Wednesday, 3 June 2015



Three Days of Music


There was neither bad acid nor mud and the toilets in each venue were pristine so this past Saturday, Sunday and Monday didn’t exactly constitute Woodstock though all of the music was equally delightful.


Wally is a longtime neighbourhood friend of Ann’s. He’s a tallish, slight man, balding and a little reserved. He sings and plays rhythm guitar for a tight, pick-up rock and roll band called Thirst ‘n Howl. Ann and I caught them Saturday night in a nearby community hall. Proceeds from the $20 tickets were designated for a cancer charity. Beer was $5. There was a shooter table set up. Hamburgers and hotdogs were grilling on a gaggle of barbecues and being sold at reasonable prices by volunteers.


The place was packed with graying or dyed rockers, the dance floor more so once the band took the stage. Thirst ‘n Howl began their gig with a three part harmony a cappella version of Neil Young’s ‘After the Gold Rush’ before ripping into early Beatles, followed by hits from Badfinger and Steely Dan. Their set’s surprising highlight was an enthusiastic rendition of power popper Tommy Tutone’s hook-laden ‘867-5309 (Jenny).’ From AC/DC through to Chuck Berry, the Marvelettes and Wilson Pickett, the elevated wires of telephone songs possess a strange, retro magic.


Ann and I departed shortly after 10 pm. Not because we’re old, not because we were tired, but because Ann had a Sunday afternoon first violin player performance with Nova Musica, her other orchestra, one she’s been a member of for 35 years. That venue was the library of ecole Gabrielle-Roy. I could tell by the high ceiling and the faded markings on the wooden floor that the space used to be a gymnasium; the Nova concert is part of a fundraising effort for a new playground. Was this irony in a winter city? Tickets were $10 for adults, no beer and burgers to be had, just butter tarts and lemonade.


The afternoon’s program commenced with Rossini’s (1792-1868) ‘Overture to Barber of Seville.’ It’s a piece I know well thanks to Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd: ‘Come into my shop! Let me cut your mop!’ I’ve often wondered if old Gioachino spun in his Parisian grave when the Warner Brothers short debuted or did he appreciate the humour? The door prize for the Nova concert was a Bugs Bunny cap complete with floppy ears which of course the conductor had to don for the ‘Overture.’ A young student later beamed after she’d won the game worn merch.


Monday night in a downtown auditorium fused our weekend. The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra with the aid of a rock band and vocalist performed the music of Led Zeppelin. Our $39 tickets placed us in the first row of the choir loft behind the stage. Ann’s friend Marnie joined us for the event. She is a cellist who sometimes plays with Ann in an informal backyard string quartet; her husband Derek plays cello in the ESO. Derek’s a pretty dry guy. If I’ve cracked a thousand jokes in his presence, I made his mouth upturn once. I once wore a Mick Jagger t-shirt to a party the couple hosted. He asked me in all seriousness, ‘Who’s that?’ I said, ‘Bob Dylan.’ He said, ‘Oh.’ Weeks before the show Ann and I lent them Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day DVD figuring Derek might want to do some homework although I don’t imagine Led Zep’s sometimes plodding brand of blooze pose much difficulty for a classically trained musician. Derek was unable to endure the entire disc.


I had never sat facing a conductor before. Maestro was a classic in black tuxedo with a mane of swept back hair. I thought of Bugs Bunny in What’s Opera, Doc? his long ears plastered to his head: ‘Leopold! Leopold!’ The singer had the pipes to match Robert Plant’s pitch and cat fight yowls; his shoulder length kinky hair was a pretty close approximation of the Golden God’s too. We had no idea what to expect and therefore our expectations could not be trampled underfoot but only exceeded, which they were. Apparently there had been time for only one hasty rehearsal but all of the artists involved seemed in sync. The sound was fabulous: dense, rich and very, very loud.

We milled around with beers at intermission and I recognized a couple of faces from Saturday’s Thirst ‘n Howl gig. We bumped into a friend fresh off of U2’s tour opener in Vancouver. Maybe it was the scale of the hall and its impeccable acoustics, maybe it was the weed but Monday night the ESO were rock stars right up there with Bono and The Edge; he’d already decided to return for the Tuesday evening performance. He was buzzed too by the ESO’s surprise on stage announcement that the music of Pink Floyd was due to receive the same treatment over two nights in late September. I reminded him that we were booked to see the Who together around that time. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ he said, ‘isn’t all this music great?’ Yeah.

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