SLCR #271: Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt (March 1, 2017)

March 8, 2017

Over the past year, I’ve had pretty good luck getting front row seats to shows at the Conexus Arts Centre. It’s just a matter of paying attention to when tickets go on sale, combined with a little bit of luck (and, in some cases, dropping ridiculous coin). In this case, I had good luck – I was at my desk at work when the email came in announcing this show, and ticket sales began immediately. Look at all those front row seats! However, there was also some bad luck – I was already booked to see the Philosopher Kings at the Exchange. I’m not a huge Philosopher Kings fan, if I’m being honest; I only know one or two of their songs and enjoyed them but didn’t love them. Mika liked the band and would have gone except it was a school night. She was disappointed enough that I thought “if she thinks they’re that good, I should check them out.” Because that’s what kind of supportive husband I am.

Long story short, the Philosopher Kings show got cancelled. They’re allegedly coming back later this year to tour a new album. Of course, by the time they made this decision, the front row seats for this other show were long gone. So rather than sit as close as possible, I decided to go to this show as cheaply as possible. I was still front row centre, only it was the front row of the third balcony. At least I’d be able to see everything.

By the time the show rolled around, it seemed like tickets had sold reasonably well, but they still put the balcony seats on sale a week before the show (too late for me, alas). Poking around on the venue’s website revealed similar sales figures for this show, Colin James, and Tom Cochrane – and yet Charley Pride was nearly sold out. Good on him. The first half of that show will be good.

I showed up pretty close to the start of the show so I got to be the guy making everyone in the row stand up. I’d feel bad except I don’t at all; as one who normally sits on the end of the row, I’m usually the one doing the standing. Despite sitting in the middle of the row, I never once had to stand up to let anyone go by – I think this is probably due to the fact that because we were in the front row of the third balcony, any movement meant certain death. We were real high up, and that railing was real low. When I shuffled to my seat, I had to turn and face away from the stage because it was freaking me out. It turns out I will happily take awkward interactions with strangers over vertigo and potential doom. This feeling never really went away for the length of the show. Even when the musicians were playing and the lights were darkened and I had no visual sense of how high up we were, it was always kind of there in my mind. Suffice to say this was an experiment I may not repeat. Except in a month or so at The Last Waltz Remembered when I repeat it.

This show was billed as an acoustic evening with Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt. I wasn’t entirely sure what this would entail – would they take turns, was there an opener, etc. Turns out it was exactly what it said it would be. With no opening act, Lovett and Hiatt both took the stage right at 7:30*, each claiming to be the other man. They briefly discussed their laundry before Hiatt launched into Drive South. For the remainder of the night, they took turns playing songs, usually unaided but sometimes with the other musician playing along or singing backing vocals.

I cannot say I knew much about Lyle Lovett before this show, and even less about John Hiatt. I bought this ticket because I thought “this sounds like it would be good” without really knowing enough to back that up. In short, this concert is why I go to random shows for the heck of it. This show was fantastic. Nothing flashy about it, just two excellent songwriters and musicians. Great songs. Great musicianship; Lovett in particular showed off some impressive technique. Great singing; Lovett has a more traditional voice, for lack of a better term, while Hiatt was more inclined to work vocal flourishes into his tunes. Excellent sound in the Arts Centre, too.

Also, bring an ignoramus as previously mentioned, I didn’t really expect this show to be as funny as it was. Lovett and Hiatt had an effortless banter that added an extra dimension to an already great show. It felt like two old friends telling stories and swapping jokes and just spending some time together – which I suppose it was. I’m sure some of it is similar every night, but some of it was off the cuff. During one song, Hiatt flubbed a line and then cracked himself up repeatedly over the mistake, which led to Lovett telling a story of doing a similar thing on national TV.

And that’s about it, really. Nearly three hours (the lack of an opener was not a negative) of two excellent musicians just killing it. This show was so good that I looked up the rest of their tour dates and seeing they were headed to Calgary, I messaged Colin and told him he needed to go to this. He did not. Said he “already had family plans.” His loss.

(j/k Colin I am sure your cousin is a cool guy)

*Okay, really, it was more like 7:36 – late enough for a really grumpy old man to loudly complain about “what time is a 7:30 show supposed to start?” but not so late for literally anyone else in the building to have noticed

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (March 8)
• The Tea Party (March 18)
• Bill & Joel Plaskett w/Mayhemingways (March 23)
• Lisa LeBlanc (March 30)
• I Love The 90s feat. Salt N Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Young MC, and Rob Base (April 1)
• The Last Waltz Remembered feat. Corb Lund, Matt Andersen, Amy Helm, & the Russell Broom House Band (April 5)
• BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #270: Big Wreck (February 9, 2017)

February 27, 2017

This might be the ultimate “it was fine” review. I’ve been putting this off for over two weeks now because it’s going to be a bit of a struggle to say much of anything. But I want to clear my slate before Lyle Lovett on Wednesday, and The Walking Dead is on, and I find paying attention to The Walking Dead to be even more of a chore than writing reviews when I don’t have anything to say, so here we go.

Jeff really likes these guys. I should just let him write this whole thing, but we’re coming up on tax season and he’s probably not got time. Plus, over the past 20+ years, I have carefully cultivated an audience of at least a dozen people who clearly aren’t interested in expert opinions. But yes, Jeff, big fan. One of their albums is his favourite ever, he told me. Which is largely why I went to this show. Not that I got around to listening to that album beforehand – not that they played anything from it anyway – but a recommendation that strong is usually enough to get me to a show. So I went to a show.

I did listen to a collection of Big Wreck singles before buying the ticket. I didn’t think I really knew much of anything by them, but that proved to not be the case. They’re very much one of those bands where I was like “oh, THEY do that song.” Stuff I knew from the radio from back in my pizza delivery days, though they reunited in 2012 and have been putting out music since then.

So off I went. I opted for standing room on the floor, while Jeff and his brother got balcony seating. The floor always seems like a good idea, but then I stay far back from the stage anyway, leaving me with sore feet, strained eyes, and an unsupported backside. Plus I think the floor costs $5 more. Someday I’ll learn. Probably not anytime soon, though.

Our openers were Ascot Royals. Or as it kind of sounded like they were saying, “NASCAR Roses.” Didn’t know much about them beforehand and still don’t, really, but they were fun enough. A short set of straightforward rock, nothing groundbreaking but well done, kinda catchy, and they seemed like good dudes. I approve! I’m playing their new EP, New Skin, right now, and it’s worth a listen. I think they played pretty much this whole thing during their set.

Before the show, I killed time reading ALL-CAPS tweets about Trump (this was the day of the infamous “SEE YOU IN COURT”) as the casino played the alternative rock hits of the 90s, including Ocean Pearl by 54-40 (who I have seen at said casino) and Santa Monica by Everclear (who are there in a few months). However, because between sets, we were treated to Reflektor by Arcade Fire. Like, not just the title track, but the whole album on shuffle for the entire 30ish minutes. It seemed like a really strange choice, is all. And probably not one that portends a future casino show, I’m guessing.

As for Big Wreck, the most notable thing was when singer Ian Thornley went off on the fans down in the very front who had their phones out, recording video. He didn’t seem to care that they were taping so much as they were right in the very front where he could see them. Like it made him overthink how he was standing, his facial expressions, all that stuff, instead of just playing music. Which is fair. But he really singled a few people out, and I think he felt bad about it – he walked it back a bit after the next song, and wound up shaking hands with the fans before he was done. At the end, he handed them picks too, so everyone was friends in the end.

As for the show itself, they were good. Like I said, it was fine. They played all the songs I know (as if there are a ton of them). Really, I was not invested enough in things to have a strong opinion one way or another, and I was more interested in what Jeff had to say. He enjoyed it, noting they didn’t play his favourite songs but the new stuff sounded a lot better live (and they played a lot of it). Which is not a ton to go on but a lot more than you were ever going to get from me.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt (March 1)
• Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (March 8)
• The Tea Party (March 18)
• Bill & Joel Plaskett w/Mayhemingways (March 23)
• Lisa LeBlanc (March 30)
• I Love The 90s feat. Salt N Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Young MC, and Rob Base (April 1)
• The Last Waltz Remembered feat. Corb Lund, Matt Andersen, Amy Helm, & the Russell Broom House Band (April 5)
• BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
• Ron Sexsmith (May 7)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #269: Winterruption 2017 (January 19-21, 2017)

February 7, 2017

Hola, amigos. How’s it hangin’? I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya. Before this, my last concert was Bif Naked, on the night of the US election. From there, I took a break until January 19, aka the day before Inauguration Day. This was coincidental though I don’t blame anyone for thinking I had sworn off my music-loving ways and runnoft to live in a cabin in the woods with a shotgun and some water purification tablets.

I mean, last time out I said “I will hope against all logic and reason that the next four years are mostly okay and not the racist, misogynist, transphobic, anti-immigrant pants-shittingly reckless dumpster fire that this campaign and Trump’s entire life would lead one to expect.” To which I now say hahahahahahahaha naive idiot, you had hope, you’re dumb. Hope is dumb.

But whatever. When last we talked – and for all of last year, really – I talked about trying to see 40 concerts in my 40th year. That year is over and my final concert tally for the year is… 39. So it goes. I had lots of opportunities to get to 40 – and probably 52 without much more effort – but by the end of the year, I was finding myself kinda broke and all concerted out. So I’m 39 and holding, I guess. I’ll take that. The break was appreciated, but I am back with an all-new slate of upcoming shows and we’ll keep this thing going for the foreseeable future.

To make up for my two-month absence, I am combining an entire weekend worth of shows (by which I mean “two”) into one review. Why? To give you the supersize concert review experience that you’ve been missing, and because there are only so many times and ways I can pad out “they were good.”

Winterruption is a new annual concert series put on by the Regina Folk Festival and the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon. This is only its second year; you may recall that last year Mika and I saw Whitehorse with Andy Shauf and Emily Wells opening in what was a fantastic show at Darke Hall. It was a little bigger event this year, which unfortunately led to us having to make the hard choices, but it would have been even harder were we in Saskatoon. For the most part, the Regina and Saskatoon Winterruptions share acts, but Saskatoon is a bigger city and has more venues so Regina missed out on concerts by TUNS and Holy Fuck, as well as the Canadaland podcast taping, among other events. But even with the lesser lineup, Regina had three nights of shows spanning multiple venues. And you surely want to know everything we saw and what I thought of it all, right? You’re not just bored at work, skimming this because it looks enough like email to fool anyone who’s checking out your screen, right?

THURSDAY: Elliott BROOD with IsKwé and Begonia

The first hard choice I made was to not go to anything on the Thursday night. We saw Elliott Brood last year (and like last year, you only get all-caps once), and while they were good, I’m trying to cut back on my concert expenses a bit. Plus I never know how much I’ll feel like leaving the house in the middle of January. But I did really like them last time out, so I decided to leave it to the whims of fate; namely, I entered a few Facebook and Twitter like/share/retweet contests for tickets. And fate (and Prairie Dog magazine) really wanted me to see this show, I guess. Mika had schoolwork to do and/or recover from and wasn’t up to going, so I checked with a few of my usuals, but everyone else had plans (such as “not being interested”) so I wound up going alone. Not the first time, won’t be the last. The Exchange is a good place for weird loners. I bought myself a Diet Pepsi and found a table near the back with an excellent view.

The opener was IsKwé, who we saw at last year’s folk festival. From Winnipeg and of Cree/Dene descent, IsKwé and her band played hip-hop-influenced pop touching on a number of indiginious issues. The smaller, more intimate setting was a much better fit than the outdoor folk festival stage, and the videos projected on screen behind them added weight to their message.

By comparison, the next act joked about how IsKwé was singing about powerful issues while she was singing about a hot dog stand. This was Begonia, the solo project of Alexa Dirks from Chic Gamine. This was much more straightforward pop and I thought it was fine, though nothing really stood out to me (though I thought the hot dog stand song was delightful). More than anything, I thought Dirks seemed like a really likeable person, and not just because she made the first Experience Regina reference of the new SLCR year.

Finally, we got to Elliott Brood. They started things off a lot slower-paced than last year, opening with some quieter songs. They repeatedly brought up the political situation in the US and it seemed like everything really had taken the wind out of their sails a bit. Can’t blame them. That said, I also think they recognized this and played Oh Alberta pretty early on, as that always gets things going. I’m still not super familiar with too many of their songs, so I couldn’t tell you a ton of what they played, though I do know they played a song from their upcoming new album and… it didn’t go well. They tried, bless ’em, but they weren’t on the same page and joked about it for the rest of the night, which more than made up for the song itself. Plus they led everyone in singing happy birthday to IsKwé, and the dancing little kid Elliott Brood superfan was back from last year. All in all, it was a fun show, if a half-step off from the year before.

The show didn’t seem like it sold out – there was tons of open space for IsKwé, and though it did fill up as the night went on, it also seemed like lots of people were leaving early. Still a work night, I guess.

FRIDAY: Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids podcast taping

This was another one of the hard choices, as the Grownups recording at the Artesian was up against the Said The Whale / Northcote / The Garrys triple bill at the Exchange. And I really enjoy me some Northcote and at least one Said The Whale song, but Grownups is one of our favourite podcasts and we couldn’t pass it up.

I’d describe Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids except I just did. It started as a CBC summer replacement series a few years ago, and I didn’t think I’d enjoy it; I was expecting cringe humour which is not my favourite. But it’s not that at all – aside from the fact that not all of the readers bring funny pieces to the show, the audience is very supportive and everyone’s sharing the experience of looking back in time at who you once were.

To that end, a few weeks after we bought our tickets, they were still looking for readers, and I had been graced with a box of stuff from my mom’s basement when she moved, so I bit the bullet and signed up to read. I went through my pile of stuff and settled on a choose-your-own-adventure space epic entitled Misson [sic]: Ring Rescue. The backstory is that a girl in my Grade 6 class wrote a long story and got a lot of praise from the teacher. I like praise too, so I decided I’d write a long story as well, but I also liked not putting any effort into things, so I used the choose-your-own-adventure format to camouflage the lack of actual content. This fooled nobody. To put it in perspective, I wrote an eight-page story, but when I typed it up for ease of reading on stage, it fit onto one sheet of paper with room for me to add comments and to enlarge the font.

I won’t give a detailed review of the whole show. Comedy is best if it’s not wrecked for you, after all. But I will say that I was pleased with how my reading went but I don’t know if I’ll make it onto the podcast. This was my third time seeing a Grownups live show and it was easily the best of the bunch. Seventeen readers and not a dud among them. Paring down those 90-ish minutes to a 30-minute podcast will mean a lot of good stuff hits the floor.

Luckily for you, you can watch all of it: https://youtu.be/Y5oI-d1rCMs

I start at 37:21 but the whole thing is worth it. Bear in mind that I haven’t actually watched the video and I likely never will (my own human voice, how horrific), so I hope you enjoy and I hope I didn’t suck.

SATURDAY: Danny Michel with Mohsin Zaman and William Prince

This was either the Danny Michel show or the William Prince show, depending on if you were talking to me or Mika. I’ve been a fan of Michel for a long time now, whereas we saw Prince for the first time last fall when he won Aboriginal Artist of the Year at BreakOutWest, and she knew some of his songs from CBC Radio.

All of which leaves out poor Mohsin Zaman, but hey, he was new to both of us. Zaman is of Pakistani heritage but comes from Dubai by way of the only slightly less exotic Edmonton. He shared his life story while talking about giving up a banking career for a much riskier life as a musician. The choice is starting to pay off, as he was named the 2016 Male Artist of the Year in the Edmonton Music Awards. The set was just Zaman and his guitar, playing mostly his original tunes, though there were two covers thrown into the mix as well – Springsteen’s I’m On Fire (which is kind of actually a really creepy song if you think about it) and, yes, Aaron’s favourite cover song ever, Cohen’s Hallelujah. Both of the covers were different enough from the original versions to be interesting and Zaman is an excellent guitarist, but all in all, this was reminiscent of Begonia, where I left thinking Zaman seemed like a good guy more than being really into the music.

Like with Grownups, the Artesian was again sold out for this show, and between sets, they asked to find seats for a few people who didn’t have them yet. Which is fine, I get that. If it’s a seated show and you bought a ticket, you deserve a seat. (On a related note, ask me sometime why I will never buy a ticket for a show at the Artful Dodger again, and indeed, why you couldn’t pay me to go there! It’ll be fun, I’ll swear a lot.) That said, they were asking people who were already seated to scrunch in together to make room, and… no? You don’t inconvenience the people who bother to show up on time to accommodate the latecomers. But maybe I’m just irritated because we watched the artistic director of the folk festival ask some people to move over, and it’s like, I’m a big guy. I sit on an aisle seat for a reason. And I bet this dude did too. And then after he did shove down, the lady who showed up late sulked and sighed because she wasn’t sitting with her husband. You want to sit with your husband? Show up on time for the sold-out show.

Now, if you want complaints (and who doesn’t, they’re super fun to read and also completely relevant to everyone and never tiresome at all), William Prince was a dude who had some complaints. He was not having a great day when we saw him, having spent the week touring Saskatchewan schools and consequently being infected with a cold from our germy, germy children. He apologized for this repeatedly; Mika said it was obvious he had a cold, but to be honest, I don’t know if I’d have ever caught on if he hadn’t said anything. He was also struggling for a while with getting the sound he wanted through his monitor, which wasn’t helping his mood any. Despite all this, I thought his set was really good. Again, this was just him and a guitar (at one point, he made mention of a part where he’d play harmonica if only he’d remembered to put it around his neck before the song began), playing all originals. In particular, I’ve had the song Breathless stuck in my head for two weeks plus. Highly recommended if you like roots/folk singer/songwriter stuff. Would see again, and we’ll likely get the chance – he wink-wink hinted that he’ll be back in town for the folk festival this summer.

Last up was Danny Michel, who was promoting his new album Khlebnikov (recorded on a Russian icebreaker with an astronaut), which came out the day before. For what was essentially an album-release party, you’d expect a bunch of new songs, but no, he only played the title track. Beyond that, it was a lot like the last time we saw him, only we had seats and most of the people in attendance were less obnoxious. He played the one token old song (Whale of a Tale) and lots of stuff from more recent albums (Feather Fur & Fin, What Colour Are You, Click Click, Who’s Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone). He told a few stories I’d heard before (regarding Wish Willy and Samantha in the Sky with Diamonds) and even played an Elvis cover I’d heard him do before. That said, it might have been the familiarity with the material that boosted his confidence; it was one of the better Michel shows I’d seen and he was a lot more charismatic on stage than I’d seen before. He usually seems a little reserved but not on this night.

I said that most fans were less obnoxious but I am not counting the dude standing right next to me who let out a monster belch so loud that it brought the show to a halt right before the encore. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m a little impressed, but c’mon. Or maybe we should own it? Make that part of our new tourism campaign, perhaps. William Prince and Danny Michel got to experience Regina and one got infected and the other got burped at. Who knows what delights will await you?

UPCOMING CONCERTS

  • Big Wreck w/Ascot Royals (February 9)
  • Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt (March 1)
  • Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (March 8)
  • The Tea Party (March 18)
  • Bill & Joel Plaskett w/Mayhemingways (March 23)
  • Lisa LeBlanc (March 30)
  • I Love The 90s feat. Salt N Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Young MC, and Rob Base (April 1)
  • The Last Waltz Remembered feat. Corb Lund, Matt Andersen, Amy Helm, & the Russell Broom House Band (April 5)
  • Martha Wainwright (April 20)
  • BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
  • Guns N’ Roses (August 27)

SLCR #268: Bif Naked (November 8, 2016)

November 14, 2016

When I bought the ticket for this show, I didn’t realize that it was on the same day as the US Presidential election. I was well aware of both dates for some time, but somehow it took until the day before for me to piece together that the election’s November 8, 2016 and the concert’s November 8, 2016 were, in fact, the same day. I had already decided not to watch election results, so I was thankful to have the distraction.

Needless to say, I spent much of the show on my phone. I also thought the show itself was only okay, but it’s pretty hard to tell how much of that was the show and how much of that was my worsening mood as the night progressed. I had big plans of coming home and writing the review right away while it was fresh in my mind, but instead we watched the news and said a bunch of things about our southern neighbours that didn’t make us feel any better.

You don’t read these for my political opinions (one wonders why you read them at all) so I will just say that I will hope against all logic and reason that the next four years are mostly okay and not the racist, misogynist, transphobic, anti-immigrant pants-shittingly reckless dumpster fire that this campaign and Trump’s entire life would lead one to expect.

We had a trip to Nashville planned for this coming August, but we haven’t booked anything yet and we’ll be re-evaluating this choice in a few months. If you caught me on election night, I was a hard “no,” but… total solar eclipse? On my birthday? That I’ve been anticipating for seriously like 30 years? I’d be really disappointed to miss it. But I also recognize that “having to vacation somewhere else” is a pretty petty concern when I think of what this election could mean for a lot of people.

Also, to any American readers, yes, we have a guest room, but Mika says that I’m only allowed to offer it to my gay and/or brown friends. My straight white American friends have to stay behind and fix shit. I don’t have a firm answer as to whether she’s also offering guest room amnesty to my American Jewish friends, and I don’t think she’d appreciate me waking her up to fact-check this.

I like how “I will just say” was followed by three paragraphs.

So! Bif Naked. I became a fan through Kristin, but that was a long time ago. I’ve seen her twice, back in 2000 and 2001. Pat was at the 2000 show and told me all about how he wanted to go to Fiji. I remember that conversation (Boolah! Ramram!) but forgot that show ever happened. I did remember seeing Bif with Kristin in 2001, only I thought it was in Winnipeg. Nope. And hey, Static in Stereo and LiveOnRelease opened? I’ve seen them? I’m pretty sure you could sneak anything you want into my Word document of old concert reviews and Future James will believe it. Maybe you already did.

Anyway, over time my tastes shifted, I became less interested with each successive album, and eventually just quit following her career. It happens. This show was probably going to be the first time I’d even heard Bif’s music in a decade, and I was really interested to see how I felt about it. Plus, she wrote a book, and this was basically her book tour. The show was going to be acoustic songs interspersed with stories and readings, so it was guaranteed to be different than her other shows I’d seen.

The tickets said “doors at 8:00,” which is later than most shows at the Exchange, so I was skeptical. I drove up around 7:55 and sure enough, there was a line from the door down to the street and partway down the block. I was already expecting to stand in the back, off to one side, so I didn’t think there was much reason to join the horde. I parked, sat there for 15 minutes playing games on my phone, and eventually wandered over – only to find that the line hadn’t really moved. But whatever, by then I was committed, so I waited for another 10 minutes or so until I got inside.

Once in the building, I was surprised to see the floor full of chairs. I suppose it made sense for an acoustic show. I was even more surprised to see how many chairs were empty, considering the show was sold out and the people ahead of me in line were only able to buy their way in because not all the tickets set aside for comps wound up getting used. I don’t know if there were a lot of people who stayed home to watch election results or if the Exchange just set out every chair they own. Whatever it was, I had a good view and enough space to stretch out.

The opener was Jordan Alexander, who met Bif while working at a bookstore in Toronto. She played mostly her own songs on guitar, with a little sampler keyboard deal (I couldn’t really see it) for playing backing tracks. She also threw in a few covers, including Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus, saying that we probably hadn’t heard her songs yet (true) since her album just came out, and she figured we’d like to hear something we knew. This was all fine, though the best moment was a happy accident. She was playing a song that she wrote for her best friend, and she stopped about a minute in, thinking she was playing it in the wrong key (which I don’t think she was, but like I’d know). After fiddling with the sampler machine for a second, she gave up on it and decided to play the song just on guitar instead. Not only did she handle the situation with a great sense of humour, but it wound up being the best song she played. One guy behind me yelled “now throw it away and never use the backing tracks again” and I would have to concur. I’m sure it’s a nice safety net to have when performing, but she showed she didn’t need it. The crowd wasn’t paying much attention to her at first, but this did a fine job of winning them over. Not that she needed this song’s help – she also came across as the most likable person ever. Would go see again.

A quick break and then we were joined by Bif Naked, who said that tonight we were not going to think about our neighbours to the south. I tried, but y’know. Also on stage was Snake. Snake is Bif’s husband, and not a literal snake (I know, I saw his arms). I’m sure Snake has a real name but then so does “Bif Naked” and real names are unnecessary.

Like I said, this was an acoustic tour, with Bif reading stories from her book and singing songs while Snake played acoustic guitar with his human arms. The stories were really good and I’d be interested in reading this book at some point. Bif’s had quite an eventful existence. The songs were mostly taken from her earlier albums, so largely stuff I knew, and some of her more personal songs. Some of them made the transition to acousticness (?) quite well, like Lucky, Chotee, Spaceman, and Daddy’s Getting Married. Others not so much. Tango Shoes didn’t work for me. And I Love Myself Today felt like it was two people performing two different songs at once. I’m surprised that one didn’t come together when the best version of that song I’ve ever heard was a capella (in front of an audience of two, no less – very intimate house concert).

I don’t really know how I feel about this show. I enjoyed some songs, didn’t care much for others, and I don’t think my tastes have swung back her way – but as I mentioned, by the end of things, my head was no longer in the game. I Love Myself Today was the last song she did, and by that point, the election results were obvious, and it felt almost ridiculous to even be thinking about music right then. There was no encore, and I was fine with that, because I was done at that point anyway.

Certain members of the audience also tried their best to drag the proceedings down. One exceptional fellow – drunk, stupid, or some combination thereof – could not grasp that this was not a normal rock show and also that he was not the star of said show. Bif is reading a passage about finding out she has cancer and going through chemotherapy, and this shitbird jackoff is hollering I LOVE YOU BIF IT’S MY BIRTHDAY TODAY I WANT A BIRTHDAY HUG! Like, dude, shut the fuck up. And later on, she’s talking about being a sixteen-year-old runaway who got rescued from what appeared to be a prostitution ring from a friendly cab driver, and she’s thinking that she’s going to have to perform sexual favours for the cabbie in exchange for his help, and this dude in the crowd is yelling YEAAHHHH! I already said “dude, shut the fuck up,” but seriously. This is not a fun sexy time story at all. And also maybe don’t demand that strangers touch you, especially if you suck and are gross. When I left, the guy was waiting to buy a book, by which I assume I mean “not buy a book but demand a birthday hug” because obviously that was where this was going, and some people who were sitting near him were trying to decide whether or not they should confront him about how he was behaving. I didn’t stick around to see how this played out but I’d be pretty fine with it if they Negan’d his head all over the parking lot.

That is not a nice thought or a nice way to end this. So there’s this: the only thing the cab driver made Bif do is call her mom. Bif later dedicated her first album to him. There are good people. I like them.

SLCR #267: Steve Earle & the Dukes (November 3, 2016)

November 14, 2016

Earl and Duke. I just got that. Like, right now. This is off to a fine start.

This show was part of Steve Earle’s 30th anniversary tour for his debut album, Guitar Town; a tour that’s been going on so long that Guitar Town is now 31. I have vague memories of driving around with my dad as a kid, listening to Guitar Town, though upon revisiting to the album before the show, I found that I was very familiar with the title track and didn’t remember much else about it.

Earle was going to play the album start to finish, in what has to be the most common new gimmick I’ve seen in concerts in some time. When did this start? I’ve been to a few “anniversary” tour shows this year that did this, including I Mother Earth, Hayden, and Sloan. I suppose it’s a good way to get people to come out since it’s not like it costs extra, you might draw back some lapsed fans, and if someone has seen you before, you can promise them a different kind of show (and one they’ll likely only have one chance to see). Plus you might sell some extra copies of an old album too. I’m not opposed to the idea at all, though I wonder if it isn’t a bit polarizing. It’s great for people who are big fans of a specific album, but let’s say I only know a handful of an artist’s songs. And let’s say that artist is Steve Earle, hypothetically. Do I want to listen to an entire album instead of a show where you might get all the hits spanning his entire career?

As it turned out with Earle, you didn’t have to choose between the entire album and the hits. You got pretty much everything.

I picked up my ticket as soon as they went on sale and was a little surprised to see just how fast tickets were going. People love this guy. I’m pretty sure it was sold out within a day. I got an aisle seat up in the balcony – far back, but a nice view – though there really are no bad seats in the casino. I showed up about ten minutes before the show was set to begin, ran into Mark and Arlette which is always a delight, and found my way to my seat.

This is all super exciting for you thus far, and I figure it’s pretty much peaked. That’s how these go sometimes.

Unlike the custom at the casino, there was no local DJ to kick off the show. Instead, the lights dimmed and a recording played with what sounded like a radio dial tuning in station after station, switching between snippets of mid-80s news stories and pop culture. This was clearly custom-made for the Canadian shows, as the quick hits about Ronald Reagan and the Challenger disaster were mixed with clips referencing Ed Broadbent and the Beachcombers, two names I did not expect to hear on this evening. Also, I want to learn how to play an instrument and start a band that only covers Canadian hits and I want to call that band Ed Broadbent & the Beachcombers. Is Ed Broadbent still alive? OMG he is. Would he agree to this? I should find out. Does he have a Twitter? No. Well, an Ed Broadbent does, but not the Ed Broadbent in question. The Broadbent Institute has one, though. Should I ask them for permission? Or should I wait and ask for forgiveness? The latter is probably easier since I will never actually start a band. But I like this idea a lot.

Anyway, that’s something to consider later. Earle and his band took the stage and played through all of Guitar Town, with Earle adding a few stories along the way. The inspiration for the album came from seeing Springsteen on the Born in the USA tour – there’s an interesting fact for you. Another interesting fact about Guitar Town? It’s pretty short. They played through the album in what seemed like no time at all. After a brief intermission, they came back and played a longer set with songs from throughout Earle’s career. I didn’t know a ton of them, but there was The Devil’s Right Hand, The Revolution Starts Now, and of course Copperhead Road. The encore featured covers of Hey Joe and Wild Thing, as well as what I believe Earle said was a song by the Pogues, though not one I recognized (he said, as though to make it sound like there was an off-chance he’d know anything about the Pogues).

Well, that was all very… factual. So how was the show? I was a little leery buying the ticket, to be honest. A friend I worked with saw Earle a few years ago and really disliked him. What I saw was the opposite of that. Maybe she caught him on a bad night, or maybe she has questionable taste and judgment in pretty much all areas (this. it’s this.) but this show was fantastic. Great songs, the Dukes were tremendous musicians, and a raucous crowd that loved everything. I don’t really have a ton to say about it other than that. Definitely a show where I left a bigger fan than I was coming in.

That raucous crowd had a lot of help; at least where I was sitting, it was a constant stream of people coming and going to and from the bar. It got to be a bit much at times, but the layout of the seating there is such that at least they can walk past you without you having to move. Ample legroom is everyone’s friend.

For the last songs, a crowd gathered at the front of the stage, but before that, everyone was seated for pretty much the entire show. When the casino does general admission shows, they make the whole floor standing room. I wonder if they’d be able to make the closest part standing while still reserving some floor seating further back, in the elevated sections. Having the people standing down at the front helped the atmosphere, and that would have been welcomed from the beginning – but it also blocks the view of the people sitting at the front, and there were probably lots of people who wanted to be sitting.

If you want many more thoughts about the logistics of concert venues that you have never been to and will never go to, there are crisis lines you can call. Not, like, for this specific situation, probably. But talk to someone.

SLCR #266: Bush (October 27, 2016)

November 4, 2016

My goodness. The last time I saw these guys was 19 years and 249 reviews ago. I was not quite 21. Pat was there. We hoisted. It was a different time.

I wasn’t sure about going to this. For as much as I enjoy some Bush songs (Machinehead) (maybe some other ones) (no, mostly Machinehead), I don’t know if I think of them as GOOD, exactly. For all the hey-remember-your-faraway-youth concerts I go to, I was more uncertain about this one than most. I discussed the situation with Jeff and he seemed equally hesitant to get tickets. Finally, I left it up to fate. If I could get really good seats, we’d go. If not, such is life.

I do not believe that there is a god, but if there is one, he or she must have been really into the idea of us seeing this show, because we wound up in the front row. That is a super weird thing for a supreme being to care about, but I suppose I wouldn’t be able to comprehend how its mind would work anyway, so maybe it’s not? If I quit listening to new music in the 90s, maybe God did too. “I dunno, I had the radio on, and Sarah McLachlan did this XTC cover, and I was just like… this just isn’t for me anymore.”

I figure we lucked into front row seats because the Conexus Arts Centre ticket website machine won’t let you leave one empty seat by itself, and there were three seats open in the front row, so if you wanted to buy a pair, you couldn’t. I debated it briefly, but ultimately figured we could give the third one a good home – or a good butt, as the case may be. The third ticket wound up with Scott, a guy I work with who was also at that Bush show in Saskatoon 19 years ago. He said it was his first “real” concert, apart from going to see The Nylons for a classmate’s tenth birthday, which still seems like the oddest idea for a kid’s party.

My first non-kids’ concert was Rod Stewart, for the record. Next up was Billy Joel. Musically sated, I then took something like eight years off. Then Céline Dion. That is such a bizarre contrast to this past year. Or to a normal person’s life, probably.

Anyway. Scott picked me up and we met Jeff walking into the auditorium. It was a slow process; Scott knows everyone. We approached our seats and simultaneously remembered that we were sitting in the front row. I mean, we all knew, but I didn’t really think about it once I bought the tickets, but then you actually get there, and it’s pretty exciting.

Our openers were the Dead Deads, playing their first-ever Canadian show. I think they said they come from Nashville? Five young girls with X’s painted on their eyes, presumably because they are dead dead. I didn’t really know what to make of this? It wasn’t SUPER loud but did have some death metal growwwwwwwwls thrown in there. One of my cohorts said this may have been the worst band he’d ever seen. The other said it was “okay.” I fell closer to the “okay” side but in that “this is not really meant for me and I don’t feel the need to seek out more of this” sort of way. If you were at that Bush show 19 years ago, you may know what I mean when I rank these guys closer to Souls (fondly remembered by me for the non-hit song “Fuckmonkey”) and less like Veruca Salt.

There was an unusual moment when the singer said that their new album was produced by Page Hamilton, the lead singer of Helmet. “And he’s sitting right there!” she says, pointing into the crowd at the other side of the stage from us. It just seems really weird that he’d be there. We weren’t able to see him from where we were sitting, and after their set, Scott went on a reconnaissance mission but never found him.

After a short intermission, Bush took the stage and it did not get off to a great start. They opened with Everything Zen, which was good, but things fell apart a few songs in. During a song I didn’t know, it seemed like there was a long awkward pause. Jeff leaned over. “I think that was a fuck-up.” Sure enough, Gavin Rossdale called a halt to the song. “We don’t play like that. We play good.” I’ve seen a number of shows this year where a song hit a snag, and to a one, the performer had a good sense of humour about the situation (or could at least fake it well enough). Not here. Rossdale was clearly frustrated. Then they restarted the song and he messed it up again, and at that point, the rest of the band was looking frustrated too.

Later on, a guitar tech came out to switch out Rossdale’s guitar, mid-song. Rossdale shooed him away, looking pretty unhappy about the interruption. But he didn’t notice that the tech had turned down the guitar he was playing in preparation for the swap, so he kept on playing the original guitar, just very quietly.

Jeff tells me that in that first song, there are supposed to be two verses before the chorus, but Rossdale was trying to go into the chorus after the first verse. It’s good to know people who know things. He also told me the song was called “the Disease of the Dancing Cats,” which sounds like the kind of thing he’d make up to see if I put it into my review without checking. The setlist.fm record of the night backs him up, but I don’t know that Jeff didn’t upload the setlist, playing the long game. Devious.

Here’s that setlist. You’ll note that a few songs are marked as having been played live for the first time. That’s what Rossdale said, anyway; I don’t know if it’s true, but if so, that’s pretty neat:

Everything Zen
Just Like My Other Sins
The Chemicals Between Us
The Disease of the Dancing Cats
The Sound of Winter
Greedy Fly
The Gift
Earth Keeps Burning (live premiere)
Monkey
The People That We Love
Swallowed
This House Is on Fire
Lost in You (live premiere)
The Only Way Out
Insect Kin
Little Things

Before getting into the encore, I want to note a few things. There was a big screen behind the band that played during the whole show. Often, the videos playing were abstract and just there for decoration. But during one song, there was a video of a man with a briefcase. He checks a scrap of paper. 999 999. Aha! He unlocks the briefcase. Oh no! It wasn’t 999 999! It was 666 666! And the briefcase is full of evil! In the form of many CGI blackbirds!

The more I talk about the show, the less good it sounds. But that’s not fair – it was a lot of fun too. If you check that setlist, there are a lot of good songs on there. And sitting right up front helped a lot; it was really cool to see Rossdale singing and playing guitar literally two feet from me at times. And to his credit, he tried his best to bring that experience to as many people as possible. He’d hop off the stage, run up and down the aisles, hugging and high-fiving whoever he could. The highlight of this was near the end of the main set, when he disappeared out the back of the auditorium and reemerged on the second balcony. This was all really cool.

And though it’s not 1997 anymore, there were nearly as many high-pitched squeals for Rossdale as there were 19 years ago. Girls behind me shrieked “We made eye contact! I SWEAR!” And there were three girls up on the balcony who looked ready to faint after their surprise front-row show. This fantastic reaction really helped the atmosphere.

You might notice some prominent singles missing from the setlist above. Unsurprisingly, the encore included Machinehead, Glycerine (Rossdale solo), and Comedown, in that order. More surprisingly, between Machinehead and Glycerine, they played The One I Love. As in, the R.E.M. song. Nobody saw that one coming, but it went over really well. As did all the hits, of course.

So yeah, it was not without its flaws, but overall, it was a fun show. You might be advised to temper your expectations a bit, but if you want to relive your (well, my) just-after-University years, you could do worse.

SLCR #265: Sarah Slean and the Regina Symphony Orchestra (October 22, 2016)

October 24, 2016

BEFORE THE SHOW (SATURDAY AFTERNOON)
Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith – Jay & Silent Bob – are somewhere in my town. Probably somewhere near the casino. They’re doing one of their speaking gigs there tonight. I was supposed to go. It’s been a long time since I’ve considered myself a Kevin Smith fan, but when the show was booked, I decided to check it out. His speaking engagements are legendary; in fact, DVDs of his appearances are my favourite things that he’s put out in a long time. But then the original show was postponed and rescheduled for today. Around that time, I heard about the Sarah Slean show, also tonight, so I had a choice to make. I returned my Jay & Silent Bob ticket, claiming that I couldn’t make it to the rescheduled show, and used the money to get my Slean ticket instead. The Jay & Silent Bob show is sold out, so they won’t miss me. I’m glad my seat will still have a butt in it.

Slean is “reimagining Broadway” with the Regina Symphony Orchestra. I wonder if a lot of people had to make the hard choice between Kevin Smith and the symphony tonight? Or any night?

My ticket is in the front row. That sounds great, but I note that it was also relatively cheap – something like $40. Five rows back, tickets were $90. I suspect I may find myself to be TOO close, like at the Art of Time shows earlier this year. Oh well, I don’t really need to see much, I just need to be able to hear things.

AT THE SHOW
Yeah, this is really close. But I think it should be okay.

ALSO AT THE SHOW
Intermission. I’m just off centre, front row, 6 feet directly in front of Sarah Slean at all times. I thought she’d be playing piano but she’s only singing (not ONLY only – you know what I mean – not multitasking). There’s a trio with her on piano, drums, and upright bass. Been very good so far. She accidentally tried skipping a song but recovered nicely. I know more of these songs than I thought I would. Will list all songs later; hooray for programs.

They’re selling CDs later and also having a reception to welcome the new musical director. I likely won’t buy anything or go meet anyone but it’s nice that these things happen.

No encore listed in the program. I wonder what they have planned? If anything?

AFTER THE SHOW
The encore was Over the Rainbow. She tried to encourage people to sing. Most did. Me, no. I didn’t sing on request for Edelweiss either, but that time I had the excuse of not knowing it well enough to even try.

Songs! Here they are:

• Overture (I noticed Anything Goes and If I Were a Rich Man; there may have been other songs in the medley if you know more than I do, which you probably do)
• Oh What a Beautiful Morning (Oklahoma!)
• I’ve Never Been in Love (Guys and Dolls)
• Chim Chim Cheree (Mary Poppins)
• Somewhere (West Side Story)
• Edelweiss/My Favourite Things (Sound of Music)
• Mein Herr (Cabaret)
Intermission (not a song)
• NYC (Annie)
• Consider Yourself (Oliver)
• You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile (Annie)
• America (West Side Story)
• Falling Slowly (Once)
• I Dreamed a Dream (Les Miserables)
• There’s No Business Like Show Business (Annie Get Your Gun) (presumably a gritty reboot of Annie)
Encore (also not a song)
• Over the Rainbow (I dunno, maybe Hamilton, that’s a thing I’ve definitely heard of)

The show opened with a bunch of introductions of symphony people that you probably don’t care about even though they do important work and give important money and make the entire symphony possible and have you ever even thanked them? I thought not. For shame.

This led to the introduction of Sarah Slean and the Mike Janzen Trio. Like I mentioned, Slean was singing and Janzen was on piano, with George Koller on upright bass and Ben Riley on drums. Plus there was that whole orchestra thing. This was the setup for pretty much every song, apart from Consider Yourself and You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile; both of those numbers had Janzen singing, and Smile featured just the trio.

Whether or not you think this was a good show would depend on your thoughts about 1) the musicians, 2) show tunes, and 3) Slean herself.

The musicians were fantastic and so of course that means they’re going to get the shaft and I’m not going to talk much about them. But yeah. All great.

Show tunes… I don’t know. I’ve never been a musicals guy apart from comedy stuff. That said, I knew an awful lot of these songs just because how can you not, right? I thought the arrangements (all done by Janzen) were really well done – true to the originals but took full advantage of the orchestra.

As for Slean, I know some people who love her and some who don’t. Obviously, I’m a fan, but I can see how it could get to be too much of a good thing. This is probably best summed up by the reactions of the folks I was sitting near; the group to my right loved her and praised how “emotive” she is. The group to my right said very little as they were leaving beyond “she’s a ham.” Two sides of the same coin, I figure. Even more than her own songs, Broadway show tunes gave her the opportunity to emote as she sang. So basically, if you already liked her, you’d have enjoyed this. And if not, nothing here would change your mind.

Like I said, I’m a fan, and I thought this was quite good. I’ve seen Slean in concert a few times now, and I’d have gone to see her playing another “normal” gig, but I love unique shows like this. Very glad I went, would go again. They should bring in other people too. Like Ben Folds, so I could see him with an orchestra without having to drive to Edmonton. I need every one of you to go on Twitter and tell the symphony they should do this; they’ve got me blocked for some reason.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Donovan Woods w/Joey Landreth (November 2)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)

SLCR #264: BreakOut West (October 13-15, 2016)

October 17, 2016

BreakOut West is a celebration of Western Canadian music, complete with an awards show, live concerts all over town, and various music industry-type events for musicians and labels and whatnot.

If you haven’t heard of it, that’s not too surprising. They’ve been doing this since 2003, but there was really no hype for this at all here this year. Even my local music-loving friends didn’t know much about what was going on. Mika said she only read about this on the CBC, and then, only after the events had taken place. It’s a real shame. It wasn’t what I’d call a star-studded lineup if you’re looking for national or international names, but there was tons of great local talent. And with a $20 wristband getting you into over 10 venues across the city, it was a ridiculous value. “You didn’t even have to make much use of it to get your money’s worth,” he said, foreshadowingly.

THURSDAY: The Junos and Prairie Music Week and all that good stuff have come to town before, and I’ve always skipped the awards shows. They cost extra, and even if you like a performer on the show, you’re only getting one song. Not really worth it. But you know how sometimes on Facebook, you’ll see a thing that says “like and share this status to win”? Sometimes that actually works. And that’s the story of how I won free tickets to the Western Canadian Music Awards.

I stayed late at work on Thursday, walking over to the casino to meet Mika shortly before the show was to start. We ran into Brian in the lobby, who introduced us to his wife; I had met her before, but to be fair, it was probably 15 years ago.

Also in the lobby was a table where one could buy the new Colin James CD, Blue Highways, the day before its official release. The CD was also your ticket into the afterparty, where you could meet him and get it signed. And, you know, you could congratulate him on his induction into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame, which was the centrepiece of the awards show. We did none of these things.

Our free tickets were general admission. The nice casino lady told us to find any table we wanted and sit there, so we parked ourselves on some really uncomfortable chairs front and centre. She then came back and apologized for misleading us; general admission meant you could stand around the front of the stage, though she suggested we could stay at the table if we wanted and just move if someone with tickets showed up. At this point it appeared that maybe they hadn’t sold too many tickets for this shindig. Anyway, standing around by the stage would have given us a really good view, but we are old, and I wasn’t sure how into the show I’d be and didn’t know how much I felt like feigning enthusiasm should that be required, so we snuck up to the balcony. It was less than half full, so we found some open (and much nicer) seats and enjoyed the show from up there with drinks.

Normally, the awards show closes out the festival on Sunday night. However, the decision was made this year to switch things up and use it to kick off the event instead. Also, they removed some awards from the show to make room for more musical performances. The other awards were handed out at various venues on the Friday and Saturday nights. I am all in favour of more music and fewer speeches, so I was fine with this.

Also, I gotta say, having a program is real handy when you’re trying to remember what happened.

The show started about 10 minutes late, which is a tardiness record for a casino show. It opened with two songs from Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, who was the guy I was most looking forward to seeing over the weekend. This was a delightful development, because if the show sucked, it meant I was free to go because I’d seen what I came for. Spoiler: it didn’t suck! There were some kinda dodgy moments and technical issues, though. Anyway, MBF played One Love and This Isn’t It and they were good.

The MC was country singer Brett Kissel, who I gather is becoming somewhat of a big deal. You may remember that I saw him in Calgary a few years ago, opening for Loretta Lynn. He seems more confident now and handled his hosting duties really well, doing his best to get the crowd amped up while handling a few production snafus with a quick wit. But I have a quick tip for him: jokes at the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ expense don’t work here, even when they totally have it coming after a trainwreck of a season. Too many people will just never find them funny.

The next three performances were by David Morin, William Prince, and Justin Lacroix, all of whom offered some variation of guy-with-guitar, and all of whom were good. Morin was on the bluesy side, Prince was more of a country/roots artist, and Lacroix’s song was faster paced, closer to rock. I liked all these guys.

Rosie and the Riveters, from Saskatoon, got two songs at around the halfway point of the show. This is a four-piece from Saskatoon who play 40s/50s-inspired girl-group pop – think the Andrews Sisters. Or maybe there are a million better comparisons if you know more things about things? There’s a starting point for you, anyway, enough to let you know if this sounds like something you might enjoy or not. I liked them fine, but am not sure if I’d want a full set of them. Maybe?

After some more awards, we had performances from Lexi Strate and Diyet. Strate was pop while Diyet was more on the folk side, and also she apparently only made it into town about 20 minutes before she was scheduled to play.

I’ve been skipping past the awards as we go along here, because you can look them up if you really care, and to be honest, it’s hard to believe the awards are a big deal if nobody shows up to accept them. They gave out 9 awards on this show; of those, five winners were no-shows and one was represented by their publicist. Kissel wound up accepting a lot of awards on behalf of others. But hey, let’s celebrate the folks who did make the trip: William Prince got Aboriginal Artist of the Year, Jocelyne Baribeau won Francophone Artist of the Year, and the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg got the Community Excellence Award. Some guy who never gave his name accepted that award; I can only assume that the WECC assumed human form and made the drive from Winnipeg. That means I… I’ve been inside him, you guys.

Kissel was up for an award of his own, Breakout Artist of the Year, and he was also responsible for introducing the award and announcing the winner. “Let’s be real here, this is going to be awkward either way,” he said, getting the biggest laugh of the night, before announcing the Bros. Landreth as the winners.

He followed this up with a three-song performance, where he deftly handled several malfunctioning microphones, including singing a capella with a bandmate’s mic at one point, while also managing to pose for a mid-song selfie with fans in the audience. His style is modern country radio that I’m not particularly into, but at this point in the evening, the energy was welcome. He also played his new song, I Didn’t Fall in Love with Your Hair, for which he’s donating all proceeds to cancer charities. It’s… very earnest. But if it’s raising some money for a good cause and people like it, good on him.

Finally, the headline performance was by this year’s Hall of Fame inductee, Colin James. Jay Semko of the Northern Pikes introduced a video that chronicled James’ career, before the man himself took the stage for a short speech followed by four songs. Two were from the new album, and the others (i.e., the ones you might know) were Just Came Back and Why’d You Lie.

Here’s the thing about Colin James. Being from Regina, James is treated like a huge star here. And while he had some big hits and he’s really talented, I think if you live here, it’s hard not to feel a bit of Colin James fatigue. That tends to happen whenever anyone from here achieves any kind of success. Having said that, if you can ignore that and just watch his performance, the dude is incredibly good. Which you already know, but still. It’s easy to forget just how talented he is.

The Hall of Fame itself is a nice honour, though I looked at the list of inductees and the lack of the Guess Who, kd lang, Ian Tyson, Joni Mitchell, and others does make it feel a bit like a Hall of Whoever We Could Get to Show Up This Year. Which is not to say that these folks aren’t deserving in their own right, just that there are some glaring omissions. Anyway, you likely don’t care, but it took a lot of clicking to dig this up, so here it is for your reference.

2016: Colin James
2015: NoMeansNo
2013: Jann Arden
2012: The Northern Pikes
2011: 54-40
2010: Chilliwack
2009: Loreena McKennitt
2008: Spirit of the West; Senator Tommy Banks
2007: Buffy Sainte-Marie; Queen City Kids
2006: Harlequin
2005: Loverboy
2004: The Stampeders
2003: Kenny Shields & Streetheart

With that, the show wrapped up and we headed home. Awards shows have never appealed to me, but this was a surprisingly fun evening. There was a range of artists and they kept the show moving at a decent pace. It would have been better with a larger and more engaged crowd, but what can you do?

FRIDAY: Um haha so yeah speaking of a not-very-engaged crowd, it was a long week at work so I just stayed home. Not the best use of my all-access wristband, but it was only $20, so I figured I could head out on Saturday, see a show or two, and that would be enough to make it worthwhile.

SATURDAY: So that’s exactly what I did. I got to the Owl at the University of Regina a bit before 9:00. My plan was to see the Dirty Catfish Brass Band in the multipurpose room, but the Owl has tasty beverages and I’ve been there before and thus am familiar with the place, so I bought myself a Magners and hung around for Belle Plaine, a local singer I’d heard a lot about but never had the chance to see. Inspired by traditional music, she did a set of originals that showed off her voice and her songwriting skills. She also covered Wayfaring Stranger, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, and Tom Waits’ Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, and those three picks probably say more than I can about what type of music she plays. I enjoyed this at the time, and the more I think about it, the more I liked it. Would go again.

Next up was, once again, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald. I hadn’t seen him play in a long while, and while I would have been up for more than a 45-minute set, what we got was real good. He focused almost exclusively on songs from his new album; if you wanted anything older, all you got was Follow and I Will, though he also played his new Justin Bieber cover, What Do You Mean. I haven’t spent enough time with the new album, so it was really good to get a chance to hear these songs live for the first (or, with the awards show, second) time. With some musicians, I listen to the album to make me enjoy the live show more, but with MBF, it seems to work in reverse; hearing the songs live makes me appreciate the album better.

With that, I was done for the evening. Like I said, not the best use of the wristband, but I’d pay more than $20 just to see MBF with Belle Plaine opening, so I made my money back. On the way out, I picked up a copy of Fitzgerald’s new album on vinyl (signed but still in the shrinkwrap). Good thing I raided Mika’s purse before I left the house. I also ran into Brian, who introduced me to his wife; I had met her before, but to be fair, it was probably two days ago.

SUNDAY: The website said there were events all weekend long, but the schedule didn’t actually list anything for Sunday. I love ending these things on complete anticlimaxes, so bye.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony Orchestra (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Donovan Woods w/Joey Landreth (November 2)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)

SLCR #263: I Mother Earth (October 8, 2016)

October 16, 2016

I should just let Jeff write this one. This wasn’t a show for me.

Which is not to say it was a bad show! I liked it just fine. It’s just that my I Mother Earth fandom has not been properly nurtured. I didn’t think about it before the show, but I really don’t know their music that well. You know how I said Basia Bulat is one of those people I only ever listen to when I go see her in concert? IME is like that for me too. Except I’ve only seen them twice, and the last time was 16 years ago. So that’s a thing.

“We’ll find out how many I Mother Earth songs you know,” said Mika, right before the show began.

“One.” I answered with confidence, and nothing on this night suggested I was wrong.

It’s “One More Astronaut,” if you were wondering. Thank you, Big Shiny Tunes.

You may recall that we had tickets to see IME months ago. Then they got back together with Edwin, their original lead singer, much to Jeff’s chagrin, so the tour got postponed. I was fine with this development, because 1) the last time I saw them they were with their other singer (Brian Byrne), so this would be new for me, and 2) what the hell difference did it make for me anyway?

Though I feel bad for Byrne. Gotta suck for him, right? He had the tour all lined up and then bam, they bring back the old guy. According to Wikipedia, he’s trying out to become the new singer for Stone Temple Pilots, so I guess being “the other singer” is kind of his thing. Good on him.

Mika and I got to the casino and ran into Jeff and Jeremy on the way in. They made their way upstairs to the seats in the balcony, while we were standing on the floor. This means that we had to communicate via text, and part of me wants to just transcribe everything rather than think up words and put them in order. Maybe I should start with the most recent thing I texted Jeff; namely, that someone made a downloadable Harambe for WWE 2K17.

Our openers were the Standstills, who apparently get played on the local rock radio station, according to the DJ who opened up the show. This was an aggressively loud two-piece and, uh, I didn’t think they were very good at all. I mean, the first two songs were nothing special; mostly I thought “this is okay enough and I rarely go see bands like this, so it’s a nice change, but it sure sounds like these two are not playing the same song at the same time.” Then they covered part of Stone Temple Pilots’ “Vasoline” and it was out of tune and off time and he was screeching as if he was intentionally trying to sing horribly and this was just the absolute worst. My opinion of them never recovered. They played one of the shortest opening sets I’ve ever seen, so that was nice.

After an intermission, out came I Mother Earth. This should be the part where I say “I don’t know what they played” but I do! The entire main set was the Scenery & Fish album, start to finish. It includes One More Astronaut, so hooray for that. The encore, meanwhile, was three singles from the album Dig: Levitate, Not Quite Sonic, and Rain Will Fall (note: Mika says the songs weren’t played in that order) (and also she told me what they were). Nothing newer than that. No Byrne songs, poor guy.

So how was the show? I thought it was fine enough and I liked the encore the best. That is what I think and that is all I think, so here I will defer to the IME fans. Mika thought the show was really good, though she noted preferring Dig to Scenery & Fish. I’m going to assume that I do too. Jeff, meanwhile, said “holy fuck was this good.” Later, talking to Jeremy, he said he liked it even more than Jeff did.

I did find it funny that Jeff and I liked pretty much the opposite things about the show:

Jeff: It’s such a great album to perform live, because there’s all these opportunities for 10 minute mind-blowing solos & detours
James: See I think that’s what I don’t care for
James: But the encore was super good
Jeff: Heh, I thought the encore was the weakest part 🙂

So yeah. I think we’ve long established that I’m not a fan of noodling on the guitar for the sake of noodling. Enjoy it if it’s your thing, but it just doesn’t do anything for me. But I think we’ve also established that if you’re into IME, you should clearly try to see them because you’ll really enjoy the show. And if you’re not, it’s still good and all.

Also, digging through text messages reminds me that at one point, all the security guards in the place went sprinting towards the lobby. One of them ran into Mika real good. Never did find out what happened there. I love ending these things on complete anticlimaxes, so bye.

SLCR #262: Basia Bulat (October 5, 2016)

October 15, 2016

Well, this should be short. This was one of those evenings where the tunes were good and it was a nice night out but I don’t really have anything to say about it.

I was vaguely aware of Basia Bulat the first time I saw her play, which was nearly ten years ago now. I knew her name, anyway, though not how to pronounce it – I got that wrong for years. Am not particularly confident now. But I digress. Some friends of friends had a show at Amigo’s in Saskatoon, and she opened for them. That seemed a bit weird, given that I had actually heard of her. Seems more weird now.

I remember thinking that her songs were very pleasant and enjoyable. I saw her again at the Regina Folk Festival a few years later (which was now a few years ago, in what has to be some kind of time paradox) and felt much the same. You may note the lack of details or strong opinions here. That’s how it goes sometimes. Sometimes you just say “that was nice” and move on.

But nice is good! I like nice. So when the Folk Festival announced that they were bringing her back for a show this fall, I picked up a ticket. I figured that it might be the kind of show I’d be tempted to skip out on if I didn’t buy in advance. And I was right, since the show took place during the first snowfall of the year. I had to brush snow off the car, scrape the windows, all that nonsense. Staying inside was a tempting offer, but out I went. Toughed it out. For YOU. Mostly for me, but a bit for you.

I got to the Exchange and the place was surprisingly full. I go to lots of half-attended concerts in Regina, and between this and Fred Eaglesmith, you can really see where the Regina Folk Festival’s promotional efforts pay off. The casino does good work too, but I wonder what could be leveraged to get people out to other shows? musicreginalive.ca is great, but you need to proactively check it. There’s a business idea here. One that likely involves a ton of work for very little reward.

Anyway, you don’t care about that. What you care about is that I sat by the wall in the same place that I sat for the previous show. Also I maybe had a Diet Pepsi? Can’t remember. Sounds like a thing I might do. And Other James was there, but he was seated far away and we never crossed paths. He later messaged me to tell me that I missed a great show.

Our openers were Oh Pep!, a duo from Australia. Olivia and Pepita. Here’s what you need to know: Olivia’s least favourite nut is the cashew nut. Her most favourite nut is the Brazil nut. Olivia has ass-backwards taste in nuts, is what I got out of this. But despite that, these folks were pretty charming. They were touring their first album and played a set of classical-influenced pop (note that I don’t really know what constitutes “classical-influenced pop;” they just mentioned studying classical music together in school so sure, let’s go with that). Basically, if you like Basia Bulat, you’ll probably like them. Normally they tour with a full band, but being far from home, it was just the two of them. I enjoyed this and would like to hear what they sound like with some extra musicians. Maybe they’ll come back – their new album was recorded in Canada, and also they seemed really delighted that they got to experience snow.

Conversely, this was my first time hearing Basia Bulat with a backing band. I’m still not hugely familiar with her music – she’s one of those people I only ever seem to listen to when I see her in concert – but I enjoyed the fleshed-out sound. It was a full poppy tunes with a little more energy than I’ve seen from her before. This was all nice. I recognized the last song she played. And that was really about it. I’ll likely go see her again in a few years and I won’t be any better at this.