Posts Tagged ‘music’

SLCR #298: Sarah Slean (October 14, 2017)

October 19, 2017

Home again, and I wasted no time getting back at it. Back in the saddle. On the horse. The concert horse. My flight got in around 4:00 on Saturday afternoon and by 8:00, I was sitting in the Artesian awaiting Sarah Slean. I had my concert ticket before I booked the trip, so I scheduled my return flight accordingly and everything – somewhat surprisingly – worked out. Even if my seatmate did steal my aisle seat, leaving me squooshed up against the window.

By comparison, I had no seatmate at this show, which is always better than cuddling with strangers. The place wasn’t quite sold out, and though I arrived too late to get a seat in the… well, I guess they’re like a combination of bleachers and pews – anyway, they were full, but I got a seat at the back of the floor. The venue is small enough that there aren’t really any bad seats there.

Sarah and her band (guitar, bass, drums) started right at 8:00 with no opener. They played two sets that were about 45 minutes each, plus the requisite encore. A lot of the songs came from Slean’s new album, Metaphysics; it looks like she played most of the record. There were also some older songs like Pilgrim and California that (of course) got the best reactions. I did like all the new tunes, though. Slean was on the piano (or the piano-sounding keyboard if you’re a stickler for details) for every song except one – her version of Wayfaring Stranger that opened the second set.

For the encore, Slean first returned by herself and asked for requests. This turned into a remarkably well-organized three-way shouting match between the guy ahead of me who yelled for Book Smart, Street Stupid, someone behind me yelling for Willow, and someone up at the front yelling for Sweet Ones. I knew we weren’t getting Sweet Ones unless the band came back out, so it came down to two. “Book Smart, that’s interesting,” said Slean. “Yes,” said the guy, very emphatically. Not like he was excited that she might play it; he was just strongly in agreement. She opted to play it and hoped she wouldn’t forget the words. She only got lost once and the guy helped her out. Then the band came back out and they played Sweet Ones to close the show. That was the big crowd pleaser and I guess it’s her biggest song? I dunno, it’s real good, but I like Lucky Me more and she didn’t play that one. Shoulda yelled.

This was all delightful. For a while now, Slean has been someone that I seem to see every time she’s in town, and then I never listen to her music until the next time I go see her. This was a pleasant reminder that she has some good songs and I should spend more time listening to them. Her band was really good too. And the set lengths were just right for me; I got enough to make it worth the money and it never dragged, plus I wasn’t in the mood to stay out forever.

I will say that I know some people who really dislike Slean and this show wouldn’t have changed their minds. She has some affectations when she talks and sings and that’s part of what puts them off. Last time I saw her, I was sitting near two groups of people; one praised her for being “emotive” and the other derided her as “a ham” and though I told that story last time, I can think of no better way to sum up the issue. I can’t say it bugs me, though I see what they’re getting at and it did make me wonder how much of it is a persona and how much is just her.

The venue really upped my enjoyment of the evening. I believe the polite term for “this place is tiny” is “an intimate setting.” I might just call it cozy. It’s a nice looking space where you’re never too far from the stage or overrun by idiots. And the sound was fantastic, with the clearest vocals I’ve heard at a show in a long time. The instruments all sounded great too. My next two concerts are also at the Artesian and this pleases me.

While this all was going on, elsewhere in Regina, friends of mine were at the Brandt Centre watching wrestling. I skipped out to watch a tiny lady play piano. I’m not sure this is something that 16-year-old me would be able to fathom. But whatever; they had fun and I had fun.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:

  • Martha Wainwright w/Mappe Of (October 22)
  • David Myles w/Port Cities (October 24)
  • Headstones w/SNAKEandtheCHAIN (November 17)
  • Andy Shauf (November 18)
  • Corb Lund (November 23)
  • Cold Specks w/LA timpa (November 24)
  • Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)
  • Hawksley Workman (December 9)
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
Advertisements

SLCR #297: Japandroids (October 13, 2017)

October 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does this mean I get to go to bed?

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

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

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

October 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLCR #295: Wordfest (October 10, 2017)

October 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLCR #294: The New Pornographers (October 6, 2017)

October 15, 2017

Hi! It’s the most concertingest time of the year, with five shows in 8 days, and I’m in Calgary. I mean, I won’t be by the time you read this. But right now I am. But I wasn’t there for this show.

I’m visiting my grandma again, and I scheduled the trip to coincide with some concerts again, so I have a lot of reviews to write again, and I’m doing them on the iPad again, and I don’t like finalizing them on the iPad again, so expect to get a bunch of these once I’m back. Or, as it will be called in the future, “this week.”

Hopefully if I say that now, I’ll push myself to actually finish them all up in reasonable time. The odds of this happening seem slim.

#1 pet peeve of writing these on the iPad is not, as you might expect, the autocorrect. No, it is that my handy iPad keyboard – which is actually pretty decent – has a lock button where the backspace key would be on a full-sized keyboard. So I shut this thing down a lot. And swear. I initially wrote “And sweat” which was a typo but was not incorrect. Also, I’ve been eating chips and it’s hard to use the fingerprint scanner when your hands are covered in shameful grease.

Another issue with the iPad is that my collection of old reviews is in a Word document on a thumb drive. Maybe while I’m here, I will get on grandma’s computer and see if I can email myself a copy that the iPad can open. Until then, I’m going off memory, or as I like to call it, “lying.” Time for this known fantasist to impart some unlikely tales!

I believe I have seen the New Pornographers twice before. This makes three, and I was surprised and delighted to find that Heather was going to be at the show with us, since I’ve never seen the New Pornographers without her. I didn’t know she was in town until that morning and I would have suggested that she come to this except it was sold out. Luckily she already had a ticket, or knew someone, or something, I don’t know. Is this really relevant to your life?

In another irrelevant story, the last time I saw them, The Mountain Goats were the opening act. I vaguely knew the name, didn’t know anything about them, enjoyed them well enough, and promptly forgot about it. And I literally mean I forgot about it – I appreciate them more now (writing an entire album about old-timey wrestling and actually making it really good helps) and was shocked to re-read an old review and discover I’d seen them. Ask Mika and she will confirm that I full-on yelled “what the fuck, we saw The Mountain Goats?!”

Anyway. Mika and I got to the Exchange around 7:45 and wandered inside – before most people got there but too late to have to wait in line outside. In short, we won.

They gave us wristbands so we could buy alcohol like adults and I promptly got Mika an iced tea and myself a Wild Cherry Pepsi. I then spent about 15 minutes fighting with the stupid wristband because it was on tight and I decided I’d rather have wrist freedom than booze freedom.

Getting drinks was fun. First, the bartender’s vodka bottle slipped, and in grabbing for it, he pulled the nozzle off and sent the bottle to the floor. Then someone ordered a Caesar and he added all of the component parts before realizing they were out of Clamato. He offered the customer the glass of vodka, ice, and Tabasco – I think free! – but no takers.

Mark and Arlette showed up shortly before the openers started and staked out a nice leanin’ spot along the wall by the front of the stage. Mika and I, and eventually Heather, stayed back, centre stage, behind the people who were willing to shove their way to the front.

The openers were Born Ruffians. Before we went, Mika played me a few of their songs. I’m not certain, but I think they were called “You Probably Know This One. No?” and “I Think This One Was in a Car Commercial. Still No?”

Okay, so I am not exactly “informed.” But I know a few things – there were three of them and they play the kind of fun, slightly poppy rock that is right in my wheelhouse. I really liked them and made a vow to listen to more of them. And I’m pretty sure they played the song that may or may not have ever been in a car commercial, or maybe it was the other one, or probably both.

Between sets, Mika and Heather took off outside which was very sensible because everyone in the building was roasting. I went to chat with Mark and Arlette, who were visiting with Mark’s daughter Hayley. I mention her by name because Mark said I should. He’s been taking on more of a contributing editor role to these things of late. Too bad he won’t see this for a while – I’ve got four more reviews to write in about a week and I could use the guidance.

Anyway we had a nice chat – it’s nice when Mark can fit both concerts AND cutting up animals into his schedule. He seemed real interested in talking me into going to an upcoming psychobilly concert; I don’t know if this is because he wants to go or he just wants to see if he can talk me into doing so.

Historically, here’s how New Pornographers albums go for me:

  1. I listen to it
  2. I am nonplussed
  3. I listen to it some more
  4. Still nothing
  5. One song becomes a hit, or Mika plays it a bunch, or whatever – I hear it lots is the point
  6. It turns out that song is great
  7. It turns out all their songs are great

So I was surprised when I listened to the new record, Whiteout Conditions, and liked it from the get-go. That’s not supposed to happen!

I mention the album title because I need to fix my brain. Their last album was Brill Bruisers. It came out in 2014 if Apple Music is telling me the truth. Up until days before the show, I was convinced that Brill Bruisers had just come out and that the new songs I’d heard were just more singles from that album. It’s as if several years went by and I completely missed it. I’m hoping that by repeating the actual timeline I can sort myself out.

I can’t keep track of everyone in (and/or touring with) New Pornographers, but I don’t think that’s age-related feeblemindedness, they’ve just got a complicated family tree. AC Newman was there. And Kathryn Calder. Beyond that, I need to Google and I’m not about to do that.

Anyway, this was great. A nice mix of new stuff and old classics, good sound, crowd was into it despite collectively succumbing to heatstroke. The older stuff got the best reactions, as it will – Use It and Sing Me Spanish Techno were particularly crowd-pleasing, though The Jessica Numbers was the one that stuck in my head for a good long time afterwards. High Ticket Attractions, off the new record, seems like it might be one that becomes a quick favourite too. Mass Romantic, Brill Bruisers, The Laws Have Changed, The Bleeding Heart Show – I guess this means nothing to you if you don’t know the songs, but I do, and when I write them all out one after the other, I think “these guys have just a ton of great songs.”

Because writing out a list of songs and silently admiring them in awe is totally something I do all the time. That paragraph was just the worst.

SLCR #293: Steve Earle & The Dukes (September 27, 2017)

October 8, 2017

Feels like it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. Not really by choice; I bailed on a few recent shows. Sorry if you pay attention to that UPCOMING CONCERTS blurb and were real interested in my takes on The Sadies and BA Johnston. (I would have said “they were good”) I blame work. Had some late nights to prep for a new product launch, and I get to do it again shortly. So it goes. I made a little extra coin and got a pile of tickets to new shows to make up for it.

Onto Steve Earle. Good fella. Good songwriter. Good musician. Saw him last year. He came back to town surprisingly quickly, and I was on the fence about going. Not because I had a bad time last time – liked him a bunch – but I’m starting to feel the pinch from going to a million shows a year and I need to dial it back a bit. Plus the casino switched to a new ticketing system and it was tricky, at first, to actually select a seat – you could only pick a section. But then they got their act together (or I did – who really knows?) and it became one of those “I’m having a rough and/or boring day at work, I need a treat” concerts. I’d say there will be fewer of those going forward, but history shows that only lasts for a month or two and then I’m back at it.

I can think of very little of interest surrounding this show. It sold out, I guess that’s important to mention. And it was relevant upon arriving, as the drive into the parkade was ridiculous. I screamed helpful advice from the inside of my car (“POINT YOUR CAR TOWARDS THE RAMP AND THEN DRIVE UP IT”) but nobody heard or heeded it. It was slow-moving mass chaos. Someone would try to park and nobody would know what to do. There was no danger of running out of spaces – the parkade has an entire extra level that nobody seems to know is there. Except me, I guess. I parked up there, above the rest of humanity, free from the maddening crowds but an observer thereof. Then I walked down the same pee-smelling stairwell as everyone else.

I had a cheap aisle seat at the back row of the balcony. The folks in my row were pleasant and didn’t make me get out of their way too often. You’re bored right now but I assure you this was nice. And I don’t have a whole ton to talk about.

Our openers were The Mastersons, who I’d never heard of except it turned out I’d seen them before. They were two members of Earle’s band last time he was in town. And this time. Earle himself opened the show by introducing them, which I thought was a really nice touch. Their songs were country-ish singer/songwriter stuff with him on guitar and her usually on guitar or fiddle. That’s not saying much but I feel like you get the gist of it. The sound wasn’t great for their set – the instruments were fine but the voices were mic’ed really high (so it was the opposite of my usual complaint, at least) and came in kind of shrill. Nearby fellow old people said the same thing.

Earle and his band, The Dukes – I want to say six people in total – entered the stage to the sounds of Johnny Cash’s cover of Rusty Cage. Last time out, they were on the anniversary tour for Guitar Town and played the whole album start to finish. With a little more freedom in the setlist this time, I thought I might hear more songs I knew, but that didn’t really happen. Instead I just got a wider variety of tunes that were new to me, along with a lot of the same hits and covers (Copperhead Road, Guitar Town, Devil’s Right Hand, Hey Joe) as before. And like before, this was all real good. The vocals were a little muddy but still better than they were for The Mastersons.

Apparently, I don’t have much to say. It might also be apparent that I wasn’t 100% into this show. Not the band’s fault – I was just kinda tired and I was ready to be done a little bit before they were. But whatever. I still had a nice time and all.

SLCR #292: Guns N’ Roses (August 27, 2017)

September 6, 2017

Many years ago, I was in line to get into the Odeon in Saskatoon to see Hawksley Workman. This drunk dude stumbled down the street and asked us what the line was for. Someone told him it was Guns N’ Roses, who were broken up or fighting with each other or something at the time.

“YEAH,” said our new drunken friend, “GUNS IS FUCKIN’ ROSES.”

They sure is.

And I really thought that was as close as I’d ever come to seeing Guns N’ Roses, but here we are. Remember how Mika initially really wanted to go to Bryan Adams despite having never shown any previous interest in Bryan Adams? That was kind of the situation here again. Guns N’ Roses was announced for our new stadium well before Adams was, and Mika seemed real keen on going. Me? I dunno. I knew all the big hits but I also didn’t care so much. But I’ll go to pretty much anything for any reason, and Mika wanting to go is reason enough.

Plus, who figured this would ever happen? They were giant stars but also the textbook example of rock n’ roll scandal and excess. Books have been written about their troubled history and it would take someone far more knowledgeable than me to put together the timeline of breakups, reunions, and personnel changes. The idea that they’d hit a point where something vaguely resembling the classic lineup was able to survive an entire tour together was inconceivable. But here we are.

I mentioned that I am not really a Guns N’ Roses fan. Really, I shouldn’t approach this like a normal review. It should be more of a fish-out-of-water piece, like when Vice sends a writer to a Trump rally or the Gathering of the Juggalos. That said, my only initial observation about G’n’R fans is that they obey no rule about not wearing the band’s shirt to their own concert.

We got to the mall at about 5:30 to catch the stadium shuttle. They’ve finally got the get-to-the-stadium part relatively down. We were on a bus and in motion within 15 minutes. A line of similar length took an hour and 15 minutes for Bryan Adams, causing us to miss the first few songs from Our Lady Peace. This time, we got inside, walked up the ramp, and came out on our level just in time for the first few songs by Our Lady Peace.

Since tickets went on sale so long ago, I had to buy them before ever having visited our new stadium. Also, I didn’t want to spend a ton of money. Folks, I have to tell you, mistakes were made. I knew we were close to the stage and up high, but we were much closer and much higher than I remembered. We were in the back row of the section, looking down on the stage from the side. The view was less than ideal. The sound, worse. And we were all the way on the opposite side of the stadium from the buses, ensuring that it would be a long wait to get home. James, this was not your finest work. In fact, I’d go so far as “catastrophic failure.”

So, Our Lady Peace. I had hopes that since they’d just played here three months ago, we’d get a different set of tunes. Nope! It was almost the exact same setlist. The good news is we showed up in time to hear Naveed and Superman’s Dead this time. The bad news is that the sound was worse – but again, that was a function of where we were sitting. I don’t blame them for the sound. I do blame them for not mixing things up at all. Whatever. Much like last time, this was fine if not thrilling.

OLP finished at 7:00 and Guns N’ Roses was scheduled to start at 7:30. Mika had been told that G’n’R was starting an hour late in each city along this tour. If anything, this seemed awfully optimistic judging by Axl Rose’s long and storied past. I gave it some time for the first wave of people to disperse and at about 6:50, I left in search of food. Ridiculous lineups at every vendor, of course. For convenience’s sake, I went to the one nearest our seats and got poutine since it appeared to be the only thing they sold with a lid – and I’d need that assistance when carrying the snacks back to my seat, since I also got us each a bottle of water and I wasn’t allowed to keep the caps on them. It was an awkward walk back.

Anyway, my foreshadowing is never subtle and you’ve already figured out that Guns N’ Roses started at 7:30 on the nose and I missed the first song or two. I’d tell you what they were, but I have no idea. I went into the show wondering just how many G’n’R songs I actually knew. Talking to Mika, I figured there were actually quite a few – but the sound was so muddy where we were that there were a lot of songs that sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite place. She even said something similar and she’s much better at Name That Tune than I am. All of the really big singles were apparent, of course – Welcome to the Jungle, November Rain, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, You Could Be Mine, stuff like that. There was an unexpected cover of Black Hole Sun, which I assume was a tribute to the late Chris Cornell. That was nice. And they played Live and Let Die with extra pyro. I’ve said this before but pyrotechnics are my least favourite of all the -technics, and while our seats may have sucked if we wanted to see or hear the band, they were GREAT if you wanted to be close to fireworks and other explosions. Which I assure you I did not.

I’m just gonna say this – I was not the intended audience for this show and I did not dig it at all. Everyone else I heard from loved it. Listen to them and not to me. I’m the problem here. Put me in better seats, and I’d likely have had a good time. I mean, there are all kinds of bands that I don’t really care about that I’d go see just for the spectacle of it all, and this was quite a spectacle. And the songs I knew (and could make out) were enjoyable despite everything. Maybe we should have left our seats and watched the show standing on the concourse level. Lots of people sitting near us did that. Or maybe I should have just held off on buying tickets – the show didn’t come close to selling out, and on the day of the show, one friend got decent seats for much cheaper than ours, and another saw $250-per-person floor seats going for around what we paid. There are multiple lessons here.

Having dealt with several bus debacles leaving the stadium, we skipped out on the encore in favour of a quicker departure (so no Paradise City for us). This turned out to be a surprisingly amusing decision since we wound up near some of the drunkest humans I’ve seen in quite some time. One man in particular told a loud story about how he met a lady at the show and she gave him her number and they kissed and it was his “first kiss in a looooooooong time.” He then detailed his plans to continue drinking (“water’s for pussies”) and how he lost his hotel key but was going to talk the hotel clerk into letting him into the room even though it was under someone else’s name. Then he expressed a great interest in getting some cocaine and declared that a woman he was sitting with was “the coke queen of Yorkton.” He then backtracked, with a really loud and exaggerated “I’M JUST KIDDING ABOUT THAT. ONLY KIDDING.” And then we got to the mall and he peed on the side of it. I avoided eye contact with Mika for the entire bus ride home because I’d have lost it otherwise. Good sir, you and your cocaine and pee salvaged my evening.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• The Sadies (September 14)
• BA Johnston (September 15)
• 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 w/Port Cities (October 24)
• Headstones w/SNAKEandtheCHAIN (November 17)
• Cold Specks (November 24)
• Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)

SLCR #291: k.d. lang (August 26, 2017)

September 5, 2017

It was pretty early in the year when this show was announced and tickets went on sale. Mika’s a long-time fan, and I’ve seen k.d. lang a few times before and knew it would be good, so I was pretty pleased about this. I had high hopes of summoning some more of my front-row magic that’s been doing so well of late, but no dice – those were premium VIP tickets with the exclusive merchandise, meet & greet, all that good stuff. As for the regular seats, they were plentiful but also selling quite quickly – every pair I tried to grab wound up sold to someone else before I could complete the online transaction. Rather than get shut out entirely, I retreated to the comfortable familiarity of two seats on the end of Row L For Legroom, but – if you can possibly believe this – on the other side of the concert hall this time. Wild!

Several months later, the Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather dream match was signed, and of course, it was on the same night as this show. Friends immediately made plans and I immediately declined them. Skipping the ridiculous sports spectacle of the year in favour of going to see k.d. lang was possibly not the most macho I’ve ever felt*, but I have no regrets. The fight was better than everyone was expecting, but I can’t adequately describe how low that bar was set. I still haven’t seen it and have no real need to.

*actually, it was about on par with every day

We got to the Conexus Arts Centre with only a little time to spare – I always show up way early and am always pleased with myself when I fight the urge and things work out alright. The place was packed – tickets sold out on the first day, with the exception of the aforementioned VIP packages. And those ones went soon after. We got inside, checked out the Stuff Table, and found our seats. I was delighted to learn that Row L For Legroom has the same legroom on either side. I was more delighted to not feel like the oldest person at a concert. Far from it – the guy sitting in front of us asked us how we got in, since it looked like there’d been an age restriction at the door.

Our openers were local duo Kacy & Clayton. You may remember them from such concert reviews as #225, when they opened for (and then played with) Ryan Boldt. Since then, they’ve put out at least one more album and have done some shows in the US. That’s neat! I like watching people’s careers progress.

This was a lot like the last time I saw them, though they didn’t have any other musicians this time. He still played guitar. She still sang. They did pleasant folky songs that sounded nice if somewhat similar to one another. The sound wasn’t the best and I found it hard to make out the lyrics. One song made repeated mention of the Santa Fe Trail. If you want more information than that, I don’t know what to tell you. Clayton said “I see you guys have a lot of exits” which was funny but then I was distracted by just how many glowing red exit signs there are there. I suppose it beats not having enough. And now I’m distracted again.

The problem with aisle seats is dealing with all the people passing by you, so we headed out into the lobby for the intermission. Don’t let the change in location fool you – we did the same stuff as ever; namely, showed each other cute animal pictures (and occasional Japanese foods) on Instagram. We’re a thrill to hang out with and I don’t know why we aren’t surrounded by hangers-on at all times.

This tour was to mark the 25th anniversary of k.d. lang’s album, ingénue. These shows usually make me feel old but I can’t say I was a huge fan of lang’s at the time, so it didn’t have any effect on me. And to be fair, I didn’t see many 16-year-old boys at this show either. Anyway, lang was – of course – playing the album all the way through. I’d assumed I’d heard the album a bunch since my mom had it, but I only really knew the two singles. It turns out that it’s a well-designed album for these kinds of anniversary tours, since you get the first single Miss Chatelaine three songs in, and the big hit, Constant Craving, is the very last track. I wonder how often that happens. It has to be rare, doesn’t it, where the album’s big hit is the very last song? Now I want to go look at all my CDs. Where are my CDs? What are CDs?

Anyway, that album ain’t that long – I didn’t mean to use “ain’t” there but I’m not changing it now – so she played a few more of her own songs before closing the main set with three covers of Canadian artists. You likely know which ones. The crowd did, with one guy yelling “HALLELUJAH” as soon as she said she was going to do a few covers, and someone else yelling “JONI MITCHELL” a few words into lang’s story about playing Mitchell’s song in front of her. I thought “I bet the third will be Neil Young” and it was. She has her go-tos.

When that dude yelled for Hallelujah, she said “I’m not sure how to take that” and everyone laughed. And I get it; if you shout out “Hallelujah!” people will think you’re REAL into whatever you were just told. But I wonder if it’s weird for her. She’s more than accomplished as a songwriter in her own right, but the song that’s become her trademark is someone else’s. And she wasn’t the first to do it in that style – her version is more Cale or Buckley than Cohen. Who knows. Maybe that’s not something she’d care about. Just thinking out loud here. Except written down. But you know.

Anyway, she did a few more songs for the encore, thanked us for coming out (“and if you DID come out tonight, congratulations”), and that was that. Her voice is as strong as ever and her band is great, so this was basically exactly what (and as good as) I expected. I do think I liked her last show here a little better, mainly because she didn’t have to play a whole album in order and had a little more freedom when picking the songs – but that’s a minor thing and one I kinda expected. All told, I had a delightful time and am more than satisfied with my life choices. You missed out, 16-year-old boys. I hope you liked your punching. And I hope somebody skipped to the end and read that without context.

SLCR #290: Beck (August 20, 2017)

August 25, 2017

Did I ever tell you about how we were going to Nashville to see the solar eclipse? I can’t remember if I ever said as much in a review. The logic was that anywhere along the path of totality could be cloudy, so we should go someplace fun so that it wouldn’t be a wasted trip if we got rained out. Nashville seemed more interesting (if farther) than, say, Kearney, Nebraska. Not that it matters – we didn’t go. I mention this only because the Beck tour was announced shortly after we decided against the trip. I thought if we could get tickets, it might make a nice consolation prize.

One challenge: tickets were going on sale on a busy Friday morning when – apart from my manager – I was the only one of my team in at work. To that end, I booked myself a 10-minute meeting, from 9:55 to 10:05 a.m. I found out about the show from an article on The AV Club but didn’t hear of much hype locally, so while I figured tickets would sell fast, I thought I might have a decent chance. At 9:55, I logged into the site and spammed refresh while my manager went in search of coffee. By the time she was back, I had two tickets – front row centre. The process was so painless that I didn’t really believe everything would work out until we actually got to our seats.

With an 8:00 p.m. start time, we drove up to Saskatoon in the afternoon. The drive was uneventful, though not exceptionally well-timed on my part. Had we left earlier, we could have had dinner before the show. Later, and we could have just gone straight there. Instead, we parked downtown on a Sunday evening with just enough time to kill to be irritating. Eventually, we wandered over to Starbucks for a coffee and an iced tea, respectively, ensuring we’d be appropriately mildly caffeinated for the concert. I think the kids call this “pre-drinking.”

Walking towards TCU Place, we passed people leaving with armloads of Beck merchandise. Once inside, we could see that the Stuff Table was doing booming business. There was nothing particularly unique – shirts, vinyl, hats – but people were snapping it up. I didn’t bother getting anything.

We hung out in the lobby for a bit and watched people before taking our seats. I didn’t feel particularly old or young – I think we were decidedly average as far as the crowd went. I suppose that would make sense – Beck’s been making music for a long time. Loser, his first big hit, came out when I was in Grade 9. And I’ve never really understood how he had such a successful career after that one. Which is not any kind of commentary on his talent – it’s just weird that a guy could have a massive hit with what was almost a novelty song and still be popular over 25 years later. That song was perfect one-hit wonder fodder but he managed to avoid that trap.

A few days before the show, they announced that McRorie would be the opening act. Do you know who McRorie is? I did not. I meant to do internet research before the show, but kept forgetting. Finally, I watched five seconds of a video of what looked like a one-man band before getting distracted and never going back to it. Internet video is a wonderful innovation that is completely wasted on me. That said… I pretty much got it? McRorie is, indeed, a one-man band. He wore a black kilt with two keyboard-type instruments slung over his hips like holsters. There were drum pads on his feet that played when he stomped or walked. There were also drum pads on his chest that he could hit. His arms were wired up so that when he brought one arm up, cymbals crashed. He could also apply any number of filters on his voice. And I think he might have been wearing Google Glass. If this does not sound amazing to you, we can no longer be friends.

For the most part he did covers, ranging from Fight for Your Right to Sunday Morning Coming Down to Gin & Juice to Rockin’ in the Free World to Hallelujah, which lent itself especially well to a stomping lunatic with a robot voice punching himself in the chest:

She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
[CHEST PUNCH DRUM] [CHEST PUNCH DRUM] [CHEST PUNCH DRUM] [ARM RAISE CYMBALS]

In a few nights we will see kd lang and she will surely perform Hallelujah and it will be great but in such a different way. You don’t want to know how much I’d pay to see the two of them do the song together.

He also did a few originals. One was called Cowboys Take Drugs Too and was about exactly that. I think he said he wrote that in Plunkett, which is the smallest of small Saskatchewan towns and yet somehow this still makes perfect sense. Another, his closing number, was called Nuclear Party Song, a worryingly timely number about partying being the only sensible thing to do while the bombs fall. Those who party the hardest will survive the nuclear holocaust. Based on our volume when yelling “PARTY,” our section was deemed likely to survive, so we’ve got that going for us.

IMG_8624

During the break, Mika and I did what we always do – showed each other cute animal pictures that our respective friends posted on Instagram. We’ve got a lot of concerts coming up and a lot of mutual friends, so if I follow you on Instagram and she doesn’t, be a pal and post some cute animal pics, okay?

Beck and his band hit the stage a few minutes after 9:00 and launched right into Devils Haircut. Beck is kind of a weird one for me – I’ll get really into one album and then skip one entirely. I had no idea what this show would be like and I knew there was a chance that I’d only know a handful of songs. But this was not the case! It was almost as if he skipped everything that I did. Not only did he play most of the big singles, but there were five songs from my favourite album of his, Guero. That surprised me because it’s not one I ever hear people list among his best, but whatever, it worked out great for me. We got Black Tambourine, Qué Onda Güero, Go It Alone, Girl, and E-Pro, all great. Girl has been stuck in my head ever since.

setlist.fm is a delightful resource for concerts. It’s also sometimes very wrong, but this looks pretty accurate to me. I added the album titles for my own interest.

Devils Haircut [Odelay]
Black Tambourine [Guero]
The New Pollution [Odelay]
Qué Onda Güero [Guero]
Think I’m in Love [The Information]
Mixed Bizness [Midnite Vultures]
Timebomb [Timebomb single]
Soul of a Man [Modern Guilt]
Go It Alone [Guero]
Paper Tiger [Sea Change]
Lost Cause [Sea Change]
Blackbird Chain [Morning Phase]
Heart is a Drum [Morning Phase]
Blue Moon [Morning Phase]
Loser [Mellow Gold]
Girl [Guero]
Sexx Laws [Midnite Vultures]
Wow [Colors]
Dreams [Colors]
E-Pro [Guero]
Encore:
Where It’s At [Odelay]
Debra [Midnite Vultures]
One Foot in the Grave [One Foot in the Grave]

He opened with five straight songs I knew before starting to get into the stuff that was less familiar to me. Not that this mattered – this was a fantastic show from start to finish. Beck has great energy and his band was killer. For the songs I knew, he blew away the album versions. And all the ones that were new(ish) to me were great too. I love those shows where I leave as a bigger fan than when I came in. This one gave me new appreciation for everything I already liked and made me want to seek out everything of his that I didn’t already know.

Though it lists three songs for the encore, they really all blended into each other, ending with more of Where It’s At and also encompassing Beck’s introductions of his band. Most of the musicians had a chance to solo – the drummer started his with the good part from In the Air Tonight, always appropriate and appreciated.

This was Beck’s first time in Saskatoon and he seemed genuinely surprised by how loved he was. When he mentioned he’d never played there before, people cheered and it seemed like they weren’t about to stop. Later on, he messed up the words to one of his newer songs because “I’ve never heard people clap along to that one before.” Everyone sang along wherever they could, the “na na, na na na, na naaaa” parts of E-Pro and – of course – the chorus of Loser being especially popular. People stood for the whole show. We tried staying seated, since we had pretty much the best view in the house already and didn’t feel the need to hinder the folks behind us, but one dude to Mika’s left was really into dancing into her way so I wound up politely shoving him aside and we stood for the second half of the show. I didn’t mind at all.

It wasn’t that short a show but still felt like it was over too soon, and then we were back on the road. We got home around 2:00 a.m. and – if you can believe it – even had to stay off the internet until the next afternoon, when we’d caught up on TV we missed. A crushing sacrifice but well worth it.

IMG_8675

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• kd lang w/Kacy & Clayton (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses w/Our Lady Peace (August 27)
• The Sadies (September 14)
• BA Johnston (September 15)
• 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 w/Port Cities (October 24)
• Headstones w/SNAKEandtheCHAIN (November 17)
• Cold Specks (November 24)
• Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)

SLCR #288: Queen City Ex (August 3-4, 2017)

August 18, 2017

When I wrote the big long recap of the Jazz Festival (and, like, a million other things), my intent was to group a bunch of shows together so that I could keep each section relatively short. And I failed miserably. So I can see why you might be leery now. So if you don’t read any of the rest of this, just know that July Talk is now in the lead for Show of the Year in my non-existent year-end awards. So good.

But you should probably read the rest of this because it’s mostly about disgusting delicious fair foods. And I promise I will not start three straight sentences with “so” again in this. (But six straight sentences starting with conjunctions, on the other hand…)

The Queen City Ex is our local fair. Rides, contests, garbage food, bands, you know the deal. Despite what the title above might indicate, it runs for five days. We only went for two, cherry-picking solid lineups for our visits: July Talk with The Zolas on Thursday, and a double-bill of The Watchmen and I Mother Earth on Friday. This left us skipping (in order) Gord Bamford with Nice Horse, Ruth B with Christian Hudson, and Brett Kissel with hypnotist Wayne Lee and why is a hypnotist opening for a country singer? Too late to find out now even if I wanted to. And I don’t really want to.

Thursday was not only our first day at the fair, but it was also Mika’s birthday. I took her to a place with next to no gluten-free options and she got to watch me eat stuff she would have enjoyed, and then we saw a band I really like. Don’t ever say that I don’t know how to treat my wife on her special day.

As we both had to work on Thursday, we got to the fair fairly (oh man that’s some good comedy) late. We strolled around and pondered our food options while searching for the Great Western Stage, which was not where we remembered it. After making our way from one end of the Ex to the other, we checked our little map to discover that they’d moved it into the Brandt Centre. Seating! Air conditioning! No chance of getting rained out (as happened to the July Talk show at the Edmonton fair)! This was a pretty decent deal. And I suppose it makes sense – during our last fair visit two years ago, you didn’t have to deal with the giant new stadium on the fairgrounds.

The Thursday night openers were The Zolas and we got there just in time for them to begin. I knew one song, Swooner, but the rest of their stuff was new to me. Mika, however, was surprised to discover how many of their songs she’d heard – I gather they’re CBC Radio 3 favourites. Pop-rock, heavy on the keyboards and made me feel like I might be just a bit too old to really get into them, though the singer gained some bonus points by getting everyone to clap along to a song and then saying “now keep doing that until it’s awkward.” I mean, that’s what we do, but I’d never heard it spelled out so plainly before. These guys were fun enough, though they were probably my least-favourite set of the two nights. But that shouldn’t be taken as a knock – they were just up against some stiff competition.

Between sets, we headed back out onto the midway in an attempt to give ourselves coronaries. We were both saddened to discover that the nacho truck from our last fair visit was nowhere to be found. Tasty warm homemade chips with fresh toppings, right by the entrance to the Great Western Stage. You were too beautiful to live, nacho truck. Mika eventually found a place that made fries and didn’t fry anything else, so she could eat them. And they were good, but they’re not as ridiculous as you want from the fair, you know?

However, as mentioned, I had my pick of absolute crap. Last time, I started with a corndog and realized that I don’t like corn dogs as much as I think I do. This time, I went back for the corndogs, but with a twist – they stuck a dill pickle in there too. The perfect solution. I also got something called “bacon pickle balls” but they turned out to be just smaller pickle corn dogs that had an infinitesimal amount of bacon in there somewhere. Still good.

We made our way back to the Brandt Centre for July Talk. I first heard of them when the AV Club had the premiere of their video for Summer Dress, and – for reasons unknown to me – I actually bothered to watch the thing instead of skipping it like I do most web videos. (Sorry, people who ever send me links to anything.) I really dug it, which is not something I say about new bands these days because I am a miserable old fart who is set in his ways. And then I liked their album. And then their new album. So I was looking forward to this, was my point.

We’d sat in the stands for The Zolas, but moved down to the floor for July Talk, passing Mark and Arlette on the way down. The crowd for The Zolas was pretty respectable, but it had to be at least double that for July Talk. Sometimes good things become popular and that is rad!

The band took the stage and started by welcoming “ladies, gentlemen, trans, non-binary and genderfluid folk” before acknowledging that we were on Treaty 4 land. And then they blew the roof off the place. They played Summer Dress two songs in and I thought that would be the highlight for me but then it just kept getting better. Ridiculous levels of energy all night long. Two very different singers, with Leah Fay’s sultry vocals providing a sharp contrast to Peter Dreimanis’ guttural rasp. Great, catchy songs. Great musicians. Charismatic performers. This was the kind of show that made me want to tell everyone I know that they should have been there. I did text that to some of you. Not sorry.

At one point, Fay walked out into the crowd and asked everyone on the floor to sit down, and they all just did it. (I mean, WE didn’t, that floor is kinda nasty – but we were also far enough back so as to remain somewhat inconspicuous.) And then she rode back to the stage on a fan’s shoulders. She asked his name and he was the most excited Bob you ever did hear.

And then the encore. A fan threw something onto the stage. I couldn’t see what, but I assumed it was a stuffed animal, since we’re at the fair and all (even though most of the prizes were either Pokémon plushies or fidget spinners as far as I could tell). But no. Fay picked it up and said “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being in a band, you never give the people what they want right away. But I like you.” And she put on a rubber horse mask. And Fay and Dreimanis did a song together – the only one all night with just the two of them – with her in this horse mask. I use the word “ridiculous” a lot, and this was, but it is just as true to say it was amazing. Then Horse Fan (she had a name but that is not relevant right now) got to come up on stage and dance with the band for the last song. In the horse mask.

This ruled. This all ruled. The horse mask was just the icing on the cake. Horse icing. It cost $37 to get into the fair (two adults at $15 each, plus one car at $7) and I would have paid more than that for one ticket to July Talk and it would have been a deal. Go see them.

We ran into Mark and Arlette again on the way out – by which I mean I saw them leaving and chased after them – and we got to chat for a bit. Then with the show over, we set out to make some more bad decisions. Mika got a lemonade (again, tame by fair standards) while I went for the more ridiculous deep fried cookie dough. It was pretty good. Then I packed up my regrets and we went home, ready to do it all over again the next day.

Sometimes people ask me “how’s work?” and all you need to know is that on Thursday before the concert, I went from “I can come in this weekend” to “I’m taking tomorrow off because everything’s so broken that I can’t do anything” in the span of about 15 minutes. So I had Friday off, which was nice and restful. It let me prepare myself for another day of punishing my eardrums and my stomach.

Speaking of which, on Thursday, we discovered that one of the BBQ places was selling corn on the cob coated in Flammin’ [sic] Hot Cheetos dust. We reported this to Jeff and he had a day to build this up in his mind. By the time we got to the fair on Friday, he was already there, had already eaten the Flammin’ Hot Cheetos corn, and reported that it lived up to his imagination. Mika tried to have some too, but they misheard her order and gave her regular corn instead. She also got some blue slushie drink. Again, good but not fair-worthy craziness.

I, on the other hand, took my time to find the ideal monstrosity for dinner, and found the perfect combination of ridiculous and a short line – the bacon-wrapped foot-long hot dog topped with macaroni and cheese. With the optional fried onions, for… vitamins. Or fiber or something. Antioxidants? This was as delicious as it was challenging to eat. I wound up with mac and cheese on my nose and my hat. Not surprised. Didn’t care. Worth it.

We made our way to the Brandt Centre for the Watchmen, stopping to sample some apple whiskey on the way in. Not bad.

This was the only night where the two bands were given equal billing, though in essence, the Watchmen were opening. We debated whether the Watchmen or I Mother Earth should have gone on last, with Jeff firmly on the side of the Watchmen. I wasn’t sold on this. I mean, I know way more Watchmen songs than I Mother Earth songs, and having seen both bands recently, I liked the Watchmen better, but I figured that was just me. I Mother Earth just seem like the bigger band to me. And I was way wrong. There were tons of people in there for the Watchmen, on par with the crowd for July Talk. They opened with Boneyard Tree and closed with Stereo – in between, you got most of the singles you’d want (Incarnate, Any Day Now, All Uncovered, Absolutely Anytime and more) with some interesting covers, including The Only Living Boy in New York by Simon and Garfunkel and part of Superman by R.E.M.. This was a great set.

I’m writing this weeks after the fact. I think we got dessert between Watchmen and I Mother Earth, but I could be wrong. Maybe it was before? Who cares, if I’m wrong, only two people will know and they can write their own reviews if they’re so concerned about historical accuracy. Either way, I had red velvet mini donuts and Jeff got an Oreo churro. The mini donut people got my donuts from somewhere behind their stand. I don’t know where or why. I didn’t really want to know.

Having seen I Mother Earth last year, I realized that I only know one of their songs and also I only have so much interest in guitar solos. This show didn’t really change my opinion. That song was good! And the guitar solos were well done and all, but I can only care to a degree. I called this set “very good but not entirely my thing.” And I love this format of cramming tons of shows into one review because I can stop there, but I do need to mention that the crowd for I Mother Earth was shockingly smaller than it was for the Watchmen. At one point near the end of the set, I turned around and realized how bad it would look if they turned up the lights. They had maaaaaaybe half the crowd that the Watchmen did.

As soon I Mother Earth was over, Mika went to the bathroom and Jeff left, which was a real shame. The leaving part, I mean, not the bathroom part. Because if Jeff had left the arena with us, he’d have been treated to one lady’s rant about people bringing their fuckin’ kids to loud concerts and it’s not good for their hearing and you should get a fuckin’ babysitter or else just suck it the fuck up and don’t come – made all the better when I realized that some guy and his kids were 10 feet behind us. Then I got a caramel apple because I never learn anything.