Posts Tagged ‘slcr’

SLCR #344: BA Johnston (September 20, 2019)

October 8, 2019

This wasn’t supposed to happen, but sometimes, the universe provides. BA Johnston had played Regina a week prior to this show, but by now, I know how this works. He’ll play O’Hanlon’s on a Friday night, I’ll have good intentions, but then the week will be over and Mika and I will be tired and won’t make it out. This scene has played out repeatedly ever since BA came into our lives. We’ve only ever seen one of his shows. And it ruled! But, y’know, sleepy.

And then I went off to Calgary for my fall trip to visit my grandma. No concerts scheduled; no extracurriculars at all. Just the usual baking bread, sharpening knives, and walking up and down 17th Ave. Pretty much a non-stop party. I did also have vague plans to meet up with Colin, but again, no date or time or event picked out.

Then BA posted, on Instagram, a picture of a shopping basket filled with bags of Hawkins Cheezies, with a caption listing tour dates. There was possibility here. I’d wanted to force Colin to go see BA Johnston for a while. I put forth the suggestion and he was into it. Or was humouring me. Either way.

Following an extensive search for parking, we went for dinner at Hudson’s, where my options came down to the breakfast poutine and the peanut butter bacon burger. I chose burger. It was okay. Would do it differently if I had to do it again. The poutine sounded really good. Then we headed to a nearby park and library to check out some Beakerheads exhibits. It’s an event that mixes science with art, so there were some projections in the library and interactive displays in the park. There was stuff going on all over the city and this wasn’t the main part of it or anything, but it was neat.

Finally, we headed off to the Palomino, which was the barbecue restaurant Colin and I ate at last time I was in town. At that time, he’d mentioned seeing shows there, and here we were, actually at one. As we headed to the basement, we passed BA sitting with some friends, having dinner, and very true-to-form, watching the Tiger-Cats game.

The Palomino made for a surprisingly good venue. Small space, real low ceilings, excessively warm, lots of character. They sold earplugs in those machines where you insert a coin and spin a thing to get a plastic capsule with a toy inside, an idea I’d encourage every venue to steal. And, we’d later learn, the sound was surprisingly good. I liked this place.

We got drinks, though I panicked when asked what I wanted because I’d not thought that far ahead and wound up with a rye and Coke as though I was my dad in the 80s. Colin got a PBR, which was the only beer I saw anyone drinking. When we saw Hawksley Workman in the spring, the venue had a drink called The Workman. The Palomino didn’t have a drink called The Johnston but if they had, I think a big cheap beer might be it.

There were two local opening bands. The first was Open Channels, a four-piece that I really enjoyed, especially after the first two songs when they borrowed a functioning amp for the bass player. The second was Pancake, who had a bunch of people and matching wigs and black outfits and not-matching sunglasses. If you want more information about either of these groups, good luck; they both have names that are too hard to Google. Neither one sounded like 80s metal, which is a shame, because all of BA’s openers should do so. Of the two, I’d say Pancake was probably a little better but I liked Open Channels a little more. It really comes down to whether you preferred the Open Channels song about the metal box, or, as Colin put it, Pancake’s “one with all the fucks.” I’m not picking the swearing one because sometimes I have to surprise you.

While this was all going on, BA was manning his own merch table and chatting with fans. He also noticeably took some time to listen to the opening bands and was grooving to an Open Channels song right by us for a while.

Finally, it was time for BA’s show, by which I mean he set everything up, put Werewolves of London on repeat on his Discman and went to the back to change his clothes. The crowd was so hyped for the show that we all sang along with the ahWOOOOOs. Eventually, BA re-emerged holding two sparklers and welcomed us to “the basement of the barbecue sports bar.”

And look. If you’ve seen BA Johnston before, you’ve seen this show. The songs get mixed around a little, but otherwise, it’s the same every time. The costume changes, the jokes (in Calgary, they’re at Edmonton’s expense, instead of the Winnipeg-centered ones we get), it’s a routine he has down pat. That said, I enjoyed this more than the previous show I’d seen. Part of it was that Colin was there and I had failed to adequately prepare him for the spectacle we were to witness, which might be the best way to first experience BA. I told him it would be a life-changing experience, but I wasn’t sure if it would be so in a positive way. Then BA dropped to his knees in front of me while singing about Cheezies. And then crawled between my legs. I felt blessed. Before that, he had been running around pouring Cheezies out of a pitcher into people’s mouths. So that part was new.

We only got a few songs off his newest album. Apart from the aforementioned I Rock the Hawkins, he had opened with Geddy Lee, saying that the only people who enjoy Rush are six guys from Regina. (I haven’t met them.) And he played his first single from the album, We’re All Going to Jail (Except Pete, He’s Gonna Die). This was a great singalong with everyone in the place doing the “he’s gonna die” part. He also played a new song about getting run over by a senior citizen that he said was coming out on next year’s Werewolves of London, Ontario.

There were a ton of singalongs throughout the show. This crowd knew the songs and loved them all; perhaps none more so than the keyboard player for Open Channels, who seemed to know every word and had a smile so big that it’s fair to say she enjoyed BA Johnston more than I’ve enjoyed anything ever.

Not that there weren’t a few glitches. Johnston had some issues with his “BlackBerry Passport” (Discman) malfunctioning when playing backing tracks, to where he threatened to write Jim Balsillie an angry letter. And you can tell I work for a phone company because this made me laugh a lot. He also broke character enough to admit that he had “all this shit on a real cell phone” if need be.

But mostly, this was just tremendous fun. He played a few of my favourites, including Dayoff is a Dayoff and GST Cheque; during the latter, he ran around the audience getting people to shout GST into the mic, including me, but when I did so, BA turned away from me then collapsed into my arms. I was sweatier on the outside of my shirt than the inside for possibly the first time ever. Like I said, blessed.

After the show was done, Colin bought a shirt. So I guess I was right when I said it would be life-changing, in that he now has fewer dollars and one more shirt.

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SLCR #343: “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 21, 2019)

September 18, 2019

For the first time in the 23 years (god) that I’ve been doing this, a concert fell on my actual birthday. A concert that I went to, I mean. I bet there’ve been many. Though really, I only remember one: Smash Mouth played a fair in South Dakota on my birthday. Mika and I were also in South Dakota then, and we were going to go because obviously we were going to, but then we didn’t, and I now have regrets. Couldn’t let that happen again.

This particular Weird Al tour was called the Strings Attached tour, as he had an orchestra join him at every stop. Whereas Al had been kind enough to make Regina stops for his past few tours, this time, it wasn’t to be. When Mika and I booked our summer time off, I looked to see if maybe a trip to Calgary would be in order (please note that I cleared this plan with Mika and she was 100% on board with this and very enthusiastic about it even and we’ll see if she actually reads these things), but no, the nearby stops were happening while we were off in BC. But then I looked closer. Weird Al was also going to be in BC. On my birthday. It was fate.

We ferried over from Salt Spring Island on the afternoon before the show, spent some time with Mika’s family, and then checked into our hotel, where it seemed a number of musicians were also staying. They turned out to be the orchestra in question. Didn’t see Weird Al around, though I expect he stays someplace nicer than Victoria’s finest (probably) Comfort Inn. I don’t know where the orchestra was from; I had thought it was the [Your City Name Here] Symphony Orchestra in each location, but it didn’t look like this was the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. Or at least their website didn’t say anything about it. Also, y’know, they all needed hotel rooms.

I’d originally bought tickets for Mika’s folks, but they weren’t able to join us, so Mika’s cousin and her husband took their spot. They picked us up at the hotel and we all headed out to the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, which really did very little to honour the memory of Save-on-Foods. The show didn’t even start with a moment of silence. Pretty disrespectful if you ask me.

We were pretty far back and pretty high up, since going to the show was a last-minute decision. I was just pleased to be there at all since this promised to be at least a little different than the standard Al shows. Hiking up to our seats, I don’t know if it was just Victoria or what, but there was way more weed in the air and way more people two-fisting beers than at any Weird Al show I’d seen before. Everyone was still nice; it was just noticeable.

The orchestra came out first and played a few pieces that this audience would know; namely, themes from Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible, Superman, and (of course) Star Wars. Then they took an intermission, and I thought the guy behind us was going to lose his mind. He was NOT down with an intermission before Al even showed up. But it was all due to the wording; if we’d had an opening act, we’d expect a break before the main performer. And in essence, that’s what we got. It was just called a warmup and an intermission instead.

Finally, the orchestra launched into Fun Zone, the instrumental that opens all Weird Al shows. They were joined by Al’s band and the trio of backup singers (another new addition to this tour) and finally Al himself, who sang a medley of older parodies (I Lost on Jeopardy, I Love Rocky Road, and Like a Surgeon) performed in different styles. Next was my all-time favourite Al song, The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, so my night was basically set. I’ve seen Weird Al in concert six times now, and I’m 99% sure this is the first time I’ve seen him play that song live since my first Al show in the mid-90s, long enough ago that it predates the SLCRs.

For the start of the show, there were minimal costume changes and effects. If the song had a video, they’d play along with it, but that was pretty much it. The setlist seemed to be chosen with the symphony in mind, rather than the visuals. I thought they were particularly effective on Jurassic Park (it feels weird to give an earnest musical opinion regarding a dinosaur-themed MacArthur Park parody) and Jackson Park Express, but their highlight may have been a long, drawn-out buildup by Al, leading to the 30-second Harvey the Wonder Hamster theme song.

Then came the first montage of Al video clips and the back third of the set included a bunch of the big hits with the costume changes and set pieces, including Smells Like Nirvana, White & Nerdy, and Amish Paradise, with The Saga Begins and Yoda saved for the encore. This was much more like a classic Al concert and was great fun, if familiar.

Here’s the full setlist – probably the same every night on the tour (having an orchestra doesn’t leave a lot of room for variation:

Fun Zone
I Lost on Jeopardy/I Love Rocky Road/Like a Surgeon
The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
Word Crimes
One More Minute
Jurassic Park
Don’t Download This Song
Weasel Stomping Day
Tacky
Harvey the Wonder Hamster
Jackson Park Express
Smells Like Nirvana
Dare to Be Stupid
White & Nerdy
Amish Paradise
(encore)
The Saga Begins
Yoda

I did hear somebody say that Al had quietly removed all the Michael Jackson material from his shows after Finding Neverland came out, and indeed, it was noticeably absent. I’m not sure if that was the reason or if they just got left out to give other stuff some space. I say “all the material” but really, it was only ever two songs, but they’re just so associated with him.

Needless to say, I had a great time. Mika knew what she was in for and got what she expected – and without getting directly serenaded this time, so that was a plus (for her, less so for me). The other folks were both new to the Weird Al live show experience and it seemed like one of them got into it. The other, not so much, but at least there was some top-notch people watching as part of the deal. Al’s fans get really into the show; none more so than the two guys ahead of us who hollered, sang along, fist-pumped, and even FaceTimed their friends with excitement when certain songs got played. Those dudes were a bit much, but I still liked them.

And now, a postscript, because these things are never really about the concerts. The next morning, we had plans to meet friends for lunch, so we needed to catch a bus from the hotel into downtown. Walking to the bus stop, I hear yelling down the street and this guy walking towards us is smirking. I look past him and the yelling is coming from some lady. Who happens to be topless. Or technically not topless, as she was wearing a black tank top, just pulled way down. Sun’s out, guns out, I guess. I think the hollering was her trying to get someone to watch her stuff while she went to Tim Hortons. Ultimately, she abandoned her stuff and ran across the street. Mika thought maybe the boob situation was implemented in order to stop traffic since she was jaywalking. Anyway, this lady didn’t pull up her top before going into Tim’s, which poses interesting questions about their no-shirt-no-shoes-no-service policy. I mean, she had a shirt on, just in a non-traditional manner. But I guess the questions were answered when she emerged from Tim’s, coffee in hand, shirt pulled up. She ran back across and as soon as she was back in her spot, they were out again. If I looked over (we were now across the street from her at the bus stop, having crossed at the lights, legally, without help from my boobs), she’d give me a big smile and giant wave. I was very glad Mika saw it all too so at least I know I wasn’t hallucinating. We figured they must do things very differently in Victoria, a suspicion we soon confirmed when the bus system turned out to be fast and easy.

SLCR #342: Regina Folk Festival (August 8-11, 2019)

September 16, 2019

This was the 50th Regina Folk Festival. Or 50th anniversary, maybe. We skipped most of it.

I get inordinately high hopes for the folk festival lineup every year. The festival is a rare opportunity to get bands who’d never normally play Regina to come to town, but I need to remember, it’s not a whole lineup of them. This year, they got Jason Isbell, which is pretty cool, but most of the lineup read like a SLCR reunion show – Colter Wall, The Dead South, A Tribe Called Red, Bahamas, Rae Spoon, Blue Rodeo – and I like all those folks! Which is why I’ve seen them all before. Ultimately, we settled on just getting Friday night passes, but when Charlotte Day Wilson backed out and was replaced by personal favourite (and another SLCR alum) Kathleen Edwards, we made plans to pop downtown on Sunday night too.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 8

If I was in charge here, this whole thing would be its own review – different venue, separate ticket – but this was put on by the Folk Festival and was covered in the Folk Festival program and it’s been over a month and sure, I’ll take the opportunity to condense these into one.

The important thing is that we paid money to listen to music through headphones in a grocery store.

Touring in support of their new album, Saskatoon’s Close Talker held a “3D-360 silent headphone concert,” which they named “Immersion.” The idea is that the band would play their entire new album How Do We Stay Here? from front to back, and everyone in the crowd would hear the music through headphones. This isn’t an entirely new idea, but they got some slick tech worked in that allows them to move the music around in real time, so the bass can move from left to right, or the drums can sound really far away, or the guitar can move towards you. I can’t explain the grocery store part, other than a local market named Local Market YQR has a small attached space that actually worked really well for this. It’s your proverbial “intimate venue,” which allowed the band to sell out two shows in one evening.

Being Olds, we opted for the early show. We were briefed about what was going on upon entering, and we took seats at the back of the room. One of Close Talker (or would you just say a Talker?) invited us to move up, which was nice, but we’re tall and the back works fine for us. Besides, every seat wound up filled.

They told us the show would start promptly at 8:00, but there was a lengthy introduction explaining how the show would work, the technology behind it, all that fun stuff. I thought it ran a bit long but it became apparent that this was intentional; one issue with the venue is there was nothing covering the windows, and some of us (most importantly, me) were getting the setting sun right in the eyes. The opening chatter was dragged out a bit until the sun was just low enough to not impact the show.

This was a really neat experience, an excellent introduction to a local band, and a fun way to kick off the folk festival weekend. The performance itself ran around 50 minutes of kinda folky, kinda artsy, kinda dreamy pop rock. The movement effects I mentioned above were there but never overused, complementing the music rather than overshadowing it. The band made a point of not talking much, especially early on, to help people focus on the music. To that end, the headphones worked really well; nobody talked, and people mostly kept their phones in their pockets. I wouldn’t want every show to be like this, but in the right cases, it could be really effective. I did think individual volume controls might be a nice addition, though I can see where that could add one more thing to possibly mess up in what had to be an already complicated technical setup.

At one point I slipped off my headphones for a second to see what it sounded like in the room. Mostly it was drums.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 9

This brings us to our one full night at the 2019 Regina Folk Festival. With gates opening at 5:00, I’d have had to come downtown early and wait in line with folding chairs to get a good spot where Mika could eventually join me. Instead, we took our time getting down there and skipped the chairs entirely. This was a controversial decision, given that we spent way too much money on those chairs and they’re very comfy and ridiculously strong. Seemed a shame to not get as much use out of them as we could.

We got to the park a little after 6:00. Once we made it through the usual organized chaos, the whole chair thing seemed like a bad move on our part. There were noticeably fewer people there than in previous years and we wouldn’t have had a problem taking our traditional spots. This was Garth Brooks’ fault. His two sold-out stadium shows on the Friday and Saturday nights surely siphoned off Festival attendees. I didn’t mind the extra space, as the park has felt a little crowded during recent Festivals, but I was concerned that too much of his noise would carry over to the park and drown out our noise. Luckily, that was never an issue.

Emilie Kahn had already started playing by the time we arrived and we saw a few of her songs in between checking out the Stuff Tent and the food trucks and whatnot. It was perfectly pleasant harp playing that we honestly didn’t pay a ton of attention to.

Between sets, Ila Barker played a few songs, just her and her guitar, and there was a spoken performance from the night’s emcee, Stella from Queer Songbook Orchestra (they used a number of names throughout the night, but Stella is the most fun to yell, so here we are).

We picked the Friday night to attend in part because Weaves was playing and Mika really wanted to see them. And so they took the stage, and then everything went to hell. After half a song – just enough time for me to admire the airbrushed picture of Dolly Parton on the singer’s pants – someone from the Folk Festival ran out on the stage holding arms aloft in the dreaded X. It had been cool and drizzling off and on thus far, but now lightning was in the area. Luckily, the guitarist for Weaves had trained for this situation and knew exactly what to do – play the opening riff of Thunderstruck before flipping the double bird to the heavens.

With everything on hold, we waited around the park for a while to see what would happen, before the rain picked up and we headed to the car.

And the car was where we’d spend the next 90 minutes, with rain pouring down and lightning all around us. We played games on our phones, lamented the lack of nearby bathrooms, regretted not having picked up dinner as soon as we’d arrived, and intermittently ran the air conditioner when it all got too suffocating. The Festival kept people up to date via Twitter, or at least as up to date as they could given that everything was really contingent on the lightning going away. At one point, Mika tried to tell me facts about thunder, but she started it with “somebody once told me” and I jumped in exuberantly with “the world is gonna roll me” and she got mad and now I still don’t know what she knows about thunder.

This was all great fun but it could have been worse – we could have tried to go see Garth Brooks. The lightning hit before his show began, and they quit letting people into the stadium (it’s open-air and there’s only so many places they can hide people), so the busses quit running. Thousands of people took shelter in the nearby arena, where (according to a video that was on my social media hundreds of times but which I never actually bothered to watch) they all cheered for a zamboni, I guess because they had nothing else to do. Couldn’t watch the Rider game on your phone – they were on a lightning delay too. And they were in Montréal.

Finally, the storm passed and the Festival announced that the show was going to resume. We ran into Rheanne on the way back, because we have to run into Rheanne at every Folk Festival, even if we’re only there for an hour. It always works out.

With a few minutes to spare before the show was to resume, we hit the food trucks, only to find that most of the vendors had packed up and left. Can’t blame them, really. I wound up getting a burger from the bannock truck, and it turns out that replacing the bun with fried dough is an excellent decision. Mika, however, was stuck getting the sole gluten-free option, popcorn with literal ladles of melted butter. And, for some reason, a lemon wedge. Until this day, “too much butter” only lived in the realm of the hypothetical, but no more. The lemon worked surprisingly well, though.

The Festival is scheduled like so: a main act plays for anywhere from 40-90 minutes (depending on where they are in the set), and then there’s a teaser who plays for about 10 minutes while the next main act gets set up. It repeats that way all night – main act, teaser, main act, teaser, main act. So when the Festival tweeted that the last three acts were still going to play, people didn’t know if that meant the last three main acts, or main/teaser/main. If it was the latter, that would mean The Dead South would lose their spot. On Twitter, on Facebook, people were SO upset at this idea.

And then Stella came out to introduce the next band. They got three words in – “The Dead South” – and I have never heard a reaction like this for anyone at the Folk Festival. Or nearly any concert ever. Folk Festival concerts always have these long, scripted, artist-bio introductions – I’ve heard more than one musician describe them as “awkward” – and Stella got through the whole thing, eventually – but really, the best move would have been to just skip it when the crowd was already so hot.

The Dead South are a bluegrass band from around these parts who’ve started to make it big elsewhere, and this was their triumphant return. They had their time cut, as did the next two bands, but they tore it up and in front of a most appreciative audience, they could do no wrong. This was a high energy performance and was a blast.

Bahamas was up next and he and his band played a delightful set, though of the three that came after the storm, it was probably the weakest. And I love Bahamas! Being shorted on time hurt, because they crammed in as many songs as possible with little talking, and I greatly enjoy his talking. I shouldn’t complain; they played Lost in the Light and that’s my favourite of his. And at least we got to hear about how they’re not the best band, and don’t get the longest sets, but they’re the most chill. And we thank them for stimulating our economy by dining at Famoso.

Near us, an increasingly drunk girl grew tired of listening to some guy tell her about his degrees and made plans to scale a fence, sneak into the back stage area, and get it on with Bahamas. Not sure I’d have put money on her climbing ability at that point in time but I hope her evening ended well, however it ended.

Between sets, we went to sit down by the remaining food trucks. After resting our tired old people legs, I ran into a Dave on our way back in and we stopped for a chat. Mika wandered off, but promptly returned telling us how she was hit on by a guy asking what she was doing with her phone. When she said she was checking the score of the football game, the guy said something like “more like checking the score of the porn game.” I’d like to think I’m a good husband, but I don’t think I can honestly take any credit for the failure of this gambit. Mika did give me one free pass to try using this line on someone should the opportunity ever present itself; if I can pull it off, I’ll be sure let you all know.

I first saw A Tribe Called Red five years ago, and if you’d asked me, I’d have guessed two years ago, and I’m feeling some existential dread right now. At least I enjoyed the show a lot more this time around. I think it was the setting – the crowd was really into it, and the larger stage had room for Indigenous dancers, including a ridiculously impressive hoop dancer, and an adorable little jingle dress dancer who would sneak waves at friends and family in the crowd while waiting in the wings. That the band decorated part of their gear with stinky old LJN rubber toy wrestlers and had wrestling footage as part of their video effects didn’t hurt. I did see some old people in the crowd who looked decidedly not into the music, but I also saw a dude in a T-Rex mask who was really into it, so that all evens out.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 10

I had good intentions to check out some of the free daytime stages, but no.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 11

I had good intentions to check out some of the free daytime stages, but no.

We did make it down for Kathleen Edwards, though, if only so Mika could get the falafel she had hoped for on Friday. With no tickets and no real agenda beyond “let’s get there in time for Rae Spoon’s teaser set maybe,” it was a pretty casual evening.

Everything worked according to plan. Mika got her falafel and enjoyed it until feeling the effects of being glutened later that night. I got my first ever bánh mì, and I can’t speak for its authenticity nor its quality compared to other bánh mì, but it was super tasty. I kind of hope it was a terrible example of bánh mì, because if so, a good one would be mindblowing.

We ate and listened to a short set by Rae Spoon. Only a few songs, including There is a LIght (But it’s Not For Everyone) and the family-friendly version of a song I’ve seen them play before, Do Whatever the Heck You Want. Enough of a reminder that I need to catch a full show the next time they come through town.

Finally, it was time for Kathleen Edwards. She’s great. Of course. Played a bunch of songs I like; “all the hits,” as Mika put it. There was some new stuff. I think at least one song was the same new stuff as we heard in Bengough. Now, it’s important to note that as freeloaders, we couldn’t actually see the stage. Which is fine, we were there to listen, but it does mean that my descriptions of what was going on could be very wrong. For example, she had one musician with her, and was later joined by a member of Blue Rodeo. Or maybe several? Or maybe was just making jokes at Blue Rodeo’s expense? I’m pretty sure my initial description was right but I could be making it up entirely. But does that matter? You weren’t there and I won’t remember.

In here, I did make a tactical error. Remember the bannock truck from Friday night? I’d been told they made a mean bear paw (think beaver tail, or elephant ear, or your regional term for big fried dough with sugar on it) and went to get one. Which I did, but it was not what one would call a smooth experience. It had to take at least 20 minutes, maybe 30, and that’s with all of four people in line in front of me. And while the truck was closer to the stage than where we were sitting, it was also a lot noisier over there, so to be honest, I really didn’t get to hear most of this. At least the bear paw was exactly as good as you’d think fresh fried sugared dough would be, but I could have bought one at the farmer’s market sometime when Kathleen Edwards wasn’t concurrently singing.

SLCR #341: Half Moon Run (July 16, 2019)

August 8, 2019

It’s been long enough since I’ve done one of these that this one isn’t late out of my usual laziness, but I just plum forgot for like two weeks. Please ignore that it’s been three weeks.

When the show was announced, I didn’t know what a Half Moon Run was. But Mika did – and still does, I assume – and she also saw the announcement and was interested in going. As we’ve established, it doesn’t take much to get me to show up.

It also doesn’t take much to get me to stay home. I get sleepy and cold, or in this case, damp. Our plan had been to head out to the local salad chain restaurant (nothing too good for my girl) before heading to the show, but the skies had other ideas. A sudden downpour coupled with high winds, lots of lightning, and just a touch of hail. A few of the lightning strikes were close enough to our house to rattle the place, sending Carl scurrying to the basement. We’ve had some bad storms before but I’d never seen him just take off like that. As water filled the divot in the road across from our house, we made alternate dinner plans; namely, I made omelettes, hoping to beat the inevitable power outage that never came.

Everything eventually eased up, the cat emerged from hiding, and we were free to go. Mostly. To get to the Exchange from my house, you need to take one of three underpasses. Two were flooded, and the third was only reopened just before we left the house. When we had to detour around another flooded section just to get to the least-bad underpass, we weren’t hopeful, but made it through fine, if a little muddy.

We’d had what passes for heated debates around here regarding what time to actually show up to this thing, having seen several posted times for the doors, including the oddly specific 7:39 pm. The storm made up our minds for us, and we got there a few minutes before 9:00. Based on the parking, there were more people there than most of the recent shows at the Exchange, and indeed, it was reasonably full. Also: very warm. We had just enough time to remark on the venue’s fullness and excessive warmth when Half Moon Run took the stage.

This means, of course, that we’d entirely missed opener Luca Fogale. I hadn’t heard of him before seeing his name attached to the bill. I listened to his new single, and it sounded like the kind of very pleasant singer-songwriter stuff that I enjoy but find almost impossible to write about. And now I won’t write about him. Instead, he gets the same benefit of the doubt as every missed opener; namely, he was surely tremendous and we obviously missed out.

I’d also listened to the newest Half Moon Run album (is 2015 still new?) before the show and it wasn’t anything like I expected. This was coming from a place of complete and total ignorance, of course, but Mika tends to like harder, rockier stuff, and this sounded more like, well, something I’d like.

For the record, I like lots of harder and rockier stuff just fine. But I wrote that line and realized it wasn’t really what I meant, but its inaccuracy and vagueness was outweighed by the fact that it made me laugh.

Anyway. This was pretty great! They played quite a bit off that not-new new album that I recognized. If you want song titles, we’ve established I am not your man. They also played some new unreleased stuff, and everyone there was super excited to hear it. I was clearly so very alone in not knowing Half Moon Run. This was one of those crowds where the bands say nice stuff and actually mean it. People were into every song, singing along, cheering everything, hollering “yeehaw” at one point – even the jerks were so into the show that they forgot to be jerks. It seemed like the band was both delighted and a little surprised with the warm welcome.

They played a relatively short set, ending with all four of them around one mic covering After the Gold Rush. Honestly, I’d have been a little disappointed it was over so soon if I was one of the die-hards, but I’ve been to too many “leave ’em wanting less” shows to complain.

SLCR #340: Foxwarren (May 29, 2019)

June 14, 2019

This was nice. I got little else.

Foxwarren is fronted by Andy Shauf, who you might remember from a few of these reviews. Or maybe from his ever-increasingly successful solo career, I guess. Local guy, singer-songwriter type, has built up a lot of buzz. I’d only known of his solo stuff and I’m not sure where Foxwarren fits into the timeline. Was he with them first? Is this a new thing? Were these simultaneous ongoing projects? You are asking the wrong guy, my friend. I was going to suggest that I might know if I’d grown up and seen more small shows here in Regina, but I forgot I’m very old. Shauf wouldn’t have been out of high school when I moved here. I have no excuse. I just don’t know things. Except that they have one album out and it’s new and this tour is in support of it. I know that and it’s probably right.

With Shauf as a hometown favourite, this show sold out well in advance, not that you’d have known by the crowd when we arrived. Regina Folk Festival shows usually run like clockwork, but this one started a good half-hour late, probably to let everyone show up. On the plus side, the late arrivals meant that Mika and I had no trouble finding seats for the opener.

Said opener, Hannah Cohen, played a pleasant little set of dreamy pop that could be described as “sleepy.” The crowd gave her a really nice ovation at the end of her songs that they paid absolutely no attention to. Mika said something along the lines of “that was good, but if I had to write about it, I’d have nothing” and it was nice of her to give me something to close this paragraph with.

Everyone chatting through Hannah Cohen’s set just made it more noticeable how quiet everyone got when Foxwarren started playing. Shauf is a soft-spoken guy and a great songwriter, and people were ready to listen. Which was nice, but we could have used more of that earlier.

It’s always a little weird when the lead singer of a band goes solo. For the musician, it means an entirely new experience. Creative freedom. Do what you want, work with whoever you want. But often, the results – especially to a casual fan – aren’t always that striking. Is there that much difference between songs by Matthew Good and the Matthew Good Band?

It’s not a perfect analogy here, but you get the idea – this is all is a long way of saying I expected this to sound more or less like an Andy Shauf show and it more or less did. This is not a complaint! He’s real good and this was real good. I’d listened to their album beforehand (also real good) (Microsoft Word’s grammar and usage checker is going to hate this sentence) and they played pretty much all of it, near as I could tell. If they played songs from Shauf’s solo records, I didn’t recognize any, though he did come out alone to play one song for the encore.

He also, like in previous shows, fielded audience questions, such as “how do you like your new haircut” and “can we see your new haircut” and “who’s your favourite uncle?” (“Good;” he took his hat off but it was kind of hard to see but I gather he cut his hair all short; “I got a lot of uncles here.”) They also celebrated the birthday of one of the band members, though I think that was just a coincidence of scheduling and not part of the regular touring show. Though it would be pretty funny. And they might get free drinks. Okay, I think I’m onto something here. If you go see them (you should), let me know if it’s someone’s “birthday.” You might also be able to get an honest answer as to Shauf’s favourite uncle if there are fewer uncles where you live.

SLCR #339: The Tea Party (April 25, 2019)

May 14, 2019

As we were getting ready to head out for the show, Mika asked if I was excited to see Snake River. I was not, largely because I didn’t know what Snake River was, if something other than a river of snakes. It turns out that the Tea Party was on the Black River tour, named after their latest single, and Snake River is a local band that plays here fairly regularly. Simple enough to get mixed up.

I mention this because it led me to check and see who our actual openers were – The Proud Sons. The name is a little too close to The Proud Boys for my liking, but what the hell, they’re opening for the Tea Party, it fits really well. At least name-wise. I listened to a few songs from their EP and found they were a country band, which seemed like a very odd pairing with the Tea Party, who were all about being dark and brooding and mysterious, or at least they were when I was in university and they were at their commercial peak. When they came back through town on a reunion tour in 2011, I was surprised at how down-to-earth they seemed – but still not the kind of band that would have a country act opening for them. I assumed I’d found the wrong band on Apple Music.

We got to the casino and checked out the stuff table. Yep, it’s the same Proud Sons. Weird. But whatever, into the concert hall we went for people watching and a thematically appropriate playlist of 90s Canadian rock until the show began. This included a Tea Party song that was hastily skipped.

The Proud Sons are not quite as country in person as they were on their EP – still country, but leaning towards the rockier side of things. Mika checked, and none of them appear to be related to anyone in the Tea Party, and nobody from the Tea Party produced their EP, so this pairing will remain a mystery. Their set was fine, nice harmonies, nothing wrong with the show (well, maybe a touch too loud for the venue – and I maintain that if nobody knows your band, don’t tell the crowd to sing along or “put your hands in the air” because they won’t) – just such an odd fit.

And that’s about all I wrote before letting this sit for two weeks. I think I’m just not fit to review the Tea Party, who I was about as excited for as I had been for Snake River. I saw them – by which I mean the Tea Party, not Snake River, who this review is not actually about, not that you’d know – once in 1996 during the height of their popularity when a friend had a spare ticket. I knew very little about them and said friend was disgusted by that, given that it was a high-demand ticket to a sold-out show and basically wasted on me. I liked them well enough then – and in 2011, and again in 2017 – but they’re really just not my thing. They’re like I Mother Earth in that based on my age and tastes, I should like them, but they just never fully clicked with me. I go because Mika likes them and because I can be talked into any concert for any reason.

This was pretty similar to the show we saw back in 2017. And not just their own songs; they also played the same covers (or short segments thereof) as last time – With or Without You, Heroes, Paint It Black – though I think Bobcaygeon was a new addition. Ever since Gord Downie died, every Canadian band of a certain vintage has to incorporate a Hip song into their setlist by federal law; usually Bobcaygeon, but the Headstones got a special dispensation to play Blow at High Dough and New Orleans is Sinking instead. Crash Test Dummies didn’t play a Hip song at all when they were here last year and they’re all in jail now.

The new not-Snake-River single was fun. They tried out some other new stuff and asked us not to record it in case it sucked, but it was good, and they knew that. Really, the most noticeable difference was in their demeanor. Like I said, in 2011 they seemed appreciative and almost surprised that people would still come out to see them. Since then, they’ve had a few successful tours and the new single has been a big hit on rock radio (for whatever that means in 2019) and that really seems to have boosted their confidence. Lead singer Jeff Martin had a lot more swagger and was back to coming across more like a rock star, and the crowd responded accordingly, so maybe listen to them and not me.

I always worry about the “it was fine” reviews because I fear they come across as “I hated it.” And talking to the four people who read these things can sometimes back that up. So I’ll just say it was a Tea Party concert for Tea Party fans. It was enjoyable and met my expectations but didn’t convert me. After four shows, I’m sensing a pattern.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Foxwarren w/Hannah Cohen (May 29)
• Regina Folk Festival w/Bahamas, A Tribe Called Red, The Dead South, Weaves, Emilie Kahn, more (August 9)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 21)
• Elton John (October 1)
• Thrush Hermit (October 4)

SLCR #338: Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13, 2019)

April 29, 2019

In Calgary again, visiting my grandma again, timed it to coincide with a show again. Baked her some bread again, sharpened her knives again, got my suitcase inspected again (for packing an electric knife sharpener again). You know the drill. I’m pretty sure I’ve done this exact opening before.

I could add “seeing Hawksley again” (third time since January) and “symphony show again” (following Steven Page, with Weird Al still to come this summer). Got some themes going on this year.

I met Colin for an early dinner at a downtown BBQ joint where he also goes to punk concerts. Some things about that sentence are odd and that’s okay. It was a bad day to eat early; lunch had come late because I hit up Record Store Day first and also had to stop at London Drugs and buy my grandma some printer ink. Calgary priorities. That said, though I wasn’t really hungry, dinner was pretty good, with the side of bourbon apples a particular standout.

After dinner, we walked over to Arts Commons for the show, which was in the Jack Singer Concert Hall. It was rush seating and I had a goal of getting there “earlyish, but not stupidly so” and I feel like we succeeded.

Rather than rushing to claim seats, we got drinks first. I’m not much of a drinker, nor a line-stander-inner, but they had a concoction called The Workman – how could I not? Besides, Colin handled the lining up and the buying all by himself. The drink, while tasty, demonstrated the effectiveness of branding. Fun theme drink I can talk about in a review? Sure! But call it what it is – namely, just Maker’s Mark and Coke – and I’d have passed. (Or maybe not; I’d already had those apples and Bourbon Day is always an option since I like themes so much).

Out of the lobby and into the hall itself, and we spent way too much time looping around trying to decide on seats. Paralyzed by choice, we were. With no ideal options, we wound up sitting centre-right, a little better than halfway to the back. I think that somewhere in this paragraph is a metaphor for the Alberta provincial election if I bothered to suss it out.

In an unusual move, Hawksley posted the full setlist on his Instagram before the concert began. Since I saw it before the show, you may as well get it before the review:

Goodbye to Radio (with orchestra)
A House or Maybe a Boat (with orchestra)
No Sissies
Autumn’s Here (with orchestra)
Safe and Sound
Oh You Delicate Heart (with orchestra)
Your Beauty Must be Rubbing Off
No More Named Johnny (with orchestra)
-intermission-
1983 (with orchestra)
Song for Sarah Jane (with orchestra)
Jealous of Your Cigarette
Paper Shoes
Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky (with orchestra)
Snowmobile
Smoke Baby
Battlefords (with orchestra)
-encore-
No Beginning, No End (with orchestra)

That’s a nice, career-spanning mix. As you can see, about half the songs were accompanied by the orchestra, and half were just Hawksley and Mr. Lonely. Honestly, I was initially a little disappointed in the number of songs that didn’t feature the symphony, since that was the big draw for me. I mean, I love Hawksley and was going to enjoy this either way, but this was the 24th time I’ve seen Hawksley in concert and the symphony songs promised to be something new and different.

Having said that, as seems to be the norm with these symphony shows, there weren’t a ton of surprises in the arrangements. The orchestra usually seems to be used to accompany the original song, rather than drastically change it. The new songs, 1983 and Battlefords, had arrangements by Sarah Slean, and both were nicely done. Hearing Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky – a song that I love but is also kind of ridiculous? – with the symphony was great, just because it made a weird song that much stranger. That said, Song for Sarah Jane was the surprise standout. On record, I’ve always found it kind of unsubstantial. Pretty, but not much to it. With the orchestra, though, the music swelled as the song went on and it became almost anthemic.

Hawksley is normally pretty emotive when he sings, and this was no exception. If anything, he was hamming it up more than usual. I’m sure part of it was having the symphony backing him up, and part of it was the size of the venue; apart from some folk festival shows (and those are outdoors, which have an entirely different vibe), this is easily the biggest place I’ve seen him play. He was also his usual chatty self, at least before the less-structured songs with just him and Lonely. He joked about his unseasonable song picks with Autumn’s Here and the Christmas tune A House or Maybe a Boat, and had introductions for other songs, including the same story about Snowmobile as he told last time in Regina.

Hawksley can be a bit of an oddball and I’m sure the symphony brought out some people who wouldn’t normally go to his concerts – like when we saw him with the Vinyl Cafe years ago. You can always spot those people because they’re the ones laughing at lyrics, hearing them for the first time. The older lady sitting to my right took incredible delight in some of the more risqué lines in songs like Jealous of Your Cigarette and especially Paper Shoes. We were also sitting near some diehards who knew all the words and sung along at every opportunity, most often during fan favourites like Smoke Baby, Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off, and Safe and Sound. They were also really good singers, which added nicely to the atmosphere in those parts.

All told, this was really great, with a new twist on a bunch of songs, a great performance, and a crowd that was super into everything. Not that it matters, because you likely saw Hawksley in the title, figured my feelings on the show were a foregone conclusion, and skipped this. And for those of you who didn’t, should have gone with your gut, I guess. Could have saved yourself a few minutes.

SLCR #337: Shakey Graves (March 25, 2019)

March 28, 2019

We were running behind. Not late, but behind. Monday is a school night, so Mika had to wrap up around 7:00, drive home, and eat a thing so we could make it to the show for 8:00. As we made the last turn towards the Conexus Arts Centre, I wondered how many people would be there. “Judging by the number of Facebook ads for the show I’ve seen,” I said, “it might just be us.”

It wasn’t just us. But even that close to showtime, the parking lot was pretty bare. There was no line to enter, no line for the coat check, and when we ran into Rob, we learned he’d been evicted from his seat and moved to a much closer vantage point on the main floor because the call was made to close off most of the balconies. His group’s upgraded seats wound up actually being a lot better than the ones we’d chosen, though that was largely because we’d taken our customary spots at the end of Row L For Legroom; often so appreciated but on this night, overkill. There weren’t that many folks sitting in any of the rows behind us, apart from a few people at the very back. I can only assume they had plans involving drugs and/or handies.

The lowest of the balconies remained open, and while we waited for the show to start, a security guard wandered out in front of us to holler up at a balcony-dweller who had done the unthinkable and rested his drink on the ledge. I thought that maybe going up and talking to the guy would have been a more appropriate way to handle things; way less funny, though.

The opener was Cameron Neal, who played a 40-minute set of country tunes, just him and a guitar. Pleasant, hopeful, earnest. The kind of thing where you hear it and go “that was nice,” and then you try to write about it, and you come up with two sentences, stare at them for a while, check all your social media to see if anything life-changing has happened in the last ten minutes, and repeat.

We’d seen Shakey Graves a few years back opening for City and Colour and really enjoyed him; I actually liked him better than the headliner and was looking forward to seeing a full set in a smaller venue. Not that this was that small; the Arts Centre felt kind of cavernous. Maybe one-third full for the start of Neal’s set, closer to half-full by the end of the night. Split the difference and call it… five-twelfths, I suppose. It looks like he sold out every other Western Canadian stop on this tour, so maybe the venue was just too big? Shakey (Mr. Graves?) did comment repeatedly on the size of the stage itself and the amount of running around he’d have to do all night. To that end, at one point, he ran a lap just because.

He was immediately captivating, playing the first half-hour or so by himself with guitar and kick drum. The first song was Word of Mouth, a song full of advice that sounds like good advice but is actually bad advice, like all advice. He explained this mid-song. He explained many things. Eventually, he was joined by a full band, and I started to recognize a few songs off his newest album, Can’t Wake Up, from when Mika was playing it. I didn’t know that some of these songs made up a trilogy about someone named Garth Nazarth, a very interesting fact that may have been made up on the spot as he was telling us. He also played covers by Neil Young and Townes Van Zandt, who he insisted was a famous rapper.

At one point, someone asked where he got his name, and he joked “a cereal box” before telling the real story. Or what I assume was the real story, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. I also don’t know what a Shakey Graves cereal would entail. Crunchy corn caskets and crosses with marshmallow urns, with enough added sugar to give you the shakes? And when Neal returned to join Shakey in a song they’d co-written, Shakey told us to meet up with Neal in the lobby after to buy his stuff. “Where will you be?” hollered someone. A fair question. And he was going to be outside in a bear costume, apparently. I didn’t see him when we were walking to the car but we did get out of the building in good time.

It looked like everything was wrapping up and everyone stood to applaud, but Shakey was just sending the band away. He stuck around, did one last song by himself, and that was it. No encore, except it kind of was one, except he never left the stage. This seemed like a good way of avoiding the artificial feeling of an encore but also not leaving people feeling like they missed out on something.

This whole thing was a delight. Great tunes and a fun sense of humour. It deserved a bigger turnout, but the folks who were there were really into it. One dude in particular was as invested in this show as I’ve ever seen. So much standing, so much waving, so much yelling, so much insisting to the usher that she was going to love the show and become a new fan. She did give him two semi-enthusiastic thumbs up at one point but I don’t think she really enjoyed her night; at one point she walked over with her flashlight to help ensure someone made it to the bar safely and wiped the heck out in the process. The ushers need ushers. I suppose it was only a matter of time, given the numbers of people getting up and returning with drinks; a lot more of that than at most shows here. But I suppose it made them more enthusiastic, and at least they were polite; one drinker said “excuse me” so many times and so loudly while exiting her row that I initially thought she was trying to get Shakey’s attention. Maybe she needed more clarification on the bear costume situation.

UPCOMING CONCERTS:
• Hawksley Workman & the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (April 13)
• Morrissey (April 20)
• The Tea Party (April 25)
• BA Johnston (April 26)
• Foxwarren w/Hannah Cohen (May 29)
• “Weird Al” Yankovic (August 21)
• Elton John (October 1)
• Thrush Hermit (October 4)

SLCR #336: Steven Page and the Regina Symphony Orchestra (March 3, 2019)

March 19, 2019

This was a real last-minute call for me. Steven Page announced a big ol’ spring Canadian tour, and he wasn’t coming here. Disappointing, but months later, the symphony booked this show, taking place before said tour. It sounded like very much my thing, but I didn’t really know what it would entail. Remembering Tanya Tagaq’s appearance with the symphony, where she was a highlight of the evening but not the focus, I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to just be a whole night of Steven Page playing Steven Page songs with the orchestra. Instead of rushing out to buy tickets, I decided to wait on it and find out more. Then I promptly forgot about it.

Jump ahead to the afternoon of the concert, and there’s a picture on Instagram of Page, guitarist Craig Northey (of Odds), and cellist Kevin Fox eating lunch at a Regina pizza chain. I felt like they should be made aware of some better dining options, but that’s just my preferences. Possibly more importantly, I realized that the concert – whatever it was – was that evening. Tickets were cheap, so I decided to go.

I thought it a bit odd that there was no option to pick up a ticket at the box office, only to realize (well after I bought the ticket, but thankfully, before I left the house) that there was no box office. Instead of the usual concert hall, Page and the orchestra were at the Mâmawêyatitân Centre, a community centre in Regina’s North Central neighbourhood. For those unfamiliar, this neighbourhood doesn’t have a sparkling reputation, which is a nice way of tiptoeing around the fact that a certain national news magazine once named it the worst neighbourhood in Canada. That this neighbourhood currently seems to be doing better than said magazine is a little funny to me. The centre itself is relatively new and very nice. The name means “let’s all be together,” and the complex is home to a high school, public library, daycare, recreational facilities, and numerous community groups.

The email and the ticket PDF all told me to print my ticket, but nothing in our house is connected to our 15-year-old printer and I wasn’t about to sort that out. I showed up, flashed my phone, and was let inside. I’m pretty sure they saw the Gmail app on my phone and just called it good. Inside, the orchestra was setting up in a large open area, with chairs on the floor facing them and extra seating available up some stairs off to the side. This was nice and sparsely occupied so that’s where I went, though it did leave me facing Page’s back while he played piano.

The concert was scheduled as part of the Forward Currents Festival, an annual (twice counts as annual) series of concerts aiming to spark conversation about topics of societal importance. This year’s theme was “music and mental health.” There had also been a talk on the subject before the concert, though I didn’t attend that part.

The music director opened the show and briefly outlined that there would be two musical pieces in the first half, followed by Steven Page after the intermission. The first piece was Tchaikovsky’s “Mozartina” orchestral suite, while the second was called My Name is Amanda Todd, composed by Jocelyn Morlock and written about a BC teen who died by suicide after being bullied and assaulted. I generally don’t comment on performances of classical music because what the heck do I know, really, but I will say that it was all very lovely and nobody applauded in the breaks between the four miniatures that make up the orchestral suite and certain people I know would be very pleased by that. From where I was sitting, I was mostly watching the percussionists; one in particular was all over the place, moving from instrument to instrument, hitting things and quickly silencing them and hitting other things. This is probably not the deep appreciation that I should have for this music but it was fun to watch. Also, re-reading this paragraph, you can easily tell which words came from the program (“orchestral suite”) and which came from me (“hitting things and other things”).

Between sets which I know isn’t the right word, people near me were meeting internet-only friends in person for the first time and making other new friends and this all seemed nice.

After the break, we got, well, Steven Page playing Steven Page songs with the orchestra, along with Northey and Fox. They played six songs, alternating between Page’s solo tunes (There’s a Melody, No Song Left to Save Me, and Looking for the Light) and ones he wrote while with Barenaked Ladies (Call & Answer, War on Drugs, and Brian Wilson). Mental illness is a recurring theme in these songs, though it’s more obvious in some cases than others (before explaining the connection to one song, Page joked “let me ruin this one for you too”). He also talked a lot about his own challenges with mental illness, and the importance of being there for people who are struggling, going into detail about a time whenfriends were there for him during a challenging period in his life. Or as he put it, “if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I was arrested on drug charges ten years ago. Google it,” before jokingly adding “the charges were dismissed – that means I didn’t do it, right?”

The songs were all very nicely done. The ones from the BNL days were more famous, but it was nice to get a mix of the old and the new. And though Brian Wilson might be his most famous song and Call & Answer has that one yelly part I really like, I think War on Drugs was my favourite. It wasn’t a single, but I remember liking it back when it came out (despite my BNL fandom waning at that time), and it fit the evening well and the new arrangement (done by Page’s son) was quite good. I think I preferred it to the original.

All told, it was a delightful and thought-provoking evening that I could easily have missed out on if not for Page’s habit of taking pictures of soup. If you’ve ever seen some asshole in a restaurant who has to Instagram his lunch before he can eat it, be kind; he might be accidentally doing someone a favour.

SLCR #335: Belle Plaine (February 16, 2019)

March 19, 2019

I ran into Other James during the afternoon on the day of this show. We briefly exchanged pleasantries, and we were both excited for that evening’s show. We didn’t talk long, though; he was in a hurry to return to his fancy art-making and I was in a rush to resume making a nuisance of myself in public catching imaginary creatures in a stupid phone game (reminder: I am 42) (in years). But no matter, we’d catch up later in the evening.

We would not. Belle Plaine really wanted to sell this show out in advance and she did so with hours to spare. “Shite,” Other James said on social media, as he will do. Last time he didn’t buy advance tickets, I was able to get him in for free. This time, I left him in the cold. By which I mean at his home or, more likely, with out with some of his zillions of other friends. I’d say we need to stage an intervention and convince him that buying tickets ahead of time is a worthwhile activity, but he’s probably doing better than me in all aspects of life apart from seeing this show.

So yes, this was a sold-out hometown (or close enough to it) album release party at the Artesian for Belle Plaine and her new record, Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath. The place was packed – lots of family and friends from what we could overhear – but there was room for us in our usual spots. The entire back wall of the stage was covered with big pink and white balloons for the occasion and it all looked suitably festive. Apparently blowing them all up was quite the chore that barely got done before the doors opened.

There was no opener. The evening’s host was another local country singer, Blake Berglund, who surely earned the role on merit alone and not because he and Plaine are newly married; something he alluded to when introducing himself as Blake Plaine at the start of the show.

As befitting an album launch, Belle and her band played everything off the new record. I’d heard plenty of them before when I saw her open for Colter Wall some months ago, and even a few when she was at Winterruption last year. You know they’re good because I actually remember them from one show to the next, which I don’t always do with artists I’m not super familiar with. Is it Cheating was again a standout and should be a hit. Maybe it is. Are there hit songs anymore?

She also told lots of stories, talking about her mom, her grandma, her neighbour, Blake, and her guitarist who broke his whammy bar so his dad made him a new one by cutting off a piece of the truck. I realize that the “and” in that sentence kind of makes it sound like they all broke the guitarist’s whammy bar, and I’m not saying that didn’t not happen.

The show was split in two by an intermission, and each half was noteworthy for Plaine having a different custom jumpsuit (one denim, one black and shiny). As the new record only has nine tracks, it would have been a short evening, but she threw in a few extra songs, including some covers. She sang Sunday Morning Coming Down and Raised on Robbery and I’m 99% sure Long Black Veil but this was a month ago now so really don’t trust any of this. My favourite was one that Belle and Blake sang both here and at their own wedding, Islands in the Stream. (I guess when you’re a musician marrying another musician and a bunch of your friends are musicians, you don’t hire a wedding band so much as you all just take turns.)

The night was great fun and I recommend the new album. Plaine is currently on tour opening for Colter Wall (who also appears on this record) in Europe, and it sounds like there are some great crowds. She’s probably already too big for the Artesian, and things are just looking up. It’s always a delight to see local musicians doing well, even if it means they outgrow us.