Posts Tagged ‘the exchange’

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)

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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.

SLCR #303: Andy Shauf (November 18, 2017)

November 28, 2017

Until this show, I liked Andy Shauf, but I never really got Andy Shauf.

For those who don’t know the name, he’s a singer-songwriter from here in Regina. The first time we saw him was in 2013, when he opened for Mo Kenney at a half-full Artful Dodger. By that point, he was already well known around these parts. We later saw him at the 2015 Regina Folk Festival and then again opening for Whitehorse in 2016. In all cases, I thought he was good and very likable and I wanted him to do well, but there was always something that didn’t quite work for me – he’s real quiet, and I sometimes found him hard to hear and that everything kinda sounded the same. He’s one of many people where I thought I could really get into him if only I spent some time with his albums, but we all know I’ll talk about that but likely never do it.

I did think he was best suited to small, intimate venues. This time, he was headlining at the Exchange, which seemed to be the ideal place. That it was a sold-out hometown show could only help.

I suspect this will be the last time we can see Shauf at a place this small. Even now, I’m guessing he only played the Exchange because he used to work there. They said he was the only person ever to serve as caretaker and also headline a show there. This was the second last stop on his tour; the only remaining date was in Toronto’s Massey Hall. When I looked, you could only buy single seats for that one.

Watching his rise has really been something. When Hawksley Workman discovered Shauf and praised him, I wasn’t that surprised. But to see Reggie Watts do the same thing, it really illustrated how far Shauf was going.

Several days before they show, they announced that Steph Cameron would be opening. This was a delightful surprise. We saw her at the very same 2015 Regina Folk Festival. As opposed to all the other Regina Folk Festivals that year. I really liked her short set and later bought her album, Sad-Eyed Lonesome Lady. She was back in Regina only a few weeks ago, opening for Little Miss Higgins, but we were already booked that night, so this was a treat.

Doors opened at 8:00, which really isn’t that late, but it feels like it is if you’re used to the early-starting concerts the Folk Festival puts on. We got in at around 8:30 and had lots of time to stand around and critique the fashion choices of today’s youth. Tye Dillinger’s haircut was a standout, as was a jacket that read SAME SHIT, DIFFERENT DAY in large letters on the back. One girl was there in short shorts; I question her wisdom but admire her commitment when it’s -20 with the windchill.

Someone from the Board of Directors for the Exchange welcomed us to the show, since this was one of a series of concerts marking their 30th anniversary. She seemed nervous. Didn’t need to be. She did fine!

Cameron started around 9:00 and played for about a half-hour, mostly material from her brand new album, Daybreak Over Jackson Street, about her time living in one of Vancouver’s worst neighbourhoods. I didn’t even know she had a new album, so that was another nice surprise. Or maybe a continuation of the first one. She did a fine job despite a crowd that left something to be desired. Even the folks at the very front were talking and looking at their phones. By now, I should just have a boilerplate paragraph that covers this. You know the deal. If you’re going to do that, why don’t you just leave? Or not show up in the first place? There are lots of places that won’t charge you $25/person cover to stand around and be a dick. But standing dicks notwithstanding, she was real good. Last time I saw her, my verdict was “would see again” and that hasn’t changed. Even if she didn’t play the one song Mika knew.

Speaking of standing dicks, we had about 45 minutes of standing around time before Shauf and band took the stage. I won’t lie to you; I was ready to leave well before this point. The standing, the inattentive crowd, the heat of a packed, sold-out venue, and the fact that I’d never been super into Shauf before were all combining to kill my enthusiasm for the evening, such as it was.

Armed with a full band – including TWO clarinetists, as one does – Shauf returned to his hometown if not quite a conquering hero, at least well on his way. And this was where it all came together for me. Great sound in the venue combined with a crowd that was surprisingly quiet and respectful to create the perfect atmosphere to listen to Shauf’s lyrics. Hometown Hero and Wendell Walker became new favourites for me, but I enjoyed all of it.

Shauf’s stage presence is quite reserved. He’s not someone who will ever put on shows described as electrifying – they’re for listening, not for dancing. Throughout this review, I kept looking for the right place to put the term “low-key” since it kind of applies everywhere. But he does display a subtle sense of humour when talking to the crowd which breaks things up a little. Every time I’ve seen him, he’s asked the audience if they have any questions. This time, it was something about Star Trek. I liked it better last time when someone yelled “what do you have against horses?”

But that was the only part of the show that wasn’t quite as good as before. It’s telling that I liked the show at all, given the mood I was in before it began, but this was fantastic. It took me a while – I’m late to the party, perhaps – but I’m finally on the Andy Shauf bandwagon. Better get on now, before he takes over the world so quietly that nobody even notices.

SLCR #301: Nomadic Massive (November 10, 2017)

November 20, 2017

This was a delightful surprise. Years ago, we saw Nomadic Massive at the Regina Folk Festival. I knew nothing at all about them but they wound up stealing the show that night and you could make a solid case that they were the best of that year’s whole festival. That was in 2013; as far as I know, this show was their first time back here. I didn’t rush to get tickets – lots of concerts and lots of expenses left me thinking that I’d wait and see how I felt on the day. However, fate had other plans. The Prairie Dog had a pair of tickets to give away in a Facebook contest. They asked for comments on their post, so I posted “This is a comment.” A day later, they PM’d me to let me know I’d won. I looked back at the contest, and saw that I was the only entrant. So thank you to Prairie Dog, and thank you especially to the Facebook algorithm that decided that I was the only person who needed to see that post.

When the day came, I really didn’t feel like going. It’s cold and icy here, and I was sleepy even though I’d had the day off and didn’t do anything more strenuous than grocery shopping and getting a flu shot. As I dozed in front of the TV, I could easily have been talked out of going. But off we went.

We got to the Exchange and once seated, I got us some drinks, popcorn, and 50/50 tickets (didn’t win). May as well contribute a little since we got in for free. The popcorn was tasty but I question its proclaimed status as the world’s best.

The band hit the stage noting that though the crowd was small, we’d get rowdy. There were, unfortunately, not a ton of people there. Maybe 50 when the show started and not quite 100 at the peak, if I’m guessing. It’s a real shame; if people don’t come out, the bands won’t come back (said the guy who didn’t pay to be there). That said, it did seem like the people who were there were determined to make up the difference, with lots of people leaving their seats to go dance at the front of the stage. Some good participation – crowds at Folk Festival-promoted shows (or just shows here in general) sometimes tend to be on the reserved side.

Nomadic Massive bring high-energy rap out of Montréal in multiple languages. You should check that out if it sounds like your thing. Or maybe even if it doesn’t? I mean, that’s not something I listen to much, but I possibly should, since this was fantastic.

I’m not very familiar with Nomadic Massive so if you want to know what they played, I’m not your guy. I recognized one song and it wasn’t even their own – there was a bit of The Choice is Yours by Black Sheep (which I very much appreciated – that album was one of my Grade 10 favourites). They also did part of Alright by Kendrick Lamar but I wouldn’t even have picked up on that if Mika hadn’t told me. You don’t read these for informed opinions.

I’ll keep this one short since I have a big ol’ review backlog again and because I don’t know a thing about things anyway, but this was one of the best shows I’ve seen this year. Mika went one better, naming it her favourite this year. On the drive home, we talked about how neither of us really felt like spending the night out, but we both had a great time and were feeling energized when it was done. Apparently it was just what we needed.

I note, with some amusement, that my Apple Watch didn’t consider the half-hour I spent shoveling snow earlier in the day to be exercise. It did, however, give me credit for butt-dancing in my chair at this show. This is either a testament to how much I enjoyed myself or the inherent unreliability of fitness trackers. I suppose it can be two things.

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

October 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLCR #280: Colter Wall (May 8, 2017)

May 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLCR #269: Winterruption 2017 (January 19-21, 2017)

February 7, 2017

Hola, amigos. How’s it hangin’? I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya. Before this, my last concert was Bif Naked, on the night of the US election. From there, I took a break until January 19, aka the day before Inauguration Day. This was coincidental though I don’t blame anyone for thinking I had sworn off my music-loving ways and runnoft to live in a cabin in the woods with a shotgun and some water purification tablets.

I mean, last time out I said “I will hope against all logic and reason that the next four years are mostly okay and not the racist, misogynist, transphobic, anti-immigrant pants-shittingly reckless dumpster fire that this campaign and Trump’s entire life would lead one to expect.” To which I now say hahahahahahahaha naive idiot, you had hope, you’re dumb. Hope is dumb.

But whatever. When last we talked – and for all of last year, really – I talked about trying to see 40 concerts in my 40th year. That year is over and my final concert tally for the year is… 39. So it goes. I had lots of opportunities to get to 40 – and probably 52 without much more effort – but by the end of the year, I was finding myself kinda broke and all concerted out. So I’m 39 and holding, I guess. I’ll take that. The break was appreciated, but I am back with an all-new slate of upcoming shows and we’ll keep this thing going for the foreseeable future.

To make up for my two-month absence, I am combining an entire weekend worth of shows (by which I mean “two”) into one review. Why? To give you the supersize concert review experience that you’ve been missing, and because there are only so many times and ways I can pad out “they were good.”

Winterruption is a new annual concert series put on by the Regina Folk Festival and the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon. This is only its second year; you may recall that last year Mika and I saw Whitehorse with Andy Shauf and Emily Wells opening in what was a fantastic show at Darke Hall. It was a little bigger event this year, which unfortunately led to us having to make the hard choices, but it would have been even harder were we in Saskatoon. For the most part, the Regina and Saskatoon Winterruptions share acts, but Saskatoon is a bigger city and has more venues so Regina missed out on concerts by TUNS and Holy Fuck, as well as the Canadaland podcast taping, among other events. But even with the lesser lineup, Regina had three nights of shows spanning multiple venues. And you surely want to know everything we saw and what I thought of it all, right? You’re not just bored at work, skimming this because it looks enough like email to fool anyone who’s checking out your screen, right?

THURSDAY: Elliott BROOD with IsKwé and Begonia

The first hard choice I made was to not go to anything on the Thursday night. We saw Elliott Brood last year (and like last year, you only get all-caps once), and while they were good, I’m trying to cut back on my concert expenses a bit. Plus I never know how much I’ll feel like leaving the house in the middle of January. But I did really like them last time out, so I decided to leave it to the whims of fate; namely, I entered a few Facebook and Twitter like/share/retweet contests for tickets. And fate (and Prairie Dog magazine) really wanted me to see this show, I guess. Mika had schoolwork to do and/or recover from and wasn’t up to going, so I checked with a few of my usuals, but everyone else had plans (such as “not being interested”) so I wound up going alone. Not the first time, won’t be the last. The Exchange is a good place for weird loners. I bought myself a Diet Pepsi and found a table near the back with an excellent view.

The opener was IsKwé, who we saw at last year’s folk festival. From Winnipeg and of Cree/Dene descent, IsKwé and her band played hip-hop-influenced pop touching on a number of indiginious issues. The smaller, more intimate setting was a much better fit than the outdoor folk festival stage, and the videos projected on screen behind them added weight to their message.

By comparison, the next act joked about how IsKwé was singing about powerful issues while she was singing about a hot dog stand. This was Begonia, the solo project of Alexa Dirks from Chic Gamine. This was much more straightforward pop and I thought it was fine, though nothing really stood out to me (though I thought the hot dog stand song was delightful). More than anything, I thought Dirks seemed like a really likeable person, and not just because she made the first Experience Regina reference of the new SLCR year.

Finally, we got to Elliott Brood. They started things off a lot slower-paced than last year, opening with some quieter songs. They repeatedly brought up the political situation in the US and it seemed like everything really had taken the wind out of their sails a bit. Can’t blame them. That said, I also think they recognized this and played Oh Alberta pretty early on, as that always gets things going. I’m still not super familiar with too many of their songs, so I couldn’t tell you a ton of what they played, though I do know they played a song from their upcoming new album and… it didn’t go well. They tried, bless ’em, but they weren’t on the same page and joked about it for the rest of the night, which more than made up for the song itself. Plus they led everyone in singing happy birthday to IsKwé, and the dancing little kid Elliott Brood superfan was back from last year. All in all, it was a fun show, if a half-step off from the year before.

The show didn’t seem like it sold out – there was tons of open space for IsKwé, and though it did fill up as the night went on, it also seemed like lots of people were leaving early. Still a work night, I guess.

FRIDAY: Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids podcast taping

This was another one of the hard choices, as the Grownups recording at the Artesian was up against the Said The Whale / Northcote / The Garrys triple bill at the Exchange. And I really enjoy me some Northcote and at least one Said The Whale song, but Grownups is one of our favourite podcasts and we couldn’t pass it up.

I’d describe Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids except I just did. It started as a CBC summer replacement series a few years ago, and I didn’t think I’d enjoy it; I was expecting cringe humour which is not my favourite. But it’s not that at all – aside from the fact that not all of the readers bring funny pieces to the show, the audience is very supportive and everyone’s sharing the experience of looking back in time at who you once were.

To that end, a few weeks after we bought our tickets, they were still looking for readers, and I had been graced with a box of stuff from my mom’s basement when she moved, so I bit the bullet and signed up to read. I went through my pile of stuff and settled on a choose-your-own-adventure space epic entitled Misson [sic]: Ring Rescue. The backstory is that a girl in my Grade 6 class wrote a long story and got a lot of praise from the teacher. I like praise too, so I decided I’d write a long story as well, but I also liked not putting any effort into things, so I used the choose-your-own-adventure format to camouflage the lack of actual content. This fooled nobody. To put it in perspective, I wrote an eight-page story, but when I typed it up for ease of reading on stage, it fit onto one sheet of paper with room for me to add comments and to enlarge the font.

I won’t give a detailed review of the whole show. Comedy is best if it’s not wrecked for you, after all. But I will say that I was pleased with how my reading went but I don’t know if I’ll make it onto the podcast. This was my third time seeing a Grownups live show and it was easily the best of the bunch. Seventeen readers and not a dud among them. Paring down those 90-ish minutes to a 30-minute podcast will mean a lot of good stuff hits the floor.

Luckily for you, you can watch all of it: https://youtu.be/Y5oI-d1rCMs

I start at 37:21 but the whole thing is worth it. Bear in mind that I haven’t actually watched the video and I likely never will (my own human voice, how horrific), so I hope you enjoy and I hope I didn’t suck.

SATURDAY: Danny Michel with Mohsin Zaman and William Prince

This was either the Danny Michel show or the William Prince show, depending on if you were talking to me or Mika. I’ve been a fan of Michel for a long time now, whereas we saw Prince for the first time last fall when he won Aboriginal Artist of the Year at BreakOutWest, and she knew some of his songs from CBC Radio.

All of which leaves out poor Mohsin Zaman, but hey, he was new to both of us. Zaman is of Pakistani heritage but comes from Dubai by way of the only slightly less exotic Edmonton. He shared his life story while talking about giving up a banking career for a much riskier life as a musician. The choice is starting to pay off, as he was named the 2016 Male Artist of the Year in the Edmonton Music Awards. The set was just Zaman and his guitar, playing mostly his original tunes, though there were two covers thrown into the mix as well – Springsteen’s I’m On Fire (which is kind of actually a really creepy song if you think about it) and, yes, Aaron’s favourite cover song ever, Cohen’s Hallelujah. Both of the covers were different enough from the original versions to be interesting and Zaman is an excellent guitarist, but all in all, this was reminiscent of Begonia, where I left thinking Zaman seemed like a good guy more than being really into the music.

Like with Grownups, the Artesian was again sold out for this show, and between sets, they asked to find seats for a few people who didn’t have them yet. Which is fine, I get that. If it’s a seated show and you bought a ticket, you deserve a seat. (On a related note, ask me sometime why I will never buy a ticket for a show at the Artful Dodger again, and indeed, why you couldn’t pay me to go there! It’ll be fun, I’ll swear a lot.) That said, they were asking people who were already seated to scrunch in together to make room, and… no? You don’t inconvenience the people who bother to show up on time to accommodate the latecomers. But maybe I’m just irritated because we watched the artistic director of the folk festival ask some people to move over, and it’s like, I’m a big guy. I sit on an aisle seat for a reason. And I bet this dude did too. And then after he did shove down, the lady who showed up late sulked and sighed because she wasn’t sitting with her husband. You want to sit with your husband? Show up on time for the sold-out show.

Now, if you want complaints (and who doesn’t, they’re super fun to read and also completely relevant to everyone and never tiresome at all), William Prince was a dude who had some complaints. He was not having a great day when we saw him, having spent the week touring Saskatchewan schools and consequently being infected with a cold from our germy, germy children. He apologized for this repeatedly; Mika said it was obvious he had a cold, but to be honest, I don’t know if I’d have ever caught on if he hadn’t said anything. He was also struggling for a while with getting the sound he wanted through his monitor, which wasn’t helping his mood any. Despite all this, I thought his set was really good. Again, this was just him and a guitar (at one point, he made mention of a part where he’d play harmonica if only he’d remembered to put it around his neck before the song began), playing all originals. In particular, I’ve had the song Breathless stuck in my head for two weeks plus. Highly recommended if you like roots/folk singer/songwriter stuff. Would see again, and we’ll likely get the chance – he wink-wink hinted that he’ll be back in town for the folk festival this summer.

Last up was Danny Michel, who was promoting his new album Khlebnikov (recorded on a Russian icebreaker with an astronaut), which came out the day before. For what was essentially an album-release party, you’d expect a bunch of new songs, but no, he only played the title track. Beyond that, it was a lot like the last time we saw him, only we had seats and most of the people in attendance were less obnoxious. He played the one token old song (Whale of a Tale) and lots of stuff from more recent albums (Feather Fur & Fin, What Colour Are You, Click Click, Who’s Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone). He told a few stories I’d heard before (regarding Wish Willy and Samantha in the Sky with Diamonds) and even played an Elvis cover I’d heard him do before. That said, it might have been the familiarity with the material that boosted his confidence; it was one of the better Michel shows I’d seen and he was a lot more charismatic on stage than I’d seen before. He usually seems a little reserved but not on this night.

I said that most fans were less obnoxious but I am not counting the dude standing right next to me who let out a monster belch so loud that it brought the show to a halt right before the encore. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m a little impressed, but c’mon. Or maybe we should own it? Make that part of our new tourism campaign, perhaps. William Prince and Danny Michel got to experience Regina and one got infected and the other got burped at. Who knows what delights will await you?

UPCOMING CONCERTS

  • Big Wreck w/Ascot Royals (February 9)
  • Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt (March 1)
  • Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (March 8)
  • The Tea Party (March 18)
  • Bill & Joel Plaskett w/Mayhemingways (March 23)
  • Lisa LeBlanc (March 30)
  • I Love The 90s feat. Salt N Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Young MC, and Rob Base (April 1)
  • The Last Waltz Remembered feat. Corb Lund, Matt Andersen, Amy Helm, & the Russell Broom House Band (April 5)
  • Martha Wainwright (April 20)
  • BA Johnston w/Napalmpom (April 28)
  • Guns N’ Roses (August 27)