Archive for October, 2019

SLCR #345: Elton John (October 1, 2019)

October 13, 2019

I had the chance to see Elton John once before. That was a little over 10 years ago, when the Canadian stops on that particular world tour were in Regina and Kelowna. Odd picks, and a far cry from the usual Toronto and Vancouver and maybe Montréal, but he felt like playing places he’d never been to before. Probably not the weirdest thing he’s ever done. I would have liked to go, but at the time, I was still making semi-responsible decisions with my money. Those days are long gone.

Now Elton’s on a 300-show world tour, said to be his last. Take that with a grain of salt, always; I think Cher has played three farewell shows in Saskatoon alone. But what he said seemed really reasonable – one-off shows are possible, or a residency or something – just no big long tours. We’ll see if it sticks.

Mika and I got these tickets a year ago. We’d planned to go to the show with my stepmom, as Elton is her favourite musician ever, but the week before the show, she backed out, for reasons I hope were worth it. Her departure freed up a ticket, and luckily, Deserée didn’t have plans.

We left Regina early in the afternoon for an uneventful drive, picking Dez up at work a little after 4:00 so we could eat dinner early like old people. We went to the Canadian Brewhouse and each ordered some variation of chicken, making this an official concert, something I didn’t even think of, but luckily, Dez was on the ball. We ate and chatted until it was time to head to SaskPlace. (I’m sticking with the original name; no free advertising for my employer while I’m on strike.)

It had been so long that I’d forgotten where our seats actually were, and I was delighted that they were good. Nice work, me. Lots of folks came down where we were to take pictures of the big screen showing Elton walking away down the yellow brick road, so Dez and I did so too. I also tried and failed to mess up one of her pictures and she did the same to me. But I did manage to get a picture of her making a supremely goofy face, something I will forever treasure.

It really was too bad my stepmom skipped out. Shortly before the show started, I heard someone holler “James!” and wouldn’t you know, it was my dad’s second wife and her daughter. They were only one row behind us and about 10 seats down. Oh, the conversations we all could have had. I mean, we still had a nice time getting caught up, but there was some serious missed potential there.

There was also some good people watching, waiting for the show to start. I had not expected this level of cosplay – or, indeed, any – but there were boas and sunglasses (so many sunglasses) and some full outfits. One kid in an all-white suit, white shoes, white glasses, and white angel wings was particularly noticeable. We later saw him taking his seat – front row, centre.

Elton started right on time, opening with Benny and the Jets. Now, I’m not a hardcore fan. I know the hits, which is fine, because he has a million of them, and he played most of them. Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, Philadelphia Freedom, I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues, Daniel, Crocodile Rock, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, I’m Still Standing, The Bitch is Back, Sad Songs (Say So Much), Candle in the Wind. (I offered Dez $20 to scream “GET TO THE PRINCESS DIANA PART” but she declined.) Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting was particularly well-received, and on a Tuesday, no less.

The show was really good – nearly three hours. A great band, and Elton is still a fantastic pianist. His voice isn’t quite what it once was – they have other people there to hit the high notes for him. And as great as an entertainer as he is, when he actually gets up and walks around… yeah, that dude has seen better days.

One downside was the volume. As Dez put it, “I didn’t think Elton John was the show where I’d lose my hearing, but here we are.” After Mika and I had left town, we stopped in Davidson (because neither of the 24-hour gas stations in Grasswoods are) and ran into some other concert-goers, whose first question was “wasn’t it loud?” Maybe I’m old, but they could have dialed it back a bit. The volume muddied the vocals, so when he played songs I was less familiar with, I couldn’t make anything out. One of my new Davidson friends had also seen Elton in Edmonton and said it hadn’t been the case there, so let’s blame the venue.

Behind the band, a giant screen showed different videos for each song. Some were cute, others funny, or melancholy, one was self-serving (I’m glad you raised so much money for HIV/AIDS research, but it came across as overly self-congratulatory), and some were… well, I’d love to have a sit-down with Elton John and get him to explain what they were about. Always interesting, at any rate.

One of the night’s highlights wasn’t a song. Most of the crowd interaction was just Elton John slamming his hands down on the piano after a song and then pointing at the crowd, always to a great response. That seems like a good career goal – succeed to where you just have to point at people to make them happy. But when Elton came out for the encore, he walked along the stage, reached down, shook the hand of the kid in the all-white suit, and then took his own glasses off and handed them over. The place went nuts. Such a cool moment.

As this was the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, Elton ended the encore with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and really I don’t know that changing the one word for the tour name was really necessary? I mean, I get it, but they’re basically the same word. But whatever. It was the song he obviously had to end on, and when it was done, he rode up a platform and disappeared into the set behind him. Quite dramatic. Then we all left by slowly slogging up arena stairs while the sound system played one of the few Elton John hits that we didn’t get to hear live, Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart. Less dramatic, but I suppose it was cheaper than bringing Kiki Dee on tour.

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SLCR #344: BA Johnston (September 20, 2019)

October 8, 2019

This wasn’t supposed to happen, but sometimes, the universe provides. BA Johnston had played Regina a week prior to this show, but by now, I know how this works. He’ll play O’Hanlon’s on a Friday night, I’ll have good intentions, but then the week will be over and Mika and I will be tired and won’t make it out. This scene has played out repeatedly ever since BA came into our lives. We’ve only ever seen one of his shows. And it ruled! But, y’know, sleepy.

And then I went off to Calgary for my fall trip to visit my grandma. No concerts scheduled; no extracurriculars at all. Just the usual baking bread, sharpening knives, and walking up and down 17th Ave. Pretty much a non-stop party. I did also have vague plans to meet up with Colin, but again, no date or time or event picked out.

Then BA posted, on Instagram, a picture of a shopping basket filled with bags of Hawkins Cheezies, with a caption listing tour dates. There was possibility here. I’d wanted to force Colin to go see BA Johnston for a while. I put forth the suggestion and he was into it. Or was humouring me. Either way.

Following an extensive search for parking, we went for dinner at Hudson’s, where my options came down to the breakfast poutine and the peanut butter bacon burger. I chose burger. It was okay. Would do it differently if I had to do it again. The poutine sounded really good. Then we headed to a nearby park and library to check out some Beakerheads exhibits. It’s an event that mixes science with art, so there were some projections in the library and interactive displays in the park. There was stuff going on all over the city and this wasn’t the main part of it or anything, but it was neat.

Finally, we headed off to the Palomino, which was the barbecue restaurant Colin and I ate at last time I was in town. At that time, he’d mentioned seeing shows there, and here we were, actually at one. As we headed to the basement, we passed BA sitting with some friends, having dinner, and very true-to-form, watching the Tiger-Cats game.

The Palomino made for a surprisingly good venue. Small space, real low ceilings, excessively warm, lots of character. They sold earplugs in those machines where you insert a coin and spin a thing to get a plastic capsule with a toy inside, an idea I’d encourage every venue to steal. And, we’d later learn, the sound was surprisingly good. I liked this place.

We got drinks, though I panicked when asked what I wanted because I’d not thought that far ahead and wound up with a rye and Coke as though I was my dad in the 80s. Colin got a PBR, which was the only beer I saw anyone drinking. When we saw Hawksley Workman in the spring, the venue had a drink called The Workman. The Palomino didn’t have a drink called The Johnston but if they had, I think a big cheap beer might be it.

There were two local opening bands. The first was Open Channels, a four-piece that I really enjoyed, especially after the first two songs when they borrowed a functioning amp for the bass player. The second was Pancake, who had a bunch of people and matching wigs and black outfits and not-matching sunglasses. If you want more information about either of these groups, good luck; they both have names that are too hard to Google. Neither one sounded like 80s metal, which is a shame, because all of BA’s openers should do so. Of the two, I’d say Pancake was probably a little better but I liked Open Channels a little more. It really comes down to whether you preferred the Open Channels song about the metal box, or, as Colin put it, Pancake’s “one with all the fucks.” I’m not picking the swearing one because sometimes I have to surprise you.

While this was all going on, BA was manning his own merch table and chatting with fans. He also noticeably took some time to listen to the opening bands and was grooving to an Open Channels song right by us for a while.

Finally, it was time for BA’s show, by which I mean he set everything up, put Werewolves of London on repeat on his Discman and went to the back to change his clothes. The crowd was so hyped for the show that we all sang along with the ahWOOOOOs. Eventually, BA re-emerged holding two sparklers and welcomed us to “the basement of the barbecue sports bar.”

And look. If you’ve seen BA Johnston before, you’ve seen this show. The songs get mixed around a little, but otherwise, it’s the same every time. The costume changes, the jokes (in Calgary, they’re at Edmonton’s expense, instead of the Winnipeg-centered ones we get), it’s a routine he has down pat. That said, I enjoyed this more than the previous show I’d seen. Part of it was that Colin was there and I had failed to adequately prepare him for the spectacle we were to witness, which might be the best way to first experience BA. I told him it would be a life-changing experience, but I wasn’t sure if it would be so in a positive way. Then BA dropped to his knees in front of me while singing about Cheezies. And then crawled between my legs. I felt blessed. Before that, he had been running around pouring Cheezies out of a pitcher into people’s mouths. So that part was new.

We only got a few songs off his newest album. Apart from the aforementioned I Rock the Hawkins, he had opened with Geddy Lee, saying that the only people who enjoy Rush are six guys from Regina. (I haven’t met them.) And he played his first single from the album, We’re All Going to Jail (Except Pete, He’s Gonna Die). This was a great singalong with everyone in the place doing the “he’s gonna die” part. He also played a new song about getting run over by a senior citizen that he said was coming out on next year’s Werewolves of London, Ontario.

There were a ton of singalongs throughout the show. This crowd knew the songs and loved them all; perhaps none more so than the keyboard player for Open Channels, who seemed to know every word and had a smile so big that it’s fair to say she enjoyed BA Johnston more than I’ve enjoyed anything ever.

Not that there weren’t a few glitches. Johnston had some issues with his “BlackBerry Passport” (Discman) malfunctioning when playing backing tracks, to where he threatened to write Jim Balsillie an angry letter. And you can tell I work for a phone company because this made me laugh a lot. He also broke character enough to admit that he had “all this shit on a real cell phone” if need be.

But mostly, this was just tremendous fun. He played a few of my favourites, including Dayoff is a Dayoff and GST Cheque; during the latter, he ran around the audience getting people to shout GST into the mic, including me, but when I did so, BA turned away from me then collapsed into my arms. I was sweatier on the outside of my shirt than the inside for possibly the first time ever. Like I said, blessed.

After the show was done, Colin bought a shirt. So I guess I was right when I said it would be life-changing, in that he now has fewer dollars and one more shirt.