Posts Tagged ‘the exchange’

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.

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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 #333: Hawksley Workman (January 27-28, 2019)

February 11, 2019

Last summer, I bought a notebook of fancy Clairefontaine paper, the kind Hawksley Workman sings about. I did this solely because of that song, not really thinking that I don’t ever write anything by hand anymore and already have ample paper supplies. With no pressing use for this impulse purchase, I decided to save it for the next Hawksley concert, breaking it in by writing the review. It seemed fitting, and it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these by hand. I come up with entirely different reviews when writing by hand, for sure. I even bought Baby’s First Fountain Pen to class it up. But then one show turned into two, and the paper and pen sat and sat as I contemplated hand cramps. So here I am, two weeks later, back in Notepad.

The first Hawksley show, announced late last year, was part of the Regina Folk Festival’s annual Winterruption series of concerts. A delightful surprise, as I wasn’t thinking we’d see him until after his new album, Median Age Wasteland, comes out in March. The second show, added a fair bit later, promised to be pretty unique. Titled “A Night on Drums,” it was a fundraiser for a local women’s shelter where Hawksley would… well, I didn’t really know. Play the drums. Talk about the drums. They’re his first instrument – and still clearly his favourite – but you don’t usually get to see him play them in concert for more than one song. I didn’t know what we were getting, but I figured it would be interesting.

For the Winterruption show, Mika and I got to the Exchange shortly before the first band was to start. I had promised there would be seats and I was turned into a liar. Oh well, we dumped our parkas at the coat check, got iced teas, and stood around looking at cute animal pictures until the show was underway.

About those parkas. The past few years, Winterruption has coincided with spurts of unseasonable warmth, which is a delight, though is it really Winterruption if there’s nothing to Winterrupt? This year, we’re in the middle of a stretch of -30C or worse with no end in sight. Winterminable cold. Attendance at this show was decent but it certainly wasn’t sold out, and the weather couldn’t have helped. It’s anecdotal, but I know of Hawksley fans – even some who already bought tickets – who skipped out rather than brave the elements.

The openers were local folk band Suncliffs and calypso band Kobo Town. Heard of both, never seen either, not much to say about either, both were good. Suncliffs had a short, laid-back, enjoyable set, while Kobo Town brought a lot more energy. Very summery music that clashed with both the bitter weather and some occasionally dark lyrics. Riots in Karachi might be a perfectly valid topic for a song, but an unusual choice for a fun fan singalong part.

Finally, Hawksley took the stage, joined for the first time in quite a while by Mr. Lonely, his long-time keyboard player. They opened with fan favourite Safe and Sound, which always gives Lonely a nice showcase. He also gave us the opportunity to whistle along which was not what I would describe as a nice showcase. Next up was Jealous of Your Cigarette, which included Hawksley sheepishly apologizing for some of the more risqué lyrics. “People really like this song and I can’t take that back now. But that’s what I was thinking about when I was 23.”

Next up was The City is a Drag, which segued in and out of Karma Chameleon, which I’ve seen him do a few times before. He starts with “Desert loving in your eyes all the way” and you can hear it dawn on individual audience members as they figure out what song it is.

As ever, Hawksley talked a lot throughout the show, going into detail about the writing of The City is a Drag (it involved poop everywhere, but I’ll let you guess whose) and repeatedly mentioning his resolution to talk less. He also introduced each new song by acknowledging that nobody ever goes to a concert to hear new songs. A lot of the time, sure, but I’m biased; Hawksley could have played all new stuff and I’d have been thrilled. I’m still a little disappointed that he wasn’t selling the new album six weeks before its street date, just for us.

Two of the new songs, Battlefords and Lazy, have already been released as singles. Battlefords in particular was beloved, with people in the crowd asking him to play it a second time. I went for coffee with one of my former bosses a month or two ago, and he brought the song up to me, not knowing that I like Hawksley, just that it was a song he really enjoyed (particularly the use of the word “akela,” which I admit I had to look up and am not doing so again to see if it should be capitalized).

Two other songs, 1983 and (he called it Oh Yellow Snowmobile but the tracklist just says Snowmobile so whatever) were new to me. Both were a delight. Everything from the new album is very nostalgic, but the part in 1983 about owning a VIC-20 but begging for a Commodore 64 spoke to me in an alarmingly specific way. I mentioned this to him on Twitter and he replied that at that time, they actually had a TRS-80, so I can only assume that he wrote this part just for me. Thanks, dude!

All told, the show was on the short side but delightful as ever. Here’s the full setlist, with a few notable deviations from the norm:

Safe and Sound
Jealous of Your Cigarette
The City is a Drag
Clever Not Beautiful
A Moth is Not a Butterfly
Battlefords
1983
Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky
Snowmobile
Ice Age
encore: Your Beauty Must be Rubbing Off

The night before, Hawksley had played another unique show, this time in Saskatoon in the restaurant at the top of the Sheraton Hotel. Seemed like an odd venue. The premise was that half the show would be whatever he wanted, and half would be fan requests. This was suitably different and tempting enough to make me consider the drive. It’s also a real bad time of year to be out on the highway, and I’ve been to back-to-back Hawksley shows before; they’re never that different. For those reasons, I leaned against going, though the final call was made for me when the Saskatoon show sold out in short order.

He didn’t take requests at our show. At one point, someone yelled out for the song Teenage Cats, to which Hawksley replied “I love that you love that song! I was singing it to myself a lot lately because I just met a new teenage cat. Anyway I’m not playing that song.”

Ultimately, of the two “real” concerts, the Saskatoon show sounded like the better one. With no openers, Hawksley was able to go a little longer and they wound up getting everything we did and five or so songs that we didn’t. Nothing new, thankfully – I’d have really felt like I missed out if that had been the case. And our openers were fun and good and worthwhile and all that. But still.

That said, Regina got the shorter concert, but also a whole other show. Teacher and drummer Brian Warren organized a drum-centric second night. Tickets were cheap, the show raised money for a good cause, and it promised to be unique, so I was totally down with this, even if I had no idea what I was getting into.

What it was wasn’t really a concert. Hawksley played drums twice – once for about 10 minutes near the start, which he described as “practicing, but with an audience,” and once where he put on a Jay-Z song and drummed along with it. Turns out he’s good at the drums, guys. Most of the show was talking, first Hawksley by himself, then a conversation with Warren who acted as host, and finally a Q&A. Hawksley’s stories are often quite polished, but he really seemed to let his guard down and was even a little nervous. I’m not going to tell his stories for him, but he spoke a lot about his childhood and how he got into drumming, how he and his music changed over the years, aspects of his personal life, his writing process, and more. I’m not a drummer or a anything, but that was never an issue – there were only a few points that got technical, and I might not know the names of different ways to grip drumsticks, but I get the idea, you know?

This also marked the only time I was at an event with a Q&A where I didn’t sink my head into my hands in embarrassment for someone asking a question. All the questions were good and relevant. And they were all questions! Anyone who starts with “This is actually more of a comment” should be immediately slapped and ejected and slapped again. We got none of that. Good work, local Hawksley fans.

SLCR #329: Classified (November 10, 2018)

November 18, 2018

Immediate disclosure: I didn’t go to this to go to Classified. I went because one of the three openers was Maestro Fresh-Wes, whose first big hit came nearly 30 years ago. I remember listening to Let Your Backbone Slide at my Grade 8 grad dance, when the song was still so new that the DJ didn’t have it so we made him play Cam McDonald’s dubbed copy that had a few seconds accidentally erased out of the middle.

Classified, I’d seen him do a few songs back when the Junos were here. Fun and all but not someone I’d necessarily have paid to see. Part of me considered leaving as soon as Wes was done and heading to the campus bar, where they were hosting Mac Sabbath, a Black Sabbath cover band that wears bootleg McDonaldland character costumes and sings the songs with new lyrics about fast food. I figured it would likely be terrible, but possibly the kind of terrible I should see. Or maybe not.

Doors at 8:00 and I got to the sold-out Exchange around 8:30. Had I checked Twitter for set times, I’d have stayed home a bit longer. I found my way in past the merch table adorned with DO NOT PUT YOUR FUCKING DRINK HERE! signs – really, I don’t know why this is the first time I’ve ever seen that – and found a post near the stage upon which I could lean.

I, a fat 42-year-old with a grey beard and thinning hair who mostly listens to singer-songwriter types, did not feel entirely at home at this rap show filled with near-children and the incessant smell of weed. Fortunately, I am at an age where I am largely invisible to the youth, so I just leaned on my post and played games on my phone while the place filled up. I bet I got a better time on the Saturday New York Times crossword than anyone else there.

According to the set times on Twitter, the opener, starting at 9:10, was Local Contest Winner. This turned out to be Kalem Moses, though he called himself Big Mo. And if you want to double check spelling and you google Big Mo Saskatchewan, you find our Premier’s Wikipedia page.

I’m not sure what exactly the Local Contest was that Big Mo Winnered, but he was very appreciative of the opportunity to open up the show, and it seemed like lots of people there knew him already. I think we’ve established that I have no business critiquing anyone here tonight, but he was pretty good. He said he was nervous but didn’t show it, and he rapped about being a recovering addict and the struggles that come with that, so I can’t fault the message.

At the end of his set, Big Mo tossed some CDs and shirts out to the people up at the front. One CD landed short, ending up behind the barricade at the front of the stage. This dude tried to reach over and grab it, but got stopped short by a large security guard who wasn’t approving of this at all. But then the guard got the CD for the guy, so everyone wins.

Next up was Choclair, who was a pretty big star in the late 90s and early 2000s, though I went looking back through his hits and really only kinda knew one or two. I wasn’t really listening to much rap then. This was only a half-hour but it was fun, and certainly felt like something I’d have been into if I’d heard it back when he first came around. Despite the age of the crowd, Choclair’s biggest reaction was saved for his 2000 hit Let’s Ride, so the kids today are clearly learning some history. Or maybe there were just more of my fellow olds in the crowd than I realized.

Up next was Maestro Fresh-Wes, much to the delight of 13-year-old me, and he opened with Drop the Needle, one of my favouites from back then. Really, he could have done that and Let Your Backbone Slide and I’d have been set, but we got a short set spanning his whole career. Lots of Canadian content included, with songs sampling The Guess Who, Rush, and Gowan, among others. And of course he played Backbone and of course I geeked out. Maestro Fresh-Wes does not age and this was super fun. The aforementioned large security guard also seemed to enjoy this set, with a few quickly suppressed smiles sneaking out. There may even have been some brief tapping of toes.

I never seriously considered leaving to see Mac Sabbath, but if I had thought about it, I’d have passed. I mentioned that this show was sold out, and the crowd was great. Jam packed, mostly not dicks, and super supportive of everything. These people loved Kalem Moses. They loved Choclair. They loved Maestro Fresh-Wes. They loved putting their hands in the air – like, a LOT. And they hadn’t even gotten to the guy most of them were really there to see yet. For atmosphere alone, this show was great.

I mean, not the literal atmosphere. When the Exchange is full, you might die of heat stroke. And again, it never didn’t smell like weed. Though I don’t really care about that, and I doubt anyone there considered that to be a negative.

My take on Classified – having heard all of two songs before this show, and only remembering one – is that he seems like he just wants everyone to drink and smoke and party and have a good time and feel good. And in a world that often sucks and is terrible, I can’t really take issue with this. I like having a good time and feeling good! In front of a backdrop made to look like the corner store in his hometown, Classified delivered party anthems to an adoring crowd. They sang along with everything, old and new, hits and deep cuts alike. You’ll be pleased to learn that he played the one song I know (Inner Ninja, the one Classified song everyone knows) and it was fun.

While I didn’t know many songs, one made an impression. Classified did one of his newer songs, Powerless, which talked about empathizing with sexual assault survivors and working to resolve racial inequalities (including the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women). Given the themes of the rest of his songs, the tonal shift was a little jarring, but that was more than offset by the importance of the message. And judging from the reaction (especially from female fans) when he introduced the song, people are paying attention.

But mostly, it was just a fun party show. At one point, he brought a fan on stage, did a song with her (always a risky move, but she did well), then had her stage dive back into the crowd as everyone cheered her on. I don’t think the large security guard liked that. I think he had a few objections to different things on this night, but mostly just tried to get through his shift with minimal hassle.

At the end of the show, he called Choclair and Maestro Fresh-Wes back up on stage. I’m sure this is a planned part of every show, but Choclair had been enjoying his Saturday night and seemingly forgot that this was going to happen. No matter – he found his way back to the stage and they pulled off a fun cover of Northern Touch (well, not a cover for Choclair, but you know) and Classified looked like he was loving it.

Ultimately, this was a really enjoyable show. The music was fun and the overall vibe was really positive. I did feel a little bit like an alien spying on another civilization – there was never a point where I wasn’t at least a tiny bit conscious of how little I fit in there – but whatever. It was a good show and I’m glad I went and that post probably needed someone to prop it up anyway.

SLCR #320: Cadence Weapon (October 2)

October 12, 2018

Are you ready for three opening acts? On a work night? On the day of our first real winter snowfall?

Probably not. I mean, I wasn’t.

This was a classic example of a night where if I hadn’t bought a ticket well in advance – this was announced back in May – I wouldn’t have gone. Even with the ticket, I still thought about skipping out. The ticket was only $15 and I’m old and I tire and I come from a long line of seniors who run the furnace in the middle of the summer. I like rest and warmth.

Apparently, my fellow citizens feel the same way. The tickets said doors at 7:30, show at 8:00. I arrived at 8:35, nothing had started yet, and the crowd consisted of 16 people. I counted. This number only got worse when I realized I’d accidentally included all three openers in my tally, since they were hanging out in the audience. A couple more folks showed up over the course of the evening, but that was all – even by the very end of the night, I think we’d have needed to count musicians and venue staff to break 30 people. This was the second-smallest audience for a concert that I’ve ever been to, topped (?) only by that ill-fated first Son of Dave tour over 15 years ago. Really, I’m not sure why nobody made the call to move the show into the Club, the smaller room at the Exchange. At least the room wouldn’t have looked quite so cavernous.

Anyway, I bought a pop, grabbed a chair from the stack along the wall, and found a place to park myself. I wind up going to a lot of shows by myself and I don’t really mind, since nobody pays attention to the old guy and I can just sort of blend into the crowd. That wasn’t happening here, not that it mattered. I did wind up making fast friends with two women who were sitting near me, by which I mean I held their table for them a few times when they went outside to smoke, and otherwise we didn’t talk. I don’t think it was in any danger of being taken but it’s good to have a purpose.

Local musician Loa, or possibly LOA, pronounced “low,” was first up, and immediately ran into some technical challenges. They shut off the background music so she could perform, but her mic wasn’t working, and that took a while to fix. Meanwhile, they didn’t turn the background music back on right away, and you could hear every conversation in the place, every footstep… it kind of felt like time stood still. Eventually they sorted things out, though another snafu shut off one of her prerecorded beats mid-song. She sounded a little nervous when she talked but ultimately handled a tough situation (or two or three) pretty well. Her music – electronic pop with R&B influences – wasn’t really my thing, though that’s just more my tastes than anything, it was all done well.

If they were making any concession to the small crowd, it’s that there was no messing around between acts. Maybe five minutes passed between Loa ending and Hua Li starting up. It really could have been a bit longer, since basically the entire audience except me all collectively went for a smoke when Loa finished.

As a female rapper from Montreal of Chinese descent, Hua Li is unique in my concert-going experiences. She took the stage with confidence and pretty much killed it. With everyone outside, she started her set in front of literally three or four people, but everyone swarmed back in as soon as they heard her. She held everyone’s attention with powerful fast flows and some slower grooves. At one point, Li called everyone up to the front so that she could tell a personal story about her mom and about the experience of growing up the child of an immigrant – I was going to stand but I happened to be on table-watching duty at that moment which is the worst legitimate excuse I’ve ever used. She also mentioned being appreciative of the opportunity to share the bill with another woman for the first time on the tour.

Literally seconds after Li was done, Fat Tony was on stage. I noticed that this tour is continuing into the US, and there, Tony, coming from Houston, is the headliner. This was my first exposure to him, and – rap expert that I am – I thought he was fantastic. He took the stage and brought the lights down low, the better to see that he was rapping in front of a projected background of Heathcliff cartoons and Space Channel Five game footage. And then he had the lights brought back up so he could actually see his pedals. He was funny, super charismatic, and prone to yelling. And while he was mostly focused on performing songs from his new record 10,000 Hours, which just came out, we even got a Regina-specific rap about how much he liked his lunch at Hunter Gatherer that day – “and they ain’t even pay me to say that shit.” I still haven’t been, but apparently the burger of the day and a cup of soup is the way to go.

Finally – I say that though it was still pretty early – Cadence Weapon came out with Hua Li as his DJ. I moved up to the front and found a nice pole I could lean on. Really, I think everyone there went up to the front. Cadence Weapon (is it cool to just say Cadence? Or Mr. Weapon?), the former poet laureate of Edmonton, treated us to songs spanning his entire career, everything from his recently released self-titled fourth album, to a few songs (including Sharks and Oliver Square) from his debut, Breaking Kayfabe. We even got some new unreleased tracks – all delivered with energy and finesse.

There was a funny moment when he introduced a new-ish song about the greatest hockey player. After dismissing one audience member’s guess of Kanye West, everyone decided that the song was about Wayne Gretzky. Cadence Weapon clarified that the song was actually about the greatest active player… Connor McDavid. And everyone in unison said “…oh.” It was one of the greatest mass disappointments I’ve ever heard. People didn’t even care enough to be angry about the pick. It makes sense, Edmonton and all. Just… oh. The song itself was fun, helped along by two girls who tried to hijack the call-and-response part where we were supposed to yell “Connor McDavid” by yelling “Wayne Gretzky” instead.

At the end of his set, Cadence Weapon made the closest thing to an acknowledgement of the crowd size, saying something along the lines of “tell your friends who aren’t here that they missed a hell of a show.” And they did – this was a great show and everyone gave it their all, even when you know their hearts couldn’t have been all the way in it. As much as I’d love to blame this on how hard it can be to get people out in Regina sometimes, I’m not sure it’s going better anywhere else. They were scheduled to play Calgary on the night after Regina, but that show wound up cancelled with no reason given. Earlier this week, I saw that there was a price drop on tickets for students for their upcoming Saskatoon show, but the deal was open to everyone since “we were all students once.” I don’t know what the deal is – I know Cadence Weapon went six years between albums, but that couldn’t be it exclusively. Maybe there are just too many shows right now and people are picking and choosing? October is my most loaded concert month this year, and I’ve passed some things by. Whatever the reason, I hope things turn around – something this good deserves to be seen.

SLCR #319: The Fred Eaglesmith Show starring Tif Ginn (September 23, 2018)

October 1, 2018

That’s what the poster called it so that’s what I’m calling it, at least once. And probably never again.

Let us briefly recap my history with Fred Eaglesmith, such as it is. For a long time, people have told me that I’d like his music. How long? The first song of his I ever heard was Time to Get a Gun, which Apple Music tells me came out 21 years ago. That was also the only song of his I heard for years. There were always other shows to go to, other CDs to buy. I don’t know what my excuse was in the Napster era but I clearly had one. Finally, two years ago (to the day, as I’m writing this), he came through town and the stars aligned (meaning I bought an advance ticket so I wasn’t likely to back out at the last minute) and I got the chance to see him. And sure enough, I had a really enjoyable time.

This time out, I got to the Exchange a few minutes before the show was set to start. It seemed a fair bit less busy than last time; I don’t attribute that to anything other than it being harder to get people out on a Sunday night than a Saturday. I took a seat in the back along the wall.

Right on time, we were joined by Fred Eaglesmith and Tif Ginn. And a kid? Their kid, specifically. Or so they said. I mean, I don’t know this kid. He’s in Grade 4 (home-schooled, or rather, “bus-schooled”) and his name is Blue, and he also has a real name that’s not Blue, but does that matter? All three of them sang two songs, then Blue sang a song by himself that he wrote about a puppy, then all three sang another song. Just as I was thinking “so… is the whole show going to be this?” Blue was done. Eaglesmith made what I thought was a joke about sending Blue to work the merch table, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he actually did.

This was, thus far, not my thing. One song would have been cute. Four? And it wasn’t like the kid was bad. It’s just… let me tell you this. When I was roughly that kid’s age, my dad bought me my first cassette player. He also got me two tapes, which I can only describe as wild-ass guesses as to my 10-year-old musical tastes: a Mini-Pops collection (if you’re younger than me, or possibly not Canadian, think Kidz Bop) and the greatest hits of Kenny Rogers. Despite only owning two cassettes for a while, I never even once made it through the first side of that Mini-Pops tape. Not my thing. I listened to a LOT of Kenny Rogers.

I may as well add here that when I was in high school, my dad also got me my first CD player and made a similar wild-ass guess as to what I’d like for my first two CDs and they were Tone-Loc’s Loc’ed After Dark and the Days of Thunder soundtrack. Days of Thunder got played only slightly longer than the Mini-Pops but at least it had Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door on it.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The rest of the show was pretty much exactly like that one two years ago. I recognized some of the same songs. He told some of the same jokes. Ginn sang a song or two on her own and sassed him a bit and played everything from ukulele to melodica to accordion to drums.

And like before, Fred spent a lot of time talking to the audience. The theme of “let’s all get along and everybody be nice to each other” is coming up a lot at these shows lately, and I get why, and I’m going to endorse it every time out (even though I don’t always do the best job of living it myself). The talk about “can you believe people buy expensive TVs to watch millionaires throw the ball around,” though – kinda hackneyed and also not real high on my list of pressing concerns these days.

I don’t generally mind when a show feels a lot like one that came before it, as long as the one that came before it was good. This time, though, I wasn’t feeling the start and so it took me quite a while to warm up to things. Which isn’t really fair – most of the show was what I was wanting. Eaglesmith mixes equal parts storytelling, humour, and commentary, an appealing mix which makes his songs quite listenable. And the sound at the Exchange was fantastic; I’m hardly even an Eaglesmith neophyte, much less an expert, but I could easily make out every word. The music sounded great as well. Really, everything was fine, just felt a bit like a rerun that I wasn’t quite as into the second time around.

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

May 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLCR #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)