SLCR #356: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald (September 24, 2020)

October 8, 2020

Mika and I had dinner in an actual restaurant at the end of June. There were no active COVID cases in the city and we went to a place that already had a good track record for safety. That was nice. And I think that was the first time we’d left the house together since returning from vacation early in March.

Two months later, we went to Nuit Blanche, which reinvented itself this year as a drive-thru event. We waited in a long line of cars to look at art installations, a handful of which didn’t look like screensavers or Winamp visualizers. As far as outings go, this certainly was one. Technically.

We also renewed our mortgage. Even though we were really pleased with the rate, I still don’t think this counts as a fun date night. Besides, it was in the afternoon, we drove to the bank separately, and Mika had to go back to the office once we were done.

But this, this was a concert! The first one since seeing Whitehorse in January! A real one, in person, without having to enter a Zoom password and kick all my other devices off the Wi-Fi! And one entirely unlike anything I’d been to before, because of… all the… you know. Everything. Literally everything.

I bought our tickets back in the middle of June. By then, we’d had several concerts cancelled and others delayed. Some were delayed and THEN cancelled, which is thorough. But this tour was designed for These Uncertain And Unprecedented Times, and I held out hope that it would actually happen.

Let us review the protocols. The concert was to be held at a farm near Regina, but we wouldn’t be told where until the day of the show. It would be in a big tent, semi open air. Tickets were only purchasable in blocks of 4, to be shared amongst the people in your bubble. Capacity was capped at 24 fans – 6 blocks – though 2 of the groups (including ours) only had 2 people. You had to sanitize your hands before entering, and masks were required when not in your seat. Drinks and snacks were available if you ordered beforehand and they’d be waiting at your row (every block got their own row) in sanitized buckets. There was washroom access “for emergency use only,” I’m guessing in the farmhouse. I don’t think anyone needed it. I assume it was sanitized too, but I also assume that in an emergency, you may not care.

Just before lunch, I was emailed directions to Fenek Farms, which is about 15 minutes north of town. I’d never heard of them, but they do hayrides and petting zoo type stuff. As to whether they regularly host touring concerts in the middle of a pandemic, the internet isn’t clear.

As we approached the farm, it was already dark out. I saw some kind of creature skulk across the road and into a ditch – some kind of small mammal. I’ll never know for sure, but I’m just gonna assume it was a cat. Partly because the only other animals we saw were geese in a barn. And partly because there were cats everywhere.

We hung out in the car until around 8:00, while torches were lit to line the pathway to the Greenbriar, which is what you name your big tent when you have to name a big tent. We masked up, sanitized, and found our row with our beverage bucket. I’d treated myself and Mika to two of the finest bottled waters available from, I dunno, probably Superstore or Costco.

Fitzgerald was already sitting at the front of the tent when we arrived. Also in the tent was Jellybean, a black kitten who had zero fear of humans and an intense curiosity about what was transpiring. Fitzgerald, decidedly not a cat person, was nonplussed about this intrusion, though most of the fans were delighted. You know I was delighted. And Jellybean made sure to visit everyone, including spending some time hopping back and forth between my lap and Mika’s.

It was determined, however, that “Jellybean” was not a good name for this kitten, who received a series of new names throughout the evening, including Blackie, Shadow, Nightfall, and Nightshade, the latter seemingly due to Fitzgerald’s inability to remember Nightfall.

There was also a grey cat who patrolled the tent. He (?) was less interested in the humans, but I did get to give him a little scritch as he went past. Fitzgerald had to name that cat too, pausing for a second before settling on… Grey. “I really messed up that cat’s name.” But Grey stuck.

There was one other person there with Fitzgerald – I think her name was Kay, or at least that’s who I ordered our waters from – and she spent a good part of the evening wrangling cats and removing them from the tent. The cats spent a good part of the evening returning in nonchalant defiance.

Songs! There were songs. Not just cats. This tour was to promote Fitzgerald’s new record, Love Valley, which is out this Friday, October 9, 2020. And now I have to finish this thing on time. I’d heard a few of the songs before the show, and was pleased that they were stripped down, a little folkier and more in line with some of his older records. Most of the songs seem to be about buying a farmhouse and moving into it with a lady who will occasionally take her clothes off, but I’d have to hear the whole thing before declaring it a concept album. I did buy a copy of the record when I ordered our waters, but since we were a few weeks out from the release date, I have to wait for it to arrive in the mail.

The farmhouse needs a string of lights along the back porch, this is important.

Everything was acoustic, just MBF and his guitar. Most of what he played was from the new album, though there were a handful of older songs; notably, Care For You and Follow. And there was a cover of Robyn’s Dancing on My Own that was so reworked into Fitzgerald’s style that I didn’t even recognize it at first. Very cool.

Fitzgerald said he wanted to make it more like a house concert, with lots of interaction between songs. It took a bit for everyone to figure out how the night would go – after the first song, he joked “I love the sound of muted applause.” But soon everyone settled in. People were making requests, opening their drinks at appropriate times (mostly while MBF was tuning), talking about their 4Runners, playing with the farm cats.

As ever, his stories were delightful, about the challenges of livestreaming performances from your backyard (ill-timed garbage trucks), or a secret Regina artisan pizza house – literally, a house – that was so exclusive, none of us had heard of it. (I did some googling, and it definitely exists, or at least did as of 2015.) And he talked about playing the folk festival here, and as a fan, I appreciated his unsolicited opinion that Hawksley Workman is a nice guy.

He also told us about performing songs for some sort of project that wouldn’t let him use brand names in songs, so he had to alter the lyrics on the fly. Despite lacking some syllables, “2000 Toyota” became “2000 truck.” “It’s not like Toyota rhymed with anything, it’s just fun to say.” But “2000 truck” is also fun to say and soon became the name of an orange cat who joined the tent. Then there was a second orange cat – a decoy. During the last song, a third orange cat showed up (2000 Truck and two decoys! And Nightshade! And Grey!), Fitzgerald was exasperated, and I was utterly joyous. The songs were great, the stories were funny, the cats were great AND funny. I even got to cuddle 2000 Truck (or a decoy) after unhooking him from Mika’s side after he tried jumping into her lap and didn’t quite make it.

I feel the need to stress that this would have been a great night out even without the cats. They’re just fun to talk about! And to pick up and snuggle and scritch them behind their little ears, who’s a good 2000 Truck, you are, yes you are. But cats aside, this was such a unique and intimate show, perfectly suited to the new tunes.

And I’d better savor it – I don’t see much live music on the horizon. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable going to normal concerts right now, and the opportunities for creative shows like this one are fading as the weather turns. This was a special, cat-laden night, but I don’t know how many people could make something like this possible. MBF said that he decided to undertake the tour after realizing it was something he’d want to do even without the pandemic. You can see his passion for the idea in the ridiculous amount of effort it requires. The tent takes 3 hours to set up and 3 hours to tear down. Fitzgerald was towing it from town to town himself, on a 48-date cross-Canada tour. Even just the logistics of booking venues – how does one make arrangements with 48 farms? And while ticket prices were up a little from his usual shows, they weren’t extravagant, so he could only be making so much money playing to 24 people a night. That’s a ton of work for little immediate reward. I mean, I’m sure playing shows is rewarding in itself, but food and shelter are good too.

UPCOMING CONCERTS THAT SURE, WE CAN PRETEND WILL HAPPEN AS SCHEDULED
• Saints & Sinners Tour: Headstones, Moist, The Tea Party, & Big Wreck (January 25)
• Joel Plaskett w/Mo Kenney (September 18)

SLCR Social Distancing Special #2

September 23, 2020

Hello. I got that haircut I was wanting. And then another haircut. And then another haircut. It’s been a while, is my point.

The Regina Folk Festival, the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, the Gateway Festival, and most other enjoyable things didn’t happen this year. There were lots of streaming concerts, but it’s not the same. Still, in a bid for normalcy, I had good intentions of writing up reviews for them anyway – or at least one per artist, which is one of those mandatory-chicken type rules that I can ignore as I see fit. And I wrote some. Made notes for others. Definitely wrote down some dates in a text file with good intentions. Felt kinda bad about not finishing these for, oh, five months or so. Not bad enough, apparently.

I liked the idea of sending out mini-reviews with the idea that if something sounded interesting to you, you could watch it yourself. With the move to paid concerts you can only watch live, that’s not as easy. Maybe that’s why I lost my motivation months ago, or maybe it’s just that I can’t fathom you caring about what I’ve been watching on my computer. Nonetheless, here we are. Or here we were months ago.


Danny Michel (May 3, 2020)
buy tickets: https://www.dannymichel.com/shows2
buy music: https://dannymichel.bandcamp.com/

For the first few weeks of the shutdown, Danny Michel seemed pretty adamant that we didn’t need to use this time to put on concerts or write great novels – just getting by was enough. And he’s still not into writing new stuff at the moment, but he did a one-off Zoom show and found it so invigorating to see his fans that he made it a weekly thing. So if you have $7 US, you can join in every Sunday. Well, you’d need several $7s to join in every Sunday. Also, this took me so long to send out, he’s done with his weekly shows. So there’s that too. Luckily for you, there’s one more show coming on October 11, so get on it.

Michel performs live from his studio, surrounded by a variety of instruments and, on occasion, by a variety of wacky Zoom backgrounds. For the most part, Danny’s on guitar, but this time he broke out a banjo for the song Rye Whiskey & Wine (by special request of Olympic cyclist Curt Harnett, who also joined Danny for an impromptu chat). Another new addition this week was an applause track that he would play via sampler pedal to mark the end of songs, or jokes, or just to amuse himself.

Danny Michel is one of those musicians who always seems to play 15 songs from a possible pool of 20, despite having written hundreds. But as with Steven Page, Michel is taking this opportunity to take fan requests and dig into the back catalogue. Mika was surprised when she tried to guess the set list and couldn’t do it. I wish I had recorded her list of guesses because the series of “the one about” was pretty entertaining. Not as good as when she tried to tell me what happens in Star Wars without having seen Star Wars, but still. The new songs were welcome and I’d like to hear more of the old favourites in weeks to come. And if Danny’s cat Larry David wants to make another mid-song appearance, so much the better.

Here’s that setlist:

  • Sweet Things
  • A Cold Road
  • The Right Thing
  • Feather, Fur, & Fin
  • Rye Whiskey & Wine
  • Born in the Wild
  • Luckiest Man in the World
  • Click Click
  • Nobody Rules You
  • What a Wonderful World

For what one could call an encore, Danny opened up ProTools and went track by track through the song What Colour Are You. It was pretty neat to see how it was all put together and you could hear all sorts of little touches I’d never noticed before. Then he took some questions and chatted with the audience before wrapping up. He suggested that one of these weeks, he might stay online talking for hours just to see who the last person in the audience is. It’s not like I’ve got any place to go.


Hawksley Workman (May 21, 2020)
buy tickets: https://hawksleyworkman.com/live/
buy music: https://hawksleyworkman.bandcamp.com/

Having recently moved from Montréal, Hawksley and his wife were staying at her father’s house in Peterborough as they searched the city for a place of their own. When the pandemic hit, house-hunting was put on hold. Months later, Don’s basement was the setting for the first Hawksley Night in Canada show.

Despite not being in their own place, this turned out to be one of the slicker setups I’ve seen in these shows. I don’t know if Hawksley brought his own light-up applause sign or if his father-in-law just had one laying about, but either way, it came in handy for the ambience. There were a handful of simple lighting effects (literally, turning lamps on and off) that helped make the show feel like more than just a webcam feed. And there were hand-made stop-motion title cards for the Hawk Talk and Pet Songs segments, as well as the show itself.

Both of those segments were pretty self-explanatory. In the days leading up to the show, Hawksley had shared an email address where people could send stories and pictures of their pets so he could write songs about them. And no, I didn’t send in anything about Carl. Yet. Maybe next time. For this show, Hawksley wrote and recorded a song about a rescue dog named Thurman and made a music video with the pictures and video clips. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWZJCXo1vJI

When the show began, I joked that I hoped nobody phoned the landline in the background while the show was on. And then my phone immediately rang because I cursed myself. As it turned out, Hawksley’s phone (well, Don’s phone) wound up in play later on for Hawk Talk, the audience participation segment. He gave the phone number out and had chats with fans from Vancouver, Kingston, Regina (again, this was not me), and Guelph. Hawksley also kicked off the segment by phoning Mr. Lonely. For added fun, one of Hawksley’s cats (The Donger) (not its actual name) wandered into the set for a visit. I don’t know if anyone has tried calling that number in the days since to see if they can just have a nice chat with Hawksley and family, but one of you should try it.

I suppose there were also songs! Here’s the setlist:

  • No Sissies
  • Piano Blink
  • Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off
  • Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky
  • PET SONGS: Thurman
  • Safe and Sound
  • You and the Candles
  • Chemical
  • Ukelady Boy
  • Battlefords
  • HAWK TALK
  • We Will Still Need A Song
  • Birds in Train Stations
  • Don’t Be Crushed

Except for the pet song, it was all Hawksley on acoustic guitar. For some of these, it was how I’m used to hearing them; others sounded entirely different stripped down. Chemical, in particular, was a whole new song. There was also a nice mix of concert usuals and surprises, from personal favourite Piano Blink to the unnervingly prescient You and the Candles to Ukelady Boy from Hawksley’s musical, The God That Comes. And both the sound and video were among the best of these quarantine concerts, making this a home run all around. Since this one, he’s been doing them monthly and they’ve all been a delight. Highly and unsurprisingly recommended.


Dan Mangan (May 23, 2020)
buy tickets: https://sidedooraccess.com/home
buy music: https://danmangan.bandcamp.com/

This spring, Dan Mangan was to be going on tour to mark the 10th anniversary of his debut album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice. He was skipping Regina, which – as ever – was as disappointing as it was understandable. Then the world ended and here we are.

This show was live from Mangan’s basement, but still managed to feature a few special guests. First was Dan’s son, who wandered in looking for help with his Nintendo Switch. He got sent to find his mother. Didn’t even sing anything. Neither did Dan’s moms or sister, though their appearances were at least planned. Veda Hille, Dan’s neighbour, joined in on The Indie Queens are Waiting, just as she did on the album. Well… not “just,” probably. I bet she didn’t have to sit outside the house and sing through a window when the album was recorded. And partway through, Noble Son was brought on to play a pair of songs. Not quite an opening act. Halftime show, maybe?

I’d give you the setlist but you could just look up the tracklist for the album. Robots, always a fan favourite. Basket, one of my very favourite songs, always a heartbreaker. He did forget the song Some People, playing it after Pine for Cedars once he realized his mistake. Noble Son’s songs, Sleepin’ and Sad Dumb Lovesick Young Kid, came in after Fair Verona. After the show, Mangan took fan questions and eventually played a new song, In Your Corner, in memory of Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit who died in 2018.

I really enjoyed this set, and it was a nice make-up for skipping us on the tour that didn’t happen. And he’s since rescheduled his tour dates, and now he’s fitting us in. The show is scheduled for mid-January. We’ll see if it happens. We’ll see if I’m brave and/or foolish enough to go.


Son of Dave (June 5, 2020)
concert: https://www.facebook.com/ospreyartscentre/videos/2451242958508166/
buy music: https://sonofdave.bandcamp.com/

These concerts are either free on YouTube or Facebook or something, or they’re ticketed. If you pay, you get a link and a unique code. Easy enough. I paid for this show, got the email, and didn’t look at it until the day of, only to find that my link had expired. Uh-oh. Frantic emails ensued, only to find out that the show was just on the Osprey Arts Centre’s Facebook page and a human was manually checking to see if the folks watching the show were entitled to be doing so. Based on the attendance, let’s just say this was not as demanding a job as one might hope. Eventually, they asked us to share the link around in hopes that more people would show up and contribute to the virtual tip jar.

Son of Dave (nee Benjamin Darvill) is a harmonica-playing, beatboxing bluesman and showman. This was a fun show that made for a good introduction to his music, though to get the full experience, you need the interaction that comes with seeing him in person. Nothing’s stopping you from having a conga line through your house while watching this, but it’s not the same if he’s not insisting you do it. And he can’t invite you up on stage and feed you chocolate remotely.

In a weird twist, the show wasn’t actually live. It was recorded especially for the venue, but fear of a bad overseas internet connection (justifiable, based on some of these shows) led to it being sent in ahead of time. This led to the unique situation of Son of Dave joining fans in the live chat to watch himself in concert. He said it sounded better in his head. I can’t say he’s wrong, but I liked how it sounded to the rest of us.


Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (August 9, 2020)
concerts, but not this one: https://www.youtube.com/c/FrankTurner/videos
buy music: https://frank-turner.bandcamp.com

I’m guessing that this is not how Frank Turner expected to celebrate his 2,500th concert. In an alternate dimension, it’s a big extravaganza. In this one, it’s him and his regular band, separated by plexiglass dividers, tearing it up in an empty hall.

That said, they weren’t about to let a little thing like everything stop them from putting on one of the best live concerts you’ll see. Even without a live crowd to feed off of, there was no lack of energy. There were more pauses for conversation and banter between bandmates than at a usual show, but I just attributed that to their enjoyment of actually being in the same place as each other.

I’d give you a setlist but Turner has surpassed the Weakerthans as my #1 artist where I know very few song titles and have to describe them all with snippets of lyrics that I may have misheard. Every song title starts with “The One That Goes Like” as far as I’m concerned. The key things are we got the song that made me a fan (Try This at Home), my favourite of his (Get Better), and the thematically-appropriate Recovery. And a bunch more. This was a delight and I’d recommend his live shows to anyone.


July Talk (August 13, 2020)
website: https://www.julytalk.com/
buy music: https://julytalk.bandcamp.com/
donate: https://my.charitableimpact.com/charities/street-worker-s-advocacy-project-regina-inc

This show escaped the confines of basements and studios and empty bars, taking place with a full audience at a drive-in theatre. It looked like people were allowed to stand beside their cars, though most remained inside. It’s been weird to hear concerts with no applause after each song, but honking in appreciation is new too.

I had rushed to get dinner made in time for the show, but needn’t have bothered. The show opened with a collection of music videos, concert footage, and animation that served as a leadup to the concert proper. This was actually pretty entertaining, though unusual to hear versions of songs that they were just going to play live later anyway. Doesn’t really register on the unusual charts for this year, I guess.

I am an old man who doesn’t like new bands so it’s weird that I like this new band so much. Though at three albums in, new is relative. Compared to me, they’re new. So are most things. Anyway, July Talk puts on a killer show. This show was, I guess, their tour to promote their new album, Pray For It, so we heard lots from it, but got all the older favourites as well. You know. How concerts work. They did that.

Shot in black and white on eight cameras, we have a runaway winner in terms of quarantine concert production values. In the most memorable moment, singer Leah Fay walked out among the cars, had people turn their hazard lights on, climbed on top of one car (she asked first and is also wee), and sang a song. At the end, she laid down on the roof of the car. This was filmed from above by a drone rising into the sky, giving us a shot of a tiny figure in all white in the darkness, getting smaller and smaller, surrounded by rows of blinking lights. It was stunning. You could easily have passed this off as a fully-edited concert video.


Kathleen Edwards (August 14, 2020)
concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KmHuzQxjFg
buy music: https://kathleenedwards.bandcamp.com/

Kathleen Edwards famously quit music to open up a coffee shop. Years later, she has a new album (Total Freedom) and the coffee shop doubles as her own personal performance venue because she can’t tour.

This was shown on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch. Allegedly. I opted for YouTube, which erupted into chaos when the concert began and there was no sound. You have never seen a chat so panicked. Word was sent that Facebook had audio, so I went there, but Facebook streaming video is sometimes fine and sometimes super choppy and this was the latter. Off to Twitch I went, which meant figuring out where I’d hidden the Twitch app on my iPad, and then figuring out what my username and password were, and then figuring out where the stream was, and then 30 seconds later, it ended, seemingly accidentally. So I went back to YouTube which was now fine.

The show was Edwards and her full band playing the new album front to back, with a few extra songs at the end. Once the initial issues were sorted out, everything sounded great. It’s Kathleen Edwards, she’s not going to sound not great. It seemed like she was enjoying herself, and had great chemistry with the band.

The chatroom was completely enamoured with her and the show. I am skeptical about the number of claims of being brought to tears by the concert, but maybe some folks just get moved by music more than I do. Some folks also have very strong opinions about what Kathleen Edwards should do with her personal life. It’s best to always mute the chat. Though I agreed with their assertions that she should swear more because it’s fun.


Rae Spoon (September 17, 2020)
buy music: https://raespoon.bandcamp.com/

This was brought to us by the Regina Public Library. Finally, something of value! No more dumb books. What did books ever do for us?

The show was held over Zoom, with Rae having selected an image of the downtown library for their backdrop. It’s like they were really there! Outside. And years ago. It wasn’t the newest picture. Rae played guitar and sang, ad-libbing through audience participation spots where necessary, and telling stories to give context to everything. The show seemed to breeze by.

I’ve seen Spoon a few times now and despite the general weirdness of playing a show to no audible reaction from a remote location, this was still my favourite performance of theirs. Due to some serious health issues, they hadn’t been playing live for a while. Maybe they were happy to be back and feeling better, or more comfortable to be playing from home, or maybe I was just imagining things. Who knows. There was a spark that wasn’t there in their previous shows and it was delightful to see it.


And we’re caught up. Briefly. For something that’s been in the works since May, I wrote an embarrassing amount of this last night. I suspect I won’t review other streaming shows, but who knows. Normal could be a ways off and I might feel the need to alert you, once again, to the existence of YouTube. Just in case you forget about it.

SLCR Social Distancing Special

May 3, 2020

Hello! I miss you. I hope you’re well and healthy, staying in touch with people at a rate that’s acceptable for you, and that your hands aren’t all cracked and dry from excessive washing.

We’re doing fine here. Staying home, playing Animal Crossing or clearing movies off the DVR. Sometimes I play Pokémon Go from the car at some of my favourite parking spots. I go to Safeway every 10 days or so, and one time I went to London Drugs just to buy an uncommon size of battery for the smoke detector, which legitimately felt thrilling. (They had sugar too!) I need a haircut and I’ve never been so caught up on laundry.

I’m working from home, if you want to call what I do “work.” It doesn’t feel particularly essential at the best of times, and these aren’t the best of times. At least, I really hope they aren’t. But I dutifully sit at my desk in my 70s basement with my coworkers Ken and Carl (a spider plant and our fabled cat, respectively) and send out emails to tell people to watch Schitt’s Creek. (Available on demand!)

It turns out that I have no opportunity to write concert reviews when there aren’t any concerts. Glass Tiger, Corb Lund, and Matthew Good all cancelled. Joel Plaskett and Alice Cooper rescheduled to the fall. I can’t imagine BA Johnston will be here this month, so I’m spared from feeling bad about being too tired to go. That leaves July’s old-man show of Canadian 90s rock icons and SLCR veterans The Tea Party, Moist, Big Wreck, and The Headstones. I’m hopeful that we can go see at least 25% of them, but I don’t expect it to happen.

Which leads me here! A lot of musicians I like are doing shows online and I’d like to signal-boost them a bit. I don’t really know how many I’m going to cover or when I’m going to post this or if I’m going to do more than one. I think the review parts will be pretty short since, for the most part, you should be able to check these out yourself if you’re really so inclined.


 

Geoff Berner (April 11, 2020)
concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvOQ8nxTPpQ
buy music: https://geoffberner.bandcamp.com/
but he’d rather you donate: https://www.comingtogethervancouver.org/

This show was recorded at Or Shalom synagogue, an appropriate venue for the klezmer half of Berner’s klezmer-punk music. I suspect it hasn’t played host to a lot of songs that translate into “Fuck the Police,” but I don’t know, I’ve never been to a synagogue before. Which reminds me of the time I tried to buy a button that said “Kiss me, I’m Jewish” at a garage sale because I wanted to lie for kisses, not thinking that most of the time, the owner of a “Kiss me, I’m Jewish” button would be an actual Jew, who in this case was very excited to meet me and curious as to why he’d never seen me at the synagogue before. But I digress.

Obviously, these productions won’t compare to actually going out to see live music. But despite the lack of audience and minimal crew, Berner put on quite the enjoyable hour-long set. There were techs handling audio and video with minimal hiccups, and someone “who lives in my house” (a son, I think?) manning a second camera that was able to get in closer. A small touch that made this a lot more watchable by not restricting us to one static viewpoint. The sound quality was good, and Berner seemed relaxed and in good spirits, jokingly playing to the imaginary crowd and telling stories about each song.

I’ve seen Berner many times before and he’s an acquired taste. Most of my friends who have tried to acquire this taste have failed. I watched this show with earbuds in while Mika watched TV and we were both happier that way. But who knows? Maybe you’ll enjoy a lefter-than-left-wing accordion player with a wry, pessimistic sense of humour and a penchant for playing the occasional song in Yiddish. He usually translates them as he goes along, you’ll be fine.


 

Ben Folds (April 18, 2020)
concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwSerpoR-o4
buy music: https://benfolds.bandcamp.com/

If you’ve got extra time to fill during this here shutdown, Ben Folds is your guy. He was supposed to be performing with Australian orchestras when this all went down. Due to ever-changing conditions, he found himself missing the window to return home to the US. No problem – he rented an apartment in Sydney, bought an electric piano and a webcam, and set up for weekly free performances every Saturday on YouTube at 5pm my time. That’s 7pm Eastern and Sunday morning in Australia; you figure out the rest.

If one show a week isn’t enough, sign up for his Patreon. $10/month gets you 3 additional weekly shows and 4 Rock This Bitch song downloads. (They’re improvised live songs. It’s a whole thing I could explain but won’t.) One of the extra shows is meant for musicians and music teachers, with an over-the-shoulder view showing how he plays certain songs. In another, he makes up songs with fan-submitted lyrics. The third is a Patreon-only request show, which – unlike the others – I’ve actually watched. He’s very game to try any song from his back catalogue, even if he has to look up the lyrics or listen to a snippet on his phone to remember what chord it’s in. There’s a lot of messing up and a lot of swearing.

On that note, the show linked above – his fourth weekly public concert since the shutdown – is titled “TRYING AGAIN” and opens with him on his phone, squinting at his computer, saying “the current resolution is not optimal – well then, tell me what fucking IS optimal?!” We’ve all been there. Ben’s also currently clean-shaven because he tried to trim his beard and messed it up. Very relatable.

Between notoriously poor Australian internet – basically, it’s like if my house was a country – and Folds having to do all his own setup and hands-on technical support, there can be some snafus with these. You never know when he’ll switch from one of his songs to an ad-libbed musical complaint about how the pedals are sliding away and that doesn’t happen with a real piano.

That said, this was a really fun show. With upgraded mics and camera, the sound and video quality have greatly improved since these began. But more importantly, Folds is a fan-friendly performer, taking requests from the illegibly scrolling chat, dropping fans’ names into songs, running a drinking game (take a drink every time he messes up) (do not do this, you’ll die), enjoying morning beers, and doing several greatest hits albums’ worth of songs in one medley. It’s intimate and unrehearsed and feels like just hanging out as much a concert.


 

BA Johnston: (April 25, 2020)
concert: https://www.facebook.com/groups/10859965103
buy music: https://bajohnston.bandcamp.com/

Before this was announced, I’d actually singled out BA Johnston as someone who wouldn’t be putting on streaming shows. He releases albums, sure, but you really need the full live experience to understand BA, and that includes significant crowd interaction. You need the beer and the sweat and the Cheezies and the sparklers and the screaming and the same jokes every time.

And yet, here we are. Airing live from This Ain’t Hollywood in his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario (and with messages of support from owners of various bars that BA frequents, including Amigo’s in Saskatoon), BA did his best to put on his full live show in front of an audience of the two guys handling sound and video. The jokes, the costume changes, the whole schtick was still there. He even closed the set in the bathroom, though he did wrap things up with uncharacteristic sincerity and well wishes.

There was a long stretch of technical issues before everything began – feel free to skip that part. When they did get it working, both the sound and video were the weakest of the of the shows I’ve seen. Though I will say that I watched this in two halves – the first part live streaming to my TV, and the second on replay with headphones on my computer – and the sound came in a lot better on the replay. I’m not sure if the live showing was having bandwidth issues, or if I just don’t expect as much coming out of a little Facebook window.

The technical issues mean that if you’re new to BA Johnston, this might not be your best introduction, but that aside, it’s still a night of funny, catchy songs that will stick in your head for days – classics like GST Cheque, new ones like We’re All Going to Jail (Except Pete, He’s Gonna Die), and even unreleased songs from his upcoming album, Werewolves of London, Ontario. Plus, you’ll wind up way less sweaty than if you go see him in person, mostly because he can’t sweat on you if you’re watching at home on your Acer laptop.


 

Steven Page (May 2, 2020)
buy tickets: https://sidedooraccess.com/home
buy music: https://stevenpage.bandcamp.com/

This show was held over Zoom, that video conferencing software that was probably created by the same people who created this virus. It makes sense if you think about it. Follow the money, sheeple.

Side Door was founded by Dan Mangan to help touring musicians set up and sell tickets to house concerts. That’s not happening at the moment, so it’s pivoted to online shows. They’re not expensive – this was $8 US – but it helps make a little money while there’s no touring. A bunch of Canadian artists have been performing on there, including Terra Lightfoot, Said The Whale, Jill Barber, Danny Michel, Sarah Slean, and Mangan himself. And Steven Page. Which you likely figured out.

Zoom works well for this type of setup. The host takes up most of the screen, and viewers (at least the ones who don’t turn their cameras off like I do) appear in a row of little boxes at the top of the screen, not dissimilar to a Press Your Luck board. That said, you may have heard of Zoombombing, where hackers take advantage of Zoom’s many security flaws to invade conference calls. I watched Page’s show last week too, and mid-song, the chat suddenly got REAL racist, and one of the video streams began showing gay porn. So that was fun. They had more moderators this week, and there are added security steps for next week’s show. Which does nothing for you, since that show’s already sold out, but I bet there’ll be more shows, if you have eight bucks kicking around.

I had good plans to write up last week’s show but then a week went by and I, uh, didn’t. So you get this one instead. Both were fun, live from Page’s basement with him mostly playing guitar but also on keys for a bit. The sound is pretty good; I find the video a little choppy but I also have trash internet. There were songs spanning Page’s entire career, with a nice mix of Barenaked Ladies songs and all his solo stuff. Plus, since he was taking requests, it wasn’t just all the hits, which is either a big positive or a big negative for you.

Since you can’t just go watch this one, I’ll go through the setlist:

  • Shoebox (if you want to feel old, sing along with “you’re so 1990 and it’s 1994”)
  • Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank (Page noted that this might be the first time he ever played this song solo)
  • Manchild
  • In The Car
  • Break Your Heart
  • Jane
  • Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel (with a bit of So Political by Spirit of the West)
  • So Young, So Wrong, So Long
  • Over Joy
  • The War on Drugs
  • The Old Apartment (He messed this up over and over last week, and noted that he got requests to “play it right this week”) (He messed it up again and cracked himself up real good)
  • Powder Blue
  • Maybe You’re Right
  • What A Good Boy
  • White Noise
  • The Chorus Girl (I don’t know this one that well, but oh man, the chat was so happy he played this one. He talked a lot about what it was about. Then he had everyone unmuted so everyone could sing along with the “la la la” part and man, having 800+ people unmuted at once sounded like what you’d hear when you open the gates of hell. Then they tried muting everyone again – including Page – but a few people couldn’t be muted and didn’t know how to mute themselves and kept talking while the chat got super mad at them. Then the chat got hacked and racist.)
  • Enid

I thought this was good fun. Mika said it was fine. The cat didn’t appreciate being woken up.

This feels like a good place to stop for now. More to come.

SLCR #355: Whitehorse (January 25, 2020)

February 11, 2020

You may remember that the Friday night of last year’s folk festival was hit with a big thunderstorm, causing Weaves to end their set before it really got underway. Unsurprising, then, that they’d be asked to return for Winterruption, to give us a second chance to see them. But alas, they were booked opposite a Whitehorse show, and I had to make the tough choices. It will be interesting to see what acts of God keep me away from their shows in the future.

We’d seen Whitehorse before at Darke Hall and really enjoyed it, and I didn’t want to pass up the chance to see them at the much smaller Artesian. I don’t think they play a lot of venues this… let’s go with “intimate,” and figured it could be a special show.

As it sold out well in advance, our usual plan of showing up whenever wasn’t going to work. The bar in the basement opened at 7:00 and the doors to the hall were to open at 7:30 for an 8:00 start. We got there right as the hall was to open, and couldn’t get in. Everyone else had got there before us, gone to the bar, and then filled the lobby. We hung out on the steps until people started moving, then swam upstream to get to the stairs to the balcony. That seemed like the best bet to guarantee a seat, since the show was advertised as having a mix of seated and standing areas, but when we got up there, we saw the whole floor was filled with chairs. I’m not sure where these mythical standing areas were, not that I care. We had a good view and the sound was terrific.

The show was two sets of Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet – no opener, no other musicians. None needed. This was great. They exist somewhere in between rock and country. Americana, maybe, except they’re Canadian. Doucet was dressed like a cowboy, but, like, a fancy cowboy. McClelland wore a t-shirt reading “Satan is a woman.” They covered traditional blues and Springsteen and both fit equally well into a lineup of great original tunes. Both are excellent songwriters and very talented musicians and this was the kind of show where you’re constantly reminded that these folks are great and you’re a dummy for not listening to them more often. Or maybe that’s just me.

Downsides? Well, they didn’t play Boys Like You, which I enjoy. Beyond that, they took audience questions and asked for requests, which encouraged certain fans to believe themselves to be part of the show. But even that wasn’t overly disruptive. Just led to a few eyerolls, is all.

Even with that, the audience participation led to the band sharing family secrets (“the kids are at home, they’re good”) and valuable insights into forming a band and going on tour with your spouse (“don’t”). And the questions brought up an interesting discussion about their respective solo material. They’d both had extensive careers but shelved most of their solo stuff when forming Whitehorse, though they’re now talking about revisiting some for a future tour. That could make for a fun show; it’s worth noting that the one solo song they played, Doucet’s hit Broken One, got the biggest reaction of the night. It’s also worth noting that song is about Doucet’s ex-girlfriend, or at least McClelland felt the need to laughingly point that out. Playing the classics can lead to an interesting trip down memory lane.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Glass Tiger (March 19)
• Matthew Good and his band w/Ria Mae (March 31)
• Alice Cooper w/Lita Ford (April 13)
• Joel Plaskett w/Mo Kenney (May 2)
• Corb Lund (May 14)
• BA Johnston (May 29)
• Saints and Sinners 2020 Tour feat. Big Wreck, Moist, The Headstones, and The Tea Party (July 3)

SLCR #354: Rah Rah (December 29, 2019)

January 20, 2020

::creates text file::

::wanders away::

::returns three weeks later::

Well, that didn’t work. Better do this the old-fashioned way. As if procrastinating for weeks isn’t the old-fashioned way.

For a very brief period of time, this was set to be the last-ever Rah Rah show. After a few years of relative inactivity, they got the band back together for a proper farewell. And, as will happen, it sold out quickly. They then added a second show on the following night, which also sold out. It turns out that the secret to success is to do nothing for a long time and promise that more nothing is on its way.

Despite them living where I live and me also living where I live, I’d only managed to see Rah Rah twice before, and one of those was a Folk Festival teaser set where they only played a few songs and I don’t think the whole band was there and I didn’t dig it that much. The other time was also at the Folk Festival – this time a full set – and I enjoyed it a lot more. But that was 2013, which is somehow now long ago. They went off to do their own things, and I listened to other things. One time I thought “hey I wonder what those guys are up to now” and promptly forgot to look for an answer.

There were two openers; Suncliffs (who I’ve seen) and Big Day (who I’ve not). We skipped both, opting to arrive just before Rah Rah started, so tradition dictates I tell you that they were both very good. It was a work night, and a sold-out Exchange gets very warm, and outside was very not, and I was older than the last time I went to a concert, and it would be all standing, so we opted to maximize comfort. I feel like I should have some regrets but I’m okay with all this.

I went into the show wondering how many of their songs I actually knew, and how much I’d enjoy myself. Answers: more than I realized, and a whole lot. It had been a while since I’d listened to Rah Rah, and I kind of forgot that they have a ton of great songs. Which seems like a stupid thing to forget maybe? Or maybe it just feels that way because I got to hear a bunch of them all in a row and say “oh hey, this one, I like this one” to myself over and over. My inner monologue is very rich. At least I never yelled out for a Library Voices song by mistake, though I’m a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t think to do it on purpose.

I could list off some of my favourites that they played, and I will, because this is going to be a relatively short write-up – Tentacles, Art and a Wife, Henry, The Poet’s Dead, Arrows – but possibly my highlight was Chip off the Heart. I already liked those other songs, but that one never did much for me until I heard it live. The added energy really made it work for me. It’s one of my favourite things about going to concerts, when you get a new appreciation for a song like that. Or a band overall.

They were clearly excited to play in front of the sold-out hometown crowd, despite one of them bring pregnant and another one having just put himself through a table in some sort of nap-related mishap. They switched off singing, told stories, threw mylar balloons spelling their name into the crowd, and overall seemed to be having a really good time. It looked like lots of their families were in attendance, which was nice for them and also raised the average age of the room to one I was comfortable with, which is a rare treat anymore. The enthusiastic audience also contributed to the atmosphere; literally, in the case of the secret farter who stood near us and let one fly. But apart from that generous soul, this show was a delight. Easily the best of their shows that I’ve seen, and I left a bigger fan than when I arrived. Go see them if you get the chance, except you won’t so you can’t. But if.

SLCR #353: Hawksley Workman (November 29, 2019)

December 3, 2019

You’d think it might be hard for me to find something to say about a Hawksley Workman show, having now seen him 25 times. You’d be completely right.

Doors were at 7:30 and Mika and I arrived about ten minutes after. The place was already starting to fill up nicely, despite a near-complete lack of the regulars that get passing mentions in these things. Only Erin was there from my usual crew of Hawksley associates. Hawksociates. She technically came to the show by herself but told her husband that she didn’t need to go with anyone to a Hawksley concert since she’d just find people there. It looked like an effective strategy.

Mika and I found chairs and I left to get us drinks and to eyeball the stuff table. Lots of vinyl and all of his CDs, all at decent prices, but I had it all already. I got myself a Diet Pepsi and Mika an iced tea because we know how to have a good time.

Before the show began, the host came out and asked for “the owner of a red Mazda-” and we both fought off minor panic attacks but it was some other red Mazda and it didn’t even get hit, it was just blocking the alley. All was well.

The show started right on time because it was put on by the Folk Festival and shows start right on time and we all want to go to bed at a reasonable hour (he wrote, at 12:19 am on a work night). After opening with No Sissies, Hawksley picked up a recorder, suggested it was a tool of governments looking to find a reason to cut funding for music programs, and then played us a song on it. Specifically, the theme to The Friendly Giant. This was, admittedly, not on my list of songs I was expecting to hear. The next one, Safe and Sound, very much was.

From there, it was mostly selections from the pool of tunes he normally picks from for concerts. Everything was done well, though I don’t know if anything stood out as being exceptionally better or different from everything else. We got less off his newest album, Median Age Wasteland, than I would have expected – only three songs. He put out a new single recently (Around Here) and didn’t play that one either. Mr. Lonely sang backup through a voice modulator for a few songs, including the “somewhere on the outside” part of Smoke Baby, which I don’t think I’ve seen before and that was neat. Battlefords really seemed to connect with people when it came out, so it was a good choice to open the second half of the show – something to grab people’s attention after the thrilling rush of the 50/50 draw during intermission. Claire Fontaine is a personal favourite, which you likely know if you’ve bothered to read this far, so I was delighted to get that one, especially because he gave it a nice long intro so I had time to capture the whole thing on video. Despite a few attempts through the years, I just don’t want to be the guy with his phone out at a show for too long – but I made an exception for this one. Mika, once again, was unable to avoid Autumn’s Here. Hawksley told stories about his dad and his grandma and why you shouldn’t leave your windows open when you leave the country for months on end – all things I’d heard before, but they’re good stories and he tells them well, so I’m good with it.

He offered to sell some of his unplayed guitars, though he quickly clarified that he was kidding, as he’d had to crush the Christmas shopping dreams of a drunken fan at another show that week.

“Libidinous” is French for “the business.”

Here’s the complete set list:

No Sissies
Theme from The Friendly Giant
Safe and Sound
Birds in Train Stations
Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off
1983
Oh You Delicate Heart
Smoke Baby
-intermission-
Battlefords
Goodbye to Radio
A House or Maybe a Boat
Claire Fontaine
Jealous of Your Cigarette
Autumn’s Here
No Beginning No End
-encore-
The City is a Drag (w/Karma Chameleon, We Built This City)
Ice Age

I greatly enjoyed this. And you knew that. I’ve even done the opening “I don’t know what to talk about” and the closing “you already know that I enjoyed this” bits before. And there was a joke about getting wild and crazy drinking not-booze, and a mention that Folk Festival shows start on time. Someone needs to feed all my reviews into an AI and we’ll see if I can make myself completely useless in the process, as opposed to just mostly useless.

I suppose there was always the chance I could have had a bad time. That would have been interesting. But it would also be a bad time, and who wants that?

This was a straight-ahead Hawksley show; no orchestra, no night of Bruce Cockburn covers, no weird setlist of the deepest cuts, not a non-concert where he just chatted about drumming. He’s been doing this a long time, and I’ve been going to his shows for almost as long. I know what pool of songs he’s likely to pull from. I know a lot of his stories. On this show, he was playing with Mr. Lonely, Derek Brady on bass, and Brad Kilpatrick on drums – a combo I’ve seen before. This was, in essence, the concert equivalent of comfort food, or maybe finding a movie on APTN that you’ve seen a million times before and watching it again because it’s there and you like it better than anything else on TV and you just want to.

I know nobody watches traditional TV anymore so that example doesn’t resonate like it used to. And it doesn’t technically have to be APTN, but if it is, the movie will be either Demolition Man or Maverick, and while I don’t want every movie to be Demolition Man or Maverick, most of them could be and I’d be okay with that.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Whitehorse (January 25)
• Andy Shauf w/Molly Sarlé (March 3)
• Glass Tiger (March 19)
• Joel Plaskett (May 2)

SLCR #352: Kim Churchill (November 8, 2019)

November 25, 2019

Five years ago – almost to the day – I saw Kim Churchill at the Exchange because Mo Kenney was opening. I didn’t know who he was and was prepared to skip out early, but I wound up really enjoying his set and bought some CDs. You’d think I’d be more prepared for this show as a result, but no. Haven’t listened to those CDs in forever. Didn’t stream any of his new stuff. Really, I bought these tickets based on half-remembered feelings of having a good time. And also they were pretty cheap.

The show was at the Artesian, and nothing of interest happened in the lead-up to the show or the drive there or finding our seats or whatever. I mean, Mika and I sat in our usual spot, then moved to a slightly different spot in hopes of a better view, but you likely don’t care about that. Even though it mostly worked (there are tall people everywhere).

The openers were Victoria folk duo Ocie Elliott. Dude on guitar, lady on keyboard (more specifically, a Mellotron), neither one is named Ocie or Elliott. They were very laid-back and I was amidst conflicting opinions. One person sitting near me said that he had come to the show already as a fan (they were here opening for Carmanah in February, apparently), but this set had been completely won him over and spent the whole time “fangirling” – his word. Another absolutely hated them, with a wide range of complaints (mostly funny ones) that I really don’t need to repeat since I don’t want to unfairly influence anyone who might read this before seeing them. Maybe I’m getting tame in my old age. Or maybe “absolutely hated them” about covers it and the details are not necessary. As for me, I wound up somewhere in between the two, both physically and opinionally. I thought it was mostly pleasant if completely forgettable. I did come dangerously close to falling asleep a few times. Two songs into Kim Churchill, I realized that I had no recollection of what Ocie Elliott sang about. So yeah, somewhere in the middle, leaning towards “not my thing.”

Intermission. Mika left for the washroom and asked if I wanted anything if she stopped at the bar on the way back. I said sure, not actually expecting anything because who wants to deal with lines? Apparently she did and we had ciders. I like ciders. My favourites are the ones that taste like bubbly apple juice because I don’t drink grown-up drinks.

The first thing you notice about Kim Churchill is that he’s a really good guitarist. Or maybe it’s that he’s an Australian hippie. There are two types of Australians, I think; the Kim Churchills and the Crocodile Dundees. The Yahoo Seriouses and the That Guy From The 80s Energizer Ads. Steve Irwin might have been both, doubtless contributing to his enduring popularity.

I digress. Guitar. Real good at it. And sampler pedals and occasional harmonica. Very earnest songs. Very positive. Seems like a good dude. Barefoot (see above re: uneducated stereotypes regarding Australian hippies). It turns out shoes aren’t required for sampler pedals. I really enjoyed this set. Not as much as one lady who was sitting up near the front who recorded much of the show and cheered like mad for her favourite songs, but I had a good time.

That said, I’m not sure I see a future deviation from the established pattern: see Kim Churchill, enjoy show, kind of forget about it until he comes back to town, repeat. I suppose that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but he sells a ticket every time out, and I get to be pleasantly surprised each time.

November 11, 2019

The problem with trying to blog regularly is that you need things to blog about. I don’t do interesting things. This weekend, I went to a concert, which I’ll have to write about separately, but it’s one of those ones where I don’t really have much to say. Beyond that, I played some Pokémon Go, I went to yoga, I watched some wrestling, I read most of a book. I had a cat sleep on me for much of the book time and wrestling time. None of it is of interest to you probably.

Instead, let’s go back to last winter when I flew home from BC. My memory isn’t that great; I just told this story to Dave (of Ol’ Shitty Dick fame) at the time, and I never empty out my sent mail. I remember wanting to post it here but it seems I never did.

Looking back at this now, it’s interesting how certain constraints shape your writing. A higher-up at my work likes excessive commas, so I find them slipping into my personal writing too. Meanwhile, the phrase “likes excessive commas” would result in an email to Dave not being delivered because his work has an overzealous email filter and that phrase has the letters s-e-x in that order so the filter thinks it’s spam or porn or something. Similarly, emailing him has resulted in me often avoiding contractions because “but it is” works fine, but “but it’s” has t-i-t-s (with a space, punctuation, and a complete lack of prurient context, but still).

Anyway. I was in BC. My flight home was three hops. Victoria to Vancouver, fine. Vancouver to Calgary, fine. Calgary to Regina… I’m sitting in my window seat. This girl comes down the aisle, having trouble figuring out where she should be. It’s next to me. She doesn’t sit down so much as she falls ass-first into the seat, bodychecking me against the wall.

“I’m sssssssssooooooorrry,” she says. “Thass my fault.”

At this point, I realize she’s completely hammered, and there are no open seats on the plane, so there’s no avoiding this. I can either hate my life or try to find the comedy in this.

“You and me, we’re gonna have a discussion right away. ‘Cause we’re gonna get reeeeeeeeeal close.”

She continues along this line for a while. Tells me that she got the very last seat on this plane and that means God meant for us to be sitting together and that I’m her patron. I think she means “patron saint” but do not correct her. I mean, it wouldn’t really be correct either way. She goes for a handshake. I awkwardly reach across myself to shake her hand. She asks if she can kiss my hand. And does so.

I’m a big dude and plane seats are small, so I try to keep myself as compact as possible. She notices this. Tells me I need to let it all out. And demonstrates by grunting and slumping down in her seat and sticking one leg in the aisle, one onto my side. The visual is funny, at least.

I have, to this point, said very little to her beyond “okay,” “I’m good,” and “it’s all good” about a dozen times each.

I text Mika about my situation. Mika’s advice? “Don’t engage.” I was not given this option. My new friend has already suggested she might fall asleep on me. As that might be the best outcome for everyone involved, I said I was okay with this. She is delighted and calls me her big teddy bear.

My new friend looks up and down the aisle at all the passengers. “Man. So many stories in this fuckin’ tube,” she says. This attracts the attention of a flight attendant, who advises her to watch her language. She says she will. The flight attendant turns to leave.

“What the fuck was that about?”

The flight attendant turns back. Another warning.

When the flight attendant makes her next pass, my new friend tries to buy earbuds. But it is a tiny plane with no in-flight entertainment, so there are none for sale. This is a tragedy. I offer to loan mine but she won’t take them. I need them. Wouldn’t be fair.

Now the flight attendant returns. Two of them, actually. They ask if we are travelling together. I assure them we are not.

One of the flight attendants crouches down, and the entire plane goes stone silent. Everyone wants to hear this.

“We need you to know that we’re aware that you’re a little intoxicated,” she says. I almost laughed because there’s nothing little about this.

“Normally, we wouldn’t let you board,” she continues, “but-”

My new friend is quietly weeping. “You’re going to ruin my LIFE!”

“No, we’re not, we just need to know there won’t be-”

“You’ve got my life in your hands.”

“Okay, you need to not interrupt me. We need to know there won’t be an incident.”

“There won’t be, there wasn’t anything since the last time you talked to me.”

This goes on for a few minutes. We’re still at the gate, I should mention. Then we have to taxi over to the de-icer. And finally, takeoff.

My new friend is still crying softly to herself, muttering about how she’s dumb, so dumb, she’s not a drunk, she’s just a bad flyer and she had some shhhhhhhhhhhhhots and everyone on the plane is judging her. She alternates that with being angry about her treatment, saying “I paid $700 for this flight, I should be treated with some respect like the Queen, it’s not like I fucked the President.”

I don’t know how I was thinking “it’s not like I __________” would end, but it wasn’t that. Nearly lost it.

She switches back and forth between sad shame and indignation for a while. She mentions that this is the third time this month she’s had to make a last-minute trip to Regina. I ask why. She says that she had a car accident here 4 years ago and is contesting it. I’m not inclined to believe she wasn’t at fault but I might not be seeing her at her best.

Eventually, I offer up my earbuds again, and she borrows them. Watches a Netflix show. Most of the flight is uneventful. I collect my earbuds and we land.

Unrelated to anything else, the second we touch down, the guy across from us stands up to retrieve his bag, resulting in a flight attendant running over, yelling NO. NO. YOU SIT DOWN NOW. It was great.

They let us turn cellular back on and my new friend makes a call. Her phone was never actually in airplane mode, but whatever. Her ride is not at the airport yet but is on her way and they should meet “at the doors.” She gets off the phone. This is unacceptable. “Meet me at THE DOORS?! What the fuck, does Regina Airport only have one door?!”

I mean, technically no, but basically, yeah.

She then goes to unbuckle her seatbelt and discovers she was never buckled in.

“This wassssn’t my fault! They INTERRUPTED ME. I’m HONEST about this. I thought it was done. And it’s their fault. I paid $700 for this flight, and you see how they treat me, but when it comes to my SAFETY, does anybody care? Noooooooooooooooobody cares. And fuckin’ Air Canada, man, they WANT you to drink, they have all these places, they want your money, but then you see how they treated me.”

She’s not wrong about the number of places to drink at an airport, to be fair.

Anyway, she gets up and apologizes to me for being stuck with her, earning one last “it’s all good” in the process, and off she goes. Inside the airport, she heads straight for the doors. I guess she found them.

I meet up with Mika. “I have so much to tell you when we get to the car.”

As we’re paying for parking, I point out my new friend waiting outside. Another guy from my flight sees me doing this and has the biggest grin. He knows exactly who I’m pointing out and why.

We leave, and she doesn’t see me, but we can hear her yelling into her phone about her $700 flight.

November 7, 2019

It takes a lot for me to use this here blogging space for actual blogging and not just cross-posting concert reviews. But my therapist told me that I need to exercise a creative outlet more often than just (two weeks) after concerts, so here we are. Maybe I’ll start posting more regularly again. Maybe I’ll tell this one story and disappear for another few years.

I woke up this morning, and as I do on workdays, I got up, walked to the bathroom, turned on the light, and walked away. It’s too bright, first thing in the morning. Gotta let my eyes adjust.

I went to the living room and looked at my phone. I had one new text message, sent at 3:01 am, from my friend Dave. It read:

Ol’ Shitty Dick

That’s it. No context. No explanation why he was up at 3:00 in the morning. Just Ol’ Shitty Dick.

I could not handle Ol’ Shitty Dick. Not then. Not before showering, not before coffee. I put the phone down and set about getting ready.

Once at work, I tried to figure out what to do about Ol’ Shitty Dick. Was it a reference to something? It sounded vaguely familiar, but from where? Or was it just familiar because this is totally the kind of thing we’d text each other?

I replied as follows:

wake up

stumble to living room

look at phone

1 new text message

Ol’ Shitty Dick

received: 3:01 am

set down phone

walk away

Dave was confused. I thought I had been clear, but apparently not, so I explained:

Well

I got a text from you

At 3:01 am

That read, in its entirety, Ol’ Shitty Dick

And I recounted my discovery of this message and subsequent confusion

Dave denied sending any message, let alone Ol’ Shitty Dick. I sent a screenshot showing he had. He sent a screenshot showing he hadn’t. A stalemate. I briefly contemplated the existence of ghosts, but then thought maybe that Dave’s wife got up, sent the message, immediately deleted it from Dave’s texts, and went back to bed, knowing that she’d messed with both of us. But while Jen is very funny, this would require her to be funnier than anyone I’ve ever met. Not impossible but a high bar.

I did also consider doing just this from my wife’s phone; logging in as her, sending a weird text at weird hours to one of her friends, then deleting the evidence and denying all knowledge. Obviously, by virtue of posting this here, I’m now unable to do that. It’s a free idea for you, though.

Dave and Jen talked it over and thought it must just be some weird glitch. Which is what I’d say if I’d sent a prank text from someone else’s phone too. But like I said, it did sound familiar. I scrolled back through old texts, but made it to the start of April without finding anything.

Then I had a meeting. One of those ones that I didn’t really need to be in and they weren’t feeding us. Bored, I looked at Twitter, and Alex Goldman, co-host of Reply All, my favourite podcast, tweeted:

 

If you’re wondering if I DMed him about Ol’ Shitty Dick, of course I did.

This tweet had been up for an hour by the time I first saw it, and he was on the case. Lots of people had received random messages overnight. And when they could be identified, they all seemed to be from Valentine’s Day, nearly 9 months ago. Maybe I just hadn’t scrolled back far enough. Were Dave and I texting on Valentine’s Day? If so, about what?

Well, we were. We were talking football. He was telling me about the Toronto Argonauts’ latest signing: a defensive tackle named Poop Johnson.

Technically, it’s Cory Johnson. Nicknamed Poop. Because he poops so much. The source of the nickname isn’t really relevant to my personal text message situation but I figured you’d want to know.

So, yeah. We were making jokes about Poop Johnson. First name: Poop. Last name: Johnson. Or, to put it another way, Ol’ Shitty Dick. Of the thousands of texts I send or receive in a year, that was the one the system held onto. The one it saved for me. It couldn’t possibly have been more perfect.

SLCR #351: NHL Heritage Classic (October 26, 2019)

November 3, 2019

I’m writing this on October 27. Right now, I’m four reviews behind, not yet done writing about Said The Whale. With only a few weeks until Kim Churchill, I really should be cleaning up my backlog and not jumping the line and making more work for myself because I think the idea of writing a concert review of a hockey game is funny. But hey, there were bands.

If you’re wondering why I went to hockey when I famously don’t care about hockey, well, I like going to things. And also I didn’t know what it would cost when Dave asked if I wanted him to pick up tickets for me and Mika when he was buying his. This would rank among the most expensive concerts I’ve ever been to, and this time I didn’t get to see Neil Young or meet Weird Al. Also, it wasn’t a concert. Except when it was.

Dave and Jen and Jen’s friend and Jen’s dad all drove in for the game, arriving early afternoon. We had a nice visit, by which I mean Carl did, as he’s the most popular and entertaining member of this family. Eventually, we all put on our long underwear (separately; this wasn’t a group activity) (though we pretty much all did it at once) and headed out to Brewster’s for a 4:00 pm supper like the elderly that we are. I had chicken, so yeah, official concert. My sandwich came with a fried pickle, which 1) should be standard with every sandwich, and 2) should be the new requirement for official concert status.

The game started at 8:00 with doors opening at 6:00. We were done eating at 5:00, but with 33,000 people attending, we figured that heading to the stadium early wasn’t the worst idea. We’d bought parking passes, so this would be my first time parking there. Mika and I always take the bus for Rider games and concerts, and for the soccer game, we just parked downtown and walked forever. We arrived a little before 5:30 and parking was easy, but I figured leaving would be a lot different. Dave’s carload all put their jerseys on over their parkas and we went exploring.

It was -4C, but felt like -11C with the windchill. 24.8F and 12.2F, respectively. And we were going to be outside until the game ended. I had gloves on my gloves with packs of those disposable handwarmers to shove inside them, as well as a new-to-me technological innovation – the same thing, but for your feet. I had also planned on buying some Winnipeg Jets gear to taunt Calgary Flames-loving Dave, but even though my strike is over for now (and hopefully for good), I decided that I didn’t need to make a stupid purchase just for fun, so I skipped it and just wore my Crash Test Dummies toque from 1995. They’re from Winnipeg and it’s the right colour to support the Jets, it counts. Plus, that toque is warm as heck and still in great shape for being old enough to be done college. It might be the most durable, well-designed article of clothing I own.

We walked to the grounds, passing the NHL Mobile Refrigeration Unit, which might have been very necessary the day before when it was +15, but just seemed needlessly cruel at -4 and windy. Even this early, there was a nice long line to get into the exhibits. We had our bags checked, went through metal detectors, and were surveilled by a very nice security guard who told us that “if you have weapons, you should go home, and if you’re cold like me, you should go home.”

There were displays and merchandise shops and sponsors’ booths set up. We mostly skipped them, though I did get a 5c/litre discount card for Esso, so that’s nice. I don’t shop there, but still, nice. There were two Tim Hortons trucks – one in Flames red and one in Jets blue – offering free coffee. There was also a Safeway truck which was not offering free groceries, as far as I could tell, so that was a disappointment. And the Kubota display? No free tractors. There were also hockey-related games and a big inflatable hockey player and Lanny McDonald and his mustache signing autographs and a cover band playing Surrender by Cheap Trick. They were fine. I like that song.

Once inside the stadium, we immediately saw Don Cherry which provoked “hey neat” and “ugh” feelings in equal measure. Kind of like that time I saw the Queen. We then took a walk around the stadium (not with Don Cherry, which was probably for the best; dude’s moving slowly these days). It was a first-time visit for Dave and Jen and Jen’s dad, and they seemed to think it was a nice place, especially enjoying the giant picture of a certain relative of Jen and her dad celebrating a certain championship win in a certain sport. I know that through 350 concert reviews, I’ve given out enough personal information to let all of you steal my identity, but if you want my friends’ too, you’ll have to work for it a little bit.

We found our seats. Lower bowl, section 136. Pretty good, though it was just kind of weird in general to have so much space between the rink and the fans. I think they should have had to play in a special rink the size of the full football field. There were loud drunks behind us (and, really, all over everywhere) but they were funny? They spent the entire game beaking at each other and the players in comical fashion, marking the first time in recorded human history that any situation has been improved by the presence of loud drunks.

About an hour out from the scheduled start time, according to one of three conflicting countdowns we would see on the Maxtron, the band Toque was introduced. The name sounded familiar, and Mika’s googling turned up why – it was local boy Todd Kerns’ 80s Canadian rock cover band. Kerns is more famous for being in Age of Electric and Static in Stereo, as well as touring with Slash. Anyway, to everyone’s surprise, the 80s Canadian rock cover band played 80s Canadian rock songs including Raise a Little Hell, Go For Soda, and personal favourites New Girl Now and that one that I think is called Gone Gone Gone She Been Gone So Long She Been Gone Gone Gone So Long (I Wonder If I’m Ever Gonna See My Girl). This was… pretty good, actually? I mean, it’s a cover band, you know what you’re going to get, but everything was fun and done well. Would see again, even intentionally. They came out a few times during the game to play more songs to fill time, but never for very long, so if you ever wanted to hear a version of Summer of ’69 that ends before the “me and some guys from school” part, this was your chance.

As we approached game time, Jess Moskaluke and the Hunter Brothers came out and did a song together. It was fine. Then the Hunter Brothers sang the national anthem. It was also fine and I enjoyed the fireworks, especially because they were both pretty and relatively quiet. We didn’t need loud jets doing a loud flyover of the stadium but there we were. Also, I know they said to remove your headwear for the anthem but man, it was cold. I put in my handwarmers. I also put my footwarmers in my shoes. I had learned about them at work, where I was also told that they look like maxipads. Can confirm. I was cautioned not to confuse the two, but honestly, they probably both give off the same amount of heat. My feet were cold, is what I’m saying.

First period: the Jets and Flames played hockey. Nobody scored.

Before we’d left the house, I asked Dave if there were bands playing at this thing, and the one he knew of was the Sheepdogs and I rolled my eyes. Of course it’s the Sheepdogs. They’re from Saskatoon and they’re at every event in Saskatchewan. Anyway, between periods, they came out and played a few songs, including the singles Feeling Good and I Don’t Know. I liked the fireworks. And really, this was all fine, I have no real complaints. I just don’t care about the Sheepdogs, and it wasn’t like when we saw Colin James and I had to admit that while he may be another Saskatchewan boy who’s at every local event, if you can ignore that, he really is super talented.

Second period: the Jets and Flames played more hockey. The Flames scored once. Dave was happy.

At one point, they played The Last Saskatchewan Pirate over the PA system, which gave me PTSD flashbacks from Rider games. They play it there for the fourth-quarter stretch and it always features an appearance from Work Safe Bob, a mascot whose existence eats away at my very being. He makes me hate the fourth quarter and all football and safety and being safe and life itself and I’ve given him an obscene nickname that I will not repeat here.

SAFETY FUCKER. His name is SAFETY FUCKER. It’s spelled in all caps. I hate him so much.

Let me lighten the mood. I think it was in here that the in-game host came on the Maxtron and told us to “circle the bowl” to go to the merchandise stands and restaurants and then immediately switched to “circle the concourse” once he realized what he’d said. I laughed.

Jess Moskaluke came back out to sing a few songs before the third period. She’s another local that you see all over the place, though it has been neat to watch her progress from relative unknown to an actual star. Or at least I think she is? I don’t know from country. Either she is or they’re doing a good job of convincing me she is, which is as good as the real thing as far as it impacts my life, which is not at all. Anyway, she played Cheap Wine and Cigarettes, as well as Country Girls, as well as other songs I forget. This was not really my thing but it was fine and I enjoyed the fireworks, a recurring theme. She seemed woefully underdressed for the weather, which would normally imply she was wearing something skimpy, but here just meant it was normal clothes and not a full snowsuit and I bet she was cold as balls.

Third period: the most important part of the evening happened; namely, the mascots for both teams came up the stairs by us and I was able to high-five both the current Jets mascot (Mick E. Moose) and the original Jets mascot (Benny) (as in Benny and the Jets) (it’s spelled wrong but that’s still pretty good). Harvey the Hound, meanwhile, took a picture with some folks across from us and I didn’t get to high-five him. I was already half-cheering the Jets since someone needed to balance out our group, but that cemented it.

Also, the Jets and Flames played more hockey. The Jets scored once. Dave was sad and declined my high-five of consolation but did accept a fist bump of consolation, though it was a dud and didn’t explode. I was happy because I’m a Jets fan now and forever, but was also very cold and didn’t relish the idea of overtime. Also, they didn’t have a band ready to play in the event of overtime. They didn’t even bring Toque back out to play the first 30 seconds of Moonlight Desires.

Overtime: the Jets and Flames played more hockey. A Flame tripped a Jet and the Jets scored on a power play and won. Dave was sad. I got to learn how overtime works. We got the best fireworks of the night.

Then we want back to our cars. Or rather, Mika and I went past our car because we were following Dave and his crew and we went past where the cars were and then they were behind us somehow? This got all the more confusing after fighting our way through the snarl of traffic leaving the stadium, getting out of there well ahead of Dave, and yet somehow getting home after they arrived. Jen said they took Ring Road, which doesn’t make sense to me. Google Maps backs me up, but I guess they’d have faced less post-game traffic and that would make the difference. So it obviously makes perfect sense. I got to learn all kinds of things.

This was fine. I liked the fireworks.