Posts Tagged ‘ba johnston’

SLCR Social Distancing Special

May 3, 2020

Hello! I miss you. I hope you’re well and healthy, staying in touch with people at a rate that’s acceptable for you, and that your hands aren’t all cracked and dry from excessive washing.

We’re doing fine here. Staying home, playing Animal Crossing or clearing movies off the DVR. Sometimes I play Pokémon Go from the car at some of my favourite parking spots. I go to Safeway every 10 days or so, and one time I went to London Drugs just to buy an uncommon size of battery for the smoke detector, which legitimately felt thrilling. (They had sugar too!) I need a haircut and I’ve never been so caught up on laundry.

I’m working from home, if you want to call what I do “work.” It doesn’t feel particularly essential at the best of times, and these aren’t the best of times. At least, I really hope they aren’t. But I dutifully sit at my desk in my 70s basement with my coworkers Ken and Carl (a spider plant and our fabled cat, respectively) and send out emails to tell people to watch Schitt’s Creek. (Available on demand!)

It turns out that I have no opportunity to write concert reviews when there aren’t any concerts. Glass Tiger, Corb Lund, and Matthew Good all cancelled. Joel Plaskett and Alice Cooper rescheduled to the fall. I can’t imagine BA Johnston will be here this month, so I’m spared from feeling bad about being too tired to go. That leaves July’s old-man show of Canadian 90s rock icons and SLCR veterans The Tea Party, Moist, Big Wreck, and The Headstones. I’m hopeful that we can go see at least 25% of them, but I don’t expect it to happen.

Which leads me here! A lot of musicians I like are doing shows online and I’d like to signal-boost them a bit. I don’t really know how many I’m going to cover or when I’m going to post this or if I’m going to do more than one. I think the review parts will be pretty short since, for the most part, you should be able to check these out yourself if you’re really so inclined.


 

Geoff Berner (April 11, 2020)
concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvOQ8nxTPpQ
buy music: https://geoffberner.bandcamp.com/
but he’d rather you donate: https://www.comingtogethervancouver.org/

This show was recorded at Or Shalom synagogue, an appropriate venue for the klezmer half of Berner’s klezmer-punk music. I suspect it hasn’t played host to a lot of songs that translate into “Fuck the Police,” but I don’t know, I’ve never been to a synagogue before. Which reminds me of the time I tried to buy a button that said “Kiss me, I’m Jewish” at a garage sale because I wanted to lie for kisses, not thinking that most of the time, the owner of a “Kiss me, I’m Jewish” button would be an actual Jew, who in this case was very excited to meet me and curious as to why he’d never seen me at the synagogue before. But I digress.

Obviously, these productions won’t compare to actually going out to see live music. But despite the lack of audience and minimal crew, Berner put on quite the enjoyable hour-long set. There were techs handling audio and video with minimal hiccups, and someone “who lives in my house” (a son, I think?) manning a second camera that was able to get in closer. A small touch that made this a lot more watchable by not restricting us to one static viewpoint. The sound quality was good, and Berner seemed relaxed and in good spirits, jokingly playing to the imaginary crowd and telling stories about each song.

I’ve seen Berner many times before and he’s an acquired taste. Most of my friends who have tried to acquire this taste have failed. I watched this show with earbuds in while Mika watched TV and we were both happier that way. But who knows? Maybe you’ll enjoy a lefter-than-left-wing accordion player with a wry, pessimistic sense of humour and a penchant for playing the occasional song in Yiddish. He usually translates them as he goes along, you’ll be fine.


 

Ben Folds (April 18, 2020)
concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwSerpoR-o4
buy music: https://benfolds.bandcamp.com/

If you’ve got extra time to fill during this here shutdown, Ben Folds is your guy. He was supposed to be performing with Australian orchestras when this all went down. Due to ever-changing conditions, he found himself missing the window to return home to the US. No problem – he rented an apartment in Sydney, bought an electric piano and a webcam, and set up for weekly free performances every Saturday on YouTube at 5pm my time. That’s 7pm Eastern and Sunday morning in Australia; you figure out the rest.

If one show a week isn’t enough, sign up for his Patreon. $10/month gets you 3 additional weekly shows and 4 Rock This Bitch song downloads. (They’re improvised live songs. It’s a whole thing I could explain but won’t.) One of the extra shows is meant for musicians and music teachers, with an over-the-shoulder view showing how he plays certain songs. In another, he makes up songs with fan-submitted lyrics. The third is a Patreon-only request show, which – unlike the others – I’ve actually watched. He’s very game to try any song from his back catalogue, even if he has to look up the lyrics or listen to a snippet on his phone to remember what chord it’s in. There’s a lot of messing up and a lot of swearing.

On that note, the show linked above – his fourth weekly public concert since the shutdown – is titled “TRYING AGAIN” and opens with him on his phone, squinting at his computer, saying “the current resolution is not optimal – well then, tell me what fucking IS optimal?!” We’ve all been there. Ben’s also currently clean-shaven because he tried to trim his beard and messed it up. Very relatable.

Between notoriously poor Australian internet – basically, it’s like if my house was a country – and Folds having to do all his own setup and hands-on technical support, there can be some snafus with these. You never know when he’ll switch from one of his songs to an ad-libbed musical complaint about how the pedals are sliding away and that doesn’t happen with a real piano.

That said, this was a really fun show. With upgraded mics and camera, the sound and video quality have greatly improved since these began. But more importantly, Folds is a fan-friendly performer, taking requests from the illegibly scrolling chat, dropping fans’ names into songs, running a drinking game (take a drink every time he messes up) (do not do this, you’ll die), enjoying morning beers, and doing several greatest hits albums’ worth of songs in one medley. It’s intimate and unrehearsed and feels like just hanging out as much a concert.


 

BA Johnston: (April 25, 2020)
concert: https://www.facebook.com/groups/10859965103
buy music: https://bajohnston.bandcamp.com/

Before this was announced, I’d actually singled out BA Johnston as someone who wouldn’t be putting on streaming shows. He releases albums, sure, but you really need the full live experience to understand BA, and that includes significant crowd interaction. You need the beer and the sweat and the Cheezies and the sparklers and the screaming and the same jokes every time.

And yet, here we are. Airing live from This Ain’t Hollywood in his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario (and with messages of support from owners of various bars that BA frequents, including Amigo’s in Saskatoon), BA did his best to put on his full live show in front of an audience of the two guys handling sound and video. The jokes, the costume changes, the whole schtick was still there. He even closed the set in the bathroom, though he did wrap things up with uncharacteristic sincerity and well wishes.

There was a long stretch of technical issues before everything began – feel free to skip that part. When they did get it working, both the sound and video were the weakest of the of the shows I’ve seen. Though I will say that I watched this in two halves – the first part live streaming to my TV, and the second on replay with headphones on my computer – and the sound came in a lot better on the replay. I’m not sure if the live showing was having bandwidth issues, or if I just don’t expect as much coming out of a little Facebook window.

The technical issues mean that if you’re new to BA Johnston, this might not be your best introduction, but that aside, it’s still a night of funny, catchy songs that will stick in your head for days – classics like GST Cheque, new ones like We’re All Going to Jail (Except Pete, He’s Gonna Die), and even unreleased songs from his upcoming album, Werewolves of London, Ontario. Plus, you’ll wind up way less sweaty than if you go see him in person, mostly because he can’t sweat on you if you’re watching at home on your Acer laptop.


 

Steven Page (May 2, 2020)
buy tickets: https://sidedooraccess.com/home
buy music: https://stevenpage.bandcamp.com/

This show was held over Zoom, that video conferencing software that was probably created by the same people who created this virus. It makes sense if you think about it. Follow the money, sheeple.

Side Door was founded by Dan Mangan to help touring musicians set up and sell tickets to house concerts. That’s not happening at the moment, so it’s pivoted to online shows. They’re not expensive – this was $8 US – but it helps make a little money while there’s no touring. A bunch of Canadian artists have been performing on there, including Terra Lightfoot, Said The Whale, Jill Barber, Danny Michel, Sarah Slean, and Mangan himself. And Steven Page. Which you likely figured out.

Zoom works well for this type of setup. The host takes up most of the screen, and viewers (at least the ones who don’t turn their cameras off like I do) appear in a row of little boxes at the top of the screen, not dissimilar to a Press Your Luck board. That said, you may have heard of Zoombombing, where hackers take advantage of Zoom’s many security flaws to invade conference calls. I watched Page’s show last week too, and mid-song, the chat suddenly got REAL racist, and one of the video streams began showing gay porn. So that was fun. They had more moderators this week, and there are added security steps for next week’s show. Which does nothing for you, since that show’s already sold out, but I bet there’ll be more shows, if you have eight bucks kicking around.

I had good plans to write up last week’s show but then a week went by and I, uh, didn’t. So you get this one instead. Both were fun, live from Page’s basement with him mostly playing guitar but also on keys for a bit. The sound is pretty good; I find the video a little choppy but I also have trash internet. There were songs spanning Page’s entire career, with a nice mix of Barenaked Ladies songs and all his solo stuff. Plus, since he was taking requests, it wasn’t just all the hits, which is either a big positive or a big negative for you.

Since you can’t just go watch this one, I’ll go through the setlist:

  • Shoebox (if you want to feel old, sing along with “you’re so 1990 and it’s 1994”)
  • Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank (Page noted that this might be the first time he ever played this song solo)
  • Manchild
  • In The Car
  • Break Your Heart
  • Jane
  • Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel (with a bit of So Political by Spirit of the West)
  • So Young, So Wrong, So Long
  • Over Joy
  • The War on Drugs
  • The Old Apartment (He messed this up over and over last week, and noted that he got requests to “play it right this week”) (He messed it up again and cracked himself up real good)
  • Powder Blue
  • Maybe You’re Right
  • What A Good Boy
  • White Noise
  • The Chorus Girl (I don’t know this one that well, but oh man, the chat was so happy he played this one. He talked a lot about what it was about. Then he had everyone unmuted so everyone could sing along with the “la la la” part and man, having 800+ people unmuted at once sounded like what you’d hear when you open the gates of hell. Then they tried muting everyone again – including Page – but a few people couldn’t be muted and didn’t know how to mute themselves and kept talking while the chat got super mad at them. Then the chat got hacked and racist.)
  • Enid

I thought this was good fun. Mika said it was fine. The cat didn’t appreciate being woken up.

This feels like a good place to stop for now. More to come.

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

October 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLCR #279: BA Johnston (April 28, 2017)

May 12, 2017

My discovery of BA Johnston was tied directly to his 2015 Polaris Prize nomination. Mika and I were on a road trip – coming back from the farm maybe? – and she’d found a streaming audio station playing songs off the 40 albums that had made the long list that year. After a stretch of good-if-samey indie rock, Johnston’s song Gonna End Up Working in Fort McMurray really stood out. It was funny, and I made a mental note to check out more of his music later. Which, of course, I didn’t do.

A while later, Johnston unwittingly found himself mixed into some Polaris controversy. The very short version is that disputes among Polaris jurors led to one juror revealing contents of a private message board where some of the selection discussion was taking place. This included several jurors, including musician and CBC personality Grant Lawrence, being dismissive of Johnston’s music. Which, whatever. Taste is subjective and all that, and I can see Johnston’s low-budget, mostly-comedy music not being everyone’s cup of tea.

Anyway, this all reminded me that I was going to check out Johnston’s music, so I pulled up his Polaris-nominated (and then-newest) album, Shit Sucks. Looking over the tracklist, I went straight for the song Shitty Cat:

Go in the kitchen and I see my cat
On the counter eating taco meat
Say to my cat, “what the hell you doing”
He looks at me, keeps eating taco meat
I got a shitty cat, shitty cat, yo man he’s looking at me
I got a shitty cat, looks at me and then he falls asleep

There’s more, but you get the idea. For whatever reason, I would love to hear Gordon Lightfoot cover this song.

So yeah, I wound up buying the album. And then a bunch more. And then many again on vinyl. I may have a problem. Two of my records came from his own online store. The first was hand-addressed to James “Lite Lunch” Kalyn; the second, James “Dust Mop” Kalyn. Apparently you get a free gift with purchase and said gift is a nickname. I’m glad I planned things out poorly and made two separate purchases. What I lost in extra shipping costs I made up for in nickname.

I hadn’t seen him live before this, though. He tours across Canada regularly, but last time he played Regina was the night before we began our trip to BC last summer, and I didn’t think I could be out that late before a day full of driving. Little did I know.

I’ve only ever been to O’Hanlon’s once before for a show. It was 2006 and it was Geoff Berner playing in front of a completely apathetic crowd. O’Hanlon’s doesn’t charge cover, and the regular O’Hanlon’s patrons were not at all interested in Berner’s music, and he didn’t seem real interested in playing for them. I hoped Johnston would be a better fit.

Not knowing what time we could expect the show to start, I arbitrarily chose 10:00 p.m. based what Johnston had said on Twitter about other shows on the tour. It’s been probably a decade since I’ve been to a show on Amigo’s time and I am now much, much older. Like, 10 years older. And I didn’t care for the late starts then.

As we are old, we tried napping before the show, but a certain yowly cat outside the bedroom door was having none of this. Shitty cat, indeed. I eventually locked him in the basement but by then he had angered up my blood enough that I wasn’t about to get to sleep. Mika managed a bit of a nap, but not enough.

We got to the bar right at 10:00. This left us well-positioned to stand around for a further hour and a half before the openers started. I guessed poorly. As we hung out and drank our Diet Cokes like cool guys, we saw Johnston wandering around in a “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase shirt.

Our openers were Napalmpom from Calgary. They were loud. This was the number 1 impression they made on me. Also the number 2 impression through to somewhere in the 30s. The other impression they made was because one of the guitarists was really into everything they played, and he looked just enough like Colin to make this all hilarious to me. And then the loud thing again.

I get that I am old and I was up late and crotchety and you don’t even use that word before a certain age, but whatever. This was way too loud for the size of the place. The volume made it all sound kinda similar and my ears were still sore when I woke up the next day. Despite that, I still enjoyed them well enough, but they needed to be dial it back or they need to play someplace bigger. That said, BA Johnston (who is in fact older than me) seemed to enjoy them a lot – he spent most of their set down in the audience at the front of the stage.

During the break, Johnston set up his gear – this did not take long, as I’ll get into – and a big light-up BA that decorated the stage. Instead of starting the show, he announced that he was going to go change his pants and have a smoke. Which he did, I assume. He returned brandishing two sparklers, wearing a sailor’s cap, and draped in a Hamilton Tiger Cats flag; that he wasn’t immediately run out of town on a rail is proof that this wasn’t the regular bar crowd.

I would stop short of calling Johnston a full-on comedy act, but there is a lot of comedy involved, which means I have the potential to spoil the show for anyone who reads this. Especially considering that BA himself said that the show never changes. So I won’t go into great detail, but be assured that if you go to a BA Johnston show, you will see costume changes, snot rockets, and confetti which may or may not get sweat-stuck to back fat.

As for the music, BA has three instruments; a keyboard he played maybe twice, an acoustic guitar that has to have seen better days, and a Discman. He generally alternated between the Discman and the guitar. The Discman – sometimes referred to as an Apple 5c or a BlackBerry Notebook – was used to play backing tracks. This would free BA up to run out into the crowd, pour drinks into fans’ mouths, climb on tables, pour drinks into bartenders’ mouths, all that good stuff.

One highlight was hearing Johnston play his new song Saskatchewan for what may have been the very first time in Saskatchewan. At the very least, it isn’t one he plays on tour often; you could tell because he sat still and concentrated for the “45 fuckin’ minutes” it took to play it. (Its actual running time is 2:13, which would still be among BA’s longer songs.) The rest of the time, he was in constant motion – either frantically strumming the guitar or running all over the place.

Saskatchewan is an introspective (for BA, anyway) tribute to the land of the Roughriders, Wonderland arcade, and Humpty’s; a province where “all wounds can be healed but the thirteenth man on the field.” He really gets us.

A number of other songs were also from Johnston’s new album, Gremlins III, including Alley Beers, I’m Stayin’ In, and personal favourite Dayoff is a Dayoff. He did not play Shitty Cat and that is too bad. But I got another one of my favourites in GST Cheque, which not only has an excellent singalong part, but gives me warm nostalgic feelings about getting a “random cheque for like 63 bucks.” He closed with Best Day Ever, which is obviously about the day that the McDonalds coupons show up in the mail. The encore was only one song and as per tradition, he sang it in the bathroom. Specifically the men’s room, but I gather that can vary. It looked like he was standing on a toilet or a sink – I wasn’t sure. The song was I Wanna Drink With Aliens – I couldn’t really hear it (he was off-mic) but it’s another good singalong number so I got the gist of it.

And that was it – the whole set clocked in at a little over an hour. I would have happily taken more but I get that you can only keep that pace for so long, plus I appreciate someone who doesn’t leave ’em wanting less. Plus it was like 1:30 a.m. And it’s getting close to that now because I left my computer unattended and it rebooted for surely good reasons and I lost half my review and had to redo it. I made it better! Which says all it needs to about the original version. Anyway, I’m done now.