Archive for August, 2016

SLCR #255: 54-40 (August 19, 2016)

August 20, 2016

I turn 40 in two- wait. That won’t work twice. And it’s 20 minutes to midnight anyway.

This was a last-minute decision for me. I had forgotten the show was even happening until it popped up on Facebook a little while ago, and I only bought my ticket a few hours before the show. I like 54-40 well enough and all, but I saw them a few years ago and described it as the most just-a-show show that I’d maybe ever seen. I really wasn’t sure that I needed to pay to see that again. Plus Mika didn’t feel like going, even when good seats opened up on the day of the show.

But then I was looking them up online, which can be a bit tricky, because if you google 54-40, you get 14. But I still found their website and it described this show as acoustic. “Featuring intimate and unplugged versions of 54-40’s greatest hits performed as you’ve never heard them before.” That would make sense – their newest album is a collection of acoustic reworkings of their biggest hits. I haven’t heard it, but Aaron says it’s good. This intrigued me, as it would be a different show from the last time I saw them. On the other hand, the last show dragged until it got to the more high-energy second half. Should I risk the $37.13? I asked Aaron, which meant I already knew what I wanted the answer to be, because what was he going to say? No?

So I got my ticket, rushed through a dinner of Indian food while finishing off the Weird Al review, and made my way to the casino. I was up in the balcony. The show wasn’t sold out, and I had an entire row to myself. Actually, several rows as pretty much everything behind me was also open. This is a fine way to watch a show.

Right at 8:00, some local radio guy introduced the band and we were underway. The first thing I must note is that there was nothing acoustic at all about this show. This was a straight up rock show, and oddly (considering last time), the crowd was into it right from the start. By the second song, there were people standing up at the front of the stage, with more joining with every song. By the end of it, the people at the first few rows of tables wouldn’t have been able to see anything and those tables were largely abandoned.

I didn’t take notes about the set list, but I’m pretty sure they opened with Easy to Love and from there, it was all hits, all the time. I didn’t keep track of the setlist, but if you know a 54-40 song, they played it. I mean, not if you’re some kind of superfan or something. But if you know only the radio songs, like me? They didn’t leave you wanting much. I Go Blind, Since When, Baby Ran, Crossing a Canyon, Lies to Me, Love You All, One Day in Your Life, Ocean Pearl, Nice to Luv You, Crossing a Canyon, One Gun, She-La, Radio Luv Song, Blame Your Parents, Casual Viewin’… it turns out that 54-40 had way more hits than I realized, and I knew pretty much everything.

I guess there was one song that wasn’t a hit – a new song from their upcoming album. The song was based on a Winston Churchill quote: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The song was probably called something like Keep Walking, while lead singer Neil Osborne offered the suggested title of “Grizzled, Chiseled, and the Wine is Fine” for the new album; about this, I can only say it received the reaction it deserved. Interpret that as you will.

Questionable album title aside, the new song was good, and the whole show was great – much better than last time out. There were big singalongs for Ocean Pearl and Casual Viewin’, but there was much more energy from both the band and the fans as compared to before. I don’t know what changed in the crowd, but whatever it was, it was there right from the start. It’s amazing the difference that the atmosphere makes. It created this loop where the band was having more fun because the crowd was really into it, and because the band was enjoying themselves, the crowd got MORE into it. It’s too bad the show ended after 90 minutes (plus a two-song encore) because we could have been on the verge of discovering some sort of perpetual energy machine.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

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SLCR #254: “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14, 2016)

August 19, 2016

I turn 40 in two days.

This is an excellent way to start a concert review. For one, it ensures that I have to finish it today instead of letting it sit for another week or two. Also, it advises you, the reader, that there will be very little distracting music talk getting in the way of me nattering on about myself, which is what you’re all here for.

This fact is also relevant because these concert tickets were my 40th birthday present to myself. I’ve seen a ton of concerts this year, but this one was special – I forked over a not-insignificant amount of cash to get the Mandatory Czar VIP tickets – not only do you get premium seats, but also a bag of stuff and – most importantly – a meet-and-greet with Weird Al himself. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, which is why I made up the “40th birthday present” justification after the fact. I needed something. These were the most expensive concert tickets I’ve ever bought.

Which is a questionable purchase to make, you know? I love Weird Al, but I also know how his shows go. You have a good idea of what he’s going to play, because there are so many costume changes and special sets that things can only vary so much from tour to tour. If you’ve been once, you kind of know what you’re getting.

Though to be fair, the VIP tickets promised some new experiences. There were two tiers of VIP tickets; ours (the pricier ones) came with the meet-and-greet, but both had the gift bag and also the pre-show experience. And that’s two sentences in a row ended with “experience,” but that really is the best word for it. They let people in at 5:30, but we didn’t get there until after 7:00 as I didn’t think it would really be my thing. They gave us our stuff bags at the door – nothing too exciting. There was a flag, a lanyard, a beret, and a copy of the Mad magazine from last year that Al edited. We walked into the hall, and right into the middle of a costume contest and lip-sync battle. There was an Amish guy, some Jedi, lots of tinfoil hats, and some girls in Weird Al costumes who gave me really conflicted feelings. There were also some costumes where their relevance was… dubious. Either these were some deep references that I didn’t understand, or else it was just random dressing-up.

At the back of the room, there was a small touring museum with a selection of props from videos, lots of pictures, things like that. That stuff was really neat to see. There were snacks set out, a cash bar, and a merchandise stand so you could shop for your Weird Al paraphernalia without being interrupted by the masses. I wanted an action figure but it was cash-only and I had brought none, so I had to hit up an ATM later and shop at the normal souvenir stand like some sort of god damned commoner.

We were only there for a few minutes before the festivities wrapped up, concluding with the host tearing around the room singing Leggy Blonde (which is decidedly not a Weird Al song, but I guess it does say “goodbye” a lot) and knocking things over. We took this as our cue to leave so Mika took a picture of me with the Wheel of Fish, and then went off to our seats. The VIP tickets had us front row, just slightly right of centre. No complaints there.

Weird Al may be wacky but he is super serious about starting a show on time. 8:00 on the nose. I know it’s the same show from night to night – you can’t mix it up too much when it’s that choreographed – so I don’t want to go into too many details here. The structure of the show itself was as I remembered – lots of songs from the newest album (Mandatory Fun), lots of classics (I wonder if Canadian Idiot gets added to the tour specifically for the Canadian shows?), lots of video clips between songs while the costume changes were happening. Hearing the new songs done live was cool, and like before, there was a medley with a mix of songs from all through his career so you could hear things you might not expect. This time, there was also an acoustic set partway through that offered new versions of some of his classics. This was new to me and it was a great way to mix things up. He’s been playing some of these songs for over 30 years so it’s probably nice for him and his band to do something different too.

Anyway, this was a delightful time. Al was in fine form – I’m pretty sure he ages at one-third the speed of the rest of us – and his band was excellent as ever. Sitting front row adds to the experience, as Al once again serenaded Mika during Wanna Be Ur Luvr, putting his foot up on her chair and singing “Have you seen my picture? It’s in the dictionary, under ‘kablam’.” We also got splattered with water during Smells Like Nirvana when Al threw the contents of his cup out into the crowd. And during Fat, Al’s cries of “hooooooooo” drew an appearance from Santa Claus, who got punched, sending “teeth” across the stage. One of Santa’s teeth hit me in the ankle, which is not a sentence I’ve had much reason to say before now.

And while the show was familiar, there was a lot of new material – not only were there the new songs, but many of the video clips used during the show were new to me, and lots of the classic clips had been retired. Al has had a renaissance of sorts in the past few years, with Mandatory Fun being the first comedy album to hit #1 in 50 years, and the first one ever to debut at #1. Plus he’s been the bandleader on Comedy Bang Bang and done lots of TV guest spots and voiceover work, so there was a lot of material to draw from.

Once the show was done, after the Star Wars songs (he always ends with the Star Wars songs), it was time to meet the man. About 50 people had the purple VIP badges that allowed for the meet-and-greet. We got the rules (have your camera or phone ready, have your item to get signed ready, decide beforehand if you want individual pictures or a group shot). The host said he’d be the one taking the pictures, and that we could trust him because he used to work for Sears before he got fired. As someone who’s been paying close attention to the goings-on at his local Sears Portrait Studio, this joke did not fill me with confidence. Search Instagram for #searsyqr for more details. Anyway, once that was done, we were led to a side area of the centre. There was a bit of a wait; occasionally, someone would leave to use the bathroom, and then disappoint everyone upon their return. Not every door that opens leads to “Weird Al” Yankovic. Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers, who made an on-stage appearance during the Star Wars songs, stood behind the table to serve as a backdrop for photos with Al. Some other Stormtroopers wandered the line and chatted with people, posed for pictures, that kind of thing.

Before too long, Al showed up. They moved through the line at a pretty good clip. I got my phone ready, and I decided to just get the concert tickets signed (in part because I’d already taken all our stuff to the car before the show started). Al posed for a picture with us, signed our tickets, and I got to thank him for the show and for all the music over the years. Not only have I been a big fan since childhood, but he comes across like a really down-to-earth normal guy. I’ve never heard of anything that suggests otherwise.

And with that, we were out the side door and back to the car. Would I do it again? That’s a tricky question. I cannot stress enough that these tickets were really expensive and by most anyone’s estimation, buying them was a really dumb idea. I could live without the pre-show deal and the bag of stuff – I’m almost 40, I’m not going to wear a Weird Al hat or hang a Weird Al flag (and I already had the magazine because Aaron’s got my back). But we had great seats for a great show, and I got to meet one of my favourite celebrities ever, if only for a minute. That part of it was really cool. Ultimately, I certainly have no regrets that we did it once. I don’t know if I’d do it again for the next Al show, though. I had my moment with him, I got what I wanted, I’m good. For someone else? Maybe. For the right band at the right price, especially if they come with great tickets. But there just aren’t that many celebrities I really care about meeting. Watching from afar is usually good enough. This might be a one-off – but it was worth it.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• 54-40 (August 19)
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

SLCR #253: Regina Folk Festival (August 5-7, 2016)

August 9, 2016

SATURDAY, 3:40 p.m.

Here we go again. Let’s see if I can talk about 15 bands in fewer words than it took me to talk about one.

I was honestly not super excited for the folk festival this year. The first band they announced was the Cat Empire, who I saw in Calgary a few years ago and enjoyed, but the rest of the lineup didn’t do a ton for me. Then Ry Cooder dropped out; to be honest, I know way less about him than I probably should, but I know the guy is a legend and I was looking forward to seeing him for that reason alone.

We considered getting rid of our tickets – we buy early when they’re cheap, which makes it easy to sell them later at cost if we need to unload them – but ultimately decided to go. Mika made the point that if you don’t support (what you see as) the weaker years, they won’t have money to bring you (what you see as) the better years. Fair enough. And sometimes acts you don’t know about can take you by surprise. Like last year. Lisa Leblanc? Never heard of her. Who cares? And then she tore it the heck up and was awesome and I’m sad that she hasn’t been back out this way since then. So there’s hope.

Each day, the gates open at 5:00, which on Friday is a bit of a pain for someone who works normal hours. I’m done at 4:02 (union reasons) but I figured Mika wouldn’t be able to leave the office until at least 5:00. After considering a dozen options, none of them ideal, I decided to drive my lawn chairs to the office on Thursday night so I could easily take them and get in the festival line on Friday. “Easily” being a relative term; the chairs are comfortable, but they’re also mighty solid. But whatever; I dragged them from the office, through the mall, then got to the park. I set up one of the chairs and had a nice sitdown, listening to podcasts and catching Pokémon until they let us in.

Walking up, I was surprised to see that there wasn’t much of a line. I got there at 4:15 and was on the corner of Scarth and Victoria. Last year, Mika made it to the line at 3:30 and was a block further back. It certainly seemed like there were fewer people in the park this year, at least on the Friday. The food lines were shorter too.

I was inside with the chairs set up by the time Mika made it downtown. I got our usual spot, though a few rows closer than normal. Taking a cue from Jeff, I took a picture of the weekend schedule and set it as my phone’s lock screen. So handy!

The Friday night host was children’s entertainer Al Simmons. I will say that lots of people enjoyed his shtick. I will also say that I do not understand those people. At one point I joked that he was my second-favourite performer of the evening and everyone else was tied for first. During one particularly interminable bit, a friend messaged me that Simmons was dipping into third place. Solid enough joke but absolute gold-star timing.

The festival was kicked off by Terra Lightfoot, who we saw open for Blue Rodeo earlier this year. I liked her well enough then and a few people I know said they preferred her to Blue Rodeo at that show. I hope those folks were at this festival because she was great here – almost like she was holding back last time. Great songs and a likeable, charismatic personality with lots of energy. As one of only a handful of artists I knew on this year’s festival, I was really looking forward to her set and she exceeded my expectations.

The first teaser was Twin Peaks, a duo from BC. I question the wisdom of choosing a band name that will be so tricky to search, but they were charming and fun so I’ll just put the link to http://twinpeaksmusic.ca/ here and now the world doesn’t need Google anymore. It feels good to know that I fixed the internet forever. They’re playing a full show at 3:00 on Sunday and I’m thinking about checking it out. I mean, let’s be honest, I never get around to the daytime stages unless Hawksley Workman is there, but I’m considering it.

Next up was IsKwé, a First Nations performer from Winnipeg who performed what I would describe as hip-hop-influenced pop. I thought this was pretty interesting; in particular, I really enjoyed the first song. She also covered a Björk song (Army of Me), though I don’t know from Björk and didn’t recognize the song. Mika knows these things. She should write these. Though I think I enjoyed this set more than she did so maybe not.

Somewhere in here, I got Indian food. I suspect I will write this sentence two more times in the coming days. Mika went for falafel, and later on, we split a box of salted caramels. Kettle corn truck, I’ll see you later.

The next teaser was by Twin Bandit, another pair of ladies from BC. I wonder if Twin Peaks are their mortal enemies? Or maybe best friends? OR BOTH? Someone write me some fan fiction about two bands you’ve never heard of.

DAMMIT I am out of time and will have to finish the Friday night wrap-up later. I skipped ahead and wrote the last part first, so uh here it is I guess:

The first night’s headliners were The Head and the Heart. I knew the name but no songs, so Mika played me some. They were pleasant, if aggressively dull – so much so that not only did I not remember a note ten minutes later, I think I was actively forgetting them as they were playing. Point being, I wasn’t really looking forward to them. I can tell you that live, they were much better than what she played for me. However, this still didn’t interest us much and we packed it in halfway through. The screaming girls down at front would surely have a different opinion of this performance. Maybe I am a stubborn old poop or maybe they just weren’t for me. Or maybe anyone would have struggled to follow the one-two punch of Ginkgoa and the Cat Empire.

=======

MONDAY, 8:25 p.m.

Okay, my plan of writing this in short, reasonable chunks over the weekend didn’t pan out.

Also not panning out: my plan of getting downtown in time on Sunday for the Twin Peaks set. Unsurprising. Oh well, I bought their CDs instead so that’s probably better for them anyway.

Feeling that I had to keep one promise, I did indeed eat Indian food all three nights. Specifically, the samosa platter with curried chickpeas and a Diet Coke. I mixed it up dessert-wise, though. Gotta expand those horizons. With mini-donuts.

Given that chronological order has already gone to hell, I suppose I could talk about Sunday now, since it’s freshest in my mind. I don’t have much to say about it, though. The mainstage acts were, in order, the Barr Brothers, Frazey Ford, Bobby Bazini, the Strumbellas, and the Mavericks. You know how sometimes I see a show and it’s good, but I don’t have much to say about it? That was all of Sunday night for me. Nothing was bad. Bazini was delightfully funky. The Strumbellas had fun banter and I enjoyed their sing-along clap-along tunes more than I was expecting to, especially the one song that I knew (it’s their one song everyone knows, even if you think you don’t) (even you). IsKwé was our host for the evening and she did a mighty fine job. We didn’t stick around for the very end – we left about halfway through the Mavericks – but this was all fine. Not the most memorable evening I’ve spent at the festival, but there was nothing wrong with it either.

As I mentioned above, that was all kind of my opinion about the Head and the Heart too. They were mightily upstaged by the bands that came before them. Ginkgoa, in particular, were the highlight of the festival for me. From France, they played an updated take on swing music, adding in some modern pop twists. The crowd loved these guys, going from “who?” to “OMG” over the course of their set – to the point that there were boos when they said it would be their last song. I bought their EP – it’s not exactly the one that’s featured at http://ginkgoa.bandcamp.com/releases. I haven’t listened to either yet to see if they’re entirely different; if they are, I’ll get the online version too.

Two years running that French speakers stole the show. I should have tried harder in grade school.

The next main stage act was the Cat Empire, who played another very energetic batch of tunes, though I thought the restricted length of their set (roughly an hour) may have hurt them a bit. They’d go on these extended jams that were fun enough, but when you only have an hour, I don’t know that you have time to do that too often. But whatever, I’m nitpicking. This was very well received and the one-two punch of Ginkgoa and the Cat Empire made Friday the best night of the three.

Before the Head and the Heart, I went in search of a Diet Coke but instead found the T+A Vinyl & Fashion tent in the marketplace, so I dug through their crates and found a 12″ of Love Junk by the Pursuit of Happiness for $7. This delights me.

Okay, so I covered Friday, then Sunday, then back to Friday. Time for Saturday. And I legitimately almost wrote “Thursday,” which would make this a recap of me writing my Tragically Hip review. Or, more likely, my procrastination techniques (usually logic puzzles).

The host for Saturday night was the artistic director of the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon. He did fine work and I will note that his job title is not “professional entertainer.”

Additional amateur entertainment was provided by the family in front of us. Specifically, the grandma, who brought a bag of dried apricots (“DON’T STEP ON THE FOOD” she said) and who loudly told one of the grandkids “Come sit by me. Mama wants to drink.” But alas, my fond memories of them were stained when they went home, leaving all their trash behind on the lawn like idiot garbage people despite the numerous bins all over the park. Fred Penner’s gonna hunt you down, grandma.

It is interesting to note that if someone was littering, letting their friends cut into very long lines, or obstinately parking their lawn chairs in the middle of the walkway and then getting upset if you tried to use said walkway for its intended purpose (hypothetically), it was a senior citizen. There were lots of older folks who were perfectly pleasant, though. Maybe festivals like this just bring out people who don’t normally go to concerts and thus don’t know how to behave? Or maybe I’m just grasping at straws, desperately attempting to delude myself into thinking that I’m still young.

Anyway. The first two main stage performers were Ayrad (Moroccan music from Quebec – and NOT my Sociology professor) and Boogat (Latin music, also from Quebec). These were both enjoyable and not at all like what I usually listen to. Again, not a ton to say about either of them; sometimes it’s just nice to kick back and enjoy something a little different.

The next act was supposed to be Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, & Sharon White, but instead wound up being Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. So it goes. Earlier that day, my dad said he’d be interested in my opinion of Skaggs, who he described as very talented but also a “hardcore conservative.” Coming from my dad, this says something. Anyway, I wondered how receptive a folk festival would be to that kind of talk, but apart from one “bluegrass matters” aside that I rolled my eyes at, politics were a non-issue. But yeah, this was really good. Kentucky Thunder (guitars, banjo, fiddle, bass) were amazing musicians.

Next up was Bettye LaVette. This is yet another one where I am not informed enough to say anything of value, but what the hell, if you were going to tune out over that, you’d have done it years ago. People loved this lady. They cheered when she said her age (70! I should be half as active then) (or now). They cheered every songwriter she mentioned working with, including Dolly Parton and Lucinda Williams. I cheered when some girl went WOOOOO and LaVette said “I’ll give you a quarter if you never do that again. That’s piercing. But you’re very beautiful.” So that was fun. And she sings real good too. I’ve got all the hot takes tonight.

Finally, we had the Sam Roberts Band. I did not figure this would happen. Two years ago, Roberts was scheduled to headline the Friday night of the festival when, in his words, “the world came to an end.” The lightning shut down the festival, and the rain made everyone flee, but it was the plow wind that ripped off sections of my friend’s roof and caused another friend to walk home over downed power lines. Maybe not a good idea. Don’t do that.

Anyway, we’ve had lots of late night storms this summer, so when I saw Roberts was on last, I didn’t think it would actually happen. Somehow, it did – we actually had beautiful weather for all three nights – so Roberts and his band and the fans all got to settle some unfinished business.

Oddly, I’d never actually seen Sam Roberts before, which seems amazing considering he’s been a big deal in Canadian music for 15 years now. Though in all fairness, I was never a superfan; never disliked the guy, but never quite understood why everyone else seemed to like him SO much. I think that maybe this was the perfect Sam Roberts show for me – a handful of new songs and deep cuts, but this was mostly a greatest-hits performance, and it turned out that I knew and liked more of said hits than I thought.

The night peaked when the encore was starting and Mika showed me her phone – she got an alert from the Weather Network saying that lightning had been seen in the area. This was perfect. Too little, too late, God. We made it all the way to the end of Don’t Walk Away Eileen, so now who’s omnipotent?

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

SLCR #252: The Tragically Hip (August 1, 2016)

August 5, 2016

Beloved Canadian legends. One final tour. An impossible ticket.

For my money, the Tragically Hip are most iconic band in Canadian history. But I might be biased; timing-wise, I’m about the perfect age to be a Hip fan. I’m also quite willing to discount Rush’s potential claim to the title due to not caring in the slightest about Rush. They join SCTV and Trailer Park Boys and hockey and beer on the big list of Canadian exports that I just can’t get behind.

Nevertheless. The Hip came on the scene as I was getting into high school. By the time I got to university, they’d cemented their spot as the top band in Canada. They seemed to skip over Saskatchewan on every tour (at least when I was old/interested enough to want to see them), so when they finally played Saskatoon on November 18, 1996, it was probably my most anticipated concert ever at that point. That said, it was SLCR #5 so it didn’t have a ton of competition.

I saw them twice more after that. Once was at Another Roadside Attraction (SLCR #18, July 21, 1997), an outdoor festival that also featured Sheryl Crow, Wilco, Los Lobos, Ashley MacIsaac, Ron Sexsmith, and others. The only other time was February 27, 1999 (SLCR #35), when I really only went because my mom won free tickets at work.

It may make you very sad to consider that 1999 was 17 years ago. That’s a long time to go without seeing a band that I have always really liked. Part of the reason was that having seen them, I chose to direct limited time and funds to other shows. Part of it was that the Hip shows I went to were packed full of the kind of drunken oafs I can’t stand being around. And part of it was simply that it’s so easy to say “there’s always next time.” Funny thing about that.

As anyone who cares enough to read this knows by now, a few months back, the Hip went public with the news that lead singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. This was pretty much a national day of mourning here, and I’m not even kidding. But the announcement was accompanied by other news; namely, the band was going to head out on tour, feeling that “this feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us.”

The dates were announced, and the band was skipping over Saskatchewan. I joked that this should allay any fears about the quality of Downie’s performances – the band was already touring like it was 20 years ago. I briefly resigned myself to missing out, but of course, my mind did as it will do; namely, it got a dumb idea and then started to figure out how to make it feasible. The Calgary show would work without taking any time off – I’d just have to move an EDO. Simple. Mika couldn’t go; she couldn’t get the needed day off work. That would be sad for her and a long drive by myself.

This was all hypothetical, of course, as I’d still need a ticket. Luckily, I was only up against an entire country of Hip fans and an army of scalpers looking to corner the market. No big deal.

On the morning of the on-sale, I heard about the instant sellouts of the Ontario shows with some alarm. Finally, at 10:00 local time, I was up – and nothing. Refresh. Nothing. Try again. Nothing.

Please re-read those last six words for about twenty minutes, okay? It’s important to my artistic vision.

I can’t really build any suspense here. I’m writing a concert review; obviously, I got in. I hit my give-up point a few times, but convinced myself to log back in and check just one more time. It finally paid off, with a seat on the 20th row of the floor. Not that the chairs were ever used once the music started.

So that’s it, I was going. I was really curious what the show would be like. Could they still deliver? Would it be sad? And what would they play? The Hip has 14 studio albums if you count their first EP – could any setlist satisfy everyone? Reports from the first few shows were promising, both in terms of their performance and the song selections.

It was finally time to hit the road. (Which means that it only took me 13 paragraphs or so to get to the parts you didn’t already know.) I left quite early on the Saturday morning, having gotten up at 5:20 a.m. as I do on workdays. I had high hopes of getting the drive out of the way quickly. This lasted until around Swift Current (about two hours from Regina), where I saw a billboard for the T.rex Discovery Centre in Eastend. I’d always wanted to check that out, and realized that I wasn’t likely to ever have a better chance. The detour took me about 2.5 hours out of the way, but I saw some rad dinosaur bones so I figure it was worth it.

Leaving the centre, the sky was pretty ominous. However, the windy road back to the main highway seemed designed to circumnavigate the storm. I was in the clear!

(I’m an idiot.)

I stopped for lunch at Medicine Hat’s finest Subway before nearing Calgary around 5:00 p.m. It was at this point that all hell broke loose. Between Strathmore and Chestermere, the car started handling really poorly. I am nervous about the car at the best of times, and the service light had come on earlier in the trip. I assumed it was just the reminder that we were due for an oil change upon my return, but the handling was really concerning. Then I realized it wasn’t the car – it was suddenly just that windy out. I discovered this when I encountered a dust storm so bad that you couldn’t see through it. I got past it, albeit slowly and cautiously. On the other side, I could see that the sky was a really strange colour. I later heard reports of funnel clouds in the area around the time that I was near. So that was a thing. And not even the worst of it – when I did get into Calgary, the skies opened up and unleashed a wicked hailstorm. I tried to find shelter but was unsuccessful. I then decided to just try to get to my grandma’s place, but the hail got worse so I abandoned that idea too. I pulled into a hotel parking lot and was somewhat shielded under a tree. This was loud and horrible and sucked and I hated it.

But I need to be thankful. It could have been much worse. After the hail ended, I got back on my way and passed all kinds of accidents and emergency vehicles. When I finally made it to my grandma’s place and stowed the car in the underground parking, my initial assessment didn’t reveal any damage. I don’t know how that could be possible – and I did find a windshield chip later on, so there was at least that – but we’ll get a car wash and see what we see. I’m still here and the car’s insured. Though I’m insured too so maybe we should run a cost-benefit analysis before declaring that everything worked out for the best.

I spent that night visiting with my grandma. I did get an invite from Colin to go out with him and some folks, but after that drive, our evening of frozen pizza and Lawrence Welk and NCIS reruns was just fine.

The next day (which was still not the day with the concert but I am trying to give you the full experience here), I walked to the Chinook Centre and saw some adorable bunnies on the way. Then I caught the C-Train to Colin’s neighbourhood and we explored the Harry Potter launch day celebrations. As Mika pointed out, me at a Harry Potter event would be like her going to a wrestling convention, but whatever, this was neat to see. Nobody was expecting this turnout and some places ran out of their Potter-themed specials two hours into the day. When we got there, the candy store had probably 100 people lined up out the door. After dinner, two hours after everything was supposed to be done, there was still a line just to get into the store.

The next day, I spent the afternoon walking around the neighbourhood, by which I mostly mean I spent it catching Pokémon. In music news, I popped by a record store where I found a used Refreshments vinyl for $12. Hopefully I like it as much now as I did in 1996. The deal was made even sweeter with the inclusion of a free Jason Collett CD that I’m about 80% sure I was allowed to take and didn’t just shoplift. They’d have said something, right?

Finally, it was time for the show. Multiple emails said it was doors at 6:30, show at 8:30 sharp. There were no physical tickets; you swiped the credit card you paid with at the door. I got there reasonably early, around 7:00, as I’d been expecting chaos trying to get in, but I needn’t have worried. There was no line, the swipe method worked fine, and I was inside in short order. I went in through the Chrysler Club entrance, and it took much longer to actually find my seat than it did to get inside. To go down, you must first go up. Very well.

For all the struggles people had getting tickets, I lucked out – 20th row on the floor, dead centre. It was such a good seat, in fact, that someone else claimed it too. We each went for the little slips they gave us when we did the swipe thing, and sure enough – Row 20, Seat 23. A matching set. Luckily, there was someone missing on the other side of the dude to my left, so he shuffled down a bit and all was well. This remained a mystery until I got home and examined my slip more closely. The slips have a perforation, and the printer deal doesn’t print real well on the perforation, so if you look really closely at my 23, you’ll see the telltale traces of ink that indicate it was actually a 28. Hahahaha whoops – I’m an idiot, but in fairness, that other dude didn’t notice it either. It WOULD explain why the other guy had room to move down.

If this all sounds relatively civil, well, it was. We all got along nicely. Fears of drunken yahoos – which escalated when I heard about the pre-party at Cowboy’s – were unfounded. Not that nobody was partaking (so so so much pot), but at least where I was, people weren’t rowdy at all. The mood wasn’t somber – far from it – but you didn’t get the people who were only there just to drink. I mean, I did hear one guy loudly belt out Boots or Hearts as I was leaving, but if that’s as bad as it gets, it’s been a good night.

There was no opening act. I figured this was for the best, since Hip crowds can sometimes be… single-minded in their interests, let’s say. The first time I saw the Hip, the Rheostatics were the openers and the crowd was having NONE OF IT. But in front of this audience… I don’t know, maybe? I don’t think people would have been outright mean to an opener here, but I also don’t think they wanted anything to take time away from the Hip.

As time passed, we got brief updates; a voiceover booming “THE SHOW WILL BEGIN IN 30 MINUTES” and an accompanying graphic on the big screen. Again at the 15-minute mark. Finally, it was “THIS IS ROB FROM THE HIP. THE SHOW WILL BEGIN IN 5 MINUTES, AND IF YOU ARE NOT IN YOUR SEAT, I WILL BE VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU.” Hilarious. Also, they were not messing around. At 8:30 on the nose, the lights dimmed, the band took the stage, everyone stood up (and stayed on their feet the entire time), and the show began.

The energy from the crowd was off the charts. Much like the Spirit of the West farewell show I saw earlier this year, everyone in attendance knew the story and they were ready to turn this into a great concert by sheer force of will if need be. However, the Hip – Gord in particular – didn’t need any help. He’s always been an entertainer and a showman and that’s what he was there to do. You’d never know that he’d had health issues – his voice was in fine form, as were his trademark… let’s go with unique dance moves. If anything, he seemed happier than the other times I’d seen them. More in the moment, with lots of big smiles, playful waves at the audience, and the ongoing struggle to pick his towel up off the floor with his feet. The costume changes helped the mood too. It’s probably hard to be sad when you have your choice of three shiny lamé suits to wear; gold, silver, and pink. With matching top hats. And a Jaws t-shirt underneath for good measure.

I broadcast the first four songs from the show on Periscope, more just as an experiment to see what would happen. I had over 300 live viewers at the peak, and it seemed like the sound came through okay – I haven’t watched it back. The idea was to set it up, stick my phone in my shirt pocket, and just kinda hope it worked out. But then it’s like… you want this to be good, right? So I’d hold the phone for a while, and then back to the shirt pocket, and then hold it some more, and then that aforementioned conversation with that dude about our “matching” tickets… ultimately, I shut it down pretty quickly. Too bad – it could have been a nice souvenir for me, and the folks who tuned in seemed really appreciative. But one only has so much battery and data, and I was finding it distracting. Still, a limited success. Will try again in the future with other shows.

As to what those songs were, the Hip were gracious enough to put the full setlist online so I don’t have to fight to remember specifics:

Three Pistols
Twist My Arm
Fiddler’s Green
Little Bones
In a World Possessed by the Human Mind
What Blue
Ocean Next
Machine
(five-minute break for the whole band)
In View
The Kids Don’t Get It
World Container
Yer Not the Ocean
So Hard Done By
Grace, Too
Yawning or Snarling
Daredevil
(Gord takes a brief break while the band plays on)
Something On
Escape is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man
Poets
Bobcaygeon
(encore break)
Giftshop
Flamenco
Ahead by a Century
(second encore break)
Boots or Hearts
Blow at High Dough

First, you’ll notice it was kind of like they were their own opening act, with eight songs (around 35 minutes) and then a quick break leading into a longer set. But what I didn’t notice in the moment is that all the songs are grouped together by album. Check it: four songs from Road Apples, four from Man Machine Poem, four from World Container, four from Day for Night, four from Phantom Power, three from Trouble at the Henhouse, and two from Up to Here. I did notice that a lot of album-mates were played close together, but only after I got home did I realize just how segmented it was.

This also means that there was nothing from We are the Same, Now for Plan A, In Between Evolution, In Violet Light, Music@Work, and – gasp – Fully Completely, once my favourite Hip album (I still love it, but I go back and forth with Henhouse and Day for Night now too).

The second Calgary show, this past Wednesday, followed a similar format. It featured blocks of songs from Up to Here, Man Machine Poem, Day for Night, In Violet Light, Trouble at the Henhouse, Phantom Power, and Fully Completely. I want to say that about half the songs repeated but I am not about to count it all up right now to be sure. I can’t say for sure which night I’d rather have seen. There were some obvious omissions in my show, but what can be done about that? They could play a six-hour show and there’d still be people who didn’t get to hear their favourites. On the drive home from Calgary, I tried to come up with my ideal setlist for a second show with no repeats. This was a hard game to master but an easy game to play – it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Hip have a ton of great songs.

And in Calgary, they played them all so well. The songs weren’t really messed with in any way; there were no fancy new arrangements and Gord didn’t really play with the lyrics as I’d seen him do before. The songs were all largely as we know them. The band was – well, as good as you’d expect musicians with 30 years of experience to be, which is to say, fantastic.

I have now ended two straight paragraphs with the most obvious “insights.” Maybe I should also mention that people cheered everything but they were much louder for the big hits.

Though I have to make special mention of Grace, Too. I’ve been asked if the show was sad, and it really wasn’t. People – both fans and the band, really – were there to celebrate, not to mourn. But there’s that part near the end of Grace, Too where Gord is just yelling, right? So they’re playing this song, and the crowd has been singing along, and they get to that part, and he’s just wailing, and you can clearly see his face on the big screens and he looks sad. The more he wails, the louder the crowd gets, and this carries on as far as you’d think it could go, and then just keeps on still. It was just so intense and cathartic – probably more for the crowd than for Gord – that when it finally ended, I was just in awe of what had happened. In 252 reviews – and with openers, festivals, and whatnot, surely well over 500 individual performances – I’m confident that this was the best single song I’ve ever seen done live.

“It’s one of those nights,” said Gord, and it was. Maybe he says that every night. Maybe every night is one of those nights now. I said that show wasn’t sad but it was bittersweet, especially at each break when the band would leave Gord alone on stage to soak in the adulation for a few moments before he joined them, and when they all hugged at the very end. He never talked about why we were all there, but it couldn’t be avoided.

Near as I can tell, the band has never said this is their last tour. I hope it’s not. Ideally, Gord will Magic Johnson this thing, and 30 years from now, we’ll all be asking him “I thought you said you were sick?” But I also know those are long odds. If this is the last time I see them, they went out on a high. Of the four Hip concerts I’ve seen, this was easily the best of the bunch. But though I know how lucky I am to have gotten into this one, I left wanting more, and I don’t think I can make another stupid plan pan out.

The CBC is broadcasting the final concert of the tour on Saturday, August 20 – live and commercial-free on TV, radio, and online. The casino here has announced that they’ll be showing it on the big screen in their concert lounge – it’s free to get in, but they’re taking donations to the Canadian Cancer Society. I don’t know if events like that will be happening everywhere, but I think that would be a fun way to watch the show; not quite the concert atmosphere, but maybe the next best thing. Whether this really is a farewell tour or just a much-deserved victory lap, it’s an opportunity to join the rest of Canada in a celebration of the band that defined Canadian music. (Eat it, Rush.)

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)