Not-So-Great Swimmers & Choosing Nickelback over Jon-Rae

February 6, 2010

I hesitated about buying a ticket for last week’s Great Lake Swimmers’ Vogue Theatre show for 2 reasons: I wasn’t wowed by their latest album, Lost Channels, and I had a feeling the Vogue concert couldn’t possibly top their performance at the much smaller St. James Hall last March, which was spellbinding. I should have listened to my intuition. The sold-out show just didn’t jell for me.

It didn’t help that Jon-Rae Fletcher and his band played one of the worst opening sets I’ve heard in recent years. Fletcher, who grew up in Kelowna, has been making music for a long time and he’s got quite the following in Toronto and elsewhere. But it sounded like amateur hour up there. While Fletcher has a decent voice, which he works up with a gospel-like fervour, his limitations showed when going for the high notes. Fletcher’s lyrics were also dial-a-cliché. What grated on me the most was the lack of cohesion between Fletcher and his bandmates. Darcy Hancock, who’s also in Ladyhawk, crunched distorted riffs that didn’t go with anything. The trombonist and bassist sounded like absolute beginners. Fletcher was much better off performing solo, like he did at the end of the show. But overall, how weak was the set? I actually asked myself at one point, “Would I rather listen to this or Nickelback?” I actually chose Nickelback, who I despise. Enough said.

As for the Swimmers, to a large extent, the group is all about Tony Dekker. He writes the songs and sings them with a shimmering melancholy. I realized at the Vogue, however, how important the rest of the band is. I’ve always had a thing for Erik Arnesen’s playing, especially on banjo, and he sounded as vital as ever. But here’s the key: multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Julie Fader wasn’t in the band and violinist Miranda Mulholland was. I missed Fader’s subtle contributions to the GLS sound; Mulholland’s upbeat playing and personality didn’t mesh with the rest of the Swimmers. She’s a fine musician, but just too damn happy to be a Great Lake Swimmer! Aside from my reservations about the fiddle player, hearing tunes from Lost Channels live confirmed that there’s nothing on the album that’s as powerful as “Your Rocky Spine” from the previous disc.

I usually embed YouTube videos to illustrate concert reviews, but I couldn’t find any from this show, so for your viewing pleasure I’m posting a photo I took last summer of a great lake in Umbria, Italy: Lake Trasimeno

Great Lake

Maybe my feelings about the show were coloured by weirdness that followed. Right after the concert we went to an alternative art happening in the downtown eastside at a former funeral home. In a lineup outside some idiot sprayed a fire extinguisher at us. Choking on chemicals in the rain wasn’t a pleasant feeling. But really, that had nothing to do with the music. I just couldn’t connect with the Swimmers like I did so intensely at St. James.



  1. oooooh, dear…I’m so sorry (in particular, that Nickelback even entered your brain)

  2. what show were you at fuckwad?
    that show was amazing.
    and it wasn’t jon-rae’s best show but your comments were way too harsh.
    your blog is lame.
    suck it.

  3. I suppose that not everyone can be articulate critical thinkers when reacting – however, the last comment does provide a good example of the downside to freedom of speech.

  4. Hi, I agree that the St. James Hall was much more intimate, and I even shed a tear just listening to his voice that night.

    Two of the reasons I think this show wasn’t as profound are: the opening band kind was less than mediocre, and the constant chatter of the crowd.

    PS. I see ‘Anonymous’ isn’t impressed with this review and I imagine he/she has bad, bad karma on _the internets_. Shame on you for such venomous words.

  5. […] Wongs « Not-So-Great Swimmers & Choosing Nickelback over Jon-Rae Two Wongs Asian February 8, 2010 After my last post, which prompted an anonymous […]

  6. wow,
    what a tasteless review
    i was at that show and personally thought both bands were amazing –
    jon-rae has such a unique sound and no he doesn’t sound like a robot hitting every note perfectly but that’s part of his charm

    ps. the cohesion that may have been missing in case you were listening was their lack of drummer who was actually in the hospital during their performance

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