A FAN’S NOTES
Two Nights, Two Shows, Two Venues
Thursday evening was our first experience in
brand new downtown hockey rink. From the outside it resembles a gigantic
globule of mercury. The attraction was the roots band Dixie Chicks, the third
music act to play the joint since it officially opened a few weeks ago. It was
likely their first ever performance where they had to compete for attention against
the venue they were booked to headline. Ann and I were honestly equally curious
about the Chicks (DCX in social media parlance) and the arena. Edmonton
Rogers Place threw open its doors to
welcome the media and the curious in September it sparked a frantic civic
circle jerk. The Edmonton Journal
managed to insert a story about the rink in every section of the paper: news,
sports, arts and business. The junior Western Hockey League Oil Kings were
stunned by an attendance of more than 18,000 at their season home opener.
Ann and I ate a respectable dinner at Denizen Hall, the gentrified barroom of the Grand Hotel, an infamous flophouse whose main feeder was the recently demolished Greyhound bus station. It used to be the type of place I was afraid to venture into due to a foreboding inkling that things couldn’t possibly end well. We sat before a window sipping pints of Yellowhead lager, micro-brewed just a few blocks away, and studied the arena. A few roof tiles seemed to be missing. Had they blown off? We wondered how long it would take the pouring rains and melting snows to streak and stain its silver skin.
Our tickets situated us in the upper bowl, just a little higher than the
peak of Mount Edith Cavell in .
The pitch was steep but nothing compared to the gallery of grey seats in the
old Montreal Forum. Behind me four young men alternated whining about some
perceived slight in their social milieu in high pitched voices and belching
clouds of Coors Light like NASCAR fans. Ann had to share part of her seat with
the plump Facebook addict on her left. There must be more legroom on an Air
Canada Rouge flight. Jasper National Park
The crowd spanned generations and genders. At first I found the arena rock stage effects for an act featuring banjo and fiddle mildly jarring, but the Dixie Chicks play big halls and
Rogers Place is a
fucking big hall. Natalie Maines, front and centre between founding sisters and
angelic harmonizers Martie Maguire and Emily Robison (career stat courtesy of
DCX: six husbands and nine babies), was a revelation as a stage performer; she
owned the place and a career in stand-up awaits if she wants it. It seems
obvious and facile to point out that the Dixie Chicks write good songs, but I
think that’s a rare trait these days. They remind me too of Rod Stewart in his
glory days in that when they cover somebody else’s work it becomes theirs and
possession is nine-tenths of the law of perception. Everybody knows ‘Landslide’
of course, but the surprise showstopper was a staggeringly gorgeous rendition
of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ in front of a backdrop of purple rain.
Exiting the concert we trailed two young women who were absolutely giddy with their night’s DCX experience. They took turns addressing each arena staff member thusly: ‘Thank you, Roger! Nice place you’ve got here!’ I laughed at the absurdity of corporate sponsorship and naming rights.
Place does indeed sound like a friend’s basement rec room furnished with a beer
fridge and a foosball table. Rogers
Friday night Ann and I scaled things back, way back. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings is one of our favourite bands. They receive consistently heavy airplay on our living room stereo. The roots group is a side project of Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson, each of whom is an established artist in his own right. Their output is sparse, just eight albums over the course of 20 years.
The concert had a welcome, impromptu feel. The three singer-guitarists admitted that they’d just caught up with each other in the dressing room. Stephen Fearing said he’d spent the morning attempting to assemble an IKEA armoire at his home in
B.C. and was thrilled to leave the project uncompleted. Tom Wilson had been playing
acoustic shows with his son in Victoria Los Angeles, CA.
Ann imagined the group text from Colin Linden to the others: ‘I’m heading up to
Edmonton from to visit family. Should we book a
venue for a one-off?’ Nashville
The show was superb even if the set list was likely hastily assembled backstage. We had the sensation that the life-sized trio was actually performing in our living room, flattening the tabbies’ ears and rattling the windows. Why Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have not sold as many albums as the Dixie Chicks is a mystery to us; they are equally talented composers with three pairs of attuned ears to vet a hook and a chorus. Perhaps the fluid, on again off again nature of the band has held them back. One step up and two steps back, jagged momentum is impossible to sustain.
The evening provided two pieces of fabulous news. ‘Kings and Kings’ a new album spotlighting guest artists including Jason Isbell and Nick Lowe – an all-time hero of mine – is due later this month. It will make a stellar companion to ‘Kings and
which includes songs sung along with artists such as Emmylou Harris, Rosanne
Cash, Patti Scialfa, Exene Cervenka, Amy Helm and Lucinda Williams. If the idea
of any of this music intrigues you, may I also suggest ‘South,’ the latest
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings release to date. And from the stage, a promise to
next March with a full band and a coterie of special guests. Alberta
The bad news for Ann and me is that we’ve booked a Hawaiian vacation commencing at the end of March. The tragic fallout is that I will spend the rest of autumn and all of winter fretting over potentially conflicting dates. And we didn’t buy travel cancellation insurance.