Archive for June, 2015

SLCR #216: Danny Michel (June 13, 2015)

June 15, 2015

I bought my first Danny Michel CD about 12 years ago. I’d never heard any of his music before. The purchase was based entirely on two factors; 1) I’d heard this guy’s name somewhere, and 2) I had some credit at the used CD place and little else was calling out to me. It was an excellent find. I got a few other CDs on that trip, most of which wound up eventually returning to the bins from whence they came. But that copy of Fibsville has stuck around and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Looking through old reviews, it occurs to me that I have told some variant of this story any time I’ve ever had to mention Danny Michel in one of these reviews. Whatever. At least I’m consistent.

Anyway, I think I’ve bought all of his albums since then, and have enjoyed them all. However, the live experience, at least in my experience, hasn’t always been able to measure up. The first few times I saw him, I thought he was fantastic, but the last few times I’ve seen him weren’t so hot. One time, he was clearly exhausted after driving something like 10 hours to get to a show with an apathetic crowd in a half-filled Exchange. Most recently, I saw him as part of the Songwriters’ Circle at Junofest, where he was good, but I found him upstaged by the likes of Kathleen Edwards and Bahamas.

But this would be my first chance to see a proper Danny solo show in… my goodness, seven years? And this is a special tour. Have you ever seen something stupid and amazing and ridiculous online and daydreamed about buying it? The short version is that unlike most of us*, Danny Michel has some follow-through. And that is how he bought a 1970s van airbrushed with Star Trek murals. And with a red velvet interior. Yes. He’s taking it on tour across Canada and filming a web series along the way, with people like 54-40, Jann Arden, Chris Hadfield, and Barney Bentall recording songs in the space van. On the very day of our show, he was in a parade in Vulcan, Alberta, because of course he would have to be. So I had high hopes.

*I own a set of four prints I bought off Etsy featuring the cast of The Golden Girls as zombies. This does not compare to the financial commitment of buying a space van, nor the intestinal fortitude required to take the dang thing on a cross-country tour, but I can’t throw dumb-purchase stones without acknowledging my own glass house.

Sadly, the curse of the Danny Michel show struck again. A curse of… mild disappointment. Which is a pretty good curse to have if one has to have a curse, I guess. But still.

I will preface my whinging by saying that none of this was Danny’s fault. I thought he was delightful and was on pace to be up there with the better shows of his that I’d seen. But the environment left enough to be desired that we ultimately didn’t stick around.

We parked about a block from the venue and I took a few pictures of the sweet space van before we went inside. It was everything I’d hoped it would be; namely, a really awesome van that I am very glad I’m not responsible for.

Again, let me state for the record that I thought Danny was great. He played a set of about 45 minutes before taking a break; in that time, we got Whale of a Tale (from Fibsville), Sweet Things, Feather Fur & Fin, and Wish Willy, among others. He told some fun stories about the space van tour and about the work he’s done with a school in Belize. And most importantly, he asked the crowd to quiet down, which didn’t happen to the degree anyone would have wanted, but I appreciated the effort.

We’ve been to the Artful Dodger twice, for Mo Kenney and for Greg MacPherson. This was quite a while ago now, back when the place was very new. The finishing wasn’t done, and they weren’t serving meals yet. They’ve come a long way since then and I’ve heard lots of great reviews of the food and the venue. Unfortunately, everyone else has apparently heard the same things. Our tickets said 8:00 p.m., which could mean anything from a start time of 8:00 to midnight, in my concert-going experience (in this case, it was around 8:30). We got there at 7:45 and the place was full. Wall-to-wall, no seats open, packed with diners. And the thing about the Artful Dodger is that there is no good place to stand. The stage is small, the floor in front of it is filled with tables, and there are bleachers in the back of the room. Walking from Point A to Point B is difficult and you cannot stand anywhere without being obnoxiously and obviously in someone’s way. We took the best spot that we could in the back of the room but this still put in in the path of the servers and I don’t think 30 seconds went by without one of us (most often Mika) having to move out of someone’s way.

I’m not sure what the rules are at the Artful Dodger. If someone comes in for dinner at 6:00, do they get to stay for the show at 8:00 without buying a ticket? My suspicion is yes; this would explain why we were in between three groups of people, two of which had no interest in the show at all and were just going to keep on having their conversations despite the guy on stage trying to play guitar and sing some songs. There is no crowd so disrespectful as those that did not pay to attend.

The third group could be described as Danny Michel superfans and though I rolled my eyes a bit at their… let’s go with “intensity” – they were really into the show and I find it hard to find fault with that. Especially when there were so many other people nearby with whom I could find all kinds of fault.

Anyway. Like I said, Danny played for 45 minutes before taking a bit of a breather, promising to come back for a second set. I will assume he did and I will assume it was great, but I wouldn’t know. We took the opportunity at the break to call it a night. I gave it a fair shot. I made it to intermission, I enjoyed some songs, I laughed at some stories (especially the Wish Willy one), I had as good a time as I was going to have given the surroundings. Which wasn’t enough to justify staying. The full restaurant and its wood-fired oven meant that it was awfully warm in there. To counteract that, there was a big fan directly behind us, blowing in cool air from the street. Between the ignorant jackasses at the tables around us, the fan noise from behind us, and the general not-ideal standing spot we found ourselves in, we really couldn’t hear all that well, and it was hot (though the wood smoke did lend a certain ambience to the nature-themed Feather Fur & Fin), and it just wasn’t that fun. Mika isn’t a big Danny Michel fan anyway, so instead, I took her for ice cream. I think there’s a lesson there. If you can’t answer yes to “is this better than getting ice cream?” then you may as well just go get ice cream.

space van

space van

red velvet

red velvet

the space shirt is a space magnet to cover painted-on space boobs

the space shirt is a space magnet to cover painted-on space boobs

UPCOMING SHOWS
• Moist (July 11)
• Geoff Berner w/Whiskey Jerks (July 29)
• Lucinda Williams (July 30)
• Gin Blossoms w/ Fastball & The Rembrandts (July 31)
• Fred Eaglesmith w/Tif Ginn (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Sinead O’Connor, Jenny Lewis, Vance Joy, Blue Rodeo, Bahamas, more (August 7-9)
• Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)
• Hawksley Workman (October 16)

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SLCR #215: Charley Pride (May 20, 2015)

June 8, 2015

“Do you want to go see Charley Pride?” asked my dad.

“I’ve got school that day,” said Mika.

It’s worth noting that at this point, none of us knew exactly when the concert was. Though in her defense, that statement is true as often as not. A safe bet, as it were.

Me, I can’t say that seeing Charley Pride was #1 on my list of things to do either. But the guy is a legend, and I was getting my ticket paid for, and none of us are getting any younger, so what the heck, you know? I was substantially less keen on the idea when I realized it meant missing out on watching the NXT special* live, but whatever. I could watch it when I got home, right?

*(a wrestling thing – you either already knew that or don’t care)

And so it was me, my dad, and my stepmom’s parents, immortalized together in a concert review at last. Mika, as it turned out, did have school on the evening of the show. And my stepmom gets up too early for work on weekdays to make it through an evening concert, even one that keeps reasonable casino hours. Or at least this is what I was told. If I were to someday learn that secretly they got together and drank wine and laughed at us for going to this show, I would not be shocked.

The plan was to forego the standard pre-show casino meal and mad dash to the show lounge in favour of getting a pizza after the concert. From a scheduling point, I was a fan of this idea. Not so much the pizza part, as these days, I’m trying to eat in a manner vaguely resembling that of a normal human (do not ask how many cookies I had today) (as it was a lot) (a lot of cookies) and pizza can be hard to fit into that regimen. Especially late-day pizza. But some carefully limited eating ensured that I could at least have some pizza, assuming I blatantly lied to myself regarding how many calories pizza has. One sacrifices where one must.

My dad picked me up first and we set out to collect the in-laws. I hadn’t seen them since before Christmas, and, well, there are some mobility issues that weren’t there the last time I saw them. She looked to be doing okay, but him… just getting from the apartment door and into the car proved challenging. I suppose this is just one of those things that happens, but it was a bit shocking that it seemingly came on so fast.

Needless to say, the walk from the parking lot was out. My dad dropped us off by the door, and while he went to park the car, it was my job to keep everyone upright or sitting down until it was time to move again. I tried to suggest that we could find a place to sit inside, but no – my stepmom’s dad found a ledge, sat down, and made friends with everyone else who got dropped off while the more mobile were parking and walking.

While we were waiting, Charley Pride walked right past us into the casino, about 15 feet from where I was standing. I appeared to be the only one who noticed.

Eventually, my dad found us – after looking around inside, where he might have reasonably expected to find us – and we made the slow trek into the show lounge. I could see why trying to make it from the restaurant in time would have been a struggle. I tried to keep a pleasant conversation going while my inside voice was screaming “stop walking so fast he can’t walk that fast why aren’t these people watching where they’re going quit getting in the way AAAAAAAAAAAAAA” and yeah anyway I was pretty glad when we got to our seats. Normally I would collect our tickets and trade them for free slot play vouchers, and maybe check out the merch table, but I didn’t want to leave anyone by themselves or try to drag them with me.

On the way in, we were handed brochures, listing tour dates and merchandise (of course), and introducing our opening act, Stephen Pride. Our guess was that this was Charley’s son, but later found out it was his brother. He played for about a half-hour; a few originals but mostly covers of older country songs. He seemed a little awkward when talking with the crowd – tripped over his words a few times – but by and large I thought he was okay enough. Not particularly of interest to me, not great, but also not awful. The rest of my table, however, just wanted to talk about how he didn’t have Charley’s voice or Charley’s presence. Which wasn’t untrue, I guess, but it bothered me less than it did them. Not the first time I’d disagree with the consensus viewpoint on this night. We were, however, all in agreement that the highlight of the set was sitting near the sound booth and watching Charley Pride chat with the sound tech for a good 10 minutes.

Between sets, I amused myself by playing a game of “Who Here is Younger Than Me?” The goal was to find someone – a paid attendee, not someone working there – who was obviously younger than 38-year-old me. I couldn’t do it. I saw a few people that MIGHT have been younger but not definitively so. Obviously, casino shows tend to skew old just based on who performs at casinos, but I’ve seen Wayne Newton and Bobby Curtola and Dr. John and Gordon Lightfood and Herman Hermit and this was the oldest audience of them all.

So I said I disagreed with the consensus of the table. Let me just say that if you’re tired of the concert review trope of “I wish I’d seen him back when,” you can pretty much close this down and hope I get my Danny Michel review written in under a month. Basically, from the time Charley Pride finished until I got dropped off at home, I lied. I said he put on a great show. I agreed that he still had his voice. I talked about what a fan I had become. I was not about to do anything to take away from anyone’s enjoyment of the concert. But man…. this was not very good at all. Pride sang for 90 minutes, which would have been impressive enough except he really only had 60 minutes in him. The first hour was okay, though it seemed apparent to me that his voice wasn’t what it once was. Not that it would be fair to expect it to be – the guy is pushing 80, after all. But he had this trick of ending songs by singing them really low, and it was an obvious cover that he couldn’t hit the high notes anymore. This got worse in the last half-hour, which also had him telling stories and getting lost halfway through. Or he had these cards with people’s birthdays on them, and he’d say happy birthday to them, only he’d get the names wrong, and couldn’t see them if they waved at him and wasn’t listening when his band tried to help him out, and then he’d just throw the cards on the floor and kind of mutter about it.

But you know. I was not a Charley Pride fan going into the evening. I looked up some of his singles online before the show, thinking that I’d know a bunch of them – this is the kind of music my dad always liked, so surely I heard lots of it growing up, right? Apparently not; I only knew a few of his biggest hits. So I wasn’t coming at this from a place of nostalgia. The rest of my table was. I think my dad sang along with every song. His mother-in-law said that the show was the “highlight of the year.” And the guy got a standing ovation. So… maybe it was just me? I don’t know. Maybe I was just grumpy and hungry. I thought this was a Lightfoot-level show and I do not mean that in a complimentary way. But a room full of people disagreed with me – or, actually, two rooms full of people, since he was booked for a second night.

I did a bit of reading on Charley Pride when putting this together, and this guy lived on heck of an interesting life. If Wikipedia isn’t lying to me, he played Negro League baseball, was the first black performer at the Grand Ol’ Opry in over 20 years, is part owner of the Texas Rangers, and did a show in Belfast at the height of the IRA conflict. And The Rock is making a movie about his life. I’d watch that, and my tolerance for Rock movies is pretty minimal.

So yeah, I wish I’d seen him back when.

Anyway, we headed to the lobby to wait while my dad got the car. This took only slightly less than forever since everyone was leaving the show at once. We got everyone loaded into the car with much nervousness on my part but finally got everyone settled – just in time to see an old lady leave the casino and wipe out face-first. My dad and I went over to help her out, but she was fine; a little embarrassed, and disappointed that she cracked the cases of her new CDs, but otherwise okay.

We went for that post-show pizza, only the find that the pizza place closes at 11:00 and it was 10:55 when we got there. Oh well. At least it meant I got home in time to grab some chips and watch the NXT special. Except that when I went downstairs to get said chips, I found that there had been water leaking into the basement for two days. Not enough to cause any real damage, but a mess. And enough to incite mild-to-moderate stress which took me out of the mood to watch the show or eat anything, so I went to bed, looking forward to my already-booked vacation day which was now to be spent dealing with the plumber.

This was not a very good day, is what I’m saying.

(Postscript: my dad still talks about the greatness of this concert. His mother-in-law was so pleased that she baked him a pie. The plumber arrived promptly and the problem tap has been fixed. The NXT special was really good and I even managed to avoid spoilers. I’m still due for some pizza.)

UPCOMING SHOWS

  • Danny Michel (June 13)
  • Moist (July 11)
  • Geoff Berner w/Whiskey Jerks (July 29)
  • Fred Eaglesmith w/Tif Ginn (August 2)
  • Regina Folk Festival feat. Sinead O’Connor, Jenny Lewis, Vance Joy, Blue Rodeo, Bahamas, more (August 7-9)
  • Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)
  • Hawksley Workman (October 16)

SLCR #214: Joel Plaskett Emergency (May 15, 2015)

June 8, 2015

I knew this show would be really great, and it was. And I’m tempted to just stop here.

Here are some people and things that I dig. You already know I dig them:

  • Joel Plaskett
  • Mo Kenney
  • Darke Hall
  • concerts
  • any mixed and/or matched combination of the above

Liking things is great! But my stock in trade is disliking things, or at least making fun of things. Or as some people would call it, “generally being unpleasant to be around.” Being pleasant (or at least tolerable) and productive is hard, but my alternate option – namely, staring at a blank text file for the better part of a month – wasn’t getting the job done.

Having said that, I have so little to say about this show that at this point in writing this review, I just stopped and skipped ahead to write my Charley Pride review in its entirety instead. I had some things to say about that show and that day as a whole. But that is for another time; namely, it is for five minutes after I finish writing and posting this thing, so I best get a move on.

So what do you need to know? Well, Plaskett was touring in support of his newest album, The Park Avenue Sobriety Test. He’d debuted the title track (at least to my ears) at last year’s folk festival, and I really liked it. The new album is a good one, though I need to spend some more time with it. Thus far, I can safely recommend it if you like Joel’s previous work and also like swear words. There’s a marked increase; not overwhelming, but noticeable.

In fact, both Mo and Joel – which doesn’t quite rhyme well enough to bother repeating – have relatively new albums, and I’d seen both performers in concert within the past year. In that sense, this show was a bit of a re-run, as there wasn’t much that I hadn’t seen before. This is not a bad thing, since I loved both of those shows, but I WAS tempted to just copy and paste old reviews and see if anyone noticed. Mind you, there are enough repeating themes and turns of phrase in my reviews that most of you likely think I do that already.

In fact, I think copying and pasting would have been much better than this:

  • The ticket people said that I’d need my order number and photo ID to pick up my tickets, and I had no idea what my order number was, but I emailed them and they told me. And then they just checked my photo ID at the door anyway.
  • There was a food truck outside the venue. We didn’t get any food.
  • There was a lots of stuff at the stuff table, including tons of vinyl – Kenney’s newest album and most of Plaskett’s catalogue. Neither of us bought anything. I would have bought my favourite Plaskett album – Ashtray Rock – on vinyl, but I already had it on order from MapleMusic.
  • The host of the show was some local CBC person. At one point, she tried to talk, but her mic was turned off. Then the sound guy turned it on.

I am very tempted to rewrite the entire review so that the whole thing is comprised of the dullest bullet points imaginable.

Mo Kenney’s set was very similar to when I saw her last fall, though she played for a bit longer and managed to include the song Take Me Outside, which was sadly missing last time. I feel like it might have replaced the cover of Five Years, which is a fair trade-off in my books. I like both but Take Me Outside is one of my favourites of hers. She told a few of the same stories (such as the origin of the creature on the drum kit – though this version seemed to have been expanded a bit), but there were some fun unique moments interacting with the crowd. At one point, Kenney showed off her new guitar; so new that it didn’t even have a name yet. Someone from the crowd yelled out his suggestion – something along the lines of “Red Lucille.” Kenney replied with the most polite “that could work” which was so transparently a secret code for “no” that even she cracked up. She then went on to name the guitar “Foot,” which, why not?

She also plugged her new record. “Will you sign it?” asked a random person. “Absolutely,” said Mo, quickly adding “Oh… you meant right now” as the aforementioned person rushed the stage with a record and a Sharpie.

Also, she was wearing an “Italians Do It Better” shirt which I believe was from Christie’s Bakery in Saskatoon. “I am not Italian. And I have no knowledge of whether they do it better.”

If anything stood out from this set, it’s that the improvement in Kenney’s confidence and stage presence from the first time we saw her to now is amazing. I am delighted for her as she is a lovely human who writes and sings great songs and deserves to be well-known and successful. I am, however, a little fearful. This progression cannot be allowed to… um… progress unchecked. Otherwise, give her another few years and she’ll be leading cults.

Joel Plaskett is also a lovely human, but I’ve been a fan for long enough now that I’m just used to him being completely charming. Maybe that means I’m already in a cult? Whatever. The entertainment is top-notch and there’s a food truck on site. I’ve got no complaints.

Plaskett had much more time than he had at the Folk Festival, and he used it to play most of the tunes off the new album, as one would expect. There was about a 50/50 mix of new stuff and old favourites, which never vary all that much. Compared to the Folk Festival, we got the same Do Wa Diddy Diddy intro into Work Out Fine, but no Mamma Yamma Fashionable People – I don’t think we got Fashionable People at all, come to think of it, but most of the usuals were played.

As per usual, the older stuff got the best reactions, but there was one family there who was trying their damndest to balance everything out. I have never seen so many Joel Plaskett superfans in one group. All ages. Standing, dancing, singing along with every song, leaving notes on the stage, the whole shebang. I bought our tickets for this show back in December and I don’t remember what they cost, but at one point I was trying to figure out just how many people were part of this clan and whether the bill for the evening would have topped $1,000. Wouldn’t have been impossible. It was kind of remarkable, really.

So yes, a good time was had by all. Especially by those folks. It would be really hard to have a bad time at a Joel Plaskett show, and I should know. I once tried and ultimately couldn’t do it. The guy comes across as the nicest dude ever and writes catchy songs that are made to be sun along with. A++++ would go again – but you already knew that.