Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Reviews:: The Weakerthans Reunion Tour

If Tom Waits has been anointed the king of the vagabond troubadours (which is quite deserving), John K. Samson should be known as the voice of rural, blue collar Canadians. His unique, descriptive portrayals are always spot on and heartfelt.

We've all been waiting for what seems like an eternity for the next Weakerthans release, and that wait is almost over. Reunion Tour is about to be released on Anti records and the Weakerthans are heading back on the road (including a show here in Vancouver on Oct 6 @ The Commodore Ballroom).

Reunion Tour shows the band taking some big risks, and the opening number highlights the changes the band makes. Civil Twilight starts with a huge shift of instrumentation, but still delivers one of John's fantastic narratives. The booming chorus and computer effects are a bit shocking, but his description of a bus driver getting through his day is as reassuring as a call from home. I've never been a bus driver, but hearing him talk about passing the day by quoting provinces and Hollywood actors is something I'd would think almost anyone stuck in a routine job (read without access to the internet) does to pass the time.

The record settles into more traditional Weakerthans sound with hymn of the medical oddity. The slower pace really showcases the emotion Samson's tale. The subtle backing sound effects and harmonies make this as close to perfection as you can get, as John sings about a victim of an unidentified medical condition who is simply looking for some compassion and human decency.

The band jumps to attention with the rhythmic drums and big electric guitar sounds of relative surplus value. It's songs like these that make the Weakerthans so amazing and makes me to wonder why every Canadian isn't singing their praises. The melodies are amazing, and the lyrics are such a perfect representation of what it's like to live in Canada. I mean, he writes a song about life's downfalls and hides it under a curling metaphor. Seriously, he sings about a bonspiel (that's a curling tournament) on tournament of hearts and turns it into something compelling. I'm not sure if anyone other than John could toss curling terminology like peeling off a corner guard or throwing hack weight into a song and make it stick in your brain.

The band tried a lot of new things on this record – the simple keyboard drum combo on virtute the cat explains her departure, the folky vocal tricks and brass work on bigfoot and the emotional spoken word confusion on elegy for gump worsley – but never do the sounds ever sound like the band has moved in a direction you didn't expect or feel comfortable with.

If fact, it's quite the opposite. As usual, you are treated to some fantastic hooks and melodies (Night Windows and Sun in an Empty Room), but never do they take the easy way out. Every song – every word, every note – is well thought out and the results speak for themselves. Combining some adventurous guitar noodling and an active bass line with a catchy chorus on Sun in an Empty Room, Samson sneaks by some fantastic lyrics (any Canadian who doesn't sing along with him talking about the GST should have their passport revoked) of the end of a relationship .

The record ends with two of the more experimental tracks. The title track uses some mooged out textures and heavy distortion on the drum sound and what sounds like a recorder, and Utilities throws in a noisy electro background and some nice steel work before morphing into a nice drum beat. But as is often the case, Samson is able to give you tunnel vision (or hearing) and all of the instrumentation takes a back seat as you hear John's desire to a light bulb or a solder gun simply so he can be "something someone can use".

So, after a few listens, how does Reunion Tour stack up? Quite well. It's got more than enough fantastic material to grab me after a few passes, and like any Weakerthans record, I'm sure more will unfold as I play it to death over the next few months. To be honest, it's just nice to hear new material from one of Canada's best kept secrets.
MP3:: Night Windows
MP3:: Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call

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Posted at 11:48 AM by ack :: 0 comments

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