SLCR #257: Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6, 2016)

I don’t really understand how this happened.

I mean, logically, I get the rationale behind it. I was at the casino anyway, buying a ticket to Prozzäk – in itself, probably a questionable choice – and I got carried away. I’d probably just gotten paid or something. Or not. I mean, I don’t think that hard about my finances, which is something I should probably work on if I don’t want to alternate my time between concert venues and a refrigerator box in the alley.

Really, what I was thinking about was wanting to hit 40 concerts in my 40th year. That, and the whole Jian Ghomeshi thing.

Not THAT thing. The other thing.

Remember that other thing? Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters were guests on Q, Ghomeshi had the temerity to mention in passing that Thornton was famous for acting, and Thornton immediately turned defensive and basically shut the interview down like a petulant child. THAT thing. Who’d have guessed that Thornton would ultimately gain the PR upper hand in this battle?

Anyway, I wound up at this show for a combination of stupid reasons, is what I’m getting at. Mika opted out. Not due to school, or homework, or fatigue, or a prior commitment. No reason was given and none was needed. I got it. But I was curious. What if these dudes are really good? Low expectations can sometimes lead to great experiences. And what else was I going to do on a Tuesday night?

The first thing I noticed upon arriving at the casino was that I have never seen their parkade so empty. I had written up a big long description of the parking garage but who could care about that? It was largely empty. This is all you need to know.

I had a seat by myself in the upper level. I mean this nearly literally. The balcony is split into two halves; there were three people in my half, including myself. It didn’t look like the other half was any more crowded. The floor looked reasonably full but wasn’t sold out.

As with most casino shows, there was no opening act. The emcee was a local DJ who made a bunch of jokes about the miserable performance of our football team, particularly the kicker who missed a crucial conversion that would have tied the most recent game. Given that our team HAS been pretty terrible this year, you wouldn’t think these jokes would have died quite the death they did, but I don’t think anyone really felt like piling on.

Now that we were all warmed up (?), Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters took the stage. Thornton’s stage presence as a lead singer could be generously described as “aloof.” He kept his sunglasses on for the entire set, standing there, barely moving, looking down at the ground. He came across as either being disinterested or trying to look cool. I’m going to go with the latter, since between songs, he’d talk with the audience and he was actually pretty engaging and funny. He walked out on the floor and chatted with audience members at one point, and gently handled one die-hard fan who tried to rush onto the stage at another.

(He also talked a lot about having never played Regina before, which I’m pretty sure isn’t true? I feel certain that they had a previous casino date at one point. Maybe it got postponed? Or maybe I’m imagining things – if they were scheduled to be here, I never even mentioned it in a previous review.)

The Boxmasters were quite good, despite having a late substitution when their normal drummer found himself unable to cross into Canada for… reasons. However, I really don’t know how to rate Thornton’s performance as a singer, except to say it seemed like his mic was kept quite low and I found myself wondering if maybe that wasn’t intentional. I mean, I never thought he was terrible, but nothing stood out as being particularly good, either.

They played all original numbers, I think; if there were any covers, I didn’t pick up on them. The songs were like the vocals, in that nothing stood out as being particularly awful or particularly interesting. Is it super insulting to say that if they had a frontman who brought some energy to the performance, they could be a really great bar band? Because I don’t mean that in a dick way but it probably sounds like it. Oh well.

I don’t feel like I was alone in my lack of enthusiasm for this show. After they finished their set, there was the most tepid applause for an encore that I’ve ever heard, like “we all know what happens now and we are playing our roles” but there was no enthusiasm behind it. And then something really telling happened. The band (minus Thornton) came back out on stage to some cheers, and they began to play. Thornton followed, and when he walked out, there was no spike in cheers at all. I’ve never seen that happen before. Some bands try to paint everyone as equals, and others are the Front Man and the Other Guys. This was clearly meant to be Front Man and the Other Guys. And yet, when the Front Man came back, there was no reaction from the crowd to indicate that he was a bigger star than anyone else on stage. And really, if you’re bringing one person out separately, you’re presenting that one person as the star and trying to get that big reaction. And I’ve never seen it not work.

So yeah. This was an interesting experiment but not so hot and not really my thing. Which is about what I was expecting.

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