When I saw on a Facebook post from my friend John that Alden Penner was doing a UK tour I thought I’d check out the Birmingham date as John is pretty great at picking up on new and interesting acts. I learnt at this stage that Alden used to be in a band called The Unicorns who I was vaguely aware of. Having checked out a few of their songs and Alden’s solo material online I thought this sounds like it’ll be right up my street. At this point in time I also learnt that actor Michael Cera would also be performing at these shows.
Having seen him play/sing in many of his films and subsequently heard some tracks from his album True That on Bandcamp I was assured that he was a bona fide musician and not just appearing as some sort of gimmick to draw people in with a celebrity name a la Pizza Underground with Macauley Culkin.
Admittedly I do enjoy watching Michael Cera on screen and I was curious to see what he’d be like on stage. My friend John who had posted about the tour and his partner Roisi had since been to the London show and they had advised that it was full of seventeen year old Scott Pilgrim/Superbad fans which didn’t bode well and that they didn’t play any songs by The Unicorns.
The reason for this tour was to promote the Canada In Space EP which according to the press release is “ an imagining of the dreams, reveries, phantasms, hallucinations, psycho-spiritual projections, naïve mythologies, actions, visions and experiences of an abandoned crew before, during and after its permanent journey to Mars; the compression of time; dispersion, fragmentation of states and generations in space; ultimate detachment & wormholes.”
I didn’t have to worry about teenage fans during the support act The Adam Brown which featured Alden Penner on drums. Having originally sat near the speakers I moved to in front of the stage to get a better sound quality. The Adam Brown was super smiley throughout his geek rock set. He even attempted to speak in a Brummie accent at one point which he had been taught after meeting Echo Lake. It was a valiant attempt however to my ears it did sound more Scouse! It was a shame I was stood centrally with not many people around me during his set as most of the audience members had either remained in the main bar or stayed sitting or standing near the walls. Towards the end of his set a small crowd had moved forward behind me but I think this was in anticipation of the headline act which was a pity.
Having sat in the main bar area for a breather in between sets I returned to the gig room to see that there was already quite a few people huddled at the barrier in front of the stage. A huge cheer accompanied Michael Cera leading the band on stage. Rather than try and elbow my way to the front as I’m quite short I decided like a few others to stand on the seating area which is adjacent to the stage for my best vantage point. Here I was hoping to avoid the cries of “Michael we love you” unfortunately I ended up being stood next to a rather vocal group of youths. Don’t get me wrong I have gone to gigs and shown my appreciation with applause and cheers but out of respect for other people who have paid money to see the gig I don’t constantly shout out cries of adoration (plus I might be a little old for that sort of thing now!) If I’d wanted to experience this sort of behaviour I’d have gone to a One Direction concert. I felt this did impair my enjoyment of the gig somewhat. Sadly the dagger looks I was giving them didn’t appear to work especially when they kept talking non stop when Alden was on lead vocals. I’m not against people showing their appreciation but at least have a bit of respect for the other musicians onstage. You might have only come to see a certain member of the band but some of us actually paid to hear the music.
I’m all for audience participation just recently I went to see The Lovely Eggs play The Sunflower Lounge and there was banter between the band and the audience and during songs like Fuck It there were mass singalongs which made you all feel united and then when I left that gig there was a warm buzz in the air of you’d just been part of a great show.
I’m not against Michael Cera he came across as an affable guy talking to the crowd in between songs and by playing a variety of instruments onstage (there was a lot of instrument swapping between the band) it’s obvious he’s a real music fan but I kind of feel it would’ve been a much enjoyable experience without the young fans of his in the audience who were so vocal and who were constantly taking selfies in front of him with the camera on their phones flashing. Alden Penner only spoke once during the set to say “turn off the flashing lights”. I’m unsure whether he was referring to the house lights or the flashing smartphones.
It was surprising that there was little played from the aforementioned EP instead they concentrated on tracks from Penner’s back catalogue including A Beautiful Dream from the Exegesis album and even some of Cera’s own output such as Oh Nadine. Despite the calls from the crowd for I Was Born (A Unicorn) they didn’t play any songs from Penner’s best known project. I did enjoy the lo fi indie that was played tonight and would watch them play again minus the exuberant Cera fans!
Canada in Space EP out now on City Slang.
What is the correct etiquette at gigs? Can having a band member who is well known detract from the music? What are your thoughts?