Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Songs from Reunion Tour || The Independent || San Francisco, CA

Its the last, last night of watching the Weakerthans perform their entire catalogue of music at the Independent in San Francisco.  Over the last four nights we have met new friends from afar, relived our youth and felt like we were all witness to and part of something very special.  Here is an article from the SF Weekly that articulates the inner Weakerthan geek that we all unashamedly possess.  These shows have been a chance to be among our like-minded.

So on night four, as the Weakerthans break into Civil Twilight, I think about Winnipeg’s Confusion Corner and how much colder it must be there today.  For the record it is ONE degree Fahrenheit.  They move on through Reunion Tour like it is a familiar friend.  They are much more comfortable with it than the songs of Fallow.  There is a rumor that the San Francisco curling team is here.  So, when the entire band skips a verse of Tournament of Hearts this is even more comical.  This is the curlers song, after all.  It may be the only one in existence.  Only Jason seemed to notice the missing part.  After a couple of humorously failed attempts to play from the missed verse on – Jason moves on by starting Virtute Explains her Departure without consensus from the rest of the band.  They all fall in line and move on.  The mistake was well played.  The thing I love about this band is that they never take themselves too seriously.  They play with the comfort, ease and humor as they are playing a friend's house party.

Greg is always blurry!

Virtute Explains Her Departure is always a hard song for me.  The ache they have somehow instilled in this song hurts me particularly this year because I’ve left my geriatric dog at home while I go on vacation.  Just a few years back he was in the backseat of my car on a 2,800 trip from Atlanta to San Francisco and now my buddy is too old to do so.  So, though I know he is at home safe, my guilt wells up and mixed with the mortality in this song its a little much for me these days.  I know that according to JKS, the cat just ran away, but to many of us that is nearly the same as Virtute meeting his or her mortality.

With whiskey in hand, JKS does his Gump Worsley tribute.  A treat I don’t think I ever got to see when they actually toured for this album.  They are wiping the cobwebs off this one…. And the people love it. 

Sun in an Empty Room brightens up the mood and we are all big grins.  How does JKS write such universal songs about such a basic subject like moving and make you love it so much? Because it's about so much more.  

In order of appearance on the record, Night Windows and Bigfoot follow – both magical songs about things beyond our reach, I think they are nestled well together.  A guest French horn player is brought to the stage for Bigfoot.  This song would not be the same without those beautiful horns.

John moves over the keyboard, Jason gets out the xylophone and the French horn player returns and Reunion Tour seems like a goal we have all reached together.  A song of celebration, that we have made it (almost) to the end of this marathon.  No one got hurt, fun was had by all and all our voices are hoarse from singing along…

The bookend to all this is Utilities: a tender, vulnerable song that kind of questions our purpose in life and hopes for definition.  But the best part about this whole night in my opinion is to see John’s devilish smirk as he plays his ONE guitar solo.  The crowd cheers!  John smiles and gladly takes in the applause.  It’s adorable. I really miss Rusty’s back up vocals on this one though.

At this point they have played every single song they have released on an album.  Most of the band leaves the stage and John performs the crowd pleaser One Great City.  I think back to being in the Winnipeg Underground at the dollar store. What follows is kind of a greatest hits collection: Futon Revolutionist, Aside, Left and Leaving and Plea.  I love that Plea from a Cat named Virtute is just abbreviated as “Cat” on the set list.  None of the Above was a surprise as one of the last songs, but it did kind of make us all stop, breathe and realize this little treasure they have given us over the past four days was closing up and moving on.  

They end the night with the magnificent finally that is Manifest! And as I start to sing along and stomp my feet I think to myself “Wait!  This song is so short!  No!  It’s really almost over.”

And just like that it is.

But I need sleep.  My voice is hoarse and my feet have stopped taking me where I want to go.  So, it’s time to move on. As I write this, back on the flight to Atlanta, I think to myself how lucky I am to have experienced this twice and I hope chance smiles so kindly on me again someday.

See you next time guys!

So, for those that are left wanting more, we have a John K. Samson solo album to look forward to in January and a small US tour to follow.  Check out video this – but beware it’s gonna get stuck in your head.  The album is called Provincial and you can pre-order it HERE.  As to why JKS did not mention this to four sold out crowds of his fans... well, I guess that's just his way.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Songs from Reconstruction Site || The Independent || San Francisco, CA

So tonight we watched the Weakerthans perform the songs from Reconstruction Site.

It seems like nearly everyone I met in the crowd had traveled at least 5 hours to see these shows.  Tonight I met more people from Los Angeles and even people from Ontario!?  What?  Canadians crossed the border, and exchanged their currency to see a band from Canada?  I think that is just fabulous.

The opener tonight was Said the Whale which was like a breath of fresh air after the last two nights. You should check out their song Camilo. 

So, every time I hear the song Manifest I think of when it came out and I lived in this really shitty basement apartment at Emory University with these four frat guys living above me.  But in the middle of the afternoon one day I started hearing the Weakerthans through the heating vents.  Was this really happening?  I want to call requests through heating vents, and hear them answered with a whispered "no".  Was one of these "dudes"actually a Weakerthans fan?  I had never met a Weakerthans fan before that had not been converted by me.  What a special and random coincidence.

And when I hear Reconstruction Site I think of Stu Reid who has a radio show in Winnipeg called the Twang Trust.  He once told me that one of his favorite lyrics are:

And his father laughed and talked on the long ride home
And his mother laughed and talked on the long ride home
and he thought about everyone dies someday
and when tomorrow gets here where will yesterday be
and fell asleep in his brand-new winter coat.

So, tonight Stu, I thought of you when they played his song.

I do have a question about this song for JKS that maybe I will ask one day.  I want to know if he was stealing batteries from smoke alarms to use in his effects pedals?  This was always a common occurrence at our home.

I guess I should focus and write more about the show.  Of course it was really amazing.  I think the new guy has settled in and feels comfortable.  It was a relaxed show and the most crowded of all of the nights.  Again, I love how nice the crowd is to each other.  As we each file in for the third night in a row, like homing pigeons we all settle into our regular spots early and we look around and there is a camaraderie like "Hey, I know you".

One of the most exciting things to happen during this installment is that audience member Max from LA was asked to jump on stage to play an impromptu solo for Wellington's Wednesdays.  And he did an amazing job.  As many of you many know this was done at the Burton Cummings theater in Winnipeg on at least two occasions and both were great, but I think Max kinda kicked those solos asses tonight!  Way to go, Max!

If you have never payed much attention to what Jason Tait adds to the soundtrack that is the Weakerthans, I suggest you change that right now.  He is really a multi-instrumentalist and my favorite thing is he makes instruments out of just "stuff".  So, not only does he keep the tempo going, his additions really make the show a lot more atmospheric.  I am sure after playing these songs a hundred times you have to change something up just to keep sane and the things he adds are pretty darn cool.  Night windows, Without Mythologies and Hospital Vespers would not be the same without him.

What I find so comical is when Stephen gets bored and tries out some new little guitar trickery.  He is over in the corner with a big grin tinkering with his pedals or guitar and John and Jason look at him like "what the hell are you doing over there?"  Last night in particular, unbeknownstto Stephen, Jason was making faces and gestures behind him while he tinkered around with a new part.  Sorry to let the cat out of the bag, but it was comical.

JKS once spoke about how he would like to propose concert etiquette, where he said he would prefer photos not being taken at shows.  Out of respect for this, when I was in Winnipeg I did not take one photo.  You know how hard that was?!  But now that we are on my old stomping ground I have snapped a few subtley taken photographs and from down low so no one has to watch the show through my camera lens.  I do agree that in the day of smart phones that things really get annoying if you are behind that guy who takes hundreds of pictures without experiencing the live show.  Its all about presence... sometimes that means you should put down the camera, close your eyes and listen.

Sadly, tomorrow is the last of the San Francisco installments of The Weakerthans.  It makes me want to go ahead and book that flight to NYC.  But I won't.  Its good to want for things.  Its good to always want a little more.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Songs from Left & Leaving || The Independent || San Francisco, CA

Can I just say that I adore Weakerthans crowds?  They are a delightful bunch of people.  Everyone is always so happy to be there that they smile at each other while they sing like we are all in this together and we all "get it".  It makes me proud to be one of them.  And today, in fact I met two other groups of people who traveled for this show... one from LA and the other from Colorado.  That's Texas, Colorado and Georgia in the house... and I know there are more of you.

Tonight may have been one of my favorite Weakerthans show ever.  They just had an amazing energy that translated to the crowd.  They always put on good shows (well... there was that one show in Birmingham... see I am honest) but tonight there was something special in the air.  A great energy.  A comfort.  A connection with everyone in that room.

In the past, I have overlooked the specialness of Elegy for Elsabet -- until I see it again live, that is.  Not only is this the one where Stephen gets out his whirly toy, but the weakness that JKS lets creep through in his voice... the way he lets it crackle a little with the high notes... makes it a very intimate and precious song.  Like you are laying witness to something very tender and personal.  Also the live version of Without Mythologies is a haunting, thunderous version of the original.   And of course best of all, the one that changes everything Left and Leaving.  There is something that happens when JKS starts into that little rolling riff.  The air clears, peoples ears perk up, everyone smiles and energy of the room changes.  I am not making this shit up!  Something about the energy of the room significantly changes every time they play this song. It's as if the air gets clearer and we all become present.

Tonight was a joy.

I know, no head.  But I loved the artsy lighting.

So, after all these niceties, I have to admit that I simply could not stand the opening band for the past two nights.  I tried! I promise, I really tried.  I am a huge musical Canadaphile and they were from Vancouver but I have to be honest and say just could not get into the angular, prog-rock, ADHD on steroids musical that I experienced over the last two nights. I tried to not let this show on my face, but I am a pretty honest and I have a feeling they could tell.

To add to my guilt in admitting this... at one point the guitarist leaned down to me and asked me to strum a note for him.  It was nice.  It broke the tension and pleased the crowd... and I admittedly smiled.  So, they broke my stealth austere but I still couldn't like em.  It just obviously was not for me.

Tomorrow we here the songs from Reconstruction Site... I also hope they throw in Night Windows: A respectful song about dead people.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Songs from Fallow || The Independent || San Francisco, CA

Tonight I watched the The Weakerthans perform the songs from Fallow at The Independent in San Francisco.  I stood in my "regular" place, stage right, close to Stephen.  I am a bass player but I always like watching the guitarists most.  Especially when you are a bad ass like Stephen is and go from lap steel (which I adore) to the noise maker kids toys and then to guitar -- all in one song.
My Perspective
The band seems comfortable.  JKS was apologetic that he was playing some of these rightfully overlooked songs (paraphrase of his description).  Of course, we the crowd have a different perspective.  The chance to see some of these songs performed is just a gift in our eyes.  You could tell by the way the crowd sang every song of that album that they view it as a treasure.  

The band seemed happy to see a crowed room full of smiling people that are so grateful for their presence.  I will say that Canadian crowds are totally different than American crowds.  The Canadians are polite and modestly enthusiastic.   They have small polite claps and every so often a drunk audience member will yell out a song request or start thrashing around trying to start a mosh pit to "Futon Revolutionist" while everyone else quietly tries to ignore him. Maybe it's because the Weakerthans are no rarity in Canada, but the crowds are definitely more subdued there.

American crowds, on the other hand, are more of a "let it all hang out" kind of bunch. They scream lyrics out of key, incessantly scream out a dialogue between songs and thrash around to anything with a moderate tempo until they fall on the ground.  Literally. But can you blame them?  The last time I remember the Weakerthans playing California was 2007!  

There is a lot of camaraderie in the crowd at Weakerthans shows: Like we are all witness to something special.  Something rare and beautiful.  I met one girl in the crowd who hugged me because I was wearing a Winnipeg shirt.  I suppose she thought I was Canadian.  Still, it was sweet.  I met another girl in the crowd who had come from Austin.  This band truly does compel people to travel long distances to see them.  I wish I could survey the audience to see where everyone is from.   I bet we would have a wide contingency from outside San Francisco.

I will say the guy that yelled out "Propagandhi Sucks!" did look like an idiot.  Come on, there's no need for that kinda play.  Don't embarrass us all in front of the visitors.

Perhaps it's that the Weakerthans do not tour the US often... that it gets us more riled up.  It's like a drug... give us a little and we just want more.  Supply and demand is well illustrated here.

I will admit that am sad that Rusty is gone.  I knew this before the show but still not seeing his goofy smile up there made me kind of sad.  I have been told the new guy is Daniel Ledwell.  Of course he is very talented and adorable, but I just miss Rusty with his Manitoba tattoo and big grin.  I am not sure if he is gone for good... I surely hope not.  I know he is on tour with his own band Imaginary Cities, so I hope it's just that he has other priorities at the moment.  He was the perfect addition to the Weakerthans.

According to my laptop it is 319AM where I usually lay my head back in Georgia, so I should probably nod off.  After all, this is just the beginning....   

And here we go again...

Today leave Atlanta, GA for San Francisco to see the Weakerthans perform another installment of their "Four and More":  Four nights featuring the songs of the entire Weakerthans' catalog at The Independent.  All but the first show (featuring Fallow) are sold out.

I struggled deciding if I should use this blog again... or start a new.  The trip to Winnipeg, the shows, the people: it was such a magical time.  Will this be as magical?  It can't possibly be.  There's just no way to top my visit to Winnipeg.  But seeing my favorite band in one of my favorite cities ain't a bad way to end the year, I'd say!

My preparation for San Francisco is much less than was necessary for a Winnipeg winter. They've never had 5 foot snow banks.  There is no currency to be converted.  I used to live there so, I'm familiar with it's streets and I have a handful of friends still there.  I will revisit my favorite haunts of course -- but it wont be like discovering a new and magical land you have only heard about in songs.

So, first things first -- I admit and embrace that this is a departure from the blogs initial purpose... though it still has a similar heart.  Plus, I opened my blogger account and a fly flew out... sadly showing my lack of writing as of late.  So, the accounts of this trip will be much shorter, but I figured I should write something.

I am staying near the Painted Ladies

So, what will be different this year?

This year I am older.  I am on my grounds.  My land.  They will be a guest in my country, in a city that once housed my heart.  Also this year, rather than traveling a lot, I spent it at home under the covers snuggling up with my aging dog who I've traveled the country with.  He is now too old to travel and had an accident this summer where I almost lost him.  He is chugging along... a little slower... a little more grumpy.... and his rapidly aging it changed my pace.  I had to move to a "handicap" accessible apartment and I have not been leaving him much.

So, this time round when I hear "Virtute explains her departure" I am pretty darn sure I a few deep sobs are gonna escape me and I am just going to embrace that and let it be what it is.  There's no trying to be cool when it comes to the love of a pet.

And in preparation, I am watching the film "We are the Weakerthans, We're from Winnipeg."  My dear friend from Ottawa who actually first introduced me the Weakerthans sent me a copy in a Canadian themed "care package" along with maple syrup, something called "Tire Esponge" and a hat.  I think he still worries about me getting cold!

And for the record:  I already have my frequent flyer miles saved up for my next Winnipeg trip.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thinking of you...

Touring Weakerthans' Landmarks wih the CBC

At CBC Studios

So, the morning after I got to Winnipeg the lovely Rosanna Deerchild from CBC Radio One took me on a tour of Weakerthans lyrical landmarks and recorded the entire escapade. It was so much fun! 
(At the time, my camera hijacked photos we took and I could not get them free until now!  
So, sorry for the late post.)

First of all Rosanna and I headed to "the underground" and Winnipeg Square. This is referenced in the song "One Great City."  Of course I wanted to see the place where there were "a thousand sharpened elbows."   The Underground is located underneath the corner of Portage and Main.  It's a series of halls which basically form an underground mall that attaches downtown buildings together so that you do not have to deal with the weather.  It is the counterpart to the Skywalk (which I call "Hamster Tubes").  So not only do you have these alternate ways of getting around but what is also strange is that you can not cross at Portage and Main streets on foot at street level. It is baracaded off - so you must go into the underground if you want to do anything other than turn right at any of the corners.

Also, if I understand this correctly, Winnipeg Square is actually underground.  Is that right?  If so, that would be strange - but beleivable. 

And per an adequate lyrical description - the floor was polished which cause people's shoes make a distinctive sound - and get this -- there was even a dollar store right there smack dab in the middle of the underground.  

Map of Portage and Main

Photo of Portage and Main (Above the Underground)

We walked around the underground, through the skywalks and over to the library where we picked up a bus over to Osborne Village to see "Confusion Corner".  This area reminds me of my neighborhood, Little Five Points, in Atlanta  and right in the middle is a place that made me very grateful that I was not driving.  

Confusion Corner is a reference in the song Civil Twlight and it is an actual place in Winnipeg. Before I started this blog I had no idea that this was an actual place I could visit.  This in fact is why I started the blog in the first place, to gather just that kind of information.  So Confusion Corner is like a street level version of what we call "Spegetti Junction" except for it is a huge hub for the buses as well which kind of makes it look even more... well, confusing.  It is where many commuters pick up the bus or transfer from bus to bus.  One wonderful thing that I discovered is that many of Winnipeg's inclosed bus stops have heated seats!  I can say from personal experience that this is a luxury when you are waiting for a bus at 10pm in 5F degree weather!  Good job, Winnipeg!

Next, we ventured back across the river towards the "Golden Business Boy."   Did you know that rivers can freeze?  I didn't.  This may make me sound completely niaeve but I thought that the definition of a river was that it was moving water!  Well, in Winnipeg, the river freezes.  In fact, it was mid-December and it was already half-frozen over.  Apparently by late-January this river becomes the longest ice skating river rink in the world... and on the other side of the river is the Golden Business Boy.

The Golden Business Boy is another reference from "One Great City" and is the golden male figure on top of the Legistlature Building who is holding a torch and wheat while wearing a loin cloth.  He has a nice toned body but in my opinion looks a little naked in a Winnipeg winter.  You would think they would at least give him a scarf when winter comes.  Indeed he does look towards the North End.  Leaving Osborne Village the view of his golden butt.   

On the way back I saw my first Winnipeg winter "stroller".  It is not a stroller at all, apparently in winter in Winnipeg people just pull their kids around in sleds.  I asked Roseanna how they got the kids to stay in the sled and then I took a second look.  This kid was wrapped up like that kid in A Christmas Story... there is no way she could have wiggled her way out.  It would have just taken too much energy and dexterity. 

Rosanna and I headed back to CBC headquarters where we finnished our interview.  She went to work editing our conversation.  I went home and took a nap.  Good job Rosanna.  You can hear the CBC piece below.

Listen to the final piece here:

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One Great City Lyrics - The Weakerthans
Late afternoon, another day is nearly done. A darker gray is breaking through a lighter one. A thousand sharpened elbows in the underground. That hollow hurried sound of feet on polished floor, and in the Dollar Store the clerk is closing up, and counting Loonies, trying not to say, "I hate Winnipeg." The driver checks the mirror, seven minutes late. The crowded riders' restlessness enunciates that the Guess Who suck, the Jets were lousy anyway. The same route every day. And in the turning lane, someone's stalled again. He's talking to himself, and hears the price of gas repeat his phrase: "I hate Winnipeg." And up above us all, leaning into sky, our Golden Business Boy will watch the North End die, and sing "I love this town," then let his arcing wrecking ball proclaim, "I hate Winnipeg."