SLCR #327: Reuben and the Dark (November 2, 2018)

November 5, 2018

Here’s a surprise bonus review because I need to generate Content to maintain the Perception of my Brand. And because I’m getting good at remembering to check the Facebook pages of Regina media outlets a few days before any concerts that I wouldn’t mind going to for free. Thank you, CJTR, for sending me to this show because I commented “Comment!” when you asked for a comment. I’m glad my hard work paid off.

With Mika still tied up with school, I sought out the newly-retired Other James (retired from work, I mean – he’s still James) to join me as my +1. I looked up the start time when inviting him, and it was good I did, because I’d have wound up sad and lonely at the Exchange when this show was actually at Westminster United Church. I also had to look up the location of the church, and that was also good, because I learned you can give churches Google reviews. The best by far was a two-star review, saying “it’s ok if that’s what you’re into.”

Other James and I were to meet at “8-ish,” and I would have been there right at 8:00, but there’s a candy store across the street so I had to stop and browse. With treats acquired, we met in the lobby, the ticket folks found my name on the list, and we were inside. It’s a very nice looking church. At least a 3 out of 5. As a concert venue, it has some of the drawbacks that you’d expect from a church – few washrooms, no food or drinks. They should have had old ladies in the basement selling funeral specials – ham sandwiches with one slice of ham on buttered (well, margarined) bread, cut into quarters and served with sweet pickles, slices of marble cheese, watered down orange drink, and date squares.

I knew nothing about either Reuben and the Dark or openers nêhiyawak, apart from having heard their names before. I had a little more than 24 hours between winning the tickets and the show starting, but chose not to seek out any of their music and just enjoy the show as a brand new experience. Doesn’t that sound nicer than saying “I started off ignorant, became aware of my ignorance, and decided to remain ignorant?”

nêhiyawak is a three-piece from Edmonton – guitar, drums, and synthesizers. The synths in particular give them a unique sound, driving some songs while adding a dreamy edge to others. The trio are all of Plains Cree ancestry and sing songs that draw on that history. It wasn’t always easy to make out the lyrics, so I wound up relying on the singer’s explanations as to the songs’ meanings. It was a short set, but powerful and compelling – the kind of music that I suspect is best experienced live. And probably in a smaller venue – Other James said he’d seen them at the folk festival this summer, but thought this was a better showcase for them.

Reuben and the Dark are a five-piece from Calgary. The lead singer is, in fact, Reuben, though the other guys didn’t look particularly Dark. Reuben was clad in all white, so I guess they were kind of darker by comparison. Also, he’s a brave man who clearly eats more neatly than I do.

Whereas nêhiyawak had the synths as a differentiator, if I can use obnoxious business words, Reuben and the Dark had great vocal harmonies that stood out for me. All five had mics and the harmonies added warmth to songs that were already great on their own.

Like I said, I was going in blind, but one song, Rolling Stone (not THAT one) (or that other one) seemed so familiar to me. Either I’ve heard it before, enough to know it, or it’s just one of those songs that feels like an old favourite from the first time you hear it. There were a few other songs that sounded a little recognizable, so I’m assuming Mika played them in the car at some point. And the first song of the encore was a cover of Bobcaygeon, which was really well done. The band recorded and released the song as a single, donating the profits to the Downie Wenjack Fund. So, if you have a spare $1.29 in iTunes credit and want to direct whatever fraction of that to a good cause, you could do worse.

Reuben is a charismatic fellow, holding the audience’s attention with songs and stories, or leading the crowd in song. A few times, he walked up and down the church aisles, crouching down to sing directly to individuals (including one very appreciative young fan in the front row). The last song of the night was done entirely off-mic, capping off a great evening and making the small venue feel even more intimate.

This was the kind of concert I love, where you go in with no expectations and leave with a new favourite. Great songs, killer harmonies, and a really enjoyable show. I left humming their songs and next time, I won’t rely on luck to get me in the door. By which I mean I’ll buy a ticket, but it sounds pretty underwhelming when you put it that way.

For the most part, I thought the sound in the church was pretty good. I thought the mix was a little better for Reuben and the Dark and I had an easier time hearing what he was saying than with nêhiyawak, though a few songs in, someone up on the second level yelled to turn the snare drum down. Everyone laughed and this became a recurring theme throughout the evening, with Reuben later checking in about the volume of the snare, and later saying that Bobcaygeon would have benefitted from a little more of it. Though when Other James was chatting with the sound tech on the way out, she said that the snare really did come through excessively upstairs. Maybe Mr. Two-out-of-five had a balcony seat.

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SLCR #326: Stone Temple Pilots (October 31, 2018)

November 2, 2018

Welcome to the first-ever bone chilling, spine tingling, Halloween SLCR spooktacular! Oooh, scary! A night of ghosts and goblins, witches and draculas, your credit card debt, giving a presentation and PowerPoint won’t open, making eye contact with a stranger, 63 million Trump voters, the ceaseless passage of time reflected in your ever-decaying body. And a full-size Snickers if your costume is special enough.

For only the second time in SLCR history, I went to a show on Halloween. The last was when Pat and I saw The Tea Party at Louis’ in 1996 – 22 years ago, SLCR #4 – see above re: ceaseless passage. I didn’t know the band and only went because Pat had a spare ticket at the last minute. It was sold out, absolutely jam-packed, and there was a girl in a genie costume. Barbara Eden genie, not Robin Williams genie. Beyond that, I don’t really remember what she looked like anymore so much as I remember being very invested in what she looked like. As far as The Tea Party, I liked them fine, probably. I don’t remember anything being spooky.

However, I picked an appropriately frightening show for this occasion. An arena full of Halloween drunks! Four bands on a worknight! One of which I’ve never heard of, two I actively don’t care about, and what amounts to a tribute band as a headliner!

Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland battled addiction issues for pretty much his whole career. The band broke up, got back together, they kicked him out, they brought him back – it was constant chaos. I finally saw them with Mika and Dave in 2009 – fifteen years after I was really into them – and though I was expecting a trainwreck, it was actually pretty fun. They played tons of the songs I would have wanted from my high school days, and Weiland sounded great. (We’ll quietly move past the incident at a concert a few months after ours where Weiland fell off the stage but somehow kept right on singing.) Unfortunately, Weiland’s issues continued; he was eventually replaced in the band one last time before dying of an accidental overdose in 2015. A sad end that, frankly, most people saw coming but nobody was able to stop.

The new Stone Temple Pilots’ singer is Jeff Gutt, previously best known as a contestant on the reality show The X Factor. I had some curiosity about what they’d sound like these days, but not enough to get me in the door. Not at $100 for a general admission standing ticket. Not when I also had to buy tickets for Jack White and the Headstones (not together) (but now I wish they were). Not when the openers are Seether and Default, two bands I could happily go my whole life without ever seeing, and Age of Days, who I don’t know but I assume fall into a similar category.

I don’t know if a lot of people felt the same way I did or if everyone had Halloween plans, but I got an email out of the blue. Those $100 tickets? On sale for $25. Much more reasonable for a night I might not enjoy. I’d have been spitting nails if I’d spent $100 when tickets went on sale, but I didn’t, so hooray for a brief flash of fiscal responsibility and subsequent irresponsibility! Premium parking pass? No thank you, the free lot will have room enough for all.

I was flying solo for this one. Mika had to do school stuff and also had no interest in this clown show. And I should clarify, there were plenty of costumes, but not enough that I could call it a literal clown show. Probably for the best. No genies, but there were hundreds of random wigs and painted faces. I found Jesus AND several Waldos. I also got to play lots of my favourite Halloween game, “costume or oddball?” The answer may surprise you, but likely won’t.

After showering, dawdling, skipping supper, and handing out candy to all of three trick-or-treaters (policeman, princess, zombie princess), I got to the Brandt Centre as Age of Days was playing one of their first songs. I didn’t expect to recognize it, and I didn’t expect it to be a cover of Roxette’s The Look, but there we were. It was pretty good but you’d have to put effort into wrecking something that catchy.

I wandered around the stadium, passing some people enjoying a newly legal substance in a still illegal place, and taking a quick look at the stuff table. Eventually I found a spot to stand on the concourse level. I could have gone down to the floor, but why bother?

Age of Days played perfectly competent late 90s/early 2000s rock, the kind that I find kind of catchy but not super memorable, which is exactly what I think of both Seether and Default, so they were a good fit on this bill. I enjoyed it while it was happening, wouldn’t be in a rush to listen to more of their stuff, but wouldn’t turn them off if you put their record on. And that’s how you say “this was fine” in a paragraph’s worth of words.

Is it obvious I wrote most of this (to this point) before the show started and I wrote the bit about Age of Days while waiting for Default? I feel like I’m being inconsistent with my verb tenses and I don’t feel like caring.

As predicted, there aren’t a ton of people here. Or weren’t a ton there. Whatever.

Default got to use the lighting rig, so they’re officially a bigger deal than Age of Days. I liked Age of Days better, though. I thought I knew one Default song (Wasting My Time), but I knew two! So that was nice. They said the other song, Deny, was on the soundtrack to NHL 2003. Also, their new guitarist “refused to play Default songs in his high school cover band, in case you wanna know how fuckin’ old we are.” The highlight was when a crayon stood right by me, turned his back to the stage, and excitedly jumped up and down while his girlfriend, a dragon, shot a video.

Mika just texted. She’s back home and has had 2 more trick-or-treaters, bringing our combined total to 5. Verily, the gods have blessed us and we will feast for weeks on Mikes and Ikes. Which is good because I’m starting to regret skipping supper. I don’t want booze and not much else is open here. Maybe I can find a big pretzel while Seether is playing. I suspect my knowledge of Seether songs will make me feel like an expert on Default.

I spent $10 on a soft pretzel and a Coke Zero. The pretzel was crispy and chewy and salty and warm and the Coke Zero had little ice crystals in it. I’m not saying it was the best $10 I’ve ever spent, but it was worth arena prices.

Seether gets the lighting rig AND video screens, so we’ve leveled up again. We’ll see if Stone Temple Pilots can take things even further, though maybe not – Seether is technically a co-headliner. I’m just not giving them their due because I don’t care about them. I know one (Remedy) and a half (they did one with Evanescence lady I think?) Seether songs and they played all of them. I walked laps around the concourse and a very nice Brandt Centre employee offered to let me onto the floor, that area I have a ticket for but haven’t visited. The highlight, apart from “dinner,” was the fans throwing random costume parts on stage and the band gamely wearing everything, even though one wig/mask “smells like a ham sandwich. Did you smoke cigars in this thing?”

I should point out that there are people here really into Seether and Default. Don’t take my lack of enthusiasm at face value – the fans are having a great time. This just isn’t entirely my thing and I knew that going in. Age of Days are still my favourite so far.

The place is starting to fill up. The drunks haven’t been too bad; one just had a nice chat with me about what I was doing. (He guessed “texting” and I went along with that.) There are some couples where only one of them wore a costume and it’s never not funny. I wonder how their dinner went. One couple wore themed costumes and it made their fight in the lobby that much more distressing. I hope you can find happiness and peace, Wayne and Garth. You’re both worthy.

I just took another lap around the concourse. In the empty area behind the stage, another drunk told me how lonely everything looked. As a security guard passed us, the drunk loudly said “I come back here so I can put drugs in my drinks!” The security guard kept walking. The drunk laughed. Then he found another friend of his and I slipped away.

STP up shortly. I hope this doesn’t suck. I bet they play a bunch off their new album. I maybe should have listened to it once.

I’m home now. First things first – STP had the big lighting rig but no video screens. Seether wins. Anyway, the concert. I was way wrong about the setlist. Only two new songs. I took notes, and also had to google some of the titles because with STP, I have the hardest time associating titles to songs:

Wicked Garden
Vasoline
Crackerman
Down
Big Bang Baby
Big Empty
Plush
Letter
Interstate Love Song
Roll Me Under
Dead and Bloated
Sex Type Thing
-encore-
Piece of Pie
Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart

The real question is how did they sound, and – yeah, a Stone Temple Pilots cover band. A good one, mind – on Wicked Garden, Jeff Gutt sounded so much like Scott Weiland that with my eyes closed, I wouldn’t have known the difference. For the other songs, he sounded more like himself, though sometimes still sounding like he was doing an impression. But I don’t know how you avoid that and still give people what they expect from an STP concert.

The one misstep was Plush. It started with just Gutt and guitarist Dan DeLeo, and it felt like they were on entirely different pages. The rest of the band came back out one at a time and eventually everything came together, but it began on a really rough note. But that could just be the relatively short time they’ve played together, or maybe everybody loved it and I’m wrong here. Either way, beyond that, everything sounded really good. Big Bang Baby and new song Letter were particular highlights, as was Sex Type Thing (shame about those lyrics, though).

Gutt had big shoes to fill, but he delivered with confidence. I really enjoyed their set, but it’s hard to praise the show and the band without having it sound like a backhanded compliment. “He’s no Scott Weiland, but…” “It’s not the same, but…” And he’s not and it’s not, which isn’t meant as a knock. It just is what it is.

While I was watching the show, there was a baseball player and a nurse standing next to me and I was pretty sure they were going to start having sex right there on the concourse about three songs in. They left after a few more songs and I’m certain they just found a quiet corner somewhere to finish what they’d started. Then another guy came along and his costume was an insulation bag. Rockwool insulation, specifically. He cut armholes and eyeholes in it and that was that. Sounds scratchy.

SLCR #325: They Might Be Giants (October 20, 2018)

October 27, 2018

I first started getting into They Might Be Giants in 1999. I remember watching the then-new video for Doctor Worm with Steve when I went to Toronto for the first time. If anything, it’s weird that it took me that long to become a fan; they’ve been making music together since 1982 and their particular brand of weirdo oddball alt-rock is right up my alley. It wasn’t long after that until they climbed to the top of the shortlist of bands I wanted to see in concert that I’d never seen before. As I cleared out the list over time, TMBG eventually secured the undisputed top spot.

I did have a ticket to see them in Minneapolis about five years ago, but that’s a really long drive. I wound up opting against the trip when work got busy and I realized that to pull it off, I’d have to leave Saturday morning, drive 13 hours, go straight to the show, sleep, and turn around and come home the next day. I’m capable of some incredibly stupid things, but even I have my limits.

Earlier this year, on their mailing list, TMBG began teasing a real Canadian tour, giving me high hopes that it would be more than just the usual combo of Vancouver/Toronto/somewhere else maybe. I assumed Calgary would be my best option to see them, so I held that in mind for my fall trip. When they finally released the dates, I was delighted to see Saskatoon made the cut. Even better, it was at the Broadway Theatre and not the loud hot place with terrible sound and terrible people, or the bar that sometimes has tasty foods but shows don’t start until after midnight.

Needless to say, this was a pretty highly anticipated show for me. However, as the day grew near, I started thinking about it, and I wasn’t sure if my TMBG fandom had kept up with this “most wanted concert” idea. Some of it is just volume – they have 20 albums out and release a song a week onto their Dial-a-Song service. It’s a lot to keep up with. And some of their music is different for different’s sake, which means that while I really dig some of it, there are other songs that just don’t click with me. I was still really excited for the show, but wasn’t sure they’d live up to years and years of my own hype.

I also wasn’t sure how much Mika would be looking forward to show, especially since it fell on our seventh wedding anniversary. On the one hand, it would ensure that we actually did something for our anniversary, or indeed, remembered it at all. However, I don’t know if a big ol’ nerd-rock show in another city was what she had in mind. But as fate would have it, my mom won a silent auction this summer for one night in a suite at the Sheraton and a giftcard to the fancy steakhouse therein, and gave it to us as an early anniversary gift. What better day to use it than our actual anniversary?

The drive was uneventful and podcast-laden and I said that last week. But checking into the hotel? Also uneventful. We changed into what I’ll say were nice clothes – Mika looked nice, I looked business-casual at best – and made our way down to the restaurant. I may still have been the best-dressed man there, which is not boasting, merely a reflection of societal standards plummeting, a trend that I unabashedly support. Dinner was great; I steaked it up and ate way too much even before dessert. This did not stop me from actually ordering dessert and I shoveled in beignets until it hurt. I had to leave one behind and I still regret that. Mika had some fish thing – I don’t know, she said she liked it, whatever, it was fish, I’m not responsible for her choices – and a chocolate truffle bar that was the size of a small brick and nearly as dense. It bent light towards itself with its gravitational pull. This was a lot of chocolate. All the chocolate. There is none left for anyone. I tried a bit and it was incredible.

After changing back into normal slob clothes, we drove to the Broadway Theatre. Could have walked it – would have done well to walk it – but it was chilly out and the meat inside me was repositioning itself with every step.

I bought tickets online right when they went on sale, ultimately settling for two seats in the centre about four rows back. Or at least that’s what I thought; I might have gotten myself confused in my attempts to nab the best seats I could. Anyway, the seats we actually got put us in the second row, but far off to the left. I thought we were on the aisle, but no, this was the farthest left possible, past the aisle, right up against the wall, all squished in and at an awkward angle. Not ideal. Then the band came out and immediately told everyone to stand, so we did, and told everyone to come up to the front, so we did that too. We wound up standing in the aisle, maybe six feet back from the stage, right in line with John Flansburgh. Much better!

What happened next was a nearly three-hour show played for some of the happiest nerds you’ve ever seen. I had kind of expected them to focus on new songs – and there were plenty, including Dial-a-Song songs that were only a month old – but the classics and cult favourites were out in full force. I don’t know if that’s a regular occurrence or if the set was chosen knowing this was going to be the first time most of the crowd had seen the band, but either way, it was welcome.

They’re switching up their setlists every night and the internet is only being somewhat helpful, so some of this might be out of order. The first song I recognized was Your Racist Friend and the first one I got really excited for was Doctor Worm. “This next one is called ‘Vogelhaus in deiner seele’ in German,” said John Linnell. Or something like that, I can’t speak German but I can use Google Translate. More importantly, I know “haus” and Birdhouse in your Soul is my favourite TMBG song and with that, I would have been fine with anything. But we didn’t just get just anything, they played Fingertips and The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) and Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal and How Can I Sing Like a Girl and I Like Fun and The Mesopotamians. Someone at some point has sent you the song Older on your birthday; they played that. Don’t know any TMBG but you enjoyed Tiny Toons? You’d think they’d be sick of Particle Man and Istanbul (Not Constantinople) but they played those too.

Musically, the band was killer. John F. stuck to guitar while John L. alternated between keyboards (including with a little bleep bloop blorp pad that he called a “chaos pad” for wacky effects) and accordion. The two Johns were joined by their regular backing band of Marty Beller on drums, Danny Weinkauf on bass, and Dan Miller on guitar – all fantastic musicians. Trumpet player Curt Ramm doesn’t always tour with them, but he was on this tour and every email leading up to the show mentioned his presence. He was given plenty of opportunities to shine and was a definite highlight – he also plays in Bruce Springsteen’s touring band and yeah he’s real real good. As I suppose one should expect.

The band also brought tons of energy to the show, moving around the stage, switching up instruments, letting everyone get some time in the spotlight, and changing up arrangements. More than most bands, it felt like they were trying to play to everyone there and make sure everyone got into the show. At one point, John F. handed a pick to a fan and then held out his guitar to let the guy strum away.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the band was so good – in a shocker, professional musicians discovered to be good at music – but TMBG plays a lot of wacky stuff and some songs would fall into the novelty song category. I suppose Weird Al also works really hard and has a super talented band too and maybe people (by which I mean me) should quit automatically associating “funny” with “easy.”

Speaking of funny, at the end of the intermission, they dimmed the lights and played a music video to get everyone’s attention for the second set. Not a TMBG video, exactly – the video for Walk This Way by Run-DMC and Aerosmith. One of the first songs I remember really getting into as a kid, and it’s still great. Except they didn’t play that song – it was a whole new song perfectly synced to the video. Google tells me it was a demo for the song Last Wave off their most recent album, I Like Fun. Apparently it’s been on the internet all year and I just missed it.

There was another funny moment when the show came to a screeching halt due to the presence of a maple bug on the keyboards. Maple bugs are harmless but I guess you don’t know that if you don’t have them where you’re from. It was shuffled onto the chaos pad, where a little camera allowed the bug to be projected onto the big screen behind the band. Everyone cheered for the maple bug and it’s certainly the first time that’s ever happened. It was at this point They Might Be Giants discovered that maple bugs have the power of flight. They were dismayed to lose their new friend, but someone in the crowd correctly observed “there’s more of them.” It eventually came back and landed on John F’s shirt where it may still be to this day, but probably isn’t.

For the encore, we got a drawn-out version of Why Does the Sun Shine? which was another favourite that was great to hear live. After a few more songs, they left – and then came back for a second encore, starting with a cover of the Cub song, New York City. I was familiar with they They Might Be Giants version and it was such a good fit for them that I had no idea it was a cover, while Mika knew the Cub song and didn’t know TMBG had covered it. Anyway, I was singing along and John F. saw me and shot me a smile back in a neat little moment. Finally, they played my favourite of their new Dial-a-Song songs, The Communists Have the Music, which I wasn’t expecting and was a great note to end on.

This was the kind of show where I could have gone in blind and left a fan. But even having waited so long for the experience, it went way beyond what I was hoping for – just a super fun, high-energy show. Tons of the songs I wanted to hear (though it speaks to their ridiculous output that I could list many more that I would’ve liked), great band, great crowd, great venue. It better not take 20 years until I get to see them for the second time.

SLCR #324: Colter Wall (October 16, 2018)

October 20, 2018

Colter Wall is another one of those folks where it’s been cool to watch his progression. It wasn’t all that long ago that he was playing a teaser set at the Regina Folk Festival, not yet being a big enough deal for a main stage spot. Then he’s selling out the Exchange. Now he’s in the hall at Conexus Arts Centre, and I recognize that these place names only mean something to about three of you. It’s bigger, is the point. I think you got that from context.

Steve Earle called Wall “the best singer-songwriter I’ve come across in years.” High praise. And Brock Lesnar and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had an animated discussion about their shared fandom of Wall on WWE Network and while I’ll defer to Earle as far as musical knowledge goes, that was still weird and unexpected enough that I’ll bring it up anytime Wall’s name is mentioned. Like the last time I had to write one of these things about him.

I just looked back to confirm that last point and this review, thus far, is thematically so similar to the last one that it reads like I just re-wrote it. Which I didn’t do, but should have. I could be in bed by now.

Doors at 7:00, show at 8:00. There are good reasons to be late for a concert, but switching over the laundry and finishing up washing dishes probably aren’t among them. I should be careful, lest I damage the rock n’ roll cred I’ve so carefully built up over the years. And anyway, I only missed opener Blake Berglund’s first few songs, arriving just before he was joined on stage for a few songs by (his wife? his fiancée? did I mishear that whole thing?) Belle Plaine.

I might have misheard it. The sound – and this was true for Colter later on too – didn’t do anyone any favours. Really heavy on the bass and muddy vocals. I got better at deciphering things as the night went on, but if I wasn’t familiar with the song beforehand, I was often pretty lost. That said, I still enjoyed the set well enough, especially when Plaine was out there. It’s hard to say she made a surprise appearance when they’re always popping up at each other’s shows, so let’s just say she was unannounced and welcome.

Colter Wall has been likened to Johnny Cash, which seems like the most unfair thing you can do to a young musician but that’s not going to stop me from repeating it here. Apart from a comparably deep voice, Wall has clearly been raised on Cash and the other legends of classic country, taken that history, and put his own spin on it.

And now we’re back to guy with guitar and me not having a lot to say, the most familiar of all SLCR territories. Wall did the first few songs by himself, then brought out his band, and then had Blake and Belle back out with him for the encore. Sound issues aside, this was all good. I don’t know if it was a significant upgrade from listening to his albums, though.

I should have shown up earlier and stood closer to the front – normally, I’m all about hiding at the back, but the front seemed to be for people standing and listening, and the back was for the drinkers and partiers. Only a handful of Wall’s songs are rockers; most are better for listening and it wasn’t always the easiest to do that. Nobody was being a jerk, it was just kinda loud and distracting.

Well, almost nobody – I did think I was going to see a fistfight between Happy Loud Drunk and Angry Quiet Drunk. Happy Loud honestly didn’t seem that loud to me – no worse than 50 other people near me – but Angry Quiet had other thoughts and most of them were the f-word. Nothing happened but eventually a security guard took a permanent spot near them. Earlier, I’d seen two security guards keeping watch over a few ice cubes that had been spilled on the floor, so they were probably thankful for having something more interesting to do.

SLCR #323: Crash Test Dummies (October 11, 2018)

October 17, 2018

You may recall that last summer, I saw the Crash Test Dummies at the Canada Games in Winnipeg.

You may also recall that I became a fan long ago, somehow wound up running their website, and still keep in touch with them a little bit, by which I mean mostly Ellen, and mostly through cat pictures and Letterkenny quotes. I’ve told that story enough.

Anyway, as a long-time fan, I’ve seen them go from being big stars to… let’s just say the opposite of that. The band never officially split up, but album sales dropped off and everyone eventually moved on to do their own thing. That show last year would have made a perfect final chapter to their story. After years apart, the band (mostly) reunites to headline a festival in front of a huge adoring hometown crowd who’s singing along with every word. The concert even ended with fireworks. Freeze frame, roll credits, bonus scene where they’re all enjoying shawarmas.

However, things took a different turn. The band enjoyed their Winnipeg show so much that there was talk of a reunion tour – just a few gigs. That turned into a half-dozen dates in western Canada, eleven in the US, and others to be announced soon. And what’s more, they’re doing well. The press release announcing the US shows got picked up by some large outlets, and Calgary, Saskatoon, and Regina sold out. When they were here last time in 2010, they only half-sold the Exchange. This is a little unexpected (at least by me), but I’m happy and excited for them.

And then we almost didn’t get into the show.

Mika and I got to the casino a little after 7:30 and went to pick up our tickets from the will call. And… nothing. No tickets printed out and waiting in their little ticket box. No record of the purchase on my file. They checked my ID, ran my info repeatedly, found other tickets I’ve bought for upcoming shows. But for the Dummies? Nothing. Jeff showed up and joined Mika off to the side while the boring drama unfolded. The guy at the ticket booth next to me appeared to be having the same issue. The people behind us in line were loving us. I had my phone with the email receipt, which probably saved the day. Eventually, the clerk took some blank tickets, handwrote our seat info, and sent us inside. I was quite certain that this would fail, but it didn’t. And I was even more certain that someone would be waiting at our table, but again, no. Unlikely success!

In retrospect, I do remember the pre-order being particularly glitchy and having to fight to get my order through. And this might also mean the show wasn’t technically sold out, since there was an empty seat at our table. I bought three tickets at a table that seats four; later, I looked into buying the fourth ticket to prevent some random weirdo from sitting with us (I only want weirdos of my choosing), but it said it had been sold. Thanks, God or random ticketing system glitch! You saved me some money. And since the seat wasn’t available to be sold, I declare that the sellout stands.

With no opener, the show was underway at 8:00 on the nose. Business was meant and bedtimes were to be adhered to. As mentioned, the band was (mostly) reunited, with Brad Roberts, Ellen Reid, Dan Roberts, and Mitch Dorge joined by touring guitarists Murray Pulver and Stuart Cameron, and a keyboardist I don’t think I’ve seen before who I’m about 60% sure was named Marc. No sign of original member Benjamin Darvill, who’s still finding success as blues harmonica beatbox oddball Son of Dave. I’m mostly out of the loop these days, but the one piece of insider gossip I’d love to know is whether or not anyone asked Ben if he wanted to do the tour. I suppose it doesn’t matter since I can’t imagine he had any interest.

The setlist for the show wound up pretty similar to last summer’s, which was mostly a greatest hits collection with a few new songs thrown in. They opened with God Shuffled His Feet (during which Ellen spotted me and gave me a subtle wave) and Replacements cover Androgynous. I’ve seen the Dummies six times now and these are two of the five songs that they’ve played at each show; the others being the only two songs most of you would know, Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm and Superman’s Song, and Ellen’s big showcase (and XTC cover) The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead.

After all these shows, I still heard a few songs that I hadn’t seen them play live before. In preparation for their US dates, where they’re playing the God Shuffled His Feet album all the way through, they did When I Go Out With Artists. During a block of songs from their most recent album Ooh-La-La (now eight years old), they played Not Today Baby. And then Ellen stepped up to sing one of Brad’s songs, her favourite Dummies song. I was pretty excited for this – I’d never heard her do one of his songs before.

“And not only is it my favourite Crash Test Dummies song, but my favourite Crash Test Dummies fan is here tonight.”

I may have quietly said one tiny swear word.

Ellen called me out by name, pointed at our table, and dedicated the song My Own Sunrise to me.

“Well, it’s an overtly sexual song, so it’s not FOR YOU. But it’s for you.”

That she’d say or do anything at all was really sweet, especially coming at least a full decade since I’ve had any sort of official involvement with the band. But moreover, it was a song I hadn’t heard live before in a way I’d never heard. Over the years, I’ve tracked down all the rarities that are out there – I’m pretty sure that McSweeny’s article was about me – but this was brand new and super exciting and honestly really special.

Mika, as soon as the song was over: “Did Ellen just sing you a song about boners?”

I mean, technically, yes. A radio-friendly song about boners. My own sunrise! Metaphors!

So. Ellen’s take on the song was great, but I might be biased now and you’ll have to go see them live to hear it anyway. She followed it up with Make You Mine, introducing it with “This song is about being angry, which I’m not, because I’m 52 and I’m over it.” This is my favourite song off her 2001 solo album, something else I’d never heard done live before and something I definitely wasn’t expecting. At this point, I was all in – hearing these two songs back-to-back made me feel like I was back at that first concert at the peak of my fandom. I had been looking forward to the show but really wasn’t expecting to get this invested in it.

The main set was done in about an hour, though they did four more songs when they came back out. I may have gotten chastised for not standing to applaud. And then told to remain standing once I did get up. A highlight of the encore was my favourite Dummies’ song, Afternoons and Coffeespoons, with just Brad and Ellen singing and Stuart on guitar – a real showcase for him. Of the Dummies shows I’ve seen, this was probably the best one musically, but hiring Stuart and Murray to play in your band is like hiring Daryl Strawberry and Ken Griffey Jr. to play on your company softball team. Just keep those boys away from the brain and nerve tonic.

The band killed it, Ellen stole the show, and Brad sounded like he ever did, except more relaxed. Really, what stood out to me was that everyone seemed to be having so much fun. Especially Brad – there were moments where he was genuinely smiling and laughing and I know that sounds super weird, but he always comes across as very performative when he’s on stage, so it was good to see him let his guard down.

Here’s the whole setlist:

God Shuffled His Feet
Androgynous
The Ghosts That Haunt Me
Swimming in Your Ocean
The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
Heart of Stone
Not Today Baby
Songbird
In the Days of the Caveman
When I Go Out With Artists
My Own Sunrise
Make You Mine
Two Knights and Maidens
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
-encore-
Afternoons & Coffeespoons
He Liked to Feel It
Put A Face
Superman’s Song

Jeff headed out when it was over (after facilitating a vital Pokémon trade between me and his wife which I did my best to thwart), and Mika and I stuck around to quickly say hi to the band and get handshakes and hugs and a brief serenade. Possibly this all didn’t happen quickly enough, according to the people in line behind us, but that’s why we waited until almost everyone else had gone through the line. Apparently it was a day of being bad at casino lines.

SLCR #322: Jonathan Richman (October 6, 2018)

October 14, 2018

A few years ago, Jonathan Richman was playing… somewhere. As musicians will do. Saskatoon? Winnipeg? Fargo? I can’t remember where and it doesn’t matter anyway. The relevant point is that Mika and I were visiting whatever city it was, and we saw the ad that said he’d be playing there a few days after we were leaving. She was disappointed that we wouldn’t be around to see him. I offered to come back for the show, but knew that it really wasn’t feasible. Wherever it was. So when I heard about this show at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon, I grabbed us a pair of tickets.

On the drive up, I had visions of struggling to write this review. Jonathan Richman’s career has spanned nearly 50 years that I know pretty much nothing about. Mika’s played me a few of his most famous songs, and I wasn’t familiar with them. He and drummer Tommy Larkins (who was also at this show) were in There’s Something About Mary, in what I gather were pretty prominent roles, but somehow I’ve never seen it. I pretty much expected this would be guy-with-guitar accompanied by guy-with-drums singing songs I don’t know, which can be quite pleasant, but always leaves me challenged to find something to write about.

And it was that, kind of. But nothing like I was expecting.

Doors at 7:00, show at 8:00. Rush seating, so we didn’t want to be too late, nor did we want to spend a ton of time sitting around. We left as late as we could to give Mika as much homework time as possible, but timing drives is tricky. After an uneventful, podcast-laden road trip, we got to the theatre right at 7:00 – the third and fourth people to arrive. They let us into the theatre and we took our seats – front row centre were available, so why not?

We walked into the theatre past quite a few NO CELLPHONE signs. I took a picture of the drum kit set up on the empty stage and put my phone away – after we spent, like, 45 minutes scrolling through our respective Instagram feeds, showing each other cute animal pictures. It’s become our pre-concert tradition. I should mention that we also walked past a sign that said they’d ask for ID unless you look older than 45. And they didn’t. I took a picture of that too.

More people trickled in; though the place was never that full, the people who were there were devoted fans. And me, I guess. One girl sat by us and got Mika to take her picture in front of the stage. As she reviewed the picture, Richman and Larkins emerged from the back of the theatre and walked the aisle up to the front. Richman passed our new friend and chastised her for illicit cellphone usage. Those signs meant business! He did, however, compliment the vintage tour t-shirt she was proudly wearing.

With no instruments, Richman began singing Not So Much to Be Loved as to Love. Starting a song a capella was something he would do throughout the show. His songs were sweet, often simple, and catchy. He sang of love and human connection and art and wine, with more than you’d expect in Italian and French. Not that I knew enough to expect any.

For “just” guitar and drums (and a bit of simultaneous shaking of maracas and hips), the two had a great sound. Sitting up at the front, I could closely watch Richman’s guitar playing and the guy is an incredible talent. I might go so far as exceptional, just because that’s the kind of skill you have to display for me to notice. Not to be outdone, Larkin easily handled a freeform, no-setlist show and was given several chances to take centre stage. Metaphorically, I mean. You’re not going to move a whole drum kit just for one solo. You understand.

Looking through Richman’s more recent albums, I can tell you he played Because Her Beauty is Raw and Wild, Le printemps des amoreux est venu, and He Gave Us the Wine to Taste. A few times, people called out for older songs and they were soundly denied. One person asked for Abominable Snowman in the Supermarket after he’d already said what he was going to play next; he blew off the request saying he was ready to play the other song and couldn’t think of two things at once. A later request for Roadrunner got a longer, very thoughtful explanation as to why he doesn’t play that song anymore, which I will artlessly sum up as “I play what I feel and I haven’t felt that song in 30 years.” He said it better, though, and the crowd heartily applauded his explanation.

They also really liked it when he told off the guy who was using a cellphone. I’ll be honest, when I see “no cellphone” signs, I put my phone away during the show and I say it’s out of respect for the artist’s wishes but really I just don’t want to catch hell in front of everyone.

The night was over relatively quickly, at just under 90 minutes. He left as he entered, walking back up the aisle to the lobby, though he stopped halfway to since one more song a capella in Italian. Or maybe it was Spanish and I just think everything is Italian now?

The show was charming, delightful, and, to this newcomer, curiously different. About as different from “guy-with-guitar accompanied by guy-with-drums singing songs I don’t know” as it could be while still perfectly fitting that description.

There was one fellow there whose behaviour during the show might be best described as unconventional. First he paced back and forth in front of the stage for a few songs. Then he removed his glasses and did it again, seven or eight more times, all while ceaselessly rubbing his hands through his hair. He disappeared for a bit, came back with a beer, and sat on the stairs leading up to the stage. At one point, in the middle of a song, he got up and used the flashlight on his contraband cellphone to examine the artwork painted on the walls of the theatre, an act so out-of-place that Richman thought better than it best to just ignore. Anyway, I guess he liked the show, because a few minutes after Richman was done, just as we were leaving, he hollered “maybe THIS will end war!!!” I guess there’s a chance? I mean, I’d be okay with it. Doesn’t look like we’ve made any progress so far but maybe I have to post this first.

SLCR #321: Queer Songbook Orchestra (October 3, 2018)

October 13, 2018

The Queer Songbook Orchestra is a 12-piece chamber pop ensemble traveling across Canada telling queer people’s stories. I mean this literally – they’re joined in each city by local readers who preface each song with a story submitted from across Canada.

This concert was put on in association with the Regina Folk Festival, though it didn’t open with the familiar sight of a local radio personality plugging upcoming shows and thanking the list of sponsors. Won’t someone think of the SOCAN Foundation? Instead, they went right into the show, starting with a brief introduction talking about the mission of the QSO. I did think it was a little funny when they mentioned wanting to take the show to places where there’s less of a visible queer community, but the big crowd reaction was reserved for the specific phrase, “not just Toronto and Vancouver.” I get it; I hate the two-city “Canadian tour” as much as anyone. It just made me laugh that even in the face of the night’s positive message, our little big city inferiority complex still reared its head.

After that, the show was split into two sets, mostly following the format of story, song, story, song – though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the poetry reading at the start of the second half that stole the show with passion and humour. Each story made reference to a specific song, but beyond that, they varied greatly – some were funny, some sad, some hopeful. One was particularly heartbreaking. It would feel weird to recap them here since they’re not mine to tell and an abridged version wouldn’t do them justice anyway.

The songs were of special importance to the folks who wrote in with their stories, so it’s no surprise that many of the songs were by queer artists, or those with significance to the queer community. We got Changes (David Bowie), Heart of Glass (Blondie), Could I Be Your Girl (Jann Arden), Fast Car (Tracy Chapman), and others by Joni Mitchell, Ani DiFranco, and more. Most of the arrangements stuck pretty close to the originals (just, you know, with an orchestra), though their version of Sprawl II by Arcade Fire slowed things down, where I thought the original benefitted from having that extra energy to it.

For all of the stories and songs, the night’s most emotional moment came near the end, when QSO artistic director (and trumpet player) Shaun Brodie addressed the crowd after introducing everyone else in the ensemble. He’d grown up closeted in Regina and joked that the blurb on the front page of that morning’s newspaper – Concert a Homecoming for Queer Musician – read like the nightmares of his 14-year-old self. In the full story, the paper included a photo they’d originally run in 1985 of seven-year-old Brodie getting help with trumpet lessons. Brodie credited that teacher for guiding him toward his career in music, and thanked his other music teachers (at least one of whom was in attendance) and other positive influences and role models he’d had while living here. Being out at home for the first time was clearly something special (if still nerve-wracking) to Brodie.

With that, we had the closing song, described as Canada’s unofficial queer national anthem. I’m not sure what I would have guessed it would be, but it wouldn’t have been We’ll Reach the Sky Tonight by Rita MacNeil. In fairness, my knowledge of both Rita MacNeil and queer anthems is lacking. I’m pretty this is the only MacNeil song I know, and only because it was featured regularly on Rita and Friends in the days when we only got three channels in English.

All told, I thought the music was great and the show felt important. The sound at the Artesian was great, and the venue was the perfect size to host such an intimate, personal show. All that said, given the evening’s nature, it feels weird to critique it like a normal concert. Luckily, these write-ups generally wind up less like actual reviews and more recaps of an evening out with a particular focus on my own buffoonery, so maybe we’re in the clear here.

SLCR #320: Cadence Weapon (October 2)

October 12, 2018

Are you ready for three opening acts? On a work night? On the day of our first real winter snowfall?

Probably not. I mean, I wasn’t.

This was a classic example of a night where if I hadn’t bought a ticket well in advance – this was announced back in May – I wouldn’t have gone. Even with the ticket, I still thought about skipping out. The ticket was only $15 and I’m old and I tire and I come from a long line of seniors who run the furnace in the middle of the summer. I like rest and warmth.

Apparently, my fellow citizens feel the same way. The tickets said doors at 7:30, show at 8:00. I arrived at 8:35, nothing had started yet, and the crowd consisted of 16 people. I counted. This number only got worse when I realized I’d accidentally included all three openers in my tally, since they were hanging out in the audience. A couple more folks showed up over the course of the evening, but that was all – even by the very end of the night, I think we’d have needed to count musicians and venue staff to break 30 people. This was the second-smallest audience for a concert that I’ve ever been to, topped (?) only by that ill-fated first Son of Dave tour over 15 years ago. Really, I’m not sure why nobody made the call to move the show into the Club, the smaller room at the Exchange. At least the room wouldn’t have looked quite so cavernous.

Anyway, I bought a pop, grabbed a chair from the stack along the wall, and found a place to park myself. I wind up going to a lot of shows by myself and I don’t really mind, since nobody pays attention to the old guy and I can just sort of blend into the crowd. That wasn’t happening here, not that it mattered. I did wind up making fast friends with two women who were sitting near me, by which I mean I held their table for them a few times when they went outside to smoke, and otherwise we didn’t talk. I don’t think it was in any danger of being taken but it’s good to have a purpose.

Local musician Loa, or possibly LOA, pronounced “low,” was first up, and immediately ran into some technical challenges. They shut off the background music so she could perform, but her mic wasn’t working, and that took a while to fix. Meanwhile, they didn’t turn the background music back on right away, and you could hear every conversation in the place, every footstep… it kind of felt like time stood still. Eventually they sorted things out, though another snafu shut off one of her prerecorded beats mid-song. She sounded a little nervous when she talked but ultimately handled a tough situation (or two or three) pretty well. Her music – electronic pop with R&B influences – wasn’t really my thing, though that’s just more my tastes than anything, it was all done well.

If they were making any concession to the small crowd, it’s that there was no messing around between acts. Maybe five minutes passed between Loa ending and Hua Li starting up. It really could have been a bit longer, since basically the entire audience except me all collectively went for a smoke when Loa finished.

As a female rapper from Montreal of Chinese descent, Hua Li is unique in my concert-going experiences. She took the stage with confidence and pretty much killed it. With everyone outside, she started her set in front of literally three or four people, but everyone swarmed back in as soon as they heard her. She held everyone’s attention with powerful fast flows and some slower grooves. At one point, Li called everyone up to the front so that she could tell a personal story about her mom and about the experience of growing up the child of an immigrant – I was going to stand but I happened to be on table-watching duty at that moment which is the worst legitimate excuse I’ve ever used. She also mentioned being appreciative of the opportunity to share the bill with another woman for the first time on the tour.

Literally seconds after Li was done, Fat Tony was on stage. I noticed that this tour is continuing into the US, and there, Tony, coming from Houston, is the headliner. This was my first exposure to him, and – rap expert that I am – I thought he was fantastic. He took the stage and brought the lights down low, the better to see that he was rapping in front of a projected background of Heathcliff cartoons and Space Channel Five game footage. And then he had the lights brought back up so he could actually see his pedals. He was funny, super charismatic, and prone to yelling. And while he was mostly focused on performing songs from his new record 10,000 Hours, which just came out, we even got a Regina-specific rap about how much he liked his lunch at Hunter Gatherer that day – “and they ain’t even pay me to say that shit.” I still haven’t been, but apparently the burger of the day and a cup of soup is the way to go.

Finally – I say that though it was still pretty early – Cadence Weapon came out with Hua Li as his DJ. I moved up to the front and found a nice pole I could lean on. Really, I think everyone there went up to the front. Cadence Weapon (is it cool to just say Cadence? Or Mr. Weapon?), the former poet laureate of Edmonton, treated us to songs spanning his entire career, everything from his recently released self-titled fourth album, to a few songs (including Sharks and Oliver Square) from his debut, Breaking Kayfabe. We even got some new unreleased tracks – all delivered with energy and finesse.

There was a funny moment when he introduced a new-ish song about the greatest hockey player. After dismissing one audience member’s guess of Kanye West, everyone decided that the song was about Wayne Gretzky. Cadence Weapon clarified that the song was actually about the greatest active player… Connor McDavid. And everyone in unison said “…oh.” It was one of the greatest mass disappointments I’ve ever heard. People didn’t even care enough to be angry about the pick. It makes sense, Edmonton and all. Just… oh. The song itself was fun, helped along by two girls who tried to hijack the call-and-response part where we were supposed to yell “Connor McDavid” by yelling “Wayne Gretzky” instead.

At the end of his set, Cadence Weapon made the closest thing to an acknowledgement of the crowd size, saying something along the lines of “tell your friends who aren’t here that they missed a hell of a show.” And they did – this was a great show and everyone gave it their all, even when you know their hearts couldn’t have been all the way in it. As much as I’d love to blame this on how hard it can be to get people out in Regina sometimes, I’m not sure it’s going better anywhere else. They were scheduled to play Calgary on the night after Regina, but that show wound up cancelled with no reason given. Earlier this week, I saw that there was a price drop on tickets for students for their upcoming Saskatoon show, but the deal was open to everyone since “we were all students once.” I don’t know what the deal is – I know Cadence Weapon went six years between albums, but that couldn’t be it exclusively. Maybe there are just too many shows right now and people are picking and choosing? October is my most loaded concert month this year, and I’ve passed some things by. Whatever the reason, I hope things turn around – something this good deserves to be seen.

SLCR #319: The Fred Eaglesmith Show starring Tif Ginn (September 23, 2018)

October 1, 2018

That’s what the poster called it so that’s what I’m calling it, at least once. And probably never again.

Let us briefly recap my history with Fred Eaglesmith, such as it is. For a long time, people have told me that I’d like his music. How long? The first song of his I ever heard was Time to Get a Gun, which Apple Music tells me came out 21 years ago. That was also the only song of his I heard for years. There were always other shows to go to, other CDs to buy. I don’t know what my excuse was in the Napster era but I clearly had one. Finally, two years ago (to the day, as I’m writing this), he came through town and the stars aligned (meaning I bought an advance ticket so I wasn’t likely to back out at the last minute) and I got the chance to see him. And sure enough, I had a really enjoyable time.

This time out, I got to the Exchange a few minutes before the show was set to start. It seemed a fair bit less busy than last time; I don’t attribute that to anything other than it being harder to get people out on a Sunday night than a Saturday. I took a seat in the back along the wall.

Right on time, we were joined by Fred Eaglesmith and Tif Ginn. And a kid? Their kid, specifically. Or so they said. I mean, I don’t know this kid. He’s in Grade 4 (home-schooled, or rather, “bus-schooled”) and his name is Blue, and he also has a real name that’s not Blue, but does that matter? All three of them sang two songs, then Blue sang a song by himself that he wrote about a puppy, then all three sang another song. Just as I was thinking “so… is the whole show going to be this?” Blue was done. Eaglesmith made what I thought was a joke about sending Blue to work the merch table, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he actually did.

This was, thus far, not my thing. One song would have been cute. Four? And it wasn’t like the kid was bad. It’s just… let me tell you this. When I was roughly that kid’s age, my dad bought me my first cassette player. He also got me two tapes, which I can only describe as wild-ass guesses as to my 10-year-old musical tastes: a Mini-Pops collection (if you’re younger than me, or possibly not Canadian, think Kidz Bop) and the greatest hits of Kenny Rogers. Despite only owning two cassettes for a while, I never even once made it through the first side of that Mini-Pops tape. Not my thing. I listened to a LOT of Kenny Rogers.

I may as well add here that when I was in high school, my dad also got me my first CD player and made a similar wild-ass guess as to what I’d like for my first two CDs and they were Tone-Loc’s Loc’ed After Dark and the Days of Thunder soundtrack. Days of Thunder got played only slightly longer than the Mini-Pops but at least it had Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door on it.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The rest of the show was pretty much exactly like that one two years ago. I recognized some of the same songs. He told some of the same jokes. Ginn sang a song or two on her own and sassed him a bit and played everything from ukulele to melodica to accordion to drums.

And like before, Fred spent a lot of time talking to the audience. The theme of “let’s all get along and everybody be nice to each other” is coming up a lot at these shows lately, and I get why, and I’m going to endorse it every time out (even though I don’t always do the best job of living it myself). The talk about “can you believe people buy expensive TVs to watch millionaires throw the ball around,” though – kinda hackneyed and also not real high on my list of pressing concerns these days.

I don’t generally mind when a show feels a lot like one that came before it, as long as the one that came before it was good. This time, though, I wasn’t feeling the start and so it took me quite a while to warm up to things. Which isn’t really fair – most of the show was what I was wanting. Eaglesmith mixes equal parts storytelling, humour, and commentary, an appealing mix which makes his songs quite listenable. And the sound at the Exchange was fantastic; I’m hardly even an Eaglesmith neophyte, much less an expert, but I could easily make out every word. The music sounded great as well. Really, everything was fine, just felt a bit like a rerun that I wasn’t quite as into the second time around.

SLCR #318: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12, 2018)

September 23, 2018

I went to Calgary this spring. That isn’t really news – I visit my grandma twice a year – but I didn’t go to any concerts so it was my first SLCR-less Calgary trip in some time. If you only know of my comings and/or goings through these reviews, you might not have known (or cared) that I was here. As though you care now. Anyway, at the end of that trip, when Colin dropped me off at the airport, he suggested I come back for the week of September 10, so we could go see The Book of Mormon. Some quick Googling confirmed that if I did, we could go see Frank Turner too. Though to be honest, I really didn’t think it would happen – They Might Be Giants had teased a Canadian tour announcement was coming and I figured Calgary would be my best bet to see them. I’ve been a fan for close to 20 years and they’ve never come any closer than Minneapolis. Then TMBG booked a date in Saskatoon, so suddenly, my Calgary trip was set.

There was quite a bit happening in Calgary this week; unfortunately, most of it was running at the same time as the stuff we had tickets for. Andrew WK was playing opposite our showing of The Book of Mormon. Greta Van Fleet and Frank Turner were on at the same time. Too bad. And yet, I wrote most of this on the Friday night of my trip with nothing better to do. I guess I could have overpaid to see Sam Smith at the Saddledome in hopes that he’d play the worst James Bond song since Madonna’s.

The Book of Mormon was on Tuesday night. I won’t bother giving it a full review here but while it was very different than what we were expecting, we both really enjoyed it. Also, for the longest time, I was convinced that we were seeing Frank Turner on the night BEFORE The Book of Mormon, so I briefly had a big ol’ freakout thinking I bought tickets for the wrong day. All was good, though as we were entering the theatre, the couple next to us actually HAD bought tickets for the wrong day. It turns out that in that situation, you go talk to a representative from Ticketmaster and hope for the best. I don’t know if they ever got in or not.

We got some tasty Thai food before the play, and we lingered a bit over dinner which led to a bit of a panic getting to the theatre on time. We made it to our seats with about a minute to spare. With that in mind, we planned to meet up earlier before Frank Turner. This was a good idea that didn’t pan out – Colin got held up at work so I took some time to explore his neighbourhood. I checked out the record store and the bookstore and saw a hairy crazy man on a bike (he had a big wordy sign that I couldn’t really read – also, he stopped to buy or possibly sell drugs) before meeting Colin at the same barbecue place we’d eaten at in the spring. I got smoked turkey breast, bacon-wrapped corn on the cob, and a corn muffin with honey butter. This was tremendous, and barbecue is a good choice if you’re in a hurry since everything’s cooked before you get there. Unfortunately, even the barbecue miracle workers can only do so much. We finished our dinner, found our way to the university, and got there in time for the last song from the first opener.

So yeah, my review of Bad Cop/Bad Cop is based on all of one song. They’re a four-piece all-female punk band and their one song – whatever it was called – was very loud. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt quite such overwhelming loudness. Also quite a long time since I’ve seen a straightforward punk band. Not that I’m complaining – I liked what little I heard and while it’s not my usual thing, there’s always something to be said for mixing it up.

Next up was Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs. As the band took the stage, we discussed which one we thought was Sam and which we thought were Lungs. This game got much less challenging when we saw that everyone was wearing denim vests, apart from one fellow, whose shirt could best be described as cape-like. Lead singers get capes. But even without the wardrobe hint, it would have been obvious. Coffey has an encyclopedic knowledge of rock ‘n’ roll frontman poses. Though he did run the risk of being upstaged by one of the guitarists, a large, tattooed, very smiley man with a rainbow-striped t-shirt under his denim vest.

I knew nothing about these folks going into this show but was quite impressed. Fun, high-energy rock from guys who really tried to put on a show. I could have written those two sentences about the Arkells – and in fact, I think I did – and I think if you liked one of those bands, you’d like both. Their set was about 45 minutes and it flew by. I’d make a point of seeing these guys again.

Someone in the crowd was wearing a NOT DEAD YET shirt, that being a line in Turner’s song Get Better, my favourite of his. Colin didn’t know the reference but still enjoyed the sentiment behind the shirt. After Coffey’s set, we checked the stuff table to see what was there – that shirt must have come from a previous tour. Also not available at the stuff table: the Bret “Hitman” Hart jacket that some dude was wearing. It was a bold fashion choice but I dug it.

This review is kind of pointless because I knew I’d dig the show and you likely did too. I was interested in what Colin’s reaction would be. He only knew one of Turner’s songs, Recovery, so he was going in pretty cold. He seemed to really like it; Turner played the one song he knew, as well as the song from that guy’s shirt, so he was happy. And like me, he enjoyed that one line from the song Try This at Home: “There’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music / some of them are just like us and some of them are dicks.” But more than the music, he seemed really taken with Turner’s relentless positivity. Turner has two rules for his shows – don’t be a dick, and sing along if you know the words – and he spoke a lot about how we can all come together for a rock show and treat each other well, and how we should take that positivity into the world when we left there. Unsurprising, I guess, from a guy who named his most recent album Be More Kind.

Of course, we got lots of songs off that album – so much so that Turner joked that “this fucker’s only playing new shit” before launching into old favourite If Ever I Stray. One new song, The Lifeboat, he said they’d only played three or four times before, and this was the first time ever in Canada. The old songs got great reactions, of course, but Turner’s got some devoted fans who sang along to everything, old and new. It is one of the rules, I suppose. For the most part, Turner played with the full band, the Sleeping Souls, but he did a handful of songs by himself. Toward the end, he got the crowd to make an open circle for people to run around in (I got sideswiped real good by a high-velocity passerby), then called everyone to some close and stand together, then eventually crowdsurfed while singing. Twice. A sign said you’d be thrown out after the second time you got caught crowdsurfing – I guess it doesn’t apply to you if you’re the guy people paid to see.

Want the whole setlist? Here it is anyway:

Don’t Worry
1933
Get Better
Recovery
Little Changes
The Next Storm
The Way I Tend to Be
Be More Kind
Demons
The Lifeboat
If Ever I Stray
Try This at Home
One Foot Before the Other
Balthazar, Impresario (solo acoustic)
Song for Eva Mae (solo acoustic)
Love Ire & Song (solo acoustic)
Blackout
Out of Breath
Photosynthesis
encore:
Get It Right
I Still Believe
Four Simple Words
Polaroid Picture

No real surprises, but does that matter? It was exactly what – and as good as – I was expecting. This was my fourth time seeing Frank Turner, and I’ve enjoyed watching his progression from opener to headliner, from MacEwan Ballroom to the larger MacEwan Hall. He tours relentlessly – as he told us, this was show #2,232 – and the effort is clearly paying off with larger, more devoted crowds every time out. Just a fantastic live show and a positive message at a time when people could use one.