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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
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More Cowbell!

Craig Silliphant
Published Wednesday November 12, 05:29 pm
WCM’s live show is back. Watch out for the chainsaw!

WHITE COWBELL OKLAHOMA

Wednesday 26

Amigos

Toronto’s infamous White Cowbell Oklahoma [WCO] is a ZZ-Top-meets-Gwar brand of insanity that leaves audiences saying, “More chainsaw, please.”

But let’s back up about 15 years: Clem Clemsen and a few other guys were bored and sick of a music scene that offered nothing fun, no spectacle.

We wanted big rock shows,” says Clemsen. “We wanted bombast. We wanted to see things that were too many things — maximization. We were really into southern rock ‘cause those bands had like two drummers and several guitar players. They had too many of everything. We wanted to take too many of everything and make it way too many of everything. So our first shows we had, like, nine lead guitar players and three drummers, you know?”

For the most part, the press hated them. They couldn’t get any coverage, which only made them dig in their heels more.

[The Toronto music press is] historically cooler than thou and they just didn’t want anything to do with us,” says Clemsen. “So we were like, ‘Okay, so we’ll just put up five times more posters than everybody else.’ We would go to NOW magazine, because they were so cruel to us at the time. We’d cover up their building with our posters — they’d have to cut through the posters to get into their building in the morning. We’d go to North by Northeast and blow fireballs over the executives’ heads to make them shit their pants. They hated that we existed, and that we existed without their help.”

White Cowbell Oklahoma hauls their madness right up onto the stage, and is banned from more than one venue for leaving a swath of destruction in their wake.

We embrace the chaos,” Clemsen elaborates. “We never really know what’s going to happen. People who come to the show don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s times when a chainsaw comes out, people go insane on drugs and they wake up in a ditch next to a Sasquatch.”

While having an insane stage-show can be reason to see a band, it’s not enough if the music just isn’t there. When touring Europe a few years back, they started to notice that audiences were applauding after their solos instead of just their fireballs. Their music was overlooked for a long time, says Clemsen, but WCO have struck a balance.

People seem to think that you have to choose between the two — but if you work as hard as White Cowbell Oklahoma do, you can actually be great performers and songwriters and put on an astounding show! It’s actually possible. You just have to have boundless energy and take immense amounts of crystal meth.”

White Cowbell Oklahoma brings their Jäger-fueled caravan to the prairie for their 15th anniversary tour, and Clemsen can’t resist one more chance to go into hype-man mode with a warning to the wise.

Amigos is going to shudder. We’re coming with The Paceshifters, who are exploding in the Netherlands right now. Big John Bates from Vancouver is gonna be there. The question is: is Amigos gonna be there the following day?” 

 

BLACK HEN TRAVELING ROADSHOW

Thursday 13

The Bassment

Back in the ‘60s, record labels like Motown and Stax Records packaged their best artists together for tours in the form of traveling revues. Vancouver’s Black Hen Records, an indie label created by roots musician and producer Steve Dawson, has lifted this model for their Black Hen Traveling Roadshow, which features Dawson along with blues guitarists Big Dave McLean and Jim Byrnes (both also Black Hen recording artists, obviously) in a live triple-play extravaganza.

“[The Traveling Roadshow] was Steve’s idea,” says Byrnes, who’s just released a new album called St. Louis Times. “He suggested that we all go out together. I guess the show will start out with Steve coming out and doing three numbers, I’ll come out and do three numbers, then Dave will, and then in the second part of the show, we’ll all be doing stuff together. We’ll all be throwing in guitar licks here and there with one another, and probably even doing some harmonizing.”

The show itself will be intimate, but that doesn’t always mean quiet or introspective — Byrnes promises the chance to get off your rear end, dance around and do some good old-fashioned hand-clapping to the music.

 

“In my case,” says Byrnes, “I’ve got a couple of loud and stompy [tracks], I’ve got a hymn that I’m gonna do, so I think it’ll sort of be all over the place. We’ll bring in the crowd with some intimacy, and we’ll tell some stories. We want to give them something that’ll leave them exhilarated.”

 

LAGWAGON

Monday 17

Louis’

Punk became a bit glossier in the ‘90s — and while California’s Lagwagon (formed in 1990) shied away from major-label attention, their 2004 album Trashedwas super-successful.

A quarter of a century later, Lagwagon has just released their eighth studio album, Hang — a punk record, definitely, but one that nonetheless shows a band that has clearly matured. The album delves into more political territory than usual, with themes on everything from loss to being disenfranchised with the system. Giving the finger to the man isn’t new for punk music, but Lagwagon is approaching it with both guts and intellect.

“This was more like an observation of the world that my daughter has to grow up in,” says singer Joey Cape. “It was really just a series of rants that I’ve had for years and years. You know, the kind of conversation you’d have with friends over a beer, talking about the things in the world that really bother you.”

Cape and I get to talking about how age has affected their stage show: it gets tougher with age, but it’s still awesome fun, he says.

“There are bad backs; I’ve got a really bad knee,” he says. “Every other week, there’s like a new fungus growing somewhere on my body. But to play live shows, to do a good live show, the most important thing is that you play well. If there’s a synergy between you and the audience that’s working, then you don’t have to move around that much, you just have to be intense.

 

“It doesn’t have to be about acrobatics, it can just be about intensity and connection. You’re kind of good at any age as long as that’s happening.”

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