Posts Tagged ‘broadway theatre’

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

October 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SLCR #179: Hawksley Workman (October 30, 2012)

November 8, 2012

Sitting in the Broadway Theatre, waiting for the show to start, Deserée got a text from Nicholas asking if I was excited for the show. Considering that I’ve never met Nicholas, I appreciated his concern.

And I was excited, or excited enough, anyway. I checked and this was my fourteenth time seeing Hawksley Workman. I didn’t read all my old reviews in detail, but at least as far back as the fifth show, I was saying that I’d felt like I’d seen everything before. And while I always enjoy Hawksley’s shows, it does sometimes feel like he only ever plays the same small selection of his many songs.

I told Deserée to tell Nicholas that I was excited for the show, but probably not as excited as she was. This is an understatement. For many years, she’s been using the social media of the day to try and convince Hawksley that he needed to play the song Baby This Night in concert. So far, no luck. But about a week before the show, Hawksley tweeted that he was rehearsing for the tour. She asked if he was rehearsing Baby This Night for Saskatoon, and he said “yes!” and she said OMGOMGOMGAgdfsnhoaiigsndrvsldknhfslvnh, or words to that effect.

She bought tickets long before the show but never picked them up, so we were relying on the Broadway Theatre website to find out when the show was to start. It said doors at 6:30, show at 7:30, so we agreed to split the difference and meet at 7:00. I took the afternoon off work so I made it to Saskatoon in plenty of time. After a quick sub with Dave, I made it to the theatre at about 7:05, or five minutes after the doors actually opened. I’m never sure why tickets, printed over a month in advance, can be right, but websites are almost always wrong.

Since this has mostly been Deserée’s story so far, and I’m feeling a bit reviewed out at this point, I’ll just liberally steal from her post on Facebook:

I arrived around 6:40 to pick up tickets at will-call, only to discover I was the first one there. There was a sign saying that doors opened at 7 and the show started at 8. So instead of standing around being cold, I decided to grab a coffee at Starbucks. It’s a few doors down from the theatre. While I was waiting for my drink, who should walk in but Hawksley Workman himself?! Did I play it cool and say hello? Did I casually introduce myself as the person who has been harassing him for 10 years to play my favourite song in concert? No. I texted my friend that he was there, and then walked out of Starbucks with my heart in my mouth.

Went back to the theatre, where I was still the first one there. I was joined shortly after by a guy and his girlfriend. He was a big HW fan, and it was her first show. We chatted about the olden days, shows gone by, other acts we had seen at Louis’, back when it was The Dank, and not all Star Trekky and over-priced. As we were chatting, Hawksley walked up to the door. He asked why it was still locked and knocked on it a few times. We asked him if he didn’t have some pull to get us inside. He said “man, you’d think I would, but I’m telling you, I have no pull at all. I mean, I’m the performer, but I have to stand out here just like you”. We all laughed, and he asked our names. I told him my first name, and then my last name, and he said “Oh yes, I know who you are!” I said “are you really playing my song tonight?” and he said “Yes, I am!”

I got there too late to see any of this.

We found our way to our seats and promptly doubled back to check out the stuff table. Apart from the shirts, most of which were for ladies, I had every single thing. Back to the seats, where Deserée showed me how to work her little video camera for when (if?) they’d play her song.

Before the show, a representative from the theatre came out to thank sponsors and whatnot. He mentioned that someone was studying to be a sommelier (and not, as Deserée thought a “Somalian”) and had paired wines (one red, one white) specifically to Hawksley’s music. The Broadway mostly shows movies, so you could buy hot buttered popcorn with your wine. Popcorn feels weird at a concert. Wine feels weird at a movie theatre (not that I usually drink wine anyway).

There was no opening act. Hawksley and Mr. Lonely took the stage, and I’ll turn it over to Deserée again:

The only part of the night that was more exciting was when Hawksley and Lonely STARTED the show with “Baby, This Night”. That’s why the first line is chopped off of this video. And it starts a little wobbly because James had to record and get set at the same time. But I’m quite delighted with it and hope you will also enjoy 🙂 The crowd seemed mostly confused by it, and I chalk that up to a lot of HW fans being the ones that came on with “Striptease”, so they don’t know the earlier stuff as well. It was well-received though, even if people did think it was a new track 🙂

So yes. After years of hoping and begging and “it was a great show, but…” he opened the show with the song she’d waited forever for, and now she even has it (well, 99% of it) on video. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen him play it before – if we have, it was one of those very first shows back in 2000. I think it’s fair to say that as much as she built the song up, Hawksley and Lonely lived up to expectations. I don’t know if he’s playing it at every show on this tour or if it really was special for Saskatoon because she asked, but whatever the case may be, she said it was her all-time favourite concert-going moment.

Right now, the video is only posted on Facebook, but if she posts it to YouTube, I’ll link to it. And yes, the video WAS a little wobbly. In my defense, I had to shoot around an old man’s massive head while simultaneously covering up the viewfinder so as not to blind anyone sitting behind us.

So what could follow that? We actually got one of the better setlists in recent memory, but I might be biased since he played Claire Fontaine, which is one of my all-time favourites, and I’m reasonably certain it was the first time I’ve ever heard him sing the whole thing. (I’m still a bit bitter about the time many years ago he sang a few lines and then moved onto another song.)

The whole show was a nice mix of my personal favourites, old and new, from Bullets and Safe & Sound from his first album, through We Will Still Need A Song, and more recent songs like Piano Blink, We’ll Make Time, and Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky. We also got some of the songs that always seem to show up – it’s pretty rare that you see Hawksley and he doesn’t play Autumn’s Here or Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off (this time, it segued in and out of the theme from The Greatest American Hero; in a related note, Deserée’s TV show theme-identifying abilities are top-notch). He also played Smoke Baby, but a version unique to Saskatoon, as he was joined by local guitarist Megan Lane.

I like Hawksley enough (you: “we know”) and have seen him often enough (you: “again, we know”) that I’d rather have a whole show of new material than the greatest hits (does he have hits? I guess Striptease, kinda, but he didn’t play that), so I was delighted to get a song I’d never heard before. Hawksley’s written a musical called The God That Comes, about Bacchus, the god of wine. It’s still talked about on his website as a work in progress, though I know it’s been performed in Victoria and Toronto (more trial runs than anything) and it will be performed in Calgary at some point next year. I really enjoyed the new song and if I’m going to be visiting my grandparents in Calgary at some point anyway…

He also played “something weird” that the CBC asked him to make, which was the song Where They Left It Wild from the CBC Radio 2 Great Canadian Song Quest. I really never expected to hear this one in concert but it was pretty great and would be a welcome addition to the regular rotation.

Somewhere in here was an intermission, which Hawksley repeatedly stated was not a sign of weakness on his part; rather, an opportunity to sneak backstage and lift some weights. I tried to take the opportunity to buy some popcorn and special Hawksley wine (so while Hawksley was pretending to work out, I was looking to inflate myself with trans fats and alcohol), but the lobby had about seven intermission’s worth of people in something that was almost (but not entirely) completely unlike a line. Oh well, I didn’t need that popcorn anyway. I bet it was sour.

Hawksley also likes to chat between songs (and sometimes during songs). I don’t generally go into too much detail here, since I’d hate to spoil anything for future concertgoers. I know he recycles bits; I’m pretty sure I’ve heard the story about his dad and the kayak at the past four straight shows. Same with the one about him and his brother visiting their grandmother. They’re enjoyable stories every time, but it’s always more fun to hear new stuff. Accordingly, I left the show tempted to register twitterwhichisbullshit.com just so he could access Twitter by a more fitting URL and post tales of the bygone days of Sears.

Driving to Saskatoon and back in a day isn’t quite as challenging as Minneapolis and back in three days, but I could still do without it. You can’t see anything at night, there’s nothing to see during the day, and if there was anything there, I’d have seen it all during the hundreds of times I’ve made that trek. But if I can keep being happily surprised 14 shows in, I’ll keep going.