April 3, 2009 – London Music Hall, London, ON
After a three-night stand in Toronto, the Canadian all-star Rolling Tundra Revue featuring the Constantines and the Weakerthans was in full force when it hit London this past Friday. Prior to this I had never been to the London Music Hall, though I flaked out on a Hawksley Workman show there a few months ago. London’s music scene is currently in the midst of some turmoil. With the death of smaller London venues such as the Embassy, Salt Lounge and the Alex P. Keaton over the past few months, we’re left with Call the Office and several seldom-used mid-size venues. With Bloc Party drawing a rather depressing turnout when I last saw them, I wasn’t expecting the show to be as massive as it was. To my surprise, the room was packed within minutes of doors opening. In my experience, London isn’t a very concert-going city, but there appeared to be a healthy influx of people from around the area in attendance.
Toronto trio One Hundred Dollars served as an opening act, prefacing their performance with “Oh, we’re a country band,” as if some sort of warning. Despite my misgivings about most things labelled ‘country’, the farmboy in me found them somewhat endearing, particularly when they tried to get a little audience participation going during one of their songs. They served as a decent warm-up for the bands that everyone came to see.
Bryan Webb of the Constantines taking command of the audience.
I’ve seen the Constantines a ridiculous amount of times in the past few years, but they always manage to bring a unique energy to their shows. To be perfectly honest, the band could simply play Nighttime/Anytime and you could walk away satisfied. Their set was filled with well-known tracks like Young Lions, Hotline Operator, and guest vocals by John K. Samson of the Weakerthans on Little Instruments. Odd that every time I see the Cons I seem to miss out on the songs I want to hear, namely On to You and Soon Enough, though perhaps their softer nature would be out of place with the general rocking out occurring. There were a few lulls in the performance those songs could have improved.
In the days before having a credit card, I missed out on the Weakerthans playing Call the Office, which would’ve been particularly awesome to see. Of course, being essentially front row for this performance would have to do. I was somewhat late on the Weakerthans bandwagon, first discovering them in the years after the release of Reconstruction Site. I can’t remember which song got me hooked, but I’m willing to bet it was either the outcast anthem Aside or the ode from a sympathetic feline Plea from a Cat Named Virtue. Either way, I got both that night, along with a great mix of material spanning all four of their albums. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Weakerthans in a live performance, but I was definitely satisfied. The band seemed to be smiling the entire time, reveling in a crowd that sang along with every word. Aside from the occasional thanks and playful argument amongst themselves on stage, the band stuck to playing for most of the night. I’m very surprised at the amount of material they went through during their set. I’m not sure if this is a stunt they’ve been pulling for the whole tour, but an audience member joined the band on stage during Wellington’s Wednesdays to perform a guitar solo, with the aid of John K himself. If only I were a few rows ahead, that could have been me. Perhaps next time.
For the inevitable encore, John K. came out on stage to deliver a solo rendition of One Great City!. Given the crowd was singing along the entire night, in an act of playful genius he delayed the final line of “I…hate….” until an overenthusiastic fan shouted “LONDON!” much to his amusement. The all-keyboard rendition of Anchorless was also a delight, and the audience was sent packing with a great performance of Left and Leaving standout Pamphleteer. I was concerned with how the crowd would react to the band’s slower numbers, but thankfully everyone was into it as much as I was.
“And now the Weakerthans wear out their welcome!”
(says John K. prior to an all MIDI keyboard performance of Anchorless)
All I really could’ve asked for was Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure, but I suppose there’s a limit to the amount of songs sung in the perspective of a cat. I’m still holding out for an all-Virtute concept album. Weakerthans, make it happen!
In case you couldn’t tell, it was an excellent show. The Weakerthans’ music expresses the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life so honestly that you can’t help but fall in love with them. How many bands can pull off a song about curling? Well worth the ticket price, and even worth missing the last bus back home and burning the roof of my mouth on after-show pizza.
A final question: often people complain of the lack of dancing at shows, which I’m often guilty of, but are you really expected to be dancing your heart out to a sombre song like Bigfoot? Were this a Shout Out Out Out Out show, yeah, I could understand your complaint, but come on.
Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call
Tournament of Hearts
Over Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)
The Reasons (Dedicated to the Constantines)
Exiles Among You
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
Sun in an Empty Room
Left and Leaving
One Great City! (John K. Samson solo)
My Favourite Chords
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
Anchorless (Played on MIDI Keyboards!)