Weakerthans, Constantines fuse old and new music, delight crowd

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The Weakerthans

Gazette File Photos

SOME OF CANADA’S FINEST. Guelph’s Constantines (below) opened for Winnipeg-based The Weakerthans (above) at London Music Hall last Friday night.

As soon as you walked through the doors of London Music Hall last Friday night into the dimly lit ballroom reeking of liquor, one detail stood out immediately. To the left was an older crowd with distinct mullet haircuts and jean jackets; to the right, a group of underage kids with big black “X’s” on their hands.

You could not take a step anywhere without noticing the divisions among age groups at The Weakerthans’ London stop of the Rolling Tundra Tour. Whether you were an old man with white hair grappling onto his beer, or a 17-year-old kid attempting to buy liquor from the bar, the audience was connected by one important thing: an appreciation of fine Canadian music.

One Hundred Dollars, a Toronto-based band, kick started the performances for the evening. Its folksy, traditional sound takes certain aspects of old country and combines that in a contemporary context.

Sonically comparable to Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and The Sadies, the band grabbed the audience’s attention with its single, “Careless Love.” While lead singer Simone Schmidt mentioned “yes, a love song,” the lyrics suggest heartbreak: “If the love that you give ain’t the love that you’re getting, then like constellations, move on.”

You could tell when the second band, Constantines, came on set that it was what the masses had been waiting for. Singer/guitarist and former Western student, Bryan Webb and his band were born in London and frequently return to play shows in the city.

The band was nothing short of charismatic on stage, playing songs that merged both the old and the new of their best work. “Shine the Light,” a song off the album of the same name, was the climax of its hour-long set. Webb sang his lyrics powerfully and with an obvious passion.

The Weakerthans’ lead singer, John Samson, is a huge Constantines fan himself.

Guelph's Constantines

“The Constantines are the best live band I have ever seen, entirely dedicated to communicating with the audience,” he said.

The night’s headliner, Winnipeg quartet The Weakerthans, were undeniably impressive, its presence on stage mesmerizing. Like The Constantines, its set list fused hits from all of its four albums. Samson’s clever lyrics seemed deep with meaning, as he has a voice audiences simply cannot help but fall in love with. “One Great City,” a song written about the ’Peg itself, is about that sort of love/hate relationship people have with their hometowns " a highlight of the band’s set. The song is filled with allusions, such as the underground mall, Winnipeg Square and the golden business boy statue on top of the legislature.

While there is a subtlety in some of its lyrical references, the line, “the Guess Who suck, the Jets were lousy anyways” is a little more blatant.

With other songs such as “Aside,” “Wellington’s Wednesdays” and “Night Windows” included in the set list, the audience was bright-eyed for the entire hour-plus performance.

While the band has been labeled a “Canadian indie group,” The Weakerthans’ music incorporates the generic sounds of folk and alternative, making its talent indefinable.

The Rolling Tundra Tour began on March 18 in St. John’s, Newfoundland and is slowly heading west and then up north. Hitting 21 major cities across the country, the bands finish their tour on May 5 in Whitehorse, Yukon.

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