John K is OK: the Weakerthans in Edmonton

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John K Samson on March 20th in Halifax | Photo by Ryan Heise

John K Samson on March 20th in Halifax | Photo by Ryan Heise

There are worse ways to spend a Thursday night. My typical Thursday evening involves wine and 30 Rock. But I received a reminder earlier last week that I was meant to attend the Weakerthans concert in Edmonton at the Winspear Centre (on April 23). Two of my dear friends from elemenatary school, some beer, and some music. I didn’t feel bad for missing Liz Lemon and Tracy Jordan’s antics.

The last time I saw the Weakerthans was the last time they played Folk Fest in Edmonton. It was a great live show, mostly because when they played “One Great City!” one of the audience members clearly didn’t get it, stood up, said something to the effect that “Winnipeg rules!” and marched off angrily. It was highly amusing. I was eager to see them at the Winspear, since acoustically and aesthetically, it’s a really amazing space.

The Constantines opened for the Weakerthans on Thursday, but we only caught their last three songs. I never really got into the Constantines, but it was great to hear them live. They even played a song I recognized and like: “Young Lions.” Real wall-of-sound kind of rock. It was pretty cool.

But I went to see the Weakerthans, and when they took the stage, I don’t think I stopped bobbing my head or smiling the whole time. Oh sure, they messed up “Aside,” by singing the second verse first and we were treated to what John K described as the “remixed” version of the song, but it was still a damned solid show.

Mostly, though, I was struck by a profound sense of Canadianness as I sang along to the lyrics. Songs about curling aside, John K’s remarkably adept at capturing ethereal feeling with language, certainly as it relates to life in the flatter parts of Canada. He somehow knits together sentiments with objects, situations and emotions to form an overarching sense of us. Maybe it just works for Prairie-dwellers—or maybe just me—and it maybe felt more profoundly for Manitobans, but there’s a sense of shared experience in his lyrics that’s unshakable. A familiarity that I don’t think even the Tragically Hip captures (but maybe that’s because they’re from Kingston, and I just don’t get what it’s like to be an Ontarian).

As part of their encore, John K played “One Great City!,” which although it’s about Winnipeg, really evokes feelings of what it’s like to be a frustrated, dead-eyed urban-dweller in Edmonton, realizing that in fact things aren’t all that great.

Of course they aren’t all that terrible here either, as evidenced by the fact that we can attract acts like the Weakerthans to one of the most fantastic music halls in Canada.

The only disappointment of the evening: they didn’t play my very favourite Weakerthans song, “A New Name for Everything.”

But I still left the Winspear with a huge smile on my face.

Note: Ryan Heise was kind enough to let me use a photo from a number he’d taken when the Weakerthans rolled through Halifax last month. Sorry I didn’t have an image from the Edmonton show!

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