Published Dec 09, 2011John K. Samson isn't impressed by the bright lights of New York City. It was evident as the Weakerthans jogged through the entirety of their 2000 release, Left and Leaving, in chronological order for a sold out-crowd at Manhattan's Bowery Ballroom.
The set was smack-dab in the middle of the Winnipeg folk heroes' four-day residency at the venue. Each night has been dedicated to a different album, along with time carved out for fan favourites.
Samson seemed unfazed -- or maybe just unsurprised -- by the incredible sing-along he launched with the opening lines of "Everything Must Go!" and capped off, an hour and a half later, with an especially urgent "Plea from a Cat Named Virtue." Instead, he played with the crowd, derailing the collective voice with false endings and sporadic pauses.
"Today I walked around in sweatpants and sneakers to bring a flavour of the Midwest to the city," he said, only half-joking, before launching into "One Great City!"
Perpetually resembling everyone's high school boyfriend with square shoulders, short, spiky hair and the allure of someone slightly cooler than you, Samson occasionally surveyed the packed house and broke into a smirk, as if to convey an underwhelmed "Huh" and offer a shrug of indifference.
But this is a group who choose to make their home in the frozen Prairies rather than a music mecca. It's a group that sings about loonies and curling and "waiting for winter to be done" and, somehow, against the odds, attracts hundreds and hundreds of fiercely enthusiastic New Yorkers, for whom all of these things are foreign (get back to us when your winters are filled with ceaseless winds, iced sidewalks and six months of snow). There is something inherently cool about not desperately clamouring to live in -- or even pander to -- a celebrated city, about being immune to the glitz, glam and excess.
With the Weakerthans' rich, detailed, narrative lyrics, it's easy to forget that this is a band with punk roots. At least, that was the case during this set -- until a raucous "Exiles Among Us" sparked jumping and fist pumps.
"Thanks again. That was really swell of you," Samson said when it was all over. Then he lifted his shoulders, turned his palms skyward and quietly disappeared backstage.