Live In Calgary (4/22/16)
This was a special evening for fans of classic pop punk music. Not only was local legend KJ Jansen (Chixdiggit) gracing the stage, but Teenage Bottlerocket’s Ray Carlisle was making one of his first live appearances under his solo moniker, Ray Rocket. Add in Ryan Dix from Alberta’s second best pop punk group, Old Wives, and it was an undeniably stacked lineup. The coolest part of the entire experience is that it was an acoustic show, which provided ample opportunity for crowd interaction and smiling sing alongs.
While the prairies of Western Canada are often overlooked by touring bands, all three of these artists have played countless shows in the province, which is always helpful when building excitement for a show. That being said, there were a few people in the crowd who were surprised when Carlisle stepped on stage because they didn’t realize who Ray Rocket was.
While the venue was still filling up as Ryan Dix took the stage, he played a great set for those who were present. The short set consisted largely of Old Wives songs, such as Here We Go Again and It’s All Over, both of which worked well with the acoustic treatment. He included a cover of Joel Plaskett Emergency’s True Patriot Love, which kind of fell flat as most people appeared unfamiliar with the indie tune. It was a short and fun set, which worked well to kick the night off.
The floor filled up when KJ Jansen took the stage with his guitar. With a solo release reportedly in the works (judging from his recent solo tour mates, most likely coming out on Joey Cape’s One Week Records), I was eager to see him play solo for the first time. Chixdiggit are a punk institution in Alberta, the goofy southern counterpart to Edmonton’s more hardcore SNFU. For many of us in the 90s, these bands were our closest connection to the exploding LA punk scene and gained a certain legendary status because of this. For those who have seen Chixdiggit live, Jansen’s goofy sense of humour is intact when he plays solo as well. In fact, with the distraction free environment provided, his sharp wit was more evident than ever. He declared that he wasn’t using a set list and relied upon crowd requests, although there were a couple songs that he vetoed. At times the crowd was singing along loud enough to drown the man with the mic out, which is always a goosebump inducing moment. He cracked up laughing while trying to sing I Wanna Hump You after dedicating it to Old Wives’ Shaun Millard, who was celebrating his birthday. Jansen plowed through numerous fan favourites from throughout the band’s career (I Remember You, Chupacabras, Miso Ramen, Sikome Beach…) with plenty of banter interspersed between and sometimes during songs. It was a surreal experience, which was magnified when he led the crowd in singing my favourite song, I Feel Like Gerry Cheevers (Stitch Marks on My Heart).
One of the best parts of an acoustic show is the very small delay between sets. Shortly after Jansen left the stage, Ray Rocket made his Canadian debut. While the majority of the audience hadn’t likely picked up his recently released album, the fact that he rerecorded Teenage Bottlerocket favourites from throughout their discography made the songs familiar coming in. In addition to covering the majority of his solo release, Carlisle added in some other songs, such as the Top Gun salute Maverick and Minecraft referencing kiddie favourite They Call Me Steve. His Ramones medley was wonderful and showed anyone who might be oblivious where his musical roots lay.
While he was visibly less comfortable with the between song banter than Jansen, the set was well received and a fun time. He told a story about his girlfriend and poked fun at her taste in music (Nickelback…) and was noticeably happy about her presence in his life. The only downside to the entire night was a group of four drunken bros who stood right at Carlisle’s feet the whole time and yelled obnoxiously. This was most evident when he closed the show with a tribute to his brother Brandon before singing a mournful First Time. While he was trying to talk about his brother’s death and explain how continuing to play music had helped him cope, these morons kept yelling and being idiots. Some people have zero concept of etiquette. Despite their best intentions, the set was a great introduction to the more restrained solo side of Teenage Bottlerocket’s Ray Carlisle and a perfect end to a great show.
While there is an abundance of corny Punk Goes Acoustic styled music projects out there, this was a well played execution of the concept. All three artists translated their melodic pop punk songs into the singer songwriter format, which allowed the crowd to sing along in a new way. Instead of crowd surfing and pogo-ing, everyone stood near the stage and sang as loud as they could to songs that they knew and loved. There are large festivals and wild punk rock club shows that are common in the scene, but every once in a while a unique show comes along that makes you realize how lucky you are to have been a witness.