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StarPhoenix Review: Plaskett rocks campus pub

There are lots of reasons to love Joel Plaskett: His laid-back brilliance, his indelible songs, his lanky sex appeal. Then there’s the fact that every one of his shows feels special, something that was on display Friday night at Louis’. He broke his first guitar string of the tour during the show. One hopes that’s because he rocked that extra bit harder for the Saskatoon audience, which was crammed wall-to-wall into the campus pub.

The Halifax musician’s current tour sees the return of his backing band The Emergency. The trio (actually a sextet if you count Plaskett’s guitar-playing monkeys and a ceramic bust of Wayne Newton) includes bass player Chris Pennell and drummer Dave Marsh. It’s good to have the boys back.

Plaskett’s last tour, in support of the triple record Three, was a more contemplative affair with the backup vocals of Rose Cousins and Ana Egge. His 2009 show at the Broadway Theatre was good, but nothing really compares to seeing the skinny rocker in a packed bar, where you can feel the bass riffs through the walls.

His show at Louis’ featured a relaxed, utterly spontaneous Plaskett. The band opened with You’re Mine, an anthemic track from Plaskett’s new album Scrappy Happiness.

The night included quite a few tunes from the record, including The North Star, which celebrates a touring truck that made it to 500,000 kilometres, and Harbour Boys. “I see some of you singing along and that makes me feel damn good,” he said of the new material. The most exciting new song of the night was Lightning Bolt, which had started out solo and utilized the whole band halfway through. The song got progressively more loud and unconventional, with lots of reverb and dim blue lighting to set the mood.

Of course, crowd favourites like Through and Through and Through, A Million Dollars, and Nowhere With You made the set list. The best familiar song of the night was Work Out Fine, an improvised rendition that mixed in R. Kelly’s Ignition and Rain, Rain Go Away. Plaskett was completely in the moment, crouching to his knees and gripping the microphone to belt out the song from the 2003 album Truthfully Truthfully.

As a rule, because it mentions moving to Saskatchewan, Plaskett had to play It’s Catching On. The lyric is true, with Plaskett often saying if he could live anywhere but Halifax it would be Saskatoon. Of course, the same can’t be said about Kelowna, a town immortalized (and not in a good way) in the song Love This Town. Plaskett shared the hilarious story behind the awful show that inspired the song. But he and bandmate Peter Elkas got their revenge, and not just in song. Let’s just say it involved some inappropriate graffiti featuring a cougar, an eagle, and a snake.

After the response from the Saskatoon crowd, there appears to be no danger of a similar song being penned about the City of Bridges. Saskatoon loves Joel Plaskett and, based on this amazing concert, the feeling is mutual.

English folk/punk musician Frank Turner opened the show. In an interview before the concert, Plaskett said he was lucky to have the singer opening for him. Earlier this month, Turner played a sold-out crowd of 12,000 at Wembley Stadium in London. His following might not be quite as huge yet in Canada, but he had an excited fan base in the Louis’ audience, singing along to his every word.

Turner, whose latest album is England Keep My Bones, writes songs that can break a girl’s heart and inspire a bro singalong. His vocal style is half singing, half yelling, but in such a way that sounds passionate rather than strained. With just an acoustic guitar he managed to sound punk rock.

In the song Try This at Home, he sings “There’s no such thing as rock stars/there’s just people who play music/and some of them are just like us/and some of them are dicks.” How rock star is that?

Plus, what’s not to love about a guy who has a song about time travel? He gets bonus points for rhyming Victorian with Delorean.

by Stephanie McKay