Posts Tagged ‘macewan hall’

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

September 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want the whole setlist? Here it is anyway:

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

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

SLCR #297: Japandroids (October 13, 2017)

October 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does this mean I get to go to bed?

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

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

​SLCR #235: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (March 5, 2016)

March 10, 2016

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

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

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


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

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

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

She was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLCR #199: Bastille w/To Kill a King (April 4, 2014)

April 14, 2014

Review Number One-Ninety-Nine was supposed to be Mounties. A Canadian indie-rock supergroup of sorts, Mounties (is? are?) my favourite guy Hawksley Workman, Steve Bays from Hot Hot Heat, and Ryan Dahle from Limblifter and Age of Electric. Over the past year, they’ve released a few songs online and just put out Thrash Rock Legacy, their first album (hence the tour). It’s catchy dancey pop that sometimes wanders off into extended jams. Unsurprisingly, there are parts of the album that sound like Hawksley got to sing on some Hot Hot Heat songs, but that doesn’t quite describe it unless you add in those jams, and also a time machine. These are kids of the 80s.

Unfortunately, Mounties skipped Regina in favour of a Saskatoon show at Amigo’s. I knew what that meant but bought tickets anyway. It’s Hawksley, right? I’ll work for it. My fears were confirmed when I Twittered at @mountiesband to find out what time they would take the stage. “Midnight!” was the brief but enthusiastic response. That was about what I was expecting – if anything, that’s early for Amigo’s. But the concert came at the tail end of the two busiest weeks of Mika’s classes, and the night before the show, I came down with a crippling stomach bug. The good news is that we’re both okay – school is winding down for the semester and WebMD diagnosed me with a case of “maybe you shouldn’t have eaten ALL the spring rolls, fatass” – but neither of us were really up for a three-hour highway drive in the dark for a show that wouldn’t let us get to sleep until 3:00 a.m. so we passed. Deserée was coming with us but opted out after we did. I hear the show sold out. I hope it was awesome, and if you went, I hope you enjoy the extra breathing room that three absentees provided.

I won’t lie; I was pretty disappointed about this one. I get it. I do. There will always be new 19-year-olds to replace those of us who age out of staying awake forever. Maybe Amigo’s isn’t meant for me. Maybe this earring isn’t meant for me. Maybe this goatee isn’t hiding any chins and maybe it’s half-grey anyway. Maybe I should avoid Amigo’s because they only have almond chicken fingers at lunchtime and only on Tuesdays and I don’t live in Saskatoon so when am I ever going to have those again, assuming they even offer them anymore, how would I know, I haven’t eaten at Amigo’s in years and I haven’t seen a show there since the second night of JunoFest, seven years ago.

Maybe I should avoid Amigo’s because it instills existential angst and dread.

Anyway, when the Mounties show fell through, I briefly considered going to Kings of Leon in Calgary. (I was going to go be in Calgary anyway, which I’ll get to.) My general thought on Kings of Leon is “I give no shits as it pertains to Kings of Leon” – I don’t hate them, I don’t love them, I don’t know much about them. They’re just there. I know Sex on Fire and it’s okay enough. Mika tells me that I’ve heard other Kings of Leon songs, but I can’t prove it. Mark told me that their newest album is good, and I trust his judgment, but the biggest selling point for the show was that I could get a nosebleed seat for cheap and the Saddledome is within walking distance of my grandparents’ place. However, I eventually opted to skip this show too; not because I didn’t really care about it, but because I mistakenly thought the show was on Wednesday. That morning, I was thinking “I really need to decide if I want to go do this” when I opened the newspaper and saw their review of the show. Apparently, it was good.

That brings us to Bastille. To see this show, I did something that I’ve never done before: way overpaid for a ticket from a scalper. I’ve only ever bought tickets through legitimate means. But I wanted to go to Calgary to visit my grandparents, as I will do, and there weren’t a lot of bands playing that interested me. Bastille interested me.

Because I am an Old and I associate almost exclusively with fellow Olds, I didn’t know of Bastille until their January appearance on Saturday Night Live. I asked Mika the same question I ask her regarding every SNL musical act: “What’s a Bastille? Will I hate it?”

She said that I might not. Promising!

And indeed, I liked their first song, Pompeii (the one you’ve heard if you’ve heard one), enough to pick it up on iTunes. I wasn’t as sold on their other song (Oblivion) right away – Oblivion is a slower song and Pompeii is ridiculously catchy and full of hooks and probably not any good, depending on who you ask, but you’re asking me, and who asked you?

Anyway. I YouTubed some of their other singles and was convinced to Complete My Album. It’s good! Then I saw the concert listed on Pollstar.

It’s worth noting that I had no idea if Bastille was a Big Deal at all. They had to be some sort of Deal if they were playing on SNL, but their Calgary show was scheduled for the MacEwan Ballroom (relatively small) and tickets were a reasonable $27.50. I decided to buy one and hope the timing of the trip worked out.

You are probably aware that this line of thinking was foolish.

Near as I can tell, they sold out the MacEwan Ballroom right away, were moved one floor down to the larger MacEwan Hall, and then sold THAT out right away too. There were no tickets anywhere. With no assigned seating, I had no hope of picking up a single ticket that nobody else wanted. I poked around Twitter, Craigslist, StubHub, and Kijiji, and learned valuable lessons about supply and demand.

Remembering last year’s costly The God That Comes mistake, I hadn’t bought plane tickets yet, so my schedule was wide open. I went back to Pollstar, determined to find a show I’d like even better. There just wasn’t much of anything, though. Lots of “yeah, I could go see them, I guess” types of shows. Kings of Leon types of shows.

Bastille was the only show that really stood out to me. Plus, the timing of everything worked out perfectly – drive to Saskatoon with Mika, see Mounties (or, you know, not), spend time with family, Mika goes home, I fly from Saskatoon to Calgary, spend a week, fly back to Saskatoon, watch Wrestlemania with the usual people because we never grow up and we never learn, catch a bus back to Regina. It’s like three trips in one.

It was so stupid, really. I found plane tickets. They cost X. The concert cost Y. X + Y = Z. Does it really matter what X and Y are, as long as I’m fine with Z? Stupid algebra, convincing me to spend $97.90 (!) USD (!!) for a $27.50 CDN ticket. This show needed to be good or I was going to be SO CROSS.

Off I went to MacEwan Hall, and dang, these guys don’t mess around. The ticket said 8:00; I got there around 8:05 and the opening act, To Kill A King, had already started. I really liked these guys! I’d never heard of them before, so it was a delightful surprise. They sounded very much like a band that would be opening for Bastille, if that makes any sense. English folk-rock. Like Bastille with a smaller budget, so you didn’t get the rock band light show. More vocal harmonies too. Quite nice. Would see again.

Between sets, I decided to pick up the TKAK album (is this an acronym anyone uses? It is now, I guess) and discovered that there was a Jugo Juice across from the stuff table. And it was open! As someone who doesn’t drink a whole lot of beers and doesn’t want to fight the bar crowd for a soda, this was a godsend. I picked up a smoothie and texted Mika and declared that every concert venue needed a Jugo Juice. Unfortunately, the instant I finished the smoothie, the last drop landed inside me with a thud and I spent a good chunk of time wondering if it was going to stay put. As such, I can’t give the Jugo Juice my full endorsement, though I am fully prepared to blame a week of Calgary eating or even residual spring roll aftereffects.

But before I hit that point, I had to get the TKAK CD. By the time I got my smoothie, the 19-year-old girls who had been waiting at the stuff table had moved on, so a few members of the band were just hanging out, chatting with people and signing stuff. I wound up with a few seconds to talk to the lead singer, the amazingly-named Ralph Pelleymounter. Autocorrect doesn’t even KNOW what to do with that. I felt way too old to be doing such things, but regardless, he was a delightful fellow. Good chat.

Back I went into the concert hall, CD in hand. Smoothie in other hand. Jacket over arm, phone in pocket, wallet also in pocket, keys there too, glasses on face, shoes on feet, all non-jacket clothes in their appropriate places, really… ready for the show.

The highlight of the show – and one of the highlights of my entire life – came close to the end of the evening. During their song Flaws, the lead singer of Bastille (whose name is probably not as great as “Ralph Pelleymounter” and I am not about to look it up to confirm/deny) jumped into the crowd and ran around singing among the people. For most of this, I couldn’t see anything. I knew where he was, roughly, from the general movement of the crowd. But then he came near where I was standing. And he’s singing, and people are patting him on the back, and… I don’t know if he was going for a high-five or what, but he managed to completely pie-face this girl about two feet from where I was standing. He hugged her in apology and never stopped singing. For what it’s worth, she was unhurt and, really, seemed completely delighted by this whole sequence of events.

I wouldn’t pay extra for someone to get smacked in the face at every show I attend, but as a one-off? What the heck.

As for the rest of the show, it was about what you’d expect. Energetic pop. Young band. Young crowd. I felt exceedingly old. Fancy lights. Good sound. Very professionally done. No real spontaneity. I liked Oblivion better here than on SNL. Most of the singles were slotted in towards the end of the show, with the biggest hit saved for the encore. They brought out To Kill a King at the end to sing Pompeii with them, which I thought was a nice touch. A relatively short show, which is to be expected when there’s only one album (albeit with an optional bonus disc) to draw from.

It was definitely better than a $27.50 show. It wasn’t the revelatory, new-number-one-fan-forever experience that I would have hoped for, but I had a fine time. I’d see them again, preferably for the advertised price. And with more face-punching.

• Ben Folds & Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (May 21)
• Regina Folk Festival (Serena Ryder, Joel Plaskett Emergency, Sam Roberts Band, Indigo Girls, Los Lobos, Mo Kenney, Geoff Berner, more – August 8-10)
• Gordon Lightfoot (November 7)

SLCR #194: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (October 22, 2013)

November 15, 2013

Another trip to Calgary, another week with the grandparents. And once again, I cleverly scheduled my trip to catch a few shows while there. I’d go visit my grandparents either way, of course (though I’m not sure they believe that), but if I can conveniently see someone who’s skipping Regina, well, that’s a win/win.

This brings us to Frank Turner. I saw him open for Joel Plaskett last year in Saskatoon. He was a great new-to-me discovery and I became an instant fan. This time around, Turner was headlining his own tour, but there was no Regina gig. He was playing in Saskatoon, and I thought about going, but that would have meant leaving right after work on a Friday, racing to Saskatoon (and at the end of October, there’s no guarantee that the weather or the roads will allow for that), and cramming into Louis’, where I had seen him before. I don’t expect you to remember reading about that show, but I remember being at that show, and the crowd at that show was hateful. I spent a good part of the show fantasizing about someone barricading the doors and lighting the place on fire. Despite the deaths of myself, my friends, and the artists, it would still have been a net gain for humanity.

But I digress.

My ticket promised two opening acts: The Smith Street Band and Koo Koo Kanga Roo. You’d think the kangaroo thing would have made me do some advance research, but I did not. I am glad that I did not ruin the surprise for myself.

I did not take the time on the ticket seriously, which means that Minneapolis’ Koo Koo Kanga Roo was already playing when I got to the MacEwan Ballroom. This is what I saw when I walked in the doors: the stage was bare. A good portion of the crowd was on the floor, standing in a circle around these two guys who were racing around, energetically singing about throwing a cat party, “so bring your cat and something to share.” Yes. I had no idea what I had just walked into. They then moved into a song called Unicorns R Real (“because, because, I BELIEVE IT”). Then they made everyone pick a favourite colour before bringing out a grade school gym class parachute. It was impossible for me not to enjoy this, and I’m not just saying that because the unicorn from the song was named James. Like me! I’m a unicorn!

A good portion of the crowd stayed in the beer garden and never saw this, and I get that. I don’t think I’d have appreciated this when I was 21. I don’t know what it means that I’m more apt to enjoy kids’ music now that I’m older, but whatever. Even if I’m mentally regressing, I’m glad I saw this when I did and I wish I’d made it for the whole set.

Before the Smith Street Band took the stage, I hit the stuff table to buy a Frank Turner CD and, more importantly, an official $5 CD-R from one of Koo Koo Kanga Roo themselves (Bryan – the one without the mustache). He was a very friendly guy, though I didn’t spend a lot of time with him since I figured he was better off talking to the actual children who were there. I didn’t see many, but the ones who were there really seemed to enjoy themselves.

The Smith Street Band hail from Melbourne and were a much more straight-forward rock band. They sounded like a band who should be touring with Frank Turner, if that means anything to you. These guys were really tight, and on any other night they’d likely have been the standouts. I enjoyed them, and I thought everyone else did too, but I’m not sure the lead singer agreed. Or at least that’s what I took away from “Don’t worry, we only have two more songs. I’m sorry for whatever we did to your families.” At least he got to stay in a nice hotel and take four trips to the sauna. He seemed to like that.

Finally, Frank Turner and his band, The Sleeping Souls, took the stage for Turner’s 1,748th show. Does he actually keep count? Who knows. He said it and I took notes. For you. Because I care.

Apart from the presence of the full band, another notable change from last year’s show was that Turner himself was not playing guitar. He told us that he’d developed back problems and his doctor advised him to cancel six months’ worth of tour dates. Turner declined, opting to keep the shows but turn guitar duties over to someone else. I’m not sure how guitar hurts your back more than constant touring does, but whatever. Backs are mysterious things. Mine sometimes gets mad when I load the dishwasher or tie my shoes. Anyway, the new guitarist was Irish, a fact that Turner seemed quite delighted by and brought up repeatedly. This made for quite the multicultural, if monochrome, show.

With no guitar, Turner seemed like he felt personally responsible for keeping up the energy level in the room. He sang his heart out, bouncing back and forth across the stage. Every other song, he led audience singalongs and encouraged dancing, jumping, clapping, anything. By the end of the show, everyone on stage was soaked.

I’d tell you what songs he played, but would you care? This is my clever way of deflecting the fact that I don’t know from titles anymore. If I listen to music, it’s in my car, on my phone, or at work, and I never really look to see what songs are called. It was probably about 1/3rd “ooh, I know this song, I like it,” 1/3rd “I think I know this one, I like it,” and 1/3rd “nope, don’t know this one – but I like it.” So it was a nice diverse mix. Or maybe it wasn’t. Like I’d know?

For the encore, Turner first came out by himself with the dreaded backbreaking guitar, saying he figured he could break the doctor’s rule for one song per night. He explained that he liked to play a local band’s song in every city, but since Feist was too obvious a choice and he wasn’t cool enough to know any Chixdiggit songs, he had to settle for playing a Canadian band’s song. “I have a tattoo on my arm of a cat named Virtute,” he said. Not everyone knew what that meant, but those that did (me me me I know things) were super excited. Turner added that The Weakerthans are one of his favourite bands (ooh ooh me too we’re pals now) and launched into Plea From a Cat Named Virtute. I had been good all show about keeping my phone to myself, but I had to record this. I wasn’t near the front, but you can at least hear it clearly.

The full band came back out for a few more songs, and that was the evening. And it was great. Super great. If you get the chance to see any of these bands – or even better, all of them together – I highly recommend you take it. I’m finishing this off on November 15, 2013, and if there was a way I could get to Charlotte, North Carolina tonight to see this show again, I’d do it. I looked back at my reviews for this year, and this show is battling Leonard Cohen for Show Of The Year status. They were two very different evenings and I’m not sure how you compare the two – clearly, we need Cohen to sing Unicorns R Real while Koo Koo Kanga Roo covers Hallelujah. Preferably while standing on Aaron’s front lawn, because if you’re going to have ridiculous wishes, you may as well go all out.

Speaking of Koo Koo Kanga Roo, they were waiting in the lobby for the crush of people making their way out of the ballroom, taking one last shot at selling more CD-Rs. “24 hit songs, only $5!” A lot of hustle goes into silly cat songs.

SLCR #187: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald’s Birthday Spectacular (March 23, 2013)

April 14, 2013

Whenever I go to Calgary to visit my grandparents, I always seem to find a few shows to go to. Michael Bernard Fitzgerald is not one of those acts that’s too big to play Regina, but I hadn’t seen him in a while, and it doesn’t look like he’s touring right now. Besides, it was his birthday party – how could I not go? He’d have been so disappointed.

The show was at the MacEwan Ballroom, which is several floors above MacEwan Hall, site of last year’s Kasabian and Cat Empire shows. I got there shortly after the doors were supposed to open and took my place in a big ol’ line. The holdup was caused by security checking bags and frisking each person as they entered; I had no idea MBF fans were so prone to violence. If anything, I thought I noticed an above-average number of hugs among people at the show. I don’t think they were secret knife hugs.

For his birthday, MBF asked people to wear their finest Canadian tuxedoes to his show; that being, of course, a denim shirt with blue jeans. I even overheard people in line wondering how strictly this dress code was going to be enforced. I did wear jeans, but I don’t own a denim shirt or jean jacket and didn’t feel like tracking one down just for the occasion. This probably makes me a bad sport. Fortunately for me, there were enough people who didn’t join in that I didn’t stand out (no more so than usual, anyway), but lots of people did play along. Some went all out; I’m talking jeans, denim shirt, denim tie (!), jean jacket combos. In a Calgary Herald interview printed before the show, Fitzgerald said that he’d gone to a tailor to have something special to wear for the evening.

As befits a celebration, the show was stacked. There were four opening acts that played for over two hours, and the first was my favourite of the bunch. Scenic Route to Alaska is a two-piece act from Edmonton (their website says there are three of them, but I only saw two, and I refuse to dispute mine own eyes). They played very energetic straight-up rock with a hint of… not country, exactly, but sort of? I wouldn’t describe them as a country act but if you only like country, you could still really enjoy these guys. I don’t know if they ever make it out to Regina, but if they do, I’d be likely to go check them out.

Next up was Cole Hruska, a Calgary singer-songwriter. I think he said he was 15, which, Jesus, really? Is that even possible? I’m pretty sure when I was 15 I was playing Mega Man IV despite not having beaten any of the previous ones (though I told people I did). Anyway, this was just him and a guitar playing some very earnest songs. It wasn’t so much my thing, but he won the crowd over – judging from the reaction, a good number of people were there just to see him. Closing with Call Me Maybe (segueing in and out of Thrift Shop for good measure) was a crowd-pleaser.

Our third performer was Mark Mills. He sang and played guitar over prerecorded beats and possessed a sweet mustache and sweeter dance moves. I cannot stress the sweetness of these dance moves enough. I mean, it was more flailing, you know? Spastic flailing. But sweet spastic flailing. At the time, I had no idea what to make of this, and I still don’t. I am not 100% convinced that this wasn’t some sort of elaborate practical joke. Whatever it was, I was greatly entertained.

After Mills wrapped up, a local radio DJ came out and plugged his station and the night’s sponsors; standard DJ stuff. He also said we’d be joined shortly by our fourth and final opener, Teddy Celebration. Contrary to what you might assume based on that last paragraph, it was only here when we truly entered the WTF? portion of the evening. After three musical acts, a guy wandered out onto the stage to zero fanfare and played standard dance music. It took a while before I realized that this was not just the random music they were playing between sets. There was a distinct lack of dancing among the people in attendance; mostly, people just stood around and talked. Some swayed back and forth a bit while they did it but it looked like they were just trying to be polite. They did seem to like it when he played Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al.

After about 15 minutes of this, the person I assume to be Teddy Celebration was joined by someone I initially thought was a vocalist, but no, he was a roadie doing the soundcheck for Fitzgerald. Just smack dab in the middle of the music, “check check one two” on the mics, testing out the drums, that sort of thing. It was very strange. Eventually, Soundcheck Man tapped Possibly Teddy Celebration on the shoulder and gave him the sign to wrap it up. Teddy Celebration is apparently a man who takes orders seriously, as he immediately shut off the music and walked off. Soundcheck Man gestured for the audience to applaud, which they did politely.

Finally, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald took over the stage with an army of musicians. For most of the show, there were somewhere around a dozen people on stage including two drummers, three horn players (who you may recall as The Horny Boys from the Regina Folk Festival), three backup singers, and MBF himself. All of the openers came out for one of the closing songs, and there was barely room enough for everyone.

And of course, everyone was wearing denim. And they all seemed really hot. After a few songs, MBF took off his jean jacket to reveal a denim shirt, and lost the shirt in short order to show off his denim muscle shirt, which he had specially made for the evening and he believed to be the only one in existence. I’m sure someone else has had the idea at some point, but I am not going to let Google Images ruin this moment for me.

A few songs in, the crowd spontaneously launched into singing Happy Birthday. As soon as they were done, some of the crew brought a giant bottle-shaped cake out on stage (alas, I didn’t see what kind of bottle) and everyone sang again. MBF gets a decent reaction in Regina, but in his hometown of Calgary, he is beloved. It sounded like he’s had a lot of radio support there, and the crowd sang along with his old songs and the new ones – Care For You, Movie Life, Firecracker, Follow, and especially Brand New Spaces – people near me were yelling for that one all night and the crowd didn’t need to be told to stomp stomp stomp CLAP along. He also covered It Ain’t Me, Babe, and wrapped up the show as he last did in Regina, by starting off with Low and turning it into Dancing in the Dark. And he did let us know that despite Earth Hour taking place during the course of the show, he wasn’t allowed to kill the lights for Dancing in the Dark. Something about a “fire hazard.” Killjoys.

All told, the show was great fun. MBF is always great and the crowd put it over the top. If I was going to nitpick anything, MBF’s set was surprisingly short. With the encore, he wrapped everything up in just under an hour. I’d been there for close to four hours at that point, so I shouldn’t complain, but Fitzgerald was the guy I was there to see and I’d have preferred more of him and maybe not so much soundcheck-enhanced dance hits of the 80s and 90s.

But whatever, MBF was off to mingle with fans and celebrate his birthday and I was off to retrieve my parka from the coat check and catch the train back home. I’m pretty sure that I was in the coat check line for about a hundred years, but seeing as how I’m not dead or anything, that’s likely not right.

SLCR #169: Kasabian (April 7, 2012)

September 12, 2012

Upon second viewing, the University LRT station has very clear directional signs, and I only took the wrong train on the way back from The Cat Empire because I’m a dumbass. “These things happen, especially to me” definitely still applies, though.

I started this text file over a month ago and the paragraph above would have worked a lot better had I sent this review out the day after the last one instead of six weeks later. I had good intentions. I also had work being work and keeping me there all hours again. Mind you, I also had DrawSomething and Words With Friends and Scramble With Friends and Jetpack Joyride and (most recently) Prose With Bros. Maybe I’ll play a real video game someday.

I used up most of my standard filler to set the scene for the last review, so this one might be short. I have made my peace with this. Besides, I really need to get this review thing off my conscience.

What I know about Kasabian: about twice as much as what I know about The Cat Empire, in so far as I knew TWO of their songs. Club Foot is in Rock Band, and Days Are Forgotten was used for some WWE pay-per-view last fall. She’s much better than I am when it comes to recognizing and remembering songs, but I still find it hilarious that Mika remembered this and I did not. When I looked it up online, I had no recollection of ever hearing it before. Apparently, their song Fast Fuse was used for a WWE show a few years before. I didn’t remember that either. Songs Are Forgotten.

Having used the previous night’s show as a Calgary Transit trial run, I got the timing down perfect and made it to the MacEwan Centre with just enough time to buy the new Kasabian CD, Velociraptor!, and find a place to stand and play my DrawSomething words. The venue layout had changed a bit from the night before, as there was no seating area this time. Essentially, it was a big warehouse with no chairs.

Our opening act was Hacienda, and I am struggling to even finish off this sentence. They were the quintessential opening act, in that I had never heard of them before, I never once thought “I dislike this,” and I never once thought “I need to hear more of this.” They played for their half-hour and it was fine. I feel like I’ve written this paragraph 50 times before with different band names. I wonder if I could make up my own Mad Libs to speed up future review writing.

Before the opener, as I was on my way to an empty piece of wall I could lean against, I ran into a friend from work, which is not something you expect when you’re 500 miles from home. We had a bit of a chance to chat between sets, which was nice. I have no real problem attending shows by myself (even if, as in the case of The Cat Empire, it does take away from the overall experience), but it was good to see someone I could talk to for a bit.

In England, Kasabian sells out arenas and headlines festivals. In Canada, they play chairless warehouses, but their big-stage history shone through. Sometimes too brightly, as it appeared that they brought their arena lighting kit with them and occasionally it hurt. The stage also featured a banner showing the artwork from their newest CD, which looks like four Whiplashes – you know, Whiplash, the He-Man character from 30 years ago – in a circle all eating each other.

Like I said, I really wasn’t that familiar with them, so I couldn’t tell you what they played. I got the two songs I knew, but I enjoyed everything else as well. It was loud and fast and fun from start to finish. I’ve been listening to that CD, and it’s not bad or anything, but doesn’t compare to the live show.

Although speaking of the finish, I will say that the show ended on an odd note. You know the normal routine: the band ends with a hit song, they really give ‘er for the finish, they leave, everyone cheers, they come back and play a few more. But at the end of Kasabian’s set, they just wandered off, one by one. It was the opposite of a big climax – an anti-climax, if you will – and the crowd wasn’t sure what to make of it. Despite the crowd going nuts for the whole show, there was very little reaction when it was over. I think people really just didn’t get that the main show was done. And then there was more of the same after the encore. It didn’t wreck the show, by any stretch, but it was a slightly confusing end to what had been a fantastic show.

SLCR #168: The Cat Empire (April 6, 2012)

April 20, 2012

Here’s everything I know about The Cat Empire, written before the show: they’re from Australia. A year or so ago, they may or may not have played a show in Regina; the local weekly paper mentioned the show on their website, and included a link to one of their videos (The Car Song), which I liked. However, I couldn’t find any additional information about the show – not on The Cat Empire’s website, not on the venue’s website, and I’m sure I looked elsewhere but really, who knows – so I didn’t go.

By not going, I disappointed Ross. Ross is one of those people that you meet online and while you’re never closest and bestest friends, you’re always sort of aware of each other’s doings. Facebook and Twitter are great for that kind of half-assed keeping in touch. I asked Twitter if I should go to that Regina show, and Ross said YES YES YOU MUST GO DOOOOO IT (paraphrased), but I did not. I asked again a month or two ago when I found out that The Cat Empire would be in Calgary when I was there, but I knew the answer ahead of time.

To make it to MacEwan Hall, which is on the University of Calgary campus, I had to figure out how the C-Train worked. I am writing this part about 15 minutes before my walk to the C-Train station and I think I have it aced. I’ll let you know.

And I’m back! The C-Train is largely really easy, and the MacEwan Centre website has clear directions, so I found the place without incident. More challenging was leaving my grandparents’ place without any bananas, granola bars, cookies, sandwiches, or leftover chicken. Some of you think I am kidding. Others know that I am not.

The MacEwan Ballroom is reminiscent of Prairieland, which is to say, it’s kind of like a warehouse with a stage. They even split it in two, reserving the back for drinkers and leaving the front open to all ages. Given that my drinking habits usually trend to diet sodas, I joined the all-ages section and… yeah, that’s a great way to feel old. I leaned against a wall and played my DrawSomething games as I waited for the show to start (JamesEarthquake, if you’re looking for opponents).

Our opener was Tinpan Orange, a female-fronted five-piece (or four-piece? It’s not like I take notes) from Melbourne, Australia. They were quick to win over the crowd with their songs; plus, they just came across as being really nice. I’d never heard of them before, but that means nothing; maybe they’re famous? If not, the fact that people booed when they said “this is our last song” is that much more impressive. Someone in the crowd yelled “We like you!” which about summed it up.

The Cat Empire has seemingly never met a style of music that they didn’t try to incorporate into their own sound. The list of genres I didn’t hear on this evening would be a short one, and would also probably mean that I didn’t listen hard enough. It was some sort of pop infused with reggae and ska and scat singing and there was a DJ and it was all kinda smashed together into something that I hadn’t really heard before. I have no idea what songs they played, other than they skipped over the one song I knew. That was a bit disappointing, but no big deal.

For a band with seemingly limited visibility around these parts, this place was jam-packed with completely devoted fans; the sing-along-with-every-word types who cheer at each song’s opening notes because they’re excited for what’s coming. Maybe these guys are superstars and I’m just that out-of-touch? It’s entirely possible. It did seem like they play Calgary fairly regularly. I thought they’d be a great fit for our folk festival, and about 10 minutes later, they talked about having played Calgary’s a few years ago.

I really enjoyed this show. The Cat Empire has a really unique sound and great stage presence. They packed the hall with die-hard fans who loved every second of the show. But having said that, I left wishing that I’d been introduced to this band back when I was 21 or so. They’re a great party band and everyone there had a blast, and I could see young me spending all night jumping up and down and singing and cheering and thinking I’d seen the best show ever. This is the kind of concert that Deserée and Pat and I would have gone to in 1997 with no expectations just because we had nothing better to do, and walked away as devout new converts. But 35-year-old me, standing by himself off to the side, felt a bit like maybe this scene wasn’t really meant for me. Again, it’s not like I had a bad time in any way, but I was a bit on the outside looking in.

And with that, I was back on the train, headed home. Mostly. The University stop doesn’t seem to have any of those handy signs saying “this way to downtown/this way to the northwest” so I had a brief detour on the way back. These things happen, especially to me.