Archive for March, 2019

SLCR #337: Shakey Graves (March 25, 2019)

March 28, 2019

We were running behind. Not late, but behind. Monday is a school night, so Mika had to wrap up around 7:00, drive home, and eat a thing so we could make it to the show for 8:00. As we made the last turn towards the Conexus Arts Centre, I wondered how many people would be there. “Judging by the number of Facebook ads for the show I’ve seen,” I said, “it might just be us.”

It wasn’t just us. But even that close to showtime, the parking lot was pretty bare. There was no line to enter, no line for the coat check, and when we ran into Rob, we learned he’d been evicted from his seat and moved to a much closer vantage point on the main floor because the call was made to close off most of the balconies. His group’s upgraded seats wound up actually being a lot better than the ones we’d chosen, though that was largely because we’d taken our customary spots at the end of Row L For Legroom; often so appreciated but on this night, overkill. There weren’t that many folks sitting in any of the rows behind us, apart from a few people at the very back. I can only assume they had plans involving drugs and/or handies.

The lowest of the balconies remained open, and while we waited for the show to start, a security guard wandered out in front of us to holler up at a balcony-dweller who had done the unthinkable and rested his drink on the ledge. I thought that maybe going up and talking to the guy would have been a more appropriate way to handle things; way less funny, though.

The opener was Cameron Neal, who played a 40-minute set of country tunes, just him and a guitar. Pleasant, hopeful, earnest. The kind of thing where you hear it and go “that was nice,” and then you try to write about it, and you come up with two sentences, stare at them for a while, check all your social media to see if anything life-changing has happened in the last ten minutes, and repeat.

We’d seen Shakey Graves a few years back opening for City and Colour and really enjoyed him; I actually liked him better than the headliner and was looking forward to seeing a full set in a smaller venue. Not that this was that small; the Arts Centre felt kind of cavernous. Maybe one-third full for the start of Neal’s set, closer to half-full by the end of the night. Split the difference and call it… five-twelfths, I suppose. It looks like he sold out every other Western Canadian stop on this tour, so maybe the venue was just too big? Shakey (Mr. Graves?) did comment repeatedly on the size of the stage itself and the amount of running around he’d have to do all night. To that end, at one point, he ran a lap just because.

He was immediately captivating, playing the first half-hour or so by himself with guitar and kick drum. The first song was Word of Mouth, a song full of advice that sounds like good advice but is actually bad advice, like all advice. He explained this mid-song. He explained many things. Eventually, he was joined by a full band, and I started to recognize a few songs off his newest album, Can’t Wake Up, from when Mika was playing it. I didn’t know that some of these songs made up a trilogy about someone named Garth Nazarth, a very interesting fact that may have been made up on the spot as he was telling us. He also played covers by Neil Young and Townes Van Zandt, who he insisted was a famous rapper.

At one point, someone asked where he got his name, and he joked “a cereal box” before telling the real story. Or what I assume was the real story, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. I also don’t know what a Shakey Graves cereal would entail. Crunchy corn caskets and crosses with marshmallow urns, with enough added sugar to give you the shakes? And when Neal returned to join Shakey in a song they’d co-written, Shakey told us to meet up with Neal in the lobby after to buy his stuff. “Where will you be?” hollered someone. A fair question. And he was going to be outside in a bear costume, apparently. I didn’t see him when we were walking to the car but we did get out of the building in good time.

It looked like everything was wrapping up and everyone stood to applaud, but Shakey was just sending the band away. He stuck around, did one last song by himself, and that was it. No encore, except it kind of was one, except he never left the stage. This seemed like a good way of avoiding the artificial feeling of an encore but also not leaving people feeling like they missed out on something.

This whole thing was a delight. Great tunes and a fun sense of humour. It deserved a bigger turnout, but the folks who were there were really into it. One dude in particular was as invested in this show as I’ve ever seen. So much standing, so much waving, so much yelling, so much insisting to the usher that she was going to love the show and become a new fan. She did give him two semi-enthusiastic thumbs up at one point but I don’t think she really enjoyed her night; at one point she walked over with her flashlight to help ensure someone made it to the bar safely and wiped the heck out in the process. The ushers need ushers. I suppose it was only a matter of time, given the numbers of people getting up and returning with drinks; a lot more of that than at most shows here. But I suppose it made them more enthusiastic, and at least they were polite; one drinker said “excuse me” so many times and so loudly while exiting her row that I initially thought she was trying to get Shakey’s attention. Maybe she needed more clarification on the bear costume situation.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)
• Morrissey (April 20)
• The Tea Party (April 25)
• BA Johnston (April 26)
• Foxwarren w/Hannah Cohen (May 29)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 21)
• Elton John (October 1)
• Thrush Hermit (October 4)

Advertisements

SLCR #336: Steven Page and the Regina Symphony Orchestra (March 3, 2019)

March 19, 2019

This was a real last-minute call for me. Steven Page announced a big ol’ spring Canadian tour, and he wasn’t coming here. Disappointing, but months later, the symphony booked this show, taking place before said tour. It sounded like very much my thing, but I didn’t really know what it would entail. Remembering Tanya Tagaq’s appearance with the symphony, where she was a highlight of the evening but not the focus, I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to just be a whole night of Steven Page playing Steven Page songs with the orchestra. Instead of rushing out to buy tickets, I decided to wait on it and find out more. Then I promptly forgot about it.

Jump ahead to the afternoon of the concert, and there’s a picture on Instagram of Page, guitarist Craig Northey (of Odds), and cellist Kevin Fox eating lunch at a Regina pizza chain. I felt like they should be made aware of some better dining options, but that’s just my preferences. Possibly more importantly, I realized that the concert – whatever it was – was that evening. Tickets were cheap, so I decided to go.

I thought it a bit odd that there was no option to pick up a ticket at the box office, only to realize (well after I bought the ticket, but thankfully, before I left the house) that there was no box office. Instead of the usual concert hall, Page and the orchestra were at the Mâmawêyatitân Centre, a community centre in Regina’s North Central neighbourhood. For those unfamiliar, this neighbourhood doesn’t have a sparkling reputation, which is a nice way of tiptoeing around the fact that a certain national news magazine once named it the worst neighbourhood in Canada. That this neighbourhood currently seems to be doing better than said magazine is a little funny to me. The centre itself is relatively new and very nice. The name means “let’s all be together,” and the complex is home to a high school, public library, daycare, recreational facilities, and numerous community groups.

The email and the ticket PDF all told me to print my ticket, but nothing in our house is connected to our 15-year-old printer and I wasn’t about to sort that out. I showed up, flashed my phone, and was let inside. I’m pretty sure they saw the Gmail app on my phone and just called it good. Inside, the orchestra was setting up in a large open area, with chairs on the floor facing them and extra seating available up some stairs off to the side. This was nice and sparsely occupied so that’s where I went, though it did leave me facing Page’s back while he played piano.

The concert was scheduled as part of the Forward Currents Festival, an annual (twice counts as annual) series of concerts aiming to spark conversation about topics of societal importance. This year’s theme was “music and mental health.” There had also been a talk on the subject before the concert, though I didn’t attend that part.

The music director opened the show and briefly outlined that there would be two musical pieces in the first half, followed by Steven Page after the intermission. The first piece was Tchaikovsky’s “Mozartina” orchestral suite, while the second was called My Name is Amanda Todd, composed by Jocelyn Morlock and written about a BC teen who died by suicide after being bullied and assaulted. I generally don’t comment on performances of classical music because what the heck do I know, really, but I will say that it was all very lovely and nobody applauded in the breaks between the four miniatures that make up the orchestral suite and certain people I know would be very pleased by that. From where I was sitting, I was mostly watching the percussionists; one in particular was all over the place, moving from instrument to instrument, hitting things and quickly silencing them and hitting other things. This is probably not the deep appreciation that I should have for this music but it was fun to watch. Also, re-reading this paragraph, you can easily tell which words came from the program (“orchestral suite”) and which came from me (“hitting things and other things”).

Between sets which I know isn’t the right word, people near me were meeting internet-only friends in person for the first time and making other new friends and this all seemed nice.

After the break, we got, well, Steven Page playing Steven Page songs with the orchestra, along with Northey and Fox. They played six songs, alternating between Page’s solo tunes (There’s a Melody, No Song Left to Save Me, and Looking for the Light) and ones he wrote while with Barenaked Ladies (Call & Answer, War on Drugs, and Brian Wilson). Mental illness is a recurring theme in these songs, though it’s more obvious in some cases than others (before explaining the connection to one song, Page joked “let me ruin this one for you too”). He also talked a lot about his own challenges with mental illness, and the importance of being there for people who are struggling, going into detail about a time whenfriends were there for him during a challenging period in his life. Or as he put it, “if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I was arrested on drug charges ten years ago. Google it,” before jokingly adding “the charges were dismissed – that means I didn’t do it, right?”

The songs were all very nicely done. The ones from the BNL days were more famous, but it was nice to get a mix of the old and the new. And though Brian Wilson might be his most famous song and Call & Answer has that one yelly part I really like, I think War on Drugs was my favourite. It wasn’t a single, but I remember liking it back when it came out (despite my BNL fandom waning at that time), and it fit the evening well and the new arrangement (done by Page’s son) was quite good. I think I preferred it to the original.

All told, it was a delightful and thought-provoking evening that I could easily have missed out on if not for Page’s habit of taking pictures of soup. If you’ve ever seen some asshole in a restaurant who has to Instagram his lunch before he can eat it, be kind; he might be accidentally doing someone a favour.

SLCR #335: Belle Plaine (February 16, 2019)

March 19, 2019

I ran into Other James during the afternoon on the day of this show. We briefly exchanged pleasantries, and we were both excited for that evening’s show. We didn’t talk long, though; he was in a hurry to return to his fancy art-making and I was in a rush to resume making a nuisance of myself in public catching imaginary creatures in a stupid phone game (reminder: I am 42) (in years). But no matter, we’d catch up later in the evening.

We would not. Belle Plaine really wanted to sell this show out in advance and she did so with hours to spare. “Shite,” Other James said on social media, as he will do. Last time he didn’t buy advance tickets, I was able to get him in for free. This time, I left him in the cold. By which I mean at his home or, more likely, with out with some of his zillions of other friends. I’d say we need to stage an intervention and convince him that buying tickets ahead of time is a worthwhile activity, but he’s probably doing better than me in all aspects of life apart from seeing this show.

So yes, this was a sold-out hometown (or close enough to it) album release party at the Artesian for Belle Plaine and her new record, Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath. The place was packed – lots of family and friends from what we could overhear – but there was room for us in our usual spots. The entire back wall of the stage was covered with big pink and white balloons for the occasion and it all looked suitably festive. Apparently blowing them all up was quite the chore that barely got done before the doors opened.

There was no opener. The evening’s host was another local country singer, Blake Berglund, who surely earned the role on merit alone and not because he and Plaine are newly married; something he alluded to when introducing himself as Blake Plaine at the start of the show.

As befitting an album launch, Belle and her band played everything off the new record. I’d heard plenty of them before when I saw her open for Colter Wall some months ago, and even a few when she was at Winterruption last year. You know they’re good because I actually remember them from one show to the next, which I don’t always do with artists I’m not super familiar with. Is it Cheating was again a standout and should be a hit. Maybe it is. Are there hit songs anymore?

She also told lots of stories, talking about her mom, her grandma, her neighbour, Blake, and her guitarist who broke his whammy bar so his dad made him a new one by cutting off a piece of the truck. I realize that the “and” in that sentence kind of makes it sound like they all broke the guitarist’s whammy bar, and I’m not saying that didn’t not happen.

The show was split in two by an intermission, and each half was noteworthy for Plaine having a different custom jumpsuit (one denim, one black and shiny). As the new record only has nine tracks, it would have been a short evening, but she threw in a few extra songs, including some covers. She sang Sunday Morning Coming Down and Raised on Robbery and I’m 99% sure Long Black Veil but this was a month ago now so really don’t trust any of this. My favourite was one that Belle and Blake sang both here and at their own wedding, Islands in the Stream. (I guess when you’re a musician marrying another musician and a bunch of your friends are musicians, you don’t hire a wedding band so much as you all just take turns.)

The night was great fun and I recommend the new album. Plaine is currently on tour opening for Colter Wall (who also appears on this record) in Europe, and it sounds like there are some great crowds. She’s probably already too big for the Artesian, and things are just looking up. It’s always a delight to see local musicians doing well, even if it means they outgrow us.

SLCR #334: Danny Michel (February 10, 2019)

March 10, 2019

I’ve been slacking on this one and letting the reviews pile up again. I always enjoy Danny Michel shows, but there never seems to be that much to say about them, unless we have some awkward interaction after the show. It happens more often than you’d think. I mean, I’m socially inept in general, but I can usually fake it long enough to get a CD signed or something. Not so much where Danny is involved. And as much as I’d love to pass the buck, it’s not his fault; he’s a good guy who legitimately saved me from catching fire once. After I stole his setlist.

His shows, though, I pretty much know what I’m in for. He doesn’t usually play with a band when on tour, so it’s him with a guitar and looping pedals (and maybe a piano, depending on where he’s playing). And he has a Hawksleyesque quality about him where he’s written hundreds of songs but always seems to draw from the same 20 or so when deciding what to play. None of this is a complaint, I should add. I know what I’m getting but I like what I’m getting.

We showed up at the Artesian and took what is becoming our usual spot at the end of the lowest pew on the left side. Same place we sat the last time we saw Danny there. There were fewer chairs on the floor than usual, with some small round tables available. Even with less seating available, the show still wasn’t sold out, which is a shame. Not that the attendance was terrible, but lower than it should have been. I don’t know what you can do to get more people out to shows here. The brutal cold deserves some of the blame, but every time attendance is soft, there are more Calgary-Edmonton-Saskatoon-day-off-Winnipeg tours. Musicians have to go where they’ll get paid.

Along those lines, Danny had a Facebook post go viral a few months back where he broke down some of the economic realities of being an independent musician. It’s one thing to know that streaming services have an effect on what artists make, but he was open about the scope of it, mentioning a 95% drop in album sales over the course of a year. That loss is counteracted, as such, by streaming royalties, though he also mentioned that a recent single (Purgatory Cove) spent 10 weeks in the CBC Radio 2 and Radio 3 charts but earned less than $50 in royalties. His post made it pretty clear that indie musicians are struggling and reconsidering their careers and futures. It was a sobering read.

Now that I’ve been nice and depressing, let’s get into the show! We started right at 8:00 with no openers. Like I said, I thought I knew what we were getting, so I was pretty surprised when he busted out Toledo for his second song. Apparently, a fan requested it the previous night in Swift Current, but Michel had to admit he didn’t remember how to play it, so he spent the afternoon before our show re-learning it. I don’t think this was hyperbole; when I entered the night’s setlist into setlist.fm, there wasn’t even an option to add Toledo. This is one of my favourite Danny Michel songs and as far as I can tell, it’s been over a decade since I’ve seen him play it live.

Similarly, he played Perfect later in the second set. That was another old one that doesn’t get much play. I say “old one” as though I didn’t just realize that Feather, Fur & Fin has now been out for over a decade, though I still consider it among his “new stuff.” I’m bad for that. Every Tragically Hip album after Phantom Power is “new stuff” and it came out in 1998 and only got added to “old stuff” last year.

As for the rest of the show, it was a really fun time. Few surprises, but he cracked jokes, told stories, and played a lot of old favourites with some new stuff from his latest album, White & Gold:

Born in the Wild
Toledo
Wish Willy
Khlebnikov
Whale of a Tale
Samantha in the Sky with Diamonds
Feather, Fur & Fin
Tennessee Tobacco
(intermission)
A Cold Road
Purgatory Cove
24,000 Horses
Perfect
What Colour are You?
Click Click
Who’s Gonna Miss You?
encore: Nobody Rules You

But we weren’t quite done. Michel explained that he was going to play one last song and consider the show over, but that he had something extra planned just for us, if we wanted. His birthday had been the week before, and his friend Rob Carli, who was recording with the Toronto Symphony, got them to play Happy Birthday for him. So Danny wanted to return the favour, but with a different song, a Regina-centric song, one that Carli had introduced to him. So he had the sound tech hit the music and led us all in a singalong of Experience Regina, which by now has to be the most mentioned song in any of these reviews. It was a fun time. He walked through the crowd recording everyone and later posted the video. You can see Mika and me singing in the background (by which I mean, I can point out which blurred smudges are us, but you’d never know without help). A fan sent in additional video, so it’s a two-camera shoot; in that footage, you can get a real nice look at the back of our heads.

I stopped by the stuff table to pick up White & Gold. Not only do I dig his music, but it was also a super value pack (LP, CD, and download code, all for one low price). A deal! We stuck around long enough so I could get it signed and… nothing awkward happened. No theft, no fire, no immediately regrettable topics, nothing to add to the list. Just a brief chat and a nice souvenir that I’ll add to the record shelf once we buy more shelves. Or thin out the cookbooks.