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)
This was destined to be bittersweet. The last time I saw Spirit of the West, lead singer John Mann had recently been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. We went, in part, expecting it to be our last chance to see the band.