Posts Tagged ‘queen city ex’

SLCR #316: Arkells (August 2, 2018)

August 20, 2018

This is relatively short and mostly about food but it’s also three weeks late, so whatever. This was our third year seeing a concert at the Queen City Ex and honestly, I thought it was kind of slim pickings this year. Two country acts, Burton Cummings, the Regina Symphony doing Michael Jackson and Prince songs, and the Arkells. I feel like we chose wisely despite my eventual realization that while I’d heard other musicians (Hawksley Workman, Frank Turner) say good things about them, I didn’t actually know any Arkells songs. Though I do confess some curiosity about how well the Symphony would pair with stifling heat, a giant plush Pikachu, and a corndog.

Mika and I went early this year, arriving at the fair shortly after 11:00am so that we could spend the first part of the day with her friend Christine and her kids. The kids rode rides and displayed passionate interest in every kind of carnival game. I sweated a lot and lost to Mika at both Whack-a-Mole and squirting water in the clown’s mouth. Also, I followed up some deep fried cheese curds with the stupidest thing I’ve ever eaten, deep fried bacon-wrapped Reese’s peanut butter cups. Eventually, we watched a scintillating performance from Doodoo the Clown, who was apparently in the movie Billy Madison. I don’t remember there being a clown in Billy Madison, but that might only be because I’ve never seen it. The kids had fun. Eventually, full of delicious sugars and fats, we were all overheated and so they headed home. With hours to go before the concert, we also headed home for air conditioning and a nap.

Dear future James, for your reference, if you leave the fair and come back, your handstamp will let YOU back in for free, but there are no in/out privileges as it pertains to parking.

Back inside, we went straight to the concert grounds for our openers, Sc Mira. You may remember that we saw them open for Buck 65 a few years ago. That felt like an odd pairing at the time, and even more so now when I did the “who did they open for again?” check through the old reviews. They felt like a much better fit with the Arkells, which makes it too bad that basically nobody saw this set. There were seriously maybe 20-30 people there when they started and it filled up a bit as they played, but really not that much. You wouldn’t have known it from their performance – it has to be challenging playing in front of a small, apathetic crowd (especially in such a big space) but they still brought it. Lots of new material and a marked increase in stage presence too.

With a lengthy break between bands, we went in search of dinner. Mika went one way to get some corn on the cob, which isn’t really fair-level crazy but non-glutenous options are scarce and limited. I went the other way in search of something I’d seen earlier, but I don’t know my directions got turned around. Luckily, this led to running into and chatting with Chad and his family for a bit. I eventually did find the “grilled cheese dog” that I was after, but whatever you’re picturing in your mind as a grilled cheese dog is more exciting and appetizing than what I got. Poor choice, me.

Dear future James, for your reference, just get the corndog with a pickle in it. You like corndogs. You like pickles.

We met back at the concert grounds, and dang. The Arkells fans are late arrivers, but when they get there, they show up en masse. The place was packed. We stood near the back.

It’s not entirely true to say that I didn’t know any Arkells songs. Mika’d played one of them in the car. Two others, I recognized a little bit from… somewhere? I don’t know. Being alive and often in the presence of background music? I didn’t know enough to sing along with anything, let’s put it that way. And yet, I didn’t really care. These guys had huge energy and were a blast to watch. Singalongs, clapalongs, running through the crowd, they were never not engaging with the audience. Fantastic live performers. And I did know one song after all, since the first song of their encore was Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. Which seemed like a weird fit for about 5 seconds but then totally wasn’t. Would definitely go see these guys again. Worth the admission. Worth paying for parking twice. Worth that sub-par hot dog. Maybe I should listen to any of their stuff someday.

On the way out, determined to make one last bad decision, I got white chocolate cheesecake mini-donuts. The girl cautioned me that instead of your standard bag of mini-donuts, there were three of them. For $10. I was already committed to this idea so I went along with it. And I have to say, what they lacked in quantity they more than made up for in quality. These were sensational. Hot and crispy with cheesecake goo inside and white chocolate drizzle. I don’t even like white chocolate.

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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.

SLCR #219 – Gin Blossoms (July 31, 2015)

August 6, 2015

That is one misleading title. You’d think that seeing the Gin Blossoms in 2015 would be enough for one day, but this was not just the Gin Blossoms, oh no. It was the Gin Blossoms AND Fastball AND the Rembrandts. Outdoors at the Queen City Ex. Yes.

Two years ago, we went to South Dakota for a summer trip to Mount Rushmore, and Smash Mouth was playing the fair in Rapid City. On my birthday. We did not go to this. It had been a long day of riding jackalopes and petting goats and doing other touristy junk. While I still had enough energy to go watch a band that I was honestly interested to see, I wasn’t really up for a few hours at the fair just to be able to say “I drove eight hours to South Dakota to see Smash Mouth play a fair on my birthday.” I do kind of regret this, especially since that time a few months ago where Smash Mouth played some other fair and got bombarded with bread thrown by drunks and the lead singer swore a bunch while the band played the starting notes to All Star for like ten minutes in hopes that things would turn around. That was a very good day on the internet.

Point being, it was high time I saw a band at the fair. I have never done so, unless you count five minutes of some local metal band I saw when I was 10 or so. I didn’t do concert reviews then but they were memorable enough; imagine if Kiss sucked and was fat and didn’t try very hard with their makeup. There you go.

In fact, I hadn’t even been to the fair at all in about 20 years by my estimation. I’m not much of a ride guy, and while I AM a games guy and also an eat-garbage guy, they both seem like bad ideas. The fair is expensive, the prizes are cheap, and the food will most likely kill you slowly. But it had been 20 years, so what the heck.

We got to the fair around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday evening and parking was… shockingly easy? I did not expect that. The whole process was painless. We took a big ol’ walk around, checking out rides and games and foods and whatnot. Ultimately, I passed on all the really epic-sounding treats – donut grilled cheese, maple bacon donut burger, deep-fried Philly cheesesteak – it seems I have limits. And also I’d gone to Regina’s new Carl’s Jr. earlier in the day (vacation woo). I did get a corn dog, but didn’t even make it through half of it before realizing that corn dogs are so much better in theory than in practice. Sad. But a caramel apple made things better.

Our first concert experience of the day was listening to some cover band play Van Halen and Def Leppard. They were better than the corndog and worse than the caramel apple. If they ever find this by googling whatever (not their name, since I neither know nor care what it is), they should know that I like caramel apples a lot. But on the flipside, it was a really disappointing corndog so that was a low bar to clear.

Eventually we wandered over to the concert stage where we were joined by… very few others. At the start, there were probably about as many people as at the Geoff Berner show. I was pretty surprised by this. I mean, I get that these bands were big (to whatever degree) 20 years ago, but it was a free show, and I’d seen recent pictures from the Saskatoon Ex of what appeared to be massive crowds for shows by Our Lady Peace and Great Big Sea (both of whom are certainly bigger in Canada and they’re also still making music and all, but still).

I should mention that a while back, Colin had suggested that he might be interested in coming to the show with us were he available. However, when I texted to let him know that we were, in fact, committed to going, he’d already made other plans and was actually on his way to Edmonton to see the Roughriders play.

The stage was big, the park-type area had room for lots of people, and there was even a big screen for those of us who were further back. It was a pretty nice setup. Our host was a local radio DJ who I only know of because he posted some screencaps to Facebook a month or two ago where he’d been texting back and forth with a scammer who was claiming to be trapped in Uganda. Most of their conversation centered around trying to get Kamala’s autograph. Papa Shango was also mentioned. I approved.

First up were The Rembrandts, or as you may know them, The “Theme from Friends” Band. More than one person I know suggested that they’d walk out, play I’ll Be There For You, and leave the stage. Justin Shapiro, noted Friends superfan, offered up the instrumental end credits version of IBTFY as a second song (and, in fact, he DID use that acronym when doing so; luckily, I was able to deduce its meaning from context and didn’t have to out myself as a Friends poseur). This one-song idea, of course, is vastly unfair to the Rembrandts, who also covered Making Plans for Nigel on an XTC tribute album I have. Plus, there’s… hmmm… did I mention they did the theme from Friends?

I sent Colin a picture of the very sparsely populated front-of-stage area. He said that it was good that we were there for them, because it clearly hasn’t been their day, their week, their month, or even their year. At this point, a random Edmonton number texted me to suggest that their job’s a joke, they’re broke, their love life’s DOA. I did not know who this was. Eventually, this person revealed himself to be Colin’s old roommate. This was an interesting development because he was texting me jokes all night (and the occasional complaint about the Riders) and… you know, I don’t think I know this guy or have even ever met him before. I think I’ve only ever met one of Colin’s roommates and that was only one time – back when Colin’s car got locked up in the parking lot of the mean hockey equipment store and his roommate had to come rescue us.

Jokes and asides aside, I actually read a really interesting article about the Rembrandts on AV Club about six weeks ago, about how they’d had some success before Friends, weren’t really sold on the idea of performing a TV show theme (one which they didn’t write), and wound up overwhelmed and burdened by it when it took off. You should check it out if you want to read some real writing from a real writer.

Anyway, the Rembrandts played for a little better than a half an hour, just the two guys on guitars and vocals. The sound started off a little shrill, but it improved as the set went on. I thought I recognized one other song, and Mika did too (but a different other song). Looking over their singles online, I know they played Rollin’ Down the Hill and Just The Way It Is, Baby, and I think they played This House Is Not A Home. They were reminiscent of the less-rockier Odds songs, and that’s not a bad thing. I did think that having some drums to fill out the sound might have helped – when they closed with IBTFY, they even joked about not being able to hear the drums. And you can’t really help the attendance, but when the crowd is small and the venue is big, maybe trying a singalong part isn’t the best plan. It might have sounded good to the 50 people at the front of the stage, but we were a little further back (by a tree! optimal sitting/leaning spot) and you couldn’t really hear the response part of the call-and-response bit.

Fastball took the stage about ten minutes before their scheduled 8:00 p.m. start time, causing one of the cameramen to have to sprint back into position. Like the Rembrandts, Fastball is primarily known for one song (The Way), but they did have more radio success with some followups, namely Out of My Head, You’re an Ocean, and Fire Escape. They played all those, and also Warren Zevon’s hockey song Hit Somebody – unsure if that is a standard part of their set or if they threw it in to appeal to the locals. A quick Google search for “fastball hit somebody” just brings up videos of baseball accidents (like that time Randy Johnson made a bird explode!) so I’m guessing it was special for us – the song itself kinda made me roll my eyes but I will always give a band credit for trying something special in concert. They seemed alternately confused and amused regarding the pronunciation of Regina, as Americans so often do. The full-band sound and slowly-increasing attendance helped their set, but a lot of the time, they felt like they just weren’t quite in sync. Like a new band that hasn’t gelled yet, or like they were rusty after a long layoff. There was one song in particular where it felt like they were all a half-second off from each other; this coincided with some singing that wasn’t quite in tune and yeah that song was really not very good. Mostly they were okay enough, but I figure the Rembrandts were better overall, despite not being as well suited to the venue.

Between sets, Mika ducked out to get some fair nachos and they were the exact opposite of my sad corndog, in that they were delicious. The chips were still warm from the fryer and they were topped with a fresh tomato salsa. I only stole a few chips but could have easily gone through the whole thing. This was shockingly good; the nacho stand apparently didn’t get the memo that fair food is supposed to be garbage. I then snuck away for some poutine and a Cherry Coke. Tasty, but I really can’t do full-sugar soda anymore. (Full-fat poutine is not a problem, it seems.)

By the time I came back with my bounty, the field had filled out nicely with fans. The Gin Blossoms started a little late, so I had time to finish eating and even text Colin and his roommate some more about the other bands we were expecting to see (Monster Magnet, Lifehouse, Better Than Ezra, Harvey Danger, Marcy Playground, Chumbawamba).

I can’t lie. I’d have been pretty excited for Marcy Playground. Or Chumbawamba. Or Better Than Ezra. Or Harvey Danger if they promise to play their Christmas song.

Seconds into the Gin Blossoms, something happened right by us. I didn’t see exactly what happened but it looked like some dude took a swing at some girl or shoved her or whatever, and WHAM – Security was right there to hammerlock said dude and drag him out of the fair. It was dark, there was a lot of ground to cover, it had finally become crowded, the band was playing, but Security was still right on top of things. It was impressive.

The Gin Blossoms, it seemed, had had a hard day. I gather they’d been playing out in the Maritimes the day before, and today, they learned about one of the problems that come with living in Saskatchewan – namely, there aren’t that many flights in and out of here. The singer complained on a few occasions about how they’d have to get up at 3:00 a.m. to make their flight out of town. But the real issue was that one of their flights into town was cancelled, leaving some of the Gin Blossoms crew stuck out east. With their drummer. Local sound techs and equipment guys were enlisted, as was the drummer for Fastball, who’d spent the afternoon learning all of their songs. I know they’re not super complex drum parts, but something like that still blows my mind. Want to play an entire set of songs you’ve barely practiced? Like, this evening? You could see a few moments between songs where the lead singer was coaching the drummer a bit, but all things considered, he did a fine job.

This was the best of the night’s three acts. The atmosphere had finally come together and the band was the right fit for the venue. It helped that the Gin Blossoms had a few big hits – the singer mentioned that while they’d had no #1 hits in the US, they had two in Canada. Of course, they closed their set with one (Hey Jealousy) and came back out to play the other one (Follow You Down) for the encore. Alison Road and Until I Hear It From You were big songs here too. Unlike the vast majority of people who were alive in the 90s, I never had the Gin Blossoms’ two big records; I suspect that those who did would have known far more songs. They did seem like a bit more of a party band than I would have suspected – lots of getting people to clap along or sing out certain lines (I don’t think the singer ever once said “let the cops chase us around”) – but the crowd seemed really into everything, so it all worked.

All in all, a fun night. Maybe next year they’ll bring in Smash Mouth and I can live the dream.

Actually, who are we kidding? I’m already living the dream – on our way back to the car, we stopped to play a round of Whack-a-Mole and I WON A COW. His name is Bob. Or her name. I’m not sure. I won Bob on the first try, so he only cost me $4. I am very proud of this. Also very ashamed that I heard “$4 for one game of Whack-a-Mole” and thought this was a good idea.

I also won a giraffe by shooting water into a clown’s mouth, but one of the other players looked sad to lose so I gave her the giraffe. Mika later said “she was probably like ‘what a nice old man!'” This is depressingly true, in most aspects. I mean, I was old enough to be her dad and she was old enough to be done with high school. But I’m not so sure about nice. I mean, that giraffe felt pretty cheap. No way I’d have given up my cow.

UPCOMING SHOWS
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Sinéad O’Connor, Vance Joy, Jenny Lewis, Bahamas, Blue Rodeo, Blind Boys of Alabama, Basia Bulat, more (August 7-9)
• Chad VanGaalen (September 24)
• Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26)
• Ron Sexsmith (September 30)
• Hawksley Workman (October 16)
• Lee Harvey Osmond (November 7)