Posts Tagged ‘regina’

SLCR #317: Regina Folk Festival (August 11, 2018)

August 22, 2018

Festivals can be tricky to write about since you get a bunch of different artists, some you might not know anything about, and often not enough time for them to leave a lasting impression. And you – this time I mean you, specifically, whoever is reading this – probably don’t want to read a list of names with me going “it was fine” over and over.

Luckily for you, God intervened. An afternoon temperature of 42C before the humidex put a hold on our plans. We’d already foregone the weekend passes in favour of just the Saturday night, but the heat was such that we held off even further, opting to show up after 9:00pm. As we got exchanged our passes for wristbands, Pierre Kwenders was just wrapping up. We took a walk around the vendor area, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen the food trucks so dead. I know it was later in the evening, but still. Only the places that specialized in cool drinks had significant lines. I think it was just too hot to eat.

Since we showed up so late, we left our chairs in the car and stood down at the front. Gotta be the first time I’ve done that at the folk festival in a decade. Between sets, Zoey Roy was doing a spoken word performance – very impassioned and got a great reaction from the crowd. I’m not sure that poetry readings will ever be 100% my thing, but when done well and in front of an appreciative, supportive audience, I have a better understanding of the appeal.

Of all the artists at this year’s festival, I was most excited for Tanya Tagaq. We’d seen her with the symphony recently, but this was our first opportunity to see a full performance. Her music is a modern take on traditional Inuit throat singing and she was accompanied by, among other musicians, a Theremin player. This is not music I would listen to every day but it fits certain moods very well. Specifically, the moods of “I want to completely discombobulate my brain” or “I want to get ready for war.” In a literal sense, I mean – if I had to grab a gun and charge into battle, I’d want this playing. Her music is powerful and vulnerable and otherworldly and scared at least one nearby small child. It sounds unlike anything else I’ve heard and makes me feel different than any other music too. When I was younger, I probably would have hated this. She sang for an hour and it flew by. Amazing.

Between sets, we found a bench, and, somehow, Rheanne. We run into her every year, apparently even when it’s dark out and we’re only there for a few hours.

On our way back to the stage, we passed a very drunk lady being walked out of the park by security. Or at least that was the goal; when we saw her, she’d stopped to give out high-fives, take selfies, and sing Sweet Child O’ Mine with other festival-goers. It’s not often you get to say “there’s a very patient security guard.” Anyway, I had no idea alcohol could make you so happy. I should investigate further.

The night’s headliner was Neko Case. I’d seen her a few times before, including once at the festival, and I always came away a little underwhelmed. In what I always felt was an unfair way, you understand. She’s so incredible that I went into her shows with sky-high expectations that were never quite met. This time, though, was easily the best of her shows that I’ve seen. It would be easy to chalk that up to my expectations but I don’t think that’s quite it. She seemed to really be inspired and emotional to be at the festival, having worked earlier in the day with Girls Rock Regina, a girls’ music camp (and wearing their shirt during her performance). She also talked about how excited she was to finally see Tanya Tagaq (they always play the same festivals but on different days) and dedicated a song to Zoey Roy. It seemed like she was really feeling the festival and that came through in her performance. Even if she was eating and being eaten by bugs because of the spotlights.

Case is touring her new album, Hell-On, which I’ve listened to, but not a ton. We got lots of songs off it, of course. Fewer of the old classics but “Hold On, Hold On” is my favourite of hers and she played that one, so no complaints here. But the best moment for my money was during the song Man, a song about masculinity and gender roles and also one of the rockier songs of the night. These two ballcap bro-dudes heard the opening notes and they were SO into it. They yelled WOOOO and threw up devil horns and hugged and rocked out like nobody’s business. And then they were joined by a third guy, and they all stood in a circle, holding hands, jumping up and down and pumping their arms to the music. The song is great. Their reaction was fantastic. The two combined? Perfect.

And then we went home. Makes for an abbreviated festival recap this year – I trust everyone had fun at Walk off the Earth and Shakey Graves and Bruce Cockburn and Michael Franti. Next year is the 50th annual folk festival, so we’ll see who they bring in. Better believe my expectations are already completely unreasonable and we’ve got seven months until the initial lineup announcement.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls with Bad Cop/Bad Cop and Sam Coffey & The Iron Lungs (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Cadence Weapon with Fat Tony and Hua Li (October 2)
• Jonathan Richman (October 6)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• Colter Wall (October 16)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)

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SLCR #316: Arkells (August 2, 2018)

August 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLCR #313 – “Weird Al” Yankovic – June 1, 2018

June 11, 2018

The thing about a Weird Al show is that the format is always the same. Lots of costume changes. Lots of video clips between songs to accommodate the costume changes. A bunch of songs off the newest album and lots of his classics – hey, he paid for that fat suit, may as well get as much use out of it as he can. And it ends with Yoda. There’s a chant in Yoda. It gets longer with every tour.

Understand, I’m not complaining. Just making an observation. There were eleven years between my first and second Al concerts, and even with that gap, that second show felt pretty familiar. You get some new songs, costumes, sets, and videos every time out, but still.

If this was a little samey for me, one wonders what it would be like for Al and his band. The theatrics and the choreography, while fun, mean that his show is heavily scripted and there isn’t room for improvisation or mixing things up. There’s no opportunity to say “screw it, let’s play Running With Scissors front-to-back tonight.” It’s pretty much set in stone.

A while back, I read an interview where Al talked of doing a different kind of tour, one geared toward hardcore fans. Smaller venues, no costumes or videos, and – the biggest change – he’d forego his famous parodies in favour of playing his lesser-known original songs. A different setlist every night, even. This was extremely my thing. I didn’t think it would actually happen, but sure enough, last fall, Al announced the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour. While I was definitely prepared to travel for this, instead, he was coming here. What a groovy guy! Now I just had to wait the eight months for the tour to get here.

Having experienced the VIP… uh… experience the last time out, Mika and I got normal seats this time like god damned commoners. We went to the show with Jason (from my work) and his wife Melissa – you may remember them from at least one previous concert (Corb Lund) that we went to (translation: I totally invited myself along to their night out). Lots of parenthetical asides in this paragraph but they’re all very important to give you the full story.

Before the show, Jason said he was hoping for Trigger Happy and The Night Santa Went Crazy (the extra-gory version) (obviously). My picks were The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, Stop Forwarding that Crap to Me, and Skipper Dan. Looking at setlists from other cities, I knew at least some of these were in play. I wasn’t about to get my hopes up, though.

We got to the show and I took a quick look at the stuff table. Nothing too exciting. The usual shirts and stuff. There were some enamel pins that were nice but expensive and I’d never wear them anyway. I also saw something that indicated that all of the concerts from this tour were going to be made available on Stitcher Premium, a for-pay podcast service. Took a peek and didn’t see anything yet. If this does come to pass, I’d give it a shot.

Long ago, Al used to have local comedians opening for him. I only ever saw this once, at my first Al show in 1996. I don’t remember much about the comedian. He worked clean, albeit with a lot of poop jokes. And hockey jokes. And he combined them to make Darren Puppa jokes. Again, it was 1996. Shortly thereafter – and probably having nothing to do with the guy who opened at my show – Al quit having opening acts. He found it hard to vet the comedians, so sometimes the opener would wind up using material that was inappropriate for the audience. Plus, as Al’s show became more elaborate, it also became longer, making an opener feel less necessary. But for this tour, he was bringing an opener with him – Emo Philips. Philips is best known to Al fans as the shop teacher who accidentally saws his fingers off in the movie UHF. Or at least best known to me for that – I hadn’t heard any of his actual stand-up before this. Turns out his delivery is actually quite similar to that of his UHF character, soft-spoken and stilted. I can see some people not being into that, though I thought he was pretty funny. He worked clean and mostly told one-liners – “I like to play chess with old men in the park, but where do you ever find 32 of them?” – with a few physical bits thrown in too. The crowd seemed to really like him, though there was one pun that didn’t get nearly enough love and one aside I loved that went completely unrecognized. So it goes.

Following a brief break, Al’s band entered and played the instrumental tune Fun Zone before Al entered and launched right into Close but no Cigar (with Al playing what I can only call the rattly percussion thing). We wound up with a 19-song set spanning Al’s entire career. There were classics (You Don’t Love Me Anymore), songs I’d entirely forgotten (I Remember Larry), and songs that would maybe be best forgotten (Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung). Buy Me A Condo stood out as particularly dated, both because I’m pretty sure a white guy trying to sound Jamaican wouldn’t fly today and, more so, it suggests that “wall-to-wall carpeting” is a status symbol instead of something to rip out.

There were also some of Al’s soundalike style parodies, like the Dylanesque all-palindrome song Bob and the I-didn’t-realize-it-was-supposed-to-sound-like-the-B-52s-but-in-my-defence-I-was-very-young-when-I-first-heard-it Mr. Popeil. And, what with it being June and all, they played Al’s entire catalogue of Christmas songs – both of them. And yes, it was the extra-gory version of The Night Santa Went Crazy, so I’ve now heard a theatre full of nerds cheer at the announcement that Santa Claus has been caught and compromised to a permanent end.

During the more energetic songs, there was one guy who’d jump out of his seat, run up to the front at the far edge of the stage, and, indeed, dance like no one was watching. I don’t know how one cultivates the attitude of “yes, I will be the only person at this whole concert dancing wildly to Party at the Leper Colony.” Maybe you have to be born with it? I don’t know. But I feel like maybe it’s something to aspire to. Not that particular song – even Al said he wasn’t proud of it – but the general idea. I think that dude probably had more fun at this show than the rest of us. And he was even considerate enough to not block anyone’s view.

For the encore, Al asked for requests and everyone went nuts. He finally decided that he’d choose one person and play whatever they wanted – so of course, he picked his guitarist, who wanted to hear some Black Crowes, so that’s what they played. Every night on this tour, they’ve been playing a different cover song. Not a parody – just a straight cover. Ours was Hard to Handle. Looking at some others they’ve played recently (including Rebel Rebel, Magic Carpet Ride, Summer Nights, All Right Now, Aqualung, Foxey Lady, and Good Lovin’), I’m very pleased with the one we got – it would have been my pick out of all of those. I suspect Al had a cheat sheet for the lyrics – he seemed to spend a lot of time looking at something that wasn’t the crowd – but maybe I was just seeing things that weren’t there. Either way, it didn’t hurt things any if he did.

People who really wanted the parodies weren’t entirely out of luck. For the last song before the encore, the band started into the unplugged version of Layla, but Al sang Eat It instead. This kicked off a medley of some of his most famous parodies, all with new incongruous arrangements. And after Hard to Handle, they finished with his American Pie parody, The Saga Begins. Always gotta end with Star Wars – though as different as this whole show was, not ending with Yoda and the chant still stuck out.

Here’s the whole setlist, taken from setlist.fm in a rare case where I don’t have to complain about how wrong it is:

Fun Zone
Close But No Cigar
Bob
Buy Me a Condo
Christmas at Ground Zero
Good Enough for Now
I Remember Larry
If That Isn’t Love
Airline Amy
You Don’t Love Me Anymore
I Was Only Kidding
The Night Santa Went Crazy (extra-gory version)
Party at the Leper Colony
Mr. Popeil
Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung
Jackson Park Express
medley: Eat It / I Lost on Jeopardy / Amish Paradise / Smells Like Nirvana / White & Nerdy / I Love Rocky Road / Like a Surgeon
–encore–
Hard to Handle (Black Crowes cover)
The Saga Begins

As we left, Mika asked if I got to hear all the songs I wanted. Honestly, I didn’t – I went 0-for-3 with my wishlist. So I definitely would have changed the songs up if given the chance, but I still was glad with what we got and happy just to see a show on this tour at all. I got a new appreciation for some songs I’d overlooked or forgotten, and do I even need to mention that Al and his band were great? (I pretend that these are “reviews,” so I guess, yeah.) They’re all super talented and complete professionals, switching seemingly effortlessly between musical genres from song to song. I suppose you don’t have a celebrated 40-year career without working hard and being good at your job. Good thing I’m fine with an uncelebrated one.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips w/Wand (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, Steven Page, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, more (July 28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show Starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Cadence Weapon w/Fat Tony and Hua Li (October 2)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)

SLCR #312: Donovan Woods (April 29, 2018)

May 14, 2018

There are some gaps in my SLCR history and it’s really satisfying when I can fill one of those in. I like finally writing up the bands that I first saw before starting these reviews, or bands whose concerts I missed for one reason or another (laziness, social anxiety, and it’s chilly out being chief among the reasons). Donovan Woods is one of those folks.

I had a ticket to see Woods at a sold-out gig at the Artful Dodger in 2016. I was really looking forward to the show but it didn’t work out for me. The Artful Dodger had the potential to be a great place to see smaller shows – I remember raving about it after the first few times I was there – but they had a tendency to sell more tickets than there were places to sit. I’m not opposed to standing for the length of a show, but the layout of the place meant that you couldn’t really stand anywhere without blocking someone’s view. Plus, it was also a restaurant, so if you weren’t having dinner there, there were limits to how early you really wanted to show up. Long story short, I got there close to the advertised start time and wound up with no place to sit. I tried to get over to the side and be as inconspicuous as possible, but a table of other folks were… how would I describe them? They were shitheads about it. Let’s go with that. Rather than escalate the situation and have it turn into a whole thing – especially since the opener, Joey Landreth, had already started playing – I just went home. Made it about halfway through the opener’s first song, which I’m pretty sure is a personal best in whatever the opposite of endurance is.

This wasn’t even an isolated incident; all the way back in SLCR #216 (or June 13, 2015 if you measure time the old way), I talk of leaving a Danny Michel concert halfway through because of similar issues (though to be fair, people weren’t shitheads to me, they were just shitheads near me, which it turns out is actually better).

I reached out to the Artful Dodger after the incident. The owner seemed sympathetic and upset over what had happened, which I appreciated. She made a point of telling me that all ticket money went directly to the musicians (which I took as a way of saying that she wasn’t going to reimburse me for my ticket – not that I asked for that in the first place). Ultimately, the tone of the reply was… it’s hard to describe. Kind of melodramatic, kind of all over the place, really. Mostly, I left our interaction thinking “how are you even in business?”

I decided I’d never go back, which sounds like a big protest on my part, but the number of concerts I wanted to see there was never that high and my resolve was only ever tested once. Sorry, Shotgun Jimmie. Please come back and play somewhere else.

And actually, it would have to be somewhere else. The Artful Dodger closed last year when the building was put up for sale. The owner created a crowdfunding page trying to raise $70,000 to renovate and move into a new location. Seven months in, and they’re up to $925.

Anyway, this show – the one I actually stuck around for, the one I’m supposed to be telling you was really good – was at the Exchange. It holds a fair bit more people than the Artful Dodger did and though they were still selling tickets at the door when I got there, it wouldn’t surprise me if it sold out by the end. It had to be close, the place was pretty full. I was on my own for this one (though I did briefly chat with Rob and Karen when they happened past), so I found a decent spot to stand at the back near the sound guy, only mildly preoccupied with the idea that there’d be another confrontation. Brains are GREAT you guys, they’re always laser-focused on things that are definitely important and real.

The opener was Wild Rivers, a four-piece folk group from Ontario. Three guys and a girl; guitar, bass, and drums; nothing groundbreaking, but all very well done and enjoyable. I may be underselling things; though they joked about playing sad songs and about how none of us knew who they were, the reaction for them was really positive. Not just polite applause, the kind of ovation where it’s obvious people were really into it. There wasn’t even a ton of talking during their set and I was at the back near the bar where you’d expect people to not care. I don’t have a ton to say about them, as evidenced by the fact that I wrote everything above this sentence nearly two weeks ago, but they were good and I’d go see them again.

Donovan Woods describes himself as “Canada’s answer to Paul Simon, only taller and not as good.” That’s a better description than I could come up with and it gives you some insight into his sense of humour. As well as his height, I suppose, but Paul Simon is 5’2″ so it really doesn’t narrow things down much.

So yeah, Woods writes pretty, often very sad songs, but also has a really dry wit – so, basically, right up my alley. Remember when I saw Port Cities opening for David Myles last year and I mentioned “On the Nights You Stay Home” as being one of my favourites of theirs? Because you memorize these things? Turns out that was Woods’ song, which probably everyone knew but me. I only figured it out when I listened to (what was then) his most recent album, Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled, before the show, and was all “hey, this song is real good and also surprisingly familiar.” Turns out he writes lots of songs for people who aren’t him.

He apologized for not being able to bring the complete show with him – he brought his full band, The Opposition, but unfortunately, The Exchange didn’t have enough wall space to hang his banner. So he described it instead. It has his name on it and it cost $1700. You, too, can get a banner with your name on it as long as you have $1700. “They don’t ask if you’re a super cool rock star or anything, they’re just like, it’s $1700.”

There was a lot of talking between songs and I won’t wreck everything for you in case you go to one of his shows. I definitely wasn’t the only one who enjoyed them. When I go to a show, I try not to be that asshole who has his phone out all the time, so I pick a point early on in the show, take a half-dozen pictures, and then I’m done. But I had to do this a few times at this show, because the woman standing in front of me was swaying back and forth and it kept messing up the focus. Which is fine – I complain about loud talkers but I have no beef with anyone enjoying the show. Except she wasn’t swaying to the music, she was swaying to Woods listing his top 5 zoo animals. I guess the right voice can make anything melodic.

In the two weeks from when I listened to Woods’ newest album and saw this show, he put out a whole new newest album, Both Ways. Though I’m pretty sure it’s been released at least three different ways. Either way, I’m not sure how I can ever be expected to keep up with this release schedule if he’s going to put out an album every time I finally get around to listening to the last one. Anyway, he played lots from the new album; Our Friend Bobby was a particular highlight, if that’s the correct word for something that dismal. Of his older songs, What Kind of Love is That got a big reaction, as did On the Nights You Stay Home (so it’s not just me).

So yeah, this was all really good. Charismatic guy, great songwriter, quality band too. A new favourite, we can add Woods to the list of people I need to see every time they’re in town. Maybe we can even crowdfund him a slightly smaller banner for next time.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, Steven Page, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, more (July 28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12)
• The Fred Eaglesmith Show Starring Tif Ginn (September 23)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• They Might Be Giants (October 20)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)

SLCR #311 – Sloan (April 6, 2018)

April 18, 2018

Seven Sloan shows in, and I pretty much know what to expect at this point. It’ll be really good. They’ll trade instruments a few times. Chris will lead the crowd in yelling SLOOOOOOOOOOAN. They won’t play as many songs that I know as I’d like; of course, there’s a simple solution to this problem, but educating myself is more time-consuming and less immediately gratifying than complaining on the internet.

So here we are. I’m listening to their greatest hits for the umpteenth time and I gave away the entire review in the first paragraph. Since we all know what we’re getting here, let’s talk about what’s new this time out; namely, Sloan’s new album, 12, which came out on the day of our show. You’ve got all of Canada to pick from and your de facto album release party is in Regina? I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter, they were still selling the album at the handful of live shows before ours on this tour and it’s 2018 and you’re just going to stream it anyway. Plus they didn’t really do anything to mark the occasion, at least on stage. Via Instagram, I learned they had album-release cake on their bus. That’s nice. Cake is nice. Anyway, I listened to the album before the show because sometimes I do things that make sense but you shouldn’t ever rely on it. My very short review is that it definitely sounds like Sloan. Nothing stands out above the rest but everything is good. This bodes well for its staying power. It feels like the kind of album where I’ll pick a different favourite song every time out.

The venue isn’t new but it was new to me. The Turvey Centre is a big ol’ hall on the outskirts of town (or just outside of town maybe?) and we’d never been to a concert (or anything else) there. I don’t know how many concerts it sees; I’d never even heard of one being held there before. It looks like they host a lot of conventions and weddings and whatnot. Functionally, it was a lot like when we saw Joel Plaskett at the WA WA Shrine Centre, with long cafeteria-style tables and a stage at one end. It’s bigger than the Shrine Centre but not nearly as ornately decorated, so if you’re looking to book a venue in Regina, you need to think hard about how many people you’re hosting, whether they can easily get out of downtown, and how much they enjoy fancy wallpaper in the bathrooms.

We met up with Mark and Arlette at the entrance and found our way in. We immediately lost Mika who bolted for the stuff table, though since she’d already ordered the new album (the fancy bundle with the watch and poster), there wasn’t anything she was interested in. I was intrigued to hear of the t-shirt bucket, with its assorted shirts in assorted sizes from assorted past tours, but not enough to go take a look for myself.

At other shows on this tour, there was no opener. Here, I think there actually was – a local cover band. If they did play, we didn’t see them, and I don’t remember their name, so… yeah. As is protocol, I’ll assume they were really good. Whoever they were.

Mika and I went down to the front when Sloan took the stage right at 9:00. Twitter is ruining our society but at least it lets bands tell you when they’re actually going to start. Sloan walked in to a song from Sesame Street; though the lyrics are just a list of numbers, if I say it’s the one that goes “one two three four five, six seven eight nine ten, eleven twelve” you know exactly which one I mean. They opened with Spin Our Wheels, the first single from the new album, and we were off.

From here, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. The show was split into two sets of probably about a dozen songs each, plus a two-song encore. For playing a lot of stuff I wasn’t familiar with, it seemed like it flew by. I think it ended even more quickly for some folks – it seemed like a surprisingly high number of people took off at intermission. I don’t know why; the sound was good and the band said they were coming back out. Lots of songs from the new album, of course – nearly the whole thing. Only a handful of singles, including Losing California, Who Taught You to Live Like That, If It Feels Good Do It, and The Good in Everyone. No Underwhelmed, but that’s a given and I know better than to expect it. Somehow I’m now 1-for-7. I checked. It’s a bit weird that there are some hits that they rarely seem to play (at least when I’m there) but there are others that you hear every time out like The Other Man or The Rest of My Life. The Other Man isn’t even that good apart from how badly it irritates Aaron and that only counts for so much when he’s not there.

So like I said (several times, because I don’t know that many different words), this was pretty much exactly what I was expecting. Which isn’t a bad thing when you’re expecting a good thing. Would go again, as if that decision was mine to make.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Donovan Woods w/Wild Rivers (April 29)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, John K. Samson, Elliott BROOD, Big Sugar, Terra Lightfoot, Yukon Blonde, The Kentucky Headhunters, Chixdiggit, William Prince, Library Voices, more (July 27-28)
• Arkells (August 2)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Tanya Tagaq, more (August 11)
• Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (September 12)
• Crash Test Dummies (October 11)
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13, 2019)

SLCR #310: Letterkenny Live (March 29, 2018)

April 18, 2018

Tacking a half-assed bonus review onto the end of a real concert review (if you can call what I do that) (you likely shouldn’t) is a semi-regular feature that I haven’t used in a while. Or at least that’s what I thought. Looking back at the Big Word Document of Old Reviews, it turns out that I’ve done this all of three times. And the last one was in 2007. And it still is – this was going to be a rush job, a hidden treat (again, likely not) for anyone who bothered to read to the end of my Sloan review, but I’m pretty sure this is longer and I spent more time on it, so now it’s its own thing.

I don’t normally review non-concerts, but for this show, I had actual requests. Or a request, anyway, which is infinitely more interest than anyone – including myself – ever shows in these things.

Letterkenny is a Canadian comedy on CraveTV. For the rest of the world, you can find the first seasons of the show on DVD. More relevantly here in 2018, they’re surely on your choice of let’s-all-collectively-pretend-it’s-legal Android streaming box. Letterkenny follows the adventures of a small rural community’s hicks, skids, and hockey players; adventures which amount to a lot of drinking, fighting, and wordplay. Mostly that last one. Anecdotally, it seemed like a decent number of people I knew watched the show, but I didn’t realize it was popular enough to quickly sell out the casino, add a second show later that night, and sell that out too. They’d later tell us that Regina had the fastest sellouts on the whole tour. Pitter-patter indeed.

The shows were built around stand-up sets by Mark Forward (who plays the coach of the Letterkenny Irish) and K. Trevor Wilson, who plays Squirrely Dan. If I tell you the jokes, the jokes aren’t funny anymore. I suppose that doesn’t much matter now that I sat on this forever and the tour is long over. But still. Of the two, Forward was, well, more forward, berating the audience for a perceived restrained reaction, and going into the crowd to find one woman who had a particularly distinct laugh. Wilson’s set was decidedly less confrontational. Of the attendees I talked to (all three of them), they all enjoyed both but preferred Forward’s set. I can see the appeal of both. Wilson’s more traditional act would fit well in an episode of Just For Laughs – I can make this trenchant insight because I’ve seen him on Just For Laughs – while Forward was working harder to try different things and grab people’s attention. Though as someone in a floor seat, I do prefer to not run the risk of becoming part of the show. I might be 10-ply.

I’ll note that as Wilson took the stage, he entered to a familiar-sounding piano tune. Before I could say anything, yep, it was Bobby Roode’s Glorious theme. Half of you are very familiar with this. For the rest of you, it’s a wrestling thing, don’t worry about it (but maybe Google it because you should hear it at least once). Wilson was also wearing an Austin Aries t-shirt (another wrestling thing, don’t worry about it), which I tried to point out to Mika, but she cut me off, saying “yes, I noticed. This is my life now.” On one episode of Letterkenny, Squirrely Dan compares the subtle differences betweens the Texas cloverleaf and the scorpions deathlock; I thinks it’s safe to says he wrote that bit himself.

The rest of the show featured live skits starring the three main characters (Wayne, Daryl, and Squirrely Dan) – some new, some fan favourites. A bit of the new material was unique to Regina, which was appreciated. If you’ve seen the show, you might know what I’m referring to when I say one of the classic bits featured a game of Would You Rather, while another saw Squirrely Dan – not one to kiss and tell – recount his night out with a girl and where she reckoned attentions needs to be paid. There were also a few videos – one clip from the new Easter special, and two that were new (at least to me): motivational advice from the hockey coach and an ad for Daryl’s dairy.

The new videos were pretty funny, and the live material translated well from TV, which makes sense – the show focuses on witty dialogue and less on physical or visual humour which would be more difficult to replicate in a live setting. I really enjoyed this, and while I wouldn’t have said no to more new Letterkenny material and fewer bits lifted from the series, to be faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaair (you know they saved that until the end and you know it got the best reaction of the night) we got exactly what was promised and the adoring sold-out crowd ate everything up. I’d say it was ferda if I had any idea how to use that word properly or what it even meant.

SLCR #309: The Dears (March 17, 2018)

March 19, 2018

In a way, this concert has been a long time coming. The Dears have been one of Mika’s favourite bands for a long time, but despite that, I’d never managed to see them until now. They don’t seem to come around here all that often – I think Mika’s only seen them once since I’ve known her, and that was when she still lived in Saskatoon. During this show, singer Murray Lightburn said they hadn’t played Regina since 2009, which didn’t sound like that long ago, but then I had a think, and then I had a sad. But my point is, I probably should have seen this band a long time ago, but never did.

With doors at 8:00, we figured that shortly after 9:00 was a safe time to arrive. This worked out really well, as we didn’t have to wait long for the opener, and we were even able to get seats. Unfortunately, the availability of comfy(ish) chairs was largely due to this concert being yet another where Regina just didn’t come out. By the end of the evening, there were maybe a little over 100 people there. I really can’t blame a band for only showing up once a decade when this is the turnout you get. Oh well, it’s everyone else’s collective loss – this show was great.

The aforementioned opener was Lou Canon, another new-to-me artist. It was just her and a keyboard, which she mostly used to cue up prepared samples, though she also played live. Also, there were eyes projected onto the backdrop behind her. She didn’t talk to the crowd much, eventually explaining that she’d come down with a cold and was saving her voice for singing. Fair enough. The crowd was largely respectful, which she seemed to appreciate, thanking us for listening and pointing out how quiet we were. This led to one guy saying that it was, indeed, deathly quiet, which we all heard. Because it was quiet, you see.

As for the music, it was all fine, if not entirely my jam. It didn’t help that the sound wasn’t that great – certainly below the usual standards at the Exchange. This was an issue with The Dears as well, but more of a problem for Canon, since the keyboard parts didn’t interest me that much and I would have liked to make out more of her lyrics. The songs that I could best hear – Fever and Rosary among them – were the ones that I most enjoyed.

During intermission, two guys at a table near us got REAL excited about whatever happened in March Madness that day. I think the exact phrase was “FUCK YEAH MICHIGAN” at top volume. I made a mental note to dislike these people. Even if I also had Michigan winning (in the bracket that I made Feely pick out for me).

In short order, The Dears were up. I didn’t really know what to expect going into this. Despite Mika liking them so much, she hasn’t listened to a ton of their music around me and I and couldn’t have named a single song if you paid me. I mean, sure, I could have bothered to listen to their music before the show – or at any point in the last 13 years – but what can I say. This way, I wound up with a nice surprise instead of a nice… known… thing.

I didn’t even really know what type of music they played, but everything was a little rockier and a whole lot catchier than I was expecting. There wasn’t much time spent talking to the crowd, it was pretty much all music for 90 minutes that flew by. It’s rare that a show ends and I’m left wanting more, especially when I’m not going into a show already a fan. Though I did wind up recognizing three songs – Lost in the Plot; Who Are You, Defenders of the Universe?; and 22: The Death of all the Romance. These are all off No Cities Left, so I assume Mika played that with me around sometime somewhat recently. And I totally needed her help to figure out the titles.

On that note, she says they also played Whites Only Party, 5 Chords, and You and I are a Gang of Losers, along with stuff from their newest albums. And for the encore, when Lightburn came out by himself for one song, he played There Goes My Outfit. I’ll take her word for it.

Before the encore, the crowd chanted “one more song,” and when Lightburn returned, he said that was a decent choice for a chant. In another city recently (which he wouldn’t name and/or shame), when it was time for the encore, the crowd chanted “The! Dears! The! Dears!” which he said was like when white people clap on the one and the three. I don’t know anything about music but Mika thought this was super funny so I can only assume I do it.

I really enjoyed this show and I look forward to seeing The Dears again when they come back to Regina in 2027. But do you know who liked this show more than I did, and even more than Mika did? My two Michigan-loving friends. When the show started, they went right to the front of the stage – I have never before seen two dudes be the only people standing and dancing at the front at a concert – and they were SO into it. They knew every word to every song and were just in their glory the whole time. So much for my mental notes. They were a delight. Fuck yeah, Michigan, indeed, my dudes.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Sloan (April 6)
• Donovan Woods w/Wild Rivers (April 29)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)
• BA Johnston w/Johnny 2 Fingers & The Deformities (June 15)
• The Flaming Lips (June 22)
• Gateway Festival feat. Kathleen Edwards, The Kentucky Headhunters, Chixdiggit, Yukon Blonde, William Prince, Library Voices, more (July 27-28)
• Regina Folk Festival feat. Neko Case, Bruce Cockburn, Tanya Tagaq, Walk Off The Earth, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Shakey Graves, The Deep Dark Woods, more (August 10-12)

SLCR #308: Winterruption 2018 (January 19-20, 2018)

February 9, 2018

I’m back! It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. Probably because I let this sit for three weeks and now I have no real memory of these shows. Time to rocket through some half-recalled irrelevancies!

The short version is that this was all good and you can just go ahead and stop here if you want. I kind of want.

For the third straight year, the Regina Folk Festival and the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon teamed up to put on Winterruption, a slate of concerts meant to inject some warmth and light into the coldest, darkest time of the year. And for the second straight year, they missed the mark and accidentally dropped their reprieve from winter into an unseasonably pleasant weekend. Fine by me – I really like the idea of a fun concert in the middle of -40C but I don’t actually want to leave the house for it.

In past years, Saskatoon got a number of extra bands at their Winterruption and it felt like Regina was getting the short end of the stick. This time, apart from Chad VanGaalen making a Saskatoon stop, it seemed like we got pretty equal lineups. I wonder why this pleases me? I should want us all to get more, not just for them to get less. But if we go down this philosophical rabbit hole, I won’t hit my goal of finishing this review by the time this Apple Music Alternative Hits: 1991 playlist ends. Or so I thought until I looked just now to double-check the title and saw that this thing is three-and-a-half hours long. I guess I can put some time into this. Too bad I won’t.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 18

Begonia was at the Exchange with Close Talker and Bears in Hazenmore. For those whose tastes are a bit rockier, the Revival Music Room hosted Duchess Says with Partner and The Florals. And I didn’t go to any of this. It’s like you didn’t even read the dates up there.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 19

Indeed, I skipped the Thursday concerts, heading out to my first triple-bill of the weekend at the Artesian. I wish I had stories to tell you since I’ve been looking at this blank text file for like 20 minutes. Somewhere in there, I gave up on Alternative Hits: 1991 since obviously THAT’S the issue here. But I still got nothing – I bought a ticket a while back and showed up at the appointed time and showed them my ticket and they let me in and I sat in a pew at the back of the room. I think that’s pretty much how this is supposed to go. Mika wasn’t particularly interested in this show and I didn’t see anyone I knew, though I know Rob was there somewhere. Carver too, which is a given for Tom Wilson shows. Allow me to paraphrase what Wilson said from the stage: “No matter where I go, I don’t have a friend named Carver. I come to Regina, and I have a friend named Carver. It’s like the name of a Coen Brothers’ character. I know Carver does bad things but I don’t need to know what they are.”

But that would come later in the evening. To start with, we had local country(ish) singer-songwriter Belle Plaine. I’d seen her only once before – a little more than a year ago during BreakOut West – which is kind of nuts considering how many shows she does around these parts. I really enjoyed that last set and liked her even better the second time around, where she had the chance to show off more of her original songs and had a bit more of an opportunity to tell stories. Last time, I said “would go again” and that hasn’t changed. Would be more eager to go again, in fact.

Next up was Mariel Buckley, in case you prefer your solo lady country singers to come from Alberta instead of Saskatchewan, though it sounds like she spends enough time here that she basically counts anyway. There was nothing wrong with her set but it didn’t really grab me, mostly for the stupidest, most me-centric reason; basically, her voice reminded me a lot of someone I know. And I don’t like that someone very much. Such a dumb reason! If anyone out there actually listens to any of the bands I write about, give her album a spin and let me know if I was blind to something great. (And if I know you in real life and not just the internet, listen to this and tell me who you think I’m talking about. I mean, I’ll never tell you if you’re right but I really want to hear your guesses.)

Last time I saw Tom Wilson, he read draft excerpts from his upcoming memoir. If you ever get the chance to hear him tell his life story, you should, it’s really interesting and he’s a gifted storyteller. Now the book is out and I was planning on picking it up at this show, but it was being sold by Chapters who set up a little shop in the basement. And if I’m not handing money to the artist and I’m just getting it from Chapters, I can get it from any Chapters, you know? Plus, they left before his set anyway. And I didn’t really want to give up my spot to go get it with no guarantees I’d still have my space upon my return. And this is too many words about not buying a book or even trying to do so, when there are so many more interesting things I don’t do.

Apart from calling out Carver, Wilson’s set was split pretty evenly between music and stories. Both were enjoyable, but at one point he was concerned that we were thinking, “Jesus, the Junkhouse guy wouldn’t stop reading at us.”

I wonder if Junkhouse is ever still a thing? I’ve now got Tom Wilson, Lee Harvey Osmond, and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings under my belt, but I’ve never seen Junkhouse. Time for some procrastination Googling, my favourite kind: according to Wikipedia, Junkhouse “still performs together occasionally,” though seemingly not since 2009 (so, VERY occasionally) and guitarist Dan Achen has since passed away. And Wilson was in a band called The Florida Razors that broke up in the 80s. I guess I’m never completing that Tom Wilson bingo card.

ANYWAY. Show good. Wilson writes great stories to begin with, and he has a voice that makes everything he says sound epic. Good combo. And while some of the stories were repeated from last time – they kind of had to be, since they’re central to what his book is about – there was lots I hadn’t heard before too. As for the songs, there was a mix between some Lee Harvey Osmond songs that he’s played here before, a few others from throughout his career, and a couple covers.

With Wilson, I really kind of missed out on his whole career up until a few years ago and that’s where I’d still be if not for my habit of going to pretty much any show for any reason. Now I see him every time he comes through town and I look forward to it more each time.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 20

For this night, we were at the Exchange, which had been the plan all along, but for some reason, I’d been convinced it was two nights at the Artesian up until I saw some signs at the Tom Wilson show that indicated otherwise. So once again, I was dumb, and could have lived my whole life without anyone ever knowing about it, but I had to tell you just the same.

This show was very sold out, with a number of folks online looking to buy tickets. Some people thought they could get in at the door. They were denied. I felt bad for the girl ahead of us – her two friends had tickets, but she didn’t – and they drove. She took a disappointing early cab ride home.

The evening’s host was a local community radio DJ. You may remember him from his interminable introduction of Sloan at the Gateway Festival two years ago. That is, if you happen to be Jeff or Mika, you may remember him. The rest of you probably don’t. It was a hilariously lengthy introduction but probably you had to be there to appreciate it. Anyway, on this night, he was called into service at the last minute. He was there as a fan but the scheduled host no-showed and he was asked to fill in. He did a fine job with no advance warning.

It didn’t go so well for him once before. First up was Megan Nash, and apparently at some previous gig, he mistakenly introduced her as Megan Lane, a different local singer. They both joked about this and he took great care to get it right this time. In his defense, I think I had them mixed up in my head too because the person on stage was very much not who I was expecting. However, she quickly won me over with her songs and her charmingly quirky personality, and I’d have to say she was the most delightful surprise of the weekend. Though it should be noted that the aforementioned quirkiness may have been exacerbated by her being all hopped up on Buckley’s Mixture. For my non-Canadians, Buckley’s is a cough syrup that’s advertised with the tagline, “It tastes awful, but it works.” True story: the first time I had it, I actually went lightheaded. I was asked to describe what it’s like and the best I could come up with was “imagine watery jizz that tastes like rubbing alcohol and a pine tree.” Nash was swigging this from the bottle onstage and still managing to play music, which is impressive. “I think there’s a limit to how much of this you’re supposed to have,” she said, probably too late.

Between sets, our actual host arrived. I don’t know how she got to be the host – I’m guessing community radio? I do know her name, because she said it several times. She didn’t really bother doing anything to introduce Lindi Ortega, though. I have a whole new respect for the guy from earlier, to say nothing of the usual parade of CBC Radio “climate specialists” they normally get for these things.

After that underwhelming introduction, Lindi Ortega took the stage. I was surprised she wasn’t going on last. We’d seen her a few years ago, opening for k.d. lang, and I’ve seen her name pop up all over the place. Plus, I’m pretty sure she was responsible for attracting the cowboys that were scattered throughout the audience. I was looking forward to seeing her in a smaller venue, but I don’t know what it was – something just didn’t click with me. She was fine, her husband/guitarist was fine (as a guitarist, I mean; I assume he’s good at husbanding though I don’t have evidence one way or the other). It was all good, but for me it ultimately was just there, though I really can’t complain about anything. Apart from the people in the audience who paid to be there and then refused to watch the show or shut up while it was happening, but you’ve heard that one before. There was one heroic lady who told a group of babbling idiot girls to shut up and that was appreciated. Though not enough; you should get a parade for something like that.

Finally, we had Mo Kenney, and there were no major mishaps during her introduction, though I’m only saying that because I asked Mika if the host had mistakenly said “Kennedy” but she said she didn’t think so. I heard Kennedy but I may have been just expecting something to go wrong at this point.

Anyway, I’ve seen Mo Kenney a few times now and I say the same thing every time, so I’ll say it again; namely, she has a ton of songs that I like and she gets more confident as a performer every time out. The shows are always very similar, but despite that, I think this time was the best of the bunch. Not only did I get to hear a bunch of her new stuff live for the first time, but I got all my older favourites too – none were missed.

Really, I wound up feeling about Mo Kenney the same I did after seeing Corb Lund last year. Neither would be the first name to come to mind when I list my very favourite musicians, but when you factor in how many great songs they have and how much I enjoy their music, they both should really be in that mix. And I feel the need to say something more than that as a conclusion, but we’re rapidly approaching Winterruption 2019 and this thing still isn’t done. Except now it is.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• The Dears w/Lou Canon (March 17)
• Sloan (April 6)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)

SLCR #307: Hawksley Workman (December 9, 2017)

December 17, 2017

I’ve hit a point in my life where ten days between concerts seems like a long dry spell. And I had five days without an unfinished review nagging at me! It was like I was on vacation, a snowy vacation where I still had to go to work. What am I going to do with myself between now and Winterruption? Write about anything else? Read a book? Develop a hobby? Play one of those video games I keep buying? Unlikely.

So! Hawksley. Haven’t seen this dude in MONTHS. But this is a special show. Last year, he did a small Christmas tour where he played his Christmas album, Almost a Full Moon, front-to-back. The closest he came to me was Winnipeg, and I couldn’t justify a second trip to a Hawksley show in one year. Also, Winnipeg. Gross. Winnipeg winter. Double gross. So I was quite excited to see that Regina was one of the four stops on this year’s holiday tour, along with Saskatoon, Calgary, and Ottawa. Weird itinerary but I’ll take it.

Almost a Full Moon came out 16 years ago which seems impossible to me. I can’t understand how so many years have passed so quickly. Rather than contemplating death’s swift approach, I’ll lie to myself and chalk it up to the album’s re-releases throwing off my sense of time. A year after the first version of Almost a Full Moon came out, it was re-issued with two “new” songs – Watching the Fires (originally on a tour-only CD) and Silent Night. Then, in 2011, to mark the album’s 10th anniversary, Hawksley re-recorded the whole album and called it Full Moon Eleven. I love Hawksley but this is his one album that I just don’t understand or enjoy at all. Most of the songs on the original Full Moon are celebratory and joyous. None of the lyrics were changed for Full Moon Eleven, but all of the music was re-recorded and it’s slow and dour. It works fine for Merry Christmas (I Love You), though it’s not that different from the original version anyway. But for the other songs, it sucks all the fun and life out of them. It’s like someone killed Hawksley’s dog and made him watch, and then made him re-record the album right after. I’m listening to Full Moon Eleven now, as I do seemingly once every Christmas to see if I like it any better, and nope. It doesn’t help that the original is one of my favourite Hawksley albums. The best I can call Eleven is “unnecessary.” A few days before this concert, it suddenly struck me that we might get the Full Moon Eleven versions of the songs and I was concerned. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried.

They promised doors at 7:30 and show at 8:00, and since it was a Regina Folk Festival show, you know that’s likely to be close to correct. We got to the Exchange right at 7:30 and the line was out the door and just about around the corner. We took our place in line and slowly made our way inside. Ahead of us was (I’m guessing) a father and his young son. “Smell that? It smells like popcorn,” said the dad. “Smells like popcorn AND Coke,” said the kid. This made me so happy. I hope he got his snacks. I hope he found the toque that he lost shortly after entering.

Mark asked me to save seats for him and Arlette, and I succeeded expertly by showing up at least one whole minute before they did. Maybe one and a half! This was a seated show, and we grabbed a row of four about two-thirds back, stage right. We got drinks (iced teas and ginger ale! another hard partying Regina Saturday night) and settled in for the show.

Sheila Coles from the CBC emceed the show for the last time before her upcoming retirement. She was really nice to me that one time she interviewed me on live radio about my stolen marshmallow beanbag and how did that ever happen anyway? Life is weird. Anyway, she’s a local fixture and hopefully she has a fun time traveling and whatnot.

There was no opener and Hawksley took the stage right on time. It was just him on guitar and Leith Fleming-Smith on keyboard (and, for two songs, trumpet). I quite enjoy Hawksley’s usual pianist, Mr. Lonely, and am skeptical of any change, but Fleming-Smith did a fine job.

The first half of the show was the original Full Moon album, in order. Meaning that we were kicking the show off with Claire Fontaine, one of my favourite Hawksley songs ever. Like a lot of the songs on this “Christmas” album, it’s not very Christmassy. Mika describes it as “Christmas-adjacent.” It’s a love song to a pad of paper (or its namesake, at least) that happens to very briefly mention Christmas. Basically, Hawksley could have ended after the first song and I’d have gotten my money’s worth.

This is, of course, a lie. I wanted to hear the whole album. But you understand.

For as much as I love Claire Fontaine, it seemed like 3 Generations was the crowd favourite. I suppose it’s the most overtly Christmassy, and sentimental while still being… I dunno, rollicking? That seems like a good word for it. A word Hawksley would appreciate.

I feel like at this show, I saw him do some of the Christmas songs live for the first time, but I’m just not sure. I know I’ve seen him do Claire Fontaine twice before (I looked it up), and he did four other songs when playing with Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe. I know I’ve seen him play A House (Or Maybe a Boat) before, since this was the first time I’ve seen him (correctly) sing “a couple of clementines” instead of “a bottle of clementines.”

On that note, I will say that I’ve never seen a musician who flubs more lines than Hawksley. At least once at every show I’ve seen going back years now. I’ve also read interviews where he talks about how difficult he finds it to remember lyrics, and he never takes requests during shows for that reason. Tonight, he got lost and had to restart both The First Snow of the Year and You and the Candles. It doesn’t bother me; it’s just one of those things that happen at live shows and I like unique moments. I can see where some folks might not be so into it, though I think Hawksley is charismatic enough that he can turn it into a positive.

After playing through the album, there was an intermission wherein Hawksley and Leith did very sweaty one-armed pushups while we all took a break. I visited a bit with some folks – talked a bit with Rob (or was at least present while Mark and Arlette did so – I love chairs but they get in the way of mingling), ran into Mary and Chris, waved at Erin. I also checked out the Stuff Table at Mika’s insistence – I wasn’t going to bother but she’s right, I’d have been real sad if they had something exclusive and I missed out. No luck, though. 7 CDs, two records, and Hawksley’s kids’ book. All stuff I have at home. So instead I got a Diet Pepsi; also something I have at home, but I got all hepped up on consumerism and it was cheap.

Also during intermission, the Exchange played Andy Shauf over the sound system. I mentioned in my recent review of Shauf’s show here that Hawksley was a fan. When he came back out, he said it was intimidating to hear Shauf’s songs right before having to play. He even mentioned that growing up, his musical idol was Bruce Cockburn, and that he struggled with his early songwriting because, in essence, if a song wasn’t going to measure up to Cockburn’s, what’s the point? And now Shauf’s music made him feel the same way. Quite the strong endorsement (and very well-received by the hometown crowd).

For the second half – I’m actually thinking there were only five songs. By my recollection, we had Winter Bird, Watching the Fires, You and the Candles, Autumn’s Here, Safe & Sound. Mark, you’re one of only two people who read these things. Am I wrong?

I mean, there was a lot more than that, but I’m talking songs here. Hawksley spent a lot of time telling stories, as ever. I think it was in the first half of the evening where he told the story of him and his brother spending time with their grandma as kids – I’ve heard that one probably 10 times now but it’s delightful every time, and there are always new little flourishes. This time, there were more details about Eaton’s. And Hawksley’s dad’s butter knife.

In the second half, though, he told us about writing Watching the Fires and how it was the first song he wrote where he was satisfied with the result and thought that maybe this career in music might be possible after all (and how the song later got shoehorned onto one of the Full Moon re-releases and it didn’t feel like it really fit). He said that “not every song can be great, some of them are-” and here he played the theme from The Greatest American Hero and I may have laughed way too loudly upon realizing what it was.

He also talked about HGTV for what had to be a solid 20 minutes. Dude has spent some serious time thinking about House Hunters International. Beautiful people with unloved entranceways and Arborite countertops.

Near the end of the evening, he said that he and Leith needed to go to bed and someone laughed way too loudly at what barely passed as unintentional innuendo. This led to Hawksley saying “yes, sleeping IS funny” and launching into a new song that was about – and one assumes was called – Farty Sleeper, though it was also about Grandpa’s riding mower. I don’t know if he was making it up on the spot, but he did promise that he’d never record it. We could listen to it as much as we wanted on the “Spotify of your mind.” Then he played a second new song – again, I’m guessing on the title here, but let’s go with Spotify of Your Mind. It’s about the song Farty Sleeper.

Mika made me guess what the encore would be and I wasn’t at all confident in my pick of Safe & Sound but I nailed it. This is another of my all-time favourite Hawksley songs and was a great version of it. A few lines in, and Hawksley asked the crowd to sing along. For parts, Hawksley dropped out to let the audience be heard. It was a really nice moment. It’s a mellower song so it was almost more like a choir than what you’d hear at a rock concert. Quiet, too. I sang along but you could hear individual voices really clearly so I mostly kept it under my breath. Nobody needs that. There was also a great keyboard solo in the middle of the song, giving Leith his best chance of the evening to show off.

And that was it. Had a great night, as I always do at Hawksley’s shows. The crowd helped a lot. Not just the singing; after a few shows that I’ll generously call under-attended, this one was sold out and people were into everything. Hawksley seemed appreciative and said he needed to come back more than once every few years. That sounds like the kind of thing he’d say to every crowd at every show but I’m willing to let myself believe the lie.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Tom Wilson w/Mariel Buckley and Belle Plaine (January 19)
• Mo Kenney w/Lindi Ortega and Megan Nash (January 20)
• The Dears (March 17)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic w/Emo Philips (June 1)

SLCR #306: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald (November 29, 2017)

December 5, 2017

“Two days! Just two days until @ilovembf is back in the Exchange.” tweeted the Exchange.

This was on Monday. And I was sure they were mistaken. I’d planned all week to go see Michael Bernard Fitzgerald on Thursday night. I was about to point out their error when a tiny voice buried in the back of my brain pointed out that maybe… just maybe… *I* was wrong?!

Sure enough, Fitzgerald was here on Wednesday, not Thursday. I even wrote down Wednesday in the text file I use to organize my life (if only this phone had a calendar app), but for some reason, I was convinced the show was on Thursday. Never one to wisely hide my foolishness, I thanked the Exchange for saving me from a sad Thursday evening discovery. They replied, “Glad we did! Especially since Thursday is Austrian metal band Belphegor, so pretty different than MBF unless he’s really changed directions.”

In fairness, I’d pay to see MBF play Austrian metal at least once.

Anyway, for a dirt cheap $10 ticket, I somehow found myself at the Exchange on the correct night. Mika was in school so I was flying solo again. I prepared myself for a raucous evening of misbehaviour by grabbing a raspberry iced tea – the kind with real sugar and everything (on a Wednesday?!) – and went to find myself a chair. As luck would have it, I again ran into Rob and his wife, who once again let me crash their night out. They were joined by Carver and Rob actually properly introduced us to each other, ending a years-long running joke I had with myself. (I’m lots of fun.)

Regina’s own Danny Olliver was added as an opener earlier in the day. The last time I saw him was also in an opening spot for Fitzgerald, who produced Olliver’s albums. He played a short set of singer-songwriter type stuff – kind of on the folkier side – while showing off some impressive guitar work. Not much different than the last time I saw him, but I liked that time and enjoyed this round too.

Though really, if this set is to be remembered for anything, it’ll be salmon. Olliver took audience questions – because that always goes well – and someone asked him what his favourite food was. He said salmon and was immediately cut off by a girl at a nearby table not-quietly-enough exclaiming “oh God, I love salmon too.” They then tried to have a back-and-forth about salmon but the table quickly resumed talking amongst itself (about salmon) and the show went on.

At least salmon table was invested. Somewhat. It was not a particularly lively or enthusiastic crowd all night. When Olliver said “Are you ready for Michael Bernard Fitzgerald,” you could hear crickets. The crowd was a little bigger than for Nomadic Massive, but there, it seemed like people collectively decided “there aren’t many people here, we need to make up for it in enthusiasm.” There was no such thought at this show. MBF later said “you do not seem like a crowd that is interested in answering questions.”

The two openers both complemented Fitzgerald well. In Olliver, you could hear traces of MBF’s folkier side, and the second opener, The Middle Coast, were stylistically a lot closer to Fitzgerald’s more upbeat songs. I’d call them a three-piece from Winnipeg, but there was a pillar blocking the far right hand side of the stage for me, so I’ll just assume that the two people I could see were actually talking to someone else. Could have been twenty people behind that pillar. Or maybe they’re a duo and a robot or a tape deck or a ghost? However it shakes out, all three (?) took turns on lead vocals, and they did their best to bring up the energy level of a room that wasn’t real into cooperating. I liked these folks and would see them again. They earned bonus points for talking up local favourite eateries (even if their pronunciation gave their out-of-towner status away) and for disparaging their own album cover, a shot of the three of them making dinner (it was curry!) taken by someone who, I can only assume, was squatting atop the fridge. Sounds both dangerous and unsanitary, if you ask me.

One brief break and mere moments later, the Middle Coast returned, serving as MBF’s band – now with a keyboard player who could possibly have been there all along (see above, re: pillar). They all did a fine job in this role and, not being a musician, I’m always a little amazed at that sort of thing. Sure, we’ll learn an entire set of your tunes and play them flawlessly for a three-week tour – never before and never again. I mean, I know they’re not super musically complex songs or anything but that still seems daunting to me. But the only instrument I can play is one loud piercing note on a tin whistle that I use to scare the cat sometimes.

We were promised some new songs and we got them! Always a treat to hear new stuff from a favourite singer. We were not promised any old songs, so no promise was broken – I’m not sure he played anything that came out before his 2015 album Yes. (Okay some of those songs were on an earlier EP but that detracts from my point so shut it.) Luckily, I like his two newest albums – though the older tunes would have been welcome too.

I didn’t take notes but the more energetic songs included I Wanna Make it With You, This Isn’t It, and Last Train to Georgia, which was probably the standout to me. It’s never been in my favourites of his but I got a new appreciation for it on this night. The folkier songs included Follow, One Love, Love is an Easy Thing to Miss, and I think he played Reach You? Maybe? I’ve been listening to all my MBF songs on shuffle while writing this and may have confused myself. I feel like he did play Reach You and it was the only song from before Yes but who can tell now? Rob or Carver, maybe. I wonder if they’re available at 12:15am for factchecking.

I didn’t list a ton of songs up there, and it was a short set, clocking in at just around an hour. Fitzgerald never seems to play for too long, at least when I see him. I’d have happily listened a bit longer, but I do appreciate someone doesn’t leave ’em wanting less, and I can’t imagine the crowd was particularly inspiring. At one point, MBF addressed a couple who’d just gotten engaged and said that they were going to be at the show – no response. Then he talked about someone’s girlfriend’s birthday – also no response. Then he vowed to quit paying attention to things people say to him on Facebook. Not a crowd that’s interested in answering questions, indeed. At least he got a good laugh whenever he mentioned salmon.

For the record, I did not spend my Thursday night with Austrian metal band Belphegor. Instead, after work, I went to Costco. Much more expensive. Harder to navigate through the crowds. Worse parking. To be fair, Belphegor probably doesn’t sell iTunes cards at 20% off, but it would be unfair to ask them to.