Posts Tagged ‘casino regina’

SLCR #209: Big Sugar (February 14, 2015)

March 5, 2015

I never thought I’d get to this point in my relationship with Big Sugar. I went over this in my last Big Sugar review, but to briefly recap: I saw them eons ago and it was way too loud and I was overly bitter about it for a long-ass time. I begrudgingly admitted that they were good before I finally saw them again a few years ago and liked them just fine. Now we are here. They’re just a band that comes to town sometimes, and we went because we kinda felt like it. How mature and boring.

The real reason we went to this show was because a friend from Saskatoon had tickets, but wound up wanting to unload them when Big Sugar subsequently booked a Saskatoon date. Being a magnanimous sort, I bought her tickets because there’s nothing I like more than helping out a friend when it involves no effort whatsoever on my part. I really am a great person. She’s lucky to know me.

I have mentioned before that I buy tickets in advance in order to force myself to go to things; staying home almost always seems like the better option when showtime rolls around, even for shows I like. And on this particular day, my goodness. Not only was it Valentine’s Day – a day when I would much rather not go anywhere that people are – but as luck would have it, it snowed a ton. It started right as I woke up and carried on all damn day. I was very tempted to call the whole thing off, but Mika had a great idea for a Valentine’s Day present for me – she got us a cab to and from the show. This was possibly the best idea ever had. I am not certain my car would have made it. The cab driver had troubles, including an inability to pull into my driveway for fear that he’d never make it back out.

This idea was not without its flaws. We decided to eat supper at the casino, because I don’t learn from my father’s questionable ideas. This plan was put into jeopardy when everyone else in the city had the same idea to call a cab at the same time, and it took nearly an hour for the cab to show up. And once we were on the way, the driver asked if he could stop at his house to grab his cellphone and a shovel, in case he got stuck. I said that was fine. It’s winter in Saskatchewan, so that’s what you do. I guess. He turned the meter off, which I guess is what’s important. We arrived late to the casino and checked out the line at the restaurant, which turned out to be non-existent. I guess that makes sense. Seniors like to eat at the casino; Big Sugar does not attract seniors, so there was room for us. I shoved a clubhouse sandwich down my foodhole and we raced to the show lounge, walking in to applause because we arrived at the exact same time as the band. Now I know how Dave felt after peeing during The Mist.

We took our seats and found that we had no tablemates. A delightful surprise, though there were a small number of visible empty seats in the crowd. I’m guessing a lot of people didn’t want to venture out in the weather (or couldn’t – highways around Regina were closed).

The table nearest us, I… you know, I don’t even know if I wish they hadn’t shown up or if I’m super glad they did. I just don’t know. It was two couples. The first girl took selfies all night long. She bought us a round of drinks. She high-fived people on her way to the bathroom and back. Upon returning, she said “if Security asks, I’ve been here all along.” The two guys were as excited for Big Sugar as anyone I’ve ever seen, with lots of WOOs and YEAHs. Actually, the whole table was like that. They ordered 38 beers among the four of them. I do not know why she bought us drinks. Random friendly gesture? A pre-emptive make-good since they were expecting to be obnoxious? Can we be bought with a Diet Coke and a rum & Coke? Pretty much, yes. Anyway, they were something else.

Back (?) to the show. The band was gathered all on stage, all dressed head to toe in white. The look was unexpected and eye-catching; it also made Mika think that they all kind of looked like they were members of the Guilty Remnant. Even better, she came to this realization during the song 100 Cigarettes.

There was no sign of Shaun Verrault and Safwan Javed of Wide Mouth Mason, who have played with the band in the past and who I thought might have become permanent band members. I must confess I am do not keep up to date on the Big Sugar starting roster. But even keeping that in mind, I did not expect there to be three children in the band. And not “children” like how I refer to 20-year-olds because I am aging and defensive; literal children. Lead singer Gordie Johnson’s children, as it turned out; his son on drums and two daughters singing backup.

In my last Big Sugar recap, I raised an eyebrow about the skinny white dreadlocked guy singing in the faux-Jamaican accent, looking like a Rastafarian version of Mr. Lonely. I did the same thing time. I don’t think he’s a bad guy or anything, I just see that and I think “…you sure about this?” If nobody else has a problem with this, then I shouldn’t either, I guess.

In the interest of not getting off on a bad foot with my Big Sugar pals, I’ll mention now that at their merchandise table, they have it set up so that fans can sign up with WorldVision and sponsor needy children in Jarso, Ethiopia. You can check out more information here: http://artistcollective.ca/artists/big-sugar/

As for the show itself, it was an all-acoustic set, which was about as far removed from that first Big Sugar show as it could be. It started off on a dubious note for me, as they were sounding less like a rock band with some reggae influences and more like a reggae band. Which is great, if that’s your thing. It’s not really my thing. Eventually, they moved into more of a straight up (acoustic) rock show. They didn’t play a ton of singles – not that I’ve ever been a big fan, but I only recognized three songs all night (Diggin’ A Hole, All Hell For A Basement, and Little Bit a All Right). I think Mika knew a few more. They didn’t close with O Canada, which is something I thought they always did. I know they also played a Grady song, but I only know that because Gordie said so. He also ad-libbed a few jokey bits (in that way where it probably wasn’t an ad-lib, but something he does at every show); one about run-ins with cops (“they really like that Diggin’ A Hole song/but they don’t like that our tour bus smells like Cheech & Chong”) and a few lines of an impression of Gordon Lightfoot singing All Hell For A Basement. I thought that part was super funny and now I really want to hear Lightfoot cover that song. I think it could possibly work really well. And at one point, Gordie said “alllllright” and the girl who bought us drinks loudly said “alllllright” and Gordie asked if they were making fun of him, but he acknowledged that he’d worked his entire career just to make a woman say “alllllright.”

Ultimately, I declare this show to be “fine.” I preferred the last Big Sugar show. I know two people who attended the Saskatoon show and they were blown away by it, and I assume the shows were pretty similar, so maybe you should listen to them and not to me. I don’t think “fine” is a negative review, but these folks were raving. I’m not raving. It was fine. Glad we went. Glad we took a cab.

You may remember the drunken texts I was on the receiving end of during the Glass Tiger show. Well, watching TV after Big Sugar, I texted that fellow – to let him know that the Soorp Asdvadzadzin Armenian Apostolic Church in Boston was closed due to snow, of course – and I found that he’d been drinking. I told him about the Big Sugar show and he replied “Glad thencpncertbwas good despite the whites” which is about the best way I’ve ever heard an evening described.

UPCOMING SHOWS
• Dan Mangan + Blacksmith w/Hayden and Astral Swans (March 7)
• Amelia Curran w/Ryan Boldt (March 27)
• The God That Comes (April 3)
• Danko Jones w/The Lazys (April 10)
• The Joel Plaskett Emergency w/Mo Kenney (May 15)
• Charley Pride (May 20)
• Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)

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SLCR #208: Spirit of the West (November 21, 2014)

December 11, 2014

I don’t imagine there’s anything interesting about how I pick which shows to go to. I go see bands I already know I like, or I go see bands I’ve heard good things about. Price matters. The schedule of the rest of my life matters. My general levels of old-man fatigue matter.

The ticket-buying decision for Spirit of the West was a little bit different. I first saw them when they headlined the 2004 Regina Folk Festival. Before then, I was familiar with many of their bigger singles, as most Canadians would be. I don’t think you can legally hold a wedding dance in Canada without playing Home for a Rest. I had a great time at the Folk Festival show, and assumed I’d go see them again sometime.

Of course, that didn’t happen. There was always an excuse. No money, no time, too tired, something else going on, just don’t feel like it right now, whatever. Next thing you know, it had been a decade. These things happen. I’ve never been to the RCMP Museum or the Tunnels of Moose Jaw either, and I only made it to the Milky Way for the first time last year. Fantastic ice cream and it took me nine years to get around to it.

I had some excuse for not going to this Spirit of the West show too. I don’t remember what it was. I knew they were coming and I knew tickets went on sale, but I didn’t buy. Some combination of time/money/interest/whatever. And then in early September, lead singer John Mann went public with the news that, at 51, he’d been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The Globe & Mail article where I first learned the news was heartbreaking. I have no idea how someone could face something like that at all, much less in front of the world.

I had barely finished reading the article when I bought the show tickets. It felt almost ghoulish. I’ve made jokes about seeing certain performers because “if I don’t do it now, I’m not likely to get another chance,” but this was the first time it felt like that was what I was actually doing.

In his official statement, Mann said, “Hearing the news has been a difficult blow. My family and I have taken some time to try and absorb the ramifications as we struggle to come to terms with the changes that have occurred and are yet to come. But I don’t want to spend any more energy trying to hide my symptoms. I don’t want to feel embarrassed. I want to accept what has happened and live. I will continue to make music and I will continue to do shows. I need to use an iPad now to help with the lyrics, and for my solo shows, either Al Rodger or Tobin Frank will accompany and support me with their diverse and abundance of talents. My Spirit of the West band mates have circled me with care and we will forge ahead as we’ve been doing the last 30 odd years with humour and friendship, playing our hearts out. I will continue to write and tour, because this is what I do and what I love.”

That sounds like someone who isn’t giving up without a fight. And it sounds like someone who’d think that this whole stupid review thing sounds a bit too much like a eulogy, thank you very much.

When you go to shows at the casino, you sit in the balcony or you sit at a table. For most of my recent shows there, we’ve had a full table of four. But since this was just going to be the two of us, we had to split a table with strangers. I saw all kinds of people that I know at this show – internet friends, work friends, Toastmasters friends. We did not luck into sitting with any of them.

Upon arriving at the casino, we noticed a ton of people with nametags, wearing suits and fancy dresses. The people were, I mean. The nametags were pretty plain. We were joined at our table by a suit/dress couple. She seemed nice. He very much seemed like he didn’t want to be sitting with us. I don’t blame him; we were woefully underdressed. Mika got the impression that they seemed like they might be on an awkward first date. When the dude left to get drinks, Mika asked the lady if they were with the nametag people. She said yes, and told us that they were with KPMG’s Christmas party. Not sure how we wound up at their table, but whatever. Thanks for letting us crash your party, KPMG. Next time, can we have drink tickets too?

Google tells me that KPMG are certified public accountants. KPMG’s website tells me that “KPMG combines our multi-disciplinary approach with deep practical industry knowledge to help clients meet challenges and respond to opportunities.” Score one for Google. I suppose it’s presumptuous of me to suggest that I can write website copy better than KPMG can, but I can, so suck it.

There was no opening act. Spirit of the West took the stage right on time. I suppose the first question is, would I have known anything was up if I hadn’t read that article? Yes, I would have, if only because while singing, Mann never took his eyes off the iPad. I knew it would be there and why it was there, but I wasn’t expecting him to be quite so glued to it. He didn’t do much talking; he told one story close to the end of the set, but it was apparent he was reading that as well. But beyond that, his voice was there, his trademark dancing was there, it was a full-energy Spirit of the West show. No asterisk.

They played pretty much everything that this casual fan would have wanted. I didn’t take notes, and right now it’s very late and I don’t think Mika would appreciate it if I woke her up to say “hey, they played Is This Where I Come In, right?” I will say that the only notable (to me) omission was Two Headed, which I’ve always had a soft spot for.

I shouldn’t even need to mention that they closed with Home for a Rest. There would have been a mutiny if they hadn’t. I filmed it and stuck it on YouTube, in case you want to see it (or want to see the rowdiest crowd I’ve ever seen at a casino show, which admittedly isn’t saying much, but still – it’s very much a sit-down-applaud-politely kind of place):

During the show, no mention was made of Mann’s condition until just before the encore, when Geoffrey Kelly introduced Mann as “the bravest man I’ve ever known.” There was no doubt that everyone in the audience knew exactly what he meant and Mann got the longest standing ovation I’ve ever seen. It might still be going on now, in fact. In all seriousness, it was enough to make your eyes well up. Kelly thanked everyone, saying that it was incredible to have the support of an entire country behind them. And then another member of the band made a joke about getting lost in the restaurant.

All night, Kelly handled most of the on-stage banter, which led to one moment I found amusing. At one point he said something like “last night, we played in Regina, and tonight we’re here with all of you.” Now, I know he just misspoke, but for a second there, I was left wondering if I had gotten confused about which band member had come down with Alzheimer’s.

Hey, they made a joke too. And mine was better.

UPCOMING SHOWS
• Big Sugar (February 14)
• Dan Mangan + Blacksmith w/Hayden and Astral Swans (March 7)

SLCR #205: Gordon Lightfoot (November 7, 2014)

November 10, 2014

He showed up! I was not entirely expecting that. My very limited knowledge of Gordon Lightfoot suggests that he has, in the past, been prone to booking concerts in Regina and then cancelling. This may be entirely apocryphal, or maybe it only ever happened one time and for some reason it really stuck with me. Whatever. My point is that I am a wealth of Gordon Lightfoot facts. Others include:

  • According to my pal who owns a bakery here, Gordon Lightfoot likes his whole wheat bread fresh, sliced, and delivered before noon.
  • You need to has five bucks for the Homestarmy in case Gordon Lightfoot is creeping around YOUR back stair.
  • One time, I tried talking about Gordon Lightfoot in an email or text or something and it came out as “Gordon Lightfood” and I like that a lot better. I might do a find-and-replace so that I remove all instances of Lightfood (except in this bullet) but I most likely won’t.
  • This other time, I was challenged to write a song about a guy who went to the computer school I taught at. I did so – it was a parody of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It was obscene and some of my finest work ever.
  • The Edmund Fitzgerald sank 39 years ago today! I wrote this review yesterday and didn’t intentionally hold off on posting it for a day to tie into the anniversary, but I would have if I’d known.

See? Super knowledgeable over here.

My dad and stepmom picked us up and we went for dinner at the casino. I was prepared for the usual eternal wait to get seated, rushed meal, and mad dash to the show lounge, but actually got through everything in decent time. Surprising, seeing as how the Lightfoot show was long since sold out and every senior citizen in Regina was in attendance.

A nice lady from the CBC introduced the show. I have gotten in trouble before for using the internet to repeat jokes that nice CBC ladies make, so I won’t say which nice CBC lady it was or what she said. Suffice to say that it was a joke about a topic I didn’t think CBC people would be allowed to joke about, and the crowd didn’t really know what to make of it. My dad thought it was super funny, though. And I laughed too. I have no shame.

Lightfoot and his four-piece band took the stage in short order, saying that rumours of his death had been greatly exaggerated – an amusing nod to the Lightfoot death hoax that circulated online a few years ago while Lightfoot, unaware, was happily at the dentist. Or at least I assume it was happily, considering the alternative.

With long gray hair and sporting a red velour jacket over a black collared shirt, Lightfoot looked for all the world like an old man anime Dracula. Like, maybe this is what the boss of a Castlevania game would turn into after you defeat him. Or maybe I just had a lot of time to think about these things.

During dinner, my dad mentioned a newspaper writeup about the show, where Lightfoot said that he normally played two-hour shows, and sometimes went longer if the audience wanted it. At about the 20-minute mark, I found myself hoping that this was an exaggeration.

Gordon Lightfoot is a legend and I’m really glad that I got the chance to see him. However, as you might expect from a 75-year-old, he has seen better days. This show did a fine job of hammering home what a miracle modern Leonard Cohen really is. With a weak voice, Lightfoot mumbled his way through a 90-minute set. Mika suggested that the sound was poorly mixed – that Lightfoot could sometimes not be heard over the drums – but I think Lightfoot just can’t project anymore. He also seemed to lose his train of thought repeatedly while talking between songs, and he took a break for some nasal spray at one point. I get it – he’s 75 – but this joins Dr. John and Mavis Staples and Loretta Lynn in the pantheon of “I wish I’d seen them way back when” shows.

I’m much less familiar with Lightfoot’s songs than I thought I was. I really only recognized Sundown, Carefree Highway, If You Could Read My Mind, and Edmund Fitzgerald; the latter was a nice surprise as I didn’t think we’d get it because it’s a longer song. Mika said she wasn’t expecting it because it gets a little loud, but noted that they toned it down. This was a running theme and did not help the show. I was excited to hear Sundown, but when they played it, all I thought was “yeah, I could stand to see Luke Doucet again.”

It didn’t help that Lightfoot’s band didn’t have much to do. They all had simple parts to play and were never really given chances to show off. The lead guitarist got a solo. That’s about it. The songs themselves could have been freshened up by losing the 1980s keyboards, or at least tweaking their sound.

You may want to ask about other hits and I will shrug cluelessly. I know he played Early Morning Rain and Cotton Jenny, but only because my dad and Mika said so, respectively. There were a number of songs where the opening notes got a nice reaction from the crowd, but they didn’t mean anything to me. Some of them sounded kind of familiar. I have listened to more than my share of Canadian AM radio in my day, so there is no excuse for my ignorance. Once I get this stupid iTunes working on this computer, I’ll check out a Lightfoot greatest hits collection. Probably should have done that a week ago.

UPCOMING SHOWS

  • Kim Churchill w/Mo Kenney (November 13)
  • Buck 65 (November 14)
  • Spirit of the West (November 21)
  • Dan Mangan + Blacksmith w/Hayden and Astral Swans (March 7)

SLCR #202: Glass Tiger (September 27, 2014)

October 14, 2014

Deserée is bonkers over Glass Tiger. I present this information merely as context; a way of explaining why, exactly, I was at a Glass Tiger show in 2014. She was there to watch the band, and the rest of us were there to watch her watch the band. I am not here to make fun. Much. I have my things too. We all have our things. Sometimes Glass Tiger is one of those things, and what the heck, I’ll go to that.

Her fandom is pretty much the only reason why I even remember Glass Tiger in 2014. Otherwise, they’d occupy a sort of Honeymoon Suite/Platinum Blonde place in my mind – I remember the name, I remember liking them well enough when they were on Video Hits with Samantha Taylor (the only version of Video Hits worth watching), but I was never what you’d really call a fan. Glass Tiger has more songs that I remember than those other bands, but that’s probably just due to my age and when I started being aware of music.

We made plans for dinner at Beer Bros at 6:00. Mid-afternoon, I was advised that Deserée and crew might arrive closer to 6:15. I later found out that this had to do with… pants and soup? I think? I was never entirely clear on that. But whatever.

It is at this point that I could quit writing and tell the story entirely in copied and pasted text messages. There were three conversations going on over the course of the night: James/Deserée as to why people weren’t at the restaurant yet, James/Aaron comparing concerts (Aaron and Cindy were out at Big Rude Jake for their anniversary), and James/friend who shall remain nameless because he had just completed a stressful few weeks at work and was unwinding with a UFC show and numerous beers which contributed fantastic opinions and typos. I think who’s who should be obvious. If it helps, I don’t quote Aaron in here.

Say what you will about people being addicted to their smartphones and missing out on real life, but this text record of the evening is fantastic. I rarely take notes at concerts and then I forget all the stuff I wanted to write about. No chance of that anymore.

6:04 p.m. “We haven’t left the house.”
6:06 p.m. “I think we’re going… no wait, camera…”
6:07 p.m. “Phone…”
6:08 p.m. “Oh boy… k, phone found.”

There’s more of this but you get the idea. 6:00 became 6:15 which became 6:30 as Deserée became increasingly agitated with her traveling companions.

Mika and I used the time alone to share an order of deep fried pickles. Time well spent.

Eventually everyone showed up and got fed. Dinner was delightful as it always is there. Aaron suggested I get chicken, but I just got a burger because I am boring like that, and because SLCR canon doesn’t hold in the face of Beer Bros bacon. I don’t know if they buy something special or they just know what to do it, but either way, fine work. And besides, the pickles were a enough of a callback to the deep fried days of Louis’ Pub and the first concert reviews.

While at dinner, I gave Deserée a Glass Tiger 45 for the song I Will Be There that I found at Value Village earlier in the week. There’s a piece of masking tape on the front that indicates this was once sold at a garage sale for 50 cents, which means that Value Village actually marked it up. Clearly, they knew they had a treasure on their hands.

Finally, it was time to head to the show, and as it always seems to wind up with casino shows, we were cutting it pretty fine. I wish I had text messages detailing the decisiveness with which it was decided we did not have time for dessert. The law was LAID DOWN.

I had been invited to watch the night’s UFC card, and I had actually accepted before remembering the Glass Tiger show. Despite the weak main event, the strong undercard made me a little sad to miss out. Luckily, I got updates as the night went on so I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. Really, I think I got the best of both worlds.

7:58 p.m. “THIS UFC CARD WILL ROCK. THE RETURN OF DRUNK TEXTING”
7:59 p.m. “THIS WILL BEDTBTHE SLEPPY HOLLOW UNFIRVEN CAVRMAN FORBAWESOME. FUCKNSPELL CHECK”

I reminded my pal where I was.

8:03 p.m. “Looooool hpe Desiree meets Alan Frew #ew”

“#ew” absolutely slayed me.

Glass Tiger started right on time, as casino shows will do. No opener. I think the first song was Someday; I could be wrong on that. It was a song I knew, I remember that much. Deserée was grinning and practically vibrating from excitement. She did not rush the stage right away, though. I lost that bet.

8:11 p.m. “Durst fight is cat zingano vsm amanda nunes. Love rhe womens fights. Chipnon theirsgoulse..greatbstart”

I think it was four or five songs in when she actually went up to the front, for the song Diamond Sun. There were other folks already up there – maybe 10 in total. So, of course, an old man security guard came and shooed everyone back to their seats. Can’t have people getting too rowdy here. At some point, some lady decided that she was going to go back up to the front, old man security guard be damned. She stood there. He talked to her. He walked away, defeated. Who knew that’s all it took?

Around this time I had a lengthy conversation with my drunken pal and his girlfriend about UFC fighter Tim Kennedy and his legs. She liked them. He said they were “Not heslous” but when I agreed that they were nice legs (she sent me a picture) (see above re: the wonderful ever-connected age in which we live), I got called a “fucking petbert jeking off to tim kennefy’s legs lol.”

8:47 p.m. “Animal heaaaaaarr”

Sure, make fun of me for going to…

8:54 p.m. “Glass toger in 2014”

…but I didn’t even remember Animal Heart was a song of theirs. Who’s the superfan now?

9:13 p.m. “Its THEIR ONLY SOMG :)”

This is not true. Their only song was Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone. I feel like I might be forgetting some parentheses in there? Not sure it matters. They actually had a lot of hits and played pretty much all of them. I already mentioned Someday and Animal Heart and Diamond Sun. There was My Town and The Thin Red Line and I’m Still Searching. Maybe that’s the one they started with? Who can remember. Spoiler: the encore was (a very extended version of) Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone, because of course it would be.

It was during this encore that Alan Frew took off his jacket to reveal a Glass Tiger t-shirt. They say you should not be that guy who wears the band’s shirt to the band’s concert. I don’t know if you get a free pass if you’re in the band, or if it’s worse. But that is not relevant right now. It was also during this encore that a ton of people were up at the front, and it was then that Alan Frew stole Deserée’s phone and wandered around the stage with it, shooting video. This was pretty cool – and would have been better had her phone not crapped out halfway through. Still, the video is pretty neat to see.

10:23 p.m. “Thus ends drunkbtexting 🙂 hopenconcert wad good”

I did think that the sound quality was disappointing. The band was way too loud for the style of music they were playing. Not in an “ow, my freakin’ ears” sort of way – more in a “the music is distorted and drowning out the vocals” way. I’m not sure if it got better over the course of the evening or if I just got used to it.

The concert was short, only about 90 minutes including the encore. It was an all-hits affair, as I mentioned, apart from a few new songs that fit well with everything else. Really, the whole night was fun enough. It was fun to hear a bunch of songs I’d kind of forgotten about and everyone there seemed to have a good time.

After the show, we sat around and discussed how much we’d have to pay Alan Frew to score and record a song that I would hypothetically write. Apparently this is a thing one can do and I am very down with this idea. I currently have $25 and some Sobeys coupons in my wallet. I also cashed in everybody’s free slot play vouchers after the show and walked away with $12.50 ($12 from the slots, plus I found 50 cents in the change tray at the ticket redemption machine). That brings me up to $37.50 I am willing to contribute. I bet it costs more than that, but how much more? I would be willing to start a Kickstarter for this. I am also taking lyric suggestions.

Glass Tiger was in the lobby after the show, and by the time we were done with the songwriting proposal and the slot machines, the line to meet them was fairly reasonable. As much as Mika wanted to know how the backup singer got her hair to be that way, we opted to go home, leaving Deserée to get her record signed. I haven’t seen her since. I hope she’s enjoying her new life.

UPCOMING SHOWS
• The Smalls (October 24)
• Michael Bernard Fitzgerald (October 28)
• Gordon Lightfoot (November 7)
• Buck 65 (November 14)
• Spirit of the West (November 21)

SLCR #196: Herman’s Hermits (November 20, 2013)

January 6, 2014

After the success – and you can define that however you see fit – of the Bobby Curtola show in September, Mika, my dad, my stepmom, and I reconvened at the casino for Herman’s Hermits.

To be clear, this was Herman’s Hermits Starring Peter Noone. Depending on what country you’re in, I could get into legal trouble for calling them the wrong thing. Wikipedia goes into great detail about the split between lead singer Noone and the rest of the band. The short version is that they’re like the Beach Boys, with different band members fighting over the name (and variants thereof). My dad repeatedly reassured me that we were getting the real deal because Peter Noone WAS Herman. Good to know.

Like the last casino show, we went for dinner at said casino beforehand. And like last time, every senior citizen in Regina had the same idea, so (like last time) we wound up spending a half-hour in line before getting seated. We made it to the show on time but it was a bit of a photo finish. I really need to leverage Toastmasters to perfect my elevator pitch for eating at a different restaurant a block away and avoiding this nonsense. I mean, the casino restaurant isn’t bad but it’s decidedly unmemorable.

Peter Noone is in his late 60s, a fact he mentioned repeatedly. He looks great for his age, in a way that non-surgically-altered 60+ year olds can’t manage. He had CDs for sale in the lobby; maybe his plastic surgeon should have been booking appointments at the merch table too. There’d be money in that.

I will confess to not doing detailed internet research, but I’m pretty sure that the rest of Noone’s band had nothing to do with the original Herman’s Hermits. The remaining originals toured without Noone for a while and just called themselves The Hermits; maybe Noone’s band should be named… okay, I just spent too long in an online thesaurus, trying to come up with something more clever than “Herman & Whoever He Could Get.” No luck. Moving on.

I went into great detail about my history with my dad and his love of Bobby Curtola’s music. However, when it comes to Herman’s Hermits, I think of one thing and one thing only – Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley skipping down the beach in The Naked Gun, hand-in-hand, clotheslining another couple to the tune of I’m Into Something Good. So when Noone opened with that one, I thought I might be in for a whole lot of songs that I didn’t know.

Of course, this was not the case. Herman’s Hermits had lots of hits and Noone played a big ol’ pile of them – I’m Henry VIII, I Am; Silhouettes; Sea Cruise; There’s a Kind of Hush; Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (which I had somehow never actually heard before, despite being a very famous song with a memorable title)… I’m sure I could give you a more complete list if I wasn’t writing this nearly two full months after the show. Funny how that works.

This does remind me of a funny moment a while after the show, when I mentioned that Herman’s Hermits didn’t seem to have written very many of their hits. In response to this, my father explained the concept of a “cover song” to me, using the small words and patient tone with which one might talk to a preschooler. “You see, a song like ‘Sea Cruise,’ that was a hit for Herman’s Hermits. But before that, it was a hit for someone else.” I think I did a good job of nodding earnestly. I had to; he was paying for lunch.

So how was the show? It was pretty okay, if dangerously close to one of those just-a-show shows that doesn’t leave me with much to talk about.

There were a handful of jokes that… well, they likely wouldn’t have gone over at most shows I go to. Not offensive things, just eye-rollers; things along the lines of “my father is Mick Jagger, and my mother is Elton John,” and one unfortunate attempt at a South Asian accent. You play to your audience, I guess.

However, that was a minor thing. As a whole, the show was a lot more polished than Curtola’s, and Noone’s voice was stronger. Noone also did a good job of tailoring the show to the crowd (and not just in a dated-joke way), working Regina’s name into one of the songs and making references to the unseasonably cold weather and that weekend’s Grey Cup championship game. It showed a degree of effort compared to the usual “I’ve played a lot of shows, but the best crowds are right here in Your Name Here” shtick that too many bands still do (and too many people still fall for).

Ultimately, for a show that my dad picked, this was about as good as it was going to get. I dread the day that the casino books Ray Stevens.

UPCOMING SHOWS
• Neil Young w/Diana Krall (January 17)
• A Tribe Called Red (February 18)
• Ben Folds & the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (May 21)
• Regina Folk Festival (August 8-10)

SLCR #192: Bobby Curtola (September 6, 2013)

September 10, 2013

Travel with me, if you will, back in time to some indeterminate point in the middle of 2013. Those were good days. It was roughly six weeks after Mika and I saw Dr. John at Casino Regina, and I was struggling for content so I could finally scratch the concert review off my to-do list. Digressing from my main point (that being “Dr. John was fine. Hey, what’s new to read on the internet?”), I wrote out the following:

We got to the casino to discover that Bobby Curtola will be playing there in September. I texted my dad with this news. As I suspected/feared, he immediately insisted that we all go together as a family. Yes. And we’re doing this. Given our (I should probably be polite here) divergent tastes in music, I suppose it isn’t surprising that it will have taken 190+ reviews for my dad to make his official SLCR debut, but let me tell you, I am pumped for this opportunity. Half of that review is already written in my head and we’re still almost two months out.

Bobby Curtola, for those among you who aren’t eligible for the Denny’s senior’s discount, had a series of hit songs in the 60s. Fortune Teller was the biggest of the bunch. If you don’t know it, go look it up on YouTube and you’ll likely go “ohhhh, THAT one.”

Curtola’s peak of popularity occurred just as my father was becoming a teenager, and my dad was a big fan. It is now roughly a billion years later and the bands I liked in my 20s now only get played on the radio as ironic Retro Jams (I am assuming that “radio” is still a thing), but my dad never got off the Curtola train.

It’s weird. I remember my dad always listening to music when I was a kid. He played multiple instruments, he was in bands before I was born, and yet he’s largely shown no interest in new music. He likes what he likes, and in 2013, that’s largely certain country music and the Elvis satellite radio station. I won’t say that he’s out of touch, but he once famously said “CSI must be really popular; I heard the theme song on the radio today.”

This is where people tell me to quit making up stories. I assure you I did no such thing.

More time traveling. Let me tell you about the early 90s. Garth Brooks was selling millions of records and leading a commercial revival of country music. My dad went to the Calgary Stampede in 1993 or thereabouts, and who should be playing there but Bobby Curtola. Hoping to ride the new-country wave of success, Curtola had just released a new record, called “Gotta Get Used to Being Country.” The combination of Curtola and country proved irresistible, and my dad brought the CD home.

Actually, he brought the CD into his car, which was worse. I didn’t live with him but I did drive places with him. I heard that record a lot. In fact, it was the only thing my dad played for months, apart from breaking out the song 18-Wheeler by Alabama for special occasions.

In my advancing age, I’m hesitant to call a band or an album “bad” when it doesn’t do it for me. I don’t feel qualified; I can’t play an instrument, I can’t sing, I can’t tell a genuinely good musician from someone who’s just putting on a big show. But I feel confident in stating, unequivocally, that Gotta Get Used to Being Country is… SO VERY MUCH not my thing. If you get what I mean.

Its greatest offense was that it just felt so disingenuous. I have nothing against Curtola’s older songs and I wouldn’t have cared if he genuinely wanted to record some country songs for whatever reason, but it felt like trend-hopping in the hope of a quick cash-in. Even the album cover, with Curtola posing awkwardly in western wear, just grated on me. Bear in mind that at the time, I was listening mainly to Nirvana and Public Enemy*, so, y’know. Not my thing.

* it’s my review and I can choose to single out the bands that have retained their high critical praise if I feel like it and you can’t stop me

It has been many, many years since I’ve heard or even seen that record. I have no idea if my dad still has it or if it has been lost to time. And I had no idea what this show would actually be like. I asked my dad “I wonder if he’s used to being country yet?” and I wasn’t being facetious. I really did want to know. And after twenty years – TWENTY YEARS, GOOD LORD – I was about to find out.

My dad and stepmom picked us up and drove us to Casino Regina – correction, the SOLD OUT Casino Regina – to have dinner before the show. We were there in plenty of time, or so I thought, but it seemed like everyone else who was going to the show had the same idea. I shouldn’t have been surprised; it’s a restaurant in a casino on the night of a concert by a 60s star, no wonder the place was packed like the Co-op on seniors’ day. We waited in line for a while for a table, but the casino restaurant staff are pros at this sort of thing and we wound up seated and fed with time to spare. I had chicken, making this the first official concert since… I can’t even remember when. Since the last time I remembered that thing from early concert reviews about chicken being a requirement, I guess.

Our server asked my dad about Bobby Curtola’s biggest songs. He effortlessly rattled off a half-dozen titles. “But what was his biggest,” she asked, and he drew a blank. I felt a twinge of self-consciousness which kept me from jumping in with “Ooh! Ooh! I know! Fortune Teller!” And it’s good that I didn’t, because otherwise, she wouldn’t have sang it to us. She turned to me and Mika. “You’re too young! You don’t know what you missed out on.” Lady, you have no idea.

We strolled over to the show lounge and found our table. True to casino form, the show started right on time. Curtola’s band, the Sensational Hot Rods, took the stage to play The Twist while Mika and I wondered if Chubby Checker was still alive. (Wikipedia says he is.) After the song, one of the Rods (*snicker*) introduced “Canada’s rock-n-roll legend.” This was how Curtola was introduced at the start of the second set and at the end of the encore as well, which is good, because up until the very last time I heard it, I was convinced the guy was saying “Canada’s rock-n-roll engine.” and that seemed weird. It kinda makes sense, though. Maybe?

Curtola took the stage wearing a smile that never once wavered, even for a second. I have to think his face must hurt by the end of a show. He played a mix of tunes. Maybe one-third were ones he was famous for, including Corrina Corrina, Three Rows Over, Hand In Hand With You, and Fortune Teller (of course). No country, but they did play a Coke jingle, which made my dad sad that he didn’t bring his record (which he got at the Red Deer, Alberta Coca-Cola plant) to get signed. The majority of the songs were various hits from the 60s, all stuff you’d know. Covers of Paul Anka, Roy Orbison, Louis Armstrong, Ben E. King, and a pair of medleys.

Curtola came across like someone who truly loves his job. And why wouldn’t he? 50 years removed from his biggest hit, here he was, still doing his thing in front of a sold-out crowd. From the ages in attendance, you could tell that the vast majority of the people there were fans dating back to when he first hit it big. At one point, he introduced a lady who’d been the president of his fan club in 1960.

There was a lot of audience interaction, some of it amazing and awesome and the best. Curtola would walk through the floor of the show lounge, singing. When he got to a repeating chorus, he’d sing it and then hold the mic to an audience member to give them a shot. Some did well. Some did… not. There was some screeching. One gentleman did not understand that microphones amplify your voice and thus there was no need to yell. This was great.

While singing Mambo Italiano, Curtola and one of the Rods danced on stage with big stuffed animals. I had no idea what to make of this. Then they threw them into the crowd, causing mini stampedes. I feared for hips, but nobody got hurt. One of the stuffed animals was a blue hippo! I wanted that one, but we were too far removed from the splash zone.

Near the end, the hippo made his return. Curtola started singing Old-Time Rock n’ Roll, then segued into The Loco-motion. He went out onto the floor and found the lady who caught my hippo, and invited her to do said Loco-motion with him (you gotta swing your hips now). She brought the hippo along. So there’s Bobby Curtola leading a three-person conga line of himself, one lady, and a stuffed blue hippo. This proved to be irresistible to a certain demographic, and women from all over the show lounge ran up to join in. He moved into singing Mony Mony but the train kept a-rollin’. There were probably 15-20 people at its peak. I tried offering Mika $100 to join the chain but wasn’t even allowed to finish the sentence. She did suggest that I ask my dad, which I did. He thought this idea was hilarious but declined to take me up on the offer. Anyway, Curtola eventually went back up onto the stage and most of the women dispersed, but there was one who followed him up the ramp and was REAL mad that none of the other women would rush the stage with her. So great.

Curtola has probably done 10,000 shows by now, so much of the evening felt like it was “just part of the show,” if that makes sense. When he’d chat with his band members, you knew that they have the same conversation every night. The impromptu moments, like the lady wanting to rush the stage, were the most fun for me. My favourite was when he was talking to the crowd and found a man who was from Italy. The band tried to start into the next song (they always seemed to start in about a sentence or two too early when Curtola was talking) but Curtola cut them off. He talked to the fan, telling him what his parents’ last names were and what part of Italy they were from, and then said “I’ll just do this without the band” and sang a brief song in Italian for him. This was a pretty cool moment. Mika noted after the show that Curtola’s voice actually seemed the strongest when he was singing in Italian, and I had noticed that too.

Much like how I felt about the country CD years ago, Curtola seemed at his best when he wasn’t trying to be someone else. His voice isn’t quite what it once was, but it seemed at its weakest when he was singing covers. If you’re singing Stand By Me or What A Wonderful World or Oh Pretty Woman, you’re setting the bar pretty high for yourself. And it’s anecdotal, but I could really tell that my dad enjoyed the Curtola originals much more than the covers. Makes sense, right? He IS who we were there to see, after all.

Curtola also made a few off-hand remarks along the lines of “You never expect a song to take off like this one did… and I’ll tell you, you don’t realize when it’s over, either.” The brief hints at introspection were intriguing and I’d have been interested to hear him talk more about this sort of thing, but I suppose that’s not what anyone was there for.

There was an undeniable Vegas show lounge feel to this concert – the permanent smile, the rehearsed patter, so much audience interaction – if I’ve ever seen a show that I would compare this to, it would be seeing Wayne Newton at the same casino a few years ago. Which, I suppose, is not bad company for Curtola to be in.

As for my dad, he declared loudly after the show that he’d had a fine time. 17-year-old me might kick my ass for saying this (not true; he’d just scowl and make fun behind my back), but for something that was not my thing, I did too. We’re going to head out again in a few months when Herman’s Hermits (the Peter Noone version, even) come to town, so we’ll see if lightning strikes twice.

SLCR #190: Dr. John (June 27, 2013)

August 6, 2013

I’ve been stalling on this one because I have nothing to say. Mika said “do you want to go to this?” and I said “fine.” And then we went, and she said “what did you think?” and I said it was “fine.” Now it is almost six weeks later, the Regina Folk Festival is looming, and I can’t talk about stalling enough to fill up this here text file of potentially infinite size.

Not only did I know next to nothing about Dr. John before the show, I almost knew less than nothing because most things I thought I knew were wrong. New Orleans jazz/blues/funk? I got that part, but when I checked out some of his songs on YouTube, all I discovered was that I didn’t know any of them. I was off to a fine start. Mika tells me that he was on Treme; apparently I should pay more attention to the music on that show instead of just thinking “dang, Davis needs a kick in the dick” before going back to doing crosswords on my iPad. And I had no idea that he was the inspiration for Dr. Teeth on the Muppets, though that made perfect sense once I actually saw him.

We got to the casino to discover that Bobby Curtola will be playing there in September. I texted my dad with this news. As I suspected/feared, he immediately insisted that we all go together as a family. Yes. And we’re doing this. Given our (I should probably be polite here) divergent tastes in music, I suppose it isn’t surprising that it will have taken 190+ reviews for my dad to make his official SLCR debut, but let me tell you, I am pumped for this opportunity. Half of that review is already written in my head and we’re still almost two months out.

But back to Dr. John.

Do you care that we sat on one side of our table, and then moved to the other side for the marginally better view, and then moved back to accommodate the strangers that we were sharing a table with? No? Good. Moving on.

There was no opener. Dr. John’s band took the stage and began playing before the man himself was introduced by his backup singer. Wearing a sensational purple suit and sporting a butt-length ponytail, he walked out with a cane – “walked” might be a bit generous – pointed at the crowd and at his band, then took a seat at the piano. He moved to the guitar for a song or two half-way through the set, but stuck with the piano for the most part.

I’d love to tell you what he played, but for the most part, I honestly don’t know. I recognized Right Place Wrong Time, mostly because it came up frequently during my YouTube snooping, and he also played Let The Good Times Roll, St. James Infirmary, and Goodnight Irene. Beyond that, I was pretty much unfamiliar with everything, and the gruff vocals are not the easiest to pick up.

It was still a really fun show, though. You had a veteran performer backed up by a really tight band. Much like when we saw Leonard Cohen, the band alone would have been worth the price of admission. After years of watching young bands in bars, it’s a treat to watch experts at their craft. Near the end of the show, Dr. John introduced the band and each player got their turn to do a solo, and this was one of the highlights of the evening, even if some chump DID feel the need to talk loudly as the drummer was playing as quietly as possible. There will always be jerks at concerts, even if sometimes they’re elderly jerks. 

Interestingly, there was no encore. They played about 90 minutes, Dr. John introduced the band, the band members each did their solos, they did a closing song, and they were done. The lights went up immediately. Not sure I’ve seen that before. I don’t know what the deal was; some poking around online suggests that he’d played encores at other shows.

We’ve established that while Dr. John may be a hall-of-famer and a musical legend, seeing him was an opportunity that was largely wasted on me. I told Aaron that I’d seen Dr. John – I apparently didn’t even bother to mention this at any point before the show – and he was jealous that I’d had the chance. I clearly was not suitably appreciative of the opportunity I’d received. But ultimately, much like when we saw Mavis Staples at the Regina Folk Festival last year, I left with a new appreciation for the artist, but mostly, I left thinking “man, I wish I’d seen this 20 years ago.”

SLCR #188: Junos Weekend (April 18-21, 2013)

April 30, 2013

PART 1: Q WITH JIAN GHOMESHI (Thursday, April 18)

I’m going to tell you right now, the Q section of this here review is LONG. You may want to skip the whole thing and just download the audio. It’s free, and it will take less time to listen to a two-hour show than to read this wall of words. Enjoy: http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2013/04/19/listen-to-q-live-in-regina/

Junos weekend kicked off with the one event that Mika predicted months ago. Normally taped in their comfy Toronto studio, Q tends to hit the road for special Juno-themed shows. Their infrequent live shows tend to sell out quickly, so Mika suggested that if she heard about tickets going on sale, she’d buy them right away and consult me later. I was fine with this.

Being as I am a key member of the Twitterverse, I was actually the one that heard about the show first. And – because of course it would – it was scheduled for the exact same stretch of time as one of her final exams. I was all set to opt out, thinking that it would be mean of me to go to the show without her, especially when she’s off doing something that’s no fun at all… but then I looked. Maybe shouldn’t have looked. Looking causes dilemmas. When are tickets going on sale, anyway? (Right now.) And how much are they? (Quite reasonable.) And what kind of seats are available? (Front row centre.) She sent me a text telling me that she didn’t want me to miss out on the show and that I should go, which was good, because I was already filling out the online ticket purchase form.

She was missing the show by a fluke of timing, and I was able to attend because of one. I had been scheduled to fly to Calgary on the day of the Q show, but I had rescheduled my trip to March so I could go to Hawksley’s musical instead. Win/win! For me, anyway.

Mika dropped me off at the Conexus Arts Centre on the way to her exam. I remained confident in my belief that my evening was going to be more fun than hers. Luckily, she was too distracted to be outwardly bitter.

Waiting for the show to start, I ran into a bunch of people – Pat from work, Joseph from Toastmasters, and some guy who slid down a banister at me and was revealed to be Colin. He was wearing glasses, which I’ve never seen him do before, and I swear I could have walked right past him and not known it was him. I had always doubted that whole Clark Kent/Superman nonsense but I have seen it in action and it’s surprisingly effective.

I don’t have any great story to go along with this, but while we were in the lobby, a friend of Colin’s walked by, said hi, and wandered directly into the ladies’ washroom. Colin tried to stop him at the last minute, but it was too late. I don’t know this guy, have never seen him before, may never see him again, couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, but this still needs to be recorded for posterity.

The show was set to start at 7:00, in that “if you’re not in the auditorium you will not be let in” kind of way. Once inside, they asked us to not leave during the duration of the taping if we could help it. I am a fan of this. Lay down the law. Start the show when you say you will. Promise to mock people whose phones ring. Show us who’s boss.

Local CBC morning show host Sheila Coles introduced Jian Ghomeshi to a great ovation. Ghomeshi was making his SLCR return for the first time since 1999, by my count, back when I saw his old band, Moxy Früvous, at shows in Saskatoon and Regina over two nights.

Looooooooong-time readers may recall an incident where, when talking to Jian after a show, I made some “brown-guy reference” (it’s been 15 years but I’m pretty sure those were his exact words) and in the review, tried to figure out whether or not I’d offended him, because I’m all paranoid and awkward and whatnot. Long story short, I hadn’t, and he wound up reading the review and wrote me a very nice email where he was super kind and flattering and encouraging about my writing. I don’t know if I’ve saved many emails for 15 years, but that one I kept.

For you non-Canadians, Ghomeshi (and Q itself) might be best known for an incident a few years ago where Billy Bob Thornton and his band were guests on the program. Thornton acted like a petulant dick and the video of the interview went viral. Ghomeshi got a lot of praise for how he handled the situation; not that I’ve done much in the way of critical media research, but at the time, I distinctly recall reading at least FIVE YouTube comments that didn’t include any misspellings, cuss words, or racial or homophobic slurs. That might be a site record and it speaks to how well Jian has taken to his no-longer-new role as radio show host.

In fact, possibly the best indication I can think of showing his success as the host of Q is this. On Thursday, Jian flew into Regina and mentioned on Twitter that he was heading straight to the casino from the airport in order to perform a duet with Serena Ryder. My first thought was “neat, I didn’t know he can sing.” And my second was “you saw Moxy Früvous in concert like ten times, idiot.”

Jian took the stage and talked about how great it was to be in Saskatoon. The crowd laughed, and once again I had a Moxy Früvous flashback. When I saw those back-to-back shows in 1999, Jian told the Saskatoon crowd that they’d be playing Regina the next night and everyone booed. The next night in Regina, sensing he was onto something, he said “Last night we were in Saskatoon…” and left a spot for boos that never came. You could hear crickets. The Saskatoon vs. Regina rivalry largely only operates in one direction; Saskatoon thinks they’re better and is jealous that Regina is the capital city and has the Roughriders. Regina agrees that Saskatoon is better and would probably be fine with sending the politicians up north. And really, the whole province shares the football team already.

After spirited applause (due in part to the fear of being judged against other Q live audiences), Jian kicked off the show with an opening essay about the Junos and the wide-reaching successes of the Canadian music scene. He then introduced our first guests, Dragonette, to perform their new single, My Legs. The song was fun and kicked off the show in fine fashion.

Before the show, I blew Colin’s mind when I mentioned that Jian used to be a member of Moxy Früvous. I was glad that I’d done so because Jian referenced Früvous on several occasions throughout the interview, what with it being a music-themed show and all, and I wouldn’t have wanted Colin’s head to explode all over the crowd. But when Jian introduced the lead singer of Dragonette as Martina Sorbara, my mind nearly went kaboom. Many years ago, during my first ever trip to the Vinyl Diner with Aaron, I picked up a half-dozen used CDs. Four of them were pretty much junk, but two became favourites, and both were tied to Ghomeshi in a way. One was my first Danny Michel CD, Fibsville, which I bought because I’d seen him as a guest alongside Ghomeshi on a talk show, and he seemed like a good dude. The other was (what I thought was) Martina Sorbara’s debut CD, The Cure for Bad Deeds, which I knew of because Jian produced it. I loved that record and then I never heard anything from her ever again. Years ago, before Dragonette was a thing, I Googled her name to see if I could figure out what she was up to, and all the internet knew was that she had put her solo career on hold to be in some band that I’d never heard of. I have no idea if this band was Dragonette or became Dragonette or was something else entirely.

On top of that, I’m not really familiar with Dragonette, apart from knowing they covered “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” for the first Canadian Target commercial. On the heels of this discovery, I did some more searching online to find out that she sang on this song, Hello, which was one of those songs that was in every commercial and all over the radio for the past two years, but I never knew who did it (Martin Solveig! I’m learning so much today). Also, The Cure for Bad Deeds was Sorbara’s second album; the title of the first, Unplaceables, has been shared with Aaron for the next time he makes a pilgrimage to Toronto to dig through used CD bins. It’s out of print and I want it.

The interview with Sorbara and Dan Kurtz was pretty short and mostly focused on their Juno nomination, though when Ghomeshi mentioned that Perez Hilton said that the new Dragonette album was “the album that No Doubt should have made but didn’t,” they let slip that they were going to open for No Doubt on a 20-city tour, including a stop in Regina, but No Doubt cancelled the shows. When I told Mika this, she seemed much more disappointed to miss out on No Doubt than she did to miss out on Q. Sorry, Jian.

When Sorbara left the stage, she kissed Jian on the cheek and he spent the rest of the evening with a lipstick kiss on the side of his face. This was never not delightful.

Next up was the local content, as Jian interviewed Sandra Butel, the artistic director of the Regina Folk Festival, and local comedian Jayden Pfeiffer. The discussion centered around Regina’s growing population and booming economy, and how that’s fuelling the local artistic scene. Examples included the exponential growth of the Folk Festival, with this year’s lineup arguably being its strongest ever (I’m personally looking forward to Feist, Neko Case, and Man Man), along with Pfeiffer’s monthly variety show, Red Hot Riot. The Regina arts scene was praised for its opportunities and its DIY work ethic (created in no small part by the fact that we don’t have everything that larger cities do, which gives us the freedom to create them for ourselves).

k.d. lang was the undisputed star of the show. After a glowing introduction, she sang the Jane Siberry song The Valley and earned a standing ovation. Jian later said that it was his favourite moment at any live Q taping and I didn’t have a hard time believing him.

Ghomeshi and lang have clearly known each other a long time and are very comfortable around each other. The interview was loose and conversational, starting with a discussion of how she felt about getting inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (happening during the Juno Awards ceremony itself). This led into a lengthier discussion of the nature of celebrity and how hard it is to maintain, and how she chose to take a step back from that lifestyle. It was noted that lang and recently deceased Canadian musical icons Rita MacNeil and Stompin’ Tom Connors don’t fit any of the expectations about what people expect a celebrity to look like or act like, and how they likely would never have been as successful in the States.

There were a few exchanges that I was especially fond of:

lang: “There are millions of singers who are better than me.”
crowd: “Noooooooo!”
lang: “No, there are! Maybe not in Canada, but…”
crowd: LOL

Ghomeshi: “You said once that when you got old you were going to drink a lot and smoke pot, so how’s that coming along?”
lang: “I also said I’d eat a steak and sleep with a man, so I’ve got a lot to look forward to.”
Ghomeshi: “Don’t be so sure.”

She also said that songs like Helpless and Hallelujah were easy to sing because they were such great songs. Jian agreed that this was a feeling we could all relate to. “It’s just a song” became a bit of a running joke throughout the evening.

After a six-minute break so they could slot in the news when the show aired the next day, Jian introduced Bahamas to sing his song Lost in the Light, accompanied by kd lang on backing vocals. Not only was it a great song, but the very idea of this Hall-of-Fame musical icon with a 30-year career taking a modest supporting role behind an indy singer/songwriter that, probably, a good portion of the crowd hadn’t even heard of, was amazing. Jian might believe that lang singing The Valley was the best moment in any live Q taping, but for me, it wasn’t even the best moment of the night.

Another Canadian Music Hall-of-Famer, Tom Cochrane, was in town to receive  the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award for his work with World Vision and other charities. The interview segment focused on the work he’s done and how it’s changed his perspective on life over the years. He spoke of going to Africa and seeing his daughters in the eyes of a young girl there who was cradling her mother’s head as she died. It was dark stuff, and easy to understand how something like that would change a person.

Cochrane finished by playing a new song, Pink Time, for the first time ever in public. He admitted that he was “scared shitless” to play it by himself, and joked that following k.d. lang wasn’t helping. The song was about a trucker and his wife who lived on Georgian Bay, and how he’d come back from trips and she was starting to forget who he was. They went down to the water at pink time – the time right before dusk when the sky turns pink – and didn’t come back. I haven’t really kept up with Tom Cochrane’s music since the early 90s and his biggest hit, Life is a Highway, so I don’t know if this song was representative of what he’s been doing lately, but it felt like a pretty drastic shift since those days. It was a really good song, but quite the tear jerker.

The next guests were retired Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo and retired NHL player Gary Roberts, there to discuss the Juno Cup, an annual hockey game between musicians and retired players (and for the first time this year, members of the Canadian national women’s hockey team) to raise funds for MusiCounts.  Like lang, Cuddy seemed really comfortable talking to Jian and it’s likely they’d have known each other for a long time. Roberts was a bit stiffer, as is to be expected, but he won the crowd over when talking about the importance of letting kids play without taking it too seriously, and exposing them to other sports.

The game isn’t an overly serious affair, but Cuddy did make sure to note that the musicians actually won one year (and Roberts was just as quick to point out that he wasn’t a part of the losing team) and suggested that the NHL Greats would continue toying with The Rockers but would never let that happen again. Sure enough, when the game took place, the NHL Greats won 9-8.

The final official guest was country singer Corb Lund, who played Gettin’ Down on the Mountain, from his new album Cabin Fever. The guy’s a great musician but seemed to have little interest in the interview segment, though he did point out that Saskatchewan had potash and gophers (and then corrected himself – “Richardson’s ground squirrels” – so he’d clearly done his gopher homework). He’d recently been on tour in the US, opening for Miranda Lambert and Dierks Bentley in giant arenas full of people who didn’t know who he was, but he didn’t seem overly concerned about trying to win them over. It was interesting – I don’t think he was trying to be difficult or that he didn’t want to participate, he just seems generally disinterested in the music scene apart from spending time with his friends. Jian seemed amused by this and teased him, finally asking in mock exasperation, “What DO you like? Is there anything you care about?” Lund responded quietly, “I like horses,” which might have been the funniest line of the evening. 

Corb got a big laugh when he said that he had no interest in country music and never listened to it, but I can see it – he mentioned liking weirder music, and he’s friends with Geoff Berner and the folks from Shout Out Out Out Out and Whitey Houston. Commercial country music probably holds little interest for someone like that (despite the fact that his newest album hit #1 on the Canadian charts the week it was released). He also used to be in a metal/punk band called The Smalls, and as Jian was trying to wrap up the interview, Lund noted that there was a “75%-80% chance” of a Smalls reunion. I honestly don’t know much about them, but if they headed this way, I’d check them out.

With that, the largest live Q taping in the show’s history came to a close. Jian had promised a Q&A segment after the taping was done, though I suspected that some folks wouldn’t stick around for it. This is why I initially didn’t think anything of the crazy lady who walked up to the front of the stage and stood directly in front of me. I thought she was leaving, and maybe she wanted to wave goodbye to Jian before she left, but no. She wanted to talk to him, and she wanted a hug, and Jian seemed a bit perplexed by this but gave her a hug and asked her name. “I no have name,” she said, in some sort of Eastern-European-type accent. “That’s odd, most people do,” mused Jian, as his smiling producer strolled over to usher the lady back to her seat. She hugged him too. Jian promised that he’d meet people out in the lobby and chat and sign books later, and told the nameless Soviet that he’d remember her. I’m sure crazy things happen to him all the time, but I have no doubt that this one will stick with him for a few days.

Before launching into the Q&A, Jian brought Bahamas back out to sing “I Must Be in a Good Place Now,” which isn’t on his albums, as far as I can tell, but is on a new iTunes-exclusive EP. It’s a very pretty song, as Bahamas songs tend to be (I had heard two in my life, by this point, so I am an expert), but in chatting with Jian, Bahamas seemed like he had quite the sense of humour too. More on that later.

The Q&A went pretty well. Jian told a story about Rush (it’s in his book, so go get it – I’m not giving that away on him), talked about dealing with difficult guests (noting that Whitney Houston’s mother was harder to deal with than Billy Bob Thornton, because Thornton was hostile but would at least talk), and confirmed that he did miss being in a band. He said that especially when he has bands on his show, he always wants to jump in and play drums and sing harmonies. I think it is great that he feels this way and clearly, the only answer is one more Moxy Früvous album. And tour. Or at least a one-off show here.

I was set to head home once everything was done. The plan was for me to leave the Conexus Arts Centre on foot, walk to someplace that Mika could find (and wouldn’t be overrun with post-show traffic), and she’d meet me there. I got about three steps out of the building when I decided that it was cold, snowing, slippery, and if it was going to be forever until she picked me up, she might as well just pick me up there. Besides, like I said, me and Jian, we go way back, so I thought I should take the opportunity to thank him for being so nice to me all those years ago.

I took my spot in line and spent about an hour slowly inching my way to the front. Finally, there were only two people ahead of me. The guy at the front was getting his Moxy Früvous Bargainville CD booklet signed. Jian flipped through the pictures and seemed quite nostalgic for a second there. (See? New record! Tour! Great idea!)

But that’s not my point. Sitting next to Jian was a girl who was selling copies of his book, 1982. While Bargainville Guy was getting his booklet signed, the guy behind me was buying a book for Jian to sign. And this guy, out of nowhere, brings up Jonovision, a late-90s Canadian talk show aimed at high school-age kids, hosted by Jonathan Torrens of Street Cents and Trailer Park Boys fame. And this girl was delighted to be recognized from her time on Jonovision, and I was like… there were girls on Jonovision? There was anyone beyond Jon on Jonovision? Granted, I was a bit old for Jonovision by the time it launched, but not THAT far out of the target demographic. Meanwhile, I don’t know if this guy saw every episode or what, but there was no “hey, aren’t you…” or “maybe I’m crazy, but you look like…” Nope, he KNEW this girl on sight. It was the damnedest thing. I was almost disappointed when it was my turn to talk to Jian because I wanted to hang around and eavesdrop on these folks talking Jonovision.

I had probably two minutes to chat with Jian, which was very generous of him when you figure he’d been awake early enough to appear on the local CBC morning show, he’d just taped a two-hour show, and had been signing autographs and posing for pictures for an hour. I got to thank him for taking the time to write me so long ago. He seemed to appreciate the story and looked pleased to have made such an impact. I got a quick picture with him and headed to the doors to wait for Mika, who confirmed that I’d had more fun that night than she had. I bought her a Frosty and some fries to make up for it, so we’re all square now, right?

PART 2: JUNOFEST (Friday, April 19)

The deal with Junofest is that you buy a wristband and it gives you weekend-long access to any of a number of venues. There were a number of intriguing options on the schedule, but our top pick – and it wasn’t even close – was the annual Six Shooter Records showcase, Outlaws & Gunslingers. This year, it was being held at the Exchange, which is not that big a venue, especially considering the lineup. Personal favourites and SLCR veterans Danny Michel, Corb Lund, and Sarah Slean were joined by Amelia Curran, Jason Plumb & The Willing, Jim Cuddy (of Blue Rodeo), Mike Plume, and Royal Wood. We saw that roster and knew it was where we wanted to be. Six Shooter, however, must have been unconvinced, as a week or two before the show, I saw a poster online which included all of the above PLUS Great Lake Swimmers, NQ Arbuckle, Rose Cousins, Devin Cuddy, Belle Starr, Kevin Parent, and The Strumbellas. At this point, I was concerned that even some of the musicians would wind up turned away for lack of space.

Doors were scheduled to open at 8:00. We got there at about 7:40, which was later than I’d initially wanted to arrive. There were good reasons (our cat was sick with sneezes and it was hard to leave the poor little guy – plus it was stupidly cold out for April) and bad (the inherent laziness and apathy which has made me the man I am today). By the time we got to the Exchange, the line was out the door and around the corner. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, really, but I still only gave us a 50/50 shot at getting in.

As we approached, I thought “hey, I think that’s Mandi at the end of the line.” It was, but we didn’t get to talk, as a half-dozen of the worst people wound up between us. These guys. Holy shit. They were loud and they were stupid, drinking outside and leaving a trail of crushed beer cans behind them, letting all their friends into the line, spitting all over, pissing on the side of the building, farting NOT on the side of the building, and just generally being tremendous douchebags. On a weekend when Tom Cochrane was being honoured for humanitarian work and k.d. lang was held up as a shining example of the value of being true to yourself, I wanted these dickbags to get the flesh-eating disease and I wanted to spend the weekend watching it run its course.

In all fairness to said dickbags, everyone was letting people into the line. And that’s the story of how we made it into the building’s external doors but not into the Exchange itself. Denied. If anyone had been policing the line, we likely would have made it.

We debated hanging around to see how long it would take people to leave – with the wristbands, there was a one-in, one-out policy – but we figured that nobody who got in would want to risk leaving. Instead, we turned around, fought through the mass of people (the line still stretched back to the point where we’d originally started), and went to the car in hopes of finding someplace more accommodating. We took solace in the knowledge that the dickbags didn’t get in either – and if they stuck around, they were going to be really sad to learn that it wasn’t a Corb Lund solo show like they all thought.

Our backup choice was the University of Regina campus bar, the Owl. I hadn’t been there in years but remembered it being a lot more sizeable than the Exchange. And indeed, it was. We were among the first people to arrive (the show there was starting an hour later than at the Exchange) and we even snagged a table.

Killing time before Indigo Joseph began, Mika had taken my phone and was scrolling through my Instagram pictures when some guy came by our table. I thought he was asking to take the empty chair, but no, he wanted to join us. He was on the Junos organizing committee and was doing a survey. Mika slid my phone to me, still on, face-up, still in Instagram. And the picture on display for our guest was a screenshot of a Draw Something game where I’d been tasked with drawing “laxative” and I (of course) drew a stickman launching himself into the air over a toilet via diarrhea rocket propulsion. Like a jetpack, kinda, but with poop. Our new Junos friend either didn’t see this or was kind enough to ignore it. When I pointed all this out to Mika later, she looked prouder than I’ve ever seen her. 

We told Survey Man what events we were planning on taking in over the weekend, and related the details of the gong show at the Exchange. I had also snarked at Six Shooter and the Exchange on Twitter (though I sat on the tweet for five minutes and my path-of-rage tweet had calmed down to an I-love-you-guys-but-hey-maybe-do-something-else-next-time, which I figure was for the best).

There are more wristband shenanigans to come, but this seems like as good a place as any to say that the whole wristband process just didn’t work for us. During our time at the Owl, I kept checking Twitter for updates. At 11:30, there were people still lined up to get into the Exchange who’d been there when we left at 8:00. The Owl was eventually backed up out the door and bouncers were advising people to go elsewhere. And it was the same pretty much everywhere – a 15-minute line here, a 30-minute line there. I stand by my original statement that the Six Shooter showcase should have been at a larger venue (though, admittedly, I found myself stumped when they asked me to recommend one), but as the night went on, it seemed like the too-small-venue issue was widespread. If the goal of the wristbands is to encourage people to venue-hop, it failed, at least for us. The only workable strategy I could see was to pick one place, show up early, and stay there. Once inside, why would you ever leave and risk spending the next hour lined up in sub-zero weather instead of listening to bands? I’m sure there are lots of people who went from place to place and had a great time and saw everyone they wanted to see, but not me.

I’m sorry that CBC didn’t record my rantings so you could have listened to an MP3 and skipped all that.

There were four acts scheduled for the Owl, and after all that whining above, I don’t have all that much to say about them.

Indigo Joseph is a local band who I had thought we’d just seen, but I have no sense of time and it was actually over a year ago (they opened for Michael Bernard Fitzgerald at the Exchange last March). I thought they’d improved a fair bit since last year, and I liked them well enough then. They’re really talented musicians and if they keep on this path, they might not be “just” a local band before too long.

Next up was Rococode, and I couldn’t really tell you anything about them. They reminded me of Stars, in the sense that there was absolutely nothing about them that I should have any reason to dislike, but I just wasn’t feeling it. They were perfectly fine, but it didn’t click with me. I assume it’s just me and I’d be willing to give them a try on another night (they stuck around Regina and played another show a few days later, which I did not make it to, but do not let that detract from the veracity of my previous statement).

I’d heard lots of praise for Hannah Georgas and she was really good. Is it wrong if I stop there and say nothing else? No? Good.

We stuck it out for most of Georgas’ set before getting tired (we’re old) and going home. The fourth band was Yukon Blonde and I will assume they were great.

PART 3: JUNOFEST (Saturday, April 20)

Okay, let’s try this again. After a semi-successful (at best) Friday, we got ourselves all pumped up for round two. This time, we’d be early. This time, we’d get in. This time, we’d see our first picks.

As I am old, my first choice was the show at Casino Regina – The Minnow, The Waltons, and Odds. Two bands I knew from when I was in high school and an early start time (and end time). This seemed feasible.

We got to the casino shortly after doors opened, for more Fun With Wristbands™. Those of us who’d bought the passes were shoved off to one side while they let in people who’d purchased tickets just for this one show. Now, if you read the official JunoFest schedule, you’d see that there were some shows that were only letting in fifty people with wristbands; otherwise, you had to buy a separate ticket to get in. This show, however, had no such disclaimer. And for all shows without that disclaimer, wristbands were supposed to get you priority access, and the venues weren’t even supposed to sell individual show tickets unless there was capacity available.

I also saw the casino’s poster for the show, which did state that only a “limited number” of people with wristbands would be allowed in. It didn’t say how many wristband people would get in, and it’s not like the poster was everywhere – I saw it on the casino’s Facebook page, and that’s it.

Mika and I had debated what to do if we couldn’t get in with wristbands. I didn’t really want to have to buy separate tickets for this show, since as much as I like Odds, I’ve seen them a few times before, and tickets were $30 each and we’d already paid $30 apiece for the wristbands. And it was looking like we’d have to make the call, since we were stuck in that line. At least we were inside and the people ahead of us in line weren’t spitting and farting. That I know of.

But then a wonderful thing happened. The lady at the front of the wristband line pitched a giant fit about how this wristband thing was garbage and they should let us in because otherwise what is the point of these wristbands and here’s the schedule and YOU SHOW ME where it says that you’re only letting in so many people with wristbands and on and on. The casino people said “this isn’t our event” and tried to avoid making a decision but Loud Lady was an unstoppable force and eventually they just waved us in. As the evening progressed, it seemed like more and more wristband people showed up – possibly they’d been turned away from other venues? – so I am assuming that the casino was just letting everyone in if they had a wristband, and it was all because of one loud lady. I salute you, crusader for justice, champion of consumers’ rights, and fan of early-90s CanCon. 

The first band was The Minnow and the internet has failed in telling me much about them. As far as I can tell, they were kind of big in Regina in the early 90s as The S.S. Minnow, but Gilligan’s lawyers made them change their name. They don’t play together much anymore – one of them said that this was their first show in 10 years, but I thought I’d read that they played the closing of The Distrikt. Either way, they played a short set (35 minutes) of Waltons-sounding rock (I guess that’s just the sound of early-90s Regina?) and a cover of Flo Rida’s Low (for which they awarded themselves the Juno for Mediocre Rap Performance by a Middle-Aged White Band) and it was perfectly fine.

The Waltons’ big song was Nothing Colder Than You, and it’s what they opened with. Lead singer Jason Pumb (also of Jason Plumb & The Willing, and/or that Steven Page show a few months back) launched into it, saying “here’s a song you just heard playing out in the lobby.” Off the top of my head, I really only remembered two Waltons songs; that one, and a cover of The Boxer which got a lot of radio play when I was in Grade 11. They didn’t play The Boxer but there were a handful of other songs that I recognized during their 35-minute set, and I finally got a definitive answer regarding how to pronounce the first word of their album Lik My Trakter (it’s “like,” not “lick”). There was also a brief mention of a part played on one of their albums by their former keyboardist, “our friend, Todd Lumley” (a.k.a. Mr. Lonely). These guys don’t play together all that often anymore either – though I KNOW they were at the closing of the Distrikt – and it was pretty cool to finally see them. 

After two really short sets, I was hoping that Odds would play for a while, since they were going on last. And they did! Instead of the evening’s standard of 35 minutes, they made it all the way to 45 minutes! At least their set was all hits in front of an appreciative crowd. Apart from one new song (Write It In Lightning; “new” apparently means “five years old”) and the theme to Corner Gas, the setlist was alarmingly similar to an Odds mixtape I made partway through university. Odds on one side, Wide Mouth Mason on the other. Often listened to while mowing the lawn. Someone Who’s Cool, indeed.

I held out hope that we’d get The Last Drink for the encore, which I’ve never heard played live (I love it, but it is admittedly not a fun-times party song). No surprise, we didn’t get it. Instead, Odds were joined for one last song by long-time pal and collaborator, Regina’s own Colin James. I’ve lived in Regina for almost 10 years and lived in Saskatchewan my whole life and somehow I’d made it this long without actually seeing Colin James. Between him and the Waltons, it was a good evening for getting caught up on the local zeitgeist of 1994. I look forward to seeing Rah Rah and Library Voices at the 2032 Junos.

With the evening’s early end, we considered trying our luck at the Owl or the downtown tent, but it was sleeting and windy and we decided to pack it in and cut the stupid wristbands off. I was a little disappointed to get home and find out that Classified was joined on stage by Maestro Fresh Wes (I don’t want to hear anything about any shortened name). Grade school me still has a Maestro Fresh Wes concert on his bucket list, along with getting a complete set of WWF stickers from Hostess chip bags, and inventing a Nintendo that also plays Sega games.

PART 4: SONGWRITERS’ CIRCLE (Sunday, April 21)

Again, feel free to skip this part: http://music.cbc.ca/concerts/2013-Juno-Songwriters-Circle-2013-04-21

I bought tickets to the Songwriters’ Circle well before the lineup was announced. I haven’t paid attention to past years’ shows, but Mika said that they can be hit or miss. I’m sure she was leaning towards miss when they announced the performers on the radio and somehow forgot to mention Kathleen Edwards, Danny Michel, and Classified.

We drove downtown on Sunday morning and parked by the porn store near the casino. If there’s one thing I know, there’s always good parking to be had by the porn store. You could tell the Junos were in town because the mannequins in the porn store window were holding musical instruments. “Gonna Get Loud,” indeed.

We got to the casino shortly before noon. Due to the hellacious wind, we entered through the closest doors instead of the ones by the show lounge. I’m always amazed at how many people are up and at’em, ready to gamble a Sunday morning away. I can see a Vegas vacation being a special occasion, but this is essentially an abandoned train station which has been converted into a warehouse full of VLTs. Maybe I’m still bitter about the time that Price Is Right slot machine took away thirty of my dollars in, like, two spins. 

The ever-present Sheila Coles took to the stage right at noon to introduce the day’s host, Tom Cochrane, and the first round of guests: country singer Crystal Shawanda (with guitarist Gary Dewayne), Colin James, Classified, and David Myles. The format was pretty simple; each person would take a turn talking about one of their songs and then playing it. Knowing nothing about Shawanda, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed her songs. She had a real roughness in her voice and paired well with Cochrane on his song from Q, Pink Time. (She noted that after he played it for her backstage, she had to get her makeup redone.)

The real stars of the first half were Classified and David Myles. The pair, likened to “Eminem meets Buddy Holly” by Tom Cochrane, are a bit of an odd couple, but the rapper/folk singer partnership has landed them a big hit song in Inner Ninja. Myles seemed greatly amused at the idea that he’d won a Juno award for Best Rap Recording, noting that he’d performed at lots of hip-hop shows and was so pleased to turn the tables on Classified and let HIM be the fish out of water for a change. Their acoustic versions of Inner Ninja and The Day Doesn’t Die were crowd pleasers, and I talked to more than one person after the show who said they had no interest in rap and were surprised at how much they enjoyed these two.

The radio broadcast was to be split into two parts, so after the first hour, the guests left and were replaced with Bahamas, Kathleen Edwards, and Danny Michel. I’ve loved Michel’s music since the first time I heard it, and I thought Edwards’ album Voyageur was the best record of 2012 and criminally under-represented at the Junos if you think that sort of thing actually means anything (answer: only when it validates my existing opinions), so I wasn’t expecting Bahamas to steal the show, but indeed, he did. This was made all the more impressive because Edwards wasn’t about to give up the show without a fight – she walked on stage, sat down, and immediately turned to Tom Cochrane and asked if people ever called him “The Cock.”

Cochrane: “I like that!”
Edwards: “I BET you do.”
Cochrane: “I do need a title for my next album…”
Michel: “Greatest Hits?”
Edwards (off-mic to Michel): “Greatest Cocks!”

I’m truly saddened that this exchange didn’t make the radio broadcast. But if you listen to that streaming audio link above and you can’t make out what Edwards is saying as Cochrane starts playing Back in the Game Again, now you know. She’s saying “greatest cocks.”

At least the broadcast left in the part where she accused Fred Penner of getting “totally shitfaced” the night before.

I was supposed to be talking about Bahamas here, but I got distracted by cocks. Bahamas was born Afie Jurvanen, which is much harder to spell and remember (unless you’re Finnish) (I think). He’s come through Regina several times and every time, Mark has tried to get me to go, and every time, I had something better to do, such as not leaving the house and doing things. I see now that this was a mistake. He’s a compelling mix of quick, dry wit and sweet, sincere songs. He charmed everyone when he revealed (well, when Kathleen Edwards made him reveal) that he had a lock of his wife’s hair woven into his guitar strap. His story about writing a song after smoking a joint had people rolling, but I was more entertained by his explanation of casino policies; Danny Michel said that the darkened theatre made it hard to know what time it was and Bahamas said “that’s how they get all your money.” He responded to the awkward laughter with a sincere “it’s by design, you know?” He may not get invited back to play the casino, but he will be at the Regina Folk Festival this summer and I’m looking forward to being there.

The Songwriters’ Circle came to a close with a group performance of Cochrane’s classic Life is a Highway. I wonder if he gets tired of that? I mean, I’m still tired of it, nearly twenty years removed from when it dominated the radio, and I don’t get asked to play it every day.

For posterity, here’s the full setlist:

Tom Cochrane – Big League (Cochrane)
Crystal Shawanda – Dirty
Colin James – National Steel
Classified & David Myles – The Day Doesn’t Die
Tom Cochrane & Crystal Shawanda – Pink Time
Crystal Shawanda – Chains
Colin James – Heaven Knows Your Name
Classified & David Myles – Inner Ninja
Tom Cochrane – Back In The Game Again
Bahamas – Sobering Love
Kathleen Edwards – Asking For Flowers
Danny Michel – Sad and Beautiful World
Tom Cochrane – Good Times
Bahamas – Sunshine Blues
Kathleen Edwards – Empty Threat (Edwards)
Danny Michel – Who’s Gonna Miss You
Tom Cochrane – Life Is A Highway

Set free into downtown Regina at 2:30 in the afternoon, Mika and I did the only sensible thing; we went for breakfast. Fresh & Sweet is highly recommended. Full of red velvet pancake and white chocolate banana bread, we lurched our way home, settled into food comas, and prepared ourselves for the evening.

PART 5: THE JUNO AWARDS (Sunday, April 21)

Didn’t go. Never even considered trying to get tickets. I suppose I might have if they’d announced k.d. lang, Serena Ryder, Hannah Georgas, and Metric as performers BEFORE tickets went on sale, but really, this sort of show just isn’t my thing. I followed updates for a while on Twitter as the night progressed, which was kind of weird since I do own a TV – two, in fact – and never once considered tuning in. I hear tell some people won some awards. Good for them!

SLCR #178: “Weird Al” Yankovic (October 10, 2012)

November 8, 2012

The essence of comedy is surprise, except when it isn’t. Jokes you’ve heard before aren’t funny, except when they are.

I don’t know why some things work this way and some don’t. Years ago – for the first (and, so far, only) time as an adult – I tried watching Spaceballs. I loved that movie as a kid. As an adult, I was so let down by how badly it failed to live up to my memories that I began to suspect that there was some form of treachery involved, that someone had edited the movie and replaced all the jokes with not-quite-jokes. But I can watch episodes of Arrested Development or the good years of The Simpsons, shows that I’ve seen so many times I almost know them by heart, and not only do I laugh at the jokes, but I laugh before they’re said because I know they’re coming.

This is not to suggest that Arrested Development and Spaceballs are on par. But you know what I mean, right?

Maybe Spaceballs is on par with “Weird Al” Yankovic? There might be something to that.

Anyway. I bring this up because Weird Al’s show at the casino was more or less exactly the same format as the show I saw in Saskatoon five years ago. And really, that show wasn’t much different from when I saw him in 1996. So, y’know, if you’ve never been to a Weird Al show and you think that’s something you might like to do someday, maybe you should just quit reading right here. I’ll even give you a spoiler-free review: you already know exactly how you feel about Weird Al and that is how you will feel about seeing him in concert.

Like the 2007 show, I bought tickets right when they went on sale, and we wound up at the front. It’s hard not to be extra excited for a show when you’re right there, front and centre. I saw a few friends in the crowd – some people that I knew would be there, and some I did not – and they were all sad that they didn’t have our seats. They all have better-paying jobs than I do, but I got to sit in the very front row for Weird Al. This says something about where my life’s priorities lie. Probably nothing good.

We checked out the stuff table before the show. Apart from the usual CDs and t-shirts, they had Weird Al trading cards (which I did not buy) (also, they were sold as complete sets, so why would you trade them?) and did not have the new book about Al by the AV Club’s Nathan Rabin (which I would have bought). No souvenirs for me.

The fans looked much the same as last time (see above, re: White & Nerdy), though I don’t recall the guy with the big 007 tattoo on his neck at the 2007 show. Part of me wanted to get into a really excited discussion with him about Skyfall, and the smarter part of me made me not do that. I did think that a casino was an odd choice for a venue, since you’d have to think that a significant portion of Weird Al’s fanbase is made up of 12-year-old boys. But the concert hall looked like it was nearly sold out, so I guess there are enough folks in town who are 12-year-old boys at heart.

The format of the show was the same as always. He opened by playing the newest polka medley. There were lots of costume changes; while these were taking place, the big screens would be showing videos of Al “interviewing” celebrities, or montages of Al’s guest appearances on different TV shows and movies. I think most of the interviews were new, and most of the clips were shown at the last concert. Somewhere in the middle of the show, there was a long medley of parodies and originals, so if he didn’t play your favourite song, there’s at least a chance you’d get to hear a chunk of it. (I did not get Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, but I want the whole thing or nothing.) After the medley, you mostly get Al’s greatest hits. And the show ended with Yoda, since he always closes with the Yoda chant, which is either now stuck in your head or best left to your imagination.

Like last time, streamers were fired into the crowd when the bomb went off at the end of Canadian Idiot. Like last time, the Saskatchewan crowd reacted big to the reference to Saskatchewan. And like last time, I got hit in the face with Weird Al spit when he waved his water bottle in our direction.

Most of Al’s costumes have stayed the same too. There’s still a fat suit and Amish attire. There’s still a Segway on stage for White & Nerdy, and the band still dresses like Nirvana for the Smells Like Teen Spirit parody.

We did get at least a snippet of almost every song off the newest album, Alpocalypse, so there was some new content. I think it’s one of Al’s best records, so I was pretty pleased by this. I was especially glad that we got Skipper Dan – possibly Al’s most depressing song – and CNR (with drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz dressed up like Meg White). There was no sign of Stop Fowarding That Crap To Me, which is a shame. I don’t know if there’s much of an audience for a style parody of Jim Steinman these days, but I loved the idea so much it’s like he wrote it just for me.

The highlight of the show – and one of the highlights of my life – was Al’s Prince-inspired song, Wanna B Ur Lovr. Like last time, Al grabbed a wireless mic and went out into the crowd, serenading all the ladies. He went all around the place, making sexyface at my friend Mary, and then headed back our way. I could tell that Mika sensed danger. But “Weird Al” Yankovic is a gentleman, and merely sang to my lovely wife “I wanna be your love torpedo, are you pickin’ up the subtle innuendo here?” And I’ll tell you, if there’s anyone in the world who I’d let hit on my wife without incident, it’d be my childhood hero. It helps that Al just seems so nice, you know? When I was a little kid, I liked Ray Stevens as much as I liked Weird Al, but these days Stevens comes across as a racist, bitter, entitled Tea Party dickhead. If he so much as looks at my wife I’m taking his G D head off.

So yes. A delightful time was had by all, even if it was more smiles of recognition than full-on belly laughs. Talking to friends after the show, it was evident that the people who hadn’t seen Al in concert before enjoyed the show that much more than we did. That’s how it goes.

And one last “like last time:” like last time, some of us waited around after the show to see if Al would come out, and he did not. Low-level celebrity stalking was never something I was that big on, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to possibly meet Weird Al. Of course, if I ever did get to, I don’t think I could say anything that wasn’t super creepy or cheesy, assuming I could say anything at all. There’s probably a lesson I could take from that, and one I will surely intentionally forget next time.