Archive for November, 2016

SLCR #268: Bif Naked (November 8, 2016)

November 14, 2016

When I bought the ticket for this show, I didn’t realize that it was on the same day as the US Presidential election. I was well aware of both dates for some time, but somehow it took until the day before for me to piece together that the election’s November 8, 2016 and the concert’s November 8, 2016 were, in fact, the same day. I had already decided not to watch election results, so I was thankful to have the distraction.

Needless to say, I spent much of the show on my phone. I also thought the show itself was only okay, but it’s pretty hard to tell how much of that was the show and how much of that was my worsening mood as the night progressed. I had big plans of coming home and writing the review right away while it was fresh in my mind, but instead we watched the news and said a bunch of things about our southern neighbours that didn’t make us feel any better.

You don’t read these for my political opinions (one wonders why you read them at all) so I will just say that I will hope against all logic and reason that the next four years are mostly okay and not the racist, misogynist, transphobic, anti-immigrant pants-shittingly reckless dumpster fire that this campaign and Trump’s entire life would lead one to expect.

We had a trip to Nashville planned for this coming August, but we haven’t booked anything yet and we’ll be re-evaluating this choice in a few months. If you caught me on election night, I was a hard “no,” but… total solar eclipse? On my birthday? That I’ve been anticipating for seriously like 30 years? I’d be really disappointed to miss it. But I also recognize that “having to vacation somewhere else” is a pretty petty concern when I think of what this election could mean for a lot of people.

Also, to any American readers, yes, we have a guest room, but Mika says that I’m only allowed to offer it to my gay and/or brown friends. My straight white American friends have to stay behind and fix shit. I don’t have a firm answer as to whether she’s also offering guest room amnesty to my American Jewish friends, and I don’t think she’d appreciate me waking her up to fact-check this.

I like how “I will just say” was followed by three paragraphs.

So! Bif Naked. I became a fan through Kristin, but that was a long time ago. I’ve seen her twice, back in 2000 and 2001. Pat was at the 2000 show and told me all about how he wanted to go to Fiji. I remember that conversation (Boolah! Ramram!) but forgot that show ever happened. I did remember seeing Bif with Kristin in 2001, only I thought it was in Winnipeg. Nope. And hey, Static in Stereo and LiveOnRelease opened? I’ve seen them? I’m pretty sure you could sneak anything you want into my Word document of old concert reviews and Future James will believe it. Maybe you already did.

Anyway, over time my tastes shifted, I became less interested with each successive album, and eventually just quit following her career. It happens. This show was probably going to be the first time I’d even heard Bif’s music in a decade, and I was really interested to see how I felt about it. Plus, she wrote a book, and this was basically her book tour. The show was going to be acoustic songs interspersed with stories and readings, so it was guaranteed to be different than her other shows I’d seen.

The tickets said “doors at 8:00,” which is later than most shows at the Exchange, so I was skeptical. I drove up around 7:55 and sure enough, there was a line from the door down to the street and partway down the block. I was already expecting to stand in the back, off to one side, so I didn’t think there was much reason to join the horde. I parked, sat there for 15 minutes playing games on my phone, and eventually wandered over – only to find that the line hadn’t really moved. But whatever, by then I was committed, so I waited for another 10 minutes or so until I got inside.

Once in the building, I was surprised to see the floor full of chairs. I suppose it made sense for an acoustic show. I was even more surprised to see how many chairs were empty, considering the show was sold out and the people ahead of me in line were only able to buy their way in because not all the tickets set aside for comps wound up getting used. I don’t know if there were a lot of people who stayed home to watch election results or if the Exchange just set out every chair they own. Whatever it was, I had a good view and enough space to stretch out.

The opener was Jordan Alexander, who met Bif while working at a bookstore in Toronto. She played mostly her own songs on guitar, with a little sampler keyboard deal (I couldn’t really see it) for playing backing tracks. She also threw in a few covers, including Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus, saying that we probably hadn’t heard her songs yet (true) since her album just came out, and she figured we’d like to hear something we knew. This was all fine, though the best moment was a happy accident. She was playing a song that she wrote for her best friend, and she stopped about a minute in, thinking she was playing it in the wrong key (which I don’t think she was, but like I’d know). After fiddling with the sampler machine for a second, she gave up on it and decided to play the song just on guitar instead. Not only did she handle the situation with a great sense of humour, but it wound up being the best song she played. One guy behind me yelled “now throw it away and never use the backing tracks again” and I would have to concur. I’m sure it’s a nice safety net to have when performing, but she showed she didn’t need it. The crowd wasn’t paying much attention to her at first, but this did a fine job of winning them over. Not that she needed this song’s help – she also came across as the most likable person ever. Would go see again.

A quick break and then we were joined by Bif Naked, who said that tonight we were not going to think about our neighbours to the south. I tried, but y’know. Also on stage was Snake. Snake is Bif’s husband, and not a literal snake (I know, I saw his arms). I’m sure Snake has a real name but then so does “Bif Naked” and real names are unnecessary.

Like I said, this was an acoustic tour, with Bif reading stories from her book and singing songs while Snake played acoustic guitar with his human arms. The stories were really good and I’d be interested in reading this book at some point. Bif’s had quite an eventful existence. The songs were mostly taken from her earlier albums, so largely stuff I knew, and some of her more personal songs. Some of them made the transition to acousticness (?) quite well, like Lucky, Chotee, Spaceman, and Daddy’s Getting Married. Others not so much. Tango Shoes didn’t work for me. And I Love Myself Today felt like it was two people performing two different songs at once. I’m surprised that one didn’t come together when the best version of that song I’ve ever heard was a capella (in front of an audience of two, no less – very intimate house concert).

I don’t really know how I feel about this show. I enjoyed some songs, didn’t care much for others, and I don’t think my tastes have swung back her way – but as I mentioned, by the end of things, my head was no longer in the game. I Love Myself Today was the last song she did, and by that point, the election results were obvious, and it felt almost ridiculous to even be thinking about music right then. There was no encore, and I was fine with that, because I was done at that point anyway.

Certain members of the audience also tried their best to drag the proceedings down. One exceptional fellow – drunk, stupid, or some combination thereof – could not grasp that this was not a normal rock show and also that he was not the star of said show. Bif is reading a passage about finding out she has cancer and going through chemotherapy, and this shitbird jackoff is hollering I LOVE YOU BIF IT’S MY BIRTHDAY TODAY I WANT A BIRTHDAY HUG! Like, dude, shut the fuck up. And later on, she’s talking about being a sixteen-year-old runaway who got rescued from what appeared to be a prostitution ring from a friendly cab driver, and she’s thinking that she’s going to have to perform sexual favours for the cabbie in exchange for his help, and this dude in the crowd is yelling YEAAHHHH! I already said “dude, shut the fuck up,” but seriously. This is not a fun sexy time story at all. And also maybe don’t demand that strangers touch you, especially if you suck and are gross. When I left, the guy was waiting to buy a book, by which I assume I mean “not buy a book but demand a birthday hug” because obviously that was where this was going, and some people who were sitting near him were trying to decide whether or not they should confront him about how he was behaving. I didn’t stick around to see how this played out but I’d be pretty fine with it if they Negan’d his head all over the parking lot.

That is not a nice thought or a nice way to end this. So there’s this: the only thing the cab driver made Bif do is call her mom. Bif later dedicated her first album to him. There are good people. I like them.

Advertisements

SLCR #267: Steve Earle & the Dukes (November 3, 2016)

November 14, 2016

Earl and Duke. I just got that. Like, right now. This is off to a fine start.

This show was part of Steve Earle’s 30th anniversary tour for his debut album, Guitar Town; a tour that’s been going on so long that Guitar Town is now 31. I have vague memories of driving around with my dad as a kid, listening to Guitar Town, though upon revisiting to the album before the show, I found that I was very familiar with the title track and didn’t remember much else about it.

Earle was going to play the album start to finish, in what has to be the most common new gimmick I’ve seen in concerts in some time. When did this start? I’ve been to a few “anniversary” tour shows this year that did this, including I Mother Earth, Hayden, and Sloan. I suppose it’s a good way to get people to come out since it’s not like it costs extra, you might draw back some lapsed fans, and if someone has seen you before, you can promise them a different kind of show (and one they’ll likely only have one chance to see). Plus you might sell some extra copies of an old album too. I’m not opposed to the idea at all, though I wonder if it isn’t a bit polarizing. It’s great for people who are big fans of a specific album, but let’s say I only know a handful of an artist’s songs. And let’s say that artist is Steve Earle, hypothetically. Do I want to listen to an entire album instead of a show where you might get all the hits spanning his entire career?

As it turned out with Earle, you didn’t have to choose between the entire album and the hits. You got pretty much everything.

I picked up my ticket as soon as they went on sale and was a little surprised to see just how fast tickets were going. People love this guy. I’m pretty sure it was sold out within a day. I got an aisle seat up in the balcony – far back, but a nice view – though there really are no bad seats in the casino. I showed up about ten minutes before the show was set to begin, ran into Mark and Arlette which is always a delight, and found my way to my seat.

This is all super exciting for you thus far, and I figure it’s pretty much peaked. That’s how these go sometimes.

Unlike the custom at the casino, there was no local DJ to kick off the show. Instead, the lights dimmed and a recording played with what sounded like a radio dial tuning in station after station, switching between snippets of mid-80s news stories and pop culture. This was clearly custom-made for the Canadian shows, as the quick hits about Ronald Reagan and the Challenger disaster were mixed with clips referencing Ed Broadbent and the Beachcombers, two names I did not expect to hear on this evening. Also, I want to learn how to play an instrument and start a band that only covers Canadian hits and I want to call that band Ed Broadbent & the Beachcombers. Is Ed Broadbent still alive? OMG he is. Would he agree to this? I should find out. Does he have a Twitter? No. Well, an Ed Broadbent does, but not the Ed Broadbent in question. The Broadbent Institute has one, though. Should I ask them for permission? Or should I wait and ask for forgiveness? The latter is probably easier since I will never actually start a band. But I like this idea a lot.

Anyway, that’s something to consider later. Earle and his band took the stage and played through all of Guitar Town, with Earle adding a few stories along the way. The inspiration for the album came from seeing Springsteen on the Born in the USA tour – there’s an interesting fact for you. Another interesting fact about Guitar Town? It’s pretty short. They played through the album in what seemed like no time at all. After a brief intermission, they came back and played a longer set with songs from throughout Earle’s career. I didn’t know a ton of them, but there was The Devil’s Right Hand, The Revolution Starts Now, and of course Copperhead Road. The encore featured covers of Hey Joe and Wild Thing, as well as what I believe Earle said was a song by the Pogues, though not one I recognized (he said, as though to make it sound like there was an off-chance he’d know anything about the Pogues).

Well, that was all very… factual. So how was the show? I was a little leery buying the ticket, to be honest. A friend I worked with saw Earle a few years ago and really disliked him. What I saw was the opposite of that. Maybe she caught him on a bad night, or maybe she has questionable taste and judgment in pretty much all areas (this. it’s this.) but this show was fantastic. Great songs, the Dukes were tremendous musicians, and a raucous crowd that loved everything. I don’t really have a ton to say about it other than that. Definitely a show where I left a bigger fan than I was coming in.

That raucous crowd had a lot of help; at least where I was sitting, it was a constant stream of people coming and going to and from the bar. It got to be a bit much at times, but the layout of the seating there is such that at least they can walk past you without you having to move. Ample legroom is everyone’s friend.

For the last songs, a crowd gathered at the front of the stage, but before that, everyone was seated for pretty much the entire show. When the casino does general admission shows, they make the whole floor standing room. I wonder if they’d be able to make the closest part standing while still reserving some floor seating further back, in the elevated sections. Having the people standing down at the front helped the atmosphere, and that would have been welcomed from the beginning – but it also blocks the view of the people sitting at the front, and there were probably lots of people who wanted to be sitting.

If you want many more thoughts about the logistics of concert venues that you have never been to and will never go to, there are crisis lines you can call. Not, like, for this specific situation, probably. But talk to someone.

SLCR #266: Bush (October 27, 2016)

November 4, 2016

My goodness. The last time I saw these guys was 19 years and 249 reviews ago. I was not quite 21. Pat was there. We hoisted. It was a different time.

I wasn’t sure about going to this. For as much as I enjoy some Bush songs (Machinehead) (maybe some other ones) (no, mostly Machinehead), I don’t know if I think of them as GOOD, exactly. For all the hey-remember-your-faraway-youth concerts I go to, I was more uncertain about this one than most. I discussed the situation with Jeff and he seemed equally hesitant to get tickets. Finally, I left it up to fate. If I could get really good seats, we’d go. If not, such is life.

I do not believe that there is a god, but if there is one, he or she must have been really into the idea of us seeing this show, because we wound up in the front row. That is a super weird thing for a supreme being to care about, but I suppose I wouldn’t be able to comprehend how its mind would work anyway, so maybe it’s not? If I quit listening to new music in the 90s, maybe God did too. “I dunno, I had the radio on, and Sarah McLachlan did this XTC cover, and I was just like… this just isn’t for me anymore.”

I figure we lucked into front row seats because the Conexus Arts Centre ticket website machine won’t let you leave one empty seat by itself, and there were three seats open in the front row, so if you wanted to buy a pair, you couldn’t. I debated it briefly, but ultimately figured we could give the third one a good home – or a good butt, as the case may be. The third ticket wound up with Scott, a guy I work with who was also at that Bush show in Saskatoon 19 years ago. He said it was his first “real” concert, apart from going to see The Nylons for a classmate’s tenth birthday, which still seems like the oddest idea for a kid’s party.

My first non-kids’ concert was Rod Stewart, for the record. Next up was Billy Joel. Musically sated, I then took something like eight years off. Then CĂ©line Dion. That is such a bizarre contrast to this past year. Or to a normal person’s life, probably.

Anyway. Scott picked me up and we met Jeff walking into the auditorium. It was a slow process; Scott knows everyone. We approached our seats and simultaneously remembered that we were sitting in the front row. I mean, we all knew, but I didn’t really think about it once I bought the tickets, but then you actually get there, and it’s pretty exciting.

Our openers were the Dead Deads, playing their first-ever Canadian show. I think they said they come from Nashville? Five young girls with X’s painted on their eyes, presumably because they are dead dead. I didn’t really know what to make of this? It wasn’t SUPER loud but did have some death metal growwwwwwwwls thrown in there. One of my cohorts said this may have been the worst band he’d ever seen. The other said it was “okay.” I fell closer to the “okay” side but in that “this is not really meant for me and I don’t feel the need to seek out more of this” sort of way. If you were at that Bush show 19 years ago, you may know what I mean when I rank these guys closer to Souls (fondly remembered by me for the non-hit song “Fuckmonkey”) and less like Veruca Salt.

There was an unusual moment when the singer said that their new album was produced by Page Hamilton, the lead singer of Helmet. “And he’s sitting right there!” she says, pointing into the crowd at the other side of the stage from us. It just seems really weird that he’d be there. We weren’t able to see him from where we were sitting, and after their set, Scott went on a reconnaissance mission but never found him.

After a short intermission, Bush took the stage and it did not get off to a great start. They opened with Everything Zen, which was good, but things fell apart a few songs in. During a song I didn’t know, it seemed like there was a long awkward pause. Jeff leaned over. “I think that was a fuck-up.” Sure enough, Gavin Rossdale called a halt to the song. “We don’t play like that. We play good.” I’ve seen a number of shows this year where a song hit a snag, and to a one, the performer had a good sense of humour about the situation (or could at least fake it well enough). Not here. Rossdale was clearly frustrated. Then they restarted the song and he messed it up again, and at that point, the rest of the band was looking frustrated too.

Later on, a guitar tech came out to switch out Rossdale’s guitar, mid-song. Rossdale shooed him away, looking pretty unhappy about the interruption. But he didn’t notice that the tech had turned down the guitar he was playing in preparation for the swap, so he kept on playing the original guitar, just very quietly.

Jeff tells me that in that first song, there are supposed to be two verses before the chorus, but Rossdale was trying to go into the chorus after the first verse. It’s good to know people who know things. He also told me the song was called “the Disease of the Dancing Cats,” which sounds like the kind of thing he’d make up to see if I put it into my review without checking. The setlist.fm record of the night backs him up, but I don’t know that Jeff didn’t upload the setlist, playing the long game. Devious.

Here’s that setlist. You’ll note that a few songs are marked as having been played live for the first time. That’s what Rossdale said, anyway; I don’t know if it’s true, but if so, that’s pretty neat:

Everything Zen
Just Like My Other Sins
The Chemicals Between Us
The Disease of the Dancing Cats
The Sound of Winter
Greedy Fly
The Gift
Earth Keeps Burning (live premiere)
Monkey
The People That We Love
Swallowed
This House Is on Fire
Lost in You (live premiere)
The Only Way Out
Insect Kin
Little Things

Before getting into the encore, I want to note a few things. There was a big screen behind the band that played during the whole show. Often, the videos playing were abstract and just there for decoration. But during one song, there was a video of a man with a briefcase. He checks a scrap of paper. 999 999. Aha! He unlocks the briefcase. Oh no! It wasn’t 999 999! It was 666 666! And the briefcase is full of evil! In the form of many CGI blackbirds!

The more I talk about the show, the less good it sounds. But that’s not fair – it was a lot of fun too. If you check that setlist, there are a lot of good songs on there. And sitting right up front helped a lot; it was really cool to see Rossdale singing and playing guitar literally two feet from me at times. And to his credit, he tried his best to bring that experience to as many people as possible. He’d hop off the stage, run up and down the aisles, hugging and high-fiving whoever he could. The highlight of this was near the end of the main set, when he disappeared out the back of the auditorium and reemerged on the second balcony. This was all really cool.

And though it’s not 1997 anymore, there were nearly as many high-pitched squeals for Rossdale as there were 19 years ago. Girls behind me shrieked “We made eye contact! I SWEAR!” And there were three girls up on the balcony who looked ready to faint after their surprise front-row show. This fantastic reaction really helped the atmosphere.

You might notice some prominent singles missing from the setlist above. Unsurprisingly, the encore included Machinehead, Glycerine (Rossdale solo), and Comedown, in that order. More surprisingly, between Machinehead and Glycerine, they played The One I Love. As in, the R.E.M. song. Nobody saw that one coming, but it went over really well. As did all the hits, of course.

So yeah, it was not without its flaws, but overall, it was a fun show. You might be advised to temper your expectations a bit, but if you want to relive your (well, my) just-after-University years, you could do worse.