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The Weakerthans

The Weakerthans At The Roxy Theatre, July 22nd, 2009

Jul 28, 2009 The Weakerthans
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John K. Samson is not a tall man. Of course, I suspect he’d be first one to tell you this. Leadman of The Weakerthans, he’s made a career out of singing songs about social outcasts and the geeks who love them. Embodying a strangely compelling reverse-Napoleon complex, he presents himself as a man completely secure in his…er…shortcomings. Taking The Weakerthans’ particular brand of honey-coated melancholy to the streets, this makes for the sort of show that only the cliché “warm and fuzzy” can properly describe. No really…at one point, Samson offered (threatened?) to do a Muppets cover. Coming from a man who can offhandedly reference both Jennifer Jason Lee and amateur cartography, I’m not sure it was a joke.

A tight four-piece (at least at the Roxy—their Wikipedia page mentions they occasionally play as a six-piece), The Weakerthans still come across like a group of everymen, stunned that musical skill has really taken them this far. Think: a self-effacing, Canadian Death Cab for Cutie. Of course, this isn’t to say they aren’t willing to flirt with rock star trappings. The slow motion drop to the knees during “Our Retired Explorer,” the choreographed guitar wave during “The Reasons”—well, it might have been a bit of a put on. But then again, who cares? From bassist Greg Smith’s sunflower strap and irrepressible bouncing, to guitarist Stephen Carroll’s strange ability to whirl a tube above his head at several different pitches, hitting sixteenth notes with an impressive ease, there’s more than enough realism to go around. I can forgive them for having a bit of good ‘ol fashioned “rock star” fun—even if after a particularly impressive moment during “Utilities” Samson had to break the illusion by announcing “I thought my solo was better than the second-half of “Layla””…before cracking himself up at the very thought.

Of course, let’s face it—even at a show so friendly could take place in your best friend’s living room—we’re all secretly waiting for those moments when things don’t necessarily go according to the script. We like to see a band’s reaction to “real” onstage drama. Or is that just me? To be fair, between Samson’s ability to sing in asides and consistent use of magical realism (including crowd favorite “Plea from a Cat Name Virtue”—whose story, a man gets a pep-talk from his cat— I choose to believe is 100% true), these breakdowns are somewhat devalued. Still as the band launched into “Benediction” only to have a meltdown several bars in, you could feel the audience laugh with the band—not at it—as Samson reminded us “It proves we’re not lip-syncing up here. It’s not all loops!” Was there ever any doubt?

Most bands have a song that—like it or not—defines them. Judging by the enthusiastic response of the crowd as The Weakerthans launched into “Aside” they’ve not only managed to define their own legacy with said song, but the lives of many of the attendees. Want a vivid demonstration of group catharsis? Try standing in a room as everyone shouts the chorus, “I’m losing all those stupid games/That I swore I’d never play/But it almost feels okay.”

Memo to bands everywhere: Wanna terrify the first row? Lean over and ask if anyone plays the guitar. After two aborted attempts, Samson finally found a brave soul willing to join his band on stage during the encore. As an actual guitar hero ripped though an impressive solo, Samson jumped into the audience, beer in hand, taking a breather to enjoy the show from our point of view—and to finish his drink in peace. The move seemed shockingly reasonable. Why wouldn’t Samson want to take his place amongst the people? After all, he’s just like you and me.

Set List:

Night Windows
Tournament of Hearts
Our Retired Explorer
Reconstruction Site
Relative Surplus Value
One Great City!
Sounds Familiar
Plea from a Cat Named Virtue
The Reasons
Elegy for Elsabet
Left and Leaving
Civil Twilight
Sun in an Empty Room

Wellington’s Wednesdays



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