A few weeks ago my brother emailed me. He wondered if I wanted to buy his ticket to see the Rheostatics at a small theater(177 capacity). He had bought the ticket to the show but the date had been changed due to Covid 19. The new date fell on his son’s birthday and he didn’t want to miss that. I responded “Does the Pope shit in his hat?” (which means fuckin’ right I wanna go in my former Catholic, weird sense of sense of humour kind of way)
The band sent a message stating the doors would open at 7:15pm and seating was first come, first served. I wanted an aisle seat up near the front so I wanted to get there early. I got there about 6:50pm and there were only a few people in line. The guy in front of me had a Grateful Dead battle jacket and hair down to his ass. I figured I was among like minded souls. We started talking about the Rheos and he told me he usually only listens to music pre-1980 (although he only looked to be about 30). I asked why he was seeing this band and he told me the other guys in his band LOVE the Rheostatics. They convinced him he needed to see the band play live. I’m not sure if it was a condition to staying in the band, but I would like to think so. I asked what band he was in and he told me The Connors Brothers. Then I decided to (in my best stupid question, rock journalist voice) ask the question that I am quite sure no one has ever asked him “So. You’re in a band with your brothers then?” (I don’t have a link to the Pulitzer prize voting but I’ll look into it). He replied “The other guys are the Connors brothers, but my first name is Conner, so it works.”
I glanced across Princess Street and saw I guy on the other sidewalk surveying all of us in the lineup. He had a Cheshire Cat grin that was mixed with the joyful look of a pig rolling in shit. I figured he had something to do with the show but would have to wait to find out.
They let us in early and I bypassed the popcorn/drink line and got to my seat. The few in front of me went down the right side of the theater so I went left. That’s just how I roll. The outer left seats in the front row were blocked by a large speaker on the stage so I quickly plopped my ass down in the 2nd row outside aisle seat. I snapped a few photos of the stage and Dave Bidini’s/Martin Tielli’s wicked geetars. Martin’s double neck gets me every time I see these guys. It never gets old.
My choice of seat was soon a point of contention because the lone roadie chose to sit right in front of me. Lets just say that loading amps and guitars by yourself has a tendency for one to air out a waft of pungent smog strong enough to maim the savage beast. My watering eyes glanced over to the right side seats just in case I had to clear out. Thankfully stinky moved back up onto the stage for the rest of the show.
Mr. Cheshire Grin soon appeared on stage. He, in fact was the opener Corin Raymond. He told us how he opened for the Rheostatics years ago in his previous band The Undesirables. His set was filled with funny banter with the audience (plus a lot with the sound guy that clearly was overwhelmed) mixed with awesome tunes. This guy is the real deal. One thing that I found really cool was his laugh. He included it a lot during his songs. I’m not sure if it’s a nervous tick sort of thing, or if it his way of showing how much he enjoys what he does for a living. Either way, it’s really infectious. After his set I went to his merch booth and bought his last 2 cd’s. I was particularly amazed at the newest one which is included inside a 264 page book. I listened to it after I got home and numerous times today. I’ll review it soon enough, but suffice it to say it is awesome. He is sort of a mixture between Sixto Rodriguez (Searching For Sugar Man), Johnny Cash and maybe a tiny bit of comedic flavour like Weird Al or B.A. Johnston. An awesome combo if you ask me.
The Rheos soon make their way to the stage. A little drum tapping, bass plunking and guitar tweaking take place. Some might have preferred for the band to have done a sound check before hand. I, however love the interaction. The band also include the audience by chatting with us. The band is not all on stage however. Soon a tall man wearing a conductor cap, vest, dress shirt and tie saunters down the right aisle towards the stage. He either has an inner ear issue (an affliction I know all about) or is 3/4 cut (2.5 sheets to the wind, almost pissed, fairly inebriated).
When Martin grabs his double neck guitar there is no amount of intoxicant that could stop him from making those sweet sounds. He may be the best Canadian guitar god that no one talks about. There were times that it appeared he could barely stand but his playing was amazing.
The band announced that this was their first show since 2019. (I’m not sure why they were not playing in 2020 or 2021. It’s not like the world had anything newsworthy going on.) You wouldn’t know from the band though. They showed no signs of rust.
The night was going great until the song Here Come The Wolves. First Martins cap falls off. Then he wanted to switch guitars. He looked overheated and confused and as I was filming the performance of this song it was quite evident that he was in a state of distress. I was really hoping he wasn’t going into a full blown medical issue. Part way through the song he states I think he was lost as to where his place was in the song, and he seemed to forget his lyrics. As Martin is struggled Tim Vesely looks over and you can tell he has a sense of concern for his bandmate. Martin exclaims “I was tuning the first fucking part of the song. I don’t know where we are. (Nervous laughter from the audience). Fuck this!! (takes guitar off and stumbles off stage)” Then Martin briefly goes back on stage and Tim smiles. His smile soon fades because he, and we thought Martin was back from a tiny brain fart but he was searching for his hat. He finds it and exits the stage again. Dave tells his band mate. “Hold on Martin. Let rock and roll offer you a second chance. Even a third and a forth chance (the crowd cheers)” The band make a few light hearted jokes to ease the tension and Dave Bidini asks us “That was going pretty well wasn’t it?” He mentions it may have been his fault for how he started the song. (He took all the blame on himself. He is a consummate bandmate by bailing out Martin)
Dave says “Maybe we’ll just go over there until Martin decides to join us”. The rest of the band move into the left aisle 2 feet to my left and do an impromptu acoustic jam session which I have to say was fucking amazing. Now I know what it must have been like being on the Festival Express.
Eventually when Martin has not returned the band take a little break. After the break the entire band including Martin arrive all refreshed. Martin has changed into a U.S. Scout Troop shirt and it appears the cool night air has done him some good. A fan has also been turned on in front of him to keep him cool.
The band play a few more songs and then say good night. The audience keeps cheering and no one goes home. we know the deal. The band comes back on stage for the encore. A few more songs and we are satisfied. The band gave their all for us tonight.
Overheating and possible over indulgence goes hand in hand with rock n roll. The pandemic was hard on everyone. Over 2 years of not performing takes its toll on musicians and some bands folded under the pressure. The first time back to your job after 2 years is enough to show a few cracks in anyone’s armour. I don’t hold it against Martin for what happened to him last night. In fact, if it had not happened maybe the band would not have all stood right beside me in the aisle and sang. It begs the question: Is a perfectly choreographed live show perfect? Not to me it’s not. Seeing a setlist from a band in which the same songs are played in the same order through an entire tour is boring. This night was certainly not that.
I asked my roadie friend for a setlist and he grabbed me the one from Hugh Marsh. Thanks for that bud. Smell ya later.