By Greg PrattAs Weakerthans fans know all too well by now, the ultra-loved Winnipeg band are gearing up for Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre, a live CD/DVD to be released on March 23 via Anti- Records. The CD is as good as live albums get, with a crisp production, tons of altered versions of songs and, most notably, a fun atmosphere. It's a far cry from what the band's gigs were like when they were touring for their first couple discs, and front-man John K. Samson knows it.
"I think that coming out of punk rock, at least for me, it took me a long time to enjoy playing live," Samson told Exclaim! in a recent interview. "And I remember those first Weakerthans tours, really not enjoying the live part of life. I didn't really enjoy playing music live until not so long ago."
But now that Samson does enjoy playing live, it shines through in the band's shows and, as a result, on Burton Cummings. Fans will be particularly excited to hear these versions of songs with added instrumentation, like "Night Windows" with a violin and "Plea From a Cat Named Virtute" with a trumpet, both of which succeed with flying colours.
"I think it adds a lot," says Samson of the additions. "To me, there are a lot of songs where I'm happier with this version of them than I am with the studio versions, just because a lot of times you make a recording and you haven't really let the songs grow up in front of an audience yet. They become something else. So it's nice to have these versions that I'm happy with. Songs can change in a lot of surprising ways."
Samson says the album came about in the first place as the band was on the road with Constantines last year. The Weakerthans had a friend along documenting the whole tour - a document that Samson says will be released as a movie soon - and when they got to Winnipeg, they figured they would record their hometown show as best they could and see what happened.
"They were actually really fun shows," says Samson. "Usually when we play Winnipeg I'm terrified and nervous and I don't feel great about the shows, but these ones were different somehow - the audiences were really warm and generous and the shows were a lot of fun."
Samson says fans probably shouldn't expect another studio album for the Weakerthans for a couple years (their last was 2007's Reunion Tour), but in the meantime this live release does serve as a good way to spend some time revisiting the group's back catalogue.
"After 13 years, it was a nice recap of the four records that we've made together; it's kind of a portrait of the way things are right now," he says. "The set itself was a nice, to me, piece of work. It combined songs from all of our records together in one piece. It's interesting how old songs and new songs work off each other; it's neat to document that."
The entire Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre album will be streaming here on Exclaim.ca beginning at midnight tonight (March 15).
Check out "Tournament of Hearts" from the Burton Cummings DVD below: