JOHN K SAMSON and MIKE FEUERSTACK at 918 Bathurst, Thursday, September 6. Rating: NNNN
John K. Samson songs are fine-tuned musical poems that balance loneliness and tenderness, wordiness and heart, the political and the personal. In his small and distinct alto, he negotiates the fraught landscapes of both solitude and coupledom, referencing ampersands, Gestetners and Foucault along the way. He's brainy but keeps the language plain and always offers a vivid setting - a wintery Winnipeg sidewalk, a solitary bus ride - to navigate us through.
Usually all of this comes in the form of Weakerthans' music, but lately he's been touring his debut solo album, Provincial, which takes down the folk-punk volume and power chords a few notches. At the intimate 918 Bathurst, he played energetically for nearly 90 minutes using just an acoustic guitar, while Mike Feuerstack, switching between lap steel and electric, added distorted bits, stirring fingerpicking and atmospheric swoops.
Samson was smiley and warm, telling the full room amusing facts about songs old and new, and urging us to sign his petition to get Reggie Leach into the Hockey Hall of Fame. For the final song of the encore, he perched precariously and bravely - there was hesitation and a thwarted first attempt - on a high stool for a rendition of Virtute The Cat Explains Her Departure. We cheered hard.
Earlier, Feuerstack played his own solid set of mostly new and suitably literary, lyric-heavy material, noting that he's retiring the Snailhouse moniker. That might disappoint fans of his elegant recent album, Sentimental Gentleman, though the good news is that he didn't hesitate to play a couple tunes from it.