Archive for April, 2016

SLCR #241: Jason Collett & Zeus (April 19, 2016)

April 29, 2016

This was a long-awaited gig for me. Jason Collett is one of those people who’s come to Regina seemingly a dozen times since I’ve been here, but I’ve always found a way to miss out. Mark, in particular, is a fan and has tried to get me to go on multiple occasions – so, of course, I finally buy tickets and this time Mark’s out of town. Oh well, I hope he had fun seeing Sloan in Vancouver and eating all the ducks.

Having said that – the part about the long-awaited show, not the part about Mark eating ducks – for all I’ve heard about Collett and as much as his singer-songwritery vibe should be right up my alley, I’d heard very little of his music. A handful of singles from CBC Radio 3, that’s about it, so I was looking forward to hearing more. You know, as if there wasn’t a vast collection of his recorded output at my fingertips.

We got to the Exchange about 15 minutes before the opener, Kalle Matteson, was to begin. Finding parking was not exactly difficult. I wasn’t surprised – given the number of ticket giveaway contests I saw, and the number of “hey, we got this show coming up, don’t forget” tweets, it seemed like tickets were moving a little slowly. Indeed, we had no trouble finding a place to sit once we arrived. It filled in reasonably well as the night progressed but wasn’t close to selling out, I don’t think.

This wasn’t put on by the folk festival people but it still started right on time. Our opener was Kalle Mattson; nobody seemed to know who he was, to the point that when he said his name, he paused for applause that was awfully late in arriving. His sense of humour about this situation won me over. “Tonight I’m going to play some old songs, play some new songs… which I am certain is completely irrelevant to all of you.” Later on, he said he was originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and scoffed at the one person who WOOed that.

This was the first night of the Mattson/Collett tour pairing and, I gather, the first show in a while for both musicians. Mattson played a sad song called Astronaut, which he wrote for his grandmother. In introducing the song, he said that this was its world premiere. After he finished, when someone in the crowd said they needed a Kleenex, Mattson offered to sell the fan a t-shirt. “You can do whatever you want with it.”

Going into this show, I knew very little about Mattson. I listened to a few of his songs on Apple Music before the show, including a cover of Hotline Bling he didn’t play at our show. Musically, he reminded me a bit of Andy Shauf – quiet guy with a guitar – only Matteson’s songs are a little sadder and he’s got a drier sense of humour when chatting between songs. He said “if you do know anything about me, you know I sing a lot about death” and I suppose that backs up both points. Anyway, this dude was good! Recommended.

After a brief intermission during which time we probably played iPhone Yahtzee and fed our iPhone cats, Jason Collett and his backing band Zeus were up. The sound wasn’t the best – the vocals seemed kinda muddy. I didn’t notice that during Mattson’s set, and they sounded better later on when Collett did a song or two by himself, so I’m not sure what the issue was. Whatever it was, it was tied to the vocals – Zeus sounded real good.

I recognized a few of the first songs – I Wanna Rob a Bank and I’ll Bring the Sun. We had also listened to his newest album, Song & Dance Man, and of course he played lots from it, including the title track, Forever Young is Getting Old, Singing American, and Black Oak Savannah. There was also a cover of She’s Gone by Hall & Oates, and like Mattson, Collett said that one of the new songs was being played in public for the first time ever. It maybe took them three tries to start it off right, but these things happen.

If you want a more complete setlist with a bunch of pictures from the show, my former neighbours were at the show and one of them posted a bunch of pictures to the local weekly paper’s website.

As for the show… I don’t know. Maybe I needed Mark to be there so I could get a dose of second-hand enthusiasm. I think at one point Collett referred to the crowd being “respectful,” which I’m pretty sure means “make some noise, you dopes.” Well, there was this one guy who yelled “YES!” at the opening notes of a bunch of Collett’s songs, but it soon became apparent that he was more into yelling YES than he was into Collett himself. Good to have hobbies.

But yeah, I enjoyed the show, but didn’t love it. The sound issues didn’t help any, but I don’t think that was it. It just wasn’t my thing. Not sure why it shouldn’t be – I like lots of musicians who would be in the same Canadian indie singer-songwriter category as Collett. And while this show was fine, it just didn’t really grab me. So it goes.

Advertisements

SLCR #240: Sloan (April 9, 2016)

April 13, 2016

This was… I dunno. A noble idea? An experiment, not to be repeated?

Sloan – Canadian rock royalty Sloan – were hitting the road to mark the 20th anniversary of their legendary One Chord To Another album (and sell some obscenely expensive deluxe vinyl reissues along the way). And they weren’t coming here. I wasn’t so concerned about the record (I got a pre-order link and thusly I pre-ordered – it’s a very nice set), but seeing the show sounded like it would be a good time. They were playing in Saskatoon, but it was on a Sunday night so it would have meant a late night drive back with work the next day. But Winnipeg was on a Saturday. We could leave after Mika was done at school in the morning, go on a bit of a road trip adventure, see the show, spend a night in a hotel… the idea seemed like a decent one on its surface. But it’s Winnipeg, so you know.

Saturday morning came and we got on the road in decent time. I held us up a bit by being sleepy and lazy but not so much that it mattered. We were on our way!

…and on. And on. One forgets just low long and monotonous that drive is. It doesn’t help that the built-in iPhone podcast app will just cut chunks off your podcasts for no apparent reason. Like podcasts? Have an iPhone? Switch to Overcast. It does all your podcast stuff right. There’s also Downcast, which has this hilarious thing going where every new version fixes one problem and creates another, but it too is better than the built-in app.

Anyway. The best thing I can say about the drive was that I got a Wunderbar at the Moosomin Co-op. Or was it the Whitewood Co-op? The Broadview Co-op? I know it was a Saskatchewan Wunderbar. Gotta keep my candy bar money in the province.

Rob, you’ll never read this, but if you do, I demand that you define the “Saskatchewan Wunderbar” and put it up on Urban Dictionary.

Our talking car robot lady led us into Winnipeg and to our hotel with only a minimum of “why is it taking us this way.” The hotel was the Delta, which I will name because it was nice enough. It was Fine. My hotel standards are really pretty low. I want a bed and a toilet and a shower and I want it to not be gross. These checkboxes were all checked.

With doors at 8:00 and me believing for some dumb reason that the show was starting at 8:30, we didn’t have a ton of time for dinner, so we just ate at the hotel restaurant. It, too, was Fine. Though after dinner, I looked at Sloan’s Twitter and realized that they weren’t planning on taking the stage until 10:00, so I guess we could have gone anywhere in the city and had lots of time. We could even have gone to Olive Garden like fancy big city folk.

The venue was the Pyramid – not shaped like its namesake – which was walking distance from our hotel. We found it with only one wrong turn, which was good, because it was getting pretty frosty out for April. Inside was the neon sign for the Spectrum Cabaret, which I believe was the Pyramid in a former life. It was one of those places like the Blue Note that I read about back in the day, integral to the early days of the Crash Test Dummies. There was also a signed Dummies poster behind the bar, old enough that everyone still had long hair and Mitch Dorge hadn’t joined the band yet. Beyond that, it seemed kind of like a larger version of the Exchange in Regina. Some of that old Louis’ dank but in a room that’s basically just a big box with a stage.

There was no opener. We waited around for a while and the length of the day really took its toll on me. The Pyramid was also sold out, and people were packed in tight, so we went from the freezing walk to being way too hot in short order. I could have gone to bed right then.

Sloan finally took the stage somewhere around 10:15-10:30 and I got an immediate second wind. The first set was the One Chord album in its entirety. In preparation for the show, I gave this album a listen, and then a few more because it turns out it’s real good. Groundbreaking and controversial opinion, I know, but that’s what you come here for. It has a few big singles in Everything You’ve Done Wrong and The Good In Everyone but really, you can’t go wrong with the whole thing. The live version didn’t stray too far from the recordings – they even brought in outside horn players whose names Chris totally knew and weren’t written on his hand in Sharpie at all. This was all fun and one of the better Sloan sets I’ve ever seen.

sloan2016

There was an extended break between sets during which I was feeling pretty awake but would have been willing to murder someone for a bottled water. Instead, I gave the bartender some cash money and got us some orange Gatorades, which seems in hindsight like a better plan now that I’m not currently thirsty OR in jail.

The second set was all over the place. “Career-spanning,” I think they called it. I recognized some songs – Money City Maniacs being the big one, but also Unkind, Coax Me, and Losing California, among others. Mika said that the second set was heavy on songs from Between the Bridges and correctly surmised that I wouldn’t know lots of them. No The Other Man – I know Aaron will be disappointed. Also no Underwhelmed or The Rest Of My Life, which are both personal and crowd favourites.

To be fair, they may actually have played any or all of the above – we wound up bailing on the encore. I know. But we were exhausted from the drive and I have to say, there are some real dicks in Winnipeg* who will just shove you hard and not give a shit at all. Or they’ll scream along to the music. I don’t mind if they sing – even if they (like me) can’t sing well – as long as you’re not just hollering for the sake of hearing your own drunk voice and then laughing at your loudness. It got to be a bit much. “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans,” indeed. It was also the loudest I’ve ever heard Sloan, and the volume completely drowned Jay out when he was singing. Mika’s favourite Sloan song is False Alarm, and they played it, but she was disappointed that you couldn’t really hear it.

*okay they weren’t really Winnipeg-specific, they were just drunk b-holes and those are everywhere and these days I don’t go to many shows where they’re prevalent anymore so they bother me more than they likely should

I hate ending on the negative stuff because then people go “man, that show sounded terrible” and it certainly wasn’t! It was just a long day and the venue was hot (I don’t even blame them – it was packed) and some people were kinda turds. Most people weren’t turds. But it doesn’t take many turds, you know? Friggin’ turds.

So what else can I tell you? Well, Patrick (who had apparently celebrated numerous birthdays at the Pyramid/Spectrum in years past) has a long grey beard and Chris introduced him as Dumbledore. They had a basic light show set up with a disco ball, which I don’t think I’ve seen at a Sloan show before. It was nothing fancy but gave the whole thing some nice visual variety. At one point someone threw a big handful of ice into the crowd, confusing everyone, including the band. And apparently Craig Northey of Odds was at our show; I didn’t see him there, but he was posting pictures from the show on Instagram. I know he was in Winnipeg with Steven Page et al doing that Art of Time Ensemble Sgt. Pepper show, the one I saw in Calgary.

Anyway, after the chilly walk back to the hotel, we were more than done for the night. And the next morning it was snowing and windy because it is Winnipeg, so rather than brave the Ikea or the Human Rights Museum (and what does it say about us that those were our preferred choices? I feel like this could be a lengthy discussion all its own), we hit the road as soon as we were up and about. Our tourist stop for the day was at the finest Boston Pizza in Brandon, followed up with a second Saskatchewan Wunderbar when we stopped for gas.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Jason Collett & Zeus w/Kalle Mattson (April 19)
• Ben Folds & yMusic w/Dotan (May 11)
• Danny Michel (May 12)
• Hawksley Workman & The Art of Time Ensemble (May 13)
• The Pack a.d. (May 28)
• Meat Loaf (June 11)
• City and Colour w/Shakey Graves (June 12)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart; Ry Cooder, Sharon White, & Ricky Skaggs; Sam Roberts Band; The Mavericks; Bettye LaVette; The Cat Empire; The Strumbellas, and more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• I Mother Earth with Edwin (October 8)

SLCR #239: Spirit of the West (March 31, 2016)

April 9, 2016

This was destined to be bittersweet. The last time I saw Spirit of the West, lead singer John Mann had recently been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. We went, in part, expecting it to be our last chance to see the band. But that night, they promised they’d be back on a proper farewell tour. A year and a half later, here we are. Within minutes of tickets going on sale, they were snapped up and I got one of the last tables for four available. Not the best seats I’ve ever managed – we were off to the very far left – but I knew it wouldn’t matter since everyone would be standing anyway.

With Mika under the weather, Colin took her spot at the last minute to join Mark and Arlette and I. In exchange for the ticket, I gave him the important job of reminding me to pick up a sundae for Mika on the trip home. I saw a number of other work folks scattered throughout the casino.

The band took the stage right at 8:00 with no opener. Normally it takes a few songs to get people out of their seats at the casino, but not tonight. People crowded around the front right from the get-go and security didn’t hassle anyone. Probably because they’d pretty much be forced to hassle everyone.

The setlist was much the same as last time. I say this because I don’t know much Spirit of the West beyond their singles, but pretty much everything here sounded familiar. I suppose it’s the type of situation that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of variation. Really, the show was mostly a rerun from the last time out. You got most of your big hits – And If Venice Is Sinking, Sadness Grows, Is This Where I Come In – mixed in with fan favourites. I know they played Political, The Joneses, The Old Sod, Another Happy New Year, and The Rites of Man. Geoffrey Kelly handled pretty much all of the talking between songs. John Mann was glued to the iPad with the lyrics, but was a ball of crazy dancing energy otherwise. His “FUCK ALZHEIMER’S (in the arse)” shirt was new and got a great reaction.

So how was it? The band was as good as ever but if I’m being honest, you could see some deterioration from the last time. It looked like Mann had a little more difficulty following along with the lyrics now. Have you ever sung along with the radio, only you start singing a bit early and you have to hold back, or you start the wrong verse and you have to quickly switch it up? I noticed a few parts like that, or places where Mann just wasn’t singing where I thought he should be. He barely talked at all when not singing, but he still repeated himself at one point. Now, all of these could be nothing, you know? You hope it’s nothing. Stuff that I’m blowing out of proportion because I was specifically watching to see how he was doing.

I think that would be one of the worst parts about Alzheimer’s. Every little slip would seem like a portent of doom. You know? Forget your watch at home one day and it would feel like a terrible sign. I do it and it just means it’s Thursday.

Anyway, I don’t want to make it sound like it was a bad show or anything. Mann’s still got his voice and the band is still great, I just noticed a few moments. And the crowd was not going to be anything but 100% loving and supportive, dancing and yelling and cheers and we love yous all night.

I said the setlist was the same but they actually mixed up the ending a bit. Drummer Vince Ditrich sang a few songs while most of the band took a break. When everyone came back out, they said they’d wrap things up with two oldies. Okay. It was not going to be a surprise what songs those were, and I figured Dietrich’s intermission was done to set up this “encore.” Mark and Arlette got up and went to the stage – it felt like half the people with floor “seating” were there already – and Colin and I soon followed. Of course, it was Save This House followed by Home For A Rest. Mark demanded we pogo. We pogoed. Everyone else in the place was up and dancing and singing anyway. It was a great way to end an emotional show, so I was surprised that they came back out for two more songs. The Crawl is a fine song to end on, but it’s not Home For A Rest, you know? Seemed like a strange choice.

With that, they thanked the crowd and took their final bows. It was an emotional night and both Ditrich and Mann looked like they might have shed a few tears. I can’t imagine what their farewell shows next week in Vancouver will be like.

But the important thing is, I remembered that sundae.

SLCR #238: Metric & Death Cab for Cutie (March 28, 2016)

April 9, 2016

To be honest, I wasn’t really excited for this show. I like Metric well enough to have seen them a few times before, but their newest album just doesn’t do it for me. If something can be described as “electronic synth pop,” I think it’s a safe bet that I won’t like it.

Now someone will point out that term could be used to describe all of Metric’s music, maybe, and I like an awful lot of it, including their previous album, Synthetica. So I don’t know. All’s I know is lots of bands I like are moving toward a new sound and it’s the same sound and it’s one I don’t care for. But I like enough older Metric stuff that when Mika asked if I wanted to go, I was quick to agree – especially when she got our coveted Row L For Legroom end seats.

I didn’t know at the time that Death Cab For Cutie was also on this tour. I’ve never heard much of their stuff, and what I have hasn’t inspired me to seek out more. Just not my thing. Probably an age thing – I was too old to be paying attention when they first came along and I never bothered to make an effort. Everyone I know who likes them is five to ten years younger than me. But I know they’re a big deal and I was surprised to see that they were playing before Metric.

Really, my #1 Death Cab memory comes from the days of the Delphi boards:

Albert: (mentions “DCFC” when talking music)
someone: “What’s DCFC?”
Albert: “Death Cab For Cutie! One of my favorite bands!”
Scott: “Death Cab For Cutie! One of Albert’s favorite bands! I think they suck!”

Not that funny, but I don’t know. I’ve forgotten lots of great chattery material but that one has stuck with me since day one. Maybe that’s why I never got into Death Cab. Afraid of what Scott might think.

We got to the Conexus Arts Centre in time to enjoy our legroom for 6:45, the bizarre stated start time on the tickets. And at 6:45:01, the lights dimmed. We got three bands tonight, no time to mess around.

With the vast majority of fans not yet in attendance, the openers were Leisure Cruise. They are from Brooklyn. I know this because they said so. I know nothing else about them except their lead singer took the stage wearing a coat that appeared to be made out of fifty pounds of silver Christmas tinsel. Mika said she kind of wanted it. I will not get it for her. Carl spends too much time trying to get our attention by pulling coats down as it is.

In front of a giant screen and what appeared to be two giant white beachballs with stuff projected onto them, Leisure Cruise played electronic pop that made them a good fit as openers for Metric. Nothing I ran out to buy or anything, but it was fine. I have nothing else to say about that.

I can pretty much review Death Cab by saying that I went into their set not giving a shit about them, and I left not giving a shit about them, but they were much better than I had given them credit for. They played two songs I recognized, both about hearts. Ultimately still not my thing, but clearly very talented and the crowd loved them – they got a standing ovation and fans were really disappointed there was no encore. It was obvious that people saw them as the big stars of the evening. There wasn’t a huge number of people who left right after Death Cab were done, but there were some – and people trickled out throughout Metric’s performance.

Between sets, I went exploring and briefly ran into Mark and Other James. Mark gushed over Death Cab so maybe they’re the best and there’s just something wrong with me?

So yeah, Metric ran the risk of being upstaged by their co-headliners. When they took the stage, they almost had to beg people to stand up and get into the show. And it didn’t help that the sound seemed better for Death Cab than for Metric – they buried Emily Haines’ vocals to a degree.

But once they got going, the show was a lot of fun. The new songs worked a lot better for me in the live setting and there were lots of older songs that I knew well and enjoyed. Mika said she thought the newer material worked better than the older stuff, and I can see where she’s coming from. They mixed up the old stuff a lot – but I’d rather hear that than just note-for-note renditions of the album versions. And the staging was great – probably the best light show I’ve ever seen at a rock show. Apologies to anyone who had to sit through my Instagram flood that night – but you didn’t even get to see the confetti cannons.

Not that everything worked. Fans who bought VIP tickets were invited on stage to serve as a chorus backing the song Dreams So Real. I know that nobody buys music anymore and you’ve gotta make your money where you can. So I understand offering VIP packages where people can pay more to meet the band, watch the soundcheck, get exclusive stuff, or just get fancy parking or something. But inviting people on stage… I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Some of those folks looked terrified. It’s an experiment that was worth trying but probably not repeating.

But that was one song in a long night of music. By and large, the show was a good time and the evening exceeded my expectations. Really, all three bands wound up better than I thought they’d be. And after twenty minutes of sitting here trying to come up with a better conclusion than that, I’m going to accept that I don’t have one and just be done with this.

SLCR #237: The Watchmen (March 25, 2016)

April 8, 2016

Dang. I’m much better at getting these out on time when I’m on vacation.

Or maybe I’m not the right person to be writing this. Maybe Mika should, or Jeff, or Jeremy. Or maybe anyone else who was at this show. To me, the Watchmen were just one of those bands that were on the radio sometimes. A good band, one I liked well enough, but not one I ever really sought out. I don’t think I ever owned any of their albums, I never saw them in concert, I didn’t know anything beyond the radio hits. And because I am a dumb, I just kind of assumed that everyone felt the same way I did, because why would I ever consider another person’s perspective? So it came as a surprise to me when I went to buy our tickets – the day they opened the advance sale for casino Players Club members, two days before tickets went on sale to the general public – and I couldn’t get a table for four. The only way to get four seats together was to split a table for eight, further back from the stage. And I understand that Players Club cards are free and everyone in Regina has one so they can get $5 casino breakfasts, but still, it seemed fast. I seriously underestimated the demand for the Watchmen. I’m pretty sure the show sold out within days.

And so it was that I found myself at the casino with three people – and surrounded by hundreds more – who liked the Watchmen so much more than I do. Which is not to say that I dislike them at all! I don’t! They’re good! But I was out of my depth. There were favourite-album discussions, and hopes of hearing specific deep cuts, and debates about which anniversary of which album this show was celebrating, and there I was, thinking “hey, Stereo, that’s a song I know. And… um…”

Okay, so I had to check Wikipedia for a quick refresher of some titles (and, in some cases, check YouTube to match titles to songs): Boneyard Tree, Shut Up, All Uncovered, Incarnate, Any Day Now, Absolutely Anytime. At least I knew enough to not be tricked when I Googled “Watchmen singles” and it gave me the Watchmen movie soundtrack.

So we’re sitting at the long table, Jeff and Jeremy making friends with the other four randos who had joined us, and the voice of God booms. Or… it drones, maybe. God didn’t sound real into things. I suppose he’s seen it all. “Ladies and gentlemen. The Watchmen are here. But first-” and there were boos! Not that many or anything, but there were a handful of cheesed off people who had not counted on an opener and were NOT down with the idea of waiting even longer for the Watchmen. I haven’t heard the mere concept of an opening band get booed since the last time I saw the Tragically Hip.

The openers turned out to be fellow Winnipeggers Yes We Mystic, a name that seemed to confuse everyone. They were good enough to silence the handful of skeptics and that is pretty much all I can tell you about them. That, and the lead singer had a yellow and black checkered jacket that I couldn’t tell if I loved or hated. They were perfectly fine, playing rock with some folk influences, mixing some unexpected instruments into the usual guitar/bass/drums mix. Recommended if you like any of the songs played by Portland Cloud Orchestra in Guitar Hero Live.

So you know how I said I only know Watchmen singles, right? Well, after about 45 minutes of their set, I heard the first song I knew, not counting when they did a bit of Down Under for some reason. Meanwhile, everyone else at our table got to hear all the songs they were hoping for. Or so Mika tells me. How would I know?

The casino has recently started having general admission shows (I think the Headstones might have been the first one), and it would have maybe been a good choice here. As the show went on, people started to gather down at the front of the stage, as they will do. And security sent them all back to sit in their assigned seats, as THEY will do (to the amazement of people who haven’t seen this bit of party pooping before). So then one lady gets back up and everyone cheers. Security sits her back down. Two more women run along the front of the stage. Finally, the song ends, and singer Daniel Greaves says “I don’t know, it seems reasonable to me to stand up for a bit.” ROAR goes the crowd and everyone in the place pops to their feet. He seemed appreciative. “There, that seems more like… every other show we’ve ever done.”

The timing of it was surely coincidental, but once everyone got up and loosened up, the second half of the show became much more of a greatest-hits set. This was a delight for me but really, there wasn’t a bad song in the bunch, even out of the ones I was unfamiliar with. The Watchmen still sound as good as they used to and it’s a sound that holds up better than some of their contemporaries. It was a really solid show – lots of hits, lots of fan favourites, and a devoted crowd. I’d be surprised if tickets didn’t go even faster next time.