Show Recap: Brian Fallon & The Crowes/ Ryan Bingham @ Park West, Chicago IL

I mean, I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that one of my all-time favourite artists is Brian Fallon right?  So when I found out that this tour was coming through Chicago on my birthday, September 20, I took the opportunity to pay the “Windy City” (and my lovely friend Ashley) a visit, and take in what was a perfect show to celebrate.

Paul Cauthen, with his southern drawl and snakeskin cowboy boots, kicked off the night with a modern, but still classically country set.  Vocally, he is reminiscent of greats like Elvis Presley or Hank Williams Jr., and with an honest, still slightly rough around the edges stage persona, he is definitely worth getting to the show early for.  If you’re lucky enough to get to one of the remaining shows on this tour, you can also pick up an advance copy of his upcoming album “My Gospel”, which is to be released on October 14th.

Ryan Bingham was up next, the first of the co-headliners on this tour.  Being admittedly only somewhat familiar with his music, my interest was heightened by the rave reviews I received about him and his band from a fan of his in line.  She certainly wasn’t wrong:  Ryan and his band were absolutely incredible live.  He had a set list prepared that was crafted to appeal to everyone in the crowd, from the die hard Bingham fans to the new listeners, and he actively encouraged participation among the audience members.  Brian Fallon made several appearances during the set as well to join in on songs like the Springsteen classic “Atlantic City”, as well as Ryan’s “Tell My Mother I Miss Her So”.  While this is certainly music with a definitive leaning towards country, I would hesitate to label it strictly as such because it is apparent that there are many different genres that influence him, with country being only one.  I know I’ll definitely be deep diving more of his catalog, and am definitely interested in seeing what else he’ll be releasing in the future.

It was evident that the majority of this crowd were eagerly anticipating Brian Fallon and the Crowes entrance to the stage, and he began his set with Ryan Bingham’s accompaniment on a  cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” that was more in line with The Live Anthology version.  From there, he and the Crowes fired off favourites from his “Painkillers” album; songs like “A Wonderful Life” and “Rosemary” had the crowd in a frenzy, while “Steve McQueen” and “Honey Magnolia” scaled things down momentarily.  Brian was in excellent form, imparting wisdom between songs about credit scores and the importance of feminism.  It was clear he was enjoying himself, joking to the audience about not yelling at the mention of Chicago prior to playing “Open All Night”.

As the show wound down, the Crowes were joined on stage once again by Ryan Bingham, and by Paul Cauthen for a cover of The Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care”.  Having the other touring artists come out periodically to join in on songs during the evening really served to enhance the intimate and vaudeville-esque atmostphere.  The lack of barrier gates and smaller stage at Park West really helped to eliminate the separation between audience and artist as well, and the vibe was relaxed and for the most part respectful.  There was, of course, those one or two people in the audience who tend to be attention-seekers, but even those either gave up quietly or were contained by other audience members early on.

A surprise late addition to the setlist saw the show end with Brian and Jared Hart joining up on a beautiful acoustic rendition of NOFX’s “Linoleum”, a cover that I had yet to see them do live, and it was as lovely as expected.  A perfect way to end a perfect evening.

The Brian Fallon/Ryan Bingham US tour will be continuing through the rest of September and concludes on October 2.  Brian and the Crowes will be heading overseas with Chris Farren in November.  For more tour dates and ticket links, visit http://thebrianfallon.tumblr.com/live

 

 

 

Can’t Die- Chris Farren

Chris-Farren-Cant-Die-coverChris Farren (Fake Problems, Antarctigo Vespucci) is a real human being, not a ghost, and he’s releasing his debut solo LP, “Can’t Die” this Friday, September 2nd.  It’s an album I find difficult to write about or try and review; my already high expectations were blown away within the first few spins of the album.  It’s so good that I don’t think I can come up with the words to adequately explain exactly why you need to listen to it- but you do.

If you follow Chris on Twitter, you’re probably familiar with his social media personality; tongue in cheek, engaging and above all, entertaining.  “Can’t Die” has all of those elements, but it also feels like he’s letting us in on a secret, song by song.  Layered under all of those sparkling, shiny synth beats and catchy choruses lay complex lyrics that quietly demand your attention.  Songs like “Still Beating” and “Until I Can See the Light” address the emotional response that comes with loss, while “To Insecurity and Beyond” deals with the effects of anxiety and depression.  Not one to shy away from discussing mental health issues, Chris is able to tackle the topic with honesty and integrity, and still have his songs remain buoyant and hopeful.  It’s a fine line, and yet he walks it masterfully.

“Can’t Die” feels a bit like a blast from the past, reminiscent of the 80s or early 90s, but with a revived, refreshed sound that keeps it new and current.  It’s definitely not one to be missed.

You can order “Can’t Die” on vinyl through Side One Dummy here: https://sideonedummy.com/artists/chris-farren or purchase the album through iTunes as of midnight tonight.

You can check out the first single, “Say You Want Me” below as well:

 

Civil War Rust- Help Wanted

California’s Civil War Rust is back with their sophomore LP release, “Help Wanted”, and it’s sure to be a hit among fans of punk rock who are looking for all of the energy, but with a little bit of heart.

Clocking in at 24 minutes, “Help Wanted” is efficient but not rushed; the track listing is crafted carefully and plays in a way that the listener doesn’t feel slighted by the run time- left wanting more because the album is fantastic, but satisfied because of the quality of the music.  There’s definitely truth to the phrase less is more, and “Help Wanted” is proof.

Though the lyrics are often heavy, addressing love, loss and addiction, Civil War Rust presents these topics with upbeat accompaniment and enough optimism that you’ll find yourself moving to the beat and singing along; songs like “Upside Down” and “Rogues Couch” are immediately attention-grabbing and seem ready made for audience participation, while “Photographs” slows the pace momentarily.  Lead vocals are a shared affair between members, which not only allows each of the band’s members to shine, but also helps to enhance certain songs or lyrics with an ear-catching tonal switch.

Fans of Alkaline Trio, The Loved Ones, Two Cow Garage and even the more mature, post-Skiba Blink-182 will likely find themselves at home with this album.  It offers up a punk rock aesthetic with no holds barred- everything is laid out on the table with truth, honesty and no apologies.

From l-r: Misty Clear, Egg Splatter, and Ox Blood Splatter

From l-r: Misty Clear, Egg-Coloured, and Ox Blood Splatter variants

Originally released in November 2015, Civil War Rust, in conjunction with Say-10 Records is celebrating a re-release of “Help Wanted” on vinyl, and it is available for pre-order now!  Visit http://www.say-10.com/store/cwrhelpwanted/  where you’ll find several unique variants to choose from.  These are already moving fast so don’t waste any time if you’ve got your eye on a certain colour- quantities are limited.  Don’t miss out!

 

Canada Says Goodbye to The Tragically Hip

Last night saw a country united; 30 million people, from all walks of life, and all areas of Canada attended, streamed and watched as Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip put on what very well may be the final show they ever perform.  It was at once a joyful celebration and a somber reminder that life can be cruelly and unexpectedly cut short.

As someone who is at best a casual fan, I don’t know what I expected out of this show, but I can admit that any pretenses I had were quickly out the window as soon as the Hip started to play.  Watching Gord and the band was nothing short of magic.  The setlist was clearly a labour of love in and of itself, crafted not only to combine songs that were obvious crowd favourites, but also songs that appeared to have sentiment to the band as well.  The entire affair was played with more energy than I could have expected;  if Gord is going out, he’s clearly going to do it on his terms.  Only on limited occasions did he succumb to his emotions, and it was in those brief moments that you were forced to remember why this show in particular was being broadcast across the country and streamed all over the world.

Playing for nearly three hours, Gord used this platform as a means of addressing socio-political issues in Canada, taking time to praise Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (who was in attendance), stating “”He’s going to take us where we need to go. And we’ve gotta be a country that’s going to take us 100 years to figure out what the hell went on up there. But it isn’t cool and everybody knows that. It’s really, really bad. We’re gonna figure it out.”  He quickly corrected himself: “You’re going to figure it out”, which brought a melancholy reminder again that he is aware that he may not be with us to see these issues get resolved.  The moment was fleeting as they quickly launched into another song, but it was the first time for me that the reality of what we were viewing last night really sunk in.

This show was not only a celebration of a career that spanned decades, but also a thank you to fans who have followed the Hip during that time.  Multiple times, Gord thanked the audience for “keeping me pushing”, and gave a particular mention to the female fans, stating that at one point it seemed like a ‘boy’s club’ and he was grateful that the women made their way back to the fan base, though he couldn’t say why or how that came to be.  This was met with loud applause and cheering through the arena in Kingston.

Ending their third and final encore was “Ahead by a Century”, one of their biggest singles from 1996’s “Trouble at the Henhouse”, and it felt like the best way to say goodbye to a band that has remained one of the most influential bands in our country.  They never got the international acclaim that I think people wanted or expected, but last night, it felt like that was ok.  This was Canada’s band, and it felt even more special to be able to embrace that as a nation.

 

 

 

 

Show Recap: Flogging Molly @ Jacob’s Pavilion, Cleveland OH- August 14, 2016

When Chuck Ragan became a late addition to this tour line up, Caleigh said to me, “I don’t think we can do just one show”.  She was right.  We enjoyed the Freedom Hill show SO much, and I’m so glad we decided to make the jaunt to Cleveland the next day.

However, I will add that in our journey, we were fighting exhaustion, so we exited in Toledo to get gas and find a Starbucks.  What we learned:  never stop in Toledo.  Getting gas was the easiest part- when searching for a nearby Starbucks, GPS brought us to an empty field.  After a tour of some of the sketchier areas of Toledo, we finally found a McDonalds (in a basically abandoned plaza) and decided to get coffee there.  Apparently my request for two milk/two sugar in my coffee was too outlandish for them to handle, because the girl at the drive-thru tried to hand me a tray containing Caleigh’s frappe, a coffee, two children’s bottles of milk, and a Happy Meal?  Being as tired as we were, I didn’t even consider that I had probably paid for the milk, and that it wasn’t going to be in my coffee- thankfully I don’t mind a black coffee every now and again!  It took us longer than I’d like to admit to get back onto the highway, mainly because every exit onto the highway was under construction.  Toledo is the Bermuda Triangle of Ohio, and we quickly became convinced that anyone who lives there was probably a tourist who ended up there and couldn’t get back out.

The rest of the journey was a smooth one, and we ended up getting to the waterfront by about 2 or 2:30pm- perfect timing for a marathon line up session.  We weren’t even the first ones there this time, and we had a tent as shelter for the impending rain, so all things considered, we were in great shape.  Shortly after, we saw Chuck Ragan out speaking to a security guard, and as he glanced over to us, he waved and started to walk over.  He took a moment to introduce himself, shake hands with the group of us in line and chat for a bit before heading back to the stage;  further proving that the fabled stories of Chuck Ragan being one of the nicest men in music are indeed true. (Need further proof?  Read about how he gave Dan Ozzi, a writer at VICE, the shoes off his feet here )

As it came closer to the time that doors were scheduled to open, another line began to form at a separate gate- there were to be two gates open at the same time.  For those of us who had patiently waited in line for hours, it was frustrating to think that we could be denied prime barrier position.  It was further compounded by the security on our side attempting to open a second line on our side, and bringing up people from the middle to back of the line to be at the front of this new line.  Our new friends protested this development, and thankfully, we had a security guard on our side who agreed to scan our tickets and bag check the six of us first so that we could get a slight head start.  We really had nothing to worry about, but there’s always that bit of anxiety when doors open and you prepare to sprint to your position.  Either way, we were still front row and center.

Chuck opened this time with “Nothing Left to Prove” and “Meet You In the Middle”, and we made sure we contributed with Brian Fallon’s part in the latter, earning a smile and acknowledgement from Chuck.  I was surprised with the number of people who were unfamiliar with his music, as his career as not only a solo artist but lead singer of Hot Water Music has been extensive, but judging from comments I heard later, it sounds like there will be a lot more Chuck Ragan fans out there thanks to this tour.  Once again, he and Todd Beene (pedal steele, back up vocals) were flawless, and my only complaint is that his set wasn’t longer.

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls were up next, and this set was even more fun since we were beside a few people who were long time fans seeing him for the first time.  It’s really nice to meet fans and experience that excitement with them, no matter who is performing, but there’s always something special about a Frank Turner show.  Although the previous night’s crowd in Michigan had been deemed a 5/10 by Frank (rated based on how loud the crowd was when asked if we were having fun), the Cleveland crowd surprised the band with their enthusiasm– we got promoted to a 6!  The Cleveland crowd took a little while to get rowdy but at Frank’s direction, they began a circle pit towards the center of the crowd and the energy never wavered.

We decided to move again after Frank’s set, and took a run by merch to pick up some last minute Chuck Ragan items.  This also gave us the opportunity to visit with Chuck and Todd, who were meeting fans during the break between Frank and Flogging Molly.  Once again, I can’t stress how wonderfully sweet these men are.  We were immediately greeted with hugs and thanked for participating in the set by singing and dancing.  They were humble, gracious and took time to speak with anyone who requested their time, as well as autograph merchandise and take photos.

With that, we were off to join the rest of the crowd for Flogging Molly’s set, which we viewed from a little farther back as per the previous show.  We felt again that it was only fair to give our spots at the barrier to people who were there specifically to see Flogging Molly, and were happy to have a little extra room to dance anyways.  Flogging Molly really are one of the tightest bands I’ve seen, and they are definitely there having as good a time as anyone in the crowd.  Playing  similar set to the previous night, we danced to “Requiem for a Dying Song” and “Saints and Sinners”, and slowed it down to a sway for “Float” and “If I Ever Leave this World Alive”.  Dave King is really a master entertainer, and I’m so appreciative that we were able to do two shows on this tour.

(Sorry for lack of quality/lack of photos in general- I truly did live in the moment this tour and my camera was put away for a majority of the show)

 

 

Show Recap: Flogging Molly @ Freedom Hill, Sterling Heights MI- August 13, 2016

Saturday saw us actually attend two shows:  first, we made it to Farmington Community Library to see Frank Turner perform an acoustic 7-song set followed by a meet and greet and signing of his book, “The Road Beneath My Feet”.  Limited to 150 attendees, you could have heard a pin drop as soon as Frank started singing something that is extremely uncommon for a Frank Turner show!

Frank played acoustic versions of Wisdom Teeth, Journey of the Magi, Rivers, Love Forty Down, To Take You Home, Good and Gone, a new song that will be featured on an upcoming album, and shared a few stories and anecdotes in between.  As we wanted to get in line early for the evening’s event at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, we ended up leaving after he was done playing and therefore didn’t stick around for the meet and greet.  We’re extremely fortunate that he remains as accessible as he is, and figured that we would be likely to meet up with him at the show anyways.

We arrived to the next venue as the clouds were rolling in and the sky was getting darker.  It was inevitable that it was going to rain and we were without shelter, save for my very cheap, very ineffective umbrella.  Frank’s song, “The Next Storm” became very relevant: “And we wondered if we’d ever get dry again…”  Between the rain, and extreme heat and humidity, the answer was a resounding ‘no’.

Finally, it was time to start the show, and our patience was rewarded with a front row and center position at the barrier.  Although we had originally purchased tickets with the intention of seeing Frank Turner again, Chuck Ragan had been added to the bill after the tour was originally announced, and we were equally excited to see him too.  This was the first opportunity we’ve had to see him and we were definitely not disappointed:  Chuck, accompanied by Todd Beene on back up vocals and pedal steel, were incredible.  Their set list was short, but packed with songs spanning across most of his albums:  Meet You in the Middle and Nothing Left to Prove from Covering Ground, The Boat from Feast or Famine, Bedroll Lullaby and Vagabond from Till Midnight, and Rotterdam from Gold Country.  As we had expected Chuck simply playing solo, the additional back up from Todd was beautiful and really helped to round out the sound.  It was an amazing beginning to the night.

There was a short break while the crew set things back up for Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, but soon we heard the familiar sound of the Jurassic Park theme, signalling their entrance to the stage.  Opening with “I Still Believe”, Frank and the Souls kept the energy high and the crowd moving with “The Next Storm”, “Recovery” and fan favourite “Long Live the Queen”.  However, in a very special accommodation for yours truly, Frank slowed things down and played “Cleopatra in Brooklyn” solo and acoustically about half way through the set per a request that I had sent him a few days prior.  It’s one of my absolute favourite songs, so this was undeniably my favourite part of his set.  He was joined once again by the Sleeping Souls for the rest of the set, which included “The Way I Tend to Be”, “Photosynthesis”, and “Four Simple Words” saw him close out the show by crowd-surfing over us and dancing with the girl beside me- it was her first time even hearing of Chuck Ragan and Frank Turner, but in talking with her afterwards, she admitted she was looking forward to going home and looking up more of their music as she was quickly becoming a fan!

Because we had been able to be at the front for the bands we were most interested in seeing, we opted to move towards the back for Flogging Molly, and let their fans take our position on the barrier.  I’ve actually seen Flogging Molly twice before, and although I enjoy them, we wanted their fans to have the option to be closer to the action.  It was actually nice to move into a more open part of the pit anyways, as we had a bit more breathing and dancing room!  Flogging Molly are definitely a band who gets their crowd moving, and very rarely do you even have a moment to sit still.  They opened with “The Hand of John L. Sullivan” and didn’t let up through “Drunken Lullabies”, “Requiem for a Dying Song” and “What’s Left of the Flag”.  “Float”, one of my favourite songs by them, sounded even more impressive live.  The show closed to all of the bands and crew joining Flogging Molly on stage for a song and dance to Rodney Dangerfield’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, and having left everything we had at the show, we left, exhausted and happy.

 

 

Show Recap: Brian Fallon and the Crowes: London Music Hall, London ON 07/08/16

Perfection is one of those things that is difficult to find and rare to come by.  Unrealistic.  Unattainable.  But last night, Brian Fallon & the Crowes, accompanied by Chris Farren as the show opener, had a damn near perfect show in London, ON.  The universe came together with the perfect venue and a wonderful group of people who were all unified for that moment in time, with no other agenda than to enjoy being in each others company and to experience some great live music.

Chris Farren was up first with yes, another perfect set (seriously, I don’t know how he does it).  The crowd was extremely receptive and joined in on songs like “Song for Teenagers”, “Come to Brazil” (helping out with the ‘na na na’ background part) and “Bang!”, a personal favourite of mine and Ashleigh’s.  There were definitely some Antarctigo Vespucci fans in the house, and their excitement was as contagious as Chris’ energy on stage.

Brian Fallon and the Crowes opened up with “Nobody Wins”, followed quickly by “Among Other Foolish Things” and the room was electric. The Canadian crowd quickly won over Brian, who in turn commented that Canadian girls have the best hair, always styled and curled (although the first example he picked out from the crowd was in fact American).  He was very interactive with the crowd, commenting on some of his famous Twitter followers, including Boy George.  This prompted a sing along to “Karma Chameleon”, which then led into “Ride Wit Me” by Nelly (honestly, scream-singing “Heyyyy must be the money!” was something I haven’t done in a very long time and now I’m not sure why it doesn’t happen more often).  He was pretty impressed that the London crowd could keep up with this jump of music, so he issued a challenge: if we could follow along with the next song, we’d get a special treat and a shout out on Twitter.  Spoiler alert- the next song was “You Da One” by Rhianna, and as an audience, we blew it.  We also learned that Jared holds the monopoly on music memory; according to Brian, he’s got “Forgot about Dre” down.  The more you know, kids, the more you know.

The set list for the London show was easily my favourite of the three shows I was able to go to on this tour, with an excellent variety of Horrible Crowes songs, tracks from Painkillers and some surprises thrown in for good measure.  We were treated to a cover of “Bell Bottom Blues” that really highlighted Brian’s vocals and Ian’s skills on the slide guitar.  They also added “The Runaround” from Jared’s album “Past Lives and Pass Lines” into the set for this show, with the full band supporting and Brian providing backing vocals.  Having only previously heard his songs acoustically and via solo performances, this was a really great surprise, and it was nice to see him take center stage on a full song of his own at this show.  Finally evening came to a close on “Behold the Hurricane”…or so we thought as we watched the band exit the stage.  Brian remained with just his guitar, telling us that the song he was about to play was about as old as they come, and recollecting a time where it was being demoed and someone advised him to do something else.  He imparted an important lesson worth remembering:  you know yourself and what is best for you, so don’t let other people plant that seed of doubt in your mind if they can’t see your vision as clearly as you can.  He then played “Navesink Banks” (from the Gaslight Anthem’s debut album Sink or Swim), solo and acoustic, joined only by the voices of the crowd who sang along to every word;  and the evening ended as perfectly as it began.

(As an aside, I wasn’t even planning on going to this show.  I ended up making a last minute decision to attend and I’m so very fortunate that I was able to be a part of this show.  It truly was a magical evening!  Moral of the story:  buy the concert ticket.  Go to the show.  You’ll never regret it.)

 

 

 

 

Show Recap: Brian Fallon & the Crowes- Bogarts, Cincinnati OH 06/29/16

The morning after the Detroit show, I began my journey to Cincinnati, OH to catch my second show on this tour.  I’ve never been to Ohio before;  I will briefly comment that from the limited time I spent in the state, it appears that the entire state is under road construction, and that until you get to around Dayton, the only things to see are big cornfields and maybe the occasional herd of cows.

I arrived to my hotel around 2:30 to drop my things off, and then went to scope out the venue, which was about 20 minutes away from where I was staying.  Having learned my lesson from the previous night, I inquired about availability and subsequently purchased the Fast Pass option from the box office, went to grab a book to read from a nearby Walgreen’s and settled in on a bench in front of the venue.  I wasn’t sure what the crowd would be like at this venue, or if they would be planning to line up early but I wasn’t going to take any chances.

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I ended up being the lone wolf until approximately 1 hour before the doors opened.  At least you can’t say I’m not dedicated.

Thankfully around 4:30pm, some of the event security staff started to arrive early for their check-in, and they were pretty incredulous that I had traveled from Canada to see two shows on this tour, so I ended up hanging out with them while we all waited outside.  I honestly can’t say enough about them;  they were incredibly friendly and so sweet to me- even as people began to line up, they told me to just stay where I was and that they would make sure that I was in first.

Once again, Chris Farren was up first with yet another perfect set, this time including “Away from You” which is one of my favourite songs.  I will admit that the security guard putting lotion on his fresh tattoo directly in front of me was a little distracting (all I could possibly think was “it rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again”), but also hilarious when Chris took a second to come and check out what exactly was going on and started laughing.  We were also treated to another new song, one that I had heard during the Stage-It broadcast called “Still Beating”.  I think it’s going to be a new favourite when the new album comes out.

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I will say that, like in Detroit, the crowd was a little distracted and loud during Chris’ set (which I suppose comes with the territory of being an opener) but overall there were more people who knew the songs and were happily singing along with him, so I had a sense that this crowd would be a little better than the previous night.  The sound and lighting were also already much better than at St. Andrew’s Hall as well.  Bogarts had already secured itself as one of my favourite venues within a very short time.

Brian and the Crowes were up next and the crowd here was super excited and hyped up right from the get go.  They followed a pretty similar setlist to what was done in Detroit, but with one major addition- a cover song that we were able to sneak a brief listen to through the door in Detroit, as well as one I could hear while waiting outside Bogarts.  Between songs, Brian had taken a couple extra seconds to speak with the members of the Crowes, and announced that for the first time, they were going to try “Walls” by Tom Petty (and to ignore any potential mistakes, because it was so new for them).  This is a song that I can remember hearing often on the radio while I was growing up, and despite not hearing it for awhile, most of the lyrics came flooding back.  It was definitely a hit with the crowd, and it was a special moment that was unique to this show.  Part of the reason I love going to show like this are for those moments; every show is unique and you know it will never be that way again; you’ll never have the same crowd, the same songs, the same banter or small moments of connection with the artists.  It’s beautiful to suspend time like that and just live in these precious moments.

 

Post show, one of my event security friends managed to snag a copy of the set list for me from Frank, and also allowed me to stick around inside the venue so that I could have Jared quickly sign a copy of his album, “Past Lines and Pass Lives” for me (I will be posting more on this album soon as I have ordered both colour variants of this album and obviously want to share how beautiful they are!).  I also ended up buying the tour hoodie from Danny because I decided I couldn’t leave without it.

With some guidance from my new security friends on the best times to leave Cincinnati to avoid traffic, along with some well wishes, my small run of shows were complete.  Until next time of course.

 

Show Recap: Brian Fallon & The Crowes-St. Andrews Hall, Detroit MI 06/28/16

On Tuesday, June 28th at 6:30am,  I quietly left my home in Sault Ste. Marie Canada and headed off on an adventure to see one of my favourite bands play two very special shows.  I’m choosing to split them up because though it was the same band, each show was very different.

I arrived in Detroit, MI around 12:15pm and Sarah and I met up at the hotel and walked to the venue as she hadn’t purchased a ticket yet.  Caleigh joined us shortly after.  It’s a testament to Brian Fallon and the boys that the three of us were together for this show: myself from Canada, Sarah from North Carolina and Caleigh from Lansing, MI, all of us having met at various Gaslight Anthem or Brian Fallon shows over the year.  It’s really kind of amazing that through his music, we (and countless other people) have found lasting friendships with other fans that we would probably not otherwise meet.

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St. Andrew’s Hall, Detroit MI.

Since we were pretty set on getting a solid position at barrier, we arrived at St. Andrew’s Hall at around 2:30pm, about 4 1/2 hours prior to door.  Caleigh and I have been to other shows together in Michigan where this is expected, so we settled in on the steps of the venue to wait it out.  Surprisingly, we weren’t joined by many other people until quite a bit later, but the weather was nice and we were able to catch up and also chat with a venue staffer named “Holland” who quickly warned Sarah as she ate a slice of pizza from the place around the corner: “It’s a good thing we have nice bathrooms”,  intermittently coming back to check on us, at one point asking jokingly: “How’s your butt hole?”

Finally we began lining up at the venue’s request as it got closer to doors, which is when we found out that people had been able to purchase “Fast Passes” prior to the show, which effectively allowed them to skip the line and enter before us and the other people who had waited patiently outside the venue for hours.  I understand people don’t enjoy waiting in line, and I get that it can be tedious, but I look at it as part of the experience!  Standing in line is where you meet people, discuss the band or other music that you like, and get to know one another before the show.  Obviously we weren’t thrilled at this development, but we were still able to get a prime barrier position once inside, so it thankfully didn’t affect too much.

Chris Farren was up first with another perfect set, playing songs from his bands Antarctigo Vespucci and Fake Problems, as well as solo material including two new songs (“Say You Want Me” and “Brighter”) which are anticipated to be on his upcoming album that will be dropping in September.  Caleigh and I had seen Chris play last summer when he was on tour with Dave Hause and Rocky Votolato, so we had some songs that we were really looking forward to hearing again during this set, including “Bang!” which he closed his set with.  He is an extremely high energy performer and his sets are always really fun to watch and sing along with, so it was a great way to start the show off.

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(Apparently I’m inept at lining photos up like a normal human being SORRY)

Brian & the Crowes took to the stage shortly after Chris, and they were met with a lot of excitement from the Detroit crowd.  Excitement that included a girl who managed to push through to the front to tell Brian that she was a 5’10” prison guard who wanted to hear “Teenage Dream” (I’m not sure why her height or occupation were necessary information but Brian took it in stride, and since it was on the set list already, she didn’t manage to delay the show more than a few uncomfortably awkward moments), as well as an errant crowd surfer who I somehow managed not to notice until I had his foot in my face as security was trying to tell me too late to duck down.  Fun fact though: as confirmed by Brian himself, this was the very first crowd surfer he’s had since he began his solo tours.  His shoe, my face: making history.

The Detroit show was given a great set list that included some songs I hadn’t been able to see before, including Rosemary and Open All Night (both personal favourites) and Georgia, from his recent Record Store Day LP.  Jared Hart was sounding especially good on backup vocals for “Black Betty and the Moon” and “Mary Ann” from the Horrible Crowes.

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Truly I can only say good things about the performances.  They were at the top of their game for sure.  However, I would say that the venue has some issues with lighting and sound that could use some addressing for shows in the future.  I’m not sure if it is solely because we were at the front and very close to the stage, but the lights were often shining directly into our faces and making it difficult to avoid being blinded, as well as saturating any photos that we tried to take.  You’ll find I don’t have many quality photos to share for this reason.  The sound was similarly distracting, almost too loud and thus actually drowning out some of the vocals.  Having seen Brian with the Crowes at similarly sized venues, I think it could have been toned down just slightly to a level that was a little more suitable to the style of music.  These are just nit picky little things of course that could be strictly personal opinion.  I did find the crowd to be a bit strange as well, and that seemed to be a general consensus among the girls I was there with, along with a couple people we met at the venue.  I’ve never been one to get drunk at a show because usually if I’m there to watch someone whose music I appreciate, I want to be able to remember the experience.  For some people in the audience this didn’t seem to be of similar concern, and we noted at one point someone who was in the front with us standing with their back to the stage for the majority of the show, and cracking racist jokes with their group of friends.  Ain’t nobody got time for that, yo.

We were able to talk briefly with Chris, from whom I had won a prize during his recent Stage-It show, although sadly he was already out of my size in his awesome glow in the dark t-shirts (I actually cannot wait until that makes it to his online store so I can grab one).

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My winnings from Chris Farren: the “Where U Are” 7″ test pressing, 7″ “Holy Attitudes” EP and a hand drawn photo of me based on just my name

 

I was also able to grab a copy of the tour poster and the tour exclusive vinyl release of “Elsie” by the Horrible Crowes from Danny as well, both of which are lovely.  I’ll update this to include the poster once I have it framed.

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So that was basically my Detroit show experience in a nutshell….but that’s not all!  The following night, I headed to see a second show on this tour in Cincinnati, OH!  Stay tuned for that recap as well…

Recap: Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford and Autumn Hill, Sault Ste. Marie ON

Despite being woefully under-attended (which I’ll comment on later), the audience at the Essar Center in Sault Ste. Marie Canada was treated to a fantastic evening of country music on Saturday evening with the “Certified Country” tour.

Canadian artists Autumn Hill opened the evening up with a stylized set of country-pop hits, including “Can’t Keep Waiting” and “Fire”.  Theirs was truthfully the act I was most excited for; this is not to mean of course that I was any less interested in the headliners, but Autumn Hill has songs that are more recognizable to me despite their relative newness to the country music scene (in comparison to Bamford and particularly Nichols).  They certainly delivered- Tareya Green and Mike Robins, along with their band, breathed fresh air and life into a crowd who was already suffering the effects of a non-air conditioned arena (we were notified by friends at the Essar Center that the air conditioning had broken the day before the show, and they had been unable to fix it in time).

CCMA Male Artist of the Year Gord Bamford was welcomed to the stage next, and delivered a set of some of his most well-known hits, along with some tracks off of his newest album released this year entitled “Tin Roof”.  Despite some technical difficulties with his in-ear monitors, Bamford worked the stage and the crowd like a pro, at one point bringing up a bride to be to help sing “When Your Lips Are So Close”.  He also allowed time for his touring band to take center stage with a medley of classic rock songs, which was certainly one of the highlights of their set.  The band was comprised of some extremely talented musicians in their own right; multi-instrumentalist Denis Dufresne was especially incredible on fiddle, guitar and banjo as well as backing vocals.  It truly appeared to me that Bamford appreciates the talent in his band and was happy to take a backseat to allow them a moment to shine on their own.  It certainly says a lot about his character as both an artist and a person.

Finally, Joe Nichols took to the stage as the final act of the evening, and the majority of the floor-seated crowd rushed to the front to be closer to the action.  Songs like “Yeah”, “Sunny and 75” and “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” were obvious crowd favourites, as audience members bobbed, swayed and danced along with the band.  The only critique I can make would be on the sound;  I wasn’t the only person who found it nearly deafening during Joe’s set, and it became more difficult to hear his vocals as compared to the sets before his.  A slight tweak on the volume of the instruments could have helped to add clarity to an otherwise fantastic set.  In any case, the crowd didn’t seem to mind, and happily sang back every word.  A surprise cover song in the form of “Running Down a Dream” by Tom Petty was well received by the crowd as well; further proving that classic rock and country music can compliment each other and help unite fans across genres.

All in all, it was a fun evening of live music in Sault Ste. Marie, but here is where my criticism turns to the slightly more bitter.  It was truly upsetting to see so many empty seats in an arena that can seat 5000, and each time the lights flashed on so the artists could see their audience, I cringed.  I don’t believe that the Essar Center was the best venue to host this tour, and The Machine Shop may have been a better alternative.  However, venues and promoters in this city are working hard to bring more entertainment and musical acts here for our enjoyment, and the fact of the matter is that if we as a city don’t buy the tickets to support them, it will be much harder to get the talent here.  I do realize that country isn’t for everyone (speaking as someone who has preferences leaning more to punk or alternative music ), and that tickets are often pricey, but please consider supporting touring artists as they come through.  They constantly live on the road, away from friends and family and they work hard to bring people together and put on a show that everyone can enjoy.  There are many opportunities to go see some amazing talent local to Sault Ste. Marie as well; just consider this next time you’re planning a night out and are looking for something fun to do.