Chick Magnets. Calgary Folk Festival – Saturday evening – The Head and the Heart/kd lang
Prince’s Island Park
June 23, 2011
by Doug Heselgrave
“Look at you Calgary! You’re so grown up” – kd lang from the mainstage Saturday night
It’s true. Calgary has had image problems ever since I can remember. Most famous for its beef, cowboys and rodeos, it’s been an uphill climb for the frontier city to get any respect. As an editorial in The Calgary Herald noted on Sunday, most people in the world think ‘Alberta’ is a song by Eric Clapton and have no idea that it’s a place where millions of people have made their homes. The worldwide coverage of the ecological disaster that is the Alberta tar sands certainly hasn’t helped any, but to be fair the forestry and fishing practices of my own province, British Columbia aren’t anything we should be too proud of either.
Calgary is truly a city in transition. The white monoculture of the Calgary I remember from my youth has given way to the much broader cross section of humanity who now make their homes in the city. Lots of Asian, Middle Eastern and African faces, shops and restaurants everywhere. Much of the credit to the city’s growth must be given to its visionary new mayor, Naheed Nenshi (the city’s first muslim, non-white civic leader) who is pumping lots of money, time and energy into arts and culture – and positive changes are evident everywhere.
A few random notes from Saturday evening –
The Head and the Heart
I had been trying all weekend to hear The Head and the Heart. I’ve really been enjoying listening to their debut album and had heard good things about their live show. Obviously other people had, too, because when I arrived at the evening stage where they were playing, the crowd seemed bigger than at the mainstage where the big name acts performed. Truly, it’s a long time since I’ve seen a band completely win an audience over as quickly as The Head and the Heart did on Saturday. They had the audience in the palm of their hands from the first song, and they truly seemed taken aback by the adulation that the crowd expressed. Almost everyone in attendance seemed to know the songs, so when they began ‘Heaven go easy on me”, hundreds of voices kicked in and sang along. No one seemed more surprised by this than the band members – violinist Charity Rose Thielen was wearing a smile so big, I thought she would fall over. From then on, they gave the Calgary audience a pumping, full scale, pull out all the stops performance such as one rarely ever sees anymore. Obviously, gorgeous harmonies, soaring acoustic melodies and heartfelt music never goes out of style. The Head and the Heart are twice the band that Fleet Foxes are and write much better songs. Don’t miss them.
“I have a disclosure to make.”
pulls out a banjo with a wicked grin.
” If you feel a pull to come towards the stage and especially if you’re of the female persuasion, come on up. I’ve recently discovered the banjo is a bit of a chick magnet”
It had been years since I’d seen kd lang live. I was utterly captivated by her early cowboy punk/performance art style and was fortunate to hear her at her first Vancouver appearance at the Railway Club in the early eighties. I kept on loving her music as she explored classic country on the Owen Bradley sessions and songs like ‘Big Boned Gal’ and ‘Tall in the Saddle’ are still amongst my favourites. I kind of lost the plot during the Ingenue era and really had not kept up with her work over the years as she restlessly tried to find a sound that was right for her.
Her search has ended. Siss Boom Bang – kd’s new live band – are the best touring unit she’s ever had. Blessed with five great musicians – all of whom in addition to being great players can sing like cowboy doo wop angels – are the first group she’s had in ages that understand and extend what she does so well. And, to my eyes and ears, kd sounded like she was having the time of her life up on stage. Watching from the backstage bar, it was telling to see how all of the musicians – who had up till then been drinking and talking – stopped literally mid-sentence when she began singing and remained utterly captivated for her whole 90 minute set. She is a pro and is absolutely at the top of her game. Running, dancing and gambolling all over the stage, guitar strapped Elvis style behind her back, she never let up for a minute as she ran through songs from every phase of her career. She has truly found her groove again.
High points? Too many to mention – how about her cheesy over the top version of Little River Band’s ‘Reminiscing’ or the stripped down washboard driven take on ‘Pay Dirt.’ Needless to say, time stopped when she sang ‘Hallelujah’ – a song we all think we’ve heard too many times until kd slays it. Tears everywhere backstage. Finishing with her elegaic reading of Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’, I am sure many others felt as I did – how could a voice so pure, so powerful, capable of encompassing the huge prairie night sky above us exist – and what did we ever do to deserve to witness and share in its grace and beauty?
kd lang is on tour now. See her – postpone your wedding or vacation. It’s worth it.
This review also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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