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

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.

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