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.
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)