Thursday, July 9, 2009

Elvis is King of Winnipeg Folk Fest

The lovers, the dreamers, and me: Me, Jason Beck, and Elvis Costello
(in Minneapolis).

"Oh, I...just don't know where to begin."

Last night, Elvis Costello and the Imposters turned the Folk Fest into the rock-and-roll geekfest for boys.

I mean that in a good way, because I was one of the boys getting my geek on.

Probably not since the Winnipeg sci-fi convention last fall have so many guys in their 30s and 40s geeked out together in one place and to such a degree. Sure, there were women, children, and Folk Fest regulars at the show, but to any guy who was a teenager in the 70s and 80s, Elvis Costello, not Presley, is the King.

Consider these lyrics, from "Radio, Radio," just dripping with male teen angst:
"I wanna bite the hand that feeds me, I wanna bite that hand so badly, I wanna make them wish they'd never seen me.
Adding to the geek-out factor was the pent-up demand for the show: Elvis hasn't played in Winnipeg since 1978, when he performed at the Playhouse Theatre with the Attractions (the same band as last night, but with a different bass player: Bruce Thomas, who alienated Costello after writing the book, the Big Wheel).

When Elvis kicked off the show last night with "Accidents Will Happen," five thousand guys' jaws dropped at once as they realized that this was going to be a rock and roll show - even if we couldn't hear the classic opening "Oh, I..." thanks to someone being too slow on the mike switch. Accidents will happen, I guess.

After the rockin' "Man Out of Time" (from Imperial Bedroom) and "I Hope You're Happy Now" (from Blood & Chocolate), the older Folk Festival fan next to me said, "Oh, this is great folk music, eh?" Sarcastic fella: as though Bob Dylan had never plugged in his guitar...

I noticed more than one older Folk-Fest fan leaving early, but it's their loss - Elvis eventually came around to their tastes, playing a rootified version of "Motel Matches" (from Get Happy!!), four songs from his great roots-rock album King of America, a stately cover of Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale" that even a mother could waltz to, and "Radio Sweetheart" (a bonus track on My Aim is True), which segued into Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said."

So we know that Morley Walker was a happy man.

Costello dedicated the song "Suit of Lights" (King of America) to his dad; one of the finest of his non-hits, which might have something to do with the line "If it moves then you f*** it, if it doesn't move you stab it," the song is about his father working in a mine during the day, and playing in a band at night.

At the same time, it was hard not to think about the Michael Jackson funeral on the chorus:
"And they pulled him out of the cold cold ground, and they put him in a suit of lights."
Opening act the Lovell Sisters, who suffered an indifferent crowd during their daylight set, joined Costello and the Imposters for the roots numbers to great effect. "That's what great about playing festivals," said Costello, "You can only hear this band here."

Playing one of my favorite songs, "Brilliant Mistake" (King of America), Elvis fudged one of my favorite lines, "He thought he was the King of America, but it was just the Boulevard of Broken Dreams...", though I'm not sure if he forgot the words or mumbled out some new ones. Anyone know?

"American Without Tears" (from the same album) struck a sombre note. One of the best songs about America "through the eyes of an outsider," it's an iPod must-have for your next trip to the states:
"Now I'm in America and running from you
"Like my grandfather before me walked the streets of New York
"And I think of all the women I pretend mean more than you
"When I open my mouth and I can't seem to talk"
Anyone who has seen Costello play live before knows that the show always ends with one of the best finales in rock and roll, second only to, maybe, the Ramones: "Watching the Detectives," "Alison" (segued into a Smokey Robinson medley), "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "Radio Radio," "Pump it Up," and the Nick Lowe-penned "(What's so Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding."

And yeah, I did the geeky "Peace, Love, and Understanding" actions you see starting at 2:51 in the video. But only once.

Perhaps the best part of the show came at the end of "Radio, Radio," when the stars aligned and Costello sang the opening lines of the Who's "the Kids are Alright:" "I don't mind other guys dancing with my girl..."

That's when I, and every other geek at the show, knew that we had died and gone to geek heaven.

Other Folk Fest notes
  • The weather cooperated, unlike today's soon-to-be mudfest, and at one point, I noticed a strange smell in the breeze, which I eventually identified as pine. Oh, so that's what nature smells like. Nice work, nature.
  • I love those tiny donuts more than any human has the right to love anything.
  • Don't say, "Are you ready for your beaver tail?" (or, conversely, "chocolate-covered banana") out loud in mixed company. Just don't.
  • Why, after buying a ticket in advance, do you have to wait in a long line to trade it in for a wristband? Here's an idea, Folk Fest: just take the ticket and avoid the lineup. Or just sell me a wristband. You choose!
  • Does the sign "tickets" mean that's the lineup for people with tickets or for people who need to buy tickets? No one, but no one, knew. Not even the nice, but overly chatty, woman serving customers at the front of the line.
  • What's the point in color-coding the parking flags, when you can't see color in the dark?
  • Trying to get out of the festival parking lot through the sole choke point makes me want to grab the volunteer traffic directors by their sole choke points.
  • Does the Folk Fest ban smoking, or are people just respecting nature more? Because I had but one whiff of pot when the breeze shifted. Otherwise: gloriously smoke free. And I thought the outdoors was just one, giant ashtray.
  • Why don't any Folk Fest emcees know what they're talking about? The CBC personality - "Wob," I believe - said he looked up info on Costello online in advance - which is commendable - but openly admitting you've never heard of a living legend, and quoting MySpace in your intro, makes me think that maybe there's someone better for the job. John Kendle, anyone?
  • And why do the emcees feel the need to fill silence with aimless banter? Introduce the band, sit down, and shuddup. Am I right, people? Hullo? Is this mike on?


  1. Wow. I am truly sorry I missed it. Oh well, maybe in another 30 years!

  2. One of the three best performances I have seen at the WFF over 20+ years of spotty attendence.


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