The Weakerthans - Live At The Burton Cummings Theatre
And why not start with something which is pretty damn rare if not unique. Not many bands would even think about this, let alone pull it off. Towards the end of the performance, as the band are in the middle of "Wellington's Wednesdays", frontman John Sampson leans over while a fan whispers something in his ear. Next thing you know, the fan is on stage and handed a guitar as Sampson introduces Ernesto from Mexico who is going to play a guitar solo in the key of E.
Now hang on a minute. You can't just lean over and pluck some guy out of your audience and let him loose on your repertoire. What if he can't play? I mean it is a recipe for disaster, right? Well, credit to Samson for having the guts to do it, and to the band for not storming off thinking their frontman has just had a brain spasm or something. Credit too goes to Ernesto who grabbed his ninety seconds of fame with gusto. After a shaky couple of notes at the start, Ernesto put in a pretty good performance for some random guy just hauled up on stage in front of an audience of God knows how many people and told, "there you go, Pal, knock yourself out".
If nothing else, this little episode shows what the band seem to be all about. Visually, these guys are not Adonis and his mates strutting their stuff. They don't dress to impress or to create an effect and if you walked past them in the street you would not recognise them, so unassuming they are. And unlike a lot of live albums, there is not much in the way of banter. Basically, the band just stand on stage, make a few reassuring notes of thanks to an appreciative audience, and get on with the business of knocking out some stunning indie rock which has so much more to offer than the painfully thin stick insect hipsters with their designer jeans and their morose attitude who tend to pass for indie rockers these days.
And let's not forget. These guys can play. They are tight throughout, there are few obvious mistakes, but just enough to convince you that there has been minimal, if any, touching up of the recording once they got it back in the studio. The band put enough of the tracks from their four previous albums together to give you an oversight of their repertoire without concentrating too much on any one of their albums. Of course there are going to be omissions. Me, I would have like to have heard "Pamphleteer" played. But this is always going to happen with live albums - each person will have tracks they regard as favourites included so inevitably, some will feel a mild tinge of disappointment.
But whatever the track listing and the merits of including some tracks at the expense of others, what can never let you down with the Weakerthans are the lyrics. John Sampson is a man who has got more than his fair share of similes and metaphors in his box of words and phrases. This is a man who can describe a dull Canadian sky as "turned off TV Grey", or who can make you believe that a cancer-stricken man can actually be encouraged, cheered, criticised and berated by a cat without the slightest need to suspend belief at all. Line after line, little gems of imagery sally from Sampson's mouth as he describes scenes and emotions with perfect clarity and the right amount of sensitivity. Sometimes, the lyrics are so good they make you just lie back and wonder at how something so sublime could emanate from a man so unassuming and self-effacing. It is kind of odd when you think that Sampson indulges in so little banter during the concert - perhaps he only comfortable with his words when he is singing them.
Given that there is so much on offer here it is perhaps surprising that there is one moment - the impromptu appearance of Ernesto apart - which stands out. And that is "One Great City!" Easily the best track off Reconstruction Site, this track is an excoriation of the band's hometown. For people I know who have been to Winnipeg, they say it is entirely justified and the roar it gets when the opening chords cry out suggest those friends are right. There is something so ironically poetic about standing in a theatre in front of so many people in Winnipeg and uttering those words - "I hate Winnipeg" so unironically.
But enough of me. This album speaks for itself. Like I said at the start, if you have overlooked the Weakerthans thus far, put that right now. This album deserves much more recognition than it seems many are likely to give it.
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