Archive for November, 2012

SLCR #179: Hawksley Workman (October 30, 2012)

November 8, 2012

Sitting in the Broadway Theatre, waiting for the show to start, Deserée got a text from Nicholas asking if I was excited for the show. Considering that I’ve never met Nicholas, I appreciated his concern.

And I was excited, or excited enough, anyway. I checked and this was my fourteenth time seeing Hawksley Workman. I didn’t read all my old reviews in detail, but at least as far back as the fifth show, I was saying that I’d felt like I’d seen everything before. And while I always enjoy Hawksley’s shows, it does sometimes feel like he only ever plays the same small selection of his many songs.

I told Deserée to tell Nicholas that I was excited for the show, but probably not as excited as she was. This is an understatement. For many years, she’s been using the social media of the day to try and convince Hawksley that he needed to play the song Baby This Night in concert. So far, no luck. But about a week before the show, Hawksley tweeted that he was rehearsing for the tour. She asked if he was rehearsing Baby This Night for Saskatoon, and he said “yes!” and she said OMGOMGOMGAgdfsnhoaiigsndrvsldknhfslvnh, or words to that effect.

She bought tickets long before the show but never picked them up, so we were relying on the Broadway Theatre website to find out when the show was to start. It said doors at 6:30, show at 7:30, so we agreed to split the difference and meet at 7:00. I took the afternoon off work so I made it to Saskatoon in plenty of time. After a quick sub with Dave, I made it to the theatre at about 7:05, or five minutes after the doors actually opened. I’m never sure why tickets, printed over a month in advance, can be right, but websites are almost always wrong.

Since this has mostly been Deserée’s story so far, and I’m feeling a bit reviewed out at this point, I’ll just liberally steal from her post on Facebook:

I arrived around 6:40 to pick up tickets at will-call, only to discover I was the first one there. There was a sign saying that doors opened at 7 and the show started at 8. So instead of standing around being cold, I decided to grab a coffee at Starbucks. It’s a few doors down from the theatre. While I was waiting for my drink, who should walk in but Hawksley Workman himself?! Did I play it cool and say hello? Did I casually introduce myself as the person who has been harassing him for 10 years to play my favourite song in concert? No. I texted my friend that he was there, and then walked out of Starbucks with my heart in my mouth.

Went back to the theatre, where I was still the first one there. I was joined shortly after by a guy and his girlfriend. He was a big HW fan, and it was her first show. We chatted about the olden days, shows gone by, other acts we had seen at Louis’, back when it was The Dank, and not all Star Trekky and over-priced. As we were chatting, Hawksley walked up to the door. He asked why it was still locked and knocked on it a few times. We asked him if he didn’t have some pull to get us inside. He said “man, you’d think I would, but I’m telling you, I have no pull at all. I mean, I’m the performer, but I have to stand out here just like you”. We all laughed, and he asked our names. I told him my first name, and then my last name, and he said “Oh yes, I know who you are!” I said “are you really playing my song tonight?” and he said “Yes, I am!”

I got there too late to see any of this.

We found our way to our seats and promptly doubled back to check out the stuff table. Apart from the shirts, most of which were for ladies, I had every single thing. Back to the seats, where Deserée showed me how to work her little video camera for when (if?) they’d play her song.

Before the show, a representative from the theatre came out to thank sponsors and whatnot. He mentioned that someone was studying to be a sommelier (and not, as Deserée thought a “Somalian”) and had paired wines (one red, one white) specifically to Hawksley’s music. The Broadway mostly shows movies, so you could buy hot buttered popcorn with your wine. Popcorn feels weird at a concert. Wine feels weird at a movie theatre (not that I usually drink wine anyway).

There was no opening act. Hawksley and Mr. Lonely took the stage, and I’ll turn it over to Deserée again:

The only part of the night that was more exciting was when Hawksley and Lonely STARTED the show with “Baby, This Night”. That’s why the first line is chopped off of this video. And it starts a little wobbly because James had to record and get set at the same time. But I’m quite delighted with it and hope you will also enjoy 🙂 The crowd seemed mostly confused by it, and I chalk that up to a lot of HW fans being the ones that came on with “Striptease”, so they don’t know the earlier stuff as well. It was well-received though, even if people did think it was a new track 🙂

So yes. After years of hoping and begging and “it was a great show, but…” he opened the show with the song she’d waited forever for, and now she even has it (well, 99% of it) on video. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen him play it before – if we have, it was one of those very first shows back in 2000. I think it’s fair to say that as much as she built the song up, Hawksley and Lonely lived up to expectations. I don’t know if he’s playing it at every show on this tour or if it really was special for Saskatoon because she asked, but whatever the case may be, she said it was her all-time favourite concert-going moment.

Right now, the video is only posted on Facebook, but if she posts it to YouTube, I’ll link to it. And yes, the video WAS a little wobbly. In my defense, I had to shoot around an old man’s massive head while simultaneously covering up the viewfinder so as not to blind anyone sitting behind us.

So what could follow that? We actually got one of the better setlists in recent memory, but I might be biased since he played Claire Fontaine, which is one of my all-time favourites, and I’m reasonably certain it was the first time I’ve ever heard him sing the whole thing. (I’m still a bit bitter about the time many years ago he sang a few lines and then moved onto another song.)

The whole show was a nice mix of my personal favourites, old and new, from Bullets and Safe & Sound from his first album, through We Will Still Need A Song, and more recent songs like Piano Blink, We’ll Make Time, and Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky. We also got some of the songs that always seem to show up – it’s pretty rare that you see Hawksley and he doesn’t play Autumn’s Here or Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off (this time, it segued in and out of the theme from The Greatest American Hero; in a related note, Deserée’s TV show theme-identifying abilities are top-notch). He also played Smoke Baby, but a version unique to Saskatoon, as he was joined by local guitarist Megan Lane.

I like Hawksley enough (you: “we know”) and have seen him often enough (you: “again, we know”) that I’d rather have a whole show of new material than the greatest hits (does he have hits? I guess Striptease, kinda, but he didn’t play that), so I was delighted to get a song I’d never heard before. Hawksley’s written a musical called The God That Comes, about Bacchus, the god of wine. It’s still talked about on his website as a work in progress, though I know it’s been performed in Victoria and Toronto (more trial runs than anything) and it will be performed in Calgary at some point next year. I really enjoyed the new song and if I’m going to be visiting my grandparents in Calgary at some point anyway…

He also played “something weird” that the CBC asked him to make, which was the song Where They Left It Wild from the CBC Radio 2 Great Canadian Song Quest. I really never expected to hear this one in concert but it was pretty great and would be a welcome addition to the regular rotation.

Somewhere in here was an intermission, which Hawksley repeatedly stated was not a sign of weakness on his part; rather, an opportunity to sneak backstage and lift some weights. I tried to take the opportunity to buy some popcorn and special Hawksley wine (so while Hawksley was pretending to work out, I was looking to inflate myself with trans fats and alcohol), but the lobby had about seven intermission’s worth of people in something that was almost (but not entirely) completely unlike a line. Oh well, I didn’t need that popcorn anyway. I bet it was sour.

Hawksley also likes to chat between songs (and sometimes during songs). I don’t generally go into too much detail here, since I’d hate to spoil anything for future concertgoers. I know he recycles bits; I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the story about his dad and the kayak at the past four straight shows. Same with the one about him and his brother visiting their grandmother. They’re enjoyable stories every time, but it’s always more fun to hear new stuff. Accordingly, I left the show tempted to register twitterwhichisbullshit.com just so he could access Twitter by a more fitting URL and post tales of the bygone days of Sears.

Driving to Saskatoon and back in a day isn’t quite as challenging as Minneapolis and back in three days, but I could still do without it. You can’t see anything at night, there’s nothing to see during the day, and if there was anything there, I’d have seen it all during the hundreds of times I’ve made that trek. But if I can keep being happily surprised 14 shows in, I’ll keep going.

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SLCR #178: “Weird Al” Yankovic (October 10, 2012)

November 8, 2012

The essence of comedy is surprise, except when it isn’t. Jokes you’ve heard before aren’t funny, except when they are.

I don’t know why some things work this way and some don’t. Years ago – for the first (and, so far, only) time as an adult – I tried watching Spaceballs. I loved that movie as a kid. As an adult, I was so let down by how badly it failed to live up to my memories that I began to suspect that there was some form of treachery involved, that someone had edited the movie and replaced all the jokes with not-quite-jokes. But I can watch episodes of Arrested Development or the good years of The Simpsons, shows that I’ve seen so many times I almost know them by heart, and not only do I laugh at the jokes, but I laugh before they’re said because I know they’re coming.

This is not to suggest that Arrested Development and Spaceballs are on par. But you know what I mean, right?

Maybe Spaceballs is on par with “Weird Al” Yankovic? There might be something to that.

Anyway. I bring this up because Weird Al’s show at the casino was more or less exactly the same format as the show I saw in Saskatoon five years ago. And really, that show wasn’t much different from when I saw him in 1996. So, y’know, if you’ve never been to a Weird Al show and you think that’s something you might like to do someday, maybe you should just quit reading right here. I’ll even give you a spoiler-free review: you already know exactly how you feel about Weird Al and that is how you will feel about seeing him in concert.

Like the 2007 show, I bought tickets right when they went on sale, and we wound up at the front. It’s hard not to be extra excited for a show when you’re right there, front and centre. I saw a few friends in the crowd – some people that I knew would be there, and some I did not – and they were all sad that they didn’t have our seats. They all have better-paying jobs than I do, but I got to sit in the very front row for Weird Al. This says something about where my life’s priorities lie. Probably nothing good.

We checked out the stuff table before the show. Apart from the usual CDs and t-shirts, they had Weird Al trading cards (which I did not buy) (also, they were sold as complete sets, so why would you trade them?) and did not have the new book about Al by the AV Club’s Nathan Rabin (which I would have bought). No souvenirs for me.

The fans looked much the same as last time (see above, re: White & Nerdy), though I don’t recall the guy with the big 007 tattoo on his neck at the 2007 show. Part of me wanted to get into a really excited discussion with him about Skyfall, and the smarter part of me made me not do that. I did think that a casino was an odd choice for a venue, since you’d have to think that a significant portion of Weird Al’s fanbase is made up of 12-year-old boys. But the concert hall looked like it was nearly sold out, so I guess there are enough folks in town who are 12-year-old boys at heart.

The format of the show was the same as always. He opened by playing the newest polka medley. There were lots of costume changes; while these were taking place, the big screens would be showing videos of Al “interviewing” celebrities, or montages of Al’s guest appearances on different TV shows and movies. I think most of the interviews were new, and most of the clips were shown at the last concert. Somewhere in the middle of the show, there was a long medley of parodies and originals, so if he didn’t play your favourite song, there’s at least a chance you’d get to hear a chunk of it. (I did not get Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, but I want the whole thing or nothing.) After the medley, you mostly get Al’s greatest hits. And the show ended with Yoda, since he always closes with the Yoda chant, which is either now stuck in your head or best left to your imagination.

Like last time, streamers were fired into the crowd when the bomb went off at the end of Canadian Idiot. Like last time, the Saskatchewan crowd reacted big to the reference to Saskatchewan. And like last time, I got hit in the face with Weird Al spit when he waved his water bottle in our direction.

Most of Al’s costumes have stayed the same too. There’s still a fat suit and Amish attire. There’s still a Segway on stage for White & Nerdy, and the band still dresses like Nirvana for the Smells Like Teen Spirit parody.

We did get at least a snippet of almost every song off the newest album, Alpocalypse, so there was some new content. I think it’s one of Al’s best records, so I was pretty pleased by this. I was especially glad that we got Skipper Dan – possibly Al’s most depressing song – and CNR (with drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz dressed up like Meg White). There was no sign of Stop Fowarding That Crap To Me, which is a shame. I don’t know if there’s much of an audience for a style parody of Jim Steinman these days, but I loved the idea so much it’s like he wrote it just for me.

The highlight of the show – and one of the highlights of my life – was Al’s Prince-inspired song, Wanna B Ur Lovr. Like last time, Al grabbed a wireless mic and went out into the crowd, serenading all the ladies. He went all around the place, making sexyface at my friend Mary, and then headed back our way. I could tell that Mika sensed danger. But “Weird Al” Yankovic is a gentleman, and merely sang to my lovely wife “I wanna be your love torpedo, are you pickin’ up the subtle innuendo here?” And I’ll tell you, if there’s anyone in the world who I’d let hit on my wife without incident, it’d be my childhood hero. It helps that Al just seems so nice, you know? When I was a little kid, I liked Ray Stevens as much as I liked Weird Al, but these days Stevens comes across as a racist, bitter, entitled Tea Party dickhead. If he so much as looks at my wife I’m taking his G D head off.

So yes. A delightful time was had by all, even if it was more smiles of recognition than full-on belly laughs. Talking to friends after the show, it was evident that the people who hadn’t seen Al in concert before enjoyed the show that much more than we did. That’s how it goes.

And one last “like last time:” like last time, some of us waited around after the show to see if Al would come out, and he did not. Low-level celebrity stalking was never something I was that big on, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to possibly meet Weird Al. Of course, if I ever did get to, I don’t think I could say anything that wasn’t super creepy or cheesy, assuming I could say anything at all. There’s probably a lesson I could take from that, and one I will surely intentionally forget next time.

SLCR #177: Kathleen Edwards (October 3, 2012)

November 4, 2012

At least this one will be short. And boring.

This was a make-good show. Kathleen Edwards had been scheduled for a Regina show on April 12, but she came down with some throat issues which caused a delay of nearly six months. The delay, in turn, triggered a switch in the opening act, as Hannah Georges was replaced by Jenn Grant. The folks I know with tickets were disappointed with the delay but were understanding. We are not completely inhuman, here in Regina. As for the opening act switch, one friend’s delight was cancelled out by another’s disappointment, and vice versa. Me, I had no dog in this hunt. I was opening act Switzerland.

On this evening, I was recovering from my from my post-Minneapolis cold and was half-considering not even going. If the lingering road trip fatigue and ensuing illness wasn’t enough, this was also my first day at my new job. I spent the first hour at The Exchange thinking that my review might consist solely of the word guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuughg.

At least I got to sit down. We were in no rush to get to The Exchange, but when we got there, we discovered that two of my work pals were already there, camped out in the back of the venue. There was a spare chair for Mika, and I stood through the opening act, only stealing Mark’s chair once Kathleen Edwards started playing. It seemed like the polite thing to do.

These days, it seems like I only hear new music when Mika and I drive someplace (out of town, I mean) and she commandeers the iPod jack to play what she’s heard on CBC Radio 3. I like most of it! I tried downloading their Canadian indie music countdown, the R3-30, but for some reason, it crashes my iPod every time out. No idea why; nothing else I play does that, including longer CBC podcasts.

Anyway, this is a long way of explaining why I only knew one Jenn Grant song, Getcha Good, which she opened with. She stumbled a bit over the lyrics of her first few songs, but recovered nicely and her short set was enjoyable enough.

My general lack of knowledge of current music extends to Kathleen Edwards as well, though thanks to Mika’s iPod’s friendly shuffle, I probably knew about four of Edwards’ songs going in. Her most recent album, Voyageur, has been quite the success in Canada, being nominated for the 2012 Polaris Prize. (It lost to Feist’s newest, which is not the call I would have made, and I like Feist just fine.) Its big single, Change The Sheets, was inescapable, even to someone like me, but that wasn’t one of my favourite songs on the album, or at the show. Now, don’t think I can NAME the songs I liked better. That’s crazy talk. I’ll just say I really enjoyed the whole show from start to finish and call it good.

On the subject of not knowing things, despite owning one of his albums, I had no idea what famed Canadian songwriter Jim Bryson looked like and was not expecting him to be introduced as a member of Edwards’ band or for him to sing a song with her.

One of the few songs I did know, Chameleon/Comedian, contains the line “when I smile, it’s not for a funny joke.” For whatever reason, whenever Mika would play this in the car, I’d mishear it ever so slightly – “when I smile, is not for funny joke.” And then I’d think of Natasha Fatale singing the song in a Pottsylvanian accent and get the giggles. This is one of those stories that just doesn’t come across at all in print (or in person, I’ve been told); even less so because I’m listening to the song right now and Edwards enunciates quite clearly. I’d blame my crappy car speakers, but I heard the lyrics perfectly fine at the show as well.

While we’re on the topic of review filler, I can tell you that Kathleen Edwards opened for Willie Nelson in Saskatoon in 2005, and my stepfather, who would have been about 80 at the time, didn’t like her AT ALL. This was a regular topic of conversation for quite some time. I’m not even sure I ever knew why he didn’t like her.

And having now seen her in concert, I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t like her. Admittedly, she is not Willie Nelson; this is an undisputable fact, proven by science. But she also has lots of great songs, a remarkable voice, and a ridiculous amount of stage presence. And for someone with such critical acclaim, she never came across like she took herself too seriously. She’d take breaks to hand out copies of books she liked (including one, I believe, to my former neighbour who is all over these reviews these days) or tour t-shirts that had a run-in with some red wine. When singing a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Human Touch with Jenn Grant, they tripped each other up which resulted in the lyrics somehow becoming “na na na na na na fuck off human touch.”

All told, this show was fantastic. Mika’s got it as her pick for concert of the year, and while I’m not 100% convinced, you could make a pretty strong case for it. There’s a reason this show sold out so quickly that they booked (and, I believe, sold out) a second show. And there’s a reason that when Twitter told me they were playing in Chicago a few days later, I made a point of talking the internet’s very own Cubs Fan into going. I often end these reviews by urging you to check out the artist if they’re playing near you (or maybe I don’t; at any rate, it seems like the kind of thing I should do) but it’s very rare that I’m motivated enough to ensure personal follow-ups.

SLCR #176: Ben Folds Five (September 29, 2012)

November 4, 2012

I’ve found myself in a bit of a pickle. I knew this review would be a long one, so I had really good intentions of getting it done right away. Now it’s over a month later and I have a four-show backlog, with three more concerts to come in November. I don’t like spending time on reviews that don’t make me proud, but right now I’ve found a reason to sit right down and shit some out.

Song lyric references, ladies and gentlemen!

In all fairness, in the past month, I started a new job, spent Thanksgiving weekend at the farm, and spent a long weekend in Las Vegas. I also drove 13 hours straight twice in three days for this very show. And it’s not like I got any less lazy lately.

CONCERT REVIEW TROPE: MY HISTORY WITH THE BAND

I never knew why the trio is called Ben Folds Five. I recently saw them on Colbert and they said it was just a joke that nobody thought was funny. Some Googling suggests that they thought the name sounded better than Ben Folds Three. Good enough.

For that matter, at first, I didn’t even know there was a guy named Ben Folds in the band. I thought it was just a statement, like, “Ben folds five towels” or something along those lines.

I had somehow developed a vague awareness of the band, but I first read about and heard BF5 in an issue of CMJ New Music Monthly, back in the days when you might be able to find out about new music via the internet, but you couldn’t actually listen to anything that way. CMJ was expensive for its time ($10 an issue, give or take) but it came packaged with a free CD. I was trying to do a little research online, trying to figure out which issues of CMJ I had (because this is much easier than going downstairs and pulling the CDs off the shelf) and holy crap, you guys, the magazines are all up on Google Books. THIS IS NOT HELPING ME FINISH THE REVIEW. But I do now know that the issue of CMJ that came with BF5’s song Army also had songs by Beulah, The Rentals, Fountains of Wayne, and “Steal My Sunshine” by Len. Wonderful. I also remember CMJ CDs with Squirrel Nut Zippers, OMC, White Town, Alanis Morissette (“You Oughta Know,” so nothing from her Robin Sparkles era), and The Presidents of the United States of America.

I would understand it if I am not selling you on this magazine. But I assure you that for a guy who had nothing more than one Top-40 station, it was a real treat. Mika bought me a subscription for my birthday sometime around 2006 and it just wasn’t the same. I’m sure the internet was hurting them – the magazine folded a few years later – but the CDs no longer felt like the songs had been picked by editors; more like space on the CD had been paid for. At least, I assume that’s how one of Motörhead’s songs about Triple H made the cut. But it’s equally possible that they were doing what they always did and it’s just that my perspective and tastes changed.

Anyway, I bought BF5’s second CD, Whatever And Ever Amen, based on hearing them in CMJ. I became a fan and just kinda kept up with things from there. Ben Folds Five broke up in 2000 and though I did finally get to see Ben Folds twice (on his own in Fargo in 2009, and earlier this year with the Edmonton Symphony), I was always a little bit sad that I never saw the trio. They got back together in 2008 for a one-off show where they played all of The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (my favourite BF5 album) in its entirety. It was in North Carolina, a week before I was in North Carolina for a wedding, and I honestly considered changing my flight, booking an extra week off work, finding a hotel for that week, all that good stuff. Part of me still wishes that I’d done that. So about a year ago, when Ben Folds started talking about reuniting with Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee for a new album and tour, I decided that somehow, I’d find my way to a show.

CONCERT REVIEW TROPE: THE TRAVELOGUE

Regina to Minneapolis is about a 13-hour drive if you don’t speed too badly. I was a bit of a wreck coming into Minneapolis (technically, St. Paul) (I bet they hate it when people do that), but I chalked that up to driving at night, going interstate speeds, not knowing where I was going. It didn’t help that my car is bad for road noise and I spent about an hour driving past “NO STOPPING” signs convinced that I had a flat tire due to the WUB WUB WUB WUB WUB noise. The rational part of me said that if I could steer and change lanes just fine, there was nothing wrong with the car (and there wasn’t), but the rational part of me gets shouted down a lot.

I was a wreck for the last hour of the drive back too, and I knew where I was and where I was going at all times. I learned something about myself driving 13 hours straight, and that is that I can only drive for 12 hours straight. But I’m skipping over things, such as the entire trip.

I found my hotel with a minimum of effort. I’d never used a GPS but it turns out they’re handy! Next time on James Reviews Technology From 10 Years Ago, I’m going to give a DVD player a (waitforit) spin. Do I still have to be kind and rewind?

The hotel was very cheap and looked it, but everything was clean enough and that’s about all I care about. I messaged Mika and CRZ to let them know that I’d arrived, and promptly slept really hard.

I woke up at a reasonable hour and headed out to find some breakfast. I settled for crazy American McDonalds, since it was nearby. This outing turned into multiple shopping trips, as my work no longer gives me a cell phone, and my pay-as-you-go Android phone (Galaxy Gio; recommendation to avoid, though it IS really cheap) won’t actually let you pay-as-you-go-into-the-United-States. My only means of communications was Facebook chat and FaceTime from my iPad via the hotel’s spotty Wi-Fi, so I’d head out, buy stuff, bring it back, check the iPad, head out some more, buy stuff, bring it back, etc. I was able to finally find Diet A&W Cream Soda, and I am saddened to report that it just isn’t as magical as the full-sugar variety. I also got limited edition Candy Corn Oreos, and – spoiler! – they weren’t very good.

Now, this review will wind up posted on CRZ’s message board if I ever finish it. It will also be emailed to people such as my mom, who didn’t read wrestling recaps during the Attitude Era, doesn’t really get what those words mean in that order, and probably thought my days of meeting internet strangers were long over. At least this time my dad didn’t make me have a secret code phrase to be used in the event I was kidnapped but allowed to call him but not allowed to tell him that I’d been kidnapped. (This is not a joke.) Since I’m writing this so late after the fact, I can add that my mom was seemingly much less concerned for my well-being, as she saw Facebook pictures of our historic meeting and only asked “who’s the guy with the hair?”

if I had to be kidnapped, I can think of nobody better to do it than CRZ, who picked me up at my hotel (on the second try) and introduced me to one of America’s culinary wonders. “Have you ever had a taco with a shell made out of Doritos?” I had not. I had somehow forgotten that such a thing existed and would have been super sad to return home without this experience. I can report that it tasted exactly like you’d expect, and should he ever feel the need, CRZ is more than welcome to drive 13 hours for the Pizza Hut hot dog stuffed crust monstrosity that we have here now.

We also visited his house; his workplace (outside only, so I’m not a YouTube sensation); a crazy surplus store that sells foreign keyboards, toilet decorations, and stoplights; a carpeted grocery store full of track athletes in their uniforms which exposed more butt cheek than I’d ever seen at a grocery store; and a drugstore full of holiday decorations with blinking lights (see above, re: YouTube sensation). We also went downtown so that I’d have an idea where the Ben Folds Five show would be and where I should park.

It’s okay, I’d forgotten that this was a concert review too.

After getting dropped off at my hotel, I felt no need for a pre-concert meal and instead headed straight downtown. CRZ’s instructions clashed slightly with my GPS – my GPS likes to clash ever so slightly with everyone’s instructions, as it turns out – but between the two of them I found a place to ditch the car and called it good. This was a risky venture due to my superhuman ability to get completely turned around and lost in even the most familiar of surroundings. Mika laughs at me because every time I come up from the underground parking at the mall, I can’t tell which direction is The Bay and which is Sears. It’s less amusing when you’re by yourself and you run the very real risk of forever losing your car in a foreign country. You might think I am making a joke. I assure you that the amount of effort I put into remembering where I parked was massive.

The show was at the Orpheum, continuing my two-show streak of seeing Ben Folds at lovely, new-to-me venues. Sorry, club in Fargo, you were fine enough but didn’t make the cut. Bob Dylan was once part-owner of the Orpheum, but the internet tells me that he sold his stake in it long ago. I didn’t see him there so that must be right.

I had never really looked at my ticket when it arrived in the mail, so I was delighted to find that I was sitting in the sixth row. Actually, it was the third, but there were a few extra rows of chairs set up at the front, filled with people wearing custom Ben Folds Five shirts that read “How’s the view back there?” on the back. Some sort of fan club deal or internet presale, I imagine.

CONCERT REVIEW TROPE: BEING SURROUNDED BY DRUNKEN YAHOOS

My seat was fantastic, apart from the seatmate on my left. While I played Angry Birds and Doodle Jump waiting for the show to start, this young man had a very animated discussion with his friend about how the show was going to be legit. No, wait – legitimate. He then went into detail about how legit an event has to be in order to merit the additional two syllables. I was fine with this up to a point. But the beer kept flowing, and nearly spilling, and soon I was sitting next to the one guy in the theatre who figures that he’s going to stand up for the whole show while everyone else is seated. His logic was that “it’s bullshit, man.” Eventually, the guy behind us convinced him of the error of his ways. I was in America, so I assume handguns were involved. I don’t know, I didn’t turn around.

CONCERT REVIEW TROPE: THE HALF-HEARTED ACTUAL REVIEW PART

Our opener was Kate Miller-Heidke, who you might remember from that time I saw Ben Folds in Fargo. This was a fine performance, though I think I preferred her set in Fargo. Her Minneapolis set was very short – 30 minutes on the nose. It’s rare that I wish an opening act stayed longer. She did sing one song that kinda felt like it should have come with a trigger warning. Not that someone can’t sing about such things but it seemed out of place in an otherwise fun set that included her covering The Real Slim Shady. I think the same whenever Ben Folds plays Brick; I know it was a hit but subject-matter-wise, it just doesn’t feel like it fits with the rest of the evening.

Finally, Ben Folds Five took the stage for a show I’d been waiting over a decade for. At the start, it felt like it wasn’t going to be able to live up to how I’d built it up in my head. The first half of the show mixed a lot of new songs with some of the slower BF5 tunes – Missing The War, Alice Childress, Selfless Cold & Composed, Magic, and of course Brick – and it felt like there could have been some more energy. (Though I was truly delighted to get Jackson Cannery, which is not only a great song but also a great fake name to use when you have to fill out a web form.) But by the time the show ended, I thought it was one of the best that I’ve been to all year. I went to the show with one song request, Philosophy, and I was thrilled that they played it. Better, they followed it up with Kate, Song for the Dumped, and Army, making for four back-to-back BF5 classics.

In fact, here’s the whole setlist since someone was kind enough to post it online:

01. Michael Praytor, Five Years Later
02. Missing the War
03. Hold That Thought
04. Jackson Cannery
05. Selfless, Cold and Composed
06. Erase Me
07. Alice Childress
08. Sky High
09. Landed
10. Magic
11. Battle of Who Could Care Less
12. Do It Anyway
13. Brick
14. Draw a Crowd
15. Best Imitation of Myself
16. Philosophy
17. Kate
18. Song for the Dumped
19. Army
~encore break~
20. Underground (preceded by people yelling song requests and an impromptu number called “We Already Started Playing Another Song”)
21. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces

Fans of Ben Folds’ solo stuff might have been disappointed; only one song (Landed) came from the solo albums. Everything else was released by Ben Folds Five, including eleven songs from the first two albums alone. There were only two songs from Reinhold Messner; I KNEW I should have spent that extra week in North Carolina. But apart from that, I was really pleased with the setlist. I didn’t want this to just be a Ben Folds solo show with some extra musical accompaniment.

At one point, Ben was talking about one part of one song that he always screws up and someone shouted out “DO IT ANYWAY!” It occurred to me that writing a song called Do It Anyway and releasing it as a single might have been a bad idea. He’ll be hearing that for the rest of his life whenever he doesn’t feel 100% in to something. “I’ve always wanted to skydive but I’m terrified of heights.” “Dessert? I don’t know, I’m really full.” “But if I pull the pin on this grenade, we’ll all die!”

After waiting so long (and driving so long), it was hard not to feel like the show was over too soon. Looking at the setlist, it’s clear that the show was show-length and I had nothing to complain about. And by and large, I got all the songs I wanted. Ending on One Angry Dwarf was a highlight. But all too quickly, we were headed out the door while the theme to The Rockford Files played. The guy sitting to my right (i.e., not the drunk) really enjoyed the reference to Rockford in the song Battle of Who Could Care Less and I’m pretty sure the actual Rockford theme was his favourite song of the night.

Following my escape from downtown Minneapolis, I grabbed a late dinner at Wendy’s (this would turn out to be a bad idea), stopped at my hotel to eat and wash up, and then headed back out to meet CRZ and his wife Kim (who I also know from these very internets) at the Turf Club to see The Zoobombs.

CONCERT REVIEW TROPE: ARBITRARY AND CONVENIENT RULES

In the past, I have used “I don’t want to review shows by friends of friends” to shirk my writing obligations, and I’m going to do that here to avoid writing a separate review, even though none of us had even heard of The Zoobombs before. CRZ was there to see the opening acts, Birthday Suits and Still Pacific, which both include people that he knows. Good enough for me. I arrived too late to see either of them, so I’ll officially review them as follows: A+++++++ five stars awesome would see again. CRZ, feel free to tell them they can quote me.

I would actually go see The Zoobombs again, though we don’t get a ton of Japanese bands through middle-of-nowhere, Canada, so it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get the opportunity. Wikipedia tells me they’re from Tokyo. It also tells me that they’ve opened for The Flaming Lips and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and that their bass player is named Moostop, which is fantastic. (I don’t want to speak for Wikipedia, so I’ll clarify that I added the last bit, though I think the awesomeness of the name Moostop was implied in the article.)

From the show, I can tell you that they’re very loud and very good and they aren’t going to bother to stop just so you can clap for them. They WILL stop if the drummer – whose name is Pocky, says Wikipedia – wrecks his bass drum from rocking too hard (“Broken,” he said) and they need to borrow a bass drum from one of the openers, but that’s it.

CONCERT REVIEW TROPE: CHICKEN

Once The Zoobombs were done wrecking up the place and CRZ had bought one of everything, Kim said “Chris tells me you’ve never had White Castle.” Which I have not, and didn’t even know was a thing in this part of America. For ease of navigation, it was decided that I would go back to my hotel, and they’d arrive shortly thereafter with food. This is how I ate four fast-food meals in one day, and why I woke up with the most incredible food hangover I ever did have. Am I the only one who gets that? If you eat too much bad-for-you food too close to bed, you wake up feeling hung over even though you didn’t drink?

It was worth it, though. I’ve been craving White Castle ever since I got back, but even if I didn’t like the food, it was worth it just for the sight of CRZ and Kim showing up with a freaking cardboard SUITCASE full of cheeseburgers. I mean, I knew that Crave Cases existed. And I knew from the size of it how many cheeseburgers there would be inside, but I still wasn’t ready for the actual sight of 30 cheeseburgers all lined up and ready to go. And because three people obviously need more than 30 cheeseburgers, they also showed up with bags (multiple!) of chicken rings. These are exactly what you’d expect – chicken finger type things in ring form. I do not know why they are rings. I do not care. They are tasty in ranch dip and I generally don’t even care for dip.

I forgot to give them the leftovers when they went home, so my room smelled like White Castle cheeseburgers (which is to say, Lipton onion soup mix) all night. This is why I had dreams where people were feeding me and I was begging them to stop. And in the morning, I didn’t have so much as a glass of water until I made it to Fergus Falls, Minnesota and their fine Subway. You know I’m coming off a bad eating day if I’m really pumped for vegetables. I made up for it later by buying a jar of fried apples at Bismarck’s Cracker Barrel, but they are, to this date, unopened.