Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Weakerthans/Constantines, Kelowna, BC, April 27/09

It's been interesting to witness the progression of the Weakerthans through the lens of their Kelowna shows over the years. I saw them the first time at the Laurel with Cassandra in 2001-02 with a hundred or fewer young 'uns. No proper stage, odd empty room, and a hungrier, younger band...I think tickets were $10. I assume that missed them in 2004, but caught them again with the Constantines exactly four years ago with Ryan in a dingy Kelowna club. In contrast with the first show, that one was packed and I thought that the openers upstaged the headliners...The Weakerthans were fine, but the show was too short and they seemed really tired. $18, if I remember right. This show was really different -- much bigger venue in the Kelowna Community Theater, older crowd and $25 plus fees.

The Constantines are a great band, skilled and focused and totally committed. The Hard Feelings video gives you a pretty good sense of what they're all about, and they played it very well live. Other standouts were Shine a Light, Young Offenders, I Will Not Sing a Hateful Song, and Nighttime/Anytime (It's All Right). Despite those positives, I couldn't help being disappointed, because they didn't play any of my three favourite songs, all mellowish ones: On to You, Soon Enough and Our Age (especially this last one, such a great song).

Tannis and I enjoyed a couple of beers while we people-watched between sets, and the Weakerthans came on at about 10pm, opening with a perfect version of one of my favourites, Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call (mp3). Pretty much everything off that album was great; stuff like Our Retired Explorer, Reconstruction Site, Plea from a Cat Named Virtute (mp3) and The Reasons. The trumpet was fantastic on a few of those too; warm and bright. Pamphleteer was strong and Samson really nailed One Great City!, singing it solo. Night Windows (mp3) was amazing, as expected, perhaps only topped by Left and Leaving near the end.

There's something about seeing the Weakerthans that transcends the usual rock show experience. Despite my blathering, it's not really about the venue or the performances or the sound -- it's the effect of the songs as they wash over you and work their way into your brain. For us, there's a spiderweb of references to our past in Winnipeg, to growing up and leaving things behind. Lines like this really jump out when the Red River is a dozen kilometers wide:
Wait for the year to drown.
Spring forward, fall back down.
I'm trying not to wonder where you are.
All this time lingers, undefined.
Someone choose who's left and who's leaving.
We left. Nearly every one of my closest friends from the '90s left too -- Myron, Angelo, Trev, Chris, Steve, Greg and others. Yet the place is a still a big part of who we all are, and we all have loved ones there. There's something about the Weakerthans that reflects that sense of nostalgia and longing for me. Somehow it's more about what they represent, which is why I go see them over and over. And of course they capture some of their own contradictory feelings about staying in (and leaving) Winnipeg best in One Great City!:
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
Of course they don't hate Winnipeg at all -- they could live anywhere and have chosen to stay. Earlier in their career, they apparently would only play this song in Winnipeg, because the depth would likely be lost on outsiders. I suspect most people still don't get it beyond the shallowest of interpretations, but maybe it doesn't really matter. Many of their lyrics have that sort of contradictory hopefulness and hopelessness built in. From the first wonderful song I ever heard from them, None of the Above:
All night restaurant, North Kildonan.
Lukewarm coffee tastes like soap.
I trace your outline in spilled sugar,
killing time and killing hope.
This brand new strip mall chews on farmland
as we fish for someone to blame.
But we communicate in questions,
and all our answers sound the same.
Anyway, philosophizing aside, this was fun. And no, I didn't take the photo at the top of the post -- didn't even bring a camera -- I asked chromewaves on Flickr if I could borrow it, and he kindly agreed...check out his excellent music blog if you get a chance.


Lorne said...

Beautiful post Jeremy. Just makes me smile. Lorne.

Jeremy said...

I'm honoured to receive your comment here Lorne...a first, if I'm not mistaken.

BobbyRisigliano said...

Sounds like most excellent fun Jer. Yeah my only dissapointment would be no "Draw Us Lines" by those crazy Constantines. I've seen them 3 times and never been dissapointed. I believe i will leave it at that. Never to spoil myself.

Tannis said...

I'm so glad you take the time to write this stuff up, thank you. It summarizes the conversation on the way home that I may not get around to journalling for weeks, if ever.

Jeremy said...

Yeah, it's the same with any band you've liked for a while -- they can't play everyone's obscure favourites. They were still excellent. If you ever think of it, can you send me Draw Us Lines? jhiebert@gmail.com

Jeremy said...

No problem, Tannisita.