|Sunday, March 8th,1998, was one of the best nights in recent memory for live music in Regina. |
The stage in our very own Mulit-purpose room was graced by two very different, but equally exciting bands: Storm and Stress, from Pittsburgh, and The Weakerthans, from Winnipeg.
Local bands No Comply and Sevenmile opened up, providing two solid sets of ‘rawk' to get the crowd ready for what was to follow. Regina natives Bluebeard were also on the bill, but unfortunately could not play, as they were suffering from that dreaded Spinal Tap plague of the Infamous Missing Drummer.
Storm and Stress pulled in about 20 minutes before their set was scheduled to begin, much to the relief of concert co-organiser Aaron Ulledal, who put up quite a bit of his own money to get the Touch and Go artists here.
"Artists" really is the only way to describe them. From their first chord (if you could call it that), it was very apparent that these guys aren't in it for the money, but for the music.
Their press release reads like a primer in post-modern theory, with references to the Sturm and Drang German literary movement (where they get their name from), free jazz method, European serialism, and the idea of music being actually aware of itself.
So what do they sound like? In layman's terms, imagine three guys playing guitar, drums, and bass, being slowly thrown down a flight of stairs. That's what you may hear when first exposed to Storm and Stress - a cacaphony of noise. But as they get more into it, out from the din peak shards of melody, side galnces to a beat, deconstructed riffs, and what they're doing slowly starts to make sense. Ian Williams, guitar and vocals, calls it "a knowing of all the options, and thus being paralyzed by the choice and being unable to pick one; Inaction of melody if you will."
But these guys aren't just messing around on stage, as some in attendance at the show might think. There is a definite consciousness to the writing and playing of the music.
As to how they write, Ian says that "we try to push it to the point where it's not recognizable anymore... try to sort of forget the songs," which he likens
|to "drawing with a blindfold on". |
When asked if it was a conscious decision to stick with the traditional rock instruments, Ian replied," Yah, it was, cause the thing is that we wanted to attach the music to a familiar form... to make the familiar strange."
Anyone who saw their set Sunday night, whether they were amazed or disgusted (which seemed to be the two options, judging from the crowd's response), would have to agree that in the very least, Storm and Stress is succesful in their quest to turn the traditional ideas of music on their ear. For myself, it was one of the most brilliant sets of music that I have ever seen.
Following Storm and Stress, who are invariably a hard act to follow, were The Weakerthans, led by former Propagandhi bassist John K. Samson, who now sings and plays guitar. Rounding out the trio are Jason Tait on drums, and Regina-native turned Winnipeg-scenester John Sutton, on bass and backing vocals.
Regina was their last stop on a fairly lengthy western Canadian tour to promote their first release, Fallow, on Winnipeg's G-7 Welcoming Committee Records. The label just happens to be run by some of Samson's former band-mates in Propagandhi.
As to why they've chosen to stay on an independent label instead of pursuing the majors, Samson said that it "was mostly to keep in line with our committment to independent structures, of any type, really." Those stuctures also include the Artbeiter Ring Publishing Collective, a Winnipeg based publishing house which Samson founded and and spends most of his time at, when not on tour or working at his day job in a book store.
This "indie-ness" also stems from an understanding that "the music industry is one of the most disturbing on the planet." As far as those big industry conferences such as SXSW and MusicWest, where many bands seek their big break, The Weakerthans see them as being pretty useless, "just a bunch of major label crap", there only to exploit small bands than anything else.
"Bands do sometimes get recognised, but those are the exceptions," says Samson. On the plus side though, Sutton likes the fact that "you get to hang out with and
|see some pretty big bands, who otherwise you wouln't have access to."|
"It's not our goal to be big rock stars," says Samson, but whether they like it or not, they may be heading that way, if initial sales and reviews of Fallow have anything to say about it.
The twelve song CD made it to #1 on Calgary and Winnipeg's college radio charts in February, and was ranked #13 on the national college charts after only three weeks. Critical acclaim has been far and wide for the album, with many giving them 4/5 stars or the equivalent. Stuart Green of Exclaim magazine writes, "The music alternates between Jawbreaker-style power pop numbers and beauitful Hayden-inspired acoustic ballads... The Weakerthans are about songs and melody and Fallow has them in abundance." All this from a band who basically are "writing for ourselves."
Live, they don't disappoint either. Alternating equally between their driving, powerful songs such as "confessions of a futon revolutionist" and "illustrated bible stories for children" and their more subdued, but equally soulful numbers, especially the title track "fallow", it quickly became apparent that this band is about emotion, be a it a yell or a whisper.
Most of those trendy, so-called "emo" bands could learn a lot from these guys. Their music is pretty hard to pigeon-hole, although the band's punk roots do peek out every once in a while. And since most of the All Ages crowd are ‘capital P' punk, its easy to see why the show was so well attended.
The band quickly blazed through about an hour of music, without much of a break in intensity, only stopping for a few minutes at the end of their set before coming back for a much appreciated encore.
If the Weakerthans are any indication of the health of the Canadian independent music scene, then it's in pretty good shape, as these guys are at the top of a huge heap of new bands out there. And if this show is any indication of the the health of the Regina scene, I think that we're in pretty good shape too, if we can get so many people out to see such a variety of bands as we saw on Sunday. March 9 will definitely be a highlight of 1998..