Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson sees insecurity and fragility everywhere he looks. From Bigfoot sightings to the winter Olympics, the world he sees is one where we leave pieces of ourselves wherever we go, on highways and in empty rooms alike. The characters he sketches are scared or emotional but ordinary people, whose thoughts comprise twisted threads through past relationships and future possibilities. But not in an otherworldly, transcendent way; these people are confused and messed up by real life, doubt themselves on a regular basis, and attempt to make some sort of resolution out of everything they feel and do.
In short, Samson writes about his audience, with whom the tender and unbridled introspection of his lyrics resonates hardest because of its proximity to home. Live At Burton Cummings Theatre
is what happens when you put a phenomenal songwriter in a room with people he understands. For the duration of the show, it is impossible to imagine any one of the onlookers in this crowd engaged in anything other than the music being played out. Where there are brief and gentle trade-offs between The Weakerthans and their fans, they are subtle and affecting, in the form of soft handclaps or the gentle hum of backing vocals.
Is that not a gig? It might not seem like it any more, in an era where the concert experience has been doubled and tripled and quadrupled by gimmicks and croud participation and lights and smoke and moshpits. But that’s why this album translates so perfectly to a live setting what The Weakerthans have long since been exemplifying in the language of studio records: the tension in the room, the undivided focus on every single picked electric guitar and every split-second of silence before Samson sings another cutting line. These things turn songs into religious experiences, to an extent that it’s easy to imagine the doors on Burton Cummings Theatre closing and shutting off the outside world from this tiny pocket of yearning and connection.
And it’s nice that, for a moment, music which has its soul in the footsteps of busy commuters and the panic and heartbreak of the world outside can escape for a few minutes into itself and those than understand and appreciate it. That’s what The Weakerthans have always offered: a refuge, solace from the complex meanderings of over-worked brains and bodies, because when Samson holds close the best parts of lonely
, that doesn’t need explaining. We know what it means, despite even he himself being incapable of describing that emotion in full. And so Live At Burton Cummings Theatre
gives people a place to put everything that ever left or is leaving, every birthday card they threw away, every favourite chord and every fire door they ever left open. And that’s why it’s perfect.