Archive for the ‘Music reviews: 1996-present’ Category

SLCR #353: Hawksley Workman (November 29, 2019)

December 3, 2019

You’d think it might be hard for me to find something to say about a Hawksley Workman show, having now seen him 25 times. You’d be completely right.

Doors were at 7:30 and Mika and I arrived about ten minutes after. The place was already starting to fill up nicely, despite a near-complete lack of the regulars that get passing mentions in these things. Only Erin was there from my usual crew of Hawksley associates. Hawksociates. She technically came to the show by herself but told her husband that she didn’t need to go with anyone to a Hawksley concert since she’d just find people there. It looked like an effective strategy.

Mika and I found chairs and I left to get us drinks and to eyeball the stuff table. Lots of vinyl and all of his CDs, all at decent prices, but I had it all already. I got myself a Diet Pepsi and Mika an iced tea because we know how to have a good time.

Before the show began, the host came out and asked for “the owner of a red Mazda-” and we both fought off minor panic attacks but it was some other red Mazda and it didn’t even get hit, it was just blocking the alley. All was well.

The show started right on time because it was put on by the Folk Festival and shows start right on time and we all want to go to bed at a reasonable hour (he wrote, at 12:19 am on a work night). After opening with No Sissies, Hawksley picked up a recorder, suggested it was a tool of governments looking to find a reason to cut funding for music programs, and then played us a song on it. Specifically, the theme to The Friendly Giant. This was, admittedly, not on my list of songs I was expecting to hear. The next one, Safe and Sound, very much was.

From there, it was mostly selections from the pool of tunes he normally picks from for concerts. Everything was done well, though I don’t know if anything stood out as being exceptionally better or different from everything else. We got less off his newest album, Median Age Wasteland, than I would have expected – only three songs. He put out a new single recently (Around Here) and didn’t play that one either. Mr. Lonely sang backup through a voice modulator for a few songs, including the “somewhere on the outside” part of Smoke Baby, which I don’t think I’ve seen before and that was neat. Battlefords really seemed to connect with people when it came out, so it was a good choice to open the second half of the show – something to grab people’s attention after the thrilling rush of the 50/50 draw during intermission. Claire Fontaine is a personal favourite, which you likely know if you’ve bothered to read this far, so I was delighted to get that one, especially because he gave it a nice long intro so I had time to capture the whole thing on video. Despite a few attempts through the years, I just don’t want to be the guy with his phone out at a show for too long – but I made an exception for this one. Mika, once again, was unable to avoid Autumn’s Here. Hawksley told stories about his dad and his grandma and why you shouldn’t leave your windows open when you leave the country for months on end – all things I’d heard before, but they’re good stories and he tells them well, so I’m good with it.

He offered to sell some of his unplayed guitars, though he quickly clarified that he was kidding, as he’d had to crush the Christmas shopping dreams of a drunken fan at another show that week.

“Libidinous” is French for “the business.”

Here’s the complete set list:

No Sissies
Theme from The Friendly Giant
Safe and Sound
Birds in Train Stations
Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off
1983
Oh You Delicate Heart
Smoke Baby
-intermission-
Battlefords
Goodbye to Radio
A House or Maybe a Boat
Claire Fontaine
Jealous of Your Cigarette
Autumn’s Here
No Beginning No End
-encore-
The City is a Drag (w/Karma Chameleon, We Built This City)
Ice Age

I greatly enjoyed this. And you knew that. I’ve even done the opening “I don’t know what to talk about” and the closing “you already know that I enjoyed this” bits before. And there was a joke about getting wild and crazy drinking not-booze, and a mention that Folk Festival shows start on time. Someone needs to feed all my reviews into an AI and we’ll see if I can make myself completely useless in the process, as opposed to just mostly useless.

I suppose there was always the chance I could have had a bad time. That would have been interesting. But it would also be a bad time, and who wants that?

This was a straight-ahead Hawksley show; no orchestra, no night of Bruce Cockburn covers, no weird setlist of the deepest cuts, not a non-concert where he just chatted about drumming. He’s been doing this a long time, and I’ve been going to his shows for almost as long. I know what pool of songs he’s likely to pull from. I know a lot of his stories. On this show, he was playing with Mr. Lonely, Derek Brady on bass, and Brad Kilpatrick on drums – a combo I’ve seen before. This was, in essence, the concert equivalent of comfort food, or maybe finding a movie on APTN that you’ve seen a million times before and watching it again because it’s there and you like it better than anything else on TV and you just want to.

I know nobody watches traditional TV anymore so that example doesn’t resonate like it used to. And it doesn’t technically have to be APTN, but if it is, the movie will be either Demolition Man or Maverick, and while I don’t want every movie to be Demolition Man or Maverick, most of them could be and I’d be okay with that.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Whitehorse (January 25)
• Andy Shauf w/Molly Sarlé (March 3)
• Glass Tiger (March 19)
• Joel Plaskett (May 2)

SLCR #352: Kim Churchill (November 8, 2019)

November 25, 2019

Five years ago – almost to the day – I saw Kim Churchill at the Exchange because Mo Kenney was opening. I didn’t know who he was and was prepared to skip out early, but I wound up really enjoying his set and bought some CDs. You’d think I’d be more prepared for this show as a result, but no. Haven’t listened to those CDs in forever. Didn’t stream any of his new stuff. Really, I bought these tickets based on half-remembered feelings of having a good time. And also they were pretty cheap.

The show was at the Artesian, and nothing of interest happened in the lead-up to the show or the drive there or finding our seats or whatever. I mean, Mika and I sat in our usual spot, then moved to a slightly different spot in hopes of a better view, but you likely don’t care about that. Even though it mostly worked (there are tall people everywhere).

The openers were Victoria folk duo Ocie Elliott. Dude on guitar, lady on keyboard (more specifically, a Mellotron), neither one is named Ocie or Elliott. They were very laid-back and I was amidst conflicting opinions. One person sitting near me said that he had come to the show already as a fan (they were here opening for Carmanah in February, apparently), but this set had been completely won him over and spent the whole time “fangirling” – his word. Another absolutely hated them, with a wide range of complaints (mostly funny ones) that I really don’t need to repeat since I don’t want to unfairly influence anyone who might read this before seeing them. Maybe I’m getting tame in my old age. Or maybe “absolutely hated them” about covers it and the details are not necessary. As for me, I wound up somewhere in between the two, both physically and opinionally. I thought it was mostly pleasant if completely forgettable. I did come dangerously close to falling asleep a few times. Two songs into Kim Churchill, I realized that I had no recollection of what Ocie Elliott sang about. So yeah, somewhere in the middle, leaning towards “not my thing.”

Intermission. Mika left for the washroom and asked if I wanted anything if she stopped at the bar on the way back. I said sure, not actually expecting anything because who wants to deal with lines? Apparently she did and we had ciders. I like ciders. My favourites are the ones that taste like bubbly apple juice because I don’t drink grown-up drinks.

The first thing you notice about Kim Churchill is that he’s a really good guitarist. Or maybe it’s that he’s an Australian hippie. There are two types of Australians, I think; the Kim Churchills and the Crocodile Dundees. The Yahoo Seriouses and the That Guy From The 80s Energizer Ads. Steve Irwin might have been both, doubtless contributing to his enduring popularity.

I digress. Guitar. Real good at it. And sampler pedals and occasional harmonica. Very earnest songs. Very positive. Seems like a good dude. Barefoot (see above re: uneducated stereotypes regarding Australian hippies). It turns out shoes aren’t required for sampler pedals. I really enjoyed this set. Not as much as one lady who was sitting up near the front who recorded much of the show and cheered like mad for her favourite songs, but I had a good time.

That said, I’m not sure I see a future deviation from the established pattern: see Kim Churchill, enjoy show, kind of forget about it until he comes back to town, repeat. I suppose that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but he sells a ticket every time out, and I get to be pleasantly surprised each time.

SLCR #351: NHL Heritage Classic (October 26, 2019)

November 3, 2019

I’m writing this on October 27. Right now, I’m four reviews behind, not yet done writing about Said The Whale. With only a few weeks until Kim Churchill, I really should be cleaning up my backlog and not jumping the line and making more work for myself because I think the idea of writing a concert review of a hockey game is funny. But hey, there were bands.

If you’re wondering why I went to hockey when I famously don’t care about hockey, well, I like going to things. And also I didn’t know what it would cost when Dave asked if I wanted him to pick up tickets for me and Mika when he was buying his. This would rank among the most expensive concerts I’ve ever been to, and this time I didn’t get to see Neil Young or meet Weird Al. Also, it wasn’t a concert. Except when it was.

Dave and Jen and Jen’s friend and Jen’s dad all drove in for the game, arriving early afternoon. We had a nice visit, by which I mean Carl did, as he’s the most popular and entertaining member of this family. Eventually, we all put on our long underwear (separately; this wasn’t a group activity) (though we pretty much all did it at once) and headed out to Brewster’s for a 4:00 pm supper like the elderly that we are. I had chicken, so yeah, official concert. My sandwich came with a fried pickle, which 1) should be standard with every sandwich, and 2) should be the new requirement for official concert status.

The game started at 8:00 with doors opening at 6:00. We were done eating at 5:00, but with 33,000 people attending, we figured that heading to the stadium early wasn’t the worst idea. We’d bought parking passes, so this would be my first time parking there. Mika and I always take the bus for Rider games and concerts, and for the soccer game, we just parked downtown and walked forever. We arrived a little before 5:30 and parking was easy, but I figured leaving would be a lot different. Dave’s carload all put their jerseys on over their parkas and we went exploring.

It was -4C, but felt like -11C with the windchill. 24.8F and 12.2F, respectively. And we were going to be outside until the game ended. I had gloves on my gloves with packs of those disposable handwarmers to shove inside them, as well as a new-to-me technological innovation – the same thing, but for your feet. I had also planned on buying some Winnipeg Jets gear to taunt Calgary Flames-loving Dave, but even though my strike is over for now (and hopefully for good), I decided that I didn’t need to make a stupid purchase just for fun, so I skipped it and just wore my Crash Test Dummies toque from 1995. They’re from Winnipeg and it’s the right colour to support the Jets, it counts. Plus, that toque is warm as heck and still in great shape for being old enough to be done college. It might be the most durable, well-designed article of clothing I own.

We walked to the grounds, passing the NHL Mobile Refrigeration Unit, which might have been very necessary the day before when it was +15, but just seemed needlessly cruel at -4 and windy. Even this early, there was a nice long line to get into the exhibits. We had our bags checked, went through metal detectors, and were surveilled by a very nice security guard who told us that “if you have weapons, you should go home, and if you’re cold like me, you should go home.”

There were displays and merchandise shops and sponsors’ booths set up. We mostly skipped them, though I did get a 5c/litre discount card for Esso, so that’s nice. I don’t shop there, but still, nice. There were two Tim Hortons trucks – one in Flames red and one in Jets blue – offering free coffee. There was also a Safeway truck which was not offering free groceries, as far as I could tell, so that was a disappointment. And the Kubota display? No free tractors. There were also hockey-related games and a big inflatable hockey player and Lanny McDonald and his mustache signing autographs and a cover band playing Surrender by Cheap Trick. They were fine. I like that song.

Once inside the stadium, we immediately saw Don Cherry which provoked “hey neat” and “ugh” feelings in equal measure. Kind of like that time I saw the Queen. We then took a walk around the stadium (not with Don Cherry, which was probably for the best; dude’s moving slowly these days). It was a first-time visit for Dave and Jen and Jen’s dad, and they seemed to think it was a nice place, especially enjoying the giant picture of a certain relative of Jen and her dad celebrating a certain championship win in a certain sport. I know that through 350 concert reviews, I’ve given out enough personal information to let all of you steal my identity, but if you want my friends’ too, you’ll have to work for it a little bit.

We found our seats. Lower bowl, section 136. Pretty good, though it was just kind of weird in general to have so much space between the rink and the fans. I think they should have had to play in a special rink the size of the full football field. There were loud drunks behind us (and, really, all over everywhere) but they were funny? They spent the entire game beaking at each other and the players in comical fashion, marking the first time in recorded human history that any situation has been improved by the presence of loud drunks.

About an hour out from the scheduled start time, according to one of three conflicting countdowns we would see on the Maxtron, the band Toque was introduced. The name sounded familiar, and Mika’s googling turned up why – it was local boy Todd Kerns’ 80s Canadian rock cover band. Kerns is more famous for being in Age of Electric and Static in Stereo, as well as touring with Slash. Anyway, to everyone’s surprise, the 80s Canadian rock cover band played 80s Canadian rock songs including Raise a Little Hell, Go For Soda, and personal favourites New Girl Now and that one that I think is called Gone Gone Gone She Been Gone So Long She Been Gone Gone Gone So Long (I Wonder If I’m Ever Gonna See My Girl). This was… pretty good, actually? I mean, it’s a cover band, you know what you’re going to get, but everything was fun and done well. Would see again, even intentionally. They came out a few times during the game to play more songs to fill time, but never for very long, so if you ever wanted to hear a version of Summer of ’69 that ends before the “me and some guys from school” part, this was your chance.

As we approached game time, Jess Moskaluke and the Hunter Brothers came out and did a song together. It was fine. Then the Hunter Brothers sang the national anthem. It was also fine and I enjoyed the fireworks, especially because they were both pretty and relatively quiet. We didn’t need loud jets doing a loud flyover of the stadium but there we were. Also, I know they said to remove your headwear for the anthem but man, it was cold. I put in my handwarmers. I also put my footwarmers in my shoes. I had learned about them at work, where I was also told that they look like maxipads. Can confirm. I was cautioned not to confuse the two, but honestly, they probably both give off the same amount of heat. My feet were cold, is what I’m saying.

First period: the Jets and Flames played hockey. Nobody scored.

Before we’d left the house, I asked Dave if there were bands playing at this thing, and the one he knew of was the Sheepdogs and I rolled my eyes. Of course it’s the Sheepdogs. They’re from Saskatoon and they’re at every event in Saskatchewan. Anyway, between periods, they came out and played a few songs, including the singles Feeling Good and I Don’t Know. I liked the fireworks. And really, this was all fine, I have no real complaints. I just don’t care about the Sheepdogs, and it wasn’t like when we saw Colin James and I had to admit that while he may be another Saskatchewan boy who’s at every local event, if you can ignore that, he really is super talented.

Second period: the Jets and Flames played more hockey. The Flames scored once. Dave was happy.

At one point, they played The Last Saskatchewan Pirate over the PA system, which gave me PTSD flashbacks from Rider games. They play it there for the fourth-quarter stretch and it always features an appearance from Work Safe Bob, a mascot whose existence eats away at my very being. He makes me hate the fourth quarter and all football and safety and being safe and life itself and I’ve given him an obscene nickname that I will not repeat here.

SAFETY FUCKER. His name is SAFETY FUCKER. It’s spelled in all caps. I hate him so much.

Let me lighten the mood. I think it was in here that the in-game host came on the Maxtron and told us to “circle the bowl” to go to the merchandise stands and restaurants and then immediately switched to “circle the concourse” once he realized what he’d said. I laughed.

Jess Moskaluke came back out to sing a few songs before the third period. She’s another local that you see all over the place, though it has been neat to watch her progress from relative unknown to an actual star. Or at least I think she is? I don’t know from country. Either she is or they’re doing a good job of convincing me she is, which is as good as the real thing as far as it impacts my life, which is not at all. Anyway, she played Cheap Wine and Cigarettes, as well as Country Girls, as well as other songs I forget. This was not really my thing but it was fine and I enjoyed the fireworks, a recurring theme. She seemed woefully underdressed for the weather, which would normally imply she was wearing something skimpy, but here just meant it was normal clothes and not a full snowsuit and I bet she was cold as balls.

Third period: the most important part of the evening happened; namely, the mascots for both teams came up the stairs by us and I was able to high-five both the current Jets mascot (Mick E. Moose) and the original Jets mascot (Benny) (as in Benny and the Jets) (it’s spelled wrong but that’s still pretty good). Harvey the Hound, meanwhile, took a picture with some folks across from us and I didn’t get to high-five him. I was already half-cheering the Jets since someone needed to balance out our group, but that cemented it.

Also, the Jets and Flames played more hockey. The Jets scored once. Dave was sad and declined my high-five of consolation but did accept a fist bump of consolation, though it was a dud and didn’t explode. I was happy because I’m a Jets fan now and forever, but was also very cold and didn’t relish the idea of overtime. Also, they didn’t have a band ready to play in the event of overtime. They didn’t even bring Toque back out to play the first 30 seconds of Moonlight Desires.

Overtime: the Jets and Flames played more hockey. A Flame tripped a Jet and the Jets scored on a power play and won. Dave was sad. I got to learn how overtime works. We got the best fireworks of the night.

Then we want back to our cars. Or rather, Mika and I went past our car because we were following Dave and his crew and we went past where the cars were and then they were behind us somehow? This got all the more confusing after fighting our way through the snarl of traffic leaving the stadium, getting out of there well ahead of Dave, and yet somehow getting home after they arrived. Jen said they took Ring Road, which doesn’t make sense to me. Google Maps backs me up, but I guess they’d have faced less post-game traffic and that would make the difference. So it obviously makes perfect sense. I got to learn all kinds of things.

This was fine. I liked the fireworks.

SLCR #350: Jeremy Dutcher & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (October 19, 2019)

November 3, 2019

Jeremy Dutcher won the Polaris Prize for his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, which means “The Songs of the People of the Beautiful River.” It combines his singing and piano with wax cylinder recordings of Indigenous songs from over 100 years ago. Several friends recommended it to me and it’s fascinating – unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and an excellent fit to be performed with the symphony.

We got to the Conexus Arts Centre and I was delighted to discover I’d bought us good seats. It had been a while and I’d forgotten, but we were dead centre, five rows back in a row with extra legroom. Fine work, me. Though it’s a little weird being so close. There’s so many people in the orchestra and they can all see you. They likely won’t, they have things to do, but still. They could. It’s unnerving.

Symphony shows are hard to write about. They start on time. You have assigned seats. There are no drunken louts. No inexplicable opening acts. No wacky misadventures and no deep-fried anything. In short, no shenanigans, and I get my word count from shenanigans. I mean, the Executive Director of the symphony introduced the performance, then was presented with a bouquet as she’s moving on to a fancier job at one of the major American symphonies. That’s a nice moment but nothing I can work with. I need some loud drunks and maybe a fistfight.

Also, the more formal the music, the less I know about it. And I’m not really suited to intelligently critique rock shows in bars by artists I’ve seen ten times over already.

Anyway, the performance had a pattern. The symphony performed a few pieces, then Dutcher would join for some, then he’d leave for one, then come back, then repeat. Dutcher was an engaging performer – not only a very talented singer and pianist, but charmingly funny as well. He had a recurring bit during the second half where his desire to stay hydrated slowly escalated as the night went on. I have to describe it in vague terms because it doesn’t sound funny if I say he came out with a glass of water, returned a while later with the pitcher, and then finally drank from the pitcher before the encore. See? Not funny. But it was funny when it happened.

For the first half, he wore what appeared to be a beaded jacket, but he emerged for the second half wearing a full-length floral robe. I mention this only because symphony patrons were all in for this robe. This robe was a star. This robe could have headlined the show without help.

Wait, right, music, yeah. The point of this all, not water and robes, even exceptional robes. It was what I expected – beautiful and haunting, expertly sung and performed.

Most of the evening was Dutcher’s songs. This should be the part where I get to cheat and transcribe the program, except – gasp – it’s wrong. At least slightly; it lists Up Where We Belong by Buffy Sainte-Marie, and they didn’t play that, though they did perform Until it’s Time for You to Go, another of hers. There was also a Dvorák piece, and one by Cris Derksen. But Dutcher was the star, reimagining historical music in a modern context, then blending it with the orchestra in a memorable performance.

SLCR #349: Hollerado (October 18, 2019)

November 2, 2019

My first time seeing Hollerado will be my last time seeing Hollerado.

I’ve known of them for at least a decade, as their song Juliette was a mainstay on the Canadian indie rock satellite radio station way back when. Their name would come up every once in a while, often tied to some sort of a gimmick. Their album Record In A Bag was packaged in an actual plastic bag with confetti, and the covers for White Paint were cut from big paint-splattered sheets so each cover was unique. There was also a special White Paint package you could get where the band would write a custom song about you. These were collected and released as 111 Songs.

I liked what I’d heard of them and they came through town regularly enough, but somehow, I never managed to make it out to see them. And then they announced they would be breaking up following the release of the album Retaliation Vacation and the subsequent One Last Time Tour, so this became a now-or-never situation.

Doors were at 8:00 and Mika and I had our usual debate about what time to actually show up. I pick 8:01, she says midnight, and we negotiate from there. I think we showed up close to 9:00, and… we parked close to the door, let’s put it that way. Either we were way too early or there weren’t going to be a lot of people there. As it happened, we were a little early and the place filled up some, though it wasn’t a huge crowd. Later on, the band laughingly said it was actually the biggest crowd they’d ever drawn here. If that’s true (and they didn’t sound like they were kidding), 1) yikes, 2) we suck here, myself included, and 3) it’s pretty admirable that they came back on this tour anyway.

We took our seats and got Friday night wild party drinks consisting of an iced tea and a Diet Pepsi, which felt like the height of luxury because I was still on strike at that point and austerity measures were in place. Thankfully, we’re back at work now and I’m back to neglecting all common financial sense.

The openers were Little Junior. Rockier than power-pop but not quite pop-punk, I wanted to hate them because they looked very young and made me feel very old. But I didn’t hate them! I think I hated their haircuts, but I’m old so I think I’m supposed to. Also, it was two weeks ago now and I can’t remember if I even really did. Whatever. This wasn’t really aimed at me but it was fine.

Hollerado, meanwhile, was a ton of fun. It’s the kind of high-energy rock that really hits my sweet spot; having listened to some earlier in the day, Mika and I were both surprised that I hadn’t spent more time listening to them. Though I went in not knowing a ton of their stuff (as is so often the case; it kind of makes you wonder why I do this), I really enjoyed myself. They really put on a show, with the lead singer jumping into the crowd a few times, including once trying to get audience members to play jump rope with the microphone cord. And a long-time fan was in the audience and was invited up onto the stage to play along with them.

In between songs, they cracked jokes (including one so bad they blamed it on the opening act) and opened themselves up for audience questions, but all anyone wanted to know was why they were breaking up. After a few joke answers, they said “nobody’s sixth album is any good” and said it was time to make space for up-and-coming bands like Little Junior. On the one hand, I get it. On the other, I’m late to the party and disappointed that I won’t get another chance to see them. That is, at least not until the inevitable anniversary reunion tour some round number of years from now.

SLCR #348: The Dead South (October 12, 2019)

November 1, 2019

Andino Suns are a great live band and you should definitely go see them if you’re able.

I’m mentioning this up front because I feel like much of my time is going to be spent on variations of “it’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans,” and I find that whenever I complain about things in one of these, the complaint becomes the takeaway. And Andino Suns were really good and that shouldn’t get lost.

Anyway, The Dead South. They are locals who made good, a bluegrass band from around these parts that’s gone on to tour the world. This was the sold-out first night of their Canadian tour for their new album, Sugar & Joy. When Mika and I were in Toronto for Thrush Hermit, we saw a poster for their (then-upcoming) (and possibly still upcoming, depending on what time I send this out) (update: whoops) Halloween show, showing them as zombies – The Undead South.

We saw them last at the Regina Folk Festival this summer, where they played a storm-delayed abbreviated set in front a crowd who gave them one of the most raucous ovations I’ve ever heard. I was a little surprised that they were back so soon, but no complaints – though their rising popularity meant that we wound up missing out on my favourite seats at the end of Row L For Legroom. Instead, we settled on Row M and its Maverage Legroom.

Before the show, we did some digging, trying to find out who the opener would be. The poster in Toronto advertised Elliott BROOD; no such luck here, though I was happy with who we got. The first band didn’t tell us who they were for a long time, and when they did, they had two names. Normally known as Beach Body, they released a country-tinged EP as the Southside Coyote Boys and were asked to perform as them, so it’s possible that this was technically their first performance. I liked this well enough, though their laid-back sound might have been better suited for a smaller venue. Really, the best part was that the lead singer had bought his mom Dead South tickets for her birthday but “accidentally” neglected to tell her that he was playing on the show too.

This set was also the start of some especially disrespectful audience behaviour. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard people yell for an opening act to get off the stage, but here we were. Not many people, but there were a handful of drunk girls behind us who couldn’t wait for the Dead South and weren’t shy about screaming so. Multiple people complained to the ushers, whose collective response was “…meh.”

Andino Suns were up next, and these guys were great! High-energy Chilean music from Moose Jaw, which I know is a cliché by now but I have no better way to put it. These guys tore the roof off the place and made tons of new fans. I’d heard their names around here for a while now but somehow we’d never made it out to see them before. That’s a shame, as it turns out. Gotta take advantage of having them around before they’re too big to keep playing here.

During the break, we went out into the lobby. Mika left for the bathroom, and as I was waiting for her to return, a couple in front of me started having an argument. I’m not entirely sure about what, but I think someone called someone a bitch. Or implied it. Or whatever. Mika returned and I immediately shushed her so we could watch this drama unfold. All around us, other couples and groups were frozen mid-conversation, trying to pretend that they weren’t watching what we were all watching. Mika said she saw the girl smack the guy; I missed it and that makes me sad. Security rushed to the scene (one guy ambled up) for this amazing conversation:

“I hear you’re hitting people.”
“Only a little.”
“You’re not allowed to do that here.”
“I didn’t know that.”

Alas, ignorance of the law is not a defense, and she was escorted from the building. I was pretty sure she was one of the loud drunks sitting behind us and was devastated to later learn this was not the case.

Finally, it was time for the Dead South, which meant that the drunks behind us could quit screaming for the opening acts to leave and instead scream for the Dead South to take off their shirts and have their babies. For the record, this was girls screaming at guys; progress, I guess. We also had a new group of top fans, the four people who insisted on standing when everyone else was sitting. Look, it’s not hard. Stand when other people stand, sit when other people sit. But no, they were going to stand the whole time. Of course they were in our way, but I felt worse for the little kid who was right behind them. The ushers weren’t going to make them sit down, but they were there in a hurry if the kid tried to stand on his chair or in the aisle so he could see too.

And I understand that the Conexus Arts Centre really wasn’t a good venue for this show. It’s a sit-down place and the Dead South are a get-up-and-dance band. This should have been in the hall downstairs, even if it holds fewer people. But come on. It’s like they say, it takes fewer muscles to smile than to be a prick.

As for the band, they were great. It’s why we went, after all; we’d just seen them and they were great then too. This time was like that, but with fancy lights and stained glass backdrops and a big sign with their name on it. And it was indoors and we were sitting and hadn’t just spent 90 minutes sheltering in the car. But otherwise, same idea. And much like at the Folk Festival, they were greeted as hometown heroes and the crowd went nuts for everything they did. Case in point: the show closed with the song Banjo Odyssey; I think if you can get hundreds of people to sing along with the refrain “I guess she’s my cousin but she needs some sweet lovin’ anyway,” it’s a telling testament to your popularity. Or your fanbase.

SLCR #347: Said The Whale (October 9, 2019)

October 30, 2019

I signed up for Wednesday night yoga a while back. When I did, this show was my one outstanding obligation, so I knew hard choices would have to be made. I was looking forward to this show, but really only knew a few Said The Whale songs, and I wanted to get my yoga money’s worth. Then I went on strike and wound up walking about 15 kilometres a day while picketing, and I figured that gave me licence to skip yoga and go to the show.

We got to the Artesian right before the show was going to start and for the first time I’d seen there, there was no floor seating. It made sense, given the style of music, but my legs were tired and I was dismayed. Fortunately, they’d set up the stuff table in front of the stairs, so few people had ventured up. We squeezed past the rack of shirts and headed up, where I promptly cracked my head on the ceiling. Tight quarters up there. We moved over to the other side, more suitable for tall folks.

The opener was Dave Monks, the lead singer of Tokyo Police Club, touring his new solo album, On A Wave. It wasn’t actually out yet, but it was available for sale at the show, though it’s since been released, so your chance to hear it early and feel special has come and gone. He played acoustic guitar with accompaniment from an electric guitarist (by which I mean she was playing an electric guitar, not that she was some sort of robot) (not that I can prove otherwise) and honestly, this didn’t really click with me. I think I might have enjoyed this more if it had been just acoustic. Though it’s worth noting (also “worth nothing” as I’d originally typed) that I’d had a long day and was feeling out of sorts so it could have been 100% on me.

Said The Whale, on the other hand, turned out to be just what I was in the mood for. I can’t shake the feeling that “playing in front of a giant View-Master reel” sounds like such a promising start to a Stefon routine, so I understand if you’re let down when I just describe them as high-energy power-pop with a good sense of humour. But for real, this was a blast. I went in largely unfamiliar, but it didn’t matter; they shook me out of my funk and won me over. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but the show ended on a high note with the one-two punch of UnAmerican and I Love You, the two songs of theirs I know best. UnAmerican, in particular, was a big improvement over the already-fun studio version – louder and rockier and would have made a fine closer on its own.

This is one of those times where going to random shows pays off; I went in ignorant and half-interested, mostly just for something to do, but left a convert. These folks are great fun and you should go see them.

SLCR #346: Thrush Hermit (October 4, 2019)

October 18, 2019

“Wanna do something stupid?” is kind of how I live my life, though I usually don’t put it in words quite so directly.

Here’s what brought us to this point:

1. This spring, Mika graduated with her Business degree following six years of night classes while still working full-time. Six years may sound like a long time but I assure you it’s longer than you think.

2. When Mika was 17/18, she never got to see Thrush Hermit because they only played in bars. After she turned 19, the band announced they were breaking up – but at least they’d be playing one last farewell tour first. And then lead singer Joel Plaskett got seriously sick and the band had to pull out of their own farewell tour. The tour went on with scheduled openers Flashing Lights and Local Rabbits, and she still went and enjoyed it, but she never did get to see Thrush Hermit.

3. 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the Thrush Hermit album Clayton Park. Round numbers lead to vinyl re-releases and nostalgia tours.

And so we made a stupid decision to book a long weekend in Toronto to celebrate the end of school and set right what once went wrong. A celebratory decision, to be sure, but a stupid one that was made only stupider when Thrush Hermit added western Canadian dates shortly after we’d booked our flights. We could have just gone to Amigo’s. But why stay up way too late at Amigo’s when you can get up way too early to fly to Toronto instead? Besides, Toronto has Steve and Audrey, and (temporarily) Aaron and Cindy. And sharks. And tonkatsu, though I never got any.

The trip got stupider still when contract negotiations between my union and my employer went to hell at the behest of our beloved Premier, who mandated a two-year wage freeze followed by a 1% increase in the third year – almost too generous. We went ahead with the trip with “labour disruptions” looming, and in fact, I went on strike the day of this show. Neither of us felt the best about leaving with this over our heads, but the hotel, airfare, and concert tickets were paid for well in advance, so we decided to put it out of our minds and enjoy ourselves as best as we could. I’m doing a fine job of that, as you can tell.

But! That’s not what this is for. This is my place to write about concerts that happened weeks ago, as best as I can remember them, which usually isn’t that well.

We flew into Toronto the day before the show and spent most of it asleep. We’d woken up around 3:00am to catch our flight, as it was the only direct flight from Regina to Toronto; the other options involved leaving at a reasonable time, flying to Calgary, hanging out in the airport all afternoon, and then flying to Toronto. This came two days after driving to Saskatoon, seeing Elton John, and driving home, getting to sleep after 2:00am. So our sleep schedules were shot, is what I’m saying. We woke up after supper time, went out, ate crepes, came back, and went to sleep again. They were very good crepes.

We spent the afternoon of the day at the show at the AGO, looking at art until we’d seen so much art that all art looked like all other art. When it was time to head out to the show, Mika got to experience her first-ever subway ride. She outed herself as a tourist by enjoying the experience. Unlike me, who outed myself as a tourist by pointing to the sandwich shop when someone asked me if I knew where the subway was.

The show was at the Danforth Music Hall, which is where Steve, Audrey, and I saw Ben Folds and yMusic about three years ago. I remembered the general size of the place, and East Bar and West Bar. I did not remember the floor being so slopey. Steve (who used to work there) said it used to be a movie theatre (when he used to work there) so that makes sense. It does make for a long night of standing, though.

There weren’t a ton of people there when we arrived, so we took a spot nice and close for the openers, Bunny. What is with these bands and their hard-to-Google names (he asked, in order to goad CRZ into replying “From Toronto, it is Bunny (bunnytoronto.bandcamp.com)”)? This was fine, the very definition of an opening act that I enjoy but struggle to have anything to say about it. I found the vocals kind of got lost in everything; the dude had a high voice (think Andy Shauf) and it kind of got lost in the mix. Actually, “Andy Shauf singing power-pop” is probably… not super accurate as far as descriptions go, but that’s what I’m going with.

Somewhere in here, the place got packed. Like, hard to get to the bathroom packed. Harder to get back to near where you once were packed. Text your wife and make her wave her arms around because otherwise you’ll never find her packed. I think it sold out (or came very close), but I think Ben Folds sold out (or came very close) too and I don’t remember it being nearly so wall-to-wall. For all the people, I will say the jerk ratio was quite low. There were just a ton of people there and they were all excited for Thrush Hermit.

The lights went down, a little sign that read “ROCK & ROLL” lit up, then it went out and a big sign that read “ROCK & ROLL” lit up, and we were underway. As always, I was amazed that one of my stupid plans actually came to fruition. Everything worked, everyone was well, and there we were. And… it ruled? Yes. And I am not the target audience here. While Mika has long since turned me on to Joel Plaskett’s solo stuff, I really haven’t spent any time listening to Thrush Hermit. I listened to all of Clayton Park once through earlier in the week, which was good, because the main set was the whole album played all the way through. They killed it and the crowd was into everything. Me too, and it’s not like I’d been waiting 20 years to see them. From the Back of the Film and The Day We Hit the Coast were particular favourites, thought that could be because I knew them best from Mika playing them in the car.

Mika suggests that I mention that Ian McGettigan balanced his bass guitar on his chin twice, but didn’t spit fire. Which kind of makes it sound like he was alone in not spitting fire. I didn’t spit fire either, but somehow that’s not noteworthy.

Toronto being the centre of the universe, I’d hoped that we’d get something a little special with our show, and I wasn’t disappointed. For the last song of the main set, Before You Leave, they were joined by two members of Local Rabbits, Pete Elkas and Ben Gunning. I was already on board with our decision to not back out and just go to Amigo’s instead, but if there were any lingering doubts, this sealed it. Not only something unique on this tour, but a nice callback to that original show that didn’t quite happen.

Before the encore, Mika ran (or really, slowly slogged through people) to the washroom, where she overheard someone’s kids. Not sure whose. Someone in one of the bands. The kids were ready to go home, as Dad had been there since soundcheck. I guess having a dad in a band isn’t cool anymore, if it ever way.

They played five songs for the encore: Strange to Be Involved, On the Sneak, French Inhale, North Dakota, and Patriot, before closing with a reprise of the show-opening From the Back of the Film. I didn’t know these ones as well – really, only North Dakota sounded familiar to me, though Mika assures me most of them were singles, and she’s probably played all of them in my presence at one point or another. Didn’t matter that I didn’t know them. They were great. This was all great.

Of course, my opinion isn’t the one that matters here. In her Instagram post, Mika declared the show to be “so awesome” and it occurs to me that this whole review is just a novel-length retelling of her photo caption.

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.

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.