And a few other Beatles songs.

This is not as much of a one-off as the Hawksley show (which itself is actually on for two nights) – these guys are on a short Canadian tour. Four cities, I think, with a studio album version released a few years ago. Plus, finding out about the Hawksley show led to me planning that trip, whereas for this one, I had already booked my Calgary visit and just happened to be arriving a few hours before showtime.

After visiting with my grandma, watching the news and promising to bake bread and sharpen knives during my stay, I caught a C-Train to go two whole stops to the Jack Singer Concert Hall, the same place where I saw Bahamas last fall. It’s still nice and conveniently located and still a good idea for a city to have and I still like the light rail too. I need a default Calgary paragraph that I can just paste into these things.

Today is still Thursday, if we assume it’s not after midnight (depends which time zone I feel like recognizing), and I only found out about this show on Monday or Tuesday when Steven Page retweeted something about the gig. I’m not sure how I managed to luck into a front-row seat. And when I say front row, I mean I was right up there. I could – and did – rest my feet against the base of the stage. It was almost too close, like watching a movie from the front row. I couldn’t really see too much of the orchestra. If I looked straight ahead, I had a great view of the singers’ footwear. Looking up, their faces were obscured by the music stands they were using for their sheet music and bottled water and iPads. This situation thankfully didn’t last – Phillips lowered his stand and it honestly seemed like he was doing it just so I could see better. Page then followed suit and actually leaned down and said, off-mic, “there, is that better?” to the people sitting to my right.

From left to right were Phillips, Page, Northey, and Maize, with me being positioned slightly closer to Phillips than Page. Behind them was the Calgary Philharmonic. Now, as I understand it, the Art of Time Ensemble is eight or so musicians, and that’s who I expect to see performing with Hawksley in Toronto. If those folks were here tonight, I couldn’t tell you. They either weren’t there or were dressed to blend in with the Calgarians – and not with the usual cowboy hats and belt buckles, so if they were there, they clearly did their research. But I got the impression that for tonight, the four singers and artistic director (and tonight’s pianist) Andrew Burashko WERE the Art of Time Ensemble. I suspect that kind of appellation is flexible. Fine by me. You get the point – four singers, orchestral versions of Beatles songs.

The show opened with Northey singing Strawberry Fields Forever, which Page pointed out is not, technically, ON Sgt. Pepper. He attributed this to confusion between the Sgt. Pepper album and a mixtape which happened to have the title track on it (and also Corey Hart’s Sunglasses at Night). Northey does a fine imitation of the booooooooooweeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEP noise that tells you that your tape is starting.

I used to have an Odds mixtape I’d made myself that was just the right length to listen to when mowing the lawn. I think it cut off the tail end of “Yes (Means It’s Hard to Say No).” The other side of the tape had all of Wide Mouth Mason’s major label debut.

I digress. After Strawberry Fields, they played all of Sgt. Pepper (with an intermission around the halfway point), with the different singers taking turns singing lead. Do you need me to tell you about Sgt. Pepper? I feel like it is somewhat of a known commodity at this point, and while I like the Beatles, I am far from a scholar. Suffice it to say that it is commonly regarded as the Beatles’ masterpiece. Recorded in response to the Altimont riots and the Kent State shootings, Sgt. Pepper is widely credited with kicking off the grunge revolution and introducing hip-hop to mainstream America. John Lennon, or as he was often called, Mr. Mojo Risin’, rode the success of Sgt. Pepper to great fame in Pepsi commercials until he tragically died in a plane crash with Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, a day that will forever be remembered by music fans as The Day The Airplane Crashed. But you know all that if you’ve ever heard Hotel California.

Anyway. This was a really fun evening! The arrangements were interesting and the vocals were done well. It was all still recognizable as Sgt. Pepper but had some neat twists – the jazzy version of Lovely Rita being a particular standout for me. Being so close, I kept getting distracted because it was easy to discern the different parts in the vocal harmonies, which is not something I really ever think about or even entirely understand – I can’t sing, I can only imitate. Anyway, it was interesting to really see who was singing what harmonies and think about how the vocal parts were related. This probably sounds dumb as hell to anyone who actually understands music on any level. Don’t care. Write your own reviews.

During the intermission, I just stayed in my seat and played iPhone games, and I’m so glad I did because the folks behind me had the most fascinating conversation. Between not knowing what building they were in or who they were watching and then the guy professing his love for “Raspberry Fields Forever,” it was hard to stifle the giggles. In his defence, he came back with a solid “Dr. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” joke once he realized his mistake. Unfortunately, he didn’t let it go and subsequent attempts (“Banana Submarine!”) fell flat, but it was still a decent recovery.

Once the ensemble had played through all of Sgt. Pepper, they had one of those encores where you don’t bother leaving the stage. There were three closing numbers – Page sang Penny Lane, Maize did Here Comes The Sun, and all four led a singalong of All You Need Is Love, during which I’m pretty sure I heard Northey or maybe Page singing a bit of Sunglasses at Night. I don’t think there’s a “so I can so I can” in the original, but I’m far from a scholar.


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