Saturday, May 26, 2007

My Wiseman Decades

The exact details are blurry. Reports of Blue Rodeo losing their keyboard player because he wanted to make more challenging music. Rodeo was listenable enough, making the kind of music you don't mind hearing at dentist's office. Then rumors that said keyboardist, Bob Wiseman, would be playing with Jane Siberry at Zaphod's, a small club in Ottawa. (There might be some more details in a boomerang tournament report from that summer of '92, if anyone feels like spelunking for the link -- I personally remember every word of it as if I wrote it yesterday.) The show itself, held at 4 in the afternoon on a Sunday, was packed. Karen's friend surreptitiously taped the show on a no-name type-I cassette (it's only a bootleg when a European or Brazilian publisher gives it an awkward title), but the music is drowned out by chatter, and doesn't capture what went on there. I saw Siberry perform a couple of times after that, but it was Wiseman who was definitely worth watching.

Somewhere on one of the mid-level floors of the 1950s-ugly main building at Carleton University. Bob is playing jazz-influenced improvisations on a grand piano in the listening room, with about 100 people attending. After hitting various strange notes, he burrows into the grand and pulls out his Juno from his Blue Rodeo days. Poems too. Awesome. I pick up the unclassifiable "Beware of Bob" CD. Still listen to it nearly 15 years later.

Back at Zaphod's, with his full-blown rock band, featuring material from the release after Beware of Bob (again the intrepid can fill in gaps with that google thing). This time there are older relatives from Nepean visiting. Their neglect in bringing ear plugs shows. Too bad they missed the Carleton show.

Two years later, back at the Carleton music room, with former co-worker and current stagehand/bpel guy Andrew to show him that there's some great music being done that isn't angst-ridden Euro Stereolab/Swervedriver. Bob plays the Juno thing again, lots of both new and old material, more poems, including the classic one about David Geffen. Andrew is impressed.

A year later, Andrew and I head up to the quaint Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec. Bob on guitar, a woman whose name I forget on various instruments, including theremin. And a reluctant guest on tuba. The band is set up in front of the main window. Outside a curtain of snow falls gently while the band shows Wiseman is still scaling heights. Andrew is still impressed. I believe he admits that Bob is better than P. J. Harvey.

Last Ottawa show, in late 1999/early 2000. Bob and Don Ross are sharing the bill at a packed Carleton U auditorium. Afterwards both performers hang out with the audience. I talk to Bob. It turns out he grew up across the street from my cousins in Winnipeg. He doesn't remember the older one, in the way that a 12-year-old doesn't know his 18-year-old neighbors, but does remember the younger one.

So now it's 2007, and Bob comes to a documentary film festival in Vancouver. I've been out of touch, and am not sure why he's playing a film festival. Turns out he's been making short films for a few years, showing in various indie festivals over the years. Most of his songs accompany the films he's played tonight. The artist continues to grow. He's added accordion to his repertoire, and needs to perform with Geoff Berner, if he hasn't yet (did I say I'm kind of out of the loop now?) "She Only Wanted Misery" is a masterpiece, like the other Bob's "Sad Eyed Lady". Go get it now. And while it's great on CD, you need to see it live on film for the full impact.

OK, links...

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