Archive for December, 2014

SLCR #208: Spirit of the West (November 21, 2014)

December 11, 2014

I don’t imagine there’s anything interesting about how I pick which shows to go to. I go see bands I already know I like, or I go see bands I’ve heard good things about. Price matters. The schedule of the rest of my life matters. My general levels of old-man fatigue matter.

The ticket-buying decision for Spirit of the West was a little bit different. I first saw them when they headlined the 2004 Regina Folk Festival. Before then, I was familiar with many of their bigger singles, as most Canadians would be. I don’t think you can legally hold a wedding dance in Canada without playing Home for a Rest. I had a great time at the Folk Festival show, and assumed I’d go see them again sometime.

Of course, that didn’t happen. There was always an excuse. No money, no time, too tired, something else going on, just don’t feel like it right now, whatever. Next thing you know, it had been a decade. These things happen. I’ve never been to the RCMP Museum or the Tunnels of Moose Jaw either, and I only made it to the Milky Way for the first time last year. Fantastic ice cream and it took me nine years to get around to it.

I had some excuse for not going to this Spirit of the West show too. I don’t remember what it was. I knew they were coming and I knew tickets went on sale, but I didn’t buy. Some combination of time/money/interest/whatever. And then in early September, lead singer John Mann went public with the news that, at 51, he’d been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The Globe & Mail article where I first learned the news was heartbreaking. I have no idea how someone could face something like that at all, much less in front of the world.

I had barely finished reading the article when I bought the show tickets. It felt almost ghoulish. I’ve made jokes about seeing certain performers because “if I don’t do it now, I’m not likely to get another chance,” but this was the first time it felt like that was what I was actually doing.

In his official statement, Mann said, “Hearing the news has been a difficult blow. My family and I have taken some time to try and absorb the ramifications as we struggle to come to terms with the changes that have occurred and are yet to come. But I don’t want to spend any more energy trying to hide my symptoms. I don’t want to feel embarrassed. I want to accept what has happened and live. I will continue to make music and I will continue to do shows. I need to use an iPad now to help with the lyrics, and for my solo shows, either Al Rodger or Tobin Frank will accompany and support me with their diverse and abundance of talents. My Spirit of the West band mates have circled me with care and we will forge ahead as we’ve been doing the last 30 odd years with humour and friendship, playing our hearts out. I will continue to write and tour, because this is what I do and what I love.”

That sounds like someone who isn’t giving up without a fight. And it sounds like someone who’d think that this whole stupid review thing sounds a bit too much like a eulogy, thank you very much.

When you go to shows at the casino, you sit in the balcony or you sit at a table. For most of my recent shows there, we’ve had a full table of four. But since this was just going to be the two of us, we had to split a table with strangers. I saw all kinds of people that I know at this show – internet friends, work friends, Toastmasters friends. We did not luck into sitting with any of them.

Upon arriving at the casino, we noticed a ton of people with nametags, wearing suits and fancy dresses. The people were, I mean. The nametags were pretty plain. We were joined at our table by a suit/dress couple. She seemed nice. He very much seemed like he didn’t want to be sitting with us. I don’t blame him; we were woefully underdressed. Mika got the impression that they seemed like they might be on an awkward first date. When the dude left to get drinks, Mika asked the lady if they were with the nametag people. She said yes, and told us that they were with KPMG’s Christmas party. Not sure how we wound up at their table, but whatever. Thanks for letting us crash your party, KPMG. Next time, can we have drink tickets too?

Google tells me that KPMG are certified public accountants. KPMG’s website tells me that “KPMG combines our multi-disciplinary approach with deep practical industry knowledge to help clients meet challenges and respond to opportunities.” Score one for Google. I suppose it’s presumptuous of me to suggest that I can write website copy better than KPMG can, but I can, so suck it.

There was no opening act. Spirit of the West took the stage right on time. I suppose the first question is, would I have known anything was up if I hadn’t read that article? Yes, I would have, if only because while singing, Mann never took his eyes off the iPad. I knew it would be there and why it was there, but I wasn’t expecting him to be quite so glued to it. He didn’t do much talking; he told one story close to the end of the set, but it was apparent he was reading that as well. But beyond that, his voice was there, his trademark dancing was there, it was a full-energy Spirit of the West show. No asterisk.

They played pretty much everything that this casual fan would have wanted. I didn’t take notes, and right now it’s very late and I don’t think Mika would appreciate it if I woke her up to say “hey, they played Is This Where I Come In, right?” I will say that the only notable (to me) omission was Two Headed, which I’ve always had a soft spot for.

I shouldn’t even need to mention that they closed with Home for a Rest. There would have been a mutiny if they hadn’t. I filmed it and stuck it on YouTube, in case you want to see it (or want to see the rowdiest crowd I’ve ever seen at a casino show, which admittedly isn’t saying much, but still – it’s very much a sit-down-applaud-politely kind of place):

During the show, no mention was made of Mann’s condition until just before the encore, when Geoffrey Kelly introduced Mann as “the bravest man I’ve ever known.” There was no doubt that everyone in the audience knew exactly what he meant and Mann got the longest standing ovation I’ve ever seen. It might still be going on now, in fact. In all seriousness, it was enough to make your eyes well up. Kelly thanked everyone, saying that it was incredible to have the support of an entire country behind them. And then another member of the band made a joke about getting lost in the restaurant.

All night, Kelly handled most of the on-stage banter, which led to one moment I found amusing. At one point he said something like “last night, we played in Regina, and tonight we’re here with all of you.” Now, I know he just misspoke, but for a second there, I was left wondering if I had gotten confused about which band member had come down with Alzheimer’s.

Hey, they made a joke too. And mine was better.

UPCOMING SHOWS
• Big Sugar (February 14)
• Dan Mangan + Blacksmith w/Hayden and Astral Swans (March 7)

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SLCR #207: Buck 65 (November 14, 2014)

December 11, 2014

You should be following Buck 65 on Facebook. Even if you don’t like his music (or any music), the guy is a fantastic storyteller. I like all kinds of bands but follow very few on Facebook because self-promotion doesn’t benefit me, but Buck has it figured out. Forget release dates or Black Friday t-shirt sales, I’m more interested in hearing about him throwing out the first pitch at a Cubs game or finding a box of records on his roof.

Sometime back around January of this year, Buck mentioned that he was at work on a new album and would be touring to support it and asked where he should play. Whenever I’ve seen a musician do this, there are inevitably several hundred responses from fans, and then the artist goes and tours wherever the artist was going to go anyway. It always seems so pointless, but for whatever reason, I felt like playing along this time. I posted that Buck should come back to Regina because everyone skips over it. A short while later, he replied with “I’ll come back to Regina, James. I promise.” So, you know, you’re welcome, everyone who was there. Clearly this show was 100% my doing.

We hit a bit of a snafu upon arriving at the Exchange. All along, they’d said doors at 7:30, show at 8:00. So fine, we got there a little after 7:30, only to find that the outer doors were open, but the inner doors were not. And the lobby was crammed full of people who read the same thing about the times. And it was -30 with the windchill. There was room enough to let one last person into the lobby, so I let Mika stand inside while I waited outside. One by one, other folks joined me and asked about the doors, asked why we were stuck outside, asked who the opening act was, asked about the doors some more, asked when I thought the show would start. It turned out that the Exchange and the Regina Folk Festival tried to get the proper times out via Twitter in the hours before the show, but I hadn’t seen them. But no matter – by the time the inside doors opened to let us all in, I’d been holding court with a dozen of my new best friends and was a little sad that it was over.

We found some seats and I got us iced teas because it was a Friday night and that’s how we do it up. Colin stopped by to say hi, which gave me a chance to show off my rap skills. Colin had seen my rap skills at lunch earlier that day, and Mika is already very (overly?) familiar with my rap skills, but I was not about to let this opportunity pass me by.

The opener was Winnipeg’s Sc Mira. These folks had an interesting visual aesthetic going on, which is a way of saying that someone around me announced “they look like douchebags” as soon as the band took the stage. In fairness, the drummer looked like a completely normal guy and was unfairly lumped in with the rest. In my opinion. Anyway, I was expecting my usual opening act “they were fine” without much else to say, but then they were kind of great? Just a really tight female-fronted rock band with catchy songs. Good stuff. Would go see again. And I will surely get the chance, since their Facebook tells me that they recently toured with Indigo Joseph, and I’m due to see those guys again soon since it’s been a few weeks. I don’t go find them; they find me. Not complaining. It’s just how life is.

I was a little concerned that Buck 65 wasn’t going to make it to the show. His tour diary suggested that they’d lost the keys to the van the night before and weren’t sure what to do about it. But he found a way:

Had to hire a new van. Blew the last one up. Warmed my hands with the fire.

I drove and drove and drove and drove… I drove across the Badlands of Alberta. I drove across Saskatchewan – where they say you can watch your dog run away for three days; where they say that if you stand on a paint can, you can see the back of your own head. I saw horses and cattle. I saw roadkill. I also saw big, shadowless houses with two hours of nothing on either side. I assume mad men live inside. The roads were straight as arrows. The snow blew high and whited everything out. Hard not to think lonely thoughts when everywhere you look there’s nothing. During a few long stretches, I was too far from anywhere for the radio to pick up anyone’s song. For hours it felt like I wasn’t making any progress at all. I thought I was driving on a giant treadmill.

When I finally arrived in Regina, I heard the news that Jose Canseco’s finger fell off.

Saskatchewan people: have you ever actually heard anyone say that it’s so flat that “if you stand on a paint can, you can see the back of your own head?” The dog running away one, yeah, everyone knows that, but the paint can bit was new to me. It reminded me of PK at work telling me that someone was “so short, she’d need to stand on a brick to kick a duck in the ass.” I love that so much. Not only is it delightful to say “brick” and “kick” and “duck” in short order, but it’s just so specific. Why a brick? Who stands on a brick? And what did that duck ever do to you? Geese, in my experience, are much more worthy of kicks.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Buck brought up this expression during his set. He brought up a lot of things. It was a very interesting show. I have seen Buck three times before, and I never before saw him so focused on sex and boobs and centaur penis and sideboob and other parts. He made several references to living in a “post-Ghomeshi world;” the show was sponsored by the CBC and he seemed fixated on the poster they put up. A creepy sex education record (which was not really meant to be used for education, at least not in the traditional sense) soundtracked a lengthy part of the show.

After the fact, Buck himself seemed to think it was a strange show:

When I arrived at the venue, I smelled the worst smell I’ve ever smelled. It might have been a dead raccoon wrapped up in a soiled diaper. Maybe that had something to do with the show being so different from all of the others. Some other energy took over. It somehow turned into a bizarre comedy show or something. And my approach to the songs was completely different. I don’t know what came over me. But it seemed to work. Laughs were had and everyone seemed to go home happy.

Buck played for quite a while – his set came close to two-and-a-half hours with a ton of old songs, new songs, b-sides, all kinds of stuff. Fans of his older stuff were treated to Blood of a Young Wolf (not “Young Worf” as I had initially typed; I am certain Buck will never read this, but if he does, and he happens to be working on an album inspired by Star Trek: The Next Generation, he’s welcome to that one). He also played Roses & Blue Jays, Wicked & Weird, and an absolutely deadly version of 463. Loved it.

It goes without saying that he played a lot from his new record, Neverlove. He opened his set with Gates of Hell, and I knew he’d close with Super Pretty Naughty – it’s a completely atypical Buck 65 song, an incredibly danceable party anthem with inane lyrics (“hey do you like sports and also did you used to be a baby?”) that is somehow worse and better than anything on the radio. I wasn’t counting on NSFW Music Video, but we got that one too and I was delighted by its non-stop double (and sometimes single) entendres. Others from Neverlove included Love Will Fuck You Up, A Case for Us, Only War, and Heart of Stone. He was joined on stage by Tiger Rosa and they played pretty much everything that she sings on from the album, though there seemed to be some sort of technical issues going on. It seemed like she kept gesturing at the sound guy to turn the volume up. There were also parts where it almost seemed like her mouth didn’t match what she was singing. Not making accusations – something just seemed off.

Buck has been making music forever. With a huge body of work to draw from, he would move from song to song by using snippets of other songs as segues – sometimes he’d play half the song and sometimes it would only be a line or two. I counted Zombie Delight, Dang, Shutter Buggin’, and Indestructible Sam, among others.

Ultimately, as alluded to above, I had a good time and some laughs and went home happy. It was a different sort of show, but a fun one. Buck pretty much guarantees a good time. I didn’t stick around after the show to meet him – I’m sure he would have wanted to thank me for making the show happen – but it sounded like he wasn’t hurting for company:

Afterwards, I met two different people with whom I have an incredible amount in common. It’s as if I’m living a parallel life with two different people who live in Saskatchewan. I also met a cobbler from my hometown of Mt. Uniacke, Nova Scotia. He had a good handshake and told me he likes the song “Craftsmanship.” That felt good. Regina has always been good to me. I hope to get back soon.

SLCR #206: Kim Churchill w/Mo Kenney (November 13, 2014)

December 5, 2014

A guy named Kim and a girl named Mo walk into a bar. They put on a good show and everyone has a good time.

I am the worst at jokes.

Mo Kenney is a protégé of sorts of Joel Plaskett. Mika and Other James and I saw her last year and it was good times. She has a new album out and I like it. And Kim Churchill is Australian. Now you are caught up, or at least as caught up as I was.

Kenney also played the Regina Folk Festival this year, but not while I was there. Other James had backstage passes for the weekend and he got to chat with her for a bit. He said she was very nice and very gracious, even when mainstage host Al Simmons said “Mo Kenney – that guy is great!” This story made me laugh much harder than it should have. When I told Mika, it had a similar effect. I guess we will take any excuse to make fun of Al Simmons, who is still much better as a festival host (and probably all other areas of life) than Bubba B The MC. PHOTO OP PHOTO OP PHOTO OP PHOTO OP

Oh well. They can’t all be Fred Penner.

Anyway. I’ve been complaining about bands skipping over Regina, so I’ve been trying to make a point of going to more shows. The best way to get more bands to come here is to go see the ones who do, right? But it’s cold now, and I get lazy, and it’s real easy to bail out if I haven’t made concrete plans. So in a moment of enthusiasm – by which I mean while I was briefly awake and energetic and aware of my surroundings – I popped online to buy a ticket to this show. There have been times when I was willing to take the financial hit by skipping out, and I’m sure it will happen again, but buying in advance in moments of enthusiasm helps the odds.

If you read the MBF review, this evening started off much the same. Mika went to school. I took a bus downtown. Walked through the cold to The Exchange. Bought an iced tea when I got there. The cold is colder now, with no way to avoid wearing a parka, but there were lots of open seats so I had someplace to park my coat. And my butt. I appreciated having a place for both. I sat around for a bit, probably getting caught up on iPhone games (it’s been several weeks since this show – I really don’t know what I did – but that’s almost always a pretty good guess at concerts) (and at home, at work, in airports, at funerals, etc.) until Mark and Other James arrived. We chatted for a bit before they found their pals and took their seats.

Kenney was here with a band this time. I don’t know if it was having a few other people on stage with her, or if it was just the result of a year of recording and touring, but she came across much more confident this time out. Beyond that, her show felt much the same as the one the year before despite the addition of a new album’s worth of songs. This is not a bad thing! I liked both shows; there were just no real surprises this time (apart from the story of the drawing on the drum, which I’ll keep to myself so as not to wreck the eventual comic book). They played many of the same songs as last time, including the same covers of Shakin’ All Over and Five Years. I suppose her new single Telephones is a cover too, but I didn’t know that until yesterday (it’s by a band named Mardeen, who I had never heard of until writing this very sentence) so it doesn’t count. Because I get to decide what counts. I’m listening to the Mardeen version right now and it’s good! So we’re all learning something here today. Or maybe I’m slow and thus the only one.

The hits from the last album – Déjà Vu and Sucker – got the big reactions, of course. And I don’t believe she played my favourite song from the new album – Take Me Outside – so that will be something to look forward to for next time.

Between sets, a dude walked through the crowd selling Kenney’s CDs. I admired the hustle – don’t wait for me to come to the stuff table, bring the stuff to me! I already had both of Kenney’s albums, but I’d see that salesman again later.

During the break, I got to chat some more with Mark. I had bought my ticket to see Kenney and really knew nothing about Kim Churchill. I was prepared to give the guy a shot but was also quite willing to leave early if I wasn’t into it. Mark echoed my sentiments. He then told me that he couldn’t come to the Buck 65 show the following night because he had plans. These plans included “setting up a craft show” and “cutting up a deer.” I think we live very different lives. Mine has much less venison.

Kim Churchill looks Australian. He has Australian hair. If that makes you think of Yahoo Serious on the box for the Young Einstein videotape, 1) you’re wrong, but not by as much as you might think, and 2) when did we get so old?

Unlike Kenney, Churchill was alone on the stage, but though he was just one man, he was indeed a one-man band. He played guitar and sang, wore a harmonica on a harness around his neck, played drums and sampling pedals with his feet, and had some chimes set up by his elbow. I on the other hand, cannot pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time. I was impressed enough that he could do this at all, and then it turned out he was really good on top of it. Dude can play. And I just tested that patting/rubbing thing and wound up punching myself in the balls and poking an eyeball.

Seriously, Churchill put on a great performance. I couldn’t tell you what he played, apart from recognizing the one song I’d listened to one time before the show (Window to the Sky). Didn’t matter. This was great. I recorded a video of one song and put it up on YouTube. No idea what the song is called. Don’t care. Great. You should watch it, and if he ever comes to your town, you should go. There should have been more people there for this.

I caught up with Mark and Other James after the show and they were both suitably blown away. Mark picked up all three Churchill CDs, as the salesman cut him a package deal. They left, and I browsed the stuff table while waiting for Mika to come and get me. I decided to pick up a CD. “Which one?” asked the salesman. I had no idea so I went for the newest one. The salesman smelled blood and pretty soon I had the package deal too. I can’t even be upset about it. He did his job amazingly well. And as I only had $48 in cash on me, I got the CDs for $2 less than Mark did. VICTORY!

With time to spare, I decided to talk to Churchill for a minute and get my CDs signed. By this point, there were only a handful of people left in The Exchange. I was patiently waiting my turn when I was joined by someone who I had never seen before in my life.

If Cathy reads this, she will tell me that the following story would only ever happen to me. I think she might be right.

So. Bald guy. About my height. Has a mustache that he doesn’t appear to be fully committed to so I assume it was for Movember. He’s drinking a beer. And he says to me, “Fuck, man, what a great fuckin’ show, man. That song about the darkness? Fuck, man, I’ve been there. I was out by fuckin’ Radville earlier today, and I blew a fuckin’ tire, so man, I’m fuckin’ lucky to be alive.”

At this point I was convinced that this fellow was the most fascinating man I had ever met. I was also a little bit terrified. But mostly fascinated.

“Man, you never fuckin’ know. Like that song about the fuckin’ darkness? It’s fuckin’ out there, but music, man, music will help you fuckin’ keep it together. Music can save your fuckin’ life, man. It saved mine.”

-pause-

“I was in a persistent vegetative state for three months and when I woke up, I didn’t recognize my own father. But they gave me a toilet paper tube, right? And I could do my fingering exercises from when I used to play the violin.”

He demonstrated on an invisible toilet paper tube.

He then asked if I was musical (no, though I’ve never made an honest effort to try to be) and told me about some of the groups he plays with. One of them sounded familiar and I asked if we might know the same person – one of my workplace’s multitude of Dougs.

“YOU KNOW DOUGIE?!”

-big hug-

Kim Churchill was now waiting to talk to us. I will always very much wonder what he thought of this whole situation. We all chatted for a bit but I quickly took my leave as Mika showed up, and besides, my enthusiastic new best friend had loads of questions about Churchill’s stage setup and I had nothing to contribute to this conversation. But I will always remember the last thing I heard him say: “So THAT’S where the fuckin’ snare comes from!”