Posts Tagged ‘brandt centre’

SLCR #288: Queen City Ex (August 3-4, 2017)

August 18, 2017

When I wrote the big long recap of the Jazz Festival (and, like, a million other things), my intent was to group a bunch of shows together so that I could keep each section relatively short. And I failed miserably. So I can see why you might be leery now. So if you don’t read any of the rest of this, just know that July Talk is now in the lead for Show of the Year in my non-existent year-end awards. So good.

But you should probably read the rest of this because it’s mostly about disgusting delicious fair foods. And I promise I will not start three straight sentences with “so” again in this. (But six straight sentences starting with conjunctions, on the other hand…)

The Queen City Ex is our local fair. Rides, contests, garbage food, bands, you know the deal. Despite what the title above might indicate, it runs for five days. We only went for two, cherry-picking solid lineups for our visits: July Talk with The Zolas on Thursday, and a double-bill of The Watchmen and I Mother Earth on Friday. This left us skipping (in order) Gord Bamford with Nice Horse, Ruth B with Christian Hudson, and Brett Kissel with hypnotist Wayne Lee and why is a hypnotist opening for a country singer? Too late to find out now even if I wanted to. And I don’t really want to.

Thursday was not only our first day at the fair, but it was also Mika’s birthday. I took her to a place with next to no gluten-free options and she got to watch me eat stuff she would have enjoyed, and then we saw a band I really like. Don’t ever say that I don’t know how to treat my wife on her special day.

As we both had to work on Thursday, we got to the fair fairly (oh man that’s some good comedy) late. We strolled around and pondered our food options while searching for the Great Western Stage, which was not where we remembered it. After making our way from one end of the Ex to the other, we checked our little map to discover that they’d moved it into the Brandt Centre. Seating! Air conditioning! No chance of getting rained out (as happened to the July Talk show at the Edmonton fair)! This was a pretty decent deal. And I suppose it makes sense – during our last fair visit two years ago, you didn’t have to deal with the giant new stadium on the fairgrounds.

The Thursday night openers were The Zolas and we got there just in time for them to begin. I knew one song, Swooner, but the rest of their stuff was new to me. Mika, however, was surprised to discover how many of their songs she’d heard – I gather they’re CBC Radio 3 favourites. Pop-rock, heavy on the keyboards and made me feel like I might be just a bit too old to really get into them, though the singer gained some bonus points by getting everyone to clap along to a song and then saying “now keep doing that until it’s awkward.” I mean, that’s what we do, but I’d never heard it spelled out so plainly before. These guys were fun enough, though they were probably my least-favourite set of the two nights. But that shouldn’t be taken as a knock – they were just up against some stiff competition.

Between sets, we headed back out onto the midway in an attempt to give ourselves coronaries. We were both saddened to discover that the nacho truck from our last fair visit was nowhere to be found. Tasty warm homemade chips with fresh toppings, right by the entrance to the Great Western Stage. You were too beautiful to live, nacho truck. Mika eventually found a place that made fries and didn’t fry anything else, so she could eat them. And they were good, but they’re not as ridiculous as you want from the fair, you know?

However, as mentioned, I had my pick of absolute crap. Last time, I started with a corndog and realized that I don’t like corn dogs as much as I think I do. This time, I went back for the corndogs, but with a twist – they stuck a dill pickle in there too. The perfect solution. I also got something called “bacon pickle balls” but they turned out to be just smaller pickle corn dogs that had an infinitesimal amount of bacon in there somewhere. Still good.

We made our way back to the Brandt Centre for July Talk. I first heard of them when the AV Club had the premiere of their video for Summer Dress, and – for reasons unknown to me – I actually bothered to watch the thing instead of skipping it like I do most web videos. (Sorry, people who ever send me links to anything.) I really dug it, which is not something I say about new bands these days because I am a miserable old fart who is set in his ways. And then I liked their album. And then their new album. So I was looking forward to this, was my point.

We’d sat in the stands for The Zolas, but moved down to the floor for July Talk, passing Mark and Arlette on the way down. The crowd for The Zolas was pretty respectable, but it had to be at least double that for July Talk. Sometimes good things become popular and that is rad!

The band took the stage and started by welcoming “ladies, gentlemen, trans, non-binary and genderfluid folk” before acknowledging that we were on Treaty 4 land. And then they blew the roof off the place. They played Summer Dress two songs in and I thought that would be the highlight for me but then it just kept getting better. Ridiculous levels of energy all night long. Two very different singers, with Leah Fay’s sultry vocals providing a sharp contrast to Peter Dreimanis’ guttural rasp. Great, catchy songs. Great musicians. Charismatic performers. This was the kind of show that made me want to tell everyone I know that they should have been there. I did text that to some of you. Not sorry.

At one point, Fay walked out into the crowd and asked everyone on the floor to sit down, and they all just did it. (I mean, WE didn’t, that floor is kinda nasty – but we were also far enough back so as to remain somewhat inconspicuous.) And then she rode back to the stage on a fan’s shoulders. She asked his name and he was the most excited Bob you ever did hear.

And then the encore. A fan threw something onto the stage. I couldn’t see what, but I assumed it was a stuffed animal, since we’re at the fair and all (even though most of the prizes were either Pokémon plushies or fidget spinners as far as I could tell). But no. Fay picked it up and said “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being in a band, you never give the people what they want right away. But I like you.” And she put on a rubber horse mask. And Fay and Dreimanis did a song together – the only one all night with just the two of them – with her in this horse mask. I use the word “ridiculous” a lot, and this was, but it is just as true to say it was amazing. Then Horse Fan (she had a name but that is not relevant right now) got to come up on stage and dance with the band for the last song. In the horse mask.

This ruled. This all ruled. The horse mask was just the icing on the cake. Horse icing. It cost $37 to get into the fair (two adults at $15 each, plus one car at $7) and I would have paid more than that for one ticket to July Talk and it would have been a deal. Go see them.

We ran into Mark and Arlette again on the way out – by which I mean I saw them leaving and chased after them – and we got to chat for a bit. Then with the show over, we set out to make some more bad decisions. Mika got a lemonade (again, tame by fair standards) while I went for the more ridiculous deep fried cookie dough. It was pretty good. Then I packed up my regrets and we went home, ready to do it all over again the next day.

Sometimes people ask me “how’s work?” and all you need to know is that on Thursday before the concert, I went from “I can come in this weekend” to “I’m taking tomorrow off because everything’s so broken that I can’t do anything” in the span of about 15 minutes. So I had Friday off, which was nice and restful. It let me prepare myself for another day of punishing my eardrums and my stomach.

Speaking of which, on Thursday, we discovered that one of the BBQ places was selling corn on the cob coated in Flammin’ [sic] Hot Cheetos dust. We reported this to Jeff and he had a day to build this up in his mind. By the time we got to the fair on Friday, he was already there, had already eaten the Flammin’ Hot Cheetos corn, and reported that it lived up to his imagination. Mika tried to have some too, but they misheard her order and gave her regular corn instead. She also got some blue slushie drink. Again, good but not fair-worthy craziness.

I, on the other hand, took my time to find the ideal monstrosity for dinner, and found the perfect combination of ridiculous and a short line – the bacon-wrapped foot-long hot dog topped with macaroni and cheese. With the optional fried onions, for… vitamins. Or fiber or something. Antioxidants? This was as delicious as it was challenging to eat. I wound up with mac and cheese on my nose and my hat. Not surprised. Didn’t care. Worth it.

We made our way to the Brandt Centre for the Watchmen, stopping to sample some apple whiskey on the way in. Not bad.

This was the only night where the two bands were given equal billing, though in essence, the Watchmen were opening. We debated whether the Watchmen or I Mother Earth should have gone on last, with Jeff firmly on the side of the Watchmen. I wasn’t sold on this. I mean, I know way more Watchmen songs than I Mother Earth songs, and having seen both bands recently, I liked the Watchmen better, but I figured that was just me. I Mother Earth just seem like the bigger band to me. And I was way wrong. There were tons of people in there for the Watchmen, on par with the crowd for July Talk. They opened with Boneyard Tree and closed with Stereo – in between, you got most of the singles you’d want (Incarnate, Any Day Now, All Uncovered, Absolutely Anytime and more) with some interesting covers, including The Only Living Boy in New York by Simon and Garfunkel and part of Superman by R.E.M.. This was a great set.

I’m writing this weeks after the fact. I think we got dessert between Watchmen and I Mother Earth, but I could be wrong. Maybe it was before? Who cares, if I’m wrong, only two people will know and they can write their own reviews if they’re so concerned about historical accuracy. Either way, I had red velvet mini donuts and Jeff got an Oreo churro. The mini donut people got my donuts from somewhere behind their stand. I don’t know where or why. I didn’t really want to know.

Having seen I Mother Earth last year, I realized that I only know one of their songs and also I only have so much interest in guitar solos. This show didn’t really change my opinion. That song was good! And the guitar solos were well done and all, but I can only care to a degree. I called this set “very good but not entirely my thing.” And I love this format of cramming tons of shows into one review because I can stop there, but I do need to mention that the crowd for I Mother Earth was shockingly smaller than it was for the Watchmen. At one point near the end of the set, I turned around and realized how bad it would look if they turned up the lights. They had maaaaaaybe half the crowd that the Watchmen did.

As soon I Mother Earth was over, Mika went to the bathroom and Jeff left, which was a real shame. The leaving part, I mean, not the bathroom part. Because if Jeff had left the arena with us, he’d have been treated to one lady’s rant about people bringing their fuckin’ kids to loud concerts and it’s not good for their hearing and you should get a fuckin’ babysitter or else just suck it the fuck up and don’t come – made all the better when I realized that some guy and his kids were 10 feet behind us. Then I got a caramel apple because I never learn anything.

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SLCR #276: I Love the 90s (March 30, 2017)

April 13, 2017

I can’t say that I love the 90s, really. The first four years were high school and let’s pretend that never happened. University was better, and there were various good times and new adventures and stuff, but I don’t look back at James aged 13-23 as being Prime Era James. I mean, God, I hope not.

As far as the music of the 90s, there’s a certain type of late 90s alternative that I still quite like because I am old and afraid of anything new. This show, however, was not that. Instead, we were treated to a selection of early 90s R&B and rap that isn’t really on my current playlists. But I loved some of this back in the day. Nostalgia, right? This should be fun, right?

Before the concert, Mika and I met up with Reagan, Deserée, and Reagan’s friends Dustin and Sarah for dinner. Twice, in fact, because the first place was full. I had a delightful Thai chicken pizza. Would get again. Then Mika went home because she is the only one of us with any sense. The rest of us were off to the show.

We had splurged, relatively speaking, on floor seats. Not too far back, pretty close to the centre, and I was even on an aisle. A lovely view for what was in store.

When we got to our seats, there was a party host on stage inviting people to join him for the opportunity to win Salt-N-Pepa t-shirts and a chance to dance on stage with the band. You could also just buy the shirt and get to dance with them that way too. Despite repeated requests from Deserée, I refused to take part in any of this. Anyway, the people who did go up for the contest would hear a snippet of a TV show theme – name that tune, and you get your shirt and can come back later and dance. Out of probably 20 contestants, I think they gave away three shirts. The thing is, this is I Love The 90s, right? But apart from the Jeopardy song (which is technically from the 80s or earlier anyway), it was all shows like The Odd Couple, Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days, and Welcome Back, Kotter. The host – whose name was also James – even said “you’re here because you love the 90s and the 80s and the 70s” and it’s like… no? That was never part of the deal, my dude. James seemed quite disgusted with how this all went down. As a black person, he was especially disappointed when the black contestants didn’t know the themes to Good Times, The Jeffersons, or Sanford & Son. He was also annoyed with the white guy who missed All in the Family and gave “I don’t know, I’m 35” as his excuse. Apparently age shouldn’t matter as Those Were The Days is “in the white people handbook.” Fair enough. The only contestant he seemed to like was a dude wearing a rainbow mohawk wig who grabbed the mic out of his hands and yelled FUCK YEAH and then James said FUCK YEAH and then rainbow guy said FUCK and James said FUCK and rainbow guy said IT’S MY BIRTHDAY and James said FUCK YEAH and then James said fuck like 30 more times and none of you who get reviews by email will ever see this. I’m sorry for clogging your spam filters. I should mention that rainbow guy’s theme was Knight Rider and of course he didn’t get it because he’s probably 25 and how would he know what the Knight Rider theme is?

Anyway, this may have been the highlight of the evening.

Our opener was Young MC, who also stretched the credibility of this 90s conceit as he’s known for one big hit – Bust A Move – that came out in 1989. Close enough, I guess. 1989 was quite a while ago and Young MC is pushing 50. I suppose that illustrates the danger of naming yourself “young” anything, though his actual last name is Young, so he gets a pass. He did five songs, I think, highlighting a new song called Nocturnal that is on the soundtrack to a movie he directed, possibly also called Nocturnal. He really wanted us to know about his directorial debut. Anyway, he did Bust A Move and then said that normally that was the end of his set, but he was going to give us something more (I assume every city gets something more) and asked if we remembered a song of his called Fastest Rhyme. I am 100% fine with admitting that 2017 James inherited 1989 James’ enthusiasm for Fastest Rhyme and if I could pick any one song of his for this show, that would have been it. So I was delighted, even if he did have to pause for breath in the middle of it. Though I did think it was a little funny that his only other hit single was Principal’s Office and he didn’t do that one.

Next up was Color Me Badd, the band Deserée was most looking forward to. I had always said I didn’t know anything about them, but when Mika did some YouTube research, it turned out I was actually pretty familiar with their hits. We also discovered that the Lonely Island’s Dick In A Box video is just Color Me Badd’s video for I Wanna Sex You Up reshot with new people (and some boxes).

Anyway, these guys got about 25 minutes to do a half-dozen songs and they were better than I expected. I knew all the songs, including No Diggity, which is not actually one of theirs. It reminded me of seeing Bobby Curtola and other oldies at the casino with my dad, where they play their own songs but also play random other songs from that era because you’re nostalgic for the time more than the specific artist. I can’t remember if I mentioned this then, but it would be like seeing 70-year-old Justin Bieber at the casino doing Gangnam Style and Call Me Maybe and Blurred Lines. Which could very well happen. I’ll go to his show in 2064 and report back.

In a compelling example of how expectations change one’s perception, Deserée didn’t care for Color Me Badd so much: “I was fairly disappointed with them actually. I mean, fun and nostalgic, yes. But for one thing – in 1990-whatever, I truly believed Color Me Badd was an edgy R&B group (that I had to turn down when listening to at home, because of all the sex songs). It wasn’t until dinner the other night when Mika talked about them that I realized they might actually be a boy band. And then when they came out in matching outfits (including hats) and started doing their dance moves, I realized the horrible truth. Overall though, it made me sad that the lead singer was off-key and off-time for much of it. But like I said, nostalgic and fun anyway.”

It should be noted that the crowd was very excited for all of this. Between sets, the DJ played Funky Cold Medina and people went wild for it. You didn’t really even need live musicians or rappers anymore. Just play recognizable songs and you’ve got them in the palm of your hand.

Right about now, we were about to be possessed by the sounds of MC Rob Base. Base got four or five songs too, most of which were about our hands, where we could put them (in the air), and how we could wave them (like we just don’t care). He also wanted to yell things and have us yell other things back at him. To be fair, everyone did that all night, but he was especially interested in this. He closed with It Takes Two. Of course.

We had a bit of an intermission while they set up the stage for Salt-N-Pepa. James came back out to talk to us and seemed delighted to spot his friend in the crowd. “HEY! IT’S FUCKING FUCK BIRTHDAY GUY!” Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy was delighted by the attention.

Salt-N-Pepa had about an hour-long set – the only one of the evening – and played pretty much everything you’d expect – Shoop, Push It, Whatta Man, Let’s Talk About Sex. Continuing a theme from earlier, they also played a bunch of things like Billie Jean (not 90s) and Smells Like Teen Spirit – by which I mean Spinderella just played the MP3s and everyone sang overtop them. Like I said, you didn’t really need any musicians at this point.

All the girls who bought or won t-shirts got to come up and dance to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (not Salt-N-Pepa, not the 90s) and then they invited guys up for Whatta Man. You could see a rainbow mohawk wig making its way through an ocean of humanity like a shark fin. He neither bought nor won a shirt, but Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy was allowed on stage anyway because James was in charge and James was laughing to nearly the point of tears. Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy tried to take Salt’s mic and yell FUCK YEAH but she just told him to settle down. Total professional. Then he didn’t want to leave the stage until James basically had to drag him out of there.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Pepa had apparently just discovered what Regina rhymes with. This happens a lot when bands come to town. I believe that by now, all possible avenues in this area have been explored (not a euphemism) (but probably true if it was?) but she was so amused and enthusiastic about it that nobody minded.

And then it was our headliner, sort of, Vanilla Ice. Grade 9 James (me, not the host) (if only there was an easy way to differentiate us) loved some Vanilla Ice. But even then, there are only a handful of songs I remember. Ice Ice Baby, of course. Play That Funky Music White Boy. Ninja Rap OBVIOUSLY. And beyond that – and I am not proud of this, much less proud than I am of admitting to having liked Vanilla Ice in the first place – I remember a verse he had on a Bloodhound Gang song. And that was what he actually opened with, which kind of blew my mind a little bit. I don’t think he actually did Ninja Rap (the sound was terrible all night – way too loud, distorted, and full of feedback) but he did say GO NINJA GO NINJA GO a few times and that was good enough for me. But it was pretty much downhill from there, and we weren’t starting from high up.

The absolute funniest moment of the night came when Ice said “I just wanna give a shoutout to the Pats. Regina Pats, making it to the playoffs! I think they’re going all the way this year.” And look, I know that “local sports team” is second only to “name of city” in terms of cheap pops. But you can get away with that if you’re talking about a major league team. Even if Ice had said something about the Roughriders, I can almost pretend that he cares enough to have CFL opinions. But come on. Far be it from me to call into question the credibility of Vanilla Ice, but I really don’t think he’s following the Western Hockey League that closely.

Anyway, if you’re Vanilla Ice, what song do you end on?

Guess.

He called a bunch of fans up on stage and played Ice Ice Baby about five songs in. It seemed early to wrap things up but where can you go from there?

“THE PARTY DON’T STOP!”

He did some song nobody knew.

“THE PARTY DON’T STOP!”

He did another song nobody knew. People were filing out of the place at this point. Including Vanilla Ice, who disappeared from the stage (or at least hid behind the fans, who were still up there) though his voice could still be heard.

“THE PARTY DON’T STOP!”

Deserée: “…but it could.”

At this point, Vanilla Ice played Turn Down For What.

“YEAH YOU LOVE THE 90S!”

Turn Down For What is from 2013.

“ALL THE HORNY PEOPLE PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”

Not to reveal too much about myself, but I did not, in fact, put my hands in the air. I mean, sure, you’d THINK nothing would get a person going like hearing loss and complete bafflement, but it didn’t do it for me. In fairness, it seemed to be the secret sauce for lots of the folks who were left, including Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy who had found his way onto the stage by this point.

But hey, at least Turn Down For What is a good song to end a party on, right? But Ice – who had also made his way back onto the stage – possibly he got lost and followed the rainbow mohawk – had one more for us. First, he told us to follow our dreams. Believe in ourselves. Not let borders divide us. And then he sang No Woman No Cry. Vanilla Ice, reggae superstar. I texted this to Mika who simply replied “Oh no.” People were flooding out of the arena. I could not leave. I was transfixed. What is this? Why is this? And then it was over. No encore, just a voice – possibly prerecorded – thanking us for attending. It didn’t end with “…leave now” but it may as well have, not that I would have needed encouragement.

To cap off the evening, as I walked alone to my car, mostly deaf and lost in some sort of existential crisis, two guys stopped me and asked for a ride. They did not say to where, but they did promise me “a lot of money.” I declined, not feeling up to being a good Samaritan and also not wanting stab wounds and a stolen car. Though it would have made a more compelling conclusion than “I went home and had some Coke Zero and Crispy Minis.”

I’m writing and posting these reviews out of order. As I’m finishing this off, it’s the day before my trip to Calgary. By sheer happenstance, I am there during Canadian Juggalo Weekend. Part of me badly wants to go to Canadian Juggalo Weekend just so I can write about the experience. But I kind of feel like there’s much less reason for that now. I mean, sure, there will be wrestling and circus performers and crazy shit and clowns EVERYWHERE but is that really so different from this? I mean, Vanilla Ice even had two dancers who were fat guys in clown suits and wrestling masks who sprayed water on the crowd. Switch out the water for Faygo and we’re set.

I can’t recommend this show enough and I also can’t recommend avoiding this show enough.

SLCR #248: City and Colour (June 12, 2016)

June 16, 2016

We were supposed to go see Meat Loaf at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw on Saturday night. I had clearly underestimated the demand for Meat Loaf in 2016 – the show sold out in about 10 minutes. That’s approximately 5,000 tickets. It was easier to get tickets for the Tragically Hip’s summer (farewell?) tour – at least you can buy those from scalpers if you really want to. But if you missed out on those first ten minutes of Meat Loaf ticket sales, you were out of luck. Lucky for me that Josy, possibly the biggest Meat Loaf fan there is, was on the ball. But it turned out that my stepmom really wanted to go too and all of the usual sources were dry. StubHub had nothing. Tickets posted to Kijiji sold in minutes. Remembering the George Thorogood show, I checked the Mosaic Place website daily in hopes that some last minute tickets would be released. And they were! Finally, success! I grabbed her two tickets and was very pleased with myself.

Josy and his people drove from Saskatoon to Regina, picked me up, and we hit the road for another 40 minutes to Moose Jaw. We parked the car and it occurred to me that there seemed to be a lot of people walking away from the arena. Sure enough, there were “ushers” stationed all around to let people know that the show had been postponed and would be rescheduled soon.

We picked up our tickets from Will Call anyway, then wandered back out and chatted with one of the ushers. He told us that the show was called off ten minutes before doors were set to open and that Meat Loaf had been taken from the arena on a stretcher. Later on, a Twitter search showed someone claiming that Meat Loaf had been transported to Regina and was hospitalized there. I have no idea if any of this is true. One rumour said he suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care. Another said that it was nothing serious, he was resting in a hotel and would resume the tour as soon as he’s feeling up to it.

As I’m writing this (five days after Meat Loaf and four after City and Colour), there’s been no real update on Meat’s health, but I guess he’s doing okay. The Calgary show on Monday night was also postponed, but he’s supposed to play Edmonton tonight, and thus far, it looks like that show is going ahead. As for our show, I just got an email announcing that it has been rescheduled for Saturday, July 2. Good for Meat, but not great for me – we’re away and I won’t be able to go.

Having said that, I was looking up reviews of earlier Meat Loaf shows on this tour, and hoo-boy, “unkind” is putting it mildly. Lots of “worst concert I’ve ever seen,” “time to hang it up,” “we walked out after three songs,” and disturbingly, a number of comments about how Meat looked like he was in pain, couldn’t walk, seemed ready to collapse. So maybe I dodged a bullet here. Whatever, I hope he puts on a great show for Josy and that the complainers on the internet don’t reflect the views of the majority. And now I’m going to rush through the actual concert review that I’m supposed to be working on because I’ve rewritten this section nearly daily as new info has come out and I really have no need for a Meat Loaf-themed text file that only I get to see.

So. City and Colour. Yep. I don’t really know anything about him, apart from his name (Dallas Green) and that he’s also the lead singer of Alexisonfire. You may note that “Dallas” and “green” are a city and a colour, respectively. I am ashamed at how long I’ve known about City and Colour without putting that together. I had to be told.

We were supposed to see him some years back at the Regina Folk Festival, but he got rained out. I wasn’t all that disappointed – Buck 65 was the big draw for me that evening, and Buck wrapped up right before they called it a night – but I still feel good whenever I get caught up on a missed show like this. Later this summer, Sam Roberts – the other headliner who got rained out of a Folk Festival we attended – will be playing there again. If all goes well, that’s two names checked off the missed list. What if they become my new favourite singers, and I almost missed out on seeing them?

I mean, I know the odds aren’t great. There can only be one favourite at a time. And I bought Mika two City and Colour CDs at the CJTR sale last year and haven’t actually managed to listen to them yet, which doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with them, but my motivation isn’t there. She was excited to go to this, and I will go to pretty much anything; that’s how I looked at this evening.

We left the house fairly early, as a few days ago, I got an email saying that there wasn’t going to be any on-site parking at the arena because they were already set up for the Farm Progress Show. Welcome to Saskatchewan. The email suggested parking downtown and walking. This seemed like a decent idea until we actually got downtown and realized just how far the arena still was. We ultimately parked at the field house – still a bit of a hike, but not that bad. We were much closer to the arena than we were to our proposed downtown parking space. This was all well and good until we had to climb over a fallen chain link fence while ducking under barbed wire to get onto the grounds. “And we only looked somewhat old in doing so,” Mika said.

Yeah, this was very much a show where I was the creepy old guy in the corner. I’m pretty sure the average age of the attendees was about half of my own. I wasn’t expecting anything else, but I definitely felt it strongly – I got too used to casino and Folk Festival shows.

Anyway, once inside, we walked a loop around the arena, past the one merch table that had probably a couple hundred people in line. I got the merch that counted – an excessively salty soft pretzel and a Coke Zero with ice crystals in it. The day was officially a success.

We hiked up to our seats in the bottom row of the upper level. Not too bad. A good view of the stage, decent leg room, minimal people walking past us, and a place to rest our drinks.

Shakey Graves was the opener, and okay, you know how everyone who comes to Regina for the first time has to joke about it rhyming with vagina? Well, I have never seen someone take such delight in doing so. In general, the locals seem to be tiring of it – the other week, Werewolves Beware heard crickets after busting out the tired old “city that rhymes with fun” line – but Shakey Graves was so pleased with this situation that we all just let him get away with it.

It helped that he was really fun. He did the first few songs by himself and then brought out a band. The sound wasn’t ideal – I found the vocals really hard to make out, and it didn’t help that I was completely unfamiliar with him – but there was great energy and he was very entertaining. The crowd really seemed to enjoy him and I think he’d be sensational in a smaller venue.

Before the show and during the intermission, I was texting with Feely, who referenced the City and Colour song Save Your Scissors. Sure, he did it in a way intended to make me feel super old, but he reminded me that the song existed and, therefore, I actually did know one City and Colour song. Needless to say, he didn’t play it. “He” bring City and Colour, and not Feely.

He did play a few things where I thought “hey, I think I’ve heard this before.” And they were fine. This was all fine, I guess. I don’t know. Mika said she liked it. That’s good. I thought it was all kind of dull, but a pleasant dull. It went by quickly and never dragged, and I never thought he or his band were bad in any way, but it was never really that interesting to me.

It’s weird. “Dull” is usually much more my speed than hers.

For the first song of the encore, they played Bobcaygeon as a tribute to ailing Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, which was really nice, but even that lacked something. The sentiment was there and appreciated, but given the circumstances, it felt to me like there should have been more emotion to it. I don’t know. Needed more oomph.

Which is kind of how I felt about the whole thing, really. Needed more oomph. Though it seemed I was in the minority. It looked to me like everyone else enjoyed themselves. I was clearly not the target audience for City and Colour and he just wasn’t my thing. At least Shakey Graves was a delightful discovery.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Northcote w/Jordan Klassen and Josiah (June 22)
• BA Johnston w/Partner (June 24)
• Gateway Festival w/Sloan, Corb Lund, Limblifter, Shotgun Jimmie, Bry Webb, more (July 22)
• The Tragically Hip (August 1)
• Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Sam Roberts Band, The Mavericks, Bettye LaVette, The Cat Empire, The Strumbellas, Frazey Ford, more (August 5-7)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat (October 5)
• I Mother Earth (October 8)

SLCR #189: Leonard Cohen (April 28, 2013)

May 1, 2013

Way back in January, I sent Aaron an email telling him that I was about to buy my first set of concert tickets of 2013, and it would be to see Leonard Cohen. I knew this would delight him. I did not realize just how much. When I described the upcoming show as me crossing one more act from my “must see them at least once” list, he replied “No, Dude, it’s more than that. It’s IMPORTANT. Leonard is not just another artist on your checklist of bands to see. He’s special, separate. This… this cuts to the very fabric of things. It’s NOT just another concert. It’s an EXPERIENCE.”

And so the bar had been set.

This show came perilously close to not happening. It was originally scheduled for Saturday, March 9, but on the day before, the show was postponed due to a flu outbreak among Cohen’s band. Six weeks later, give or take, and Regina was treated to the final performance of Cohen’s 2013 North American tour. He’s now got a nice break before starting up anew on June 18 in Paris.

The tickets promised that the show would begin promptly at 8:00 p.m. Leonard Cohen strikes me as someone who does not mess around when it comes to advertised start times, so we got there with plenty of time to spare. I used this extra time productively; namely, to taunt Aaron. I didn’t even mention that there was a spare seat next to us that remained open all night. It could have been his. Instead, we just gave ourselves additional butt and leg room.

Sure enough, at 8:00 on the nose, the omnipresent Sheila Coles took the stage to welcome us all and tell us that the show was about to begin. The voice of God boomed down from the heavens above with the ten-minute warning. I taunted Aaron some more. Five-minute warning. More taunting. I began to run out of things to rub in Aaron’s face. I gave up when I was reduced to thinking of things like “Hey Aaron. See that Boston Pizza ad on the rink board? There’s a chance LEONARD might see that Boston Pizza ad on the rink board!”

The lights went out and an army of men in fedoras swarmed the stage, silhouetted against the curtain that hung behind them. People applauded intermittently as if they thought one of these men might be Leonard Cohen, but weren’t sure which, and didn’t want to give inordinate levels of applause to the wrong person. But when the last fedora’d figure sprinted – sprinted! – onto the stage, there was no mistaking who it was. He launched into Dance Me to the End of Love before apologizing for the inconvenience of rescheduling the show. “I hope this isn’t a farewell tour, but in a sense, we’re all on a farewell tour. I promise you this, tonight we’ll give you all we got.”

It would be impossible to argue that he failed. With one brief intermission, the show ran until nearly midnight. 31 songs, including three encores (thank you, internet, for keeping track so I don’t have to). He ran onto the stage and skipped off. When singing, he’d crouch down to the ground or drop to his knees. This 78-year-old put forth more effort over four hours than I do in an average week. I can’t even sit for as long as he can perform for.

Now, I’m not a Leonard Cohen expert. I’m not Aaron. I have I’m Your Man and I know the proverbial greatest hits, but I was concerned that I’d only know a handful of songs. Not so! Cohen stuck largely to old favourites, and even better, the sound was actually good (especially for a hockey arena), with the vocals loud and clear, so you didn’t have to know a song to follow along with it. His recitation of A Thousand Kisses Deep deserves special mention; the crowd was mesmerized and you could have heard a proverbial pin drop while he was speaking.

And his band was incredible; I’ve repeatedly claimed that I cannot tell whether a musician is any good or merely faking their way through it, but there was no denying the talent on display. The band, roughly 10 people in total, had come from all over the world. I suppose if you’re Leonard Cohen, you’ve earned the privilege of picking and choosing the best.

The set was very simple. One giant curtain behind the band, two big screens on either side of the stage. Whoever was manning the cameras did fine work, getting closeups of the emotion in Cohen’s face, and letting you see just how skilled his musicians really are.

My mom had seen Cohen in Saskatoon last year, and she was surprised at what an entertainer he was. I can see that – he’s this serious poet with the deep voice, and while his lyrics reveal wit, you wouldn’t necessarily expect him to be quite so playful on stage. But Cohen laughed and joked, took the time to repeatedly introduce and compliment his band members, and just generally seemed to enjoy himself; an attitude that couldn’t help but rub off on the audience. By contrast, I saw Bob Dylan years ago and he was there to play songs, that’s it. No talking. No smiling.

It wouldn’t be a concert review if I didn’t complain about the drunken idiots around me, but I really thought I’d get away without having to do so this time. I expect some morons nearby when I’m watching some unknown local band in a bar, but c’mon. This is Leonard Cohen and his fans are… well… old. I expect a certain degree of civility here. Nope. We had these two drunk old women behind us who tried their damndest to spoil the show for everyone around them. I should have known we were in for a “treat,” given that they needed first aid before the show even began because one of them turfed it on the stairs. They talked loudly for the first four songs – and look at those songs. The Future? Bird on a Wire? Everybody Knows? Classics. You should listen to them. Or hey, don’t – that’s cool if that’s not your thing. But I paid to be there, so leave me alone as I listen to them. Finally, I turned around to give them hell only to find Mika already in the process of doing so. She was a lot more polite about it than I would have been. This just made the drunks enter into a conversation about precisely how loud and disruptive they were being (not in an argumentative way, really, merely inquisitive), and THAT was when I told them to shut up. Initially, they did not; the louder of the two tried to explain herself to me, see, they had been talking but they hadn’t known that we could hear them and y’know, they were just… and I turned back around, gave them The Look, and simply said “ENOUGH.”

The lady sitting to my right seemed awfully pleased with this.

The good news is that the two drunks more or less gave up on talking during the songs. This was good! But when Cohen finished Who By Fire, the louder one said “at least I can still whistle!” and let out this this really shrill ear-blaster, as she would proceed to do after every song. This was still really irritating but at least it was somewhat situationally appropriate. Not so appropriate was yelling “I LOVE YOU LEO” at the top of her lungs during quiet parts of songs. Again, listen or don’t, just don’t interrupt the listening of everyone around you. Or at least leave ME be. That’s what matters.

I did find one part kind of funny. The louder of the two was clearly the group leader. The second one liked yelling too, but not quite as much, and didn’t have the creativity, so she’d just yell whatever the first one said, only quieter and with less enthusiasm. So you’d get exchanges like this:

Cohen: “They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom…”
Drunk #1: “YEAH! BOREDOM! WOOOOOO!”
Drunk #2: “Yeah. Boredom.”

It got to a point that not only was I fantasizing about stabbing them, but I was composing new lyrics to Hallelujah in my head so that I could sing while I did it. (I’d post them here but I never made it too far – I mean, obviously the knife would move right through ya – but I don’t share works in progress.) But then the most amazing thing happened… they left at intermission! I don’t know if they went somewhere else so that they could dance, or somewhere that they could drink, or if they were just too stupid and didn’t realize the show hadn’t ended, or what. The important thing is that they were no longer near us. This was the kind of wonderful development that never happens, not to me, and then it DID. This made me so happy. I did hear inappropriate yelling from far away at other points in the show, but I prefer to think that they just went home. I mean, if they did, look at what they’d have missed:

First Set
1. Dance Me to the End of Love
2. The Future
3. Bird on a Wire
4. Everybody Knows
5. Who by Fire
6. Darkness
7. Ain’t No Cure for Love
8. Amen
9. Come Healing
10. First We Take Manhattan
11. A Thousand Kisses Deep
12. Anthem

Second Set
13. Tower of Song
14. Suzanne
15. The Gypsy’s Wife
16. Waiting for the Miracle
17. Show Me the Place
18. Anyhow
19. Lover Lover Lover
20. Alexandra Leaving (performed by Sharon Robinson)
21. I’m Your Man
22. Hallelujah
23. Take This Waltz

Encore:
24. So Long, Marianne
25. Going Home
26. Closing Time

Encore 2:
27. Famous Blue Raincoat
28. If It Be Your Will (performed by the Webb Sisters)
29. I Can’t Forget

Encore 3:
30. I Tried to Leave You
31. Save the Last Dance for Me

I know I said it already, but seriously, look at this! I’ve been to other shows that were just as long, but I was always ready to go home before the band was. Not on this night. He could have left after Hallelujah and people would have been satisfied. He could have finished up after a rousing rendition of the most obvious choice, Closing Time. No. People applauded so he came right back out and sang some more, finally wrapping it up with the Drifters’ Save the Last Dance for Me, with the crew and the instrument techs joining the band on stage. Part of me wanted to stay there and just keep clapping for days, just to see if he’d keep coming out and playing more songs. Make it a test of will. One I would be thrilled to lose. This man has stamina I’ve never even imagined.

A significant number of people left before the end – Cohen made sure to note that he knew it was late and nobody in the band would take offense if anyone had to go – and I do get it. The original show had been scheduled for a Saturday, when staying out to midnight works better for everyone. On a work night, running 7:00-11:00 might have been a wiser choice, but this was a make-up show and I’m sure at least 90% of the people there had their original tickets with the original start time listed. Changing that was probably just too much hassle to consider. And as a bonus, it made getting out of the parking lot that much easier for those of us who stayed.

SLCR #180: Metric (November 16, 2012)

December 17, 2012

Shit. Four behind again. I said I wouldn’t let this happen but procrastination wins the day. Shit shit shit.

If you pay attention to that UPCOMING CONCERTS blurb that I sometimes post at the end of these, you might notice that we skipped out on Dan Mangan and Plants & Animals. The weather has not been kind and I’ve been lazy. I still feel a bit bad about missing Dan Mangan; Mark went and posted a video of the song Robots (which is great) and it looked like a super fun show. I think he only posted this to make me feel bad about wimping out. Mission accomplished, sir. I’m glad he didn’t go to Plants & Animals or I’d feel bad about that one too.

It’s still cold and I’m still lazy, but Mika wasn’t about to miss out on Metric. I like them a lot as well – we accidentally bought two copies of their new album, Synthetica – but her more so. I don’t think this is exclusively because her score for her vocal performance of Combat Baby in Rock Band has been described as “untouchable,” but she does seem pleased by that.  

I’d only seen Metric once before, at the Odeon in Saskatoon, seven years ago. Now they’re playing the Brandt Centre, Regina’s big hockey arena, which is a step up. Of course, Regina is a step down, but I think this would still be a net positive.

I was a little concerned that the hockey arena wasn’t the best venue. Apart from the recurring issue of the acoustics in a hockey arena, I really have no sense of how big Metric is. They’ve been around for a while, and I’ve seen American websites talking about them. Did they become enormously huge rock stars when I wasn’t looking? Or were they just playing the Brandt Centre because of Regina’s relative lack of concert space? I saw Weird Al in a hockey arena many years ago, and while the crowd wasn’t embarrassing (um… at least in quantity), having 75% of the seats unfilled did take away from the atmosphere. You really do need to match the attraction to the venue.

I’d peg the crowd at being somewhere around 3,000-4,000. The floor and most of the lower level was full, and there was barely anyone on the upper level. A very respectable turnout. We were decidedly among the older people at the show, though I’m pretty sure that we’re younger than anyone in either of the bands. I’d say 75% of the audience was made up of young punk hooligans in inappropriate clothing. I don’t think I’m a prude, though; just practical. If you’re going to wear a midriff-exposing tanktop outside in weather that’s well below freezing, you must be really committed to smoking. I wouldn’t even pull my loved ones out of the way of a speeding car without putting on a jacket first. 

The opening act was Stars, lending credence to the idea that Metric had become way more famous than I’d thought. Before the show, I’d have guessed that Metric and Stars were at about the same level of popularity. Mika is probably reading this and shaking her head. What can I say? I don’t pay attention to things anymore. I don’t have to. I’m old and thus justified in my refusal to acknowledge change.

I saw Stars at the Regina Folk Festival this summer, where they weren’t my thing. Of course, the whole festival wasn’t my thing so I was looking forward to seeing them again to see if I liked them any better in another setting. I did not. Part of this may have been the venue’s fault, or the sound mix – the vocals were really muddy and drowned out. But it may just be the case that Stars are not really my thing. Other, similar bands are my thing. It’s just how it goes.

Metric, evidently, is my thing, as they tore the roof off the place, putting on one of the best shows of the year. I suppose that stands to reason since they played pretty much all of Synthetica, which is one of the best albums that I’ve heard this year (which is, admittedly, drawing from a pretty small pool). The only song I know they didn’t play was The Void, which I am pretty familiar with because it’s been on CBC Radio 3 (which results in Mika playing it in the car) and because it starts off with a very close approximation of Strong Bad’s lightswitch rave music.

From previous albums, I only noted a few songs, including the singles Monster Hospital and Help I’m Alive. I like Monster Hospital a lot and was hoping they’d play it. Then they played it (either as the last pre-encore song or the first one after, I forget which) and I immediately decided that I liked the newer stuff better, which is the opposite of pretty much every concert I’ve been to. So fickle.

I thought the sound was better for Metric than for Stars, but it’s not really a fair comparison. Metric’s music is much less acoustic (with one notable exception) and was a fair bit louder overall. You wouldn’t notice a lack of clarity so much.

There was a big lighting setup on stage behind the band, with a grid of segmented lights blinking on and off. The overall look reminded me of a digital alarm clock. And then as soon as the band left the stage, the lights switched to a clock showing 2:30, signaling two minutes and thirty seconds until the beginning of the encore. And indeed, the band retook the stage as soon as the clock hit zero. I hate the artificiality of the encore and while I’ve seen bands make jokes about that, the on-stage countdown clock blatantly showing just how precisely the break was timed was a new and neat idea.

After a fun show, they closed out the evening with an acoustic version of the song Gimme Sympathy – just an acoustic guitar, Emily Haines’ voice, and a crowd that she repeatedly encouraged to sing along. It was a fun way to end the show, and I was glad to get a different version of that specific song. The album version was used in a commercial for the Ontario Media Development Corporation; somehow, Mika and I both misremembered this as being an ad for some online school, so we’d hear the first notes of the album version and make jokes about how the song made us feel like signing up for courses. Point being, the album version of the song has kinda been spoiled for us, so it was nice to get something different. And I don’t see this joke dying off just because it isn’t that good and we were completely wrong – that’s just not how we roll.