Almost exactly one year ago, my family traveled to Toronto as a mini-vacation. The impetus was my scoring tickets to see The Rheostatics live for the first for me (and potentially–but not in reality–last) time.
They had called it quits 8 years earlier and were reuniting for the 20th Anniversary of their Group of 7 album–a soundtrack of sorts that was created to celebrate the works of the great Group of 7 artists. They were scheduled to perform three nights at the Art Gallery of Toronto. The night before their first show, Thursday the 3rd, there was a tribute show.
As the Rheostatics live site explains:
Thursday night was sponsored by First Thursdays at the AGO. The theme was Music Inspired by Rheostatics and featured a band of musicians comprised of Paul Linklater (Guitar), Thom Gill (Guitar), Phil Millotson (Drums), Charles James (Bass), and a series of guest vocalists including Laura Barrett (The Hidden Cameras), Terra Lightfoot, Casey Mecija (Ohbijou), Mike O’Brien (Zeus), Chris Cummings, Sandro Perri, plus a special performance by Canadian folk legend Mary Margaret O’Hara.
The site has the show available for download with the caveat: “Sound for both shows is a bit crackly in places and lots of crowd noise.”
So yes, the sound isn’t great (the AGO isn’t meant for concerts, anyhow), but it’s still a fun listen. Although as a friend of mine once said about tribute albums–they sure do make you appreciate the original band more.
And that’s definitely the case here. It’s hard to know if the lack of intensity is from the recording or if the band was simply playing more delicate versions of the songs. The energy is missing on a lot of the versions–or maybe they just couldn’t do what the band can.
They start with “Who,” an unexpected but delightful choice. Their version is a little slow, as most of the songs seem to be, and they leave off those last two drum snaps, but it’s still a fun thing to hear. Then the guest vocalists proceed. Terra Lightfoot, daughter of Gordon, sings over a rather slow and somewhat undramatic version of “Northern Wish.” In the original, I love when they really rock, but that doesn’t ever seem to happen here.
Casey Mecija sings “Claire.” There are some interesting vocals and I like the way the song seems to start new wavy at first, but it turns a little smooth jazzy by the end.
“We Went West” is sung by Mike O Brien. It’s quite similar to the original, although I actually like it a little better somehow–the words are a little clearer, I think. Chris Cummings plays the unexpected Martin Tielli solo song “From the Reel.” It is quite lovely and his voice is deeper than Martin’s allowing you to hear the words a little better.
Laura Barrett plays “Stolen Car” with amazingly operatic vocals. It sounds great in the “I’ll be okay!” line but it seems to take a lot of the intensity out of the song because it doesn’t rise and fall like the original.
Mary Margaret O’ Hara comes out to thunderous applause. MMOH is pretty crazy in general and she walks out and says. “You people smell…nice.” I would love to hear a better recording of this version of “Rock Death America” (and would have loved even more to have seen it). She seems to be channeling her old spirits as she wails the lyrics. She slips in a chorus or two of “They dont give a fuck about anybody else.” Then she starts ranting about “the land of the free and the home of the brave amerikkkkkkkkkkkkah.” It’s intense and I can only imagine how great it was to see.
Then Constellation guitarist Sandro Perri plays a sweet and slow “Take Me in Your Hand” apparently with MMOH (although I don’t hear her). They play the melody on a penny whistle at the end, which is fun.
And then MMOH stays out to do a kind of long version of “Bad Time to Be Poor” (she seems to be mostly doing backing vocals and keening). The version is a little too slow for my tastes, but is otherwise cool.
At the end of the set, someone mentions that the Rheos are going to come out and test out a few songs on everyone. Lucky bastards.
Since the whole family was with me, I wasn’t going to go to this tribute show, although I have to admit it would have been very cool to see MMOH (who I assume I’ll never see) and to get the surprise Rheos show.
[READ: August 19, 2016] “The Rainbow Festival”
The last few stories that I’ve read in The Walrus have been real downers. And this story had as a summary blurb: “in which a family waits for the joy that never comes” What the hell The Walrus?
But with such a dour hint, this story wasn’t as miserable as it could have been. I do wish that that line hadn’t been there though, because it did spoil the truth (which was not the end, but whatever).
This story is about a little boy who grew up in small town which was sometimes very large. He lived in Malin a town that hosted the Malin Hering-Gutting Festival every June. And during that festival their small town was overrun with fishermen and tourists. His mother turned their house in to a B&B and she seemed really happy when the house was full of people. (Her husband had died on a fishing boat some time ago and their house was way too big for just her and her son).
One year, a man named Mr. Morrissey stayed with them. He was a very friendly man, was very kind to the narrator and seemed to be flirting with his mother.
Nothing came of it and the boy was too young to really know what had happened there–although he was later convinced that the man was actually his father. Hs mother said that was clearly false–his father’s photo was right there on the wall. But before Mr Morrissey left, he told the boy about a festival in Italy, in a small village called Opalo. It was a Rainbow Festival in which “rainbows all gang together. They crowd the sky around the village. One front moves in, another departs. … You’ll see six, seven, eight rainbows shifting over the course of a day.”
And the boy never forgot this.
He began saving up money to go to Italy–he worked all kinds of jobs for coins. And when he saved several jars worth (but was nowhere close to affording a trip) his mother took pity on him–she worked extra shifts and even sold her dead husband’s things to get enough money for them to take a trip (although she doesn’t know what the inspiration for this trip is).
They wait and wait along with other visitors (so at least we know the festival is not made up). But the pull quote and a wonderful quote in general tells us “It’s not waiting when what you’re waiting for doesn’t happen.”
But their time in Italy is certainly meaningful.
The final section moves quickly through the narrator’s life and he rapidly approaches adulthood never having forgotten the trip or the people he met.
The ending is somewhat bittersweet. Even though the story was kind of a downer, the imagery and details were excellent.