Posts Tagged ‘regina’

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.

Advertisements

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

July 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does this mean we can finally wrap this thing up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except…

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

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

SLCR #281: Bryan Adams (May 27, 2017)

June 12, 2017

Let me take you back to the very first ever SLCR, Great Big Sea on October 9, 1996.


The lead singer was in fine form, carrying on a running conversation with the audience. “Did anyone see us at the MuchMusic Video Awards? (crowd cheers) What a great party. Alanis was there. (crowd boos) And Bryan Adams opened the show, then we played. You know what that means? Bryan Adams opened for us! (crowd cheers) We said, ‘Hey Bryan, anytime you want to open for us again, you’re more than welcome.’ And you know what? He was playing in the parking lot, we were in the studio, so we told the guys, ‘You know, we’re not that big, you coulda let the poor bugger in to meet us.’ Ah, Bryan Adams. Keep an eye out for that kid, I think he’s got a real future in this business.”

Finally, I could see if he lived up to the buzz!

I suppose it’s a little surprising that I’ve gone to lots of concerts in the past 20 years and have been a Canadian for all 40 of my years but have never seen Bryan Adams in concert before. There’s a long, drawn-out reason for that: I didn’t care to. I mean, Bryan Adams is fine, some of his songs are good, some of them are kinda dumb. He’s played here before since I’ve lived here. Saskatoon too. I just never bothered to go see him.

When Adams was announced as the headliner for the first-ever concert in our shiny new football stadium, it seemed like a decent enough choice. He’s been a big star forever, and though I always thought of him as more of an arena-level guy and not a stadium-level guy, that actually worked here. Though the event was called “Regina Rocks” in marketing, it was called “Test Event 2” on volunteers’ badges (the stadium doesn’t officially open until July 1, and there was a college football game last fall). Probably good to start with Bryan Adams before you bring in someone who can sell out a stadium in an hour.

It didn’t seem like tickets for this event sold as well as they organizers were hoping. It was a triple bill with Adams, Our Lady Peace, and country singer Johnny Reid. They said they’d capped ticket sales at 70% of capacity, and it looked like they’d sold about 70% of that. They gave the final number at somewhere around 21,000 people.

When the show was announced, Mika seemed really excited to go despite not caring about Adams or knowing anything about Reid. And while we were both Our Lady Peace fans back in the day (they were huge here while I was in university), she’d never expressed an interest in going when they’d played here before. I think it was just hype for the first concert at the new stadium, and not wanting to buy pricey tickets, I… didn’t. The hype faded and we largely forgot about going.

But that hype. I buy into it too, right? In the week before the show, I checked my work’s intranet and discovered a passcode that would let me get discount tickets. And I like concerts. And I like Our Lady Peace well enough, and Adams is a legendary Canadian musician, so why not? I texted Mika, who opted against going. Too busy with school. So I didn’t get tickets. And I was actually a little bit disappointed.

About two hours later, my dad texted me to let me know he’d got free tickets from a supplier of his, and did I want them? I did indeed, and for free, Mika would make time to go too. Lesson learned: never pay for anything.

My dad and I then had a series of texts back and forth over several days (not an exaggeration) wherein I tried to determine how many free tickets there actually were. I had assumed all along that I was getting two, but didn’t want to pick the tickets up and find out there were more when it would be too late to invite others. I think my dad thought that I was disappointed in getting only two, which I wasn’t, and then it sounded like I wasn’t getting tickets at all, and I don’t know why this was so hard. They need to invent something like texting except where you can just talk to the other person.

The new stadium has many amenities but one of them is not parking. As in, it has none. They want people to take the bus, and when we’d gone to football games at the old stadium, we’d done that a few times. So fine. Concert’s at 6:00. We get to the nearby mall at 5:00… and there are HUNDREDS of people in line. Shit. We park the car on the complete opposite side of the mall because the parking lot is packed, and make our way over to the line. Things are not looking good. A bus was taking people away when we got there, and by the time we were in line, a new bus had arrived. Okay. This is manageable. Some lady walked by and said that busses (buses? I never know) were coming every 5 minutes. I can live with this. Then we go 15 minutes without a bus. Shit. Again.

I’m sure it’s super enthralling to read someone describing waiting for a bus so let’s skip to the end – it took over an hour to get on a bus and by the time we got to the stadium, Our Lady Peace was 20 minutes into their set already. I get that this was a “test event” and that there were kinks to work out, but this should not be one of them. You had stadium buses before. You need more now since there’s less parking. Pretty simple.

I’d be more upset – and was at the time – but Our Lady Peace is coming back in less than 3 months to open for Guns N’ Roses in the stadium and we’re going to that, so whatever. We’ll see them again. As long as we get on a bus three hours early.

Back to the event at hand. There was a lady on the bus wearing a pink ballcap that she had adorned with plain white stickers – like the kind you might use to print address labels, maybe – upon which she’d handwritten BRYAN ADAMS ROCKS! with a Sharpie. This lady filled me with so much hope. Hope that Bryan Adams would rock.

Luckily, the bus stop at the stadium was right by our gate, so we were inside in no time. We could hear OLP playing Innocent as we walked up. Our seats were on the lower level, near the back. Far enough away that we were mostly watching the big screens. The seats at the new stadium are a massive improvement over the old ones. One of my dad’s coworkers and his wife got tickets too, and they were in their seats already when we got there. We said hi but didn’t really get to chat much throughout the evening. Music is loud. And also we don’t really know each other, so y’know.

I had read an interview with Raine Maida before the show where he said he was looking forward to testing out some new material, and I was all like …my dude. You have a 45-minute set and you’re not the headliner. Play all hits all the time. Ultimately, we got a mix of songs I knew and ones I didn’t; I don’t know how many were truly new, as I mostly only know the singles and the first couple albums. Looking up their setlist online, I see we missed Naveed and Superman’s Dead, which is disappointing. I had hopes for One Man Army, and they didn’t play that one. But there were some that I knew well, including Is Anybody Home, Clumsy, In Repair, and Starseed. Maida also sang part of Grace, Too by the Tragically Hip, which got a nice reaction. I still hope the Hip will get to play the new stadium someday.

The sound for OLP was good but seemed to be having a few issues; it wouldn’t cut out, but the volume really fluctuated at times. Mika thought the wind might have had something to do with it. I thought the issue got better as the night went on but I heard people say the same thing about Adams’ set later and I didn’t notice it at all then, so maybe it was environmental and based on where you were sitting.

There was a quick switchover before Johnny Reid played. I knew nothing about him, and I thought I knew none of his songs until he played Fire It Up – and even then, I only know the part that goes “fiiiiire it up.” This was a pretty well-executed thing that wasn’t entirely my thing. I like piano. I like fiddle. Reid seems like a good dude. This was enjoyable enough but I still found myself getting distracted for long stretches.

At some point during the set, Mika left to go to the washroom. I didn’t ask about lines but she was gone for quite a while, and when she got back, said that the lines for food (and even for 50/50 tickets) were too long to even consider getting anything. More on this later.

During the switchover to Bryan Adams, they put a still image up on the big screen, the cover of Adams’ newest album, Get Up. It’s just him standing there with a model standing behind him with both her hands on his face. Or at least I assumed it was a still image – at one point, a cellphone rang and Adams pulled his phone out, turned it off, put it away, and went back to the same image as before. A cute visual and also a clever way to get people back to their seats before the show, as it essentially served as the five-minute warning. A few more minutes of the picture and suddenly Adams lunged forward and roared, and the real Bryan Adams and his band sprinted onto the stage.

Adams was interviewed by the local newspaper before the show. One question asked that because Adams has so many hits, how does he decide which ones to play? He said “that’s easy – we play them all!” I can now confirm that this is true. Bryan Adams has a million hit singles and he played pretty much every one. At several points, Mika said “what could be left beyond Cuts Like a Knife” and then he’d play three more songs that we knew. By the end, I was actually expecting him to sing his unfortunate but hilarious holiday song Reggae Christmas because there really couldn’t be anything left. Dude has so many hits that when he played Summer of ’69 about halfway into the set, I thought it was a really weird choice – OBVIOUSLY you close with Summer of ’69 – but by the end it didn’t even register. So many hits. Older songs. Newer songs. If you like a Bryan Adams song, he played it.

I mentioned that I’m not a huge Bryan Adams fan. I am here to tell you that such people do exist, and they exist by the thousands. This was really noticeable about a half-dozen songs in, when he played Heaven, the first ballad of the night. Thousands of people held their cellphones high since nobody has lighters anymore. And EVERYONE sang along. I mean, I didn’t, but was surprised to realize that, yeah, I could have. And then there was a whole lot of applause from the section to my left because someone had gotten engaged mid-song. My goodness.

For the first two bands, the big screens gave a nice view of the show. Adams used the screens to show footage from music videos, as well as to show live footage with effects applied. It made for a much flashier presentation, but being so far back, it made actually a little more difficult to actually see the show, so there was a bit of a tradeoff there. Not one I minded, since it was a nice change of pace from earlier.

All told… I don’t know? The sound was good for his set and the crowd was really into it up until close to the end. It was a perfectly fine show for the nothing that we paid for the tickets. I didn’t go into the show as a huge Bryan Adams fan and that hasn’t really changed. It was pretty telling, though, just to see how many songs of his I knew. And not “oh yeah, I think I’ve heard this one before,” but ones where somehow I knew every word. It’s not like I ever doubted he was a star, but I didn’t really have a sense of just how big he’d been for how long until you string together one huge hit after another like that. So even if I’m not walking away as some Bryan Adams superfan, I definitely have a newfound respect for the guy and his career. And even my least favourite of his songs was made better by making jokes about it that were so dirty that I have been forbidden from including them here. Sorry, but if it’s any comfort, I’ll be as left out as you when I re-read this in five years.

One unfortunate side effect of the earlier transit issues was that it seemed people were leaving in droves towards the end and especially during the encore. I suspect a lot of this was people not wanting to wait hours to get home. We stayed until the very end and it almost felt anticlimactic – Adams ended the encore on a solo acoustic performance of All for Love. I said he played every hit, but he did skip There Will Never Be Another Tonight. It felt like – and I could be entirely wrong here – that one gets saved for if the fans want a second encore. In this case, however, they did not. He finished All for Love and there was barely even any applause, just a stampede to the exit.

Leaving, the good news was that we were close to the pickup point for the buses. The line was still ridiculous, however, and there was nobody from the stadium or the bus system to help people figure out where they needed to be. There was some confusion and some line-cutting, but whatever. They did a good job of quickly filling up buses and shipping people out of there, so I can’t complain about that. The thousands of people still in line behind us, however, might tell a different story.

On the ride back to the mall, we overheard some people talking about concessions running out of food and water around 7:00 – and this was now 11:45. Because it was a test event, I know they didn’t have all the concessions running, but still, they clearly have some bugs to work out. I chose wisely when I didn’t try to get food there or I would have wound up pretty cross. Instead, I picked up a poutine burger at midnight on the way home from the bus dropoff point, which is its own unique brand of questionable decision making.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Amanda Marshall w/The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer (June 23)
• Hawksley Workman (June 24)
• Son of Dave (also June 24)
• Serena Ryder (June 25)
• Beck (August 20)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses w/Our Lady Peace (August 27)
• The Sadies (September 14)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Whitehorse w/Terra Lightfoot (October 13)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #280: Colter Wall (May 8, 2017)

May 23, 2017

I don’t know when I first learned that Colter Wall was a musician. It seemed like it just happened one day and suddenly he was everywhere. It was notable around these parts because Wall is the son of our Premier (the equivalent of a Governor for my American pals). This is the kind of thing that probably helped him a lot for a while and may be as much of a hindrance these days. When referencing the concert, I heard “great singer, shame about his dad” more than once.

But whatever. When your dad’s the Premier, that probably opens some doors in Saskatchewan. That doesn’t get you onto Rolling Stone’s list of 10 New Country Artists You Need to Know. It doesn’t get you a touring gig opening for Steve Earle. It doesn’t get Stone Cold Steve Austin and Brock Lesnar discussing how much they love your music on an episode of Austin’s podcast… okay, it probably DOES get you that since Brock lives here now and has met the Premier. But still. That other stuff.

I saw Colter at the folk festival a few years ago. At the time, he wasn’t big enough to merit a main stage spot, playing only a few songs as a teaser between headline acts. If I’m being honest, I thought he seemed a little nervous and I didn’t think that he came across that well. He had definite potential but wasn’t there yet. Since then came all that stuff I listed above. And I listened to his debut EP, Imaginary Appalachia, and it was really good. Dude won me over. This show was the launch party for his (self-titled) first full-length album and I was looking forward to seeing him live again.

On the weekend before the show, Mika fell ill with a cold. “Tell me if you don’t feel like going to Colter Wall and I’ll see if someone else wants to go,” I said on Sunday afternoon. “I’m not going to Colter Wall,” she said at 3:30 am Monday. I appreciated the advance notice, and we were both awake anyway, but it probably could have waited until morning. Anyway, she spent the day home sick and I went to work with a mission to find someone to take this extra ticket off my hands.

Luckily, Jason, a friend from an ungodly long time ago if I stop to think about it, has a blog. And in said blog, he had recently referenced Colter Wall and mentioned he didn’t have plans to go to the show. I checked with him and to my delight, he was in. It was either doors at 7:00, show at 8:00, or 8:00/9:00 depending on where you looked, so we agreed to meet at the Exchange just before 8:00. He got there a few minutes before I did and saw Colter hanging out with friends outside the venue.

Once inside, we got beers. I don’t know from beer so I went with my old standby, Same For Me. Whatever it was, it was good. We took our beers and made our way into the concert hall. It was a sold-out show with very little seating, so we found ourselves a good standing spot. The crowd was an interesting mix of country fans, hipsters, and Sask Party MLAs (and someone who we were pretty sure was Colter’s dad in a leather jacket) – if I ever hung out with people, I’d say this was “not my usual crowd.” I may also have compared it to being on the bridge of the ship in Spaceballs but I said I’d leave my politics out of this.

The opener was John Clay, who played a short acoustic set before returning later in the evening as Wall’s drummer. He played a mix of originals and covers that I didn’t know, encouraging us to check out music by his influences; in particular, the only album ever released by Willis Alan Ramsey. This suffered from the usual curse of nobody paying attention to the opener, but those of us who did got some good tunes. And though he was mostly pretty low-key, there was one point where he really showed off his voice and that got everyone’s attention. Fine stuff.

Wall, on the other hand, isn’t one for vocal showmanship. He has a deep bass baritone that suits his songs well. Not a huge range but he can bring the intensity when required. He was playing with a small band and showed no trace of the nervousness I had seen (or imagined) before. He was calm and confident and came across like a seasoned veteran.

As you’d expect, he played most of the songs from his new album and his EP, which, together, are about long enough to fill out a set. I don’t know how new the new material is – whether this was the first time he played it live here or if it was already familiar to much of the crowd. Everything got a really good reaction but the best was saved for two favourites from the EP – The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie and the last song of the encore, Sleeping on the Blacktop.

It’s hard to reconcile some of Wall’s songs with his upbringing. This likely isn’t an issue for anyone who doesn’t live here and shouldn’t be an issue for me. I mean, I don’t know anything about the guy personally and I know that songwriters don’t have to be autobiographical. But you get to songs like “You Look to Yours” with the line “don’t trust no politicians” and I get distracted, you know? But that shouldn’t matter if the songs are good, and these are, so never mind me.

I feel like I’ve been nitpicky here but this was a really good show. Packed house, hometown (well, homeprovince) crowd, great music. Would go again. Jason made this point but I’ll reiterate it – from all the buzz and the success Wall’s having, this could be the last time we’ll get to see him in a venue this small. And though he’s apparently living in the States now, I suspect he won’t be skipping past Regina on future tours even if he makes it big. So, you know, I’ll gladly take advantage of his connections when they benefit me.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Bryan Adams w/Our Lady Peace and Johnny Reid (May 27)
• Son of Dave (June 24)
• Serena Ryder (June 25)
• kd lang (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses (August 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)

SLCR #279: BA Johnston (April 28, 2017)

May 12, 2017

My discovery of BA Johnston was tied directly to his 2015 Polaris Prize nomination. Mika and I were on a road trip – coming back from the farm maybe? – and she’d found a streaming audio station playing songs off the 40 albums that had made the long list that year. After a stretch of good-if-samey indie rock, Johnston’s song Gonna End Up Working in Fort McMurray really stood out. It was funny, and I made a mental note to check out more of his music later. Which, of course, I didn’t do.

A while later, Johnston unwittingly found himself mixed into some Polaris controversy. The very short version is that disputes among Polaris jurors led to one juror revealing contents of a private message board where some of the selection discussion was taking place. This included several jurors, including musician and CBC personality Grant Lawrence, being dismissive of Johnston’s music. Which, whatever. Taste is subjective and all that, and I can see Johnston’s low-budget, mostly-comedy music not being everyone’s cup of tea.

Anyway, this all reminded me that I was going to check out Johnston’s music, so I pulled up his Polaris-nominated (and then-newest) album, Shit Sucks. Looking over the tracklist, I went straight for the song Shitty Cat:

Go in the kitchen and I see my cat
On the counter eating taco meat
Say to my cat, “what the hell you doing”
He looks at me, keeps eating taco meat
I got a shitty cat, shitty cat, yo man he’s looking at me
I got a shitty cat, looks at me and then he falls asleep

There’s more, but you get the idea. For whatever reason, I would love to hear Gordon Lightfoot cover this song.

So yeah, I wound up buying the album. And then a bunch more. And then many again on vinyl. I may have a problem. Two of my records came from his own online store. The first was hand-addressed to James “Lite Lunch” Kalyn; the second, James “Dust Mop” Kalyn. Apparently you get a free gift with purchase and said gift is a nickname. I’m glad I planned things out poorly and made two separate purchases. What I lost in extra shipping costs I made up for in nickname.

I hadn’t seen him live before this, though. He tours across Canada regularly, but last time he played Regina was the night before we began our trip to BC last summer, and I didn’t think I could be out that late before a day full of driving. Little did I know.

I’ve only ever been to O’Hanlon’s once before for a show. It was 2006 and it was Geoff Berner playing in front of a completely apathetic crowd. O’Hanlon’s doesn’t charge cover, and the regular O’Hanlon’s patrons were not at all interested in Berner’s music, and he didn’t seem real interested in playing for them. I hoped Johnston would be a better fit.

Not knowing what time we could expect the show to start, I arbitrarily chose 10:00 p.m. based what Johnston had said on Twitter about other shows on the tour. It’s been probably a decade since I’ve been to a show on Amigo’s time and I am now much, much older. Like, 10 years older. And I didn’t care for the late starts then.

As we are old, we tried napping before the show, but a certain yowly cat outside the bedroom door was having none of this. Shitty cat, indeed. I eventually locked him in the basement but by then he had angered up my blood enough that I wasn’t about to get to sleep. Mika managed a bit of a nap, but not enough.

We got to the bar right at 10:00. This left us well-positioned to stand around for a further hour and a half before the openers started. I guessed poorly. As we hung out and drank our Diet Cokes like cool guys, we saw Johnston wandering around in a “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase shirt.

Our openers were Napalmpom from Calgary. They were loud. This was the number 1 impression they made on me. Also the number 2 impression through to somewhere in the 30s. The other impression they made was because one of the guitarists was really into everything they played, and he looked just enough like Colin to make this all hilarious to me. And then the loud thing again.

I get that I am old and I was up late and crotchety and you don’t even use that word before a certain age, but whatever. This was way too loud for the size of the place. The volume made it all sound kinda similar and my ears were still sore when I woke up the next day. Despite that, I still enjoyed them well enough, but they needed to be dial it back or they need to play someplace bigger. That said, BA Johnston (who is in fact older than me) seemed to enjoy them a lot – he spent most of their set down in the audience at the front of the stage.

During the break, Johnston set up his gear – this did not take long, as I’ll get into – and a big light-up BA that decorated the stage. Instead of starting the show, he announced that he was going to go change his pants and have a smoke. Which he did, I assume. He returned brandishing two sparklers, wearing a sailor’s cap, and draped in a Hamilton Tiger Cats flag; that he wasn’t immediately run out of town on a rail is proof that this wasn’t the regular bar crowd.

I would stop short of calling Johnston a full-on comedy act, but there is a lot of comedy involved, which means I have the potential to spoil the show for anyone who reads this. Especially considering that BA himself said that the show never changes. So I won’t go into great detail, but be assured that if you go to a BA Johnston show, you will see costume changes, snot rockets, and confetti which may or may not get sweat-stuck to back fat.

As for the music, BA has three instruments; a keyboard he played maybe twice, an acoustic guitar that has to have seen better days, and a Discman. He generally alternated between the Discman and the guitar. The Discman – sometimes referred to as an Apple 5c or a BlackBerry Notebook – was used to play backing tracks. This would free BA up to run out into the crowd, pour drinks into fans’ mouths, climb on tables, pour drinks into bartenders’ mouths, all that good stuff.

One highlight was hearing Johnston play his new song Saskatchewan for what may have been the very first time in Saskatchewan. At the very least, it isn’t one he plays on tour often; you could tell because he sat still and concentrated for the “45 fuckin’ minutes” it took to play it. (Its actual running time is 2:13, which would still be among BA’s longer songs.) The rest of the time, he was in constant motion – either frantically strumming the guitar or running all over the place.

Saskatchewan is an introspective (for BA, anyway) tribute to the land of the Roughriders, Wonderland arcade, and Humpty’s; a province where “all wounds can be healed but the thirteenth man on the field.” He really gets us.

A number of other songs were also from Johnston’s new album, Gremlins III, including Alley Beers, I’m Stayin’ In, and personal favourite Dayoff is a Dayoff. He did not play Shitty Cat and that is too bad. But I got another one of my favourites in GST Cheque, which not only has an excellent singalong part, but gives me warm nostalgic feelings about getting a “random cheque for like 63 bucks.” He closed with Best Day Ever, which is obviously about the day that the McDonalds coupons show up in the mail. The encore was only one song and as per tradition, he sang it in the bathroom. Specifically the men’s room, but I gather that can vary. It looked like he was standing on a toilet or a sink – I wasn’t sure. The song was I Wanna Drink With Aliens – I couldn’t really hear it (he was off-mic) but it’s another good singalong number so I got the gist of it.

And that was it – the whole set clocked in at a little over an hour. I would have happily taken more but I get that you can only keep that pace for so long, plus I appreciate someone who doesn’t leave ’em wanting less. Plus it was like 1:30 a.m. And it’s getting close to that now because I left my computer unattended and it rebooted for surely good reasons and I lost half my review and had to redo it. I made it better! Which says all it needs to about the original version. Anyway, I’m done now.

SLCR #276: I Love the 90s (March 30, 2017)

April 13, 2017

I can’t say that I love the 90s, really. The first four years were high school and let’s pretend that never happened. University was better, and there were various good times and new adventures and stuff, but I don’t look back at James aged 13-23 as being Prime Era James. I mean, God, I hope not.

As far as the music of the 90s, there’s a certain type of late 90s alternative that I still quite like because I am old and afraid of anything new. This show, however, was not that. Instead, we were treated to a selection of early 90s R&B and rap that isn’t really on my current playlists. But I loved some of this back in the day. Nostalgia, right? This should be fun, right?

Before the concert, Mika and I met up with Reagan, Deserée, and Reagan’s friends Dustin and Sarah for dinner. Twice, in fact, because the first place was full. I had a delightful Thai chicken pizza. Would get again. Then Mika went home because she is the only one of us with any sense. The rest of us were off to the show.

We had splurged, relatively speaking, on floor seats. Not too far back, pretty close to the centre, and I was even on an aisle. A lovely view for what was in store.

When we got to our seats, there was a party host on stage inviting people to join him for the opportunity to win Salt-N-Pepa t-shirts and a chance to dance on stage with the band. You could also just buy the shirt and get to dance with them that way too. Despite repeated requests from Deserée, I refused to take part in any of this. Anyway, the people who did go up for the contest would hear a snippet of a TV show theme – name that tune, and you get your shirt and can come back later and dance. Out of probably 20 contestants, I think they gave away three shirts. The thing is, this is I Love The 90s, right? But apart from the Jeopardy song (which is technically from the 80s or earlier anyway), it was all shows like The Odd Couple, Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days, and Welcome Back, Kotter. The host – whose name was also James – even said “you’re here because you love the 90s and the 80s and the 70s” and it’s like… no? That was never part of the deal, my dude. James seemed quite disgusted with how this all went down. As a black person, he was especially disappointed when the black contestants didn’t know the themes to Good Times, The Jeffersons, or Sanford & Son. He was also annoyed with the white guy who missed All in the Family and gave “I don’t know, I’m 35” as his excuse. Apparently age shouldn’t matter as Those Were The Days is “in the white people handbook.” Fair enough. The only contestant he seemed to like was a dude wearing a rainbow mohawk wig who grabbed the mic out of his hands and yelled FUCK YEAH and then James said FUCK YEAH and then rainbow guy said FUCK and James said FUCK and rainbow guy said IT’S MY BIRTHDAY and James said FUCK YEAH and then James said fuck like 30 more times and none of you who get reviews by email will ever see this. I’m sorry for clogging your spam filters. I should mention that rainbow guy’s theme was Knight Rider and of course he didn’t get it because he’s probably 25 and how would he know what the Knight Rider theme is?

Anyway, this may have been the highlight of the evening.

Our opener was Young MC, who also stretched the credibility of this 90s conceit as he’s known for one big hit – Bust A Move – that came out in 1989. Close enough, I guess. 1989 was quite a while ago and Young MC is pushing 50. I suppose that illustrates the danger of naming yourself “young” anything, though his actual last name is Young, so he gets a pass. He did five songs, I think, highlighting a new song called Nocturnal that is on the soundtrack to a movie he directed, possibly also called Nocturnal. He really wanted us to know about his directorial debut. Anyway, he did Bust A Move and then said that normally that was the end of his set, but he was going to give us something more (I assume every city gets something more) and asked if we remembered a song of his called Fastest Rhyme. I am 100% fine with admitting that 2017 James inherited 1989 James’ enthusiasm for Fastest Rhyme and if I could pick any one song of his for this show, that would have been it. So I was delighted, even if he did have to pause for breath in the middle of it. Though I did think it was a little funny that his only other hit single was Principal’s Office and he didn’t do that one.

Next up was Color Me Badd, the band Deserée was most looking forward to. I had always said I didn’t know anything about them, but when Mika did some YouTube research, it turned out I was actually pretty familiar with their hits. We also discovered that the Lonely Island’s Dick In A Box video is just Color Me Badd’s video for I Wanna Sex You Up reshot with new people (and some boxes).

Anyway, these guys got about 25 minutes to do a half-dozen songs and they were better than I expected. I knew all the songs, including No Diggity, which is not actually one of theirs. It reminded me of seeing Bobby Curtola and other oldies at the casino with my dad, where they play their own songs but also play random other songs from that era because you’re nostalgic for the time more than the specific artist. I can’t remember if I mentioned this then, but it would be like seeing 70-year-old Justin Bieber at the casino doing Gangnam Style and Call Me Maybe and Blurred Lines. Which could very well happen. I’ll go to his show in 2064 and report back.

In a compelling example of how expectations change one’s perception, Deserée didn’t care for Color Me Badd so much: “I was fairly disappointed with them actually. I mean, fun and nostalgic, yes. But for one thing – in 1990-whatever, I truly believed Color Me Badd was an edgy R&B group (that I had to turn down when listening to at home, because of all the sex songs). It wasn’t until dinner the other night when Mika talked about them that I realized they might actually be a boy band. And then when they came out in matching outfits (including hats) and started doing their dance moves, I realized the horrible truth. Overall though, it made me sad that the lead singer was off-key and off-time for much of it. But like I said, nostalgic and fun anyway.”

It should be noted that the crowd was very excited for all of this. Between sets, the DJ played Funky Cold Medina and people went wild for it. You didn’t really even need live musicians or rappers anymore. Just play recognizable songs and you’ve got them in the palm of your hand.

Right about now, we were about to be possessed by the sounds of MC Rob Base. Base got four or five songs too, most of which were about our hands, where we could put them (in the air), and how we could wave them (like we just don’t care). He also wanted to yell things and have us yell other things back at him. To be fair, everyone did that all night, but he was especially interested in this. He closed with It Takes Two. Of course.

We had a bit of an intermission while they set up the stage for Salt-N-Pepa. James came back out to talk to us and seemed delighted to spot his friend in the crowd. “HEY! IT’S FUCKING FUCK BIRTHDAY GUY!” Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy was delighted by the attention.

Salt-N-Pepa had about an hour-long set – the only one of the evening – and played pretty much everything you’d expect – Shoop, Push It, Whatta Man, Let’s Talk About Sex. Continuing a theme from earlier, they also played a bunch of things like Billie Jean (not 90s) and Smells Like Teen Spirit – by which I mean Spinderella just played the MP3s and everyone sang overtop them. Like I said, you didn’t really need any musicians at this point.

All the girls who bought or won t-shirts got to come up and dance to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (not Salt-N-Pepa, not the 90s) and then they invited guys up for Whatta Man. You could see a rainbow mohawk wig making its way through an ocean of humanity like a shark fin. He neither bought nor won a shirt, but Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy was allowed on stage anyway because James was in charge and James was laughing to nearly the point of tears. Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy tried to take Salt’s mic and yell FUCK YEAH but she just told him to settle down. Total professional. Then he didn’t want to leave the stage until James basically had to drag him out of there.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Pepa had apparently just discovered what Regina rhymes with. This happens a lot when bands come to town. I believe that by now, all possible avenues in this area have been explored (not a euphemism) (but probably true if it was?) but she was so amused and enthusiastic about it that nobody minded.

And then it was our headliner, sort of, Vanilla Ice. Grade 9 James (me, not the host) (if only there was an easy way to differentiate us) loved some Vanilla Ice. But even then, there are only a handful of songs I remember. Ice Ice Baby, of course. Play That Funky Music White Boy. Ninja Rap OBVIOUSLY. And beyond that – and I am not proud of this, much less proud than I am of admitting to having liked Vanilla Ice in the first place – I remember a verse he had on a Bloodhound Gang song. And that was what he actually opened with, which kind of blew my mind a little bit. I don’t think he actually did Ninja Rap (the sound was terrible all night – way too loud, distorted, and full of feedback) but he did say GO NINJA GO NINJA GO a few times and that was good enough for me. But it was pretty much downhill from there, and we weren’t starting from high up.

The absolute funniest moment of the night came when Ice said “I just wanna give a shoutout to the Pats. Regina Pats, making it to the playoffs! I think they’re going all the way this year.” And look, I know that “local sports team” is second only to “name of city” in terms of cheap pops. But you can get away with that if you’re talking about a major league team. Even if Ice had said something about the Roughriders, I can almost pretend that he cares enough to have CFL opinions. But come on. Far be it from me to call into question the credibility of Vanilla Ice, but I really don’t think he’s following the Western Hockey League that closely.

Anyway, if you’re Vanilla Ice, what song do you end on?

Guess.

He called a bunch of fans up on stage and played Ice Ice Baby about five songs in. It seemed early to wrap things up but where can you go from there?

“THE PARTY DON’T STOP!”

He did some song nobody knew.

“THE PARTY DON’T STOP!”

He did another song nobody knew. People were filing out of the place at this point. Including Vanilla Ice, who disappeared from the stage (or at least hid behind the fans, who were still up there) though his voice could still be heard.

“THE PARTY DON’T STOP!”

Deserée: “…but it could.”

At this point, Vanilla Ice played Turn Down For What.

“YEAH YOU LOVE THE 90S!”

Turn Down For What is from 2013.

“ALL THE HORNY PEOPLE PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”

Not to reveal too much about myself, but I did not, in fact, put my hands in the air. I mean, sure, you’d THINK nothing would get a person going like hearing loss and complete bafflement, but it didn’t do it for me. In fairness, it seemed to be the secret sauce for lots of the folks who were left, including Fucking Fuck Birthday Guy who had found his way onto the stage by this point.

But hey, at least Turn Down For What is a good song to end a party on, right? But Ice – who had also made his way back onto the stage – possibly he got lost and followed the rainbow mohawk – had one more for us. First, he told us to follow our dreams. Believe in ourselves. Not let borders divide us. And then he sang No Woman No Cry. Vanilla Ice, reggae superstar. I texted this to Mika who simply replied “Oh no.” People were flooding out of the arena. I could not leave. I was transfixed. What is this? Why is this? And then it was over. No encore, just a voice – possibly prerecorded – thanking us for attending. It didn’t end with “…leave now” but it may as well have, not that I would have needed encouragement.

To cap off the evening, as I walked alone to my car, mostly deaf and lost in some sort of existential crisis, two guys stopped me and asked for a ride. They did not say to where, but they did promise me “a lot of money.” I declined, not feeling up to being a good Samaritan and also not wanting stab wounds and a stolen car. Though it would have made a more compelling conclusion than “I went home and had some Coke Zero and Crispy Minis.”

I’m writing and posting these reviews out of order. As I’m finishing this off, it’s the day before my trip to Calgary. By sheer happenstance, I am there during Canadian Juggalo Weekend. Part of me badly wants to go to Canadian Juggalo Weekend just so I can write about the experience. But I kind of feel like there’s much less reason for that now. I mean, sure, there will be wrestling and circus performers and crazy shit and clowns EVERYWHERE but is that really so different from this? I mean, Vanilla Ice even had two dancers who were fat guys in clown suits and wrestling masks who sprayed water on the crowd. Switch out the water for Faygo and we’re set.

I can’t recommend this show enough and I also can’t recommend avoiding this show enough.

SLCR #275: Lisa LeBlanc (March 30, 2017)

April 12, 2017

I forgot to mention this in the Joel Plaskett review, but I was talking to Josy and he noted how much I hate writing these things. Mika has said something similar. I’m concerned that this belief has spread, so let me clear some air here. I like writing at least half of these things unconditionally. This happens when I get excited about an artist and want to convince you to check them out too. Like this one right here. I also really like writing the reviews when crazy stuff happens. Unfortunately, this happens much less often the older I get, but if this is your thing, you might enjoy the next review.

For some of the reviews, I get lazy and fall behind and then it becomes a bit of a chore. This is my own fault, and it may be worth mentioning that it’s 2:43 am right now. And for some, I just don’t have a whole lot to say. This usually means I don’t know the artist well and they were neither off-the-charts good nor bad, so I likely had a nice night out but don’t have hundreds of words to share about the experience (but will try, whether or not it’s a good idea). This was exacerbated last year when the number of concerts I saw ramped way up and I was a lot more willing to go see almost anyone I’d ever heard of. I’ve tried to dial that back some this year, mostly for financial reasons, but I did start this year with a number of “it was good, what more do you want” shows. And there will always be those.

I believe Josy wanted an exact percentage of how many reviews I enjoyed writing but I’m not doing that when my alarm is set to go off in under 3 hours.

Onto the show. Lisa LeBlanc played the folk festival here in 2015. At the time, I had no idea who she was, and seemingly neither did anyone else. As she prepared for her set, people wandered off to the bar, the port-a-potties, the food trucks, wherever. I would have gone too but I am a seasoned veteran and I know that you never leave before hearing a new-to-you artist’s first songs. Wait until they’re a few tunes in and the lines will have died down. But when LeBlanc played her first song and blew the roof off the place (because there is normally a roof over the open-air park), Mika elbowed me and gestured to the gates where people were swarming back in. LeBlanc was my favourite performer at the festival that year, or as I wrote at the time, “RULED RULED RULED.” I’d been looking forward to her coming back ever since.

On my way into the Artesian, I ran into Mark and Arlette because of course I did. They weren’t going to the show, they were just sort of there. I tried to convince them to come with me, but Mark was going home to finish working on his performance appraisal, which is the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard for missing a show, and that includes all of my “it’s late” and “it’s cold” and “I’m tired” and “I don’t feel like it.”

Please note that when I have skipped a concert due to a work obligation, it’s always been 100% justified. That’s different.

Into the venue, I took a seat at the top of the pews, nicely tucked away in a corner where I could play Yahtzee in peace and wait for the show to start.

The opener was Eliza Mary Doyle, a banjo player from Saskatoon. She’s been touring as part of The Dead South as of late, though on this night, she had her own band consisting of a guitarist and an upright bassist. By which I mean “someone who plays the upright bass” and not “a bassist who has good posture.” Not that I want to call her posture into question.

Doyle only had about 30 minutes so she mentioned that she’d have to keep her stories to a minimum. She did, but mostly because the bassist would shush her to try and keep things moving along.

Anyway, this was fantastic and one of those rare sets that I wish had more time. I think I might really like banjos? I’m not sure how I feel about that, discovering something so profound about myself at 40. I should probably just appreciate the insight it offers.

Should I buy a banjo and take lessons? I hear the banjo is particularly hard.

I’m now looking up banjos on banjobuyingguide.com and I should never have access to the internet and a MasterCard this late at night.

A compromise: no banjos at least until I get to Calgary so I can save the sales tax.

Lisa LeBlanc also plays the banjo. In fact, her and Doyle became pals at that folk festival a few years ago, when Doyle was there as a volunteer and they got to talking. Banjo talking. Though for most of LeBlanc’s set, she was on guitar with a full band backing her up.

LeBlanc is Acadian and bilingual. She switched back and forth between English and French for most of the night, offering what she called “the true Government of Canada experience.” It seemed to me that the French speakers in attendance were far more enthusiastic. Specifically the women – in a venue with no real standing area, there were clusters of girls off to the sides and at the back of the hall, all dancing and very into everything.

LeBlanc played a lot from her new English album, though fewer songs than I would have expected. I suppose that happens, given limited time and wanting to ensure a good number of French songs are included too. I find her songwriting interesting – almost nothing ever rhymes. I don’t know if that’s just a stylistic choice or maybe something to do with writing in a second language? I haven’t paid enough attention to her French songs to see if those rhyme. Now I’m curious.

The banjo made its appearance partway through the set for a few songs, including my favourite of hers, You Look Like Trouble (But I Guess I Do Too), as well as a cover of Ace of Spades that gets all the fire emoji. So great. “RULED RULED RULED” as a wise man once said.

It was another short set, going just over an hour. I would have been fine with more – I would be fine if it was still going on – but it was not to be. She ended with a Fleetwood Mac cover. Because I don’t take notes right after the show like I should, I am 99% certain it was Never Going Back Again but my attempts to verify this using the internet have been stymied because it seems she really likes covering Fleetwood Mac songs.

Whatever it was (275 of these things and I am STILL SO BAD AT THIS), I dug it. This was an early contender for my favourite show of the year. Fantastic tunes and some unexpected self-discovery. And now I need to sleep and not buy a banjo. Yet.