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

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