Cherished Canadian rock band the Weakerthans may be no more, but frontman and songwriter John K. Samson has since delivered two solo albums laced with an equally (if not more) satisfying, folk-leaning sound. And despite being in town to support his most recent LP, Winter Wheat, Samson's set at the Mod Club on Tuesday evening (November 8) looked back fondly on older fare as well.
Samson was joined by the same backing band that accompanied him on his latest album, featuring his Weakerthans colleagues Jason Tait and Greg Smith, as well as his wife Christine Fellows and Ashley Au — collectively dubbed the Winter Wheat. Together, they charmed the packed house through new standouts like set-opening ode to technology-induced malaise "Select All Delete," the Powerpoint presentation pep talk "Postdoc Blues" and the Neil Young-inspired "Vampire Alberta" (dedicated on this occasion to the people of Standing Rock), as well as gems off Provincial like "Cruise Night" and "When I Write My Master's Thesis."
It was during dips into the Weakerthans' catalogue that nostalgia reached its peak, though, with "Reconstruction Site" and "Plea from a Cat Named Virtute" still resonating, and ushering in the bombastic, brightly lit full-on rock show segment of the night.
"Hospital Vespers," "Bigfoot!" and "Aside" were also dusted off to a rapturous audience response, before the ever-affable Samson and his band circled back to Winter Wheat's "Alpha Adept," "Requests" and, finally, the album's title track.
That's not to say that there aren't threads that weave their way through both old and new material, though. The first encore featured the outrageously fun oldie "Confessions of a Futon-Revolutionist," jarringly followed by the always heartbreaking "Left and Leaving," then a cover of Neil Young's "Don't Be Denied."
Samson's original songs demonstrated the literary lyricism that set him apart from his Winnipeg punk contemporaries decades ago and still draws listeners in to his carefully crafted world of stories about people, places and, yes, pets. Having deployed "Plea from a Cat Named Virtute" earlier in his set, Samson saved the final, tragic piece of the trilogy for the encore — killing off a beloved character and leaving many eyes misty with "Virtute at Rest."
Indulging the eager (if a little emotionally ravaged) audience, Samson returned with "Favourite Chords" for a second and final encore, wrapping up an engaging set that served as a delightful and decidedly Canadian distraction from the political insanity simultaneously taking place south of the border.