“I hear a bunch of you yelling out songs,” said Randy Bachman a few songs into his set at the Bandshell on the opening night of the CNE. “That’s good because we’re going to play every one of them.”
True to his word, Bachman played all the hits … and he’s got a lot of hits. While he has written a fair number of hits, many of those are songs that have been sung by others so I suppose it wasn’t too surprising that Bachman relied on members of his backing band to take the lead on many numbers, with his bassist (who was wearing a rather long jacket – I think he was going for a zoot suit kind of thing, but it came across more like a smock or a black labcoat) taking on the bulk of the Burton Cummings numbers. It was perhaps a bit surprising though when Bachman tossed out a few hits by other artists in a huge medley during “Hey You” that incorporated snippets of Free’s “All Right Now,” Steve Miller’s “Rock’n Me,” AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long,” and even a bit of “Hot Legs” by Rod Stewart. I guess when it comes down to it, people love to hear hits, and a hit is a hit whether it was your hit or not, so why should Bachman shy away from dropping a few crowd pleasers into his set?
They also threw a chunk of “Whole Lotta Love” into the middle of “American Woman,” which Bachman introduced as “a Canadian blues about an American woman.” In fact, Bachman seemed to be on a bit of a Led Zeppelin kick on this night, throwing the opening riff from “Stairway To Heaven” onto the end of one song, while also playing a Zeppelin pastiche version of “Undun” immediately after playing the standard version of that number. Bachman explained how he was first inspired to write the song during the Seattle Pop Festival (jazzy chord progressions and a Dylan lyric) and how if things went another way, he could have gone to the room next to him and played it for Page and Plant instead of Burton Cummings. “And that’s what it would have sounded like!” It reminded me of the type of story one might hear him tell on his CBC radio program Vinyl Tap (in fact, he probably has told it on there before) and frankly, I kind of expect him to tell those sorts of stories. And to namedrop other classic rockers he’s rubbed elbows with. After being out there playing shows and generally (if you’ll pardon the expression*) takin’ care of business for the past 50 years or so, I’d expect no less from him.
* I think we’re required by law to include the phrase “Takin’ care of business” whenever writing about Randy Bachman. Pretty sure it’s in the Canadian constitution or something.
Obviously the lead singer of TTNG has deeply ingratiated himself with the people of Chicago because when he told the crowd at Subt on Saturday night: “Fun fact guys – too much dairy gives me phlegm. Thank goodness tonight is the last day of the tour – we’re going all out for the deep pan tonight! Deep pan party!”
Not only did the crowd not ridicule the Brit for not realizing that it’s actually deep dish pizza that’s eaten in Chicago, not deep pan, one TTNG bro fan turned to the other with an indulgent smile on his face and said “It’s okay, let’s not correct him – we’ll give it to him.” In a city where the question of New York Style versus deep dish can result in fisticuffs, that’s an act of true love right there.
The math rock crew from Oxford started off their set with “Coconut Crab” from their 2016 release Disappointment Island. The group has that slightly off-kilter, complex rhythm section specific to math rock (which makes it a lot of fun to watch people trying to move to it – ‘okay bob a little faster, whoa now a little slower, now fast again, okay now I’m definitely off rhythm’), heavy on guitar, with Tremain’s crooning to top it off.
Each song ended abruptly (which ended up causing even more awkward bobbing dance moves – ‘whoa okay now stop!’) with a smile and a “Thanks Mates!” which everyone was eating up (maybe a little more so by the seven girls who had shown up as opposed to the fifty tall guys – this was definitely not a concert to be a petite woman unless you just wanted to watch some guy’s arrhythmic sweaty bobbing back.)
Having never seen math rock produced live it was extremely impressive to watch the power trio creating these complicated labyrinths of sound in person, catching the rhythm only for the swiftest glance before it morphed into something new. These guys are definitely worth a listen live – come for the fragile ever changing sound, stay for the awkwardly dancing tall men in the crowd.
Track Could Bend, the monthly series happening on the first Tuesday of each month and focused on bringing together musicians from various genres and disciplines for largely improvised sets, is always an interesting time, since you never know exactly what surprises may be in store for you. This evening was no different, with uniquely weird and satisfying sets from Kapali Carsi and Professor Andy Dolgin and the Cereal Killers.
Emerging from the basement in his homemade suit of cereal box armour, Dolgin joined his band for a set mixing noise jazz and hardcore punk with snippets of breakfast cereal jingles, Saturday morning cartoon themes and other half remembered detritus of childhood pop culture past (“What’s Your Thing” and “I’m Just A TV,” just to name a few) chewed up, spit out, and filtered through the lens of a bad trip. Dolgin even brought a tuba to the venue with him, then totally didn’t even bother to use it. That’s dedication to your craft. I think. Is Andy Dolgin actually a professor though? Is Andy even his real name? We may never know. Well, I suppose we could just ask him, but who has time for that?
Up next was Kapali Carsi, aka Kevin Hainey, who followed up the wacky spectacle of the Cereal Killers’ set with a performance that was almost an anti-performance. Kneeling with his back turned on the crowd, he focused squarely on his guitar and amp and all of the noises he could wrench from them. It did the trick though, sounding good and weirdly making for the perfect soundtrack to the bacchanalian nude hippy grape stomping scene from John Frankenheimer’s Seconds which was playing out on the screen. Trippy stuff.
“I’ll treat this like a first date,” said Mike Kinsella a few songs into Owen‘s set. “Do you want me to talk during the awkward silences?” The crowd replied in the affirmative and it’s a good thing they did – Kinsella’s got a way with words not only lyrically but also in terms of some amusing stage banter. He kept up the ‘first date’ conceit from time to time throughout the show, asking what we were doing after the show (strip club and shawarma were some notable options people shouted out) and whether we come here for shows often.
Aside from being a talented songwriter and a pretty funny guy, Kinsella also displayed some impressively intricate picking on several numbers, which reminded me of his work on Joan Of Arc’s Presents Guitar Duets album – a good listen if you haven’t heard it yet. He did admit though to making a few mistakes on songs from time to time, noting that if he makes it through a certain number of songs without screwing them up, then he feels like the audience has got their money’s worth. “I’m probably the only person who thinks that, though,” he added. Aside from a few minor flubs, however, there wasn’t much to complain about. He even managed to make a moment when he paused before the end of a song into one of the more memorable parts of the show, stopping to take a long swig from his can of beer and saying, “I want to get this right. Got to sound like Dave Matthews.”
After running through all of the songs on his setlist, (“I have one more song written on my hand.”) Kinsella played a song by one of his other projects, American Football. “I’m gonna try ‘Never Meant’ only because I have to play it next week in front of a lot more people than you. Although he only knew his parts on the song, he pulled it off, though he admitted that the other guys in the band “do a lot of heavy lifting.” After he finished that song he said that maybe it should be the last one, though he did finish off with one more number. And then we all went out for shawarma. Obviously.