Monday, March 22, 2010

back with scars to show

John K Samson / Kris Demeanor
Rozsa Centre, Mar 21/10

I had no idea that Kris Demeanor would be opening for John K Samson's solo show on Sunday night, and as he admitted to me in the lobby after his set, until a couple of days beforehand, he didn't know that he was going to be opening either. But it really was an inspired pairing - one of the country's finest story-tellers matched up with one of the country's most eloquent poets, in an evening of acoustic wordsmithery.

Two men, two guitars and a whole lot of imagery.

If you don't know Kris Demeanor, then you have never been to Calgary. He's one of those musicians who goes beyond the music, a local arts ambassador who dabbles in music, words, images, film, in his musings upon life in Calgary. Part troubadour, part experimental and spoken word artist, his songs are an always pithy, often scathing, and decidely darkly humourous reflection of ourselves.

One of the reasons that I continue to love live musical performances is for the opportunity to witness the intricate details that go into the making of the songs. From our third row seats, we were able to see clearly the finger picking and the fret changes.

On two of the songs which Kris performed, he first recorded and then looped his playing, adding on layer upon layer of instrumentation. It was mesmerizing to see unfold, incredible to hear. The all-too brief set finished with a reading of Pelican Lake Conversion, with Kris sitting on the edge of the stage with a book, while the layered tracks provided the backdrop to the spoken word piece. Very powerful, yet

It was captivating to see John K Samson to perform a solo set, and made for a decidedly more intimate occasion than the usual high-spirited show that you will see at a Weakerthans concert. Maybe it was the comfortable seats, certainly it was John's chatty and relaxed attitude, but it felt more like an impromptu performance in my living room than a ticketed event in a 400-seat concert hall.

The audience was rather quiet, but certainly attentive and appreciative, hanging onto the tales that John wove into his banter. We heard about
cruise night in Winnipeg (Calgary is probably too sophisticated to have something like this ...) and the kid cruising the Dairy Queen parking lot on his ten-speed, carrying a bottle of beer in a paper bag, who inspired John to pen a song about that cultural phenomenon. We discovered that John was missing his team's final curling match to be with us (but it's okay, we had the loosingest season on record ... we won one game ... by default ...), which added another level of poignancy to the performance of Tournament of Hearts that then followed. And we heard about Slap, John's old cat whose loud purring (it's one of the four or five times in his life that he was ever happy ...) introduced Plea From a Cat Named Virtute.

We only heard three new songs, the rest being familiar Weakerthans' selections, but there really was a world of difference between hearing these songs performed by the full band in front of a standing crowd and being offered tiny snapshots to illustrate the intimate poetry of a John K Samson song.

It seemed only fitting that for the final song of his set, John cleared the wobbly little stage table of its water glass, polished off the rest of the bourbon with which he had saluted Gump Worsley, and climbed onto it. As he stood on that table with his guitar but without amplification, he did not merely sing those plaintive words with which Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure. And as he called up to the stars "but I can't remember the sound that you found for me", he was that feral cat, mourning its lost home. It was heartbreaking.

And so we will remember the sound that John K Samson found for us.


BeckEye said...

Are either of these people on the Canadian mix you made for me? It's in one of my boxes somewhere. I dread unpacking my CDs.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You have to play each CD as you unpack it, Beckeye. It's the feng shui way.
I'm pretty sure Kris Demeanor was on there, not so sure about John K Samson, as you were already familiar with the Weakerthans. But I think his wife had a song on there.
You want to find that CD now, don't you?

Sean Wraight said...

Forget that Cohen guy... I think you just bore witness to Canada's newest co-poet laureates. (Co-po-lau's?) And from the good seats too!

Another amazing review Barbara! Intimate performances like that are truly the ones to treasure. Someone needs to open a club though that allows bonfires in the middle. With these storytellers such a setting would be perfect. (Not to mention toasted marshmellows if you get hungry.)

Great post!


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Excellent suggestion, Sean. Such a club would allow for that folk festival feeling to flourish right through the winter. Lord knows we all need a little more kumbaya in our winters.
Reading up on fire regulations as we speak!
You would have loved this concert, Sean. Little souvenir coming your way...

Allison said...

Blast! I must have visited with Zombie (and subsequently a city) doppleganger then. For I could have sworn I had been to Calgary before...but guess not, as I am not familiar with these acts. Shall change this quickly.

Great review! It's nice to go to a show that so intimate like you've described. Adds on a whole different level to the music.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Ah, you would have been visiting the alternate universe Calgary, Al! Next time you are through, I will show you the real one.
It really was a lovely intimate evening. Sometimes you just need to mellow down a bit.