Sunday, June 25, 2017

Recording: Rheostatics

Artist: Rheostatics

Songs: Queer + Saskatchewan + Horses

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern (Spring Nationals 2017 – Night 3), May 26, 2017.

Rheostatics - Queer

Rheostatics - Saskatchewan

Rheostatics - Horses

Back in Winnipeg, I saw Rheostatics twice in their 90's heyday. Once as part of the second "Another Roadside Attraction" package tour (where I went to catch all the early, cool bands and feel disdainful about the headliners) but more notably before that at the West End Cultural Centre. By now, I don't remember a lot of details about that night (I do remember being floored by their cover of "One More Colour", performed before it emerged on Introducing Happiness, and also encountering The Inbreds for the first time as their openers) but it was one of those shows that everyone who really loves music probably has at some point — a night so jaw-droppingly good that it redfines how transcendant seeing live music could be. A night where you're almost afraid to see a band play live again for fear it won't live up to that moment.

So — this night in 2017 wasn't up at that level, but it was a thoroughly-enjoyable experience. And, more importantly, it wasn't just an exercise in nostalgia. After skipping out on the band's endgame phase and their first "reunion" forays, for whatever reason I felt compelled to drop into this four-night stand at The 'Shoe, and was well-pleased to hear a handful of new tunes being thrown into the mix. (Otherwise, the setlist hewed towards Melville/Whale Music, the band's earlier days that overlapped with drummer Dave Clark's original tenure with the band: "P.I.N." from Night of the Shooting Stars was the outlier here and the night's pick from the deep cut file.)

New recordings were hinted at to go along with those new songs, but for now they were merely celebrating a tasty new archival release that had been added to the richly-stocked merch table. Although my understanding is that the band is to be considered an ongoing affair, live shows are probably going to be special events like this, given what is probably not only a logistical tangle to get all for core members together but also getting touring members Ford Pier (who came out from the West Coast, and opened this night with a solo set) and Hugh Marsh on board.

All that said, what does one get at a Rheostatics show in 2017? A couple hours of barely-contained chaos, with decades of muscle memory struggling against entropy, songs sometimes struggling a bit to attain escape velocity before occasionally soaring with ungainly beauty. There were a couple extended breaks between songs to refocus, giving time for stories, Margaret Atwood jokes, and five-handed amiable bickering. There were erratic, off-script moments, but that's way more preferable than a Slick Reunion Machine — and at their best, they still manage to sail their Big Dominion.

[I had a bunch of technical issues with my gear on this night, so do excuse a few imperfections (especially at the start of "Horses") in these recordings. You can find full videos of Night 1 and Night 2 of the four-night stand over on youtube.]

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