Posts Tagged ‘conexus arts centre’

SLCR #282: Amanda Marshall (June 23, 2017)

July 10, 2017

For all the concerts I go to, it’s a little ridiculous that it took me 31 years to finally attend the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. I suppose it makes sense if you figure that aside from knowing that jazz plus jazz equals jazz, I don’t know what the jazz is all about. But much the same way that our Folk Festival includes rock, country, hip-hop, and much more, the Jazz Festival is really just a jazz festival in name only.

The initial draw for me was the chance to see Son of Dave for the first time in 17 years. I saw him on his first solo tour on April 18, 2000, and haven’t made it to a show since. He lives in the UK now and doesn’t tour Canada much, though he does occasional gigs in Winnipeg (where he’s from) and I’ve had tickets to those shows on at least two occasions, but work or something always got in the way.

And then – THEN – Hawksley Workman retweets some rando saying he can’t wait for Hawksley’s show at the Jazz Festival. I’m not sure if Hawksley was a late addition or if I’m just slipping in my old age, but I missed his name on the lineup page. I excitedly check the schedule… and he’s playing on the same Saturday night as Son of Dave. I curse the fates. But wait! Hawksley is on from 8:00 to 9:30. Son of Dave starts at 10:30! I LOVE the fates. The fates are awesome. Heck yeah, fates, you’re okay by me.

I had tickets to Serena Ryder in Regina for Sunday night, so I had to head home early, but I checked the rest of the schedule to see who was playing on the Friday night, and Amanda Marshall was headlining the main stage. I hadn’t heard any Amanda Marshall songs in years, but I was immediately intrigued. I don’t know if her name will ring a bell for any non-Canadians reading this, but Marshall was HUGE in Canada for a little under a decade. Her first album came out in 1995 and was basically all hits, and her third (and thus far, last) was released in 2001. After that, she basically disappeared. And I don’t mean “got less popular,” I mean she vanished. No new music, no tours, no online presence. Wikipedia makes vague reference to legal issues that started when she fired her management team in the early 2000s, but whatever the cause, it was kind of remarkable for someone that famous to disappear so thoroughly. I mean, I know Alanis Morissette isn’t as big a star now as she was 20 years ago, but I’m sure she has a website, right?

Over time, Marshall eventually resurfaced for infrequent performances, but even now, there’s very little to indicate that she’s actively working. Her Wikipedia page notes a radio interview where she said she hoped to have a new CD out in 2013. It hasn’t arrived yet. I decided that I had to go see this show because how often is this opportunity going to come around again? And besides, I’d never seen her before.

Or hadn’t I? I drove to Saskatoon early Friday morning, stopping only for a quick visit with my pal Garth before skipping town. Garth is my chiropractor, and about a week before, Mika said “you haven’t had any problems with your back in a long time,” so you know I was doomed. But really, it wasn’t so bad – just kind of stiff feeling – and Garth loosened me up. Plus, when I listed off who I was going to see at the Jazz Festival, he was oddly excited for Hawksley Workman. That was as delightful as it was unexpected.

I got sidetracked, so let me try this again. Or hadn’t I? On the drive in to town, Deserée texted to ask if we’d seen Amanda Marshall years ago. I had been sure all along that I hadn’t, but I immediately started second-guessing myself. Some research showed that she played Saskatoon on June 23, 1999 – or exactly 18 years to the day before the Jazz Festival show. Thanks to these old reviews, I know I wasn’t there, but by remembering how Marshall moved around on stage, it’s safe to say Dez was.

After lunch with Dave, I drove around Saskatoon, hitting record stores, buying nothing, and marveling at how much has changed. I don’t come to town much anymore and 8th Street and Midtown Plaza are both nearly unrecognizable.

I made my way to Josy and Anna’s house, where I’d be spending the weekend. With a little time before the weekend of music would begin in earnest, Josy and I set out on a Pokémon GO walk, since we’re the only people left still playing it. The River Landing area of Saskatoon is new since I lived there and it’s quite nice, if currently buggy.

Back to the house and their son wanted me to read him a book. He brought over The Book of Facts, which doesn’t exactly have a lot of story to it, but that’s not the point. One time he wanted me to read him a story. I told him that I couldn’t read and I made up a story based on pictures (after first claiming to believe that his book was a Domino’s Pizza ad) and now that’s just a thing we do. He doesn’t really believe that I’m illiterate anymore but I still keep kayfabe, so to show him that my reading had improved, I had to get something close to right. That’s how The Book of Facts became The Big Book of Farts. From there, I didn’t really need to do much – he ran with the premise (the premise being “farts”) and I just kind of supervised.

Eventually, it was time to pick Deserée up and head downtown for Amanda Marshall. We knew the show was sold out and that seating would be at a premium, so with an 8:00pm start time, we figured that we’d need to be there by 7:30.

hahahahahahaha we’re dumb, look at us, we’re really dumb

What followed was a series of events that I can’t say I didn’t anticipate, but the scope of them was far beyond me. First was parking. Downtown Saskatoon is notorious for not having a ton of parking at the best of times. Long before I moved away, I can remember six-block walks to go see a movie. And those movies weren’t in downtown parks that don’t normally host anything beyond vagrants and sparrows. The short version is that we tried to get a good spot, failed, then circled out wider and wider until we’d doubled back to a ridiculous degree. I feel like there’s a funnier way to say this but maybe “we parked far away” isn’t the anecdote gold it originally seemed.

With more time spent parking and a longer-than-expected walk to the park, we got there later than we wanted. Luckily, we had brought our nice lawn chairs with us so we could relax and enjoy the show. Unluckily, there was no place left to park a chair. This place was packed. I later learned that a sellout, for the Jazz Festival main stage, is 3,500 people. I don’t doubt this. And you could probably seat 3,500 people there given uncomfortably cramped arena seating. But when you let people bring their own reasonably sized chairs and space them a reasonable distance from each other, that space gets filled up pretty quickly.

Ultimately, we shoved a recycling bin to one side and put our chairs next to it. This put us behind the main walkway at the back of the park, which was far from ideal, but was as good as we were going to manage. It could have been worse; other people eventually came and sat behind us. Others showed up with chairs, saw the situation, and left.

“Why are we taking our chairs back to the car?” asked one mother.

“‘CUZ THERE’S NO PLACE TO PUT THEM” said her kid.

Now. I don’t know if this reads funny to you. Maybe you had to be there. Maybe you had to see – or more importantly, hear – these two folks. The mother sounded like she’d just woken up in a gutter. The son’s voice was 50% the squeaky-voiced teen from The Simpsons, 50% a literal demon. It was amazing. We did impressions of them all night long.

Our openers were Regina Folk Festival favourite blues-rockers The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer. As they were unarmed during this performance, I don’t know which was which. Also, I’m pretty sure there were at least four people on stage. I don’t know if the other two are killers too. Maybe The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer & The Climate Change Denier & The Guy Who Refuses To Vaccinate His Kids is too long to fit on the marquee?

I can’t really tell you much about this set because we were so far back, and people were using that walkway as a place to stand and watch the show, so we really couldn’t see anything. Even the big screens were mostly blocked from our view. All of these extracurriculars made it pretty hard for me to pay any attention. I will say that Dez and I were in agreement that they sounded good and we’d both like to see them again sometime under better conditions. Luckily for me, they seem to play Regina fairly regularly.

Okay. Up until now it had not been the best experience. If I ever come back to a mainstage show at the Jazz Festival, I’ll know that you have to be there waiting for the gates to open if you want a shot at seeing the show. I can’t even get mad at all the yahoos standing directly in front of us. It’s kind of a dick move, but we’re all just trying to see the show we paid for and there really isn’t enough space for the number of tickets they’d sold. I get that. Though I will take a certain joy in knowing that the one guy who stood in front of us forever went around all evening with his fly down. Enjoy the breeze, Mr. White Jeans.

For Amanda Marshall, I gave up on the chairs and went and stood with the other yahoos. If you can’t beat ’em until they fall over and get out of your way, join ’em.

I had joked, before the show, that I’d once thought Amanda Marshall had died. I know now that she is, in fact, still alive. The new theory I’m going with is that around 2002, she fell into a time portal. 2017 Amanda Marshall sounds the same and looks the same (and has the same hair, much to everyone’s delight) and this time portal theory makes a lot of sense to me – though I’m open to the possibility that she may be a robot. That would work too. Someone else suggested she’d been kept in cryogenic stasis for the past 15 years but that sounds pretty silly to me.

Anyway, I wasn’t at that Amanda Marshall show 18 years before, but I’d have to think this experience wasn’t all that different. Like I said, she hasn’t missed a step. This was very much a greatest hits show – there were only a handful of songs I didn’t recognize all night. It was a bit like Bryan Adams, where Mika and I thought “okay, we heard all the singles, what’s left but Cuts Like a Knife” and then he’d play hit after hit that we’d forgotten about. Except in this case we were waiting for Birmingham (though I bet she could kill Cuts Like a Knife if she really wanted to), which was the closer. The encore was Let It Rain. The only single we noticed missing was Everybody’s Got a Story, much to the dismay of the loud drunk dude behind us who yelled quite loudly for it.

Marshall came across like a really likeable person. She joked about her trademark giant hair and she joked about her absence (though never explained it), and seemed truly appreciative to get such a warm reception after so many years. And she was beloved – I read news stories about the show that talked to fans who flew in from Alberta and BC to see this. Though I don’t know that anyone loved her as much as that drunk guy.

Though it was funny – you know how you go see a band, and they play the first few notes of a big hit, and everyone recognizes it and cheers? Well, because Marshall has been out of the spotlight for so long, she’d start playing a song and when people recognized it, instead of cheering, you could hear 3,500 people all say “oh!” in unison. Like we’d all forgotten Fall From Grace was a thing and we all remembered it at once.

Despite less than ideal conditions – apart from the park being packed, it was also unseasonably chilly – this was a delightful show and you should go see Amanda Marshall if you get the chance. I mean, you likely won’t get the chance, but if she falls through the time portal somewhere near you, I recommend it.

Afterwards, we packed up our neglected chairs and made the long trek back to the car. I picked up some snacks, dropped Dez off at home, and got back to Josy’s house much later than anticipated. We had a little time to visit before I crashed out. I plugged my phone in, with a cord that was a little too short to be convenient (this will matter later), and briefly perused the internet before falling asleep. This seemed like such a good idea that I did it for most of the morning too – wake up, look at phone, pass out, repeat. This went on for so long that I didn’t get up until almost 11:00.

Eventually I staggered back into the land of the living. I made Josy make me burgers and we went to the University to look around and chase more Pokémon. This didn’t work out so well – my foot was killing me and the weather didn’t cooperate. We spent most of our time inside, avoiding a rainstorm. Eventually, we headed back to his place so I could turn around and go back out.

SLCR #283: Hawksley Workman (June 24, 2017)

See, my idea was to do the whole Jazz Festival as one review, like the Folk Festival, so I could keep each individual segment nice and short. And I suppose I should fess up: that didn’t happen. At all. This thing is huge. I’d have told you up front but you’d never have read this. Now you’re stuck here and you need to see how this ends. It’s brilliant, really.

After dealing with the crowds the night before, Dez and I had decided that we needed to get to the free stage nice and early for Hawksley. We also made plans to meet Jenn and Nicholas for Jamaican food beforehand. These two things combined resulted in us eating at “senior time,” as Nicholas aptly put it. But who among us hasn’t eaten Jamaican curry at 4:30 in the afternoon? And fantastic Jamaican curry at that.

We finished with dinner and headed out. The rain had left and it was delightfully hot and sunny. Three of us headed right to the park while Nicholas went home for a quick nap to recover from the afternoon’s Pride parade. I found a better parking spot this time, and we got a quality patch of lawn to plant our chairs, so that was very exciting. Or at least pleasant. Mostly pleasant.

The day’s free stage events were a cross-promotion between Saskatoon Pride and the Jazz Festival. I checked out the schedule and apart from headliner Hawksley, I didn’t recognize any names. We arrived in time to see most of Catey Shaw’s set – which at an hour, she said was the longest of her career – and we all really liked her. Fun singer-songwriter pop, and Shaw seemed very personable. I’ve since checked out more of her songs and maybe you should do the same?

Somewhere in here, Reagan showed up and Nicholas returned. I wandered away to get a drink, eventually settling on some ridiculously good fresh lemonade (and some kettle corn, because kettle corn). When returning to my chair, I had a moment of “where are we sitting again?” that was quickly alleviated because Nicholas was wearing a rainbow striped cowboy hat that matched his rainbow striped tank top and rainbow striped glitter beard. He was hard to miss, is what I’m saying. It’s hard to stand out at Pride but he managed quite well. He’d also offered to glitter up my beard (you use a glue stick and hairspray) (and glitter) (duh) and I was sorely tempted, but I didn’t think I could put Josy’s pillows through that.

There were some drag queens performing between Shaw and Hawksley and – I say this with the utmost respect to my wife and my family and my friends and I hope you understand where I’m coming from here – I can only hope that one day I will love anyone or anything as much as Nicholas loved these drag queens. It was amazing to see. And hear. Mostly to hear.

So, Hawksley. This was my 20th Hawksley show and by now, I know how this works. When he takes a full band on tour, he digs through his back catalogue and plays a whole bunch of weirdo songs that probably don’t do much for a lot of people but that I love. When he’s just playing one-off shows here and there, he has about 25 regular songs that he draws from. This was one of those shows. I’m not complaining – I thought this was great. Of course I would.

Plus there were some interesting twists in terms of the band that made this a unique show, at least in terms of the ones I’ve seen. I’ve seen Derrick Brady play bass for Hawksley many times, and I think Brad Kilpatrick on drums as well. Mr. Lonely’s absence was conspicuous and he was missed, though Hawksley filled in on keyboards, which I hadn’t seen before. And Jackie Mohr (of The Mohrs, a band I’ve totally heard of and know nothing about) was on guitar, which also presented the opportunity for female backing vocals on some songs that don’t normally have them. Or vocals that were, like, five times louder than Hawksley on the first song – but the sound folks got that sorted out in short order.

I took notes during the show so here’s a full setlist:

• We Will Still Need a Song [this was an all-ages show, so he started with “Baby, you’re drunk” instead of the usual “Fuck you, you’re drunk”]
• The City is a Drag [an extended version where he also sang part of Karma Chameleon and a bit of We Built This City]
• We’re Not Broken Yet
• Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky [this was the “pretty bloody sexy” version]
• Teenage Cats
• It’s Really Starting to Snow
• Or Maybe a Boat
• someone called out for Claire Fontaine and he did the first few lines
• Goodbye to Radio
• Jealous of Your Cigarette
• Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off
• Oh You Delicate Heart
• Safe and Sound
• he started Autumn’s Here but decided against it
• Beautiful and Natural
• Smoke Baby [it sounded like there was a bit of Wicked Game thrown in there, but I couldn’t hear well enough to be certain]
—encore—
• Don’t Be Crushed

So no real surprises, but a fine set. Of course, Hawksley spent lots of time talking to the crowd, and everything was very Saskatoon-centric. He talked about his first shows at Louis’ Pub and moving up to the Broadway Theatre, though he seemed to hold a special spot in his heart for Amigo’s. I don’t remember him ever playing Amigo’s (apart from one show with Mounties a few years ago that I was too sick to attend), but he really wanted all of us to go swimming in the river after his show, and we should all swim over to Amigo’s. But we had to be careful doing it. “Safety third? No. Safety first? Yes.”

As soon as the show was over, I was out of there – I had about an hour to get back to the car and make my way to Amigo’s. Nicholas helped me tote my lawn chairs back to the car before heading home to touch up his glitter. The others went for poutine. I was very much looking forward to Son of Dave but I did have a touch of poutine envy.

SLCR #284: Son of Dave (June 24, 2017)

I made it to Amigo’s with time to spare, got myself a cider, and grabbed a seat by myself up at the front and off to the side. There weren’t a ton of people there, though I was delighted to see anyone at all. That first Son of Dave show back in 2000 was pretty sparsely attended. By that, I mean – without exaggeration – there were more people there who paid to see me than to see the band. I had my table of friends who were there on my recommendation, and there was one guy who worked at the local community radio station, and that was about it. Other stops on that tour were about as well-attended. His previous band had garnered a lot of fame but it didn’t carry over to his (very different) solo project. It was a pretty difficult time for him, but he’s done well for himself since then, and it’s been really gratifying to watch him go from busking in London to regular tours and having songs in commercials and TV shows like Breaking Bad and Preacher.

Because this was a Jazz Festival show, it was the rare Amigo’s show that would start on time. I felt like I’d seen a unicorn. Unfortunately, Son of Dave’s set was scheduled to go short – only 45 minutes – because he was the opening act for Reverend Raven & the Chainsmoking Altar Boys. He had a longer set scheduled at the free stage on Sunday evening, but I needed to be back in Regina by then as we had bought those tickets to Serena Ryder long before finding out about this.

It’s really hard to not shorten Son of Dave to just Dave. But he’s not Dave. That’s his dad. He’s Benjamin.

Anyway. He took the stage right on time, bringing with him a box of harmonicas and a fruit basket that featured a bag of barbecue chips. He later showed this off to the crowd, claiming that it was his rider.

If you were hoping for something more exciting to happen with the fruit basket, sorry – it just seemed worth mentioning since it was a fruit basket with chips, but I maybe should have skipped it since it didn’t play a big role in the evening. Don’t mention the fruit basket unless Son of Dave later kills someone with the fruit basket. Chekhov’s fruit basket.

Son of Dave plays the blues, kind of. He plays harmonica and whatever else he feels like, and he beatboxes and sings and mixes it all on the fly with a sampler. He calls himself a bluesman and you can hear it in his music, but he’s much better suited for a dance party than one would expect from a bluesman. His most recent release is a covers album called Explosive Hits, and that was mostly what he played here. There were some of his originals, like Leave Without Running and Shake a Bone (someone more knowledgeable than me will surely point out that these are old blues songs that I don’t know about), but he played a lot of covers – everything from Tequila to Pump Up the Jam with a little Daft Punk for good measure.

Much as I watched his career progress from that 2000 show to now, you could see him winning over the audience as the evening went on. At the start, everyone stayed back in their seats, which he said was fine, we’d had a hard week and he’d just “do all the fuckin’ work” for us. Then a few fans went up to the front. They were even requesting specific songs of his, which was pretty cool. Over the brief set, they were joined up at the front by more and more people. He showered them with dollar bills and people scrambled for fake money. Eventually, he demanded a conga line, and he got one. This was all great fun and my only complaint was that we didn’t get twice as much of it.

I didn’t stick around for Reverend Raven & the Chainsmoking Altar Boys, so as tradition dictates, I’ll assume they were great. I also didn’t stick around to chat with Benjamin, which I would have liked to do, but it was getting late and I wasn’t sure he was going to come out anyway. Hopefully I’ll get a chance next time, and hopefully that isn’t another 17 years away.

I made my way back to Josy and Anna’s house, where their son was having a sleepover with three friends. I met Anna on the front porch, and we visited for 20 minutes as we mentally prepared ourselves for what awaited inside. But mostly they were just watching a movie and it was pretty reasonable, all things considered. I chatted with Josy and Anna for a while as the kids all passed out. I tiptoed around them on my way up to bed for fear of waking them up and setting them off once more. Again, I read some internet on my phone before falling asleep.

Now, I’d taken over Josy’s son’s room for the duration of my stay. And as I mentioned in the last review (or was it two reviews ago? I forget how this gimmick works and I’m too lazy to scroll up), my phone cord was just a little too short – I could reach the outlet from the bed, but I couldn’t actually set the phone down on the bed – and because of the headboard, there was no convenient place to rest my phone – so I just left my phone hanging over the headboard. The first night, that worked fine. On the second night, not so much. I woke up around 8:00 and my phone was missing. Which sounds like the punchline to a tremendous joke about giant marshmallows (or… something smaller and harder, I guess?) but it was all too real.

“Oh well,” I thought, “it has to be here, no sense worrying about it now.” I got up and went to the bathroom, then laid back down to sleep some more. And of course I couldn’t. I dumped the pillows on the floor. And then all the blankets. Nothing. And then the mattress. Still nothing. There were these slats that supported the mattress, and clearly the phone had fallen through them. And the slats were screwed into the bedframe. There was no removing them.

Luckily, I had also brought my work phone with me, and I could use the Find My iPhone app to track my lost personal phone. I could also use it as a flashlight. The bad news is that I hadn’t charged it and it was down to the dreaded red sliver of battery life. I used the app, and sure enough, the loud ringing (it’s 8:00 a.m.) told me that my personal phone was somewhere under the bed. (Here I discovered that you can’t turn off the ringing without finding the phone and the phone was vibrating loudly too.) The bed has drawers in it, so I figured that was my answer – pull out a drawer and I can reach my phone. I shone my work phone flashlight into the darkness and saw something. I stretched as best as I could to reach it – and found a sock. This phone had mysteriously vanished, except that it was still ringing at me from somewhere in the darkness. I tried moving the bed. No phone – it was moving WITH the bed. And still ringing. And vibrating against my feet – it had fallen into the bedframe somehow.

Jesus, that was three paragraphs just to remind myself to pack the longer phone cord next time. Suffice to say, I eventually got the phone out and silenced it – and dropped my work phone under the bed in the process. I retrieved it, moved the bed back, got the drawer back in, put the mattress back, made the bed, and collapsed into it. This was all so very stupid and I’m pretty sure this anecdote is setting records for its dismal ratio of length vs. quality. IT WAS A BIG DUMB MESS AND IT KEPT GETTING DUMBER AND MORE RIDICULOUS WHEN IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SUCH AN EASY FIX IS MY POINT

When I finally got up for real, I headed back to Regina in short order so that I’d have plenty of time before the Serena Ryder show. This was not part of the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, though I did see it once referenced as being part of the smaller and seemingly unrelated JazzFest Regina 2017 (my tickets didn’t say it was, but I saw it on the internet somewhere), so sure, let’s go ahead and confuse future me and lump it in here. This thing isn’t long enough yet.

SLCR #285: Serena Ryder (June 25, 2017)

I first saw Ryder in 2003. Hawksley had produced her album, and she was on tour opening for him. I saw her twice more after that in short order – once at the 2004 Regina Folk Festival (with Hawksley and his band as her band), and later that year at a solo show at the Exchange. There were probably around 100 people at that one.

Since then, of course, she’s become a bonafide star with some big hits. She’s playing bigger venues to far more people. And that’s great! I like it when talented folks succeed. That said, my interest had waned over time. As her stuff sounded more produced and took some of the focus away from her voice, I lost some interest. And somehow this led to me not seeing her in concert for 13 years. I cannot fathom this. I mean, it makes sense. I was new to Regina. It may have been the first Regina Folk Festival Concert Series show I ever went to. But 13 years?

I’d like to finish this monstrosity sometime before 2018 is done, so I’ll set aside my existential crisis for now. They announced the concert, I thought “maybe, if I can get good tickets,” and then I was quick on the draw and got front row centre. That’s good enough.

On our way into the Conexus Arts Centre, I ran into my friend Brian, who noted that the crowd was skewed a lot older than he expected. There were lots of white-hair folks in the audience. Neither of us pointed out that he fit that bill too. Or that if you’re going strictly by colour, I’ll be there soon enough.

Mika and I took our seats and killed time before the concert as we often do – by going through our respective Instagrams and showing each other pictures of cute pets. It’s basically a pre-show ritual at this point, and that’s a problem when we have too many shows too close together. You people need to get more cats.

Our openers were local musicians Ava Wild and Scott Pettigrew, who played a very short set. They took turns, each singing lead on 3 or 4 songs. This was folky singer-songwriter stuff, mostly originals but with two covers – Wild sang Tennessee Waltz, and they closed with a duet – Hotel Yorba by the White Stripes. This was only enough to get a taste of each, but it was quite enjoyable and I hope to see them again someday.

Ryder took the stage and immediately started into Stompa, one of her big hits from her previous album. This was one of only three songs that Mika recognized all night, saying that she only knew the songs that they use on football. “Or are football-adjacent,” she added. What I Wouldn’t Do is another one; I don’t watch enough football or ads during football to guess the third and I’m not waking her up to check. Really, I didn’t know many more songs than that either – there weren’t many old songs and those are the ones I know best.

The show was divided into three sections. The first and third had the full band (including two backup singers with amazing shoes), whereas the second was just Ryder and a guitar. I enjoyed her newer stuff – nothing on the show was bad – but the part where it was just her and a guitar was my favourite. It was a lot closer to the shows I remember. Plus it gave her more time to talk to the audience which was always good. She comes across as very down to earth with a great sense of humour.

The real star of the show may have been this “piece of confetti shaped like a leaf” that fell from the ceiling, somehow, and fluttered in the air, taking forever to finally land on the stage. Not only did it distract Ryder mid-song, but she then went in search of it, eventually handing it to an audience member, telling them to pass it to the back in hopes that it would eventually make its way up the balcony and fall on the stage again. It didn’t 😦

One thing I always liked in the old shows was when Ryder would do a few songs a capella; Sing Sing and Melancholy Blue being two favourites. There was nothing like that on this show. I don’t know if that’s been retired for good, or if she just wasn’t doing that now so as to rest her voice. She mentioned that her voice was in rough shape and that she couldn’t sing as high as normal right now. This, of course, is one of those things that I’d have never noticed if she hadn’t said anything, and her voice was always the big selling point for me.

All told, it wasn’t like the shows I remember, but she still has a great voice and a really likable personality. Would I go see her again? That’s a tricky one. I like her a lot, but have less interest in her newer songs and those will always be the focus. She’s played the Folk Festival before and probably will again, and maybe I should just wait for those appearances to roll around. Really, it probably just depends what kind of mood you catch me in when tickets go on sale.

Does this mean we can finally wrap this thing up?

SLCR #286: Ava Wild & Scott Pettigrew (July 9, 2017)

No. We cannot. This cannot end. It’s two weeks later but this cannot end. This is only tangentially related to the previous review, but this cannot end.

Mark and Arlette got married. Hooray! And Other James got them a concert as a gift, which is totally something he’d do, and also a sign that the rest of us need to step up our game. Gravy boat? No longer acceptable.

Historically, I have skipped out on writing full reviews when seeing my friends’ bands since… well, I don’t have a good reason. I say it’s because I can’t be impartial (basically, I can’t say mean things if they’re awful), but mostly it was a good excuse to half-ass a review and call it good. And while I don’t know Ms. Wild or Mr. Pettigrew, I do know Mark and Arlette and this was in their backyard, so… good enough. Or so I thought – then Mark asked me mid-concert if he was getting a review. Mika said “now you have to.” She was right. Whole ass: engaged.

We showed up around 2:40. We were greeted first by Other James, then random guests, then Gus, a friendly little dog who rapidly lost interest in us as there were many other people around and one of them might feed him. We eventually found Mark and Arlette who welcomed us into their lovely yard and showed us where everything was. We were told there were snacks in the garage, but I was involved in the construction of that garage so we wisely stayed away for fear it might collapse at any moment. We sat near it for a while which was risky enough.

You’ll note I did not say I helped build the garage. I was there while much of it was built. I mostly tried to stay out of the way and for at least part of that day, I was not an active hindrance. That’s as good as you’re going to get.

The B that we BYO’d came from Last Mountain Distillery – Sweet Tea Vodka Lemonade coolers. I picked up a four-pack at the farmers’ market the day before, so we had two each. The second one was better than the first; in a related note, I should have brushed my teeth immediately upon waking up instead of right before leaving the house.

The music was broken into three sets – Wild solo, Pettigrew solo, and then the two together. I believe Wild played all originals, all on acoustic guitar. She has “a lot of songs” – some of which you can hear on her first album, Bare. Bare came out last year. Wild graduated from high school this year. That was enough to bring on a full-on “What have I done with my life?” crisis, but get this. I saw Ava Wild open for Serena Ryder two weeks ago. The last time I saw Serena Ryder in concert? Wild was 5. If you need me, I’ll be curled up in the corner, thinking about how quickly I’ll be dead.

No! I must soldier on. Ceaselessly. Like time itself. Scott Pettigrew played an electric guitar – it’s worth nothing that people who know things about guitars were really into both Wild and Pettigrew’s guitars – and while he sang a number of original tunes too (some from his album Alone, which also came out last year), he also threw some covers into the mix. He started with a Robert Johnson song, and later played a new Dan Auerbach song (Never In My Wildest Dreams) and – oh yes – Hallelujah. He did a fine job on it but that’s almost immaterial for me – I’ve grown to love covers of Hallelujah to a ridiculous degree, just because I know how much Aaron hates them. Let’s campaign to get Robert Pollard to cover Hallelujah just to see what happens to Aaron.

After Pettigrew’s set, we had a bit of an extended break so I chatted with a few folks from work. I also mustered up my courage and braved the garage. There were snacks; it was inevitable.

The last set with both Wild and Pettigrew was a lot like their slot opening for Serena Ryder – among other songs, they again played Tennessee Waltz and Hotel Yorba – though the whole thing was more relaxed. Despite joking that they were only pretending to know what they were doing, they did a fine job – both with the whole music thing, but also in handling our talking, heckling, stage-managing gang of hooligans. They’re very talented singers, songwriters, and musicians and they seem like delightful humans to boot. Recommended.

As for the venue, our lovely hosts took good care of us all. There were a couple dozen people in a tight space but everyone had a fine time. Also, I think there should be a dog at every concert I go to. I mean, maybe not the loud shows. But, like, if I could leave Guns ‘N Roses for five minutes to play with a dog who only loved me for my watermelon, wouldn’t that be better? Also, I’m confused why so many concert venues sound so bad and a random backyard can sound that good. In 286 reviews and probably around 300 actual concerts, this was my first house concert and I think maybe I’ve been doing it all wrong. Maybe if someplace tells you it’s a concert hall or an event centre or whatever, it’s trying too hard to convince you. Just find a backyard instead, one that’s all like “I got this.”

Yes. Find a talking backyard with confidence and hold all your concerts there. That is a wonderful note to end on.

Except…

SLCR #287: NO NO NO NO NO no no no nooooooooooooooooooo no

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Bob Dylan (July 15)
• July Talk (August 3)
• I Mother Earth and The Watchmen (August 4)
• Crash Test Dummies & the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (August 7)
• Beck (August 20)
• kd lang w/Kacy & Clayton (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses w/Our Lady Peace (August 27)
• The Sadies (September 14)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (September 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Whitehorse w/Terra Lightfoot (October 13)
• Sarah Slean (October 14)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)
• David Myles (October 24)
• Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)

SLCR #271: Lyle Lovett & John Hiatt (March 1, 2017)

March 8, 2017

Over the past year, I’ve had pretty good luck getting front row seats to shows at the Conexus Arts Centre. It’s just a matter of paying attention to when tickets go on sale, combined with a little bit of luck (and, in some cases, dropping ridiculous coin). In this case, I had good luck – I was at my desk at work when the email came in announcing this show, and ticket sales began immediately. Look at all those front row seats! However, there was also some bad luck – I was already booked to see the Philosopher Kings at the Exchange. I’m not a huge Philosopher Kings fan, if I’m being honest; I only know one or two of their songs and enjoyed them but didn’t love them. Mika liked the band and would have gone except it was a school night. She was disappointed enough that I thought “if she thinks they’re that good, I should check them out.” Because that’s what kind of supportive husband I am.

Long story short, the Philosopher Kings show got cancelled. They’re allegedly coming back later this year to tour a new album. Of course, by the time they made this decision, the front row seats for this other show were long gone. So rather than sit as close as possible, I decided to go to this show as cheaply as possible. I was still front row centre, only it was the front row of the third balcony. At least I’d be able to see everything.

By the time the show rolled around, it seemed like tickets had sold reasonably well, but they still put the balcony seats on sale a week before the show (too late for me, alas). Poking around on the venue’s website revealed similar sales figures for this show, Colin James, and Tom Cochrane – and yet Charley Pride was nearly sold out. Good on him. The first half of that show will be good.

I showed up pretty close to the start of the show so I got to be the guy making everyone in the row stand up. I’d feel bad except I don’t at all; as one who normally sits on the end of the row, I’m usually the one doing the standing. Despite sitting in the middle of the row, I never once had to stand up to let anyone go by – I think this is probably due to the fact that because we were in the front row of the third balcony, any movement meant certain death. We were real high up, and that railing was real low. When I shuffled to my seat, I had to turn and face away from the stage because it was freaking me out. It turns out I will happily take awkward interactions with strangers over vertigo and potential doom. This feeling never really went away for the length of the show. Even when the musicians were playing and the lights were darkened and I had no visual sense of how high up we were, it was always kind of there in my mind. Suffice to say this was an experiment I may not repeat. Except in a month or so at The Last Waltz Remembered when I repeat it.

This show was billed as an acoustic evening with Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt. I wasn’t entirely sure what this would entail – would they take turns, was there an opener, etc. Turns out it was exactly what it said it would be. With no opening act, Lovett and Hiatt both took the stage right at 7:30*, each claiming to be the other man. They briefly discussed their laundry before Hiatt launched into Drive South. For the remainder of the night, they took turns playing songs, usually unaided but sometimes with the other musician playing along or singing backing vocals.

I cannot say I knew much about Lyle Lovett before this show, and even less about John Hiatt. I bought this ticket because I thought “this sounds like it would be good” without really knowing enough to back that up. In short, this concert is why I go to random shows for the heck of it. This show was fantastic. Nothing flashy about it, just two excellent songwriters and musicians. Great songs. Great musicianship; Lovett in particular showed off some impressive technique. Great singing; Lovett has a more traditional voice, for lack of a better term, while Hiatt was more inclined to work vocal flourishes into his tunes. Excellent sound in the Arts Centre, too.

Also, bring an ignoramus as previously mentioned, I didn’t really expect this show to be as funny as it was. Lovett and Hiatt had an effortless banter that added an extra dimension to an already great show. It felt like two old friends telling stories and swapping jokes and just spending some time together – which I suppose it was. I’m sure some of it is similar every night, but some of it was off the cuff. During one song, Hiatt flubbed a line and then cracked himself up repeatedly over the mistake, which led to Lovett telling a story of doing a similar thing on national TV.

And that’s about it, really. Nearly three hours (the lack of an opener was not a negative) of two excellent musicians just killing it. This show was so good that I looked up the rest of their tour dates and seeing they were headed to Calgary, I messaged Colin and told him he needed to go to this. He did not. Said he “already had family plans.” His loss.

(j/k Colin I am sure your cousin is a cool guy)

*Okay, really, it was more like 7:36 – late enough for a really grumpy old man to loudly complain about “what time is a 7:30 show supposed to start?” but not so late for literally anyone else in the building to have noticed

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (March 8)
• The Tea Party (March 18)
• Bill & Joel Plaskett w/Mayhemingways (March 23)
• Lisa LeBlanc (March 30)
• I Love The 90s feat. Salt N Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Young MC, and Rob Base (April 1)
• The Last Waltz Remembered feat. Corb Lund, Matt Andersen, Amy Helm, & the Russell Broom House Band (April 5)
• BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #266: Bush (October 27, 2016)

November 4, 2016

My goodness. The last time I saw these guys was 19 years and 249 reviews ago. I was not quite 21. Pat was there. We hoisted. It was a different time.

I wasn’t sure about going to this. For as much as I enjoy some Bush songs (Machinehead) (maybe some other ones) (no, mostly Machinehead), I don’t know if I think of them as GOOD, exactly. For all the hey-remember-your-faraway-youth concerts I go to, I was more uncertain about this one than most. I discussed the situation with Jeff and he seemed equally hesitant to get tickets. Finally, I left it up to fate. If I could get really good seats, we’d go. If not, such is life.

I do not believe that there is a god, but if there is one, he or she must have been really into the idea of us seeing this show, because we wound up in the front row. That is a super weird thing for a supreme being to care about, but I suppose I wouldn’t be able to comprehend how its mind would work anyway, so maybe it’s not? If I quit listening to new music in the 90s, maybe God did too. “I dunno, I had the radio on, and Sarah McLachlan did this XTC cover, and I was just like… this just isn’t for me anymore.”

I figure we lucked into front row seats because the Conexus Arts Centre ticket website machine won’t let you leave one empty seat by itself, and there were three seats open in the front row, so if you wanted to buy a pair, you couldn’t. I debated it briefly, but ultimately figured we could give the third one a good home – or a good butt, as the case may be. The third ticket wound up with Scott, a guy I work with who was also at that Bush show in Saskatoon 19 years ago. He said it was his first “real” concert, apart from going to see The Nylons for a classmate’s tenth birthday, which still seems like the oddest idea for a kid’s party.

My first non-kids’ concert was Rod Stewart, for the record. Next up was Billy Joel. Musically sated, I then took something like eight years off. Then Céline Dion. That is such a bizarre contrast to this past year. Or to a normal person’s life, probably.

Anyway. Scott picked me up and we met Jeff walking into the auditorium. It was a slow process; Scott knows everyone. We approached our seats and simultaneously remembered that we were sitting in the front row. I mean, we all knew, but I didn’t really think about it once I bought the tickets, but then you actually get there, and it’s pretty exciting.

Our openers were the Dead Deads, playing their first-ever Canadian show. I think they said they come from Nashville? Five young girls with X’s painted on their eyes, presumably because they are dead dead. I didn’t really know what to make of this? It wasn’t SUPER loud but did have some death metal growwwwwwwwls thrown in there. One of my cohorts said this may have been the worst band he’d ever seen. The other said it was “okay.” I fell closer to the “okay” side but in that “this is not really meant for me and I don’t feel the need to seek out more of this” sort of way. If you were at that Bush show 19 years ago, you may know what I mean when I rank these guys closer to Souls (fondly remembered by me for the non-hit song “Fuckmonkey”) and less like Veruca Salt.

There was an unusual moment when the singer said that their new album was produced by Page Hamilton, the lead singer of Helmet. “And he’s sitting right there!” she says, pointing into the crowd at the other side of the stage from us. It just seems really weird that he’d be there. We weren’t able to see him from where we were sitting, and after their set, Scott went on a reconnaissance mission but never found him.

After a short intermission, Bush took the stage and it did not get off to a great start. They opened with Everything Zen, which was good, but things fell apart a few songs in. During a song I didn’t know, it seemed like there was a long awkward pause. Jeff leaned over. “I think that was a fuck-up.” Sure enough, Gavin Rossdale called a halt to the song. “We don’t play like that. We play good.” I’ve seen a number of shows this year where a song hit a snag, and to a one, the performer had a good sense of humour about the situation (or could at least fake it well enough). Not here. Rossdale was clearly frustrated. Then they restarted the song and he messed it up again, and at that point, the rest of the band was looking frustrated too.

Later on, a guitar tech came out to switch out Rossdale’s guitar, mid-song. Rossdale shooed him away, looking pretty unhappy about the interruption. But he didn’t notice that the tech had turned down the guitar he was playing in preparation for the swap, so he kept on playing the original guitar, just very quietly.

Jeff tells me that in that first song, there are supposed to be two verses before the chorus, but Rossdale was trying to go into the chorus after the first verse. It’s good to know people who know things. He also told me the song was called “the Disease of the Dancing Cats,” which sounds like the kind of thing he’d make up to see if I put it into my review without checking. The setlist.fm record of the night backs him up, but I don’t know that Jeff didn’t upload the setlist, playing the long game. Devious.

Here’s that setlist. You’ll note that a few songs are marked as having been played live for the first time. That’s what Rossdale said, anyway; I don’t know if it’s true, but if so, that’s pretty neat:

Everything Zen
Just Like My Other Sins
The Chemicals Between Us
The Disease of the Dancing Cats
The Sound of Winter
Greedy Fly
The Gift
Earth Keeps Burning (live premiere)
Monkey
The People That We Love
Swallowed
This House Is on Fire
Lost in You (live premiere)
The Only Way Out
Insect Kin
Little Things

Before getting into the encore, I want to note a few things. There was a big screen behind the band that played during the whole show. Often, the videos playing were abstract and just there for decoration. But during one song, there was a video of a man with a briefcase. He checks a scrap of paper. 999 999. Aha! He unlocks the briefcase. Oh no! It wasn’t 999 999! It was 666 666! And the briefcase is full of evil! In the form of many CGI blackbirds!

The more I talk about the show, the less good it sounds. But that’s not fair – it was a lot of fun too. If you check that setlist, there are a lot of good songs on there. And sitting right up front helped a lot; it was really cool to see Rossdale singing and playing guitar literally two feet from me at times. And to his credit, he tried his best to bring that experience to as many people as possible. He’d hop off the stage, run up and down the aisles, hugging and high-fiving whoever he could. The highlight of this was near the end of the main set, when he disappeared out the back of the auditorium and reemerged on the second balcony. This was all really cool.

And though it’s not 1997 anymore, there were nearly as many high-pitched squeals for Rossdale as there were 19 years ago. Girls behind me shrieked “We made eye contact! I SWEAR!” And there were three girls up on the balcony who looked ready to faint after their surprise front-row show. This fantastic reaction really helped the atmosphere.

You might notice some prominent singles missing from the setlist above. Unsurprisingly, the encore included Machinehead, Glycerine (Rossdale solo), and Comedown, in that order. More surprisingly, between Machinehead and Glycerine, they played The One I Love. As in, the R.E.M. song. Nobody saw that one coming, but it went over really well. As did all the hits, of course.

So yeah, it was not without its flaws, but overall, it was a fun show. You might be advised to temper your expectations a bit, but if you want to relive your (well, my) just-after-University years, you could do worse.

SLCR #265: Sarah Slean and the Regina Symphony Orchestra (October 22, 2016)

October 24, 2016

BEFORE THE SHOW (SATURDAY AFTERNOON)
Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith – Jay & Silent Bob – are somewhere in my town. Probably somewhere near the casino. They’re doing one of their speaking gigs there tonight. I was supposed to go. It’s been a long time since I’ve considered myself a Kevin Smith fan, but when the show was booked, I decided to check it out. His speaking engagements are legendary; in fact, DVDs of his appearances are my favourite things that he’s put out in a long time. But then the original show was postponed and rescheduled for today. Around that time, I heard about the Sarah Slean show, also tonight, so I had a choice to make. I returned my Jay & Silent Bob ticket, claiming that I couldn’t make it to the rescheduled show, and used the money to get my Slean ticket instead. The Jay & Silent Bob show is sold out, so they won’t miss me. I’m glad my seat will still have a butt in it.

Slean is “reimagining Broadway” with the Regina Symphony Orchestra. I wonder if a lot of people had to make the hard choice between Kevin Smith and the symphony tonight? Or any night?

My ticket is in the front row. That sounds great, but I note that it was also relatively cheap – something like $40. Five rows back, tickets were $90. I suspect I may find myself to be TOO close, like at the Art of Time shows earlier this year. Oh well, I don’t really need to see much, I just need to be able to hear things.

AT THE SHOW
Yeah, this is really close. But I think it should be okay.

ALSO AT THE SHOW
Intermission. I’m just off centre, front row, 6 feet directly in front of Sarah Slean at all times. I thought she’d be playing piano but she’s only singing (not ONLY only – you know what I mean – not multitasking). There’s a trio with her on piano, drums, and upright bass. Been very good so far. She accidentally tried skipping a song but recovered nicely. I know more of these songs than I thought I would. Will list all songs later; hooray for programs.

They’re selling CDs later and also having a reception to welcome the new musical director. I likely won’t buy anything or go meet anyone but it’s nice that these things happen.

No encore listed in the program. I wonder what they have planned? If anything?

AFTER THE SHOW
The encore was Over the Rainbow. She tried to encourage people to sing. Most did. Me, no. I didn’t sing on request for Edelweiss either, but that time I had the excuse of not knowing it well enough to even try.

Songs! Here they are:

• Overture (I noticed Anything Goes and If I Were a Rich Man; there may have been other songs in the medley if you know more than I do, which you probably do)
• Oh What a Beautiful Morning (Oklahoma!)
• I’ve Never Been in Love (Guys and Dolls)
• Chim Chim Cheree (Mary Poppins)
• Somewhere (West Side Story)
• Edelweiss/My Favourite Things (Sound of Music)
• Mein Herr (Cabaret)
Intermission (not a song)
• NYC (Annie)
• Consider Yourself (Oliver)
• You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile (Annie)
• America (West Side Story)
• Falling Slowly (Once)
• I Dreamed a Dream (Les Miserables)
• There’s No Business Like Show Business (Annie Get Your Gun) (presumably a gritty reboot of Annie)
Encore (also not a song)
• Over the Rainbow (I dunno, maybe Hamilton, that’s a thing I’ve definitely heard of)

The show opened with a bunch of introductions of symphony people that you probably don’t care about even though they do important work and give important money and make the entire symphony possible and have you ever even thanked them? I thought not. For shame.

This led to the introduction of Sarah Slean and the Mike Janzen Trio. Like I mentioned, Slean was singing and Janzen was on piano, with George Koller on upright bass and Ben Riley on drums. Plus there was that whole orchestra thing. This was the setup for pretty much every song, apart from Consider Yourself and You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile; both of those numbers had Janzen singing, and Smile featured just the trio.

Whether or not you think this was a good show would depend on your thoughts about 1) the musicians, 2) show tunes, and 3) Slean herself.

The musicians were fantastic and so of course that means they’re going to get the shaft and I’m not going to talk much about them. But yeah. All great.

Show tunes… I don’t know. I’ve never been a musicals guy apart from comedy stuff. That said, I knew an awful lot of these songs just because how can you not, right? I thought the arrangements (all done by Janzen) were really well done – true to the originals but took full advantage of the orchestra.

As for Slean, I know some people who love her and some who don’t. Obviously, I’m a fan, but I can see how it could get to be too much of a good thing. This is probably best summed up by the reactions of the folks I was sitting near; the group to my right loved her and praised how “emotive” she is. The group to my right said very little as they were leaving beyond “she’s a ham.” Two sides of the same coin, I figure. Even more than her own songs, Broadway show tunes gave her the opportunity to emote as she sang. So basically, if you already liked her, you’d have enjoyed this. And if not, nothing here would change your mind.

Like I said, I’m a fan, and I thought this was quite good. I’ve seen Slean in concert a few times now, and I’d have gone to see her playing another “normal” gig, but I love unique shows like this. Very glad I went, would go again. They should bring in other people too. Like Ben Folds, so I could see him with an orchestra without having to drive to Edmonton. I need every one of you to go on Twitter and tell the symphony they should do this; they’ve got me blocked for some reason.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Donovan Woods w/Joey Landreth (November 2)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)

SLCR #254: “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14, 2016)

August 19, 2016

I turn 40 in two days.

This is an excellent way to start a concert review. For one, it ensures that I have to finish it today instead of letting it sit for another week or two. Also, it advises you, the reader, that there will be very little distracting music talk getting in the way of me nattering on about myself, which is what you’re all here for.

This fact is also relevant because these concert tickets were my 40th birthday present to myself. I’ve seen a ton of concerts this year, but this one was special – I forked over a not-insignificant amount of cash to get the Mandatory Czar VIP tickets – not only do you get premium seats, but also a bag of stuff and – most importantly – a meet-and-greet with Weird Al himself. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, which is why I made up the “40th birthday present” justification after the fact. I needed something. These were the most expensive concert tickets I’ve ever bought.

Which is a questionable purchase to make, you know? I love Weird Al, but I also know how his shows go. You have a good idea of what he’s going to play, because there are so many costume changes and special sets that things can only vary so much from tour to tour. If you’ve been once, you kind of know what you’re getting.

Though to be fair, the VIP tickets promised some new experiences. There were two tiers of VIP tickets; ours (the pricier ones) came with the meet-and-greet, but both had the gift bag and also the pre-show experience. And that’s two sentences in a row ended with “experience,” but that really is the best word for it. They let people in at 5:30, but we didn’t get there until after 7:00 as I didn’t think it would really be my thing. They gave us our stuff bags at the door – nothing too exciting. There was a flag, a lanyard, a beret, and a copy of the Mad magazine from last year that Al edited. We walked into the hall, and right into the middle of a costume contest and lip-sync battle. There was an Amish guy, some Jedi, lots of tinfoil hats, and some girls in Weird Al costumes who gave me really conflicted feelings. There were also some costumes where their relevance was… dubious. Either these were some deep references that I didn’t understand, or else it was just random dressing-up.

At the back of the room, there was a small touring museum with a selection of props from videos, lots of pictures, things like that. That stuff was really neat to see. There were snacks set out, a cash bar, and a merchandise stand so you could shop for your Weird Al paraphernalia without being interrupted by the masses. I wanted an action figure but it was cash-only and I had brought none, so I had to hit up an ATM later and shop at the normal souvenir stand like some sort of god damned commoner.

We were only there for a few minutes before the festivities wrapped up, concluding with the host tearing around the room singing Leggy Blonde (which is decidedly not a Weird Al song, but I guess it does say “goodbye” a lot) and knocking things over. We took this as our cue to leave so Mika took a picture of me with the Wheel of Fish, and then went off to our seats. The VIP tickets had us front row, just slightly right of centre. No complaints there.

Weird Al may be wacky but he is super serious about starting a show on time. 8:00 on the nose. I know it’s the same show from night to night – you can’t mix it up too much when it’s that choreographed – so I don’t want to go into too many details here. The structure of the show itself was as I remembered – lots of songs from the newest album (Mandatory Fun), lots of classics (I wonder if Canadian Idiot gets added to the tour specifically for the Canadian shows?), lots of video clips between songs while the costume changes were happening. Hearing the new songs done live was cool, and like before, there was a medley with a mix of songs from all through his career so you could hear things you might not expect. This time, there was also an acoustic set partway through that offered new versions of some of his classics. This was new to me and it was a great way to mix things up. He’s been playing some of these songs for over 30 years so it’s probably nice for him and his band to do something different too.

Anyway, this was a delightful time. Al was in fine form – I’m pretty sure he ages at one-third the speed of the rest of us – and his band was excellent as ever. Sitting front row adds to the experience, as Al once again serenaded Mika during Wanna Be Ur Luvr, putting his foot up on her chair and singing “Have you seen my picture? It’s in the dictionary, under ‘kablam’.” We also got splattered with water during Smells Like Nirvana when Al threw the contents of his cup out into the crowd. And during Fat, Al’s cries of “hooooooooo” drew an appearance from Santa Claus, who got punched, sending “teeth” across the stage. One of Santa’s teeth hit me in the ankle, which is not a sentence I’ve had much reason to say before now.

And while the show was familiar, there was a lot of new material – not only were there the new songs, but many of the video clips used during the show were new to me, and lots of the classic clips had been retired. Al has had a renaissance of sorts in the past few years, with Mandatory Fun being the first comedy album to hit #1 in 50 years, and the first one ever to debut at #1. Plus he’s been the bandleader on Comedy Bang Bang and done lots of TV guest spots and voiceover work, so there was a lot of material to draw from.

Once the show was done, after the Star Wars songs (he always ends with the Star Wars songs), it was time to meet the man. About 50 people had the purple VIP badges that allowed for the meet-and-greet. We got the rules (have your camera or phone ready, have your item to get signed ready, decide beforehand if you want individual pictures or a group shot). The host said he’d be the one taking the pictures, and that we could trust him because he used to work for Sears before he got fired. As someone who’s been paying close attention to the goings-on at his local Sears Portrait Studio, this joke did not fill me with confidence. Search Instagram for #searsyqr for more details. Anyway, once that was done, we were led to a side area of the centre. There was a bit of a wait; occasionally, someone would leave to use the bathroom, and then disappoint everyone upon their return. Not every door that opens leads to “Weird Al” Yankovic. Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers, who made an on-stage appearance during the Star Wars songs, stood behind the table to serve as a backdrop for photos with Al. Some other Stormtroopers wandered the line and chatted with people, posed for pictures, that kind of thing.

Before too long, Al showed up. They moved through the line at a pretty good clip. I got my phone ready, and I decided to just get the concert tickets signed (in part because I’d already taken all our stuff to the car before the show started). Al posed for a picture with us, signed our tickets, and I got to thank him for the show and for all the music over the years. Not only have I been a big fan since childhood, but he comes across like a really down-to-earth normal guy. I’ve never heard of anything that suggests otherwise.

And with that, we were out the side door and back to the car. Would I do it again? That’s a tricky question. I cannot stress enough that these tickets were really expensive and by most anyone’s estimation, buying them was a really dumb idea. I could live without the pre-show deal and the bag of stuff – I’m almost 40, I’m not going to wear a Weird Al hat or hang a Weird Al flag (and I already had the magazine because Aaron’s got my back). But we had great seats for a great show, and I got to meet one of my favourite celebrities ever, if only for a minute. That part of it was really cool. Ultimately, I certainly have no regrets that we did it once. I don’t know if I’d do it again for the next Al show, though. I had my moment with him, I got what I wanted, I’m good. For someone else? Maybe. For the right band at the right price, especially if they come with great tickets. But there just aren’t that many celebrities I really care about meeting. Watching from afar is usually good enough. This might be a one-off – but it was worth it.

UPCOMING CONCERTS
• 54-40 (August 19)
• Greg MacPherson w/Dan Holbrow & Leo Keiser (September 1)
• Billy Bob Thornton & The Boxmasters (September 6)
• Dolly Parton (September 13)
• Prozzäk (September 22)
• Hayden (September 29)
• Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
• Basia Bulat w/Oh Pep! (October 5)
• I Mother Earth featuring Edwin w/The Standstills (October 8)
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)

SLCR #242: George Thorogood & the Destroyers (April 29, 2016)

May 1, 2016

This one, this is even more inexplicable than Black Sabbath. At least Sabbath was within walking distance. Plus I knew seeing them would make Aaron jealous and that counts for something. Probably counted for too much in my internal decision-making process, if I’m being honest. And Sabbath was cheaper too.

Thing is, there’s a local weekly paper called the Prairie Dog. Their website has daily blog posts about upcoming events, and on Tuesday, they talked about George Thorogood playing the Conexus Arts Centre on Friday. More out of curiosity than anything, I clicked over to the Arts Centre’s website, just to see how much tickets were and see how well they were selling. Oddly, they looked pretty close to sold out – but with four open seats in the front row. I assume there were some tickets set aside for promotional uses that wound up not being used, and I happened to check at just the right time. After confirming that Mika had no interest in going, I picked myself up a ticket.

I’m well on pace to set a new personal record for concerts seen this year, so somewhere along the way I got the idea that I should see if I can see 52 shows in 2016. I think it’s possible but it will require moving out of my comfort zone and seeing some bands I’d normally skip. This is show #14 for the year, but I’d need to have seen 17 or 18 by now to be on pace. Gonna have to work on it.

I suppose if 52 isn’t doable due to finances, time, or opportunity, I’d accept 40 for godforsaken birthday reasons. This seems like a better midlife crisis than a tattoo.

Anyway, that’s all how I found myself sitting front row for George Thorogood & the Destroyers. But James, you ask, do you actually know any George Thorogood songs? Apart from Bad to the Bone? And I answer yes. I know Get a Haircut. I mean, I know all the songs everyone knows, pretty much, but I especially know Get a Haircut. When I was in high school, I knew a dude who love love LOVED George Thorogood. And in Grade 12 English class, we had to play a song and provide the class with the lyrics, and then provide our interpretation of the lyrics. Get a Haircut was the song that he picked:

I was a rebel from the day I left school
Grew my hair long and broke all the rules
I’d sit and listen to my records all day
With big ambitions of when I could play

My parents taught me what life was about
So I grew up the type they warned me about
They said my friends were just an unruly mob
And I should get a haircut and get a real job

Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don’t be a slob
Get it together like your big brother Bob
Why don’t you get a haircut and get a real job

I even tried that 9-to-5 scene
I told myself that it was all a bad dream
I found a band and some good songs to play
Now I party all night, I sleep all day

I met this chick, she was my number-one fan
She took me home to meet her mommy and dad
They took one look at me and said “oh my god
Get a haircut and get a real job”

Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don’t be a slob
Get it together like your big brother Bob
Why don’t you get a haircut and get a real job

I hit the big time with my rock ‘n’ roll band
The future’s brighter now than I’d ever planned
I’m ten times richer than my big brother Bob
But he’s got a haircut, he’s got a real job

Get a haircut and get a real job
Clean your act up and don’t be a slob
Get it together like your big brother Bob
Why don’t you get a haircut and get a real job

Personally, I’m not sure how much interpretation is required to understand the deeper meaning therein, but when it came time to critique poetry, this dude picked an eight-line poem by Red Green, so he had a type. I chose the song The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel, which is much easier to bullshit symbolism about, though also pretty straightforward in retrospect. Mostly I remember people asking why I played the original and not the cover by The Waltons which was a big radio hit locally at the time.

Another girl picked Dust in the Wind and was shocked to discover that maybe it shouldn’t be her wedding song after all.

I was curious as to what the audience for this show would be like, a question that was answered within seconds of arriving when I ran into a lady from work, and then another once inside. In general, the audience was older, skewing slightly female, but with lots of couples. I had some college-age bros to my right. Behind me were some women who really wanted to complain about the state of music today and how they’d like to see those teenyboppers today go like Keith Richards when they’re his age!!!

The openers were the Ben Miller Band and I am glad that I was sitting close enough to the front to get some decent pictures because I’m not sure I can describe them adequately. To the far left was Scott Leeper, a very bearded man in a plaid shirt and suspenders playing a one-string washtub bass. Next to him was Smilin’ Bob Lewis, who appeared to be a survivalist Dr. Demento in a tie-dye t-shirt covered in kittens. This was accessorized with a long white coat that had shiny reflective cactuses on it, as well as a tall red top hat with black brim. Miller himself looked like Ozark Sheamus and yet barely stood out by comparison. Finally, we had Rachel Ammons, a fiddle player who had hair down past her ass and her own wind-blowing-machine-thingy* to make it fly around while she played.

*it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I could just call it a “fan” so I’m leaving the original description in

Anyway. I had no idea who these folks were and no idea what to make of them. And then… they KILLED IT. Unbelievable. It took a few songs for them to warm up and for the crowd to get into them, but around the third song, everything clicked and they blew the roof off the place. They had 45 minutes or so and they made the most of it. “Bluegrass-infused rock” is my short description but that doesn’t cover it – on their Facebook page, they list their genre as “who knows, who cares.” But seriously. They traded off instruments all night and everyone got a chance to sing. There was a banjo. There was a WASHBOARD. There was a bluegrass cover of House of the Rising Sun and another of Black Betty. There was incredible energy and the crowd responded in kind, going from polite applause for the first song to a standing ovation for the last one. When they were over, I was thinking that Thorogood was going to have an awfully hard time following them. I could have gone home at this point and it would have been worth it. Never skip the openers, kids.

Man, I love it when I go into a show not knowing an artist and leave as a fan. The chance of these kinds of discoveries is a big part of what keeps me going to all these shows. That, and I have no common sense.

As they left the stage, the lady behind me screamed “HEY JUSTIN BIEBER! I’D LIKE TO SEE YOU… DO… WHAT WE JUST SAW.” I endorse the sentiment but maybe make sure you’ve decided on what you’re going to yell before you start yelling.

During the intermission, I just hung around in my seat. I thought about going to the stuff table to get a record from the Ben Miller Band, but they said they’d be around after the show too, so I figured I had plenty of opportunity. You know how this goes.

After a short break, the lights dimmed. The bros to my right returned, having smoked all the weed there is. Sorry, world. We’re out. The lady behind me screamed “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! MY IDOL!” Yes. But she would have to wait, as first they shone a spotlight on the drum kit and played Eve of Destruction in its entirety. Only once that was done did we get the booming voice of a wrestling announcer, introducing the heavyweight rock and roll champions of the world.

I won’t lie. This was fun as heck. Now, admittedly, a huge part of that had to do with the front row seat. And not just front row, but right off centre, which meant that when Thorogood was walking around, he was often dead set right in front of me. At one point, he played about a two-minute guitar solo, lights dimmed, spotlight on him, his guitar two feet from my face the whole time. I could have hated his music and still had a blast. This would still have been fun from my traditional seat in Row L For Legroom but not nearly the same. This bodes well for Weird Al, as we have similar seats in August.

Now, being so close DID mean that I was also dangerously near some tongue waggling and some pelvic thrusts. Such are the risks when you are sitting in the splash zone. I do not believe I was ever splashed. Wouldn’t complain if I was. I knew the dangers.

Anyway, you surely know what George Thorogood sounds like and whether you like him or not. Of course he closed the main set with Bad to the Bone (complete with BONE lights behind him). And he played pretty much exactly what his fans would want to hear – Move it on Over; Who do you Love; I Drink Alone; One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer. He played Get a Haircut and I was overjoyed.

He hammed it up as only an experienced frontman can – dancing around, making faces, posing, talking about what a fiiiiiiiiiiiiine city this is, dropping the name “Regina” into as many songs as he could (he’ll “make an old woman blush and a Regina girl squeal”). And people ate it up. There was one lady who was convinced she was part of the show and ran up to dance in front of everyone over and over, to the point that security quit trying to stop her from rushing the stage because the people she was with resigned themselves to handling it. At another time, when a bunch of people were standing and dancing, one guy hopped on one foot for the length of the stage, playing air guitar all the while. This was one of the most tremendous things I have ever seen. Dude looked like he was in a trance. Compelled by the power of the rock.

So yeah, this was great fun. And yet, I still have to give the Ben Miller Band the nod for the evening. They had more energy and great presence and didn’t have the advantage of, you know, people already knowing and liking them, but they still stole the show. On the way out, I got caught up in the rush of people leaving and never made it to the stuff table and I’m still a little disappointed about that, but oh well, there’s always iTunes.

UPCOMING CONCERTS

  • Ben Folds & yMusic w/Dotan (May 11)
  • Danny Michel (May 12)
  • Hawksley Workman & The Art of Time Ensemble (May 13)
  • Age of Electric (May 27)
  • The Pack a.d. (May 28)
  • Meat Loaf (June 11)
  • City and Colour w/Shakey Graves (June 12)
  • Northcote w/Jordan Klassen and Josiah (June 22)
  • BA Johnston (June 24)
  • Regina Folk Festival w/The Head and The Heart; Ry Cooder, Ricky Skaggs, & Sharon White (cancelled); Sam Roberts Band; The Mavericks; Bettye LaVette; The Cat Empire; The Strumbellas; more (August 5-7)
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 14)
  • Fred Eaglesmith (October 1)
  • I Mother Earth (October 8)

TOO MANY PICTURES: BEN MILLER BAND

 

TOO MANY PICTURES: GEORGE THOROGOOD & THE DESTROYERS

SLCR #238: Metric & Death Cab for Cutie (March 28, 2016)

April 9, 2016

To be honest, I wasn’t really excited for this show. I like Metric well enough to have seen them a few times before, but their newest album just doesn’t do it for me. If something can be described as “electronic synth pop,” I think it’s a safe bet that I won’t like it.

Now someone will point out that term could be used to describe all of Metric’s music, maybe, and I like an awful lot of it, including their previous album, Synthetica. So I don’t know. All’s I know is lots of bands I like are moving toward a new sound and it’s the same sound and it’s one I don’t care for. But I like enough older Metric stuff that when Mika asked if I wanted to go, I was quick to agree – especially when she got our coveted Row L For Legroom end seats.

I didn’t know at the time that Death Cab For Cutie was also on this tour. I’ve never heard much of their stuff, and what I have hasn’t inspired me to seek out more. Just not my thing. Probably an age thing – I was too old to be paying attention when they first came along and I never bothered to make an effort. Everyone I know who likes them is five to ten years younger than me. But I know they’re a big deal and I was surprised to see that they were playing before Metric.

Really, my #1 Death Cab memory comes from the days of the Delphi boards:

Albert: (mentions “DCFC” when talking music)
someone: “What’s DCFC?”
Albert: “Death Cab For Cutie! One of my favorite bands!”
Scott: “Death Cab For Cutie! One of Albert’s favorite bands! I think they suck!”

Not that funny, but I don’t know. I’ve forgotten lots of great chattery material but that one has stuck with me since day one. Maybe that’s why I never got into Death Cab. Afraid of what Scott might think.

We got to the Conexus Arts Centre in time to enjoy our legroom for 6:45, the bizarre stated start time on the tickets. And at 6:45:01, the lights dimmed. We got three bands tonight, no time to mess around.

With the vast majority of fans not yet in attendance, the openers were Leisure Cruise. They are from Brooklyn. I know this because they said so. I know nothing else about them except their lead singer took the stage wearing a coat that appeared to be made out of fifty pounds of silver Christmas tinsel. Mika said she kind of wanted it. I will not get it for her. Carl spends too much time trying to get our attention by pulling coats down as it is.

In front of a giant screen and what appeared to be two giant white beachballs with stuff projected onto them, Leisure Cruise played electronic pop that made them a good fit as openers for Metric. Nothing I ran out to buy or anything, but it was fine. I have nothing else to say about that.

I can pretty much review Death Cab by saying that I went into their set not giving a shit about them, and I left not giving a shit about them, but they were much better than I had given them credit for. They played two songs I recognized, both about hearts. Ultimately still not my thing, but clearly very talented and the crowd loved them – they got a standing ovation and fans were really disappointed there was no encore. It was obvious that people saw them as the big stars of the evening. There wasn’t a huge number of people who left right after Death Cab were done, but there were some – and people trickled out throughout Metric’s performance.

Between sets, I went exploring and briefly ran into Mark and Other James. Mark gushed over Death Cab so maybe they’re the best and there’s just something wrong with me?

So yeah, Metric ran the risk of being upstaged by their co-headliners. When they took the stage, they almost had to beg people to stand up and get into the show. And it didn’t help that the sound seemed better for Death Cab than for Metric – they buried Emily Haines’ vocals to a degree.

But once they got going, the show was a lot of fun. The new songs worked a lot better for me in the live setting and there were lots of older songs that I knew well and enjoyed. Mika said she thought the newer material worked better than the older stuff, and I can see where she’s coming from. They mixed up the old stuff a lot – but I’d rather hear that than just note-for-note renditions of the album versions. And the staging was great – probably the best light show I’ve ever seen at a rock show. Apologies to anyone who had to sit through my Instagram flood that night – but you didn’t even get to see the confetti cannons.

Not that everything worked. Fans who bought VIP tickets were invited on stage to serve as a chorus backing the song Dreams So Real. I know that nobody buys music anymore and you’ve gotta make your money where you can. So I understand offering VIP packages where people can pay more to meet the band, watch the soundcheck, get exclusive stuff, or just get fancy parking or something. But inviting people on stage… I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Some of those folks looked terrified. It’s an experiment that was worth trying but probably not repeating.

But that was one song in a long night of music. By and large, the show was a good time and the evening exceeded my expectations. Really, all three bands wound up better than I thought they’d be. And after twenty minutes of sitting here trying to come up with a better conclusion than that, I’m going to accept that I don’t have one and just be done with this.

SLCR #229: Blue Rodeo (January 14, 2016)

January 31, 2016

It’s 9:45 a.m. on Friday, January 22. I’m washing down my Robaxacet with Diet Pepsi, and The Guy (capitalized because I’m pretty sure that’s his legal name) is fixing the burnt-out element on our stove. I have better things to do than write a concert review right now (sleep) (that’s it), but I had to be up to let The Guy in, and this hard kitchen chair is the best thing for my back, so here we are. And I need to get this done, because we’re less than 12 hours away from the next show. And then 4 days from the next. And so on.

Seriously. I normally bury my list of upcoming shows at the bottom of the review, and don’t include it in the final copy that I save for the book I’ll never compile, but look at this. How did this happen?

  • Whitehorse w/Andy Shauf and Emily Wells (January 22)
  • Headstones (January 26)
  • Corb Lund (February 9)
  • Elliott Brood w/Nick Faye (February 10)
  • Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls w/Mo Kenney & Northcote (March 5)
  • Amelia Curran (March 8)
  • The Watchmen (March 25)
  • Metric w/Death Cab for Cutie (March 28)
  • Spirit of the West (March 31)
  • I Mother Earth (April 23)
  • Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids (April 25)
  • Ben Folds & yMusic w/Dotan (May 11)
  • Hawksley Workman & The Art of Time Ensemble (May 13)
  • City and Colour w/Shakey Graves (June 12)
  • Regina Folk Festival (August 5-7)

Those aren’t maybes. Those are all things I have tickets for (except for Grownups, and that’s only because tickets haven’t gone on sale yet). My goodness.

Anyway. Blue Rodeo. Canadian (rock? country?) legends. If you were born in this country or have ever visited it, you likely know their hits. I saw them ages ago at the Folk Festival and they were good, didn’t blow me away or anything. Then I saw them again at the Folk Festival this past year, and they were great. So so great. This would be my first time seeing them at their own show (if that makes sense), and I had high hopes for a repeat of this summer’s experience.

Having said that, my attendance at this show was sort of decided for me. I got the email notification that they were coming, and I thought “hey, Mark really liked Blue Rodeo at the Folk Festival too, I should send him this,” so I did, and he said “Great! Get us tickets and I’ll pay you back.” Now, at this point, I hadn’t actually decided whether or not I was going to go to this show, but I took this as a sign from God that I was meant to be there. Even as an atheist, I can find signs from God in all sorts of things whenever I want to do something anyway. Remember, your work fire drill is just God’s way of saying that it’s time to go try the DQ Blizzard of the Month. Anyway, I can tell God approved because we got really good seats.

With each of the four tickets, I was entitled to a free download of a Blue Rodeo album. I wanted to pick up the classics – meaning, the ones that had the songs I actually know – whereas Mark wanted newer stuff. We compromised, by which I mean he left it entirely up to me. That’s good teamwork. I picked their new live album, their two most recent studio albums, and Five Days in July. I listened to precisely none of these in preparation for the show. Mika and I did, however, listen to some Blue Rodeo themed station on Apple Music on the night before. And mostly I paid attention to the songs I actually know.

We got to the Conexus Arts Centre fairly early with lots of time to check out the stuff table. Lots of vinyl, lots of shirts, all the stuff you’d expect. Didn’t get anything. We checked our coats, which I hate doing because then you’re stuck there forever when it’s time to go home, but the alternative in this weather is either to freeze to death on the way to and/or from the show, or boil up until you evaporate during the show itself. And I wanted to see the show. I’d hate to have… mist it.

I think maybe I’m tired.

THAT JOKE WAS GREAT AND I AM LEAVING IT IN DESPITE ALL INSTINCTS

ANYWAY WHATEVER

WHEN MARK AND ARLETTE GOT THERE MARK ASKED FOR DORITOS AND I THINK HE WAS KIDDING BUT ARLETTE BOUGHT HIM DORITOS ANYWAY BECAUSE ARLETTE GETS SHIT DONE AND THEN MARK HAD TO EAT THE DORITOS WHICH IS A PRETTY GOOD OUTCOME FOR A JOKE I HAVE TO SAY

I didn’t get Doritos. Or help Mark with his Doritos. We’d just had Wok Box. It was good. Would go again. And will do so in about 7 hours or so, in fact. This concert review brought to you by Wok Box. “Wok Box: for when you get old and you can’t eat mozza sticks and chicken fingers every day because you are scared of your doctor.”

The bar, apart from Doritos, also had a drink called a PineApple Upside Down Cake (their spelling choices) which was pineapple juice, birthday cake vodka, and 7-Up. I couldn’t tell if I wanted one really badly or if I wanted to punch the guy who thought this up. I settled on “I don’t want to have to pee during the show.”

Our opener was Terra Lightfoot. After last year, I was leery of people named Lightfoot but she was really good. She occupies a similar part-country/part-rock space like Blue Rodeo. Do I know from song titles? Not at all, apart from a song called NFB, which I liked, but is accidentally not on her “limited edition” vinyl. She mentioned that the last time she played Regina was at O’Hanlon’s, so the Conexus Arts Centre is a big step up in terms of prominence, but I bet her show at O’Hanlon’s would have been killer.

I took a break from writing this to bus downtown and watch my work friends play with their toy helicopters. I picked Lightfoot’s album, Every Time My Mind Runs Wild, as the soundtrack. It was quite good; well worth checking out if it’s on your streaming service of choice. Or you could buy it. That’s still an option in places.

Unfortunately, this break of mine has now lasted eight days and counting. The Whitehorse and Headstones shows have come and gone and both have even been reviewed. I am apparently now far enough behind to bend the fabric of space and time. This was inevitable. Much like when I started this thing, I would like to be asleep, but no! I soldier on in hopes of sleeping tomorrow.

Blue Rodeo had, like, six lamps on the stage. This is important for you to know. Now you feel like you were there. I think this is like that VR stuff you hear about on blogs. An immersive experience. To complete the illusion, surround yourself with assholes. Seriously, this show had the loudest, most obnoxious drunks I’d encountered in some time. Oh, did they yell. They wanted to go into great detail about how much they love Blue Rodeo and how happy they were that Blue Rodeo was playing there. I kind of rolled my eyes at this, but secretly, I just wanted it to escalate to the point where there were five-minute audience monologues between songs. “THIS MESSAGE IS FOR ALL MEMBERS OF THE MUSICAL ENSEMBLE BLUE RODEO. ON BEHALF OF THE CITIZENS OF REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN, I WANT TO PROFESS MY PROFOUND GRATITUDE FOR YOUR APPEARANCE HERE THIS EVENING. AS YOU MAY KNOW, REGINA WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1882 AND WAS NAMED IN HONOUR OF QUEEN VICTORIA…”

The drunks also yelled song requests, to which Jim Cuddy said “Thanks. We wouldn’t have thought of playing that.” He responded to a request for Try by saying that they were, as hard as they could. I couldn’t tell if the band was amused or irritated by these outbursts. Maybe a bit of both?

I didn’t have any run-ins with the drunks personally. The closest I had was the lady to my right who was VERY excited for Blue Rodeo and for our great seats. She went “EEEEEEEEEE” at me when they played one of their hits, and I thought “man, when we get to the show-ending crowd singalong of Hasn’t Hit Me Yet, she’s going to LOSE HER MIND.” Which, pretty much, yeah.

So yeah, the show was a little bit predictable, but not entirely. I got my phone out to record what I thought would be said singalong, but they swerved me and brought out Terra Lightfoot and her band to join them on Lost Together first. Which is here:

See? Lamps.

So how was the show? Well, it was very good. This should not surprise. Blue Rodeo are very talented musicians and songwriters. You do not need me to tell you that. (You need me to tell you about their lamps.) But it wasn’t as good as this year’s Folk Festival show. It felt like both shows had the same amount of energy, only this time, it had to be spread twice as far. They would go long stretches playing only new material, which again was GOOD, but not what most people were there to hear. And things like the show-closing singalong were great the first time. Now they’re still fun, but an expected part of the show. But then putting those two points next to each other suggests that I don’t want to see stuff I’ve seen before but I also am not very interested in anything new. So what the hell do you do with that? Go to a show, have a good time, and maybe don’t think too hard about it.

SLCR #197: Neil Young w/Diana Krall (January 17, 2014)

January 27, 2014

“Should I get tickets to Neil Young?”

This was a trick question; not in how it was asked, but that it was asked at all. I asked it of my coworkers for whom shopping is something of a lifestyle. It’s their favourite hobby. You might wonder how they can afford this, and if you did, I would point out that “returning things” is their second favourite. At any rate, I knew they’d say “yes,” and sometimes I need a push.

I don’t usually need a push when it comes to concert tickets. This may sound hypocritical coming from someone who has so much stuff, but I would much rather have experiences than things. However, this was not a particularly cheap experience – the two tickets were going to run us around $375 once you got the taxes and fees in there. And my history with Neil Young is relatively limited. Of course, I know he’s a Canadian legend and I’ve heard most of his more famous songs, but I don’t think I’ve ever thought “man, you know what I could really stand to listen to right now? Some Neil Young.” But whatever, it’s only money, I can always make more. And besides, Neil is, in fact, not young, so who knows how many more chances I’ll get to see him? He also had Diana Krall as his opening act, and she’s a pretty big star in her own right. Plus, the show was in the Conexus Arts Centre, a smaller concert venue (holds 2,000 or thereabouts) and not at a big hockey rink. And finally, this tour was for a good cause.

Yeah, so about that cause. This concert was one of four that were held across Canada to raise funds for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which is locked in perpetual legal fights against the federal government and the oil companies which aim to expand tar sands development, some of which could impact the band’s traditional land and could have serious environmental consequences. Young took no payment for the shows, and the Honour The Treaties tour raised over $500,000 for the band’s legal fund.

However, two of the shows took place in Regina and Calgary, major cities in oil-rich (and, let’s be honest here, highly racist) provinces. This led to the concerts stirring up a giant mess of controversy, which was compounded by Young in several interviews where he did things like comparing the mine sites to Hiroshima after the atomic bomb hit. Newspapers were filled with angry editorials and letters. These were accompanied by shocking exposés (?) that revealed that the alleged environmentalist Young sometimes flies on private planes and that his tour buses were left running during the Calgary show, despite being empty. Also, Neil Young is a rock star, which apparently invalidates his opinions on any other subject.

I can’t imagine anyone giving a damn about my opinion on such things, but I can’t imagine you giving a damn about whether or not I thought a concert was any good and here you are, so:

 

  • No matter how much oil is still in the ground, it’s a finite amount, so the priority really should be finding/improving alternate sources of energy.
  • If you’re going to tell other people what to do, don’t be surprised when they hold you to those standards.
  • If you’re going to tell other people what to do, don’t be surprised when they find reasons to not like you.
  • If you don’t want to honour treaties, then you’d best renegotiate them instead of just doing whatever you feel like.
  • One person (or group of people) using wasteful transportation methods is a small problem; treaty rights, the environment, how much energy we (as a society) use, where this energy comes from, and what are the consequences – those are all big problems.
  • Small problems have a funny way of distracting people from big problems.
  • I really just wanted to hear Heart of Gold.

Enough politicizing.

We got to the Conexus Arts Centre about a half-hour before the show began. I didn’t get tickets right when they went on sale, so we missed out on the two seats at the end of the fabled Row L for Legroom. Not that I would have paid that much anyway – I choked a bit on the $375 and that only got us into the cheap seats. Based on the seating chart on venue’s online ticketing system, I went for the two seats at the end of Row R, as it appeared to stand for Room, Leg. No such luck. Instead, we stood (and sat, and stood, and sat – that’s what happens if you take the aisle seats and show up early).

We had initially tried to avoid that whole scene, thinking we could wait in the lobby until the show started. However, there was an unannounced opening act of sorts. From the lobby, we could hear someone talking so we took our seats. A Native man with a guitar – if he said his name, we missed it – was talking about the drive from the north to the show. He then brought out someone who I assume was a Chief – again, I didn’t catch the name, but as soon as he walked out on stage, every First Nations person in the audience immediately stood up, followed by about two-thirds of the white people in attendance who were much more tentative about it.

I should note that despite the racial makeup of the province, this might be the first show I’ve ever attended where a significant percentage of the audience was First Nations. Many of them were wearing “Got Land? Thank an Indian” hoodies in support of a local student who was (briefly) banned from wearing the hoodie to school. I suspect we’ll see some of those next month when A Tribe Called Red is at The Exchange.

Anyway, the man who I thought was a Chief spoke in a language I did not understand. I assume he was opening the evening with a prayer, because when he finished speaking, there was no applause – he just walked off and everyone sat back down. The guy with the guitar came back and sang a song which he dedicated to water. Then he left, at which point they dimmed the lights, closed the doors, and began the show in earnest.

I have never listened to Diana Krall. Apart from the fact that one time, she was a jerk to a friend of Mika’s, I had always assumed that I would think “wow, that was very well done and not my thing at all.” Sometimes I am right about things. She played some piano and sang some songs. No band, just her. She told a few stories and seemed kind of nervous when she talked. I was not familiar with the Fats Waller song Your Feet’s Too Big but it was a delight. She also sang Don’t Fence Me In, a song which has forever been ruined for me because I first heard it on the old Air Farce radio show and their lyrics – “give me fish, lots of fish, and a great big jug of beer / don’t piss me off” – have always stuck with me for God-knows-what reason. These are the extent of my thoughts on Diana Krall.

I do have thoughts about the people who can’t show up on time for things and make entire rows of people stand up to accommodate them. You know what those thoughts are. Furthermore, I have thoughts about the crabby lady who told the latecomers to wait until between songs to take their seats. Those thoughts consist primarily of high-fives.

I also have thoughts about people who hang out in the lobby, open the doors, look to see if Neil Young is playing yet, leave, and repeat this action every five minutes. These thoughts are like high-fives, only with a closed hand. So they’re more like a fist-bump, but instead of hitting the other person’s fist, you go for their face or balls.

We hung out in the lobby during intermission until, again, we could hear someone on stage. We came back to watch a drum circle, but this time we were smart enough to lean against a wall and not even bother with the sit-stand-sit-stand routine.

Finally, Neil Young took the stage. Again, no band – just him, two pianos, and a multitude of guitars. He told stories about both pianos and some of the guitars. Everything has a history.

I had always understood Young to be kind of, well, a cantankerous old grouch. I don’t know if this is a commonly held opinion or just something I picked up somewhere. Instead, he was quite funny and seemed very laid-back and even a little self-deprecating. I was surprised at how likable he came across. And despite the cause he was promoting, there was no sermonizing during the show.

Young is 68. I know this from Wikipedia, as much as anyone can know anything that comes from Wikipedia. Despite his age, when Neil Young sings, he still sounds just like Neil Young, for better or worse – you decide which. Mika said she knew about half the songs he played; I did not. I can come up with a longer list of songs he didn’t play: Harvest Moon, Hey Hey My My, Rockin’ in the Free World, The Needle and the Damage Done, Cinnamon Girl. Luckily, Young is popular enough that someone out in the vast internets filled in a setlist of questionable accuracy for the less-informed of us:

  • From Hank to Hendrix
  • On the Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)
  • Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  • Love in Mind
  • Mellow My Mind
  • Are You Ready for the Country
  • Someday
  • Changes (Phil Ochs)
  • Harvest
  • Old Man
  • A Man Needs a Maid
  • Ohio
  • Southern Man
  • Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield)
  • Pocahontas
  • Four Strong Winds (Ian & Sylvia)
  • Heart of Gold

Encore:

  • Comes a Time
  • Long May You Run

I will say that I had absolutely no idea what to make of A Man Needs a Maid. But the rest of the show was pretty great – very simple and stripped down. Just a guy, some songs, a few stories, and a completely devoted audience. I suppose you might have to expect that, given the ticket prices. Young got a standing ovation just for showing up. People yelled “thank you!” and “we love you!” and hooted and hollered for every song, especially the hits. It’s a bit weird to greet Ohio with screams of delight. Maybe people don’t know the words?

As for the effectiveness of the concert at getting his message across… well, he got people talking, so that’s good. There’s more shouting than talking and not enough listening, but that was pretty much a given. If nothing else, the environmental message gave us a big laugh when we were leaving the parking lot and found ourselves behind a giant Hummer.

UPCOMING SHOWS

  • A Tribe Called Red (Tuesday, February 18)
  • Mounties w/Rich Aucoin (Friday, March 28)
  • Ben Folds & Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (Wednesday, May 21)
  • Regina Folk Festival (Friday, August 8 to Sunday, August 10)

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!