Archive for December, 2017

SLCR #307: Hawksley Workman (December 9, 2017)

December 17, 2017

I’ve hit a point in my life where ten days between concerts seems like a long dry spell. And I had five days without an unfinished review nagging at me! It was like I was on vacation, a snowy vacation where I still had to go to work. What am I going to do with myself between now and Winterruption? Write about anything else? Read a book? Develop a hobby? Play one of those video games I keep buying? Unlikely.

So! Hawksley. Haven’t seen this dude in MONTHS. But this is a special show. Last year, he did a small Christmas tour where he played his Christmas album, Almost a Full Moon, front-to-back. The closest he came to me was Winnipeg, and I couldn’t justify a second trip to a Hawksley show in one year. Also, Winnipeg. Gross. Winnipeg winter. Double gross. So I was quite excited to see that Regina was one of the four stops on this year’s holiday tour, along with Saskatoon, Calgary, and Ottawa. Weird itinerary but I’ll take it.

Almost a Full Moon came out 16 years ago which seems impossible to me. I can’t understand how so many years have passed so quickly. Rather than contemplating death’s swift approach, I’ll lie to myself and chalk it up to the album’s re-releases throwing off my sense of time. A year after the first version of Almost a Full Moon came out, it was re-issued with two “new” songs – Watching the Fires (originally on a tour-only CD) and Silent Night. Then, in 2011, to mark the album’s 10th anniversary, Hawksley re-recorded the whole album and called it Full Moon Eleven. I love Hawksley but this is his one album that I just don’t understand or enjoy at all. Most of the songs on the original Full Moon are celebratory and joyous. None of the lyrics were changed for Full Moon Eleven, but all of the music was re-recorded and it’s slow and dour. It works fine for Merry Christmas (I Love You), though it’s not that different from the original version anyway. But for the other songs, it sucks all the fun and life out of them. It’s like someone killed Hawksley’s dog and made him watch, and then made him re-record the album right after. I’m listening to Full Moon Eleven now, as I do seemingly once every Christmas to see if I like it any better, and nope. It doesn’t help that the original is one of my favourite Hawksley albums. The best I can call Eleven is “unnecessary.” A few days before this concert, it suddenly struck me that we might get the Full Moon Eleven versions of the songs and I was concerned. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried.

They promised doors at 7:30 and show at 8:00, and since it was a Regina Folk Festival show, you know that’s likely to be close to correct. We got to the Exchange right at 7:30 and the line was out the door and just about around the corner. We took our place in line and slowly made our way inside. Ahead of us was (I’m guessing) a father and his young son. “Smell that? It smells like popcorn,” said the dad. “Smells like popcorn AND Coke,” said the kid. This made me so happy. I hope he got his snacks. I hope he found the toque that he lost shortly after entering.

Mark asked me to save seats for him and Arlette, and I succeeded expertly by showing up at least one whole minute before they did. Maybe one and a half! This was a seated show, and we grabbed a row of four about two-thirds back, stage right. We got drinks (iced teas and ginger ale! another hard partying Regina Saturday night) and settled in for the show.

Sheila Coles from the CBC emceed the show for the last time before her upcoming retirement. She was really nice to me that one time she interviewed me on live radio about my stolen marshmallow beanbag and how did that ever happen anyway? Life is weird. Anyway, she’s a local fixture and hopefully she has a fun time traveling and whatnot.

There was no opener and Hawksley took the stage right on time. It was just him on guitar and Leith Fleming-Smith on keyboard (and, for two songs, trumpet). I quite enjoy Hawksley’s usual pianist, Mr. Lonely, and am skeptical of any change, but Fleming-Smith did a fine job.

The first half of the show was the original Full Moon album, in order. Meaning that we were kicking the show off with Claire Fontaine, one of my favourite Hawksley songs ever. Like a lot of the songs on this “Christmas” album, it’s not very Christmassy. Mika describes it as “Christmas-adjacent.” It’s a love song to a pad of paper (or its namesake, at least) that happens to very briefly mention Christmas. Basically, Hawksley could have ended after the first song and I’d have gotten my money’s worth.

This is, of course, a lie. I wanted to hear the whole album. But you understand.

For as much as I love Claire Fontaine, it seemed like 3 Generations was the crowd favourite. I suppose it’s the most overtly Christmassy, and sentimental while still being… I dunno, rollicking? That seems like a good word for it. A word Hawksley would appreciate.

I feel like at this show, I saw him do some of the Christmas songs live for the first time, but I’m just not sure. I know I’ve seen him do Claire Fontaine twice before (I looked it up), and he did four other songs when playing with Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe. I know I’ve seen him play A House (Or Maybe a Boat) before, since this was the first time I’ve seen him (correctly) sing “a couple of clementines” instead of “a bottle of clementines.”

On that note, I will say that I’ve never seen a musician who flubs more lines than Hawksley. At least once at every show I’ve seen going back years now. I’ve also read interviews where he talks about how difficult he finds it to remember lyrics, and he never takes requests during shows for that reason. Tonight, he got lost and had to restart both The First Snow of the Year and You and the Candles. It doesn’t bother me; it’s just one of those things that happen at live shows and I like unique moments. I can see where some folks might not be so into it, though I think Hawksley is charismatic enough that he can turn it into a positive.

After playing through the album, there was an intermission wherein Hawksley and Leith did very sweaty one-armed pushups while we all took a break. I visited a bit with some folks – talked a bit with Rob (or was at least present while Mark and Arlette did so – I love chairs but they get in the way of mingling), ran into Mary and Chris, waved at Erin. I also checked out the Stuff Table at Mika’s insistence – I wasn’t going to bother but she’s right, I’d have been real sad if they had something exclusive and I missed out. No luck, though. 7 CDs, two records, and Hawksley’s kids’ book. All stuff I have at home. So instead I got a Diet Pepsi; also something I have at home, but I got all hepped up on consumerism and it was cheap.

Also during intermission, the Exchange played Andy Shauf over the sound system. I mentioned in my recent review of Shauf’s show here that Hawksley was a fan. When he came back out, he said it was intimidating to hear Shauf’s songs right before having to play. He even mentioned that growing up, his musical idol was Bruce Cockburn, and that he struggled with his early songwriting because, in essence, if a song wasn’t going to measure up to Cockburn’s, what’s the point? And now Shauf’s music made him feel the same way. Quite the strong endorsement (and very well-received by the hometown crowd).

For the second half – I’m actually thinking there were only five songs. By my recollection, we had Winter Bird, Watching the Fires, You and the Candles, Autumn’s Here, Safe & Sound. Mark, you’re one of only two people who read these things. Am I wrong?

I mean, there was a lot more than that, but I’m talking songs here. Hawksley spent a lot of time telling stories, as ever. I think it was in the first half of the evening where he told the story of him and his brother spending time with their grandma as kids – I’ve heard that one probably 10 times now but it’s delightful every time, and there are always new little flourishes. This time, there were more details about Eaton’s. And Hawksley’s dad’s butter knife.

In the second half, though, he told us about writing Watching the Fires and how it was the first song he wrote where he was satisfied with the result and thought that maybe this career in music might be possible after all (and how the song later got shoehorned onto one of the Full Moon re-releases and it didn’t feel like it really fit). He said that “not every song can be great, some of them are-” and here he played the theme from The Greatest American Hero and I may have laughed way too loudly upon realizing what it was.

He also talked about HGTV for what had to be a solid 20 minutes. Dude has spent some serious time thinking about House Hunters International. Beautiful people with unloved entranceways and Arborite countertops.

Near the end of the evening, he said that he and Leith needed to go to bed and someone laughed way too loudly at what barely passed as unintentional innuendo. This led to Hawksley saying “yes, sleeping IS funny” and launching into a new song that was about – and one assumes was called – Farty Sleeper, though it was also about Grandpa’s riding mower. I don’t know if he was making it up on the spot, but he did promise that he’d never record it. We could listen to it as much as we wanted on the “Spotify of your mind.” Then he played a second new song – again, I’m guessing on the title here, but let’s go with Spotify of Your Mind. It’s about the song Farty Sleeper.

Mika made me guess what the encore would be and I wasn’t at all confident in my pick of Safe & Sound but I nailed it. This is another of my all-time favourite Hawksley songs and was a great version of it. A few lines in, and Hawksley asked the crowd to sing along. For parts, Hawksley dropped out to let the audience be heard. It was a really nice moment. It’s a mellower song so it was almost more like a choir than what you’d hear at a rock concert. Quiet, too. I sang along but you could hear individual voices really clearly so I mostly kept it under my breath. Nobody needs that. There was also a great keyboard solo in the middle of the song, giving Leith his best chance of the evening to show off.

And that was it. Had a great night, as I always do at Hawksley’s shows. The crowd helped a lot. Not just the singing; after a few shows that I’ll generously call under-attended, this one was sold out and people were into everything. Hawksley seemed appreciative and said he needed to come back more than once every few years. That sounds like the kind of thing he’d say to every crowd at every show but I’m willing to let myself believe the lie.

• Tom Wilson w/Mariel Buckley and Belle Plaine (January 19)
• Mo Kenney w/Lindi Ortega and Megan Nash (January 20)
• The Dears (March 17)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)


SLCR #306: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald (November 29, 2017)

December 5, 2017

“Two days! Just two days until @ilovembf is back in the Exchange.” tweeted the Exchange.

This was on Monday. And I was sure they were mistaken. I’d planned all week to go see Michael Bernard Fitzgerald on Thursday night. I was about to point out their error when a tiny voice buried in the back of my brain pointed out that maybe… just maybe… *I* was wrong?!

Sure enough, Fitzgerald was here on Wednesday, not Thursday. I even wrote down Wednesday in the text file I use to organize my life (if only this phone had a calendar app), but for some reason, I was convinced the show was on Thursday. Never one to wisely hide my foolishness, I thanked the Exchange for saving me from a sad Thursday evening discovery. They replied, “Glad we did! Especially since Thursday is Austrian metal band Belphegor, so pretty different than MBF unless he’s really changed directions.”

In fairness, I’d pay to see MBF play Austrian metal at least once.

Anyway, for a dirt cheap $10 ticket, I somehow found myself at the Exchange on the correct night. Mika was in school so I was flying solo again. I prepared myself for a raucous evening of misbehaviour by grabbing a raspberry iced tea – the kind with real sugar and everything (on a Wednesday?!) – and went to find myself a chair. As luck would have it, I again ran into Rob and his wife, who once again let me crash their night out. They were joined by Carver and Rob actually properly introduced us to each other, ending a years-long running joke I had with myself. (I’m lots of fun.)

Regina’s own Danny Olliver was added as an opener earlier in the day. The last time I saw him was also in an opening spot for Fitzgerald, who produced Olliver’s albums. He played a short set of singer-songwriter type stuff – kind of on the folkier side – while showing off some impressive guitar work. Not much different than the last time I saw him, but I liked that time and enjoyed this round too.

Though really, if this set is to be remembered for anything, it’ll be salmon. Olliver took audience questions – because that always goes well – and someone asked him what his favourite food was. He said salmon and was immediately cut off by a girl at a nearby table not-quietly-enough exclaiming “oh God, I love salmon too.” They then tried to have a back-and-forth about salmon but the table quickly resumed talking amongst itself (about salmon) and the show went on.

At least salmon table was invested. Somewhat. It was not a particularly lively or enthusiastic crowd all night. When Olliver said “Are you ready for Michael Bernard Fitzgerald,” you could hear crickets. The crowd was a little bigger than for Nomadic Massive, but there, it seemed like people collectively decided “there aren’t many people here, we need to make up for it in enthusiasm.” There was no such thought at this show. MBF later said “you do not seem like a crowd that is interested in answering questions.”

The two openers both complemented Fitzgerald well. In Olliver, you could hear traces of MBF’s folkier side, and the second opener, The Middle Coast, were stylistically a lot closer to Fitzgerald’s more upbeat songs. I’d call them a three-piece from Winnipeg, but there was a pillar blocking the far right hand side of the stage for me, so I’ll just assume that the two people I could see were actually talking to someone else. Could have been twenty people behind that pillar. Or maybe they’re a duo and a robot or a tape deck or a ghost? However it shakes out, all three (?) took turns on lead vocals, and they did their best to bring up the energy level of a room that wasn’t real into cooperating. I liked these folks and would see them again. They earned bonus points for talking up local favourite eateries (even if their pronunciation gave their out-of-towner status away) and for disparaging their own album cover, a shot of the three of them making dinner (it was curry!) taken by someone who, I can only assume, was squatting atop the fridge. Sounds both dangerous and unsanitary, if you ask me.

One brief break and mere moments later, the Middle Coast returned, serving as MBF’s band – now with a keyboard player who could possibly have been there all along (see above, re: pillar). They all did a fine job in this role and, not being a musician, I’m always a little amazed at that sort of thing. Sure, we’ll learn an entire set of your tunes and play them flawlessly for a three-week tour – never before and never again. I mean, I know they’re not super musically complex songs or anything but that still seems daunting to me. But the only instrument I can play is one loud piercing note on a tin whistle that I use to scare the cat sometimes.

We were promised some new songs and we got them! Always a treat to hear new stuff from a favourite singer. We were not promised any old songs, so no promise was broken – I’m not sure he played anything that came out before his 2015 album Yes. (Okay some of those songs were on an earlier EP but that detracts from my point so shut it.) Luckily, I like his two newest albums – though the older tunes would have been welcome too.

I didn’t take notes but the more energetic songs included I Wanna Make it With You, This Isn’t It, and Last Train to Georgia, which was probably the standout to me. It’s never been in my favourites of his but I got a new appreciation for it on this night. The folkier songs included Follow, One Love, Love is an Easy Thing to Miss, and I think he played Reach You? Maybe? I’ve been listening to all my MBF songs on shuffle while writing this and may have confused myself. I feel like he did play Reach You and it was the only song from before Yes but who can tell now? Rob or Carver, maybe. I wonder if they’re available at 12:15am for factchecking.

I didn’t list a ton of songs up there, and it was a short set, clocking in at just around an hour. Fitzgerald never seems to play for too long, at least when I see him. I’d have happily listened a bit longer, but I do appreciate someone doesn’t leave ’em wanting less, and I can’t imagine the crowd was particularly inspiring. At one point, MBF addressed a couple who’d just gotten engaged and said that they were going to be at the show – no response. Then he talked about someone’s girlfriend’s birthday – also no response. Then he vowed to quit paying attention to things people say to him on Facebook. Not a crowd that’s interested in answering questions, indeed. At least he got a good laugh whenever he mentioned salmon.

For the record, I did not spend my Thursday night with Austrian metal band Belphegor. Instead, after work, I went to Costco. Much more expensive. Harder to navigate through the crowds. Worse parking. To be fair, Belphegor probably doesn’t sell iTunes cards at 20% off, but it would be unfair to ask them to.

SLCR #305: Regina Symphony Orchestra feat. Tanya Tagaq (November 25, 2017)

December 3, 2017

Hey, now here’s something I have no business talking about! I mean, I can’t play Rock Band above medium without failing out; whatever made 20-year-old me think I should start reviewing concerts is beyond me. But talking about a symphony orchestra seems especially like overstepping my boundaries.

“whatever made 20-year-old me think I should start reviewing concerts” – Pat was drunk and it was funny and I wanted people to laugh at him, that was mostly it

Anyway, this was part of the Regina Symphony’s Masterworks series, a performance of Dvorák New World Symphony (should that be “Dvorák’s” when you’re using it in a sentence?). My symphony-going experience, because I am a mature grown-up adult, is mostly limited to one-off novelties. Video game themes, or songs from kids shows, or the orchestra is accompaniment to mainstream pop/rock musicians (Ben Folds, Sarah Slean, Crash Test Dummies). Seeing that Tanya Tagaq was here, I think I was expecting something closer to those latter performances. This wasn’t that. Mika said that the evening was basically exactly what she was expecting, so I attribute this to me seeing Tagaq’s name and doing no further research at all.

Here’s what the program says:

Dòchas – Laura Pettigrew
Trumpet Concerto – John Estacio
Qiksaaktuq – Christine Duncan & Jean Martin
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 (From the New World) – Antonin Dvorák

I was surprised to find, when we got there, that we were sitting in the front row. I mean, I chose the seats, so it shouldn’t have surprised me, but that was five months ago now. I forget things. The online shopping experience through the Symphony’s website is not ideal – it’s tricky to pick the seats you want. I could call in or stop by their offices, but if I’m going to spend 20 minutes going back on forth on price vs. location, I’d like to be alone with my shame, thanks. Also, when you get your tickets emailed to you, they look like printouts of a website from 1996, with lots of blue underlined Arial text. These particular tickets also had a space at the bottom with the text, “A message from our Venue.” I guess the Conexus Arts Centre had nothing to say to me.

Anyway, they were good seats or not so good seats, depending on what you wanted to see. Not so great if you wanted to see the brass section, real good if you wanted to watch the conductor and the cellos and the violins and Tanya Tagaq. Also real good if you wanted to compare the shininess of everyone’s shoes. The conductor? Very shiny shoes.

Look, I’m not even going to try to seriously critique anything here. I enjoyed everything and have no deep thoughts about most of the music beyond “that was nice” and “maybe I should have dressed up at least a little.” Thank goodness they hand out programs so I can make a half-assed attempt to at least spell things right. That said, please note that putting the accent on the R in Dvorák is not going to happen and that is how it is. Dude’s dead, he doesn’t care.

The trumpet concerto was commissioned for Canada 150 and performed by symphonies across Canada throughout 2017, so it was neat to hear the one time it was performed here. The featured musician was the regular Principal Trumpet of the orchestra; though he’s a local (and a he), they still gave him a bouquet of flowers when he was done. He seemed very surprised.

Of the four pieces, I was unsurprisingly most interested in Qiksaaktuq; that was the one featuring Tanya Tagaq. She’s an Inuit throat singer who won the Polaris Prize a few years back, and this piece was described as a lament for missing and murdered Indigenous women. This was very moving and very unique – I gather that semi-improvisational pieces with two conductors and a throat singer are not so common. This was well worth the cost of admission alone, which is good since it was the reason we were there. It did seem like a fair number of people left once Tagaq was done.

The day before, Mika told me that the fourth movement of the New World Symphony was the inspiration for the music from Star Wars and I was supposed to let her know if I could hear the influence. Sort of, though I don’t know if I’d have noticed it if I hadn’t been prompted. Really, if I heard any John Williams in there, it was one brief part that clearly inspired the theme to Jaws.

And that was our grand symphony adventure. Honestly, if I’d fully realized what the night was going to entail, I wouldn’t have planned a write-up for it since I have no business doing so and it’s so far removed from a normal concert. But here we are. I did enjoy it! Would go again, which is good, since they’re doing selections from West Side Story in May and someone might have opinions about whether we should go to that. Would probably at least wear a shirt with a collar. Would prefer to not sit in the front row.

But the big takeaway, from the conversation in the car on the drive back home, is that you’re not supposed to clap between movements. People did anyway. Certain people who may have an interest in West Side Story may also hold strong opinions about this. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I clap when other people clap. I stand when other people stand. I know better than to try to start anything.