Archive for January, 2013

SLCR #183: Steven Page (December 12, 2012)

January 14, 2013

Sarah Slean is coming here in February. While looking at the Artesian’s website to determine if I should be buying tickets now (answer: probably, but I still haven’t yet done so), I saw that Steven Page would be here three nights later. I knew Mika wasn’t interested, so I asked Mark and James if they wanted to go. When they couldn’t make it, I made plans to spend the night of the show finishing up my Christmas shopping. But Mark told Mary that I was going (which was not, technically speaking, true), and so on Wednesday afternoon, plans changed.

I was glad to get the chance to go. My fandom of Barenaked Ladies has waned greatly over the years. I saw them a few years ago and still had a good time, but I really only went because Joel Plaskett was opening. I think the departure of Steven Page from BNL is a big part of why my interest has lessened. Barenaked Ladies’ first record without Steven Page was decidedly not my thing, but I liked Steven Page’s first post-BNL solo record, Page One, a fair bit. I hadn’t seen him live since the split and had wanted to see what his shows were like. In fact, in one of those weird coincidence things, I’d been wondering what he was up to just one day before finding out about the show.

Mika dropped me off at Mary’s house so she could carry on with Christmas shopping while Mary and I set out for the Artesian. On the way to the show, Mary told me the most amazing story about the time she met Steven Page 20 years ago. Most of the details must unfortunately be left off the internet; let’s just say that the part where he was riding in her Volvo to a Fishbone concert while they all sang Word Up by Cameo wasn’t even the highlight.

The Artesian is a relatively new venue and it was a lovely, cozy little place. I believe it’s a converted church. There’s a bar downstairs where Mary treated us to Stellas and we chatted with the owner. She said that the place holds about 160 people at capacity. Upstairs, there’s a decently-sized stage with raised benches at the back of the room. The floor had seating for the show, but it could have been removed if a dancier band was playing. By the time the show began, I figure there was around 100 people there. Since we made it early, we were able to snag two seats in the front row.

The opener, for lack of a better term, took the stage about ten minutes after the scheduled start time. Just as I’m thinking “hey, that guy looks really familiar,” he introduced himself as Craig Northey from Odds. I liked them a bunch and had no idea he’d be here, so I was pretty delighted by this development. He opened with a song that he’d co-written with Jesse Valenzuela of the Gin Blossoms; given our proximity to the fictional town of Dog River/real-life town (and film site) of Rouleau, I was half-expecting it to be the theme to Corner Gas but that was not the case. He then played a new song from the upcoming Odds record which I really enjoyed. Steven Page joined in on melodica halfway through the song, at which point the show began in earnest.

When talking about this show with friends, the thing they ask most often is “so, did he just play Barenaked Ladies songs?” Probably about half the show was BNL classics, but it was interesting to see which ones. I’m not about to go digging through liner notes right now to see who wrote or co-wrote what, but the BNL songs Page played in Regina had a distinct lack of their trademark silliness. It wasn’t one week since anything, there were no postcards from chimpanzees, this was not him in Grade 9. We got a lot of the songs that always made me feel like there was a real band behind their on-stage goofiness: Brian Wilson, Jane, The Old Apartment, What A Good Boy, Alternative Girlfriend, Break Your Heart, Call and Answer. These songs are similar in tone to the ones on his solo records Page One and The Vanity Project, and tracks from these albums comprised most of the rest of the show. Page also played a few new songs and Northey sang two Odds hits (Someone Who’s Cool and It Falls Apart). I could have done with more Odds songs, but it’s not really fair to ask for that when it wasn’t an Odds show.

And Page talked. The show ran about three hours with a brief intermission, and a lot of that time was spent conversing with Northey and the crowd. The night before in Swift Current (seriously, why does everyone play Swift Current these days?), someone had suggested to Page that maybe he should spend less time talking while he’s on stage, and I’m glad he didn’t listen. The small crowd and intimate venue made the show feel very personal, and the ongoing dialogue only helped enhance that mood. He cracked jokes and talked about everything from his inspirations to road stories to life with his kids.

When I saw Barenaked Ladies a few years ago, they seemed determined to show their fans that despite Page’s departure, nothing had really changed. They played all of their old songs with Ed Robertson taking over where Page used to sing lead vocals, but I preferred the handful of songs where Kevin Hearn took over. Page and Hearn sound nothing alike and the songs had to change accordingly. It was more interesting to hear the familiar songs with a completely new voice instead of Robertson’s (perfectly adequate) Page impression.

I mention this because Page’s approach is the complete opposite. Not only did he play songs that the Barenaked Ladies made famous, he openly discussed his removal from the band. He told stories from the past and came across like he remembered that time with fondness, but he also went into detail about how he’d disappointed people along the way and how difficult, in retrospect, he’d been to work with. The openness helped contribute to the personal feel of the show, but I suppose there’s no reason for him to try and avoid anything. His drug arrest (charges were eventually dropped) and subsequent departure from the band were well-known, and his solo career really is like starting over, in a way. Even now, over a decade removed from Barenaked Ladies’ greatest commercial success, they come to Regina and still play a 2,000-seat theatre. That’s a step down from the hockey arena I’d previously seen them at, but it’s still twenty times the people who were at Page’s solo show. But if nothing else, it does give him the freedom to do what he wants instead of what the crowd expects.

For the encore, Page and Northey were joined by Regina’s Jason Plumb and his iPad. Plumb was a member of The Waltons, officially completing the Canadian mid-90s trifecta – how did we not get a Crash Test Dummy on stage for this? Was the guy from Wide Mouth Mason busy? What about the non-Jians from Moxy Früvous? Barenaked Ladies, The Waltons, and Odds had played together in various combinations before, but this marked the first time these three played on stage together. They covered Better Be Home Soon by Crowded House and Throw Your Arms Around Me by Hunters & Collectors, with the iPad providing lyrics.

After the show, we went back to the Artesian’s basement to meet up with Page so Mary could reminisce with him about that Fishbone show (and all the events surrounding it). I first got to chat a bit with Jason Plumb; the first time I saw Barenaked Ladies, they covered the Waltons’ song Nothing Colder Than You but rewrote the lyrics to commemorate a time that Plumb had accidentally sat on the hot rocks in a sauna (alcohol may have been a factor) and burnt his ass. It turns out that Plumb was actually at that show – and on a first date, no less. “I’m so glad someone remembers that,” he said, in a way that suggested he may not have been entirely truthful. A friend he was talking to joined in with “I’ve never burnt my ass,” said in the most deadpan, matter-of-fact manner. I thought this was about the funniest thing ever. I’d say “you had to be there” but even those that were there seemed unaffected.

Anyway, after a quick chat with Plumb, we got to spend a minute talking to Page and Northey. I talked to Northey about the time I saw Odds in Saskatoon and they didn’t turn off the TVs in the bar and the band was distractedly watching WCW Monday Nitro while playing. “Did I comment on the wrestling?” Northey asked. I assured him that he had. Specifically, he asked if there was anyone out there who could stop Meng. Before reliving memories of the Fishbone show with Page, Mary grabbed a few pictures of me with Page and Northey, and while I look like a tremendous goofball in both shots, I’m glad to have them as souvenirs of the evening. Plumb, Northey, and Page were all very gracious and came across like really nice guys.

On the drive home, Mary repeatedly said that she had a great time and was glad that we went, and I had to agree. I figured the show would be decent, but I was blown away. Page was entertaining from start to finish, we got a nice diverse mix of songs, and the sound at the Artesian was great. The appearances of Northey and Plumb were great surprises. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a three-hour show, and even longer since I went to one and wasn’t ready to leave well before the artist was done. This was right up there with the best shows of the year.

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SLCR #182: Stuart McLean (December 5, 2012)

January 14, 2013

When I write concert reviews, I like to listen to the artist in question. I’m not sure if it would work so well if I was just listening to stories instead of music, but it doesn’t matter. Mika has discovered Songza, and we’ve spent the last two days listening to nothing but the hits of the 90s. Two full days of How Bizarre, Walking in Memphis, In the Meantime, Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, Machinehead, Cumbersome, Counting Blue Cars, One Headlight, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s has done nothing to put me in the Christmas spirit. That it’s the middle of January isn’t helping matters either. Better get the headphones and the Christmas music and get this underway.

I don’t know if going two years in a row is enough to make the Vinyl Cafe Christmas concert a “tradition,” exactly. My dad thinks we go every year, and I have no reason to think that we won’t go again this year, so I guess it’s as good as descriptor as any. In keeping with tradition, the format of this year’s show was almost exactly the same as last year’s. The core of the show is Stuart McLean telling Dave and Morley stories – some new, some old favourites – interspersed with songs by the Vinylettes and a guest musician. At about the halfway point of the show, McLean chats with the audience and gives away books and CDs to the youngest and oldest people in attendance. He also introduces the band and gives them a bit of the spotlight for themselves, he leads the Vinylettes in a medley of Christmas songs, and everyone in the show joins in the closing number. About the only significant change this year was replacing the listener-submitted story (maybe they only do those when they’re recording the show for radio?) with a song by a local contest winner.

I don’t listen to enough Vinyl Cafe to know which stories were reruns, so they were all new to me. We got Dave making snow (this was the best of the bunch; we heard an older, extended version of this one over our Christmas vacation), Dave and Stephanie going on a yoga retreat (I wasn’t a fan of this one – too many poop/fart jokes), and the family having Christmas dinner with Stephanie’s boyfriend’s family. As ever, I won’t go into details so as not to spoil anything for you – check the CBC podcasts on iTunes if you want to hear any of these for yourself.

Last year, the guest musician was Hawksley Workman which was what inspired me to go to the show in the first place. Before this year’s show, Mika read some reviews online, and I guess Hawksley was not necessarily appreciated by everyone. I’m not overly surprised; the Vinyl Cafe crowd skews old and Hawksley’s a weirdo. This year, the guest musician was Reid Jamieson. His songs were a lot more straightforward and traditional. Less interesting for me, but probably a better overall fit for the show. Both Jamieson and Workman have toured with the Vinyl Cafe repeatedly in the past; I bet it will be either Jill Barber or Danny Michel’s turn this year.

And… that’s about all I have to say about the evening, really. This might be a record. It’s not that I didn’t have a good time – the stories were generally entertaining, the songs were well done, and the show as a whole is a nice way to kick off the Christmas season. It was just so similar to the previous year’s show that I don’t have anything to say. I had originally thought that it would be funny to just copy and paste last year’s review with a handful of edits; in retrospect, that idea was a solid one. Maybe I’ll do that next year and see if any of you are paying attention. Or maybe I’ll just go to the show and not bother reviewing it. Or maybe the next Christmas concert will be some kind of drug-fueled bacchanalia that culminates with McLean being shot naked out of a cannon into the audience and I’ll have no choice but to report back to all y’all.

SLCR #181: Red Hot Chili Peppers (November 24, 2012)

January 14, 2013

or, “On Ticketmaster, and Why I Hate It”

This show feels like it was announced a year ago. Tickets went on sale about seven months before the concert, according to the internet. I may not remember the exact date, but the series of pointless struggles have left scars that may never heal.

November is cold, right? And snowy and icy, depending on the year. So when Dave and I decided to go to the show, we figured it was best if he bought the tickets. I’m in Regina, he’s in Saskatoon, the show was in Saskatoon, and weather gets gross. I like the Chili Peppers and all, but if there was a blizzard or ice storm or something, I might decide against risking my life just to see them. If Dave had my ticket, he could bring someone else with him and the ticket wouldn’t go to waste. This all seemed reasonable, so Dave bought the tickets. He used his special credit card paperless e-ticket front-of-the-line deal, and I don’t understand why the seats you get in presales are always so decidedly average, but whatever. They were perfectly fine seats, but you didn’t get any special advantage from buying early.

Anyway, a few months out, Dave and Jen started talking about a fall vacation and realized that the best time for them was the week of the concert. They started making plans and determined that they may or may not be back in time for the show. No big deal, these things happen, so we started looking into contingency plans, and this is where the problems began. Because they’re paperless tickets, he had nothing to give me. Our first idea was that he’d leave his credit card with someone in Saskatoon, I could pick up the card, and they’d scan the card at the arena to let me in. This would have worked unless they asked for photo ID. I suppose I could have borrowed his driver’s license and shaved my head, and hope they’d let me through with a “wow, you’ve really let yourself go to hell,” but I wasn’t willing to take the risk.

I suggested that Dave sell the tickets and give me my money back, and I’d just buy a single ticket on the day of the show if I felt like going, but that didn’t work either. Without a physical ticket, you have nothing to sell. Dave got on the phone with Ticketmaster, thinking that we are all reasonable people in a reasonable situation and this surely can’t be the first time something like this has happened. Ticketmaster essentially told him we were fucked (not in so many words) and that he shouldn’t have bought tickets (pretty much in so many words).

Of course, the whole thing wound up meaning nothing, since Dave and Jen spent their vacation house painting, so y’know, whatever. And it WAS icy and gross, but I took the bus to Saskatoon and made the driving someone else’s problem. Mostly Dave and Jen’s problem, since they had to act as chauffeurs for the weekend.

Dave picked me up at the bus station and on the way to his house, I heard a radio ad for the Chili Peppers show. You know that booming voice of God that narrates a lot of rock concert or monster truck show commercials? This one seriously said “Red Hot Chili Peppers at Credit Union Centre – FINALLY, something to look forward to.” Never before has an ad so perfectly captured the resigned desperation that comes from living in Saskatchewan. Save us, Flea!

This was on Friday. The show was on Saturday, meaning that Dave and Jen had to pick me up again before the show. I have to say, there’s something addicting about being a burden. No wonder old people seem to love it so! It’s your car and your concert tickets and your house and your city, but you have to do whatever I say. Such power!

After a tasty dinner to which I contributed absolutely nothing (see? power!), we headed out for the Credit Union Centre. Née Saskatchewan Place, Saskatoon’s hockey arena is on the outskirts of town, where it is not served by nearly enough roadway to handle a sold-out crowd. Luckily, Dave and Jen live relatively nearby and they knew a top-secret backroads way there that let us avoid most of the traffic. It may have been the same road I tried to take many years ago when in leaving a concert, I nearly killed Pat through dehydration; somehow, whatever path I took was in the opposite direction of every 7-Eleven on the planet and his sad little dry lipsmacks still haunt my nightmares. But I’m rambling.

Our opening act was the Rebirth Brass Band. I knew this a long time before the show, but somehow I never mentioned it to Mika. I wasn’t familiar with the name, and she wasn’t going to the show, so it just never came up. Well, as it so happens (and which surely everyone on Earth but me knew; that’s what I get for not paying more attention to Treme), the Rebirth Brass Band is a legendary New Orleans brass band and Mika, who could take or leave the Chili Peppers, was suddenly sad that she didn’t go to the show. A coworker of mine who saw the Peppers on their last tour through Saskatchewan (and who lived in New Orleans for a time) was equally sad he missed out this time around.

While I wasn’t initially familiar with the Rebirth Brass Band, I knew they had to be someone special. Not only did the very idea of a brass band as the opener indicate that they were personally chosen by the Peppers and not assigned by promoters or record companies, there was the small detail that they were really good. The only thing that hampered their set a little was the usual crowd apathy towards opening acts.

As for the Chili Peppers, I’ve been a fan since buying Blood Sugar Sex Magik somewhere around the spring of 1992. I hadn’t heard anything on the cassette when I bought it, but some of the cool kids in high school really liked it, and I can hop on a bandwagon with the best of them. Through the years, there were stretches where I liked them a lot and others where I almost completely quit paying attention. I’ve sang their songs in Rock Band and I have an autographed copy of their CD Californication (it’s autographed by the members of Moxy Früvous, mind you, but signed is signed). All of this led up to this concert, where I’d been a fan of the band for over 20 years but was still so unfamiliar with a bunch of their output.

As it turned out, all three of us were surprised to find that we knew pretty much all the songs. I’d forgotten just how many hits the Peppers had in their 30 years as a band (in the evening’s god-i’m-old moment, Dave mentioned that he’d heard Anthony Kiedis’ 50th birthday referenced on some entertainment news show). The setlist:
01. Monarchy of Roses
02. Around the World
03. Snow ((Hey Oh))
04. Scar Tissue
05. jam #1
06. Look Around
07. Can’t Stop
08. jam #2
09. Hard to Concentrate
10. Throw Away Your Television
11. jam #3
12. The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie
13. jam #4
14. I Like Dirt
15. Goodbye Hooray
16. Under the Bridge
17. Higher Ground
18. Californication
19. jam #5
20. By the Way
21. encore jam
22. Suck My Kiss
23. I Could Have Lied
24. Give It Away

The stage setup was your standard big-arena deal, with the band playing under giant screens that alternated between live footage and prerecorded effects (or, in the case of Give It Away, photobooth pictures of audience members taken before the show began) (by which I mean the pictures were taken, not the audience members, who were there of their own free will) (as far as I know).

I know the setlist because the Peppers sold MP3s of the concert, something I wish every band would do for every show ever. I’m listening to it right now and it’s amazing how much better the sound is in the recording than it was live. Hockey arenas really aren’t ideal venues for music. At the show, I got tired of the extended jams, but I’m enjoying them a lot more listening to them now.

Having said that, the show was still a blast and the crowd loved it, singing along to most of the hits. Under The Bridge was a particular favourite, in a popular-song-is-popular shocker. Before the encore, I’d enjoyed the show but wished for more songs from Blood Sugar Sex Magik; I can only assume they read my mind and we got three straight from my favourite Peppers album. You’re welcome, Saskatoon. As an added bonus, the Rebirth Brass Band joined the Peppers on stage for Give It Away. You could barely hear them at the show, but they’re quite clear on the recorded version and give the song a unique flair. Finally, Flea thanked us, encouraged us to support live music, and we were on our way.

After the show, we went out to the miserable parking lot and proceeded to sit in the car and not move for about 45 minutes along with 10,000 other people who were all stuck too. The Credit Union Centre is as well designed as the rest of Saskatoon, which is to say, horribly. And of course, all 10,000 of us were trying to get online with our phones to kill time, clogging the data network. I don’t know about any of the other cars, but we resorted to flipping through the satellite radio stations, stopping on a talk show on one of the porn channels. It turns out that there’s only so much of that you can take (that’s what he said) (not a typo; it was a most enlightening discussion).

So yes. All in all, a great show – but NOW what do we have to look forward to?

UPCOMING SHOWS I HAVEN’T BOUGHT TICKETS TO:
• Hannah Georgas w/The Belle Game: January 25
• Whitehorse: February 7
• Sarah Slean: February 22
• Leonard Cohen: March 9
• Electric Six: March 18
• Regina Folk Festival: August 9-11