Weakerthans at Metro

Even though I like to think of myself as someone who follows indie-rock and the music biz fairly closely, I obviously have huge gaps in my knowledge of what’s going on. For one thing, I listen very little to rock radio stations (just not enough time… and when I do listen, it tends to be KEXP online). So I occasionally find myself surprised at what is popular and what isn’t. I show up at a concert thinking it will be just another show by an indie band with a modest cult following… only to discover that the group has somehow developed a huge following of fanatically devoted listeners. This happened a couple of years ago when I shot photos of Death Cab For Cutie at Lollapalooza, unawre of the fact the band’s songs had played on TV shows and attracted a lot of young fans. So I was stunned to see a throng of teenage girls at the front of the crowd. Wait a minute, I thought, these are Death Cab For Cutie fans? I was also surprised last year at how intense the fans were at a concert by Stars at Metro, singing along with so many of the words.

Thursday (Oct. 25) was a similar experience, when I went to see the Weakerthans at Metro. Beforehand, I had been thinking it was odd that they were booked to play at such a large venue. I thought these Manitobans would be more likely to attract a Schubas-size crowd. Boy, was I wrong. I don’t think the show sold out, but it was very full – full of lots of young people who have obviously been listening a lot to those Weakerthan records. On many songs, a sizable chunk of the audience was singing along to most of the words, hanging on every line as if it had some deep meaning for them. The Weakerthans deserve success, so I was heartened to see them breaking through to a bigger audience, even if it did feel a little surreal to me. The Weakerthans put on an excellent show, not exactly jamming on John Samson’s tightly constructed pop songs, but playing them with lots of vigor. Samson has a penchant for quirky lyrics, which made it even weirder to hear the audience singing along (though he skipped the one on the new record about wishing he were a toothbrush or solder gun).

I’ve still got to catch up on the 2000 Weakerthans record Left and Leaving, which several fans have recommended to me now, but I do love the group’s 2004 release Reconstruction Site and I like the new one Reunion Tour, especially that fab power-pop song about the sport of curling, of all things, “Tournament of Hearts.” (At least, that’s what the press release said the song was about. Not being familiar with the details of curling, I have to take the publicist’s word for it.) That song and many of the other Weakerthans tracks are anchored by Jason Tait’s superb drumming, which was a real pleasure to hear in concert.

Canadian singer-songwriter Jim Bryson, who is touring with the Weakerthans as a guitarist and keyboardist, did a solo show as the first act of the night. It was a little on the awkward side, with lots of pauses and banter in the middle of songs and inexplicable running back and forth between microphones, but Bryson made it all fairly charming with his self-effacing humor.

See my photos of the Weakerthans and Jim Bryson.

The second act of the night was the Last Town Chorus, aka Megan Hickey, whom I’ve written about before. She put on a pretty good set, though she seemed oddly distracted at times, especially when she was talking between songs. I think I like her live show better than her studio recordings, especially when she gets more radical with what she’s playing on her lap-steel guitar. It’d be nice to hear her playing with more backing musicians.

See my photos of the Last Town Chorus.

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