Archive for April, 2013

SLCR #188: Junos Weekend (April 18-21, 2013)

April 30, 2013

PART 1: Q WITH JIAN GHOMESHI (Thursday, April 18)

I’m going to tell you right now, the Q section of this here review is LONG. You may want to skip the whole thing and just download the audio. It’s free, and it will take less time to listen to a two-hour show than to read this wall of words. Enjoy: http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2013/04/19/listen-to-q-live-in-regina/

Junos weekend kicked off with the one event that Mika predicted months ago. Normally taped in their comfy Toronto studio, Q tends to hit the road for special Juno-themed shows. Their infrequent live shows tend to sell out quickly, so Mika suggested that if she heard about tickets going on sale, she’d buy them right away and consult me later. I was fine with this.

Being as I am a key member of the Twitterverse, I was actually the one that heard about the show first. And – because of course it would – it was scheduled for the exact same stretch of time as one of her final exams. I was all set to opt out, thinking that it would be mean of me to go to the show without her, especially when she’s off doing something that’s no fun at all… but then I looked. Maybe shouldn’t have looked. Looking causes dilemmas. When are tickets going on sale, anyway? (Right now.) And how much are they? (Quite reasonable.) And what kind of seats are available? (Front row centre.) She sent me a text telling me that she didn’t want me to miss out on the show and that I should go, which was good, because I was already filling out the online ticket purchase form.

She was missing the show by a fluke of timing, and I was able to attend because of one. I had been scheduled to fly to Calgary on the day of the Q show, but I had rescheduled my trip to March so I could go to Hawksley’s musical instead. Win/win! For me, anyway.

Mika dropped me off at the Conexus Arts Centre on the way to her exam. I remained confident in my belief that my evening was going to be more fun than hers. Luckily, she was too distracted to be outwardly bitter.

Waiting for the show to start, I ran into a bunch of people – Pat from work, Joseph from Toastmasters, and some guy who slid down a banister at me and was revealed to be Colin. He was wearing glasses, which I’ve never seen him do before, and I swear I could have walked right past him and not known it was him. I had always doubted that whole Clark Kent/Superman nonsense but I have seen it in action and it’s surprisingly effective.

I don’t have any great story to go along with this, but while we were in the lobby, a friend of Colin’s walked by, said hi, and wandered directly into the ladies’ washroom. Colin tried to stop him at the last minute, but it was too late. I don’t know this guy, have never seen him before, may never see him again, couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, but this still needs to be recorded for posterity.

The show was set to start at 7:00, in that “if you’re not in the auditorium you will not be let in” kind of way. Once inside, they asked us to not leave during the duration of the taping if we could help it. I am a fan of this. Lay down the law. Start the show when you say you will. Promise to mock people whose phones ring. Show us who’s boss.

Local CBC morning show host Sheila Coles introduced Jian Ghomeshi to a great ovation. Ghomeshi was making his SLCR return for the first time since 1999, by my count, back when I saw his old band, Moxy Früvous, at shows in Saskatoon and Regina over two nights.

Looooooooong-time readers may recall an incident where, when talking to Jian after a show, I made some “brown-guy reference” (it’s been 15 years but I’m pretty sure those were his exact words) and in the review, tried to figure out whether or not I’d offended him, because I’m all paranoid and awkward and whatnot. Long story short, I hadn’t, and he wound up reading the review and wrote me a very nice email where he was super kind and flattering and encouraging about my writing. I don’t know if I’ve saved many emails for 15 years, but that one I kept.

For you non-Canadians, Ghomeshi (and Q itself) might be best known for an incident a few years ago where Billy Bob Thornton and his band were guests on the program. Thornton acted like a petulant dick and the video of the interview went viral. Ghomeshi got a lot of praise for how he handled the situation; not that I’ve done much in the way of critical media research, but at the time, I distinctly recall reading at least FIVE YouTube comments that didn’t include any misspellings, cuss words, or racial or homophobic slurs. That might be a site record and it speaks to how well Jian has taken to his no-longer-new role as radio show host.

In fact, possibly the best indication I can think of showing his success as the host of Q is this. On Thursday, Jian flew into Regina and mentioned on Twitter that he was heading straight to the casino from the airport in order to perform a duet with Serena Ryder. My first thought was “neat, I didn’t know he can sing.” And my second was “you saw Moxy Früvous in concert like ten times, idiot.”

Jian took the stage and talked about how great it was to be in Saskatoon. The crowd laughed, and once again I had a Moxy Früvous flashback. When I saw those back-to-back shows in 1999, Jian told the Saskatoon crowd that they’d be playing Regina the next night and everyone booed. The next night in Regina, sensing he was onto something, he said “Last night we were in Saskatoon…” and left a spot for boos that never came. You could hear crickets. The Saskatoon vs. Regina rivalry largely only operates in one direction; Saskatoon thinks they’re better and is jealous that Regina is the capital city and has the Roughriders. Regina agrees that Saskatoon is better and would probably be fine with sending the politicians up north. And really, the whole province shares the football team already.

After spirited applause (due in part to the fear of being judged against other Q live audiences), Jian kicked off the show with an opening essay about the Junos and the wide-reaching successes of the Canadian music scene. He then introduced our first guests, Dragonette, to perform their new single, My Legs. The song was fun and kicked off the show in fine fashion.

Before the show, I blew Colin’s mind when I mentioned that Jian used to be a member of Moxy Früvous. I was glad that I’d done so because Jian referenced Früvous on several occasions throughout the interview, what with it being a music-themed show and all, and I wouldn’t have wanted Colin’s head to explode all over the crowd. But when Jian introduced the lead singer of Dragonette as Martina Sorbara, my mind nearly went kaboom. Many years ago, during my first ever trip to the Vinyl Diner with Aaron, I picked up a half-dozen used CDs. Four of them were pretty much junk, but two became favourites, and both were tied to Ghomeshi in a way. One was my first Danny Michel CD, Fibsville, which I bought because I’d seen him as a guest alongside Ghomeshi on a talk show, and he seemed like a good dude. The other was (what I thought was) Martina Sorbara’s debut CD, The Cure for Bad Deeds, which I knew of because Jian produced it. I loved that record and then I never heard anything from her ever again. Years ago, before Dragonette was a thing, I Googled her name to see if I could figure out what she was up to, and all the internet knew was that she had put her solo career on hold to be in some band that I’d never heard of. I have no idea if this band was Dragonette or became Dragonette or was something else entirely.

On top of that, I’m not really familiar with Dragonette, apart from knowing they covered “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” for the first Canadian Target commercial. On the heels of this discovery, I did some more searching online to find out that she sang on this song, Hello, which was one of those songs that was in every commercial and all over the radio for the past two years, but I never knew who did it (Martin Solveig! I’m learning so much today). Also, The Cure for Bad Deeds was Sorbara’s second album; the title of the first, Unplaceables, has been shared with Aaron for the next time he makes a pilgrimage to Toronto to dig through used CD bins. It’s out of print and I want it.

The interview with Sorbara and Dan Kurtz was pretty short and mostly focused on their Juno nomination, though when Ghomeshi mentioned that Perez Hilton said that the new Dragonette album was “the album that No Doubt should have made but didn’t,” they let slip that they were going to open for No Doubt on a 20-city tour, including a stop in Regina, but No Doubt cancelled the shows. When I told Mika this, she seemed much more disappointed to miss out on No Doubt than she did to miss out on Q. Sorry, Jian.

When Sorbara left the stage, she kissed Jian on the cheek and he spent the rest of the evening with a lipstick kiss on the side of his face. This was never not delightful.

Next up was the local content, as Jian interviewed Sandra Butel, the artistic director of the Regina Folk Festival, and local comedian Jayden Pfeiffer. The discussion centered around Regina’s growing population and booming economy, and how that’s fuelling the local artistic scene. Examples included the exponential growth of the Folk Festival, with this year’s lineup arguably being its strongest ever (I’m personally looking forward to Feist, Neko Case, and Man Man), along with Pfeiffer’s monthly variety show, Red Hot Riot. The Regina arts scene was praised for its opportunities and its DIY work ethic (created in no small part by the fact that we don’t have everything that larger cities do, which gives us the freedom to create them for ourselves).

k.d. lang was the undisputed star of the show. After a glowing introduction, she sang the Jane Siberry song The Valley and earned a standing ovation. Jian later said that it was his favourite moment at any live Q taping and I didn’t have a hard time believing him.

Ghomeshi and lang have clearly known each other a long time and are very comfortable around each other. The interview was loose and conversational, starting with a discussion of how she felt about getting inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (happening during the Juno Awards ceremony itself). This led into a lengthier discussion of the nature of celebrity and how hard it is to maintain, and how she chose to take a step back from that lifestyle. It was noted that lang and recently deceased Canadian musical icons Rita MacNeil and Stompin’ Tom Connors don’t fit any of the expectations about what people expect a celebrity to look like or act like, and how they likely would never have been as successful in the States.

There were a few exchanges that I was especially fond of:

lang: “There are millions of singers who are better than me.”
crowd: “Noooooooo!”
lang: “No, there are! Maybe not in Canada, but…”
crowd: LOL

Ghomeshi: “You said once that when you got old you were going to drink a lot and smoke pot, so how’s that coming along?”
lang: “I also said I’d eat a steak and sleep with a man, so I’ve got a lot to look forward to.”
Ghomeshi: “Don’t be so sure.”

She also said that songs like Helpless and Hallelujah were easy to sing because they were such great songs. Jian agreed that this was a feeling we could all relate to. “It’s just a song” became a bit of a running joke throughout the evening.

After a six-minute break so they could slot in the news when the show aired the next day, Jian introduced Bahamas to sing his song Lost in the Light, accompanied by kd lang on backing vocals. Not only was it a great song, but the very idea of this Hall-of-Fame musical icon with a 30-year career taking a modest supporting role behind an indy singer/songwriter that, probably, a good portion of the crowd hadn’t even heard of, was amazing. Jian might believe that lang singing The Valley was the best moment in any live Q taping, but for me, it wasn’t even the best moment of the night.

Another Canadian Music Hall-of-Famer, Tom Cochrane, was in town to receive  the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award for his work with World Vision and other charities. The interview segment focused on the work he’s done and how it’s changed his perspective on life over the years. He spoke of going to Africa and seeing his daughters in the eyes of a young girl there who was cradling her mother’s head as she died. It was dark stuff, and easy to understand how something like that would change a person.

Cochrane finished by playing a new song, Pink Time, for the first time ever in public. He admitted that he was “scared shitless” to play it by himself, and joked that following k.d. lang wasn’t helping. The song was about a trucker and his wife who lived on Georgian Bay, and how he’d come back from trips and she was starting to forget who he was. They went down to the water at pink time – the time right before dusk when the sky turns pink – and didn’t come back. I haven’t really kept up with Tom Cochrane’s music since the early 90s and his biggest hit, Life is a Highway, so I don’t know if this song was representative of what he’s been doing lately, but it felt like a pretty drastic shift since those days. It was a really good song, but quite the tear jerker.

The next guests were retired Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo and retired NHL player Gary Roberts, there to discuss the Juno Cup, an annual hockey game between musicians and retired players (and for the first time this year, members of the Canadian national women’s hockey team) to raise funds for MusiCounts.  Like lang, Cuddy seemed really comfortable talking to Jian and it’s likely they’d have known each other for a long time. Roberts was a bit stiffer, as is to be expected, but he won the crowd over when talking about the importance of letting kids play without taking it too seriously, and exposing them to other sports.

The game isn’t an overly serious affair, but Cuddy did make sure to note that the musicians actually won one year (and Roberts was just as quick to point out that he wasn’t a part of the losing team) and suggested that the NHL Greats would continue toying with The Rockers but would never let that happen again. Sure enough, when the game took place, the NHL Greats won 9-8.

The final official guest was country singer Corb Lund, who played Gettin’ Down on the Mountain, from his new album Cabin Fever. The guy’s a great musician but seemed to have little interest in the interview segment, though he did point out that Saskatchewan had potash and gophers (and then corrected himself – “Richardson’s ground squirrels” – so he’d clearly done his gopher homework). He’d recently been on tour in the US, opening for Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley in giant arenas full of people who didn’t know who he was, but he didn’t seem overly concerned about trying to win them over. It was interesting – I don’t think he was trying to be difficult or that he didn’t want to participate, he just seems generally disinterested in the music scene apart from spending time with his friends. Jian seemed amused by this and teased him, finally asking in mock exasperation, “What DO you like? Is there anything you care about?” Lund responded quietly, “I like horses,” which might have been the funniest line of the evening. 

Corb got a big laugh when he said that he had no interest in country music and never listened to it, but I can see it – he mentioned liking weirder music, and he’s friends with Geoff Berner and the folks from Shout Out Out Out Out and Whitey Houston. Commercial country music probably holds little interest for someone like that (despite the fact that his newest album hit #1 on the Canadian charts the week it was released). He also used to be in a metal/punk band called The Smalls, and as Jian was trying to wrap up the interview, Lund noted that there was a “75%-80% chance” of a Smalls reunion. I honestly don’t know much about them, but if they headed this way, I’d check them out.

With that, the largest live Q taping in the show’s history came to a close. Jian had promised a Q&A segment after the taping was done, though I suspected that some folks wouldn’t stick around for it. This is why I initially didn’t think anything of the crazy lady who walked up to the front of the stage and stood directly in front of me. I thought she was leaving, and maybe she wanted to wave goodbye to Jian before she left, but no. She wanted to talk to him, and she wanted a hug, and Jian seemed a bit perplexed by this but gave her a hug and asked her name. “I no have name,” she said, in some sort of Eastern-European-type accent. “That’s odd, most people do,” mused Jian, as his smiling producer strolled over to usher the lady back to her seat. She hugged him too. Jian promised that he’d meet people out in the lobby and chat and sign books later, and told the nameless Soviet that he’d remember her. I’m sure crazy things happen to him all the time, but I have no doubt that this one will stick with him for a few days.

Before launching into the Q&A, Jian brought Bahamas back out to sing “I Must Be in a Good Place Now,” which isn’t on his albums, as far as I can tell, but is on a new iTunes-exclusive EP. It’s a very pretty song, as Bahamas songs tend to be (I had heard two in my life, by this point, so I am an expert), but in chatting with Jian, Bahamas seemed like he had quite the sense of humour too. More on that later.

The Q&A went pretty well. Jian told a story about Rush (it’s in his book, so go get it – I’m not giving that away on him), talked about dealing with difficult guests (noting that Whitney Houston’s mother was harder to deal with than Billy Bob Thornton, because Thornton was hostile but would at least talk), and confirmed that he did miss being in a band. He said that especially when he has bands on his show, he always wants to jump in and play drums and sing harmonies. I think it is great that he feels this way and clearly, the only answer is one more Moxy Früvous album. And tour. Or at least a one-off show here.

I was set to head home once everything was done. The plan was for me to leave the Conexus Arts Centre on foot, walk to someplace that Mika could find (and wouldn’t be overrun with post-show traffic), and she’d meet me there. I got about three steps out of the building when I decided that it was cold, snowing, slippery, and if it was going to be forever until she picked me up, she might as well just pick me up there. Besides, like I said, me and Jian, we go way back, so I thought I should take the opportunity to thank him for being so nice to me all those years ago.

I took my spot in line and spent about an hour slowly inching my way to the front. Finally, there were only two people ahead of me. The guy at the front was getting his Moxy Früvous Bargainville CD booklet signed. Jian flipped through the pictures and seemed quite nostalgic for a second there. (See? New record! Tour! Great idea!)

But that’s not my point. Sitting next to Jian was a girl who was selling copies of his book, 1982. While Bargainville Guy was getting his booklet signed, the guy behind me was buying a book for Jian to sign. And this guy, out of nowhere, brings up Jonovision, a late-90s Canadian talk show aimed at high school-age kids, hosted by Jonathan Torrens of Street Cents and Trailer Park Boys fame. And this girl was delighted to be recognized from her time on Jonovision, and I was like… there were girls on Jonovision? There was anyone beyond Jon on Jonovision? Granted, I was a bit old for Jonovision by the time it launched, but not THAT far out of the target demographic. Meanwhile, I don’t know if this guy saw every episode or what, but there was no “hey, aren’t you…” or “maybe I’m crazy, but you look like…” Nope, he KNEW this girl on sight. It was the damnedest thing. I was almost disappointed when it was my turn to talk to Jian because I wanted to hang around and eavesdrop on these folks talking Jonovision.

I had probably two minutes to chat with Jian, which was very generous of him when you figure he’d been awake early enough to appear on the local CBC morning show, he’d just taped a two-hour show, and had been signing autographs and posing for pictures for an hour. I got to thank him for taking the time to write me so long ago. He seemed to appreciate the story and looked pleased to have made such an impact. I got a quick picture with him and headed to the doors to wait for Mika, who confirmed that I’d had more fun that night than she had. I bought her a Frosty and some fries to make up for it, so we’re all square now, right?

PART 2: JUNOFEST (Friday, April 19)

The deal with Junofest is that you buy a wristband and it gives you weekend-long access to any of a number of venues. There were a number of intriguing options on the schedule, but our top pick – and it wasn’t even close – was the annual Six Shooter Records showcase, Outlaws & Gunslingers. This year, it was being held at the Exchange, which is not that big a venue, especially considering the lineup. Personal favourites and SLCR veterans Danny Michel, Corb Lund, and Sarah Slean were joined by Amelia Curran, Jason Plumb & The Willing, Jim Cuddy (of Blue Rodeo), Mike Plume, and Royal Wood. We saw that roster and knew it was where we wanted to be. Six Shooter, however, must have been unconvinced, as a week or two before the show, I saw a poster online which included all of the above PLUS Great Lake Swimmers, NQ Arbuckle, Rose Cousins, Devin Cuddy, Belle Starr, Kevin Parent, and The Strumbellas. At this point, I was concerned that even some of the musicians would wind up turned away for lack of space.

Doors were scheduled to open at 8:00. We got there at about 7:40, which was later than I’d initially wanted to arrive. There were good reasons (our cat was sick with sneezes and it was hard to leave the poor little guy – plus it was stupidly cold out for April) and bad (the inherent laziness and apathy which has made me the man I am today). By the time we got to the Exchange, the line was out the door and around the corner. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, really, but I still only gave us a 50/50 shot at getting in.

As we approached, I thought “hey, I think that’s Mandi at the end of the line.” It was, but we didn’t get to talk, as a half-dozen of the worst people wound up between us. These guys. Holy shit. They were loud and they were stupid, drinking outside and leaving a trail of crushed beer cans behind them, letting all their friends into the line, spitting all over, pissing on the side of the building, farting NOT on the side of the building, and just generally being tremendous douchebags. On a weekend when Tom Cochrane was being honoured for humanitarian work and k.d. lang was held up as a shining example of the value of being true to yourself, I wanted these dickbags to get the flesh-eating disease and I wanted to spend the weekend watching it run its course.

In all fairness to said dickbags, everyone was letting people into the line. And that’s the story of how we made it into the building’s external doors but not into the Exchange itself. Denied. If anyone had been policing the line, we likely would have made it.

We debated hanging around to see how long it would take people to leave – with the wristbands, there was a one-in, one-out policy – but we figured that nobody who got in would want to risk leaving. Instead, we turned around, fought through the mass of people (the line still stretched back to the point where we’d originally started), and went to the car in hopes of finding someplace more accommodating. We took solace in the knowledge that the dickbags didn’t get in either – and if they stuck around, they were going to be really sad to learn that it wasn’t a Corb Lund solo show like they all thought.

Our backup choice was the University of Regina campus bar, the Owl. I hadn’t been there in years but remembered it being a lot more sizeable than the Exchange. And indeed, it was. We were among the first people to arrive (the show there was starting an hour later than at the Exchange) and we even snagged a table.

Killing time before Indigo Joseph began, Mika had taken my phone and was scrolling through my Instagram pictures when some guy came by our table. I thought he was asking to take the empty chair, but no, he wanted to join us. He was on the Junos organizing committee and was doing a survey. Mika slid my phone to me, still on, face-up, still in Instagram. And the picture on display for our guest was a screenshot of a Draw Something game where I’d been tasked with drawing “laxative” and I (of course) drew a stickman launching himself into the air over a toilet via diarrhea rocket propulsion. Like a jetpack, kinda, but with poop. Our new Junos friend either didn’t see this or was kind enough to ignore it. When I pointed all this out to Mika later, she looked prouder than I’ve ever seen her. 

We told Survey Man what events we were planning on taking in over the weekend, and related the details of the gong show at the Exchange. I had also snarked at Six Shooter and the Exchange on Twitter (though I sat on the tweet for five minutes and my path-of-rage tweet had calmed down to an I-love-you-guys-but-hey-maybe-do-something-else-next-time, which I figure was for the best).

There are more wristband shenanigans to come, but this seems like as good a place as any to say that the whole wristband process just didn’t work for us. During our time at the Owl, I kept checking Twitter for updates. At 11:30, there were people still lined up to get into the Exchange who’d been there when we left at 8:00. The Owl was eventually backed up out the door and bouncers were advising people to go elsewhere. And it was the same pretty much everywhere – a 15-minute line here, a 30-minute line there. I stand by my original statement that the Six Shooter showcase should have been at a larger venue (though, admittedly, I found myself stumped when they asked me to recommend one), but as the night went on, it seemed like the too-small-venue issue was widespread. If the goal of the wristbands is to encourage people to venue-hop, it failed, at least for us. The only workable strategy I could see was to pick one place, show up early, and stay there. Once inside, why would you ever leave and risk spending the next hour lined up in sub-zero weather instead of listening to bands? I’m sure there are lots of people who went from place to place and had a great time and saw everyone they wanted to see, but not me.

I’m sorry that CBC didn’t record my rantings so you could have listened to an MP3 and skipped all that.

There were four acts scheduled for the Owl, and after all that whining above, I don’t have all that much to say about them.

Indigo Joseph is a local band who I had thought we’d just seen, but I have no sense of time and it was actually over a year ago (they opened for Michael Bernard Fitzgerald at the Exchange last March). I thought they’d improved a fair bit since last year, and I liked them well enough then. They’re really talented musicians and if they keep on this path, they might not be “just” a local band before too long.

Next up was Rococode, and I couldn’t really tell you anything about them. They reminded me of Stars, in the sense that there was absolutely nothing about them that I should have any reason to dislike, but I just wasn’t feeling it. They were perfectly fine, but it didn’t click with me. I assume it’s just me and I’d be willing to give them a try on another night (they stuck around Regina and played another show a few days later, which I did not make it to, but do not let that detract from the veracity of my previous statement).

I’d heard lots of praise for Hannah Georgas and she was really good. Is it wrong if I stop there and say nothing else? No? Good.

We stuck it out for most of Georgas’ set before getting tired (we’re old) and going home. The fourth band was Yukon Blonde and I will assume they were great.

PART 3: JUNOFEST (Saturday, April 20)

Okay, let’s try this again. After a semi-successful (at best) Friday, we got ourselves all pumped up for round two. This time, we’d be early. This time, we’d get in. This time, we’d see our first picks.

As I am old, my first choice was the show at Casino Regina – The Minnow, The Waltons, and Odds. Two bands I knew from when I was in high school and an early start time (and end time). This seemed feasible.

We got to the casino shortly after doors opened, for more Fun With Wristbands™. Those of us who’d bought the passes were shoved off to one side while they let in people who’d purchased tickets just for this one show. Now, if you read the official JunoFest schedule, you’d see that there were some shows that were only letting in fifty people with wristbands; otherwise, you had to buy a separate ticket to get in. This show, however, had no such disclaimer. And for all shows without that disclaimer, wristbands were supposed to get you priority access, and the venues weren’t even supposed to sell individual show tickets unless there was capacity available.

I also saw the casino’s poster for the show, which did state that only a “limited number” of people with wristbands would be allowed in. It didn’t say how many wristband people would get in, and it’s not like the poster was everywhere – I saw it on the casino’s Facebook page, and that’s it.

Mika and I had debated what to do if we couldn’t get in with wristbands. I didn’t really want to have to buy separate tickets for this show, since as much as I like Odds, I’ve seen them a few times before, and tickets were $30 each and we’d already paid $30 apiece for the wristbands. And it was looking like we’d have to make the call, since we were stuck in that line. At least we were inside and the people ahead of us in line weren’t spitting and farting. That I know of.

But then a wonderful thing happened. The lady at the front of the wristband line pitched a giant fit about how this wristband thing was garbage and they should let us in because otherwise what is the point of these wristbands and here’s the schedule and YOU SHOW ME where it says that you’re only letting in so many people with wristbands and on and on. The casino people said “this isn’t our event” and tried to avoid making a decision but Loud Lady was an unstoppable force and eventually they just waved us in. As the evening progressed, it seemed like more and more wristband people showed up – possibly they’d been turned away from other venues? – so I am assuming that the casino was just letting everyone in if they had a wristband, and it was all because of one loud lady. I salute you, crusader for justice, champion of consumers’ rights, and fan of early-90s CanCon. 

The first band was The Minnow and the internet has failed in telling me much about them. As far as I can tell, they were kind of big in Regina in the early 90s as The S.S. Minnow, but Gilligan’s lawyers made them change their name. They don’t play together much anymore – one of them said that this was their first show in 10 years, but I thought I’d read that they played the closing of The Distrikt. Either way, they played a short set (35 minutes) of Waltons-sounding rock (I guess that’s just the sound of early-90s Regina?) and a cover of Flo Rida’s Low (for which they awarded themselves the Juno for Mediocre Rap Performance by a Middle-Aged White Band) and it was perfectly fine.

The Waltons’ big song was Nothing Colder Than You, and it’s what they opened with. Lead singer Jason Pumb (also of Jason Plumb & The Willing, and/or that Steven Page show a few months back) launched into it, saying “here’s a song you just heard playing out in the lobby.” Off the top of my head, I really only remembered two Waltons songs; that one, and a cover of The Boxer which got a lot of radio play when I was in Grade 11. They didn’t play The Boxer but there were a handful of other songs that I recognized during their 35-minute set, and I finally got a definitive answer regarding how to pronounce the first word of their album Lik My Trakter (it’s “like,” not “lick”). There was also a brief mention of a part played on one of their albums by their former keyboardist, “our friend, Todd Lumley” (a.k.a. Mr. Lonely). These guys don’t play together all that often anymore either – though I KNOW they were at the closing of the Distrikt – and it was pretty cool to finally see them. 

After two really short sets, I was hoping that Odds would play for a while, since they were going on last. And they did! Instead of the evening’s standard of 35 minutes, they made it all the way to 45 minutes! At least their set was all hits in front of an appreciative crowd. Apart from one new song (Write It In Lightning; “new” apparently means “five years old”) and the theme to Corner Gas, the setlist was alarmingly similar to an Odds mixtape I made partway through university. Odds on one side, Wide Mouth Mason on the other. Often listened to while mowing the lawn. Someone Who’s Cool, indeed.

I held out hope that we’d get The Last Drink for the encore, which I’ve never heard played live (I love it, but it is admittedly not a fun-times party song). No surprise, we didn’t get it. Instead, Odds were joined for one last song by long-time pal and collaborator, Regina’s own Colin James. I’ve lived in Regina for almost 10 years and lived in Saskatchewan my whole life and somehow I’d made it this long without actually seeing Colin James. Between him and the Waltons, it was a good evening for getting caught up on the local zeitgeist of 1994. I look forward to seeing Rah Rah and Library Voices at the 2032 Junos.

With the evening’s early end, we considered trying our luck at the Owl or the downtown tent, but it was sleeting and windy and we decided to pack it in and cut the stupid wristbands off. I was a little disappointed to get home and find out that Classified was joined on stage by Maestro Fresh Wes (I don’t want to hear anything about any shortened name). Grade school me still has a Maestro Fresh Wes concert on his bucket list, along with getting a complete set of WWF stickers from Hostess chip bags, and inventing a Nintendo that also plays Sega games.

PART 4: SONGWRITERS’ CIRCLE (Sunday, April 21)

Again, feel free to skip this part: http://music.cbc.ca/concerts/2013-Juno-Songwriters-Circle-2013-04-21

I bought tickets to the Songwriters’ Circle well before the lineup was announced. I haven’t paid attention to past years’ shows, but Mika said that they can be hit or miss. I’m sure she was leaning towards miss when they announced the performers on the radio and somehow forgot to mention Kathleen Edwards, Danny Michel, and Classified.

We drove downtown on Sunday morning and parked by the porn store near the casino. If there’s one thing I know, there’s always good parking to be had by the porn store. You could tell the Junos were in town because the mannequins in the porn store window were holding musical instruments. “Gonna Get Loud,” indeed.

We got to the casino shortly before noon. Due to the hellacious wind, we entered through the closest doors instead of the ones by the show lounge. I’m always amazed at how many people are up and at’em, ready to gamble a Sunday morning away. I can see a Vegas vacation being a special occasion, but this is essentially an abandoned train station which has been converted into a warehouse full of VLTs. Maybe I’m still bitter about the time that Price Is Right slot machine took away thirty of my dollars in, like, two spins. 

The ever-present Sheila Coles took to the stage right at noon to introduce the day’s host, Tom Cochrane, and the first round of guests: country singer Crystal Shawanda (with guitarist Gary Dewayne), Colin James, Classified, and David Myles. The format was pretty simple; each person would take a turn talking about one of their songs and then playing it. Knowing nothing about Shawanda, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed her songs. She had a real roughness in her voice and paired well with Cochrane on his song from Q, Pink Time. (She noted that after he played it for her backstage, she had to get her makeup redone.)

The real stars of the first half were Classified and David Myles. The pair, likened to “Eminem meets Buddy Holly” by Tom Cochrane, are a bit of an odd couple, but the rapper/folk singer partnership has landed them a big hit song in Inner Ninja. Myles seemed greatly amused at the idea that he’d won a Juno award for Best Rap Recording, noting that he’d performed at lots of hip-hop shows and was so pleased to turn the tables on Classified and let HIM be the fish out of water for a change. Their acoustic versions of Inner Ninja and The Day Doesn’t Die were crowd pleasers, and I talked to more than one person after the show who said they had no interest in rap and were surprised at how much they enjoyed these two.

The radio broadcast was to be split into two parts, so after the first hour, the guests left and were replaced with Bahamas, Kathleen Edwards, and Danny Michel. I’ve loved Michel’s music since the first time I heard it, and I thought Edwards’ album Voyageur was the best record of 2012 and criminally under-represented at the Junos if you think that sort of thing actually means anything (answer: only when it validates my existing opinions), so I wasn’t expecting Bahamas to steal the show, but indeed, he did. This was made all the more impressive because Edwards wasn’t about to give up the show without a fight – she walked on stage, sat down, and immediately turned to Tom Cochrane and asked if people ever called him “The Cock.”

Cochrane: “I like that!”
Edwards: “I BET you do.”
Cochrane: “I do need a title for my next album…”
Michel: “Greatest Hits?”
Edwards (off-mic to Michel): “Greatest Cocks!”

I’m truly saddened that this exchange didn’t make the radio broadcast. But if you listen to that streaming audio link above and you can’t make out what Edwards is saying as Cochrane starts playing Back in the Game Again, now you know. She’s saying “greatest cocks.”

At least the broadcast left in the part where she accused Fred Penner of getting “totally shitfaced” the night before.

I was supposed to be talking about Bahamas here, but I got distracted by cocks. Bahamas was born Afie Jurvanen, which is much harder to spell and remember (unless you’re Finnish) (I think). He’s come through Regina several times and every time, Mark has tried to get me to go, and every time, I had something better to do, such as not leaving the house and doing things. I see now that this was a mistake. He’s a compelling mix of quick, dry wit and sweet, sincere songs. He charmed everyone when he revealed (well, when Kathleen Edwards made him reveal) that he had a lock of his wife’s hair woven into his guitar strap. His story about writing a song after smoking a joint had people rolling, but I was more entertained by his explanation of casino policies; Danny Michel said that the darkened theatre made it hard to know what time it was and Bahamas said “that’s how they get all your money.” He responded to the awkward laughter with a sincere “it’s by design, you know?” He may not get invited back to play the casino, but he will be at the Regina Folk Festival this summer and I’m looking forward to being there.

The Songwriters’ Circle came to a close with a group performance of Cochrane’s classic Life is a Highway. I wonder if he gets tired of that? I mean, I’m still tired of it, nearly twenty years removed from when it dominated the radio, and I don’t get asked to play it every day.

For posterity, here’s the full setlist:

Tom Cochrane – Big League (Cochrane)
Crystal Shawanda – Dirty
Colin James – National Steel
Classified & David Myles – The Day Doesn’t Die
Tom Cochrane & Crystal Shawanda – Pink Time
Crystal Shawanda – Chains
Colin James – Heaven Knows Your Name
Classified & David Myles – Inner Ninja
Tom Cochrane – Back In The Game Again
Bahamas – Sobering Love
Kathleen Edwards – Asking For Flowers
Danny Michel – Sad and Beautiful World
Tom Cochrane – Good Times
Bahamas – Sunshine Blues
Kathleen Edwards – Empty Threat (Edwards)
Danny Michel – Who’s Gonna Miss You
Tom Cochrane – Life Is A Highway

Set free into downtown Regina at 2:30 in the afternoon, Mika and I did the only sensible thing; we went for breakfast. Fresh & Sweet is highly recommended. Full of red velvet pancake and white chocolate banana bread, we lurched our way home, settled into food comas, and prepared ourselves for the evening.

PART 5: THE JUNO AWARDS (Sunday, April 21)

Didn’t go. Never even considered trying to get tickets. I suppose I might have if they’d announced k.d. lang, Serena Ryder, Hannah Georgas, and Metric as performers BEFORE tickets went on sale, but really, this sort of show just isn’t my thing. I followed updates for a while on Twitter as the night progressed, which was kind of weird since I do own a TV – two, in fact – and never once considered tuning in. I hear tell some people won some awards. Good for them!

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SLCR #187: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald’s Birthday Spectacular (March 23, 2013)

April 14, 2013

Whenever I go to Calgary to visit my grandparents, I always seem to find a few shows to go to. Michael Bernard Fitzgerald is not one of those acts that’s too big to play Regina, but I hadn’t seen him in a while, and it doesn’t look like he’s touring right now. Besides, it was his birthday party – how could I not go? He’d have been so disappointed.

The show was at the MacEwan Ballroom, which is several floors above MacEwan Hall, site of last year’s Kasabian and Cat Empire shows. I got there shortly after the doors were supposed to open and took my place in a big ol’ line. The holdup was caused by security checking bags and frisking each person as they entered; I had no idea MBF fans were so prone to violence. If anything, I thought I noticed an above-average number of hugs among people at the show. I don’t think they were secret knife hugs.

For his birthday, MBF asked people to wear their finest Canadian tuxedoes to his show; that being, of course, a denim shirt with blue jeans. I even overheard people in line wondering how strictly this dress code was going to be enforced. I did wear jeans, but I don’t own a denim shirt or jean jacket and didn’t feel like tracking one down just for the occasion. This probably makes me a bad sport. Fortunately for me, there were enough people who didn’t join in that I didn’t stand out (no more so than usual, anyway), but lots of people did play along. Some went all out; I’m talking jeans, denim shirt, denim tie (!), jean jacket combos. In a Calgary Herald interview printed before the show, Fitzgerald said that he’d gone to a tailor to have something special to wear for the evening.

As befits a celebration, the show was stacked. There were four opening acts that played for over two hours, and the first was my favourite of the bunch. Scenic Route to Alaska is a two-piece act from Edmonton (their website says there are three of them, but I only saw two, and I refuse to dispute mine own eyes). They played very energetic straight-up rock with a hint of… not country, exactly, but sort of? I wouldn’t describe them as a country act but if you only like country, you could still really enjoy these guys. I don’t know if they ever make it out to Regina, but if they do, I’d be likely to go check them out.

Next up was Cole Hruska, a Calgary singer-songwriter. I think he said he was 15, which, Jesus, really? Is that even possible? I’m pretty sure when I was 15 I was playing Mega Man IV despite not having beaten any of the previous ones (though I told people I did). Anyway, this was just him and a guitar playing some very earnest songs. It wasn’t so much my thing, but he won the crowd over – judging from the reaction, a good number of people were there just to see him. Closing with Call Me Maybe (segueing in and out of Thrift Shop for good measure) was a crowd-pleaser.

Our third performer was Mark Mills. He sang and played guitar over prerecorded beats and possessed a sweet mustache and sweeter dance moves. I cannot stress the sweetness of these dance moves enough. I mean, it was more flailing, you know? Spastic flailing. But sweet spastic flailing. At the time, I had no idea what to make of this, and I still don’t. I am not 100% convinced that this wasn’t some sort of elaborate practical joke. Whatever it was, I was greatly entertained.

After Mills wrapped up, a local radio DJ came out and plugged his station and the night’s sponsors; standard DJ stuff. He also said we’d be joined shortly by our fourth and final opener, Teddy Celebration. Contrary to what you might assume based on that last paragraph, it was only here when we truly entered the WTF? portion of the evening. After three musical acts, a guy wandered out onto the stage to zero fanfare and played standard dance music. It took a while before I realized that this was not just the random music they were playing between sets. There was a distinct lack of dancing among the people in attendance; mostly, people just stood around and talked. Some swayed back and forth a bit while they did it but it looked like they were just trying to be polite. They did seem to like it when he played Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.

After about 15 minutes of this, the person I assume to be Teddy Celebration was joined by someone I initially thought was a vocalist, but no, he was a roadie doing the soundcheck for Fitzgerald. Just smack dab in the middle of the music, “check check one two” on the mics, testing out the drums, that sort of thing. It was very strange. Eventually, Soundcheck Man tapped Possibly Teddy Celebration on the shoulder and gave him the sign to wrap it up. Teddy Celebration is apparently a man who takes orders seriously, as he immediately shut off the music and walked off. Soundcheck Man gestured for the audience to applaud, which they did politely.

Finally, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald took over the stage with an army of musicians. For most of the show, there were somewhere around a dozen people on stage including two drummers, three horn players (who you may recall as The Horny Boys from the Regina Folk Festival), three backup singers, and MBF himself. All of the openers came out for one of the closing songs, and there was barely room enough for everyone.

And of course, everyone was wearing denim. And they all seemed really hot. After a few songs, MBF took off his jean jacket to reveal a denim shirt, and lost the shirt in short order to show off his denim muscle shirt, which he had specially made for the evening and he believed to be the only one in existence. I’m sure someone else has had the idea at some point, but I am not going to let Google Images ruin this moment for me.

A few songs in, the crowd spontaneously launched into singing Happy Birthday. As soon as they were done, some of the crew brought a giant bottle-shaped cake out on stage (alas, I didn’t see what kind of bottle) and everyone sang again. MBF gets a decent reaction in Regina, but in his hometown of Calgary, he is beloved. It sounded like he’s had a lot of radio support there, and the crowd sang along with his old songs and the new ones – Care For You, Movie Life, Firecracker, Follow, and especially Brand New Spaces – people near me were yelling for that one all night and the crowd didn’t need to be told to stomp stomp stomp CLAP along. He also covered It Ain’t Me, Babe, and wrapped up the show as he last did in Regina, by starting off with Low and turning it into Dancing in the Dark. And he did let us know that despite Earth Hour taking place during the course of the show, he wasn’t allowed to kill the lights for Dancing in the Dark. Something about a “fire hazard.” Killjoys.

All told, the show was great fun. MBF is always great and the crowd put it over the top. If I was going to nitpick anything, MBF’s set was surprisingly short. With the encore, he wrapped everything up in just under an hour. I’d been there for close to four hours at that point, so I shouldn’t complain, but Fitzgerald was the guy I was there to see and I’d have preferred more of him and maybe not so much soundcheck-enhanced dance hits of the 80s and 90s.

But whatever, MBF was off to mingle with fans and celebrate his birthday and I was off to retrieve my parka from the coat check and catch the train back home. I’m pretty sure that I was in the coat check line for about a hundred years, but seeing as how I’m not dead or anything, that’s likely not right.

#humblebrag

April 2, 2013

Okay, guys, I don’t want to get all cocky here, but a big ol’ pile of people liked my review of The God That Comes. My inbox was filling up with WordPress notifications. I’ve been writing reviews forever and barely getting any attention outside of friends and family, so I gotta say, it’s pretty gratifying to finally be making some progress.

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RIP: Rock Band (November 20, 2007 – April 2, 2013)

April 2, 2013

With today’s release of Don McLean’s classic American Pie, I have 1,082 songs in my Rock Band collection. I know this because I keep a spreadsheet. Of COURSE I keep a spreadsheet.

I’m glad I don’t have an exact figure of how much I’ve spent on Rock Band; I know that “hundreds” doesn’t begin to cover it and that’s as much as I care to admit. But whatever, we all have our “thing” and despite people occasionally wondering if I was stuck in 2009, Rock Band was one of my things.

But American Pie was specifically chosen to be today’s release because it’s an appropriate fit for the day. After more than five years of weekly releases, Rock Band’s developer, Harmonix, will no longer be adding new songs to the library.

In a sense, this is the end of an entire genre of gaming. First popularized in North America by Guitar Hero, music games were a brief but massive fad. For a while, it seemed like every gamer I knew had at least one of these games and a plastic guitar. I remember going from store to store to store to find a place that hadn’t sold out of Guitar Hero III on its launch day (October 28, 2007), but by the time Rock Band 3 came out in 2010, nobody outside of a handful of diehards seemed to notice or care. If anything, it’s a wonder Harmonix didn’t stop releasing new songs years ago.

And yet, I was taken by surprise by the announcement that Rock Band downloadable content was ending. The number of new songs had clearly slowed over the past while, but I was hopeful that this was a compromise that would keep SOME fresh content coming for the foreseeable future. But between the ever-dwindling player base and the forthcoming next generation of consoles, it just didn’t make sense for Harmonix to continue putting out new songs. It’s disappointing, but I couldn’t expect them to do otherwise. 

Over the five years, my collection’s grown to include some great stuff. I’ve got lots of White Stripes, Nirvana, Johnny Cash, Queen, R.E.M., and Foo Fighters. I’m the exact right age to appreciate having Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik album in its entirety. I’ve got Total f’n Eclipse of the f’n Heart. And even in the game’s dying days, Harmonix still managed to throw me Oingo Boingo’s Weird Science, Walk This Way by Aerosmith, and that song by The Flys that I thought was sort of okay a decade ago and promptly forgot about.

Okay, they aren’t all winners. I’ve been known to buy songs solely for the sheer party-killing potential involved, just because I think that sort of thing is hilarious. Who wouldn’t want to have a fun night with friends, flailing away on plastic instruments to the tune of Barenaked Ladies’ Hannukah Blessings? Or the updated version of St. Elmo’s Fire with lyrics about Tim Tebow? Or not one, not two, but THREE songs by SpongeBob Squarepants?

(I’m not sure what category Billy Joel fits into, but I was much more excited to add his songs to my collection than I should probably admit.)

The new songs helped me customize the game to my liking but more importantly, they were great for enticing family and friends to play along. I’m not much of a competitive gamer; I feel bad if I’m better than my opponent, and if I’m worse (basically 100% of the time), I get frustrated. Some of my favourite group gaming memories are really of games where we all took turns, passing the controller around, everyone encouraging the player. And no game that I’ve played has been better at creating that feeling of camaraderie than Rock Band. There’s something great about getting four (or more) players going at once, no-fail mode turned on for the non-gamers, and a song that everyone knows. It’s worked as well for drunken late nights with friends as with Sunday afternoon family gatherings at my mom’s house.

Pro tip: you can never go wrong with The Gambler.

Of course, Rock Band isn’t truly over. I’ve got lots of songs I haven’t even played yet, and with over 4,000 songs available, there are still plenty left for me to pick up. And the Rock Band Network program, which allows bands to add their own songs into the game, is still accessible for now, at least on the Xbox 360. It never has much that interests me but there’s the occasional hidden gem in there. And even once that’s done, I’ll keep playing off and on until my Xbox 360 dies or is sent to live on the farm (big Rubbermaid tub in the office closet). Gotta maximize my 1,082-song investment, after all.

But it’s still a bit sad. There are lots of bands I like that never made it into the game and now never will. There will be no more Friday mornings refreshing Twitter to get the first look at what the next week’s songs will be. And I can see my interest waning over time just like everyone else without new songs to suck me back in. (I’ve already had a brief fling with the Xbox 360’s new Karaoke Channel app. Please don’t judge me.)

Harmonix deserves all the credit in the world for bringing this ridiculous game into existence, and moreover, for going the extra mile for players long after it was likely financially feasible to do so. They hosted Rock Band events, were accessible to fans via social media, were generous with prizes, patched the game to add in features two years after launch, and did an insane amount of complicated licensing work to ensure that players could keep their existing songs when upgrading games. So thank you, Harmonix, for five great years, 4,000 songs, so many fun nights, and (speaking for myself here) inspiring some of the worst singing you’ve ever heard. I got a lot better but I never got good.