Sunday, April 1st
The Tractor Tavern
I won't lie, John K. Samson 's new solo album Provincial is>"/>
I won't lie, John K. Samson's new solo album Provincial is a solid record, better than his last Weakerthan's album, even--a mix of acoustic folk songs and plugged-in power pop with smart instrumentation and smarter lyrics--but I'd had a Weakerthans songs stuck in my head all day. You never know with a solo side-project whether or not an artist will dig into their old repertoire, but Samson did so right out the gate, taking the stage with acoustic guitar and announcing, "We'll start with three songs about Winnipeg," before launching into the bitter hometown ode "One Great City!" It was the tune I'd been whistling all afternoon, and it was only the first of the evening's old songs and happy surprises.
The other Winnipeg songs were Provincial's "Heart of the Continent" (whose finger-picked guitar part Samson said he'd cribbed from the previous song's) and "Cruise Night," which he introduced by explained was about the past-time of driving in one direction then turning around ("You're probably all too sophisticated for this here"). They dedicated the outstanding single "When I Write My Master's Thesis" to all the grad students in the house this finals season, and the crowd cheered wildly in the little extended pause after one animated drum fill and before the song's final refrain. The show went on like this, alternating old songs with new, some done in standard rock formation, some with just Samson on acoustic guitar and the bassist on stand-up bass, all punctuated by clever, typically Canadian banter (ie. polite, earnestly concerned about curling).
When discussing how hard a language Icelandic was to learn in introducing "Letter In Icelandic From The Ninette San," Samson humored an audience member who shouted out Ballard's Nordic Heritage Museum, asking him where it was and suggesting the audience head there for the after-party. He said he'd expected riots and ruins after the US had (apparently) lost some international curling championship to Canada earlier by way of introducing old song "Tournament of Hearts." This was outdone by his other "great Northern sports as extended metaphor" number, the poignant "www.ipetitions.com/petition/rivertonrifle/", which he explained was in fact a real petition (linked) to induct Reggie Leach to the Hockey Hall of Fame, the signatures for which (1448 as of this writing) they were going to print out on dot matrix and march to the Hall of Fame immediately following this tour, as well as by his introduction for "Pamphleteer," a toast to hockey player Gump Worsley that amounted to a poem apparently composed on the spot, a litany of all the things hockey and Worsley had given his nation. I wish I knew how to toast like that.
All great banter aside (and there was another bit about Michael Buble and him having won the Album of the Year award at "Canadian Grammys" the Junos for a Christmas record), the songs were pretty goddamned great. They did a cover of sensitive punk gods Jawbreaker's "The Boat Dreams From the Hill," which was like some kind of literate punk rock dreamboat episode of Quantum Leap. They closed their set with the Weakerthans' killer slow song "Left and Leaving," and you could hear the crowd audibly whispering along.Not from last night, but you get the idea.
When they came out for a loudly demanded and deserved encore, Samson asked if there were any songs anyone wanted to hear and got shouted back a cacophony of various requests. He obliged with three Weakerthans numbers and even donned the bass guitar for two Propaghandi songs. They did "Illustrated Bible Stories for Children," "My Favorite Chords" (lyric changed from "hope" to "I know you like them too," audience reverent), a medley of Propaghandi's "Gifts" into holdover "Anchorless" (making for two songs about boats dry-docked in backyards in one night!), and a rousing version of "Reconstruction Site" with the band's drummer and guitarist shaking shakers into one mic and giving each other goofy fake-out high fives on the song's breaks. If you're a John K. Samson fan (which, obviously), then this show had everything you could have wanted and then some, and it felt like a rare treat in an intimate venue.
1. "One Great City!"
2. "Heart of the Continent"
3. "Cruise Night"
4. "When I Write My Master's Thesis"
5. "Letter In Icelandic from the Ninette San"
6. "Tournament of Hearts"
10. "Longitudinal Centre"
11. "The Boat Dreams From the Hill"
12. "The Last And"
13. "Highway 1 West"
14. "Left and Leaving"
15. "Illustrated Bible Stories for Children"
16. "My Favorite Chords"
18. "Reconstruction Site"