Monday, 21 March 2016


A Night on the Town

CKUA is Alberta’s donor supported public radio station. Ann and I have it on more often than not. Some shows are right up our alley, essential listening. Others are charming in their eclecticism and therefore worth tuning into as well. CKUA always promises the magic of the unbidden B-side. One trend we’ve noticed lately is the broadcaster’s propensity to spin recent cover versions of 30-and-40-year-old classic songs from our youths, our canon: all are lame, lazy jazzy takes; hell must be a Super 8 piano bar cocktail lounge. That is why a local version of the Beatles’ ‘We Can Work It Out’ really popped from our speakers. A statement and response duet with a southern groove, not quite Joe Cocker with Leon Russell but the spirit was willing because covering the Beatles requires a certain verve.

Two Blue are an Edmonton duo who spin themselves as ‘black/white, male/female and novice/veteran.’ I suppose you could say the act is the new kid/old dog on Edmonton’s blues scene. We’d not heard of them but that meant nothing. The voice behind the CKUA microphone revealed that Two Blue would play the Blue Chair Café on the last Friday night of the strangely benign winter of 2015-16. We knew and liked the Blue Chair, for brunch anyway. We hadn’t seen live music in an intimate venue since we’d joined together with good friends to catch their son’s punk band on a triple bill in a dive bar on Whyte Avenue. My Two Blue thought was strictly ‘Junior’s Farm:’ ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.’ Ann agreed.

According to its website the Blue Chair holds 80 patrons. I’d’ve said between 50 and 100; I’m no fire marshal. Sometimes there’s a cover charge and sometimes the performers are paid by donations. The joint is proximate to the Crooked 9, close enough to rock ‘n’ roll but too far to walk. We made arrangements with our cabbie to collect us when we were ready to head home too; while Uber may be spinning its wheels in regulatory limbo, at the very least it has forced traditional livery to elevate its customer service to an acceptable level.

The Blue Chair is tucked away off a main street, occupying square footage in an avant-garde Soviet 60s strip mall. I’m not judging because the tired and downtrodden commercial hub in our neighbourhood from similar times only sells despair, pizza, cigarettes past their best before dates (as if that matters) and daycare in the guise of the University of Tender Loving Care which takes up maybe half of the sub-divided space of the long gone IGA grocery store. The awning over the door of the shuttered pharmacy has been spray painted black. Either way, either place, there’s plenty of free parking.

The genial gentleman who met us at the door was dressed in black. He apologized because other patrons were seated at our reserved table for two. He selected another table for us. We guessed he was the owner and were proven right a couple of hours later when he rounded up the members of Two Blue gently reminding the pair to get on with their second set: tick tock. Boy, it’s refreshing to hang out in a place that values its customers, a good vibe without reverb throughout the room.

The Blue Chair’s menu is a sheet of paper inserted into a plastic envelope and stiffened with the backing of an empty LP sleeve. I complained about getting Loggins and Messina and Ann being handed Chris de Burgh. The fellow returned with a joke and Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’ for me and the Beatles ‘Abbey Road’ for Ann and then moved us to an even better table, a high one in the corner by the window. We were pleased.

In addition to the cover charge the Blue Chair’s policy includes a minimum $25 charge per person. While the menu is limited (Generally a good sign, why not do a dozen dishes really well instead of 50 poorly?), there was variety enough to please every palate and even accommodate a few fussy fad diets.

We shared an appetizer of seafood cakes made with potato, crab and cod. Ann had a Pad Thai bowl, I ordered the bison burger. Our server kept asking if we’d like hot sauce and I kept saying yes until the need for the condiment became moot. We enjoyed what we ate; we’re music snobs not foodies. We drank a couple of baby jugs of local micro-brew amber ale. The bill was delivered in a plastic cassette case when our night on the town wound down. I chuckled at the small additional touch, the attention to detail, but they’d already won us over with the record sleeve menus, our meals and the music.

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