Posts Tagged ‘calgary’

SLCR #338: Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13, 2019)

April 29, 2019

In Calgary again, visiting my grandma again, timed it to coincide with a show again. Baked her some bread again, sharpened her knives again, got my suitcase inspected again (for packing an electric knife sharpener again). You know the drill. I’m pretty sure I’ve done this exact opening before.

I could add “seeing Hawksley again” (third time since January) and “symphony show again” (following Steven Page, with Weird Al still to come this summer). Got some themes going on this year.

I met Colin for an early dinner at a downtown BBQ joint where he also goes to punk concerts. Some things about that sentence are odd and that’s okay. It was a bad day to eat early; lunch had come late because I hit up Record Store Day first and also had to stop at London Drugs and buy my grandma some printer ink. Calgary priorities. That said, though I wasn’t really hungry, dinner was pretty good, with the side of bourbon apples a particular standout.

After dinner, we walked over to Arts Commons for the show, which was in the Jack Singer Concert Hall. It was rush seating and I had a goal of getting there “earlyish, but not stupidly so” and I feel like we succeeded.

Rather than rushing to claim seats, we got drinks first. I’m not much of a drinker, nor a line-stander-inner, but they had a concoction called The Workman – how could I not? Besides, Colin handled the lining up and the buying all by himself. The drink, while tasty, demonstrated the effectiveness of branding. Fun theme drink I can talk about in a review? Sure! But call it what it is – namely, just Maker’s Mark and Coke – and I’d have passed. (Or maybe not; I’d already had those apples and Bourbon Day is always an option since I like themes so much).

Out of the lobby and into the hall itself, and we spent way too much time looping around trying to decide on seats. Paralyzed by choice, we were. With no ideal options, we wound up sitting centre-right, a little better than halfway to the back. I think that somewhere in this paragraph is a metaphor for the Alberta provincial election if I bothered to suss it out.

In an unusual move, Hawksley posted the full setlist on his Instagram before the concert began. Since I saw it before the show, you may as well get it before the review:

Goodbye to Radio (with orchestra)
A House or Maybe a Boat (with orchestra)
No Sissies
Autumn’s Here (with orchestra)
Safe and Sound
Oh You Delicate Heart (with orchestra)
Your Beauty Must be Rubbing Off
No More Named Johnny (with orchestra)
-intermission-
1983 (with orchestra)
Song for Sarah Jane (with orchestra)
Jealous of Your Cigarette
Paper Shoes
Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky (with orchestra)
Snowmobile
Smoke Baby
Battlefords (with orchestra)
-encore-
No Beginning, No End (with orchestra)

That’s a nice, career-spanning mix. As you can see, about half the songs were accompanied by the orchestra, and half were just Hawksley and Mr. Lonely. Honestly, I was initially a little disappointed in the number of songs that didn’t feature the symphony, since that was the big draw for me. I mean, I love Hawksley and was going to enjoy this either way, but this was the 24th time I’ve seen Hawksley in concert and the symphony songs promised to be something new and different.

Having said that, as seems to be the norm with these symphony shows, there weren’t a ton of surprises in the arrangements. The orchestra usually seems to be used to accompany the original song, rather than drastically change it. The new songs, 1983 and Battlefords, had arrangements by Sarah Slean, and both were nicely done. Hearing Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky – a song that I love but is also kind of ridiculous? – with the symphony was great, just because it made a weird song that much stranger. That said, Song for Sarah Jane was the surprise standout. On record, I’ve always found it kind of unsubstantial. Pretty, but not much to it. With the orchestra, though, the music swelled as the song went on and it became almost anthemic.

Hawksley is normally pretty emotive when he sings, and this was no exception. If anything, he was hamming it up more than usual. I’m sure part of it was having the symphony backing him up, and part of it was the size of the venue; apart from some folk festival shows (and those are outdoors, which have an entirely different vibe), this is easily the biggest place I’ve seen him play. He was also his usual chatty self, at least before the less-structured songs with just him and Lonely. He joked about his unseasonable song picks with Autumn’s Here and the Christmas tune A House or Maybe a Boat, and had introductions for other songs, including the same story about Snowmobile as he told last time in Regina.

Hawksley can be a bit of an oddball and I’m sure the symphony brought out some people who wouldn’t normally go to his concerts – like when we saw him with the Vinyl Cafe years ago. You can always spot those people because they’re the ones laughing at lyrics, hearing them for the first time. The older lady sitting to my right took incredible delight in some of the more risqué lines in songs like Jealous of Your Cigarette and especially Paper Shoes. We were also sitting near some diehards who knew all the words and sung along at every opportunity, most often during fan favourites like Smoke Baby, Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off, and Safe and Sound. They were also really good singers, which added nicely to the atmosphere in those parts.

All told, this was really great, with a new twist on a bunch of songs, a great performance, and a crowd that was super into everything. Not that it matters, because you likely saw Hawksley in the title, figured my feelings on the show were a foregone conclusion, and skipped this. And for those of you who didn’t, should have gone with your gut, I guess. Could have saved yourself a few minutes.

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

September 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want the whole setlist? Here it is anyway:

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

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

SLCR #297: Japandroids (October 13, 2017)

October 18, 2017

You may recall that I set myself a goal of seeing 40 concerts in the year that I turned 40 (last year). You may also recall that near the end of the year, I got concerted out and didn’t quite make it.

I feel like I’m getting to that point again. Or maybe that’s not quite right. I’ve seen a ton of great stuff lately by artists I know well and really enjoy, but looking at my upcoming shows, there’s an awful lot of “I’ve heard of this person and this is a thing to do that I’m sure will be pleasant but I don’t really know much about them” coming up. Which is fine, but I may have scheduled in a bit too much of a good thing for myself.

Like these here Japandroids. I’d heard one song – The House that Heaven Built. It’s super great. I’d meant to listen to more of their stuff since I really dig that one song. Never really got around to it. Got a ticket anyway since it was really convenient of them to play the night after Arcade Fire so I could cram a bunch of music into my earholes in one Calgary trip.

But then the day came, and I’ve been walking a ton all week and my feet are now in a state of full rebellion (I complained about my plantar fasciitis last time and I might just keep doing it because it seems like a super interesting topic for everyone) and I knew I’d be walking to and from the train and I’d be standing all night at the show, and, again, I only knew that one song. Point being, this seemed like a much better idea several weeks ago when I got the ticket.

But I persevered. For you. And because I already paid for the ticket. And because Japandroids seem like a band I could really dig if I gave them half a shot. But mostly because I’d already paid.

I am now an old pro at the C-Train and have nothing to say about the trip there, except I juuuuuust missed the train on the way there and had to wait six whole minutes for another one. And also a train ride is an easy way to refill your Pokémon GO items.

The show was at the university in the MacEwan Ballroom, the smaller of the two venues there. It wasn’t sold out but was pretty close, I’m guessing. Tons of people there. And every other person had bought Japandroids vinyl from the looks of it.

Because I’d been less than motivated to get to the show, I dawdled and eventually missed the start of the opener, Cloud Nothings. They were way louder than I was expecting – which is dumb, because why would I expect anything, I knew nothing about them. Four guys playing straightforward, high-energy rock. I thought all of the songs sounded a bit alike, but I liked them all, so no complaints. If you like Japandroids, you’d like these guys, and vice versa. And for at least the next while, if you see one, you’ll likely see both, since it sounded like this was the first show of a seven-week tour they’d be doing together.

“I thought all of the songs sounded a bit alike, but I liked them all, so no complaints” could also be my Japandroids review. I’ll add in I liked them well enough that I still want to spend some time with their music and get to know it a bit better. Maybe go for coffee with it, and a walk by the lake. Something casual. I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about anymore.

I didn’t recognize any songs apart from The House that Heaven Built, though they mentioned that one song was called No Known Drink or Drug, which I’d at least heard of. It was good. Someone held up a sign asking for a song of their first album. I don’t know what it was called but I liked it a bunch and the crowd seemed real into it. They closed with the song I knew. It was real good. There was no encore, which seemed to disappoint people, especially those chanting “one more song,” but I was okay with it.

Does this mean I get to go to bed?

NO. I must pad this out at least a bit. Uhh… shit. Okay. Well. I walked into the hall partway through Cloud Nothings’ set and stood at the back of the crowd. Within seconds of showing up, some girl walked out of the crowd and tore her shirt off right in front of me as she went past. I’d like to say I have that effect on women all the time but the “what the heck is happening here?” expression that was surely on my face might lead one to believe otherwise.

(I think she was just overheated. I was too, but didn’t feel that following suit would have been the best course of action for anyone. When in Rome, I’m most likely keeping my toga on.)

SLCR #296: Arcade Fire (October 12, 2017)

October 17, 2017

I had a number of shows to attend during this Calgary trip, but this was the anchor, the one that made me book the trip when I did.

I’d never seen Arcade Fire before. I only ever had one chance – they played the Odeon in Saskatoon back in… 2005, I think. Give or take a year. I didn’t pick up tickets immediately because I was supposed to spend the weekend in Canmore with family and I wasn’t sure I’d be back in time. I got back to Saskatoon from my trip around suppertime on the day of the concert, so we could have gone, but it didn’t matter; tickets had sold out pretty much instantly. The next day, I went to a record store and chatted with the owner, who said “I hate to tell you this, but they released last-minute tickets and they were available at the door.” So it goes.

I could also take this time to complain that on that tour, they intentionally left a day between Saskatoon and Winnipeg to do a show in Regina, and nobody would book them. Which neatly sums up one of my prime complaints about Regina and why I time these trips to coincide with concerts.

Delightfully, Colin was game to take in this concert with me. Less delightfully, because this trip got scheduled so late, there weren’t a ton of great seats left. I got us a pair of the cheapest seats in the building, which I believe were still more expensive than the Odeon tickets from a decade ago. At least we were in the doors.

I made plans to meet Colin at 5:30 at Wurst, the German restaurant across the street from my grandma’s place. At 5:32, I was walking there when I saw Colin wave at me from his car, where he was stuck in traffic. I offered to race him there. I mention this because I won.

I hadn’t had German food in decades. The restaurant has been there for years and I’d never been, because eating outside the home would offend my grandma to no end. She’ll tolerate it if I’m meeting someone, but only barely. I still haven’t gone to the Indian restaurant next door and it’s been there for as long as my grandma’s lived here. Anyway, I got a schnitzel BLT (which is a normal BLT with a schnitzel also on it and you probably guessed that but did you know it was on grilled sourdough, smart guy?) and a side Caesar salad. Very tasty. Colin had a brat on a bun with soup and he said it was good, so thumbs up all around.

I’d assumed we’d walk to the Saddledome, but Colin wanted to try driving since he’d heard about a free parking trick. I was fine with this since I’ve done a ton of walking this week and my plantar fasciitis is making itself quite known. I won’t spill the beans about Colin’s plan, but I will confirm that it not only worked, but we got out of there afterwards with minimal hassle.

We showed up just as the openers, Phantogram, were starting. We got to our seats (past many signs warning us of strobe lights and “theatrical smoke effects”) and really, they weren’t that bad. Meaning our seats. And also Phantogram, I suppose. We weren’t very close, but we could see the stage and hear everything well enough. The band was playing in the round, so we were even closer than I was expecting. There were also big screens, but they didn’t help because the band was basically exactly the same size on stage as they were on the screens, plus the screens had video effects on them so they were actually worse than just watching the stage. Whatever – I thought this was more funny than anything.

I told Mika that I didn’t think I knew any Phantogram songs, and she said “yes you do, idiot.” Possibly not in those exact words. Okay, I thought I knew one song – You Don’t Get Me High Anymore. Listening to them in concert, I’m still pretty sure I only knew the one. I mean, there were a number of songs that sounded kinda familiar, where I was waiting for a recognizable chorus that never came. Maybe I’ve just heard enough Garbage and Evanescence and other electronic-influenced rock bands with female vocalists that I hear similarities where none exist? Colin actually knew a few of their songs and so he was basically a superfan by comparison.

My general take on Phantogram was that they were pretty good in a way where I know I’m not likely to ever go out of my way to seek more out. I mean, I enjoyed them, but I know me. I don’t make enough time for everything that I really enjoy as it is. But like I said, this was good, the sound was decent, they played the song I knew, their light show was impressive. No complaints.

As soon as they were done, a cowboy with a galaxy for a face appeared on the big screen and asked us for another round of applause for Phantogram. This completely baffled me. The cowboy would return several times throughout the break to shill t-shirts and spout bizarre non-sequiturs (“Let’s hear it for junior hockey!” or my favourite, “I can’t legally ask if you’re ready to rumble, but I hope YOU AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARE!”). I think the cowboy may have been Colin’s favourite part of the evening. There were also weird symbols on the screens around the arena, and the screen would show ads for shirts at 100% off with an infinite time warranty – all part of the experience of this, the Infinite Content Tour.

Because the band was in the round, they had to enter down a long aisle like at a wrestling or MMA show. And in fact, they mocked up the stage to look like a boxing ring and came in to a boxing-style introduction. Apparently, Arcade Fire weighs, collectively, 2,100 pounds. If Dave ever reads this, he’ll call bullshit because how can they only weigh 2,100 pounds when they have 62 band members?

I counted 9, for the record. No sign of Karnov.

I have a weird relationship with Arcade Fire; namely, I think they’re all very talented and I love their songs, but they can also come across as artsy and pretentious and if someone punched them, I’d understand. I don’t condone it nor do I want to do it myself, but I’d understand.

All of this went out the window before the first song was done. I mean, I’m not surprised that these guys were really good, but… these guys were really good. Super talented, very versatile musicians who played (and traded) a wide range of instruments all through the night.

The band has a great stage presence too. This was a spectacle; from a visual standpoint alone, it was never not entertaining. Just to keep things interesting, they also have possibly the best big rock light show I’ve ever seen, along with a constant stream of new and creative video effects on the big screen (while still devoting lots of time to letting you actually see the musicians).

They did take the boxing ring staging down after a few songs, which was a relief, since one of the band kept bouncing off the ropes like in wrestling but those ropes were way too loose to do that safely. Dude’s gonna fall one of these days.

As for the songs, there was a big focus on their new record, of course, but there was a nice selection from all their albums. Tons of hits, but lots of variety in general. The fourth song was Here Comes the Night Time and it is not what comes to mind if you’re thinking of a song that would blow the roof off a place, but they did it. Keep the Car Running might be my favourite Arcade Fire song, which I only realized when I saw how delighted I was when they started playing it. There was a killer version of Reflektor, they closed the main set with Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) and the encore with Wake Up… much like I felt after the New Pornographers concert, this show really hammered home to me just how much great music these guys have put out. And some really anthemic songs, which I’m totally a sucker for.

Here’s the whole setlist for anyone who cares about such things:
Everything Now
Signs of Life
Rebellion (Lies)
Here Comes the Night Time
No Cars Go
Electric Blue
Put Your Money on Me
Neon Bible
Infinite_Content (setlist.fm says this was the first time they’ve ever played this song in concert)
Good God Damn
Keep the Car Running
Crown of Love (first live performance of this song since 2014, according to setlist.fm)
The Suburbs
The Suburbs (Continued)
Ready to Start
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Reflektor
Afterlife
Creature Comfort
Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)

encore:
We Don’t Deserve Love
Everything Now (Continued)
Wake Up

They left the stage and walked to the back, still playing instruments while the crowd sang the singalong part from Wake Up. So yeah. This was great and Colin thought it was great and I’m pretty sure everyone there thought it was great. It made me more sad about missing that concert at the Odeon and I hate the Odeon. This was a dang fine show in what’s turning out to be a year full of them.

SLCR #295: Wordfest (October 10, 2017)

October 16, 2017

When you think about concerts, one word comes to mind: books.

I had a few shows already scheduled for Calgary when this thing popped up on Facebook and it sounded pretty neat. As part of a week-long festival of words by the name of Wordfest, there was a concert-slash-reading featuring musicians-slash-authors Geoff Berner, Rae Spoon, Kris Demeanor, and Caroline Connolly. There are readings and other events with all kinds of authors all week long; this particular session was called “How to Be… Wordy & Wild” and it was at the Big Secret Theatre downtown, where I first saw Hawksley Workman’s play The God That Comes a few years back.

I didn’t catch this initially, but that “How to Be” up there was selected because these are (mostly) the authors of the How to Be series of booklets. I am slow. But sometimes I get there eventually.

Or sometimes I get there early. The Big Secret Theatre is only two LRT stops away; for some reason, I still felt I needed to leave my grandma’s place over an hour beforehand to make sure I wasn’t late. This put me downtown with too much time to kill. I found a Tim Hortons and ordered a hot chocolate and played iPhone games until I could wander over at a more appropriate hour. The hot chocolate was both chocolatey and exceptionally hot; I wasn’t convinced it was going to cool off in time for me to make it to the show, but I powered through because I am an intrepid reporter and I am committed to my tasks. Unless I’m sleepy or it’s cold out or I just change my mind about going.

Let’s meet our authors. Klezmer punk accordionist Geoff Berner shows up regularly in these here reviews. He wrote the first volume in the series, How to Be an Accordion Player. Note that this booklet will not teach you how to play the accordion. It’s called How to Be an Accordion Player. This is an important distinction. Berner opened the event by explaining how the book series came to be; namely, they were commissioned by a shadowy, possibly Lithuanian, possible billionaire who may or may not have been in attendance.

Singer/songwriter Kris Demeanor is someone whose name I’ve heard forever but had never had the chance to see him perform before. He was Calgary’s inaugural poet laureate and he works with inner-city youth, so his booklet is titled How to Be an Asshole of Calgary.

The last time I saw Rae Spoon, it was probably 15 years ago and they were performing in the basement of a Cajun restaurant in Saskatoon. Since then, they’ve released a number of albums and gone on to widespread critical acclaim. I remember very little about that last show and I don’t have my old reviews immediately accessible (for which I’m thankful, as I probably sounded like a real dope), but I was really looking forward to the chance to see Spoon again. I also really miss that restaurant. Spoon’s booklet, the newest release of the four, is How to (Hide) Be(hind) Your Songs.

Caroline Connolly is an Alberta musician from a band called The Lovebullies. She also makes and sells gluten-free perogies, which is the noblest of callings. To the best of my knowledge, she’s never written a book. I feel like if she had, this would have come up. Carolyn Mark did, and it’s called How to Be a Boozy Chanteuse, which is how she was described in the New York Times. Mark was unable to attend, away “at an undisclosed location, doing very important things, like her hair,” so Connolly filled in for her. Mark did send her guitar, but upon inspection, it was just a guitar case filled with wine bottles and underwear. I’ve seen Carolyn Mark a few times and I’m 100% prepared to believe that this was legitimate and not a comedy bit.

The format was pretty simple; “like a folk festival workshop where no work gets done,” said Berner. They all took turns reading, then they read some more but also sang some songs, and then more reading and songs. The order was Berner > Connolly > Demeanor > Spoon > repeat, but folks would play and sing on each other’s songs.

You can probably infer how the readings went by the titles of the books. I mean, each booklet is about how to be something, so that’s what they talked about. And you may have also gathered that these are not super-serious instruction manuals for your life. Except maybe they should be? Spoon’s seemed the closest to being sincere, but all four authors got great laughs from the crowd – and, at times, from each other. Berner in particular has great comedic timing when telling stories.

He also nearly shot beer out his nose when Demeanor read the following lines about Calgary: “At the time of writing, our city is going through hard times. Aleppo hard.” Demeanor’s book seems like it might have the most laugh-out-loud potential of the four.

As for the songs, Connolly kicked it off with Mark’s tune 2 Days Smug and Sober, with Demeanor on guitar (and I believe Berner on accordion for this one). I really like this song and hadn’t heard it in forever. She did a fine job even if she needed a lyric sheet for reference.

I will break here to mention that if you have Apple Music, you can search for my SLCR 2017 playlist which features most everyone I’ve seen in concert this year. I had to make the hard choices about whether or not to include 2 Days on it, since Mark didn’t actually play here, but I ruled in favour of adding it to the list since I like it. It’s good to be the guy who makes rules.

Demeanor was up next with his song Liquidation World, which he played in lieu of reading the chapter of his booklet entitled How to Shop Like an Asshole. With witty lyrics and great guitar playing, I immediately decided I like this guy.

I couldn’t add Spoon’s first song to my playlist since it isn’t being released until next year. This made me sad because it’s called Do Whatever the Fuck You Want and I think this song presents some solid life advice. It also has a bridge where they spell out exactly what the song is about, so as to avoid any sort of misinterpretation. It was observed that Born in the USA should have had a bridge for that exact purpose. Spoon also noted that the more folk festival-friendly version of the song, Do Whatever the Heck You Want, is a big hit with children. I can totally see that.

Berner’s first tune was Hustle Advisory, off his brand new record Canadiana Grotesquica. It also has plenty of f-bombs in it and I’ve caught myself humming it all day. I’m not sure grandma approves.

The next round of songs was Swang Swang (or possibly Swing Swing said with a flourish?) by Connolly, which was one of her own, not Mark’s. Demeanor had the best title of the night with his next song, The Drunk You Is You. Spoon played their song Cowboy, and Berner covered Mark’s song Edmonton, one of my favourites of hers. The mention of Edmonton actually raised a gasp from one person in the audience, which Berner called attention to (“Yes. A sharp intake of breath.”) before encouraging us all to be open to learning about other cultures.

These were all interspersed with more readings, where we learned about asshole role models, how a boozy chanteuse should dress (if police aren’t suspicious, you’re not trying hard enough), Stalin, and how you can talk about Jesus when you secretly mean Carla. There was also some audience participation as we debated the pronunciation of halcyon and deigning (which I knew) and fecund (which I’m still not certain of).

After a round of very exuberant plugs for books and upcoming concerts, Spoon closed out the show with another excellently named song, My Heart is a Piece of Garbage. Fight Seagulls! Fight! This was picked to end the show since it references the Calgary Tower, only blocks away.

They were selling stuff and signing stuff after the show, so I went on a shopping spree. I already had Berner’s booklet from long ago, so I got the other three. They were $10 each or four for $30, so I picked up a second copy of How to be an Asshole of Calgary, since Colin just moved here last year and he could probably still use some advice. Demeanor kindly signed both copies and Spoon signed theirs as well.

While I didn’t need Berner’s booklet, I did pick up his new novel, The Fiddler is a Good Woman, days before its official release. His previous novel, Festival Man, was a great read so I’m really looking forward to this one. I got it signed too because I’m a dork like that.

This whole show was a goddamn delight and I smiled the whole time. What great, talented folks. Go see them all and go buy their books.

SLCR #278: Electric Six (April 6, 2017)

April 16, 2017

Long ago, I had a ticket to see Electric Six in Regina. Didn’t go. Don’t remember why. Busy at work? Too tired? Who knows, something lame I’m sure. Whatever the cause, I’ve seen that unused purchase in my order history on the ticket site and it’s always bugged me. Still, I wasn’t sure about going to see them this time around either. Find a new venue in another city? Hang out by myself? Dubious.

But I like Electric Six and regretted missing out last time, so I went. Obviously. Though I think I’d enjoy writing a review for a show I didn’t go to.

(Also, I emailed the promoters for Canadian Juggalo Weekend and asked for media passes so I could cover the festival for my blog and its tens of readers, but for some reason, they never got back to me – can’t understand why not – point being, I had more spare time than I might have otherwise.)

I bought a ticket online and hopped on a train to SAIT. I then hopped off said train two stops later because I was playing Pokémon Go and the tracker showed there was a wild Wobbuffet nearby, and I didn’t have one of those yet. This seemed like an exceptionally stupid thing to do but also a great validation of my choice to buy a day pass for the train instead of a single-use ticket. The Wobbuffet was right by the Arts Commons, where I saw The Last Waltz Remembered the day before. As such, this also answered my question as to whether it was faster to simply walk there (as I had done) or walk to the train, wait for the train, and then take the train. (Answer: the train was much faster but I lucked into not having to wait long for it.)

Anyway, you’ll surely be pleased to know that I was successful in catching the Wobbuffet, and I was back just in time for the next train – mostly because the police had stopped it from leaving so they could escort an exceptionally drunk man off it. Success! Well, mostly – there are two train lines and I got on the wrong one. But I figured it out while still in the area serviced by both trains, so whatever. I still got to the Gateway shortly after doors opened.

The Gateway is the campus bar at SAIT. It reminded me a lot of the Owl from the University of Regina, though with more communal tables, which is not ideal for someone flying solo. There was a bench in the back that I had my eye on, but some dude was sleeping on it. As soon as he left, I claimed it. Or at least one butt’s worth.

Getting there as early as I did was a misstep. Not my fault – I’d never been there before and you never know if a place is going to run on Casino Time or Louis’ Time or Amigos Time. I’d call this Louis’ Time, which is acceptable. I wound up with nearly an hour to kill, so I texted with Colin, Mika, and Josy, played some games (doughy grey-haired 40-year-old doing crosswords on his phone at the back of the bar), and mostly just sweated. It was mighty warm in there. I thought about getting a drink but didn’t want to lose my coveted bench. We also all got to listen to the rock hits of the early 2000s, by which I mostly mean The Hives. I love The Hives. It got to be too much The Hives.

Our openers were a Calgary band called 240, pronounced “two-forty” if you care about such things. Mostly straight-up rock, though I detected hints of Red Hot Chili Peppers in a few songs – funk guitar and that kind of not-quite-rap staccato talk-singing. All original material, which the singer pointed out a few times. They played for about 45 minutes and were not entirely my thing but were decent enough – reminiscent in that sense of a lot of local opening bands I’ve seen.

Electric Six have 12 albums out. I know this because the lead singer mentioned it repeatedly and wanted all of us to buy all of them, saying that if we did, they’d make $48,000. I was going to call this into question until I realized I was doing the math wrong. So I’m a dumb.

The most recent Electric Six album came out last year, and they played at least one song off it (saying that the record company made them). I don’t know where most of the rest of the songs were from, as many songs were introduced as being “from one of the albums.” I also learned a lot about what each song was about, as in “This next song is called When Cowboys File For Divorce. It’s about when cowboys file for divorce.”

I also learned that Electric Six got into music to meet cool and interesting guys, like Carl, Doug, Gordo, and Randy, all of whom were in the crowd. It was later clarified that they didn’t get into music to meet guys because nobody does that; instead, they got into music to meet some of the girls. They dedicated a song to some of the girls.

It’s kind of surprising that I hadn’t seen Electric Six before now, as they’ve come through Canada (which the singer called “a great city”) many times, often including Saskatoon and Regina. They’d clearly played the Gateway before, as singer Dick Valentine knew all about its history, how it was founded by Doug and Carol Gateway, who had a dream to open a bar that served alcohol.

In between all this, they played some songs! Early on, they played my favourite Adam Levine song. It’s called Adam Levine and features a very catchy singalong chorus of “burn in hell / rot in hell / burn in hell / motherfucker.” I gather that Electric Six is not a fan of Maroon 5. It occurs to me now that maybe part of the issue is the similarity of their names? Personally, I would much rather have an electric 6 than a maroon 5, as I favour functionality over form. Plus it’s clearly one better.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest reactions of the evening came for all the hits – Gay Bar, Danger! High Voltage (including a saxophonist who was only brought out for this song and promptly disappeared after giving out some fistbumps), and the last song of the encore, Dance Commander. However, a good number of the folks there knew all the words and sang along with every song. This show was loud, hilarious, dancey, and fun as all get out and I’m sadder now that I missed that show years ago. This was worth the heat and the Hives and would have been worth lowercase hives too, if I’d contracted any as a result of the show. But I didn’t. So that’s good.

It should go without saying that these folks do not take themselves super seriously. This has led me to a situation where I was checking some information on Wikipedia and I have no idea how much of it is legit. Their past members apparently include Rock and Roll Indian, Surge Joebot, Murdock Ramone, Disco, M., Frank Lloyd Bonaventure, Dr. Blacklips Hoffman, Macro Duplicato, Brian Blastoise, The Colonel, Smorgasboard, Percussion World, and Dr. Diet Mountain Dew. This shouldn’t seem as completely plausible as it is.

The band said they wanted to meet and drink with everyone once they were done, but I left as soon as the show was over. In case I didn’t have enough comedy for one evening, I wound up sitting on the train in front of two guys that I can only describe as the Iron Sheik having a conversation with another Iron Sheik, in full-on playing a character for the internet mode, only there was no audience of millions, just me, entertained and a little scared. That seems somehow fitting.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
• Colter Wall (May 8)
• Serena Ryder (June 25)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #277: The Last Waltz Remembered (April 5, 2017)

April 14, 2017

When I go to Calgary, I like unique concert experiences. It’s always good to see a band I like, but if I’m going to be in a bigger city anyway, I may as well go see something that isn’t going to come to Regina. And I’m pretty sure this all-star affair was a one-off.

You’re familiar with The Band, yes? And their farewell concert, the Last Waltz? Am I asking rhetorical questions so as to hide how little I actually know? Am I trying to avoid rewriting a Wikipedia article in a futile attempt to appear knowledgeable?

Replace Wikipedia with books and that was pretty much my entire university career, really.

Anyway, yes. Very famous farewell concert. 40 years ago. This show was to be a bunch of songs from that night, performed by Corb Lund, Amy Helm, Matt Andersen, and the Russell Broom House Band.

The show was at Jack Singer Concert Hall in Arts Commons. I’ve been there before but always took the train. This time, after an exceptionally lazy afternoon, I walked it. Took about 40 minutes. I wish I had something more exciting for you, but I like my walks to be uneventful, so really, I don’t.

The hall was mostly sold out. I was sitting in the first row of the mezzanine, far off to the right. After the Lyle Lovett/John Hyatt show, I was a bit concerned about my seating choice but this wasn’t really off ground level at all, so that was nice.

There was no opener, and the show got started right on time. This was my first time seeing both Andersen and Helm. Andersen had a bit of a rough start in the first song, Up On Cripple Creek, as he very clearly forgot the words to his part. As he tried to talk to Helm to figure out his spot, Corb jumped in and took over. Andersen seemed to have a good sense of humour about it – really, there’s no better option – and he redeemed himself later in the show.

Helm is the daughter of Levon Helm of The Band, a fact which became less relevant as the show went on. She may have been brought in for her name, but she has a fantastic voice and more than deserved her spot for that alone.

The first half of the show flew by. Like I hinted at, I’m not super familiar with The Last Waltz – I’ve never watched the movie or listened to the soundtrack album – but there were so many classic songs from that night that you probably know some of them. The first half included The Shape I’m In and Ophelia. Andersen, Helm, and Lund all got to perform some of their own material during the show, and during the first half, Lund played The Weight (dramatic pause) of the Gun. Possibly chosen solely so he could make that joke. The whoops from the crowd suggested that possibly Corb was the one who drew the audience.

During intermission, I could have gone for a bottle of water. However, I stopped to look at the merch table and as I did so, the lobby area filled up with an ungodly sea of humanity. Just making it back to my seat felt like a genuine achievement.

The second half was much the same as the first. Corb’s own song was This Is My Prairie, but he also did a fantastic version of Ian Tyson’s Four Small Winds. But the second half was mostly the Matt Andersen show, with a great version of Neil Young’s Helpless, followed by another song that drew a mid-set standing ovation.

The three singers would walk off stage for songs where they weren’t needed. Upon one return for Lund, someone yelled “CORB YOU’RE BEAUTIFUL,” to which Andersen simply replied “meh.” Perfectly timed.

Before the last song, Russell Broom introduced the house band, which was pretty sizeable. Including the singers, they maxed out at 11 people on stage, including a horn section and an organist who also played accordion when called for. It also turned out that the band included Chris Byrne of the Road Hammers, as well as Joey Landreth. This clarified things for me, as Landreth got to sing on a few songs and whenever he did, the folks sitting to my left were really excited.

They closed with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and came back for an encore of I Shall Be Released and The Weight, and it was over too soon. What a great show. Fantastic performances from the three singers, and the band killed it. Highest recommendation. I mean, you’ll never get to see this, but hypothetically.

SLCR #252: The Tragically Hip (August 1, 2016)

August 5, 2016

Beloved Canadian legends. One final tour. An impossible ticket.

For my money, the Tragically Hip are most iconic band in Canadian history. But I might be biased; timing-wise, I’m about the perfect age to be a Hip fan. I’m also quite willing to discount Rush’s potential claim to the title due to not caring in the slightest about Rush. They join SCTV and Trailer Park Boys and hockey and beer on the big list of Canadian exports that I just can’t get behind.

Nevertheless. The Hip came on the scene as I was getting into high school. By the time I got to university, they’d cemented their spot as the top band in Canada. They seemed to skip over Saskatchewan on every tour (at least when I was old/interested enough to want to see them), so when they finally played Saskatoon on November 18, 1996, it was probably my most anticipated concert ever at that point. That said, it was SLCR #5 so it didn’t have a ton of competition.

I saw them twice more after that. Once was at Another Roadside Attraction (SLCR #18, July 21, 1997), an outdoor festival that also featured Sheryl Crow, Wilco, Los Lobos, Ashley MacIsaac, Ron Sexsmith, and others. The only other time was February 27, 1999 (SLCR #35), when I really only went because my mom won free tickets at work.

It may make you very sad to consider that 1999 was 17 years ago. That’s a long time to go without seeing a band that I have always really liked. Part of the reason was that having seen them, I chose to direct limited time and funds to other shows. Part of it was that the Hip shows I went to were packed full of the kind of drunken oafs I can’t stand being around. And part of it was simply that it’s so easy to say “there’s always next time.” Funny thing about that.

As anyone who cares enough to read this knows by now, a few months back, the Hip went public with the news that lead singer Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. This was pretty much a national day of mourning here, and I’m not even kidding. But the announcement was accompanied by other news; namely, the band was going to head out on tour, feeling that “this feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us.”

The dates were announced, and the band was skipping over Saskatchewan. I joked that this should allay any fears about the quality of Downie’s performances – the band was already touring like it was 20 years ago. I briefly resigned myself to missing out, but of course, my mind did as it will do; namely, it got a dumb idea and then started to figure out how to make it feasible. The Calgary show would work without taking any time off – I’d just have to move an EDO. Simple. Mika couldn’t go; she couldn’t get the needed day off work. That would be sad for her and a long drive by myself.

This was all hypothetical, of course, as I’d still need a ticket. Luckily, I was only up against an entire country of Hip fans and an army of scalpers looking to corner the market. No big deal.

On the morning of the on-sale, I heard about the instant sellouts of the Ontario shows with some alarm. Finally, at 10:00 local time, I was up – and nothing. Refresh. Nothing. Try again. Nothing.

Please re-read those last six words for about twenty minutes, okay? It’s important to my artistic vision.

I can’t really build any suspense here. I’m writing a concert review; obviously, I got in. I hit my give-up point a few times, but convinced myself to log back in and check just one more time. It finally paid off, with a seat on the 20th row of the floor. Not that the chairs were ever used once the music started.

So that’s it, I was going. I was really curious what the show would be like. Could they still deliver? Would it be sad? And what would they play? The Hip has 14 studio albums if you count their first EP – could any setlist satisfy everyone? Reports from the first few shows were promising, both in terms of their performance and the song selections.

It was finally time to hit the road. (Which means that it only took me 13 paragraphs or so to get to the parts you didn’t already know.) I left quite early on the Saturday morning, having gotten up at 5:20 a.m. as I do on workdays. I had high hopes of getting the drive out of the way quickly. This lasted until around Swift Current (about two hours from Regina), where I saw a billboard for the T.rex Discovery Centre in Eastend. I’d always wanted to check that out, and realized that I wasn’t likely to ever have a better chance. The detour took me about 2.5 hours out of the way, but I saw some rad dinosaur bones so I figure it was worth it.

Leaving the centre, the sky was pretty ominous. However, the windy road back to the main highway seemed designed to circumnavigate the storm. I was in the clear!

(I’m an idiot.)

I stopped for lunch at Medicine Hat’s finest Subway before nearing Calgary around 5:00 p.m. It was at this point that all hell broke loose. Between Strathmore and Chestermere, the car started handling really poorly. I am nervous about the car at the best of times, and the service light had come on earlier in the trip. I assumed it was just the reminder that we were due for an oil change upon my return, but the handling was really concerning. Then I realized it wasn’t the car – it was suddenly just that windy out. I discovered this when I encountered a dust storm so bad that you couldn’t see through it. I got past it, albeit slowly and cautiously. On the other side, I could see that the sky was a really strange colour. I later heard reports of funnel clouds in the area around the time that I was near. So that was a thing. And not even the worst of it – when I did get into Calgary, the skies opened up and unleashed a wicked hailstorm. I tried to find shelter but was unsuccessful. I then decided to just try to get to my grandma’s place, but the hail got worse so I abandoned that idea too. I pulled into a hotel parking lot and was somewhat shielded under a tree. This was loud and horrible and sucked and I hated it.

But I need to be thankful. It could have been much worse. After the hail ended, I got back on my way and passed all kinds of accidents and emergency vehicles. When I finally made it to my grandma’s place and stowed the car in the underground parking, my initial assessment didn’t reveal any damage. I don’t know how that could be possible – and I did find a windshield chip later on, so there was at least that – but we’ll get a car wash and see what we see. I’m still here and the car’s insured. Though I’m insured too so maybe we should run a cost-benefit analysis before declaring that everything worked out for the best.

I spent that night visiting with my grandma. I did get an invite from Colin to go out with him and some folks, but after that drive, our evening of frozen pizza and Lawrence Welk and NCIS reruns was just fine.

The next day (which was still not the day with the concert but I am trying to give you the full experience here), I walked to the Chinook Centre and saw some adorable bunnies on the way. Then I caught the C-Train to Colin’s neighbourhood and we explored the Harry Potter launch day celebrations. As Mika pointed out, me at a Harry Potter event would be like her going to a wrestling convention, but whatever, this was neat to see. Nobody was expecting this turnout and some places ran out of their Potter-themed specials two hours into the day. When we got there, the candy store had probably 100 people lined up out the door. After dinner, two hours after everything was supposed to be done, there was still a line just to get into the store.

The next day, I spent the afternoon walking around the neighbourhood, by which I mostly mean I spent it catching Pokémon. In music news, I popped by a record store where I found a used Refreshments vinyl for $12. Hopefully I like it as much now as I did in 1996. The deal was made even sweeter with the inclusion of a free Jason Collett CD that I’m about 80% sure I was allowed to take and didn’t just shoplift. They’d have said something, right?

Finally, it was time for the show. Multiple emails said it was doors at 6:30, show at 8:30 sharp. There were no physical tickets; you swiped the credit card you paid with at the door. I got there reasonably early, around 7:00, as I’d been expecting chaos trying to get in, but I needn’t have worried. There was no line, the swipe method worked fine, and I was inside in short order. I went in through the Chrysler Club entrance, and it took much longer to actually find my seat than it did to get inside. To go down, you must first go up. Very well.

For all the struggles people had getting tickets, I lucked out – 20th row on the floor, dead centre. It was such a good seat, in fact, that someone else claimed it too. We each went for the little slips they gave us when we did the swipe thing, and sure enough – Row 20, Seat 23. A matching set. Luckily, there was someone missing on the other side of the dude to my left, so he shuffled down a bit and all was well. This remained a mystery until I got home and examined my slip more closely. The slips have a perforation, and the printer deal doesn’t print real well on the perforation, so if you look really closely at my 23, you’ll see the telltale traces of ink that indicate it was actually a 28. Hahahaha whoops – I’m an idiot, but in fairness, that other dude didn’t notice it either. It WOULD explain why the other guy had room to move down.

If this all sounds relatively civil, well, it was. We all got along nicely. Fears of drunken yahoos – which escalated when I heard about the pre-party at Cowboy’s – were unfounded. Not that nobody was partaking (so so so much pot), but at least where I was, people weren’t rowdy at all. The mood wasn’t somber – far from it – but you didn’t get the people who were only there just to drink. I mean, I did hear one guy loudly belt out Boots or Hearts as I was leaving, but if that’s as bad as it gets, it’s been a good night.

There was no opening act. I figured this was for the best, since Hip crowds can sometimes be… single-minded in their interests, let’s say. The first time I saw the Hip, the Rheostatics were the openers and the crowd was having NONE OF IT. But in front of this audience… I don’t know, maybe? I don’t think people would have been outright mean to an opener here, but I also don’t think they wanted anything to take time away from the Hip.

As time passed, we got brief updates; a voiceover booming “THE SHOW WILL BEGIN IN 30 MINUTES” and an accompanying graphic on the big screen. Again at the 15-minute mark. Finally, it was “THIS IS ROB FROM THE HIP. THE SHOW WILL BEGIN IN 5 MINUTES, AND IF YOU ARE NOT IN YOUR SEAT, I WILL BE VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU.” Hilarious. Also, they were not messing around. At 8:30 on the nose, the lights dimmed, the band took the stage, everyone stood up (and stayed on their feet the entire time), and the show began.

The energy from the crowd was off the charts. Much like the Spirit of the West farewell show I saw earlier this year, everyone in attendance knew the story and they were ready to turn this into a great concert by sheer force of will if need be. However, the Hip – Gord in particular – didn’t need any help. He’s always been an entertainer and a showman and that’s what he was there to do. You’d never know that he’d had health issues – his voice was in fine form, as were his trademark… let’s go with unique dance moves. If anything, he seemed happier than the other times I’d seen them. More in the moment, with lots of big smiles, playful waves at the audience, and the ongoing struggle to pick his towel up off the floor with his feet. The costume changes helped the mood too. It’s probably hard to be sad when you have your choice of three shiny lamé suits to wear; gold, silver, and pink. With matching top hats. And a Jaws t-shirt underneath for good measure.

I broadcast the first four songs from the show on Periscope, more just as an experiment to see what would happen. I had over 300 live viewers at the peak, and it seemed like the sound came through okay – I haven’t watched it back. The idea was to set it up, stick my phone in my shirt pocket, and just kinda hope it worked out. But then it’s like… you want this to be good, right? So I’d hold the phone for a while, and then back to the shirt pocket, and then hold it some more, and then that aforementioned conversation with that dude about our “matching” tickets… ultimately, I shut it down pretty quickly. Too bad – it could have been a nice souvenir for me, and the folks who tuned in seemed really appreciative. But one only has so much battery and data, and I was finding it distracting. Still, a limited success. Will try again in the future with other shows.

As to what those songs were, the Hip were gracious enough to put the full setlist online so I don’t have to fight to remember specifics:

Three Pistols
Twist My Arm
Fiddler’s Green
Little Bones
In a World Possessed by the Human Mind
What Blue
Ocean Next
Machine
(five-minute break for the whole band)
In View
The Kids Don’t Get It
World Container
Yer Not the Ocean
So Hard Done By
Grace, Too
Yawning or Snarling
Daredevil
(Gord takes a brief break while the band plays on)
Something On
Escape is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man
Poets
Bobcaygeon
(encore break)
Giftshop
Flamenco
Ahead by a Century
(second encore break)
Boots or Hearts
Blow at High Dough

First, you’ll notice it was kind of like they were their own opening act, with eight songs (around 35 minutes) and then a quick break leading into a longer set. But what I didn’t notice in the moment is that all the songs are grouped together by album. Check it: four songs from Road Apples, four from Man Machine Poem, four from World Container, four from Day for Night, four from Phantom Power, three from Trouble at the Henhouse, and two from Up to Here. I did notice that a lot of album-mates were played close together, but only after I got home did I realize just how segmented it was.

This also means that there was nothing from We are the Same, Now for Plan A, In Between Evolution, In Violet Light, Music@Work, and – gasp – Fully Completely, once my favourite Hip album (I still love it, but I go back and forth with Henhouse and Day for Night now too).

The second Calgary show, this past Wednesday, followed a similar format. It featured blocks of songs from Up to Here, Man Machine Poem, Day for Night, In Violet Light, Trouble at the Henhouse, Phantom Power, and Fully Completely. I want to say that about half the songs repeated but I am not about to count it all up right now to be sure. I can’t say for sure which night I’d rather have seen. There were some obvious omissions in my show, but what can be done about that? They could play a six-hour show and there’d still be people who didn’t get to hear their favourites. On the drive home from Calgary, I tried to come up with my ideal setlist for a second show with no repeats. This was a hard game to master but an easy game to play – it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Hip have a ton of great songs.

And in Calgary, they played them all so well. The songs weren’t really messed with in any way; there were no fancy new arrangements and Gord didn’t really play with the lyrics as I’d seen him do before. The songs were all largely as we know them. The band was – well, as good as you’d expect musicians with 30 years of experience to be, which is to say, fantastic.

I have now ended two straight paragraphs with the most obvious “insights.” Maybe I should also mention that people cheered everything but they were much louder for the big hits.

Though I have to make special mention of Grace, Too. I’ve been asked if the show was sad, and it really wasn’t. People – both fans and the band, really – were there to celebrate, not to mourn. But there’s that part near the end of Grace, Too where Gord is just yelling, right? So they’re playing this song, and the crowd has been singing along, and they get to that part, and he’s just wailing, and you can clearly see his face on the big screens and he looks sad. The more he wails, the louder the crowd gets, and this carries on as far as you’d think it could go, and then just keeps on still. It was just so intense and cathartic – probably more for the crowd than for Gord – that when it finally ended, I was just in awe of what had happened. In 252 reviews – and with openers, festivals, and whatnot, surely well over 500 individual performances – I’m confident that this was the best single song I’ve ever seen done live.

“It’s one of those nights,” said Gord, and it was. Maybe he says that every night. Maybe every night is one of those nights now. I said that show wasn’t sad but it was bittersweet, especially at each break when the band would leave Gord alone on stage to soak in the adulation for a few moments before he joined them, and when they all hugged at the very end. He never talked about why we were all there, but it couldn’t be avoided.

Near as I can tell, the band has never said this is their last tour. I hope it’s not. Ideally, Gord will Magic Johnson this thing, and 30 years from now, we’ll all be asking him “I thought you said you were sick?” But I also know those are long odds. If this is the last time I see them, they went out on a high. Of the four Hip concerts I’ve seen, this was easily the best of the bunch. But though I know how lucky I am to have gotten into this one, I left wanting more, and I don’t think I can make another stupid plan pan out.

The CBC is broadcasting the final concert of the tour on Saturday, August 20 – live and commercial-free on TV, radio, and online. The casino here has announced that they’ll be showing it on the big screen in their concert lounge – it’s free to get in, but they’re taking donations to the Canadian Cancer Society. I don’t know if events like that will be happening everywhere, but I think that would be a fun way to watch the show; not quite the concert atmosphere, but maybe the next best thing. Whether this really is a farewell tour or just a much-deserved victory lap, it’s an opportunity to join the rest of Canada in a celebration of the band that defined Canadian music. (Eat it, Rush.)

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• 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 #235: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (March 5, 2016)

March 10, 2016

It’s 1:00 a.m. and I really need to sleep. I did a lot of walking today and a lot of standing this evening. But I thought about making some notes about this show so I could write my review tomorrow (or, let’s be honest, two weeks from now), and I realized I didn’t have a ton to say, so I may as well just get this over with or pass out trying.

I was thinking on the way there that I didn’t have any kind of story about this show. The Art of Time nearly snuck past me, and Black Sabbath was a last-minute decision, but this was just a show. One I booked my trip around, to be sure, with two artists I already really like, but that’s not very interesting to read about. Luckily, I’m an idiot.

Frank Turner’s Twitter said doors at 7:00, first opener at 7:30, “done by 11:30.” I appreciate the announced times so much. Old-man jokes aside, it’s not like I can’t stay out late, I just don’t want to spend hours standing around playing Puzzle Craft 2 on my phone waiting for things to get underway. I can happily do that from home, thanks. So I caught the C-Train and got to the university with plenty of time. Or so I thought. Once inside, I found the line to get through security. I walked to the end of the line… and walked… and walked some more… and yet more. This was the longest line I had ever been a part of. Comically long. Impossibly long. It was moving at a decent pace, but I still had grave concerns about my ability to make it inside for the opening acts. Finally, after about a half-hour, a security guard said “Everybody here for Nightwish?”

Gwuh?

There’s MacEwan Hall and MacEwan Ballroom, and one is upstairs and one had Nightwish, apparently. I did think that there were an awful lot of stupid outfits for a Frank Turner show.

The line upstairs was far more manageable and I only missed half of the first Mo Kenney song. I think I have now seen Kenney four times and every time I think she is great and that her stage presence has improved from the time before. This was quite a short set – only a half-hour – but still delightful. I did not think she was as delightful as this other girl did, though. She decided that we weren’t making enough noise for Kenney and decided to remedy this by her lonesome, which made Mo (and me) crack up a few times.

Mo: “I’m from Dartmouth originally, but my first apartment was in Halifax-”
Girl: “YYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH”
Mo: “…are you from Halifax, by chance?”

She was.

The hell of it was, this girl actually seemed to get the crowd more into things. The crowd started off pretty subdued, but by the end of Mo’s set, they were reacting really well to her. There were no surprises in the setlist, apart from some personal favourites of mine presumably cut for time, but her closing cover of Bowie’s Five Years carried, of course, a little extra weight now.

There was maybe a 10-minute break before Northcote played. The lead singer introduced himself as Matt Goud and I don’t know why he didn’t name the band after himself. I knew nothing about these guys but they were really fun. Tons of energy and Goud was very charismatic. I can see these dudes on a CMJ CD with “recommended if you like: Frank Turner” under the little blurb about the band. Goud handled a few songs by himself on acoustic guitar and brought Kenney out to sing one with him as well. He also admirably defended Saskatchewan from an attempted besmirching – apparently he went to university in Regina. Anyway, these guys were good and I’d see them again and will check out whatever Apple Music has of theirs. Right now, in fact.

There was a longer break before Frank Turner and his band, the Sleeping Souls, finally took the stage for two hours of high-energy rock. His newest album is Positive Songs for Negative People and I don’t know about the negative people part, but the positive messages are always there. This is good music for the gym or to inspire you to take on the world in whatever manner you choose.

Like with Kenney, I’ve seen Turner a few times now, though I’m less familiar with all of Turner’s records (there’s a lot!). Maybe if you know all his songs, there’d be some setlist surprises you’d be really pumped for but I am not so knowledgeable in that regard. I got some old favourites and some newer stuff and lots I didn’t know and also half of Ace of Spades because why not? There was no Barbara Allen, disappointing a friend from work who wasn’t at this show anyway, but we got The Next Storm, Mittens, Josephine, The Way I Tend To Be, Eulogy, Peggy Sang The Blues, I Still Believe (with Matt Goud on harmonica), Get Better, Try This At Home… like I said, someone else could probably list 20 more songs.

Turner and the band had signed a drumhead and were going to give it to whichever side of the room was the most participatory. Our side was good at yelling and the other was good at jumping, so he decided on a tie-breaker. He called a friend out of the audience and had him crowdsurf around the entire room, touching the walls on both sides and high-fiving the sound engineer at the back – he could then return to the front and throw the drumhead to the winning side. I am proud to say I did my part and held that dude in the air for SEVERAL seconds. With lots of help. I think our side won but the drumhead arced in the air and wound up in Switzerland, the neutral zone down the middle of the room. I later saw the dude who caught the drumhead waiting for the train.

Turner is the kind of guy who has two rules for his shows – sing along if you know the words, and (more importantly) don’t be a dickhead. At one point he had us all sit on the floor (I did!) and make friends with a stranger near us (I did not!). But I sang (after a fashion) when he said to sing and jumped (sort of) when he said to jump and put my hands in the air when told to do so and I’m somewhat okay at following orders is I guess my point? Also I had fun. And I’m sleepy now.

In the interest of not being a dickhead (and because it was boring to read), I removed a lengthy complaint I’d written about a fellow fan. I’m glad you had fun. Just maybe leave your toys at home next time.

I caught the train back and walked towards my grandma’s place. The train stop is by a Humpty’s, which I noticed was still open. After a long day, the idea of midnight bacon and eggs by myself sounded both appealing and monumentally stupid. As I crossed MacLeod Trail and pondered this situation, looking at the Humpty’s, some girl crossing the other way sharply told me “If you look straight ahead, nobody’s gonna be messing with you.” I can add nothing to that except to point out that this paragraph is the most representative thing about my life that’s ever been written. When I’m dead, read this at my wake and make it the last post on my Facebook wall. It’s all that future generations will need to understand me.


For more Frank Turner goodness, check out Boppin’s interview! I even make a run-in at the end.

SLCR #234: Black Sabbath (March 4, 2016)

March 8, 2016

If you want to read a review from someone who actually knows a thing about things, go read Boppin’s review of the Hamilton show. We synced up our posts and everything!


 

I don’t really know how this happened. The Calgary trip was booked, timed to coincide with the Frank Turner show, and I happened to check Pollstar to see what else was going on while I was there, and somehow I wound up going to Black Sabbath? I am confused.

I know the show wasn’t originally scheduled for tonight. I was in my favourite Regina record store (Regina’s only record store) and overheard a customer telling the owner that he’d driven to Edmonton to see Sabbath – that’s about 8 hours one way, for those of you unfamiliar with western Canadian geography – only to get there and have Sabbath cancel two hours before showtime because Ozzy Osbourne was sick. He wasn’t able to go to the rescheduled concert since it was in the middle of the week. The guy was out gas and hotel, and because he’d bought his ticket from a reseller, he wasn’t eligible for a refund. He was talking about trying to come to this Calgary show instead. I wonder if he made it.

Black Sabbath is pretty far outside my wheelhouse. When I said I was thinking of going, I mentioned that I know Iron Man, and, well, Iron Man. Mike said that I’d surely know War Pigs and Paranoid, so I gave them a listen, and yeah, I sure did. That brings me up to three whole songs, one of which was wrecked for me by its inclusion on All Day by Girl Talk – I can’t hear War Pigs without wanting to add MOVE BITCH, GET OUT THE WAY, GET OUT THE WAY BITCH, GET OUT THE WAY. I should be prohibited from listening to mashups as they can corrupt (enhance?) perfectly good songs.

Despite being a classic pro wrestling song (the original entrance music for the Road Warriors), my familiarity with Iron Man actually began in high school when after thoroughly and justly tearing apart my taste in music, a classmate made me a mix tape which had Iron Man and other metal of that vintage on it. To be fair, Iron Man has held up a lot better than whatever shit I was listening to at the time.

Notice how I was humourously self-deprecating and yet somewhat vague, so that I don’t have to admit that I specifically remember that I bought an MC Hammer CD which was what set off his (again, 100% justifiable) teardown of my tastes – I mean, it was the one with 2 Legit 2 Quit on it, not even the one with U Can’t Touch This which I could at least defend somewhat as being popular and catchy. But I digress.

Anyway, I thought about going to Black Sabbath and asked Mike and Aaron if they thought it would be worth it for someone like me who ultimately gives no shits as it pertains to Black Sabbath. I knew full well what the answer would be so maybe I just wanted someone to convince me to go?

Honestly, if the show was in Regina, I would never have considered it. Driving? Parking? Leaving my house? Sounds awful. And if I had to take the C-Train or god forbid a bus or cab in Calgary? Forget it. But the Saddledome is walking distance. It was there. I was there. This is probably not a good enough reason. Maybe reading through all those old reviews, listening to Mika say “I can’t believe you saw (whichever band) and didn’t even appreciate it” made me want to give Mike and Aaron the same opportunity.

But I thought about it, and what the hell, right? I know three songs. That’s three more than a lot of bands I go see. And I like walking. And this is supposed to be their farewell tour (I’m sure by that they mean this is the setup for their reunion tour next year, but still). And it might be fun to write a review of something different. Consider this an anthropological expedition.

Walking around 17th Ave this afternoon, I saw a dude who reminded me of the typical metal guy from high school. Hair down to his ass, jean jacket covered in patches with logos of bands I’ve never heard of and that sound vaguely comical in their attempts to be scary. I wanted to ask if he was going to the show tonight. I later saw him there. There was quite a varied mix of folks at this thing – your stereotypical metalheads, for sure, but older folks and young kids and parents and some people who dressed the part and others who were just folks who were out for an evening. Basically the same as any other big arena rock show I’ve ever been to.

I got about 100 metres from the Saddledome when the first wave of pot stink hit me. Dave had predicted I’d wind up stoned by the end of the evening. I don’t know that he was right, but by god, the Calgarians tried their best. It was intermittent until Sabbath actually took the stage, at which point it never let up.

I walked up the stairs to the Saddledome and saw a notice posted on the doors – tonight’s show would feature strobe lights and pyrotechnics. Ah jeez, pyrotechnics, my least favourite of all the technics. I’m jumpy as heck and every time I go to the Saddledome, some shit has to explode and startle me. Either the Flames score a goal or Kane shows up or now this.

Whatever. Too late to back out now. I picked up my ticket at will call and wandered in through the metal detector. I set out in search of a stuff table – they were selling a tour-exclusive CD and Aaron and Mike had asked me to look for it. There were several merch stands, all of which were lined up 12 people deep and 8 across. It was insanity. As I stood in the line (it was more of a throng than a line, really), it occurred to me that if this was a band I was actually a fan of, no way would I bother with this. But being here and only being vaguely interested in Black Sabbath put me in an oddly calm headspace. It’s like how I feel wandering the mall at Christmastime after I’ve done all my shopping. Stress-free and relaxed in the midst of chaos.

I think I was in line for about 45 minutes. Right as I got to the front, they shut off the lights as the opener, Rival Sons, was taking the stage. This did not prevent me from buying three CDs – one each for me, Aaron, and Mike. Not sure why I got one for myself, as I’ll likely never listen to it.

(“You got one for yourself because they called it ‘Limited Edition’ and made it artificially scarce and you are a sucker and an idiot. Look at your amiibo collection.”)

Fair point.

When I was out and about in the afternoon, I bought a six-pack of bottles of Coke Zero. Continuing on the theme of me being a sucker and an idiot, I left the merchandise stand and bought myself a glass of Coke Zero that cost more than the six-pack did. To be fair, I think I’d have likely died of thirst otherwise. I think it’s justifiable.

I climbed more stairs and found my seat – I was on the second level, stage right, pretty far back. Good view. Not too bad for the cheapest available ticket on the day of the show. I caught most of Rival Sons and am struggling to have an opinion about them. They looked very small on that big stage with no help from lighting or a fancy set or anything. Musically, they were the quintessential opening band, perfectly acceptable but not memorable and not anything I’d go out of my way to see again. In fairness, I think I might have liked them a lot better in a smaller setting in front of a more interested audience.

At one point, the lead singer told us that there was a very powerful medicine and I predicted it was going to be “love” but it was “forgiveness” and either way, what about, like, the good Tylenols you need a doctor to prescribe? Or chemotherapy or something? I’ve never once forgiven a headache away.

The break was surprisingly short and soon we were watching some video about the hatching of some monster-type creature. The curtain fell and there was Black Sabbath and we were underway.

And honestly, it was all pretty fun. There’s something about a great big rock spectacle that you just don’t get at most of the shows I go to. Flashy lights, big screens, bright (but delightfully whisper-quiet) pyro – these guys got to use all the toys. There was even a confetti cannon for the final number, which struck me as being somewhat out of place (if still fun). Though there were times they’d superimpose fire or explosion effects on the big screen and that looked really cheesy. If you can’t make it look like a guitar is really on fire, it might be best to not bother.

For someone that seemed so dark and scary when I was a kid, it was weird to see Osbourne using all the standard frontman tricks. I mean, this guy once bit the head off a live bat on stage – or maybe he didn’t but people believed he did, which is just as good (better if you’re the bat) – so it was funny to see him doing all the “Let me see your hands!” stuff. “Make some noise! I can’t hear you! I’m gonna count to three and I want to hear you all scream! Come on, Edmonton did better than that last night, you can’t let them show you up!”

I’m paraphrasing, of course. There were more swears.

Musically, it was apparent that these guys know what they’re doing. I often say I can’t tell when a musician is just messing around or when they’re actually good, but “actually good” was on display here. Everyone got plenty of chances to show off, especially the drummer who played 10-15 minutes of solos in place of an intermission. As for Ozzy’s voice, he sounded like Ozzy. Fine by me. Ask someone with more of a frame of reference if you want details.

You will not be surprised to hear that they played the three songs I know. War Pigs came fairly early on, and Iron Man was first up after the drum solo break. And, um… Into The Void? Is that a song? What about Snowblind? Those are things I think Ozzy said, but I was also pretty sure at one point he said “this next tune is called ‘Where Are My Boobs'” so there’s a chance I wasn’t hearing him correctly. I mean, that’s not a good topic for a song. They’re right where you left them, Ozzy.

After leaving the stage, Ozzy could be heard saying “if you want us to come back, you better chant “one more song, one more song.” Not only was it obvious – even to me who knows nothing – that it was going to be Paranoid, but it was brilliant positioning on his part. You can’t disappoint people with a one-song-only encore if you made them ask you for it beforehand.

The band took their final bow and I took off. I headed towards Shoppers Drug Mart to grab some padded envelopes so I could mail out these CDs, but alas, you can only buy them from the post office and the post office wasn’t open. But it wasn’t a wasted trip – I got a giant bag of Chicago mix popcorn, which I completely annihilated as soon as I got back to my grandma’s place. I was absolutely ravenous for some reason.