Weakerthans and Jason Collett : At the Roxy, West Hollywood, CA, July 22, 2009 By Adrian

Sep 08, 2009

Tonight was the first time I had been to the Roxy since seeing the Subhumans (UK) there in February 2004. The place used to hold a weird allure to me because of the fact that the concert scene from Up in Smoke was filmed there. Coming from New Mexico, I somehow ended basing a really large part of my preconceptions about Los Angeles from that movie and RepoMan. There’s always the weird hope, too, that I’ll see Lemmy Kilmister wander out next door from the Rainbow Room some day.

Needless to say, tonight’s show had a different vibe from the one I had seen at the Roxy before. Gone were the hordes of excited street punks and crusties; in their steed were couples. Lots of vaguely indie rock-looking couples. Not your dear friend and narrator though. I went stag and kept it true to the code of man bonding (an unbreakable chain) by going to the night’s proceedings with Jeff “The Docta” Proctor. Tonight was the second and a half time I had seen Winnipeg’s Weakerthans. The first was in late 2007 when they swung through for the Reunion Tour album. That was an excellent show and cemented my fandom. The half time was at the Troubadour when the band, minus lead man John Samson, provided the backing for Greg Graffin who was supporting his 2006 solo album Cold as the Clay.

The show started off with a bit of a misstep. Opener Jason Collett… Well… He pretty much sucked. He was a singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar who would fit happily on a Starbucks compilation. Really bland, unengaging songs about… I don’t know. It was hard to pay attention. Why is it that so many of these singer songwriter dudes seem to adopt the same annoying and vaguely douchey “sexy” drawl? Is there some correspondence course called “Deep, Acoustic-Backed Ruminations 101” that all these guys take or something? The main thing I noticed about the guy was independently confirmed by “The Docta” when he asked me the following: “Does his guitar look really small to you?” Yes, Jason Collett seemed to be playing a smaller-than-average guitar and it was fascinating for some reason. The only worthwhile guy playing solo and acoustic that I’ve ever seen was Greg MacPherson, who Propagandhi had brought along as an opener during their 2005 tour. Nearly everyone else I’ve seen try this route is either boring (Kevin Seconds, Chuck Ragan, Mike Park, Frank Turner) or seems like a douche (all those dude who play on college quads). This guy’s set was over none too soon.

The five members of the Weakerthans soon took to the Roxy’s stage to the excitement of the crowd. To the uninitiated, the best way to approximate what the Weakerthans sound like is that the band occupies a middle ground between indie rock, folk, and punk. Musically, the band can go anywhere from sparse and almost dirgey compositions to quick, upbeat, fun numbers that would shame many of the more self-important (see boring) indie rock bands of the moment. No matter what type of song the band plays, though, they always showcase John Samson’s lyrics. He tends to write songs that are like highly detailed observational poetry, and often there’s some sort of narrative framework to the whole affair. Even though most of the songs are very much rooted in Samson’s homeland of Manitoba, he often is able to extrapolate the universal out of the specific, much like good poets are supposed to do.

Universal or not, it’s still really weird to hear a roomful of people from Los Angeles getting all heartfelt and singing the melancholic “I Hate Winnipeg” chorus to the song “One Great City!” Also, all the members of the band have this really workman like air about them—like they had to request time off from the farm and tractor supply business I like to imagine they all work at—so they could go on tour with the boys. Most members of the band, like guitarist Stephen Carrol and drummer Jason Tait, often play extra instruments like pedal steel keep the action on stage fresh. The way bassist Greg Smith always looks like he’s rocking out, even on the really slow songs, is quite impressive in itself, and is worthy of marvel.

But enough prittle-prattle! The band played a mix of songs from all four of their albums throughout the night. Highlights included the John Samson solo interlude where he lost it during the song “Bigfoot!” after his line about a “diabetic moon” elicited an enthusiastic“Whoo! Diabetes!” from someone in the crowd. Another highlight was the person next to me who was singing along to every word as if his life was depending on it, whether it was “Virtue the Cat Explains Her Departure” or “Left and Leaving.” When the band played “Wellington’s Wednesdays” as part of their encore, John Samson started to pull people from the audience onstage in an effort to find someone to play a solo on his guitar. Finally, some dude named Alex jumped on stage, grabbed the guitar, and played an amazingly perfect solo. It was impressive, to say the least.

The low-lights of the show? There was a very vocal contingent wanting to hear the Weakerthans/Propagandhi barnburner “Anchorless,” which never got played. I could deal with that, and the band did play nearly every other song I liked from across all four of their full lengths, but sadly omitted what may be my favorite, “Watermark.” There was rending of cloth and yearning of spirit due to oversight, but it was an otherwise excellent set. I think it’s worth noting also that John Samson is totally gonna be my top nominee for The Most Humble Frontman in Rock award should that situation ever come about in my life. He has a very subtle, quiet, nice-guy magnetism that’s very hard to define but really easy to appreciate and admire. Hat’s off to you, Samson and fellow band mates!