Gord Downie The Secret Path at Roy Thomson Hall | October 23rd 2016
“Let’s not celebrate the past 150 years.”
As a Canadian, strong in our national pride and beliefs that we are one helluva nation, this may sting a bit. Downie and the Hip have toured for years singing about Canadian history, our artists, our beautiful landscape, our hockey teams and more. Last night’s performance at Roy Thomson Hall however was tackling something that “white Canada” has ignored for years: the long lasting effects of indigenous oppression and the residential school system in particular. In that sense, the idea that we shouldn’t celebrate our history isn’t so crazy.
Downie’s performance at Roy Thomson Hall last night was done in conjunction with the recent release of Secret Path– a graphic novel featuring Downie’s poetry and the illustrations of Jeff Lemire. It tells the story of Chanie Wenjak, a twelve year old boy who was found dead from starvation after running away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School in Kenora and trying to make the 600km trek home. Gord translated these poems and this story into beautiful music to go along with a short film.
Upon entrance to the venue,we received a small bundle of tobacco to hold throughout the show and release somewhere peaceful afterwards. We were also given tissues as the show was anticipated to trigger high emotions. These tissues were collected after the show and sent to the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation in Manitoba to be ceremoniously burned.
The concert started with a talk by Mike Downie, Gord’s brother, who introduced the show. Finally, Gord took the stage and performed ten songs back to back while the film was screened in the background. Each song told a different story of Wenjak’s escape and eventual death- leaving home and going to a strange new place, being out in the school yard and witnessing abuse, sexual harassment, running away, walking along the tracks and staring death in the face in the elements of the Canadian wilderness.
The performance and corresponding screening of Secret Path was beautifully done. The film’s illustrations contrasted the bleak world of the residential school and Chanie’s escape with the warmth of his home. Even the colours symbolized the assimilation. In his memories, Chanie’s skin was darker but as he was assimilated his skin and that of the other students turned gaunt and white. Their identities were being stripped. The songs were absolutely haunting and perfectly fit the story.
Afterwards, a short documentary of Downie’s visit to Ogoki Post to visit Wenjack’s family was screened. Gord explained his mission to Chanie’s sisters, saying he had a platform to do something significant right now. The audience chuckled as Gord told them about the Tragically Hip show in Kingston- the family had no idea what he was talking about. They hadn’t seen it. Soon however, the conversation turned serious as the sisters reminisced about Chanie and as the group visited his grave site.
After the documentary, the large Wenjak family who had taken up the first three rows of the audience, were brought onto the stage. In a moving discussion, Mike Downie introduced all those who had made the project possible and urged the audience to help our indigenous populations before Pearl Wenjak (one of Chanie’s sisters) told stories of his youth, played the song Ashes of Love ( Chanie’s favourite) and blessed the audience with a moving song.
P.S. You can watch The Secret Path tonight, October 23rd, on CBC at 9pm EST.
All photographs in this post were taken by Ryan Mueller
Lampedusa at Massey Hall, October 14th 2016
The lights dimmed and the hair on the back of my neck stood up straight. My second time at Massey Hall just solidified the fact that there is something amazing about this venue.
Lampedusa is a concert put on to raise money for the Jesuit Refugee Service by several musicians…several AWESOME musicians. I went with my friend Olly who wanted tickets to see The Milk Carton Kids. I was eager to tag along when I heard Emmylou Harris was at the helm. Imagine my VERY happy surprise when two weeks before the concert it was announced that Robert Plant was going to be there. Yep…you read that right.
The concert started with Emmy Lou introducing all the musicians: Steve Earle, The Milk Carton Kids, Ron Sexsmith, Robert Plant and of course herself. Before everyone sat down, a seventh musician snuck onto the stage (unfortunately I still don’t know his name but he must be incredibly modest). The group sat in a half-round and spent the rest of the night dazzling the audience with incredible music. Part way through the set, we were also treated to the talented music of Daniel Langois who has produced a few of Bob Dylan and Emmylou’s records. He’s also kind of a badass.
Since the entire night was amazing…I picked my top five songs off the set to tell you about:
1. Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down- Robert Plant
This is seriously why everyone loves Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant to this day STILL
has such and amazing voice. It’s haunting, it’s weird and it’s enough to make me
listen to his records on repeat.
2. Charlie- The Milk Carton Kids
This song is written about Kenneth’s (of the Milk Carton Kids) unborn daughter,
Charlie. The deadpan humour on the intro to this song was enough to make me
love these guys but followed up with one of the most touching songs ever and
some really bad ass flat picking…I was sold. If you haven’t heard of these guys
now- go! Run! YOUTUBE!
3. Sneak out the Back Door- Ron Sexsmith
Ron Sexsmith’s voice is so moving and tortured. The song Sneak out the
Backdoor is currently on repeat in my car and I absolutely love it. He also
performed There’s a Rhythm and Hard Bargain…both of which are so amazing.
My only complaint is that I cannot find his vinyl in any record store!
4. Gone Gone Gone- Robert Plant
Normally performed with Alison Krauss, Plant and Harris did an awesome
rendition of this song, showcasing amazing voices. This song definitely had the
5. Every Grain of Sand (Bob Dylan Cover)- Emmylou Harris and Daniel Langois
Daniel Langois has a talent for taking a song that is already amazing and making
it mind blowing. His garage-type, distorted guitar parts made this song what it
is. Emmylou’s beautiful voice floating on top of the song made it all the more beautiful.
Overall, Lampedusa 2016 was a night of memorable, crazy-amazing, goosebumpy music. Yes, those are all real words.
The Kills at The Rave, Milwaukee, WI. September 17th 2016
Let’s just be clear. There’s never a dull Kills show. The concert at the notorious Rave (hello Jeffrey Dalmer) blew me away. Since last winter in Detroit, the Kills have added a few more songs to the set and kept the classics including Monkey on my Back, Pots n Pans and Black Balloon. Rather than ending the set with Last Goodbye. Mosshart started the encore with That Love– an amazing acoustic rendition I highly recommend you download. Mosshart is the perfect front-woman for a rock band with an amazing voice, sexual prowess and an “I don’t give a FUCK” kind of attitude you can’t help but admire. Jamie is her absolute equal. With a guitar style all his own and impressive talent to back it up, it’s no wonder you don’t know where to look during a Kills show. Trust me, this won’t be my last!
Photos courtesy of Ryan Mueller.
Last night, a nation’s heart broke, was mended and bruised. As a country we cried, we sang our hearts out and we watched in awe and heart ache as Canada’s most beloved musicians took the stage for the last time. From our living rooms, the dock, by the bonfire, at the stadium and out in our backyards, Canadians (and other citizens of the world) came together to celebrate the band that has defined our sound, our poetry and our identity for decades.
My boyfriend and I were among the lucky few people who made it into last night’s show in Kingston. We had headed up to Kingston without any tickets and a whole lot of determination. After a full day of checking Stub Hub constantly, cursing scalpers who were asking $1500 per ticket and wishing for a last minute ticket drop from the box office, we found ourselves at 8:25pm completely ticketless and miserable (although the fact that we had eaten a top notch charcuterie board did soften the blow slightly). Enter stage left, a gentleman (or a damn angel in my opinion) who asked us if we needed tickets. Thinking he was a scalper and expecting that he’d want over a grand for one ticket, we asked how much. To our amazement, he came back with a totally reasonable request- he wasn’t a scalper! WE WERE IN.
We spent the first half of the show pinching ourselves that we managed to get a seat as the Hip started strong and finished the same way. Fans could not have asked for a better set list. The show started strong with 50 Mission Cap, Courage and Wheat Kings- a song that up until this point on the tour had been saved for encores only. A quick break after eight songs brought Gord and the boys back for another amazing set of songs featuring my favourite performance of the night- Three Pistols. I’m There was no looking back as the Hip came back for three encores…We’re in unchartered waters now” said Gord to the crowd “Let’s see what happens.”
Photo courtesey of CBC
Half the spirit of last night’s show was of course, the crowd. I’ve never been at a show more powerful in crowd enjoyment. Tears, laughter and thousands of people all singing at once made the show all the more special. A huge Canadian flag passed across the audience and a banner that read “Thank you Prime Minister Downie”. As a crowd, the journey with Gord and the rest of the Tragically Hip was an amazingly magical one. Gord Downie is such a national treasure and for that, Canada cannot thank him enough.
A massive thank you goes out to the kind man who we bought tickets off. We can’t express our appreciation enough. You let us say goodbye to one of our favourite and beloved musicians.
August 16 2016: The Tragically Hip at the First Ontario Centre
If London came to party, Hamilton came to feel the music. They came to appreciate it one last time. They came to celebrate music. They came to show love and they came in the thousands. 19,000 to be exact, all crammed into small standing areas (that came with useless seats). As the Tragically Hip took the stage, throngs of white handkerchiefs were swung, waved and whipped in the air. This is how Hamilton said goodbye.
The first few chords of The Hundredth Meridian rang out and the crowd went bananas. From there on, they were pretty much hooked. The Hip played through old and new favourites including but not limited to Eldorado, Yer Not the Ocean and Grace Too. Gordie reminisced of a time they played in Hamilton to a crowd of….zero. He laughed with the audience, he performed and he sang the shit out of every song.
With a double encore finale that has come to be expected on this tour, the Hip played Gift Shop, Don’t Wake Daddy and Ahead by a Century for the first. The second consisted of another beautiful rendition of Fiddler’s Green and the loveable Twist My Arm. Overall it was an amazing night for music lovers who can’t thank The Tragically Hip enough.
August 8 2016: The Tragically Hip at Budweiser Gardens
This isn’t the end. At least that’s what I kept telling myself as I got ready for my first stop on The Tragically Hip’s farewell tour in London, ON. As the band took the stage and began to play Opiated, the entire crowd went absolutely wild (I know people say that a lot but this time I’m not exaggerating). With the loveable Gord Downie fronting the band in his shiny suit designed by a Canadian, there was a feeling of overwhelming patriotism through out Bud Gardens. They topped this off with three old hits: Blow at High Dough, Boots or Hearts and New Orleans is Sinking then went into their latest single In a World Posessed by the Human Mind. Not a tush touched the seats.
The Hip played through a fantastic two hour set, coming out for two encores to screens of Canadian imagery and more. My favourite was during a brief…intermission we’ll call it but actually I think it was time to give the band a rest and for Gordie to have an epic costume change into an equally shiny suit. At this time, the screen played footage of an Ontario (I assume Kawawrtha or Muskoka) lake running through a storm and into a calm, pink morning…showcasing again why The Hip are the most epic of Canadians.
What an amazing first of the last performances to catch.Like that of so many others, my heart aches to know that it will all be gone soon but we’ll always have the music.
August 4 2016: Eric Burdon and the Animals at Kitchener Blues Fest
When Eric Burdon came 0n stage and began to talk, I was nervous. Would he talk through all the lyrics? Would his voice have the same range? In short, yes, yes it does.
Burdon (and a reformed, much younger but super talented version of The Animals) wowed the crowed as he whaled through several hits including House of the Rising Sun and We Gotta Get Out of This Place. More importantly though, Eric payed homage to the blues, the soul reason for the festival which hosts amazing artists, blues workshops and more each year. My personal favourite was a Ledbelly cover he did of Where Did You Sleep Last Night (up until this point I really didn’t think Nirvana’s version could be beat). All in all, it was a fantastic show and Burdon completely blew me away. I’ve been waiting for years to see this guy and he did not disappoint.
A word about the festival: If you’ve never been, The Kitchener Blues Fest is a pretty cool thing. The hands on workshops they host each year are such an incredible idea. I do have a few suggestions though (if by the slightest chance anybody who runs the festival reads this):
1. The bands all play under a large tent that do obstruct some vision. However, a lot of this could be solved if the VIP section ran perpendicular to the stage. As of this year, the VIPs were fenced off and took up about the first ten rows. There was a large fire lane and THEN regular audience. Although I get that this serves as incentive to buy a ticket..it kind of sucks and isn’t the norm at other festivals.
2. There were signs inside that said ‘no standing or dancing in the tented area’…well…it’s a concert so….
Don’t let these things detract you from going but this is after all a review section so I had to say my little piece! It really is a great festival.
January 27 2016: Coheed and Cambria at SO36, Berlin, Germany
After two great opening bands, one from Berlin and one from Reykjavik, Coheed and Cambria took the stage to the audience’s delight, opening straight away with Island. Lead singer and guitarist Claudio sang the first few songs behind his infamous curtain of curly long hair before addressing the crowd, happy to be in Germany.
The band went on to play a solid 13-song set with an additional two encore songs. A great mix of new and old, the set featured exciting showmanship, superb technical skills and overall great music. Perhaps the best part (as at almost every Coheed show) was during the encore when Claudio played a double neck guitar behind his back during Welcome Home. Even though he’s known for doing this, it never gets less exciting.
Overall, it was a great night!
November 13 2015: Glorious Sons at the London Music Hall
Glorious Sons is one of my favourite Canadian bands right now. They’ve got a real mix of sounds but the Doors is probably what shows through most prominently. Their set at the London Music Hall was absolutely fantastic.
The bands set was full of solid sound and excellent lyrics. They played crowd favourites including The Contender and White Noise but also stuff from their back catalogue (ok their catalogue isn’t that deep but you know what I mean). They played a (then) new song and my current favourite, Sometimes on a Sunday as well. Perhaps the most moving and important part of the night however was when the band played a cover of Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World. That evening had also been the night of the Paris attacks on the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan. The band dedicated this song to the victims of these attacks. The cover sent shivers up my spine.
Glorious Sons are an amazing up and coming band. If you haven’t checked them out yet I suggest you get to downloading or “vinyling” and see a show on their next tour.
September 20th 2015: Riot Fest Toronto, Eagles of Death Metal & Coheed and Cambria
Riot Fest 2015 was great! As expected, the venue at Downsview Park was a muddy, rainy mess and nobody cared because the music was awesome. I was going with the sole purpose of FINALLY seeing Eagles of Death Metal live. So you can imagine how annoyed I was when I was still caught in traffic while their set had begun. Parking is definitely something the festival could work on.
By the time I actually got through the gates, I only caught about four songs out of EODM set. Let me just say…those four songs alone were worth the drive and ticket price. Eagles of Death Metal, led by Jesse or “Boots Electric” has an amazing stage presence and they make you want to party! I was also happy to hear that I did not actually miss anything because their set started late due to rain- four songs was all they played!
Coheed and Cambria was the final band I stayed for (mostly because I had to park really far away in a super sketchy parking lot that I didn’t want to walk back in, in the pitch dark). This band, hailing from New York, has a rich and full sound that filled the park. I’d say they’re actually a great band to see at a festival. Their set was pretty standard for C&C ending on one of everyone’s favourite songs– Welcome Home. Usually, Claudio, the lead guitarist and singer plays this on a double neck guitar, partly behind his head. I’m sad to say this time it was single neck but I was still impressed!
Overall, what I saw of the festival was fantastic. The site itself was set up pretty cool with the standard multiple stages, a ferris wheel and games, concessions and all that fun stuff you expect in a summer festival. An improvement in parking would go a long way to making it an easier day for everyone but the music was great so really, who’s complaining?
July 17th 2015: Rock the Park 2015 with Brave New Shores, Young Empires, Born Ruffians, Tokyo Police Club, Mother Mother and the Arkells
Rock the Park 2015 was another success in my mind. I went to the alt rock night, basically for another chance to see Mother Mother (who I love). Thanks to FM96 who I won the tickets from! Since there were so many bands, I’ll try to keep my descriptions brief. The festival itself was well set up but lacked excitement besides the music. Vendors were sparse and booze were crazy expensive but….who really cares about anything but the music? I am consistently impressed by the lineup they get every year. London is becoming a serious music destination, I swear.
I got there about half an hour after gates, just in time to catch the end of the Brave New Shores set. They’re a groovy little band and I would recommend you check them out.
Next on was Young Empires who aren’t really my thing but who were well-rehearsed and polished. They’re a little poppy for my taste but by no means a bad band. They have some good sound overlays that were kind of cool.
Following Young Empires were Born Ruffians. I was surprised to see that this band was a pretty huge hit with the younger crowd (and the crowd was basically all youngans). Definitely a band I would have been into as a teen, Born Ruffians had great stage presence and a nice vibe. I can dig it.
Finally, Tokyo Police Club came on. I’ve missed seeing Tokyo Police Club a few times by a hair so I was glad to finally be seeing a full set. I was pleasantly surprised by their set list which featured many songs I knew from back in the day. I wasn’t overly impressed but I still enjoyed the set.
Mother Mother was by far the best band of the night in my opinion. They have awesome stage presence and even better songs. I don’t know any other band that sounds like them so their uniqueness definitely adds an element of passion to their music. Their set was pretty hit heavy with songs like Monkey Tree and Get Out the Way as well as an awesome version of Hayloft. The lead singer also introduced Lana Del Ray’s Videogames cover as something they almost never do but…that was a lie because they performed the song at London Music Hall earlier this year. Regardless, it’s an awesome cover and really showcases the vocals in the band. Overall, the set was fantastic although the sound set up was off.
Last but not least, Arkells took the stage. Being that this was my fifth time seeing Arkells, I was still impressed. They’re band has great stage presence, excellent lead vocals and (my favourite) an AMAZING keyboardist. Seriously, the guy has major skill. It has been wonderful to see the band progress over the last few years from my frosh week band at Trent with a few great hits to a full set of songs everyone knows this year.
Rock the Park 2015 was a great time for a great cause and I hope they raised loads of money for Bethany’s Hope Foundation
ROYAL BLOOD & THE FOO FIGHTERS: July 9th 2015, The Molson Canadian Amphitheater, Broken Leg Tour
To see my review of night one, please scroll down.
Royal Blood takes the stage on the second night of the Toronto tour stop to 99 Problems with drummer, Ben Thatcher sporting a Celine Dion tour tshirt with a total straight face. The launch immediately into Come on Over, sending the crowd into cheers. As I said about the previous night’s set, Royal Blood makes loads of noise for two people. They’re a great band to get into if you’re looking for something new. The only disappointment was that the set was exactly the same two nights in a row. I would have loved to see something a little different but it was still solid.
Beat the Bots was a selling technique that was put on way back in January in order to stop online scalpers from buying and flipping tickets for way more money. Fans were made to line up early in the morning at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre for wristbands which then allowed them to purchase tickets. So you can imagine how stoked the crowd was when the Foo Fighters came on stage with Dave in his throne (see previous post if you have no clue what I’m talking about).
The Foo Fighters packed the night with a lengthy set that pulled from back catalogue, new music and covers that included Under Pressure (David Bowie and Queen) and Stay with Me (Rod Stewart). One of the evening’s highlights was Sass Jordan being pulled on stage to join them in Stay with Me. Man does that girl have pipes! Seriously. She did us Canadians proud.
Dave Grohl has often been called the nicest guy in rock n’ roll but I really think all the Foo Fighters should be the nicest guys in rock n’ roll. They proved it Thursday night. It was a night for making people happy. Not only was it a long set but they really interacted with the crowd. For example, Chris Shifflet pulled three kids up side stage because they looked uncomfortable on the floor and he wanted them to be okay. Taylor invited a guy with a sign that read “It’s my birthday. Can I play drums?” up to play…and kudos to this guy who played despite jeering from Dave about how he better not suck (all jokes of course) and Dave invited a little girl and her dad onto the stage who had a sign that read “It’s my first concert”! It was amazing and these people (as well as myself) will never forget it.
The night was honestly one of the best concerts I’ve been to in a long time. I would dare to say it topped the first night. The high energy combined with the solid set list made it fantastic.
ROYAL BLOOD & THE FOO FIGHTERS: July 8th 2015, The Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, The Broken Leg Tour
While two piece bands used to be a phenomenon, now the likes of The White Stripes and Death From Above 1979 have made it a “thing” and I gotta tell you…I dig it. Royal Blood is no exception. On night one of the Broken Leg Tour stop in Toronto, Royal Blood acted as the perfect opening act for the Foo Fighters. This band, consisting of a bass player and drummer, makes lots of noise and some really rad music. With only a single album under their belt (the band skyrocketed to fame when Alex of Arctic Monkeys wore a homemade Royal Blood t-shirt), they have created some really solid sound. The set list pretty well played through their entire album, the best song being Ten Tonne Skeleton. If you’re looking for new music, I highly recommend them.
For those of you who don’t know (and have been living under a rock…haha just kidding), Dave Grohl recently fell off the stage in Sweden and broke his leg. This left the threat of cancelled tour dates wide open and scared fans who had braved the cold Toronto air at the beat the bots contest. Thankfully, Dave Grohl is a total bad ass. He decided to play on despite his leg being in a boot. Still, what would this do to the show?
The curtains drop. Dave is lit up on a giant Foo Fighters throne with guitar necks and lights all over it. Pretty damn epic. From this moment on, having a broken leg does not stop the Foo Fighters from putting on one of the best concerts I’ve seen in a LONG time. Opening with Everlong into Monkey Wrench, the energy was high the entire night till’ the curtains closed after curfew with Best of You.
The set, which was almost three hours and did not include an encore (“We don’t waste your time pretending we’re not going to come back” says Grohl…this is a paraphrase) pressed into the back catalogue with songs like Aurora, the new album and everything in between. Basically, it’s the set list that any major Foo fan would hope for. The band even covered songs that had influenced them (and this actually ended up being one of my favourite parts of the show) including Under Pressure (Queen & David Bowie), Stay with Me (Rod Stewart), Tom Sawyer (Rush) and Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young). It was awesome.
The other cool thing about this concert was the storytelling. Let’s be honest, no other artist can get away with as much talking as Dave. Grohl took the audience through the story of how he broke his leg, his morphine high to the creation of the throne while having us all buckling over in laughter then launched into another hard rock song. The story had photos on the big screen to go along with it which made it all the more hilarious.
Of course, the Foo Fighters isn’t just Dave. Chris, Pat, Nate, Taylor and Rami all kicked ass. Taylor really impressed me with his singing. We all knew he could sing but he took it to another level on this tour. Chris shredded on the guitar with his humble demeanor (seriously, this guy deserves more credit). Pat, as always, was hilarious. When introduced by Grohl, each of the band members played a solo. Pat switched between chugging champagne and smoking his cigarette instead. Nate was given credit for starting the Foo Fighters (big thank you) and Rami dazzled us with his part in the Stay with Me cover.
Overall, it was an epic set, awesome show and kick ass time.
DAVE MALLET & REBECCA LOEBE: April 14th 2015, The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville
The Bluebird Cafe has been open since 1982 and has seen loads of amazing artists from Garth Brooks to Dave Grohl. They are best known for their songwriters and open mic nights where up and coming artists can test out new material “in the round” where they sit in a circle in the middle of the crowd and play with other musicians. Most recently, they have been featured on the show Nashville as a very influential music destination for the main characters. Dave Grohl sings about it in the Foo Fighters’ new song Congregation.
When we arrived at the Bluebird, we were very surprised at its size. We knew it would be small but the tables were basically touching and ours was right up against the stage. It was a really unique and intimate experience! I was pleasantly surprised by the high sound quality in the cafe as I wasn’t expecting much being so close to the stage.
The first artist to take the stage was Rebecca Leobe who had fantastic voice control and endurance. She was hilarious as well! If you watch The Voice you may recognize her cover of Come as You Are but other than that she played all original work. Her voice has a bit of a haunting tone to it which I loved. Additionally, she was super nice and took the time to talk to her fans and sell her tshirts (they read “Be Nice Damnit!”) after the show. For anyone looking for new music I highly recommend checking out The Chicago Kid and You Can’t Knit Socks for a Married Man.
The headliner was David Mallet, a well-established musician and songwriter from Maine. Mallet has written songs covered by many famous and respectable musicians including THE Emmylou Harris. How cool is that? His set was absolutely wonderful with a rich, deep voice and a very respectable catalogue of music that he has cultivated over the past forty years. His most well-known song is Inch by Inch, Row by Row but I enjoyed his entire set (seriously)! My favourite was one that he wrote for his daughter Molly on her eighteenth birthday. Additionally, Mallett had an great connection with his bass player whom he’d been playing with since 1981. On a side note, the bass had a collapsable neck!
After the show, I realized the guy still has it! Women were flocking to him and he cooly thanked them and told them to check him out on Facebook. With that style in mind, I will cooly say goodnight to “y’all” and tell you to keep checking back here fo more music reviews!
THE TRAGICALLY HIP: Saturday January 17th 2015, Caesar’s Windsor Colosseum, Fully Completely Anniversary Tour
“There’s a fight over there!…Somebody’s gonna get fuckin’ hurt!…Get control of yourselves!…hey leopard print!”
We all know Gord Downie is a grade A bad ass but these quotes make it all the more clear. Before I get there, let’s rewind a little for this concert review.
Ryan and I arrived at the venue around 1:30 PM to see how big the lineup was. Nobody! We waited in the alcove at valet parking, where we were told GA ticket holders were to line up, for about an hour but it seemed weird that nobody else was there. We walked around the building a couple times but didn’t see any lines. We asked another guy, who told us the line was on the opposite side of valet parking up a ramp. Still nobody was there. We went up to the actual concert doors, down some escalators etc. We were able to hear sound check with a nice man from Indiana completely undisturbed. The people down there said we could just stay here and go in when the concert started (giving us a clear lag up on the line). That was nice, so we decided this was our best option. We went upstairs, got some merch (which the Tragically Hip really did well on this tour by the way) and waited for the concert to begin downstairs. About a half hour before doors, a woman came and kicked us out, towards a line of about twenty people upstairs (a third location we had been told to line up). Needless to say, we weren’t happy being this far back considering we had been there before anybody else that day. This was probably my only complaint about the concert. My wish is that when the Hip come back in July, the casino staff has (as our new friend Tim would say), “their poop in a group”. Finally, doors opened and we managed to run/speed walk down the escalators and into the venue, past enough people to get on the rail. We were content.
The opening act was a DJ who kept the atmosphere chill with a mix of reggae, rock, blues, soul and funk vinyl. He played everything from Zeppelin to the Beastie Boys. It was great and a nice change from an opening band. Rather than having to pack up his stuff and set up for the Hip, he just had to wheel off a cart of equipment and the Hip took the stage.
The equipment was lined with Fully Completely banners and other than that was fairly simple. Finally, the Hip took the stage and played New Orleans is Sinking- a wonderfully energetic start to the night. The band played three more greatest hits before launching into the Fully Completely album and playing it front to back. This was wonderful. The set mixed between dropping three sheets down and playing classically Canadian scenery from a projector and full view of the band. Gord Downie was on fire. The last time we’d seen him he had almost been too over the top, but this time he was calculated and entertaining. His voice was in great shape, the crowd loved his energy and he just radiated that classic, Canadian Hip vibe. Sorry to focus so much on Gord. The rest of the band were their dependable selves. Each member is a talented musician who works with the eccentric front man. Although they are very withdrawn and not too lively, something about that suits the band. The highlight of this portion of the concert was of course, Wheat Kings.
About halfway through the show, a fight broke out in the audience. Without missing a beat, Gord drew attention to the fight, urging its participants to gain control of themselves and stop fighting (hence the above quotations). He seemed genuinely concerned and enraged that this had happened but the band continued the song and finished on a wonderful note, ending with “thank you music lovers”. Security broke up the fight.
When the Fully Completely album was done and the final note of Eldorado was played, the band left the stage. The audience was drawn into a chorus of shouting “HIP! HIP!HIP!” as at every Hip show and the band took the stage for a five-song encore not long after this. The Tragically Hip left everyone in a great mood, content with the amazing music they had heard that night. This was definitely one of the best Hip shows I’ve been to.
MOTHER MOTHER: Friday November 21st 2014, London Music Hall
For those who don’t know Mother Mother…you should get to know them because they kick ass AND they’re Canadian. On Nov. 21st, Mother Mother took the stage to a full house at London Music Hall. Made up of two female vocalists/keyboardists, a male bassist, a male lead guitar and vocalist and a male drummer, the band has a really unique sound that you just don’t hear very often.
The band took the eager crowd through a set of twenty one awesome songs including a cover of Lana Del Rey’s Video Games and my personal favourites, The Sticks and an acoustic version of Simply Simple. Overall, it was an awesome set that reminded everyone in the audience why they love music.
TWIN FORKS: Saturday November 8th 2014, Call the Office
Do you remember in grade nine when you would come home from a day of high school or a night out with your friends and lay down on your bedroom floor in the dark with your head by your ghetto blaster and listen to music? This was a ritual for me. I guess it’s how I fed my teenage angst and hormonal ups and downs. I would lay there for hours, long past the time my mom knew I was up, listening to bands like Dashboard Confessional, Death Cab for Cutie and anything my sappy teenage heart could get its hands on. Although I’ve grown out of a lot of those bands (not Death Cab…never Death Cab) and lying on the floor at obscene hours, once in a while I’ll catch one of these songs and my mind goes right back to grade nine. Saturday night, I didn’t just catch one song but rather a whole set and the weird thing was…I’d never heard the music before.
Twin Forks is a band that feeds any of that teenage angst still left in you (and don’t we all have some). Front man Chris Carraba (of Dashboard Confessional) and his band of merry men and women played folk music at Call the Office on Saturday night but something about it still made me feel this way. Dine Alone Records has scored a great band here made up of talented musicians and singers. The mandolinist was particularly wonderful and spunky. The most admirable thing about this band though? Carabba’s willingness to start from the bottom. Rather than monopolize on the former fame of Dashboard, which was a “selling out arenas” kind of band, he has worked hard to get back where he was by touring in vans and doing the regular rock n’ roll thing. I think that shows.
THE MONGRELS: Saturday October 19th 2014, The St. Lawrence Tavern
Saturday night was my first time seeing the Mongrels. Doesn’t sound familiar? Well for any of you who are familiar with The Village Idiot, that record store with an impressive collection of used vinyl in Wortley Village, you’ll know the owner Robert. The Mongrels is the band Robert is in with his friends.
We made it just in time for the second set at St. Regis Tavern- a seedy little dive bar with just the right atmosphere for a real rock band. The band played covers from the likes of Neil Young, the Hip and Velvet Underground (my personal favorite cover of the night).
To paraphrase the band, “We aren’t asking to be Billy Idol. We just want to cover our broken guitar strings…so put your money in the jug.” That was sort of the style of the band- each seemed to have a huge appreciation for what music they were playing (knowing small details about each band) and just seemed happy to be playing for a small crowd made up of mostly friends and family. The audience was just as happy to be there- many members danced the night away. Kudos goes out to the girl in the purple tulle skirt! Great vibes, great location, great music.
BIG WRECK: Thursday October 9th 2014, The London Music Hall
If there’s one thing I love at a rock show, it’s a band that doesn’t take themselves too seriously on stage. In a world dominated by brooding front men, Big Wreck stands apart as a band having a great time with the talent to justify it. On Thursday night, Big Wreck took the stage with Ian Thornley belting Friends– his vocals reminiscent of Chris Cornell (if Chris Cornell took care of his voice) and yet there was something totally unique about it.
The bassist, Dave McMillan, looked ecstatic to be there, lip syncing the lyrics with a giant smile plastered on his face. If one didn’t know better, one would think he had won a contest to get on stage with his heroes. However, his lengthy, complicated intro at the start of Wolves shattered this theory. McMillan has played with members of Foo Fighters, The Tragically Hip and Billy Talent.
Overall, the set was a great mix of big hits and back catalog goods. Not planning to stay the entire time, I couldn’t help but continue to say “Just one more song!” as the band serenaded the crown with Blown Wide Open and some covers of Pink Floyd and AC/DC. Thornley joked around with his roadies and seemed to feed of the crowd’s good vibes. Conclusion? The Ghosts 2014 Big Wreck tour is a good-time to-do!
FARM AID 2014: September 13th, Raleigh North Carolina
This past weekend marked the twenty ninth anniversary of Farm Aid. With what promised to be a spectacular line up and a wonderful cause, of course I made the trip, along with my boyfriend and trusty road trip companion Ryan, down to Raleigh, North Carolina. It did not disappoint.
In 1985, Willie Nelson founded Farm Aid and brought Neil Young and John Mellencamp on as fellow board members. Together they put on an unforgettable festival that still happens every year and draws in millions of dollars. In 2001, Dave Matthews was also made part of the board member roster. The purpose is to promote family farming and The Good Food Movement through music and bringing people together. From all over, musicians and fans come to listen to music, learn new farming skills (fishing 101, flower crowns anyone?), discuss farming techniques and hear a great lineup. Before this year, Farm Aid had already raised over forty five million dollars for the cause.
Although every Farm Aid is incredible, this one promised to be particularly special because it hosted my two favourite artists- Neil Young and Jack White. Additionally, there lay ahead opportunities to learn more about tobacco, a new historical interest of mine. This blog will discuss my experience at Farm Aid 2014 and what I learned. Feel free to use the subheadings to selectively read this post.
The day before the festival, Ryan and I (okay, Ryan) drove from Tillsonburg, the tobacco capital of Ontario, to North Carolina, another tobacco Mecca. It was a total of about twelve and a half hours, stopping for gas included and we had finally made it. Rather than go to the hotel right away, we checked out the venue to see what was happening.
This is when I realized how much work really goes into this festival. By acting like we had authority, Ryan and I snuck to the back stage area which was lively with volunteers and executive getting ready for the big day. Farmers were setting up vending booths with fresh, local food, roadies were setting up sound equipment and tour buses littered the lot. After overhearing a few sound checks and getting as far as we could without being caught, Ryan and I started to leave. That is, until we saw Neil Young’s Zuma tour bus pull in! We quickly returned, watched Neil get off the bus and busy himself getting ready for the next day. It was pretty cool being that close. Finally, we went to the hotel (to find we’d been upgraded for free- yay!) and fell asleep like babies.
The festival itself was awesome. There was loads of free and not free food- all from North and South Carolina. In fact everything at the festival was made within the area, including concert t-shirts, posters and anything you can think of. The one thing I really admire about this festival is its commitment to the cause.
The First Acts
The first few acts we saw included Willie Nelson’s granddaughter Raelyn Nelson, who dazzled the audience on her ukelele, Jamey Johnson and Gary Clark Junior, who I definitely recommend downloading! Here’s a video of Jamey Johnson singing with Lily Meola, one of my favourite songs of the day.
Transitions 101: From Tobacco to Good Food Panel
Around four o’clock I attended a discussion panel about North Carolina’s transition from tobacco to organic family farming with Chad Ray of Ray Family Farms, Fred Miller and Micah Nelson. I was excited to learn about how Tillsonburg’s change to mostly ginseng and tomatoes differed from the way North Carolina dealt with declining tobacco demands. While I wouldn’t say this is exactly what I learned about, I did learn some pretty good stuff and had fun along the way.
The panel opened with the MC discussing systematic inertia, the idea that even when a family farm wants to change, there is often a governmental or institutional body who is resistant to supporting that change. Similar to the Canadian Government, who urged Canadians not to smoke but still allowed foreign tobacco products (thereby not supporting its own farmers first), North Carolina Farmers also faced very difficult times trying to change over and stay afloat. However, the MC digressed, it is do-able and “those who say it can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt those who are doing it.”
First to speak was Chad Ray whose farm has been in his family for over 200 years. His father was the first of the generations to get a second job in addition to his mother’s full time job and at 18 years old, Chad was told that the farm had nothing left to offer him and he should leave. However, he persisted and was able to change ALL of the crops from tobacco to other things like tomatoes. He described the fact that he had to become a marketing genius in order to keep the farm running but now is able to sell good local food to his clients in the freshest and healthiest way possible.
Fred Miller, who was a part of the corporate world, started farming on his wife’s farm fifteen years ago, also changing the crops from tobacco to organic food. Starting from very little knowledge of farming, he used both other local farmers and their expertise as well as The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association to create the only USDA certified organic farm in the area. What a success story!
Micah Nelson, Willie Nelson’s son and also a musician, discussed the symbiosis between musicians and farmers and the usefulness that comes from that. While Farm Aid isn’t the permanent solution, his suggestion is that more “mini Farm Aids” are needed to make organic, family farms happen and survive.
The final lesson of this panel was that we need to be responsible for what we feed ourselves, that is, food that we are aware of in terms of lineage, pesticide and farming technique. Family farms are a culture and a community that needs saving.
Friendship Bracelets 101
While I had my heart set on making my own flower crown, supplies ran out and so I watched the lesson (flower crowns to come) and went to Friendship Bracelets 101 which turned out to be a revival of my past decades spent making hemp bracelets at camp. Fun!
Jack White came ready to rock. While most of the day thus far had been occupied by country artists, Jack White dazzled the crowd with a mix of just about everything. Half way through the set, a gentleman I had been talking to about Jack who had never seen him before leaned over and gave me the thumbs up. Afterwards, he discussed with me the amazing range of styles that Jack exhibited that day. I couldn’t agree more. While we may have started as the only ones standing in our section, we didn’t end that way. I would say the best song in Jack’s set was definitely Hotel Yorba and it seemed the audience thought so too.
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds
Dave Matthews was the first of the four Farm Aid board members to perform. He started his set saying “I like fresh tomatoes, I like fresh cucumbers, I like coffee, I like beer”. While it wasn’t all that political, it sent out a good message and great vibes to an audience ready to take in the Farm Aid experience. For about an hour, he and his very talented guitarist played a great set of acoustic music for the audience in front of a changing backdrop of farm scenes (this was the backdrop all day).
Mellencamp’s set was a hit-heavy crowd pleaser. One of the best parts of his set however, was a recollection of his first Farm Aid Press Conference. After the questions had been asked he went back to his trailer and waited for Willie who took a good forty five minutes to join him. When Mellencamp inquired where Willie had been, Willie replied “Doing something you should consider-paying attention to your fans.” For Mellencamp this “gentle” lesson from Nelson resonated in a big way which just shows why Nelson is the grand daddy of Farm Aid!
Finally the set we had waited all day for was upon us. Introduced by Mellencamp as “One of the best songwriters of our time, who is Canadian, and we’ll have to forgive him for that” Neil took a stage decorated only by a candle on his organ and an aboriginal totem pole which follows him from show to show. Young was most definitely the most political of all the artists. Every song discussed ideas of preserving our earth. In between songs he talked to the crowd about natural vs. organic, the problems with North Carolina’s senator and the need to be aware of what we are eating. One of the highlights was Young’s newest song “Who’s Gonna Stand Up?”. Ryan and I started as the only ones standing in the entire section but by the end of the song, Neil had the entire crowd on their feet shouting out to him. It was an incredible and powerful feeling. The rest of Neil’s set was equally fantastic and included an altered version of Rockin’ in the Free World with Micah and Lucas Nelson. If one person embodied the message all day, it was Neil.
Willie Nelson took the stage after an introduction from Neil Young and the crowd went bazurk. He played a lengthy set of hits, joined on stage by loads of family members including his sons Micah and Lucas, his sister and his granddaughter Raelyn. It was a great, feel-good set that everybody enjoyed. For the last few songs he was also joined by the likes of Gary Clark Junior, Lily Meola, Jamey Johnson, The Preservation Hall Band, Delta Rae, an aboriginal group in full dress and many others. It was a wonderful way to end the night.
Overall it was a FANTASTIC trip. I had so much fun and it was possibly the hippiest of all festivals. The crowd were fun-loving and passionate about the cause, the music was wonderful, the food was tasty and the vibe was awesome. Let’s try to eat local and buy local whenever possible and support family farmers- I know I’ll be thinking twice about what I’m putting into my body! If you want to learn more about Farm Aid and their resources I highly suggest checking out the website.
So this is a history blog- I know. What does Record Store Day 2014 have to do with history? Well…at Third Man Records we were making history. Maybe I’m stretching that a bit just so I can blog about the awesome time I had in Nashville this weekend but since Public History is tied hand in hand with big events and marketing- it’s totally appropriate. Believe it or not, there really were some historical elements to the weekend but I’ll try not to push that too much.
We arrived in Nashville Friday around noon after fourteen hours in the car from Ontario and headed straight to Third Man Records, Jack White’s record company, to check out the scene. A fairly large group of people were around checking things out but no line up yet. We took a quick peek inside the shop (which is basically a small Jack White museum) and left to do some shopping, knowing we’d be back soon for a night of camping out in line! Since last Record Store Day, not a lot had changed in the shop but for those of you who haven’t heard about it, it’s pretty cool. The whole shop is very small, about the size of a one-bedroom apartment’s kitchen, including the novelty lounge. It’s complete with Third Man Records merchandise, a photo booth, a juke box, wax mold machine, monkey band player and a “Record Your Own Record” Booth that has seen the likes of Brendan Benson, Jack White, Neil Young and yours truly, Gabrielle Bossy.
As a public historian, specifically one interested in music history, I’ve learned a lot from my experiences visiting Third Man Records over the past few years. First, in terms of presentation, Jack White thrives off of creative limitations. What I mean by this is that he places limits on himself in order to create great work that isn’t all over the place. For example, for each band he plays in and for the shop itself, he’s restricted himself to about two colors. You know, the White Stripes (red and white), his solo band (black and blue) and Third Man Records itself is pretty much all black and yellow (you’ll notice this in the photos). Additionally, White’s logos are on everything (note to self: create a logo). Being somebody who is all over the place and has a bit of difficulty reigning myself in on various projects, maybe limiting myself in some similar ways on my next museum project will really help my presentation! I’m excited about this possibility.
In addition to creative limitations, Third Man Records is great about interactivity- to the point that I wish I’d reflected on this prior to starting my final project for Interactive Exhibit Design. They are all about involving the fans of the record label in their process via Instagram, Twitter and online in the Vault (fan club) and White Swirl (the online forum). Even visiting, one can interact much more with the shop than a regular one. You can buy pins in a vending machine, create your own record in a matter of minutes and mail it to anybody anywhere (free of charge) right from the store. Additionally, you can get your own wax molding of Jack’s guitar and a few other great keepsakes from the shop. On Record Store Day, Third Man Records takes this to a whole new level!
Enter this year’s Third Man Records mission: to create the world’s fastest record! In past years Jack White and Third Man Records have put on concerts and debuted the booth- but this year promised to be special for the simple fact that we would all be part of history! A few weeks ago, two hundred concert tickets were opened for sale to Vault members only and my boyfriend and I were lucky enough to score a pair. Later that afternoon we realized how lucky we were when people started tweeting out offers to pay for flights down, stays in hotel etc and up to 1000 dollars just for a single ticket! Still, we couldn’t pass up the experience. The ticket not only promised a copy of the world’s fastest record, but also a pass to the recording (basically a Jack White concert) at Third Man Record’s infamous Blue Room, a Whirlwind Heat concert (and free record), breakfast, pizza and oh did I mention free beer? This again, taught me a very important lesson about any historical institution, be it a museum or any other. This year, I’ve studied a lot of work on how to pull in visitors who don’t commonly visit museums. Record Store Day 2014 reminded me that yes, this is important but it’s also important to value your regulars in order not to lose them! So while we might gripe that we see the same people at museums all the time, we should definitely cherish them because it wouldn’t be open without them and the spirit of the institution would be completely different.
Back to the story. Around four pm on Friday, we returned to Third Man Records and saw a handful of people already in line. Although we suspected this would happen eventually (last year it was around the block with thousands lined up) we didn’t think it would be quite so early since people lining up for the concert already had tickets- you’d get in no matter what and you’d get your free record. The Third Man Records dedication is a little stronger than that though! So, Ryan and I took our place as ninth and tenth in line and took up our spots in lawn chairs for the night! We met lots of really cool people and big music fans. Although this doesn’t sound like the ideal vacay for most, we’ve come to love staying up late, swapping concert stories, debating Young verses Dylan (faithful readers, you know me) and fighting exhaustion. I also got a bit of marking done!
Third Man Records really stepped up the game big time this year. At 7am Ultra Ticket Holders (and anybody who just wanted a look-see, but that’s as far as they’d get) were let inside the building joined to the shop. All others were left outside to line up for a copy of the World’s Fastest Record (hopefully). We waited in line, had some breakfast and finally at 830 we were let into the Blue Room where ABSOLUTELY NO CELL PHONES OR CAMERAS OR ELSE YOU’RE KICKED OUT is the rule, and we were able to score a spot right up against the stage. Please note though, there’s really no bad spot in the whole joint. Another hour and a half later, Jack White had taken the stage and after a quick warm up tune, the record was cutting his new song Lazaretto and a cover of Elvis’s Power of My Love. Immediately after those two songs were done, the recording was rushed to Nashville’s own United Record Pressings and a very quick three hours, fifty five minutes and 21 seconds later (the count started as soon as Jack started playing Lazaretto), Jack White was personally handing out the first copy to some eager fans while the Ultra Ticket Holders were inside listening to Whirlwind Heat. The record had been broken!!!! As the songs started their press at URP, Jack played ten more songs for some excited fans, featuring a lot of new work and some old favorites from the White Stripes and his solo work. We even caught two picks, including the one that Jack played the world’s fastest record with!! (Sorry bragging out of my system, but I had to mention it. It was such an amazing concert and was nice to get a momento from one of our best road trips and concerts yet). The concert featured a mixture of Jack’s back up bands (The Peacocks and the Buzzards) as well as a few new faces that killed it on stage. Lily Mae, Jack’s Peacock fiddler and backup vocalist, took more of a leading role in this show than usual, perhaps due to the absence of Ruby Amanfu, but she did not disappoint! It was a great show with awesome talent on stage. On a side note, there were also some great musicians off stage in the audience including Alison Mosshart of The Kills and Dead Weather (two bands you’d be absolutely crazy not to check out).
The set list included:
High Ball Stepper (Jack’s new song, warmup)
Lazaretto (Jack’s new song)
Power of My Love (the Elvis Presley cover)
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (White Stripes cover)
Freedom at 21 (off Jack’s last album, Blunderbuss)
Three Women (Jack’s new song)
Weep Themselves to Sleep (Blunderbuss)
Love Interuption (Blunderbuss)
Hello Operator (White Stripes cover and my personal favorite of the whole show because Jack had the crowd sing every single lyric for him- you know you’ve made it big when!)
One More Drink (Jack’s new song)
Hotel Yorba (White Stripes cover…okay this might tie for first)
Would You Fight for My Love (Jack’s new song)
Afterwards, we had pizza, free beer, listened to Whirlwind Heat (which is a great band whose record Jack produced and is sort of a mix between Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys and something else that is strange and wonderful). After leaving the Blue Room and exiting Third Man Records, the hype continued outside as thousands of fans were still lined up for their copy (and not one went home disappointed). The Rolling Record Store was selling Third Man merch and hosting teen bands Waxed and Jawws, both punky bands that blew it up! Mexican popsicles and candy marshmallows were for sale and everybody was having a great time! I have to say one of the most special parts of my day actually happened afterwards when I got to meet Lily Mae- the spunky fiddle player who was so nice and down to earth, thanking us for coming and being part of the show.
Overall, it was an amazing day spent with amazing people and Third Man Records in no way disappointed. Plus it was pretty cool to be a part of history. Till next time Nashville! Thanks for hosting two eager Canadians. xoxo.