by Sheldon Birnie
Once in a while, a rock n roll show is just perfect. It takes you for a ride, lifting you out of the struggles and strife inherent to living as a human being on Earth. It reaffirms your belief in the power of rock, reaffirms why you’ve spent hundreds of thousands of hours listening to records over and over again, shilling out thousands of dollars over the years to buy those records or attend rock shows, buy t-shirts and beer koozies and other useless shit from your favourite bands. Leaves you feeling pumped up and ready to take on the world when the lights lift and the band goes home. Makes you feel alive.
This gig wasn’t a perfect gig by any means, but it certainly fulfilled many of the criteria listed above. It was the best rock show I’ve seen in well over a year, if not two or three.
Into It. Over It started the night off at 7.30 sharp. About a dozen kids crowded the stage, while the rest of the West End slowly filled up. By the end of the set, the place was nearly full, and the crowd was attentive to a fault. Into It. Over It is essentially one dude named Evan who sang his heart out, and was clearly very enthusiastic and appreciative of the attention the crowd lavished on him. However, I couldn’t get into his Dashboardy tunes, and he lost me completely with the first line of one of his tunes, about twenty minutes into his half hour set. The line in question: “Flipping through the pages of your diary…”
The Andrew Jackson Jihad took the stage next, a two-piece featuring upright bass and acoustic guitar from Pheonix, AZ. These guys fucking brought it. The Ventura Concert Hall was full for their set, and the AJJ certainly made some serious friends amongst the rabble. Their tunes are very punk rock, played on instruments that drifter-types can easily haul. Lyrically, the tunes revolve around the hopelessness of life and the pain involved in being alive. “Hope is for presidents, and dreams are for people who are sleeping,” is the line that hammers home the AJJ’s philosophy best to me, given my limited knowledge of their repertory. A rowdy crew at the front sang along to every word, though. My buddy Willy was among them, and he told me later that it had been “the best night” of his life, bar none. I believed him. Close to the end of their set, they busted out a sweet cover of Neil Young’s “Mellow My Mind.” I was sold before they busted that shit out, but damn was that a sweet cover to pull.
Frank Turner was the star of the show, though, and the already packed floor filled up even more as he took the stage with his tight-as-a-nun’s-no-no backing band, the Sleeping Souls. Turner kicked his oft-overly-mellow tunes into high gear, and the set was fucking awesome. Highlights, for me, included rousing versions of “Dan’s Song,” “Glory Hallelujah” and “Long Live the Queen,” as well as a haunting a cappella rendition of 900+ year old English folk tune, “English Curse.”
For an encore, Frank came out and did a slight variation, “with apologies to the author” of one of his favourite Winnipeg tunes, John K. Samson’s “One Great City!” For this version, Turner substituted “Winchester” for “Winnipeg” in the first two passes, and substituted “love” for “hate” to end the tune off, endearing him further to many of the fans who were clearly already committed to his camp. The finale was a full crowd sing-a-long to his anthem “Photosynthesis.”
While, overall, the set was awesome and reaffirming of all the rock-as-saviour clichés I hold dear to my heart, it was mired, slightly, by the Loogan factor. But drunk yahoos are part and parcel to a rock show. Frankly, I would have been shocked if there hadn’t been a few drunkards to upset an otherwise hitch-less evening. My only real complaint is that he didn’t play “Live Fast Die Old,” or, if he did, I was too high to remember.
One sad sap was moping after the show, after gaining the stage to give his bro-crush Frank a hug and being quickly escorted out of the venue by security, to much shame and derision. He came up to me as I stood, in the Winnipeg rain, waiting for a bus, waiting for a cab. He apologized to me, and asked if I had had a good time.
“Of course,” I told him. I’d had a fucking blast. I was about to go eat food in a warm place.
“Well I’m sorry,” he said, looking like a sorry bag of shit. “I’m sorry if I ruined your night.”
“Fuck that,” I said. “You couldn’t ruin my night. Don’t worry about it.”
I wasn’t shitting the son of a gun. It had been an awesome night of music, a night where my faith in music as something fucking special was reaffirmed in spades. I’ll be shocked if Frank Turner, or the Andrew Jackson Jihad, will be playing as intimate a venue as the West End next time they roll through town. Mark my words, friends: You won’t want to miss it, if you missed it this time around.