Greg Graffin and the Weakerthans at the Paradise
Most writers agree that the best narratives follow a character who negotiates their life through their obsessions. John K. Samson takes his writing as seriously -- perhaps more seriously -- than his music, and like all scribblers worth their analysis sessions, he has enough neuroses to fill album after album. Samson’s anxieties tend to revolve around his maddening relationship with his home city of Winnipeg. You might not think that songs fixated on a place that suffers some of the coldest winters in the world could inspire frenetic, word-for-word singalongs. But they do — and it was probably inevitable that last Friday night at the Paradise an overheated room of New Englanders brushing aside thoughts of their annoyingly unpredictable climate would respond to Samson and his band, the Weakerthans, with the simple delight of someone waking spontaneously from a long nap.
A quirky indie-folk outfit with a coquettish punk edge, the Weakerthans are coolly irreverent and tender as a first crush. "One Great City," from their latest Reconstruction Site, Samson’s lonely opener to their set, is a slow-burning acoustic lesson on Winnipeg-hating. If the city is insufferable, the cut is a brief throw-down of dazzling imagery and psychological portraits. On "Aside," they’re a high-caffeine beverage — celebrating the precise moment you choose to leave the town that screwed you over, with chugging guitars and kicky cymbal crashes. Samson, who is tall, thin, and tired, with deep dimples that perpetually hover in his cheeks, cringed and grinned through the band’s catalogue with the firm tenacity of someone who has been through the revision process. The Weakerthans’ story-songs are as much poetry as lyrics, the sort that get written only after verses choked by fastidious drama are thrown away.
At first blush, it seems a bit absurd that Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin would ask the Weakerthans to back him live and on Cold as the Clay, his sluggish solo record of old-timey Americana tunes. But when you hear them together it makes sense — they share the same straightforward, folksy delivery, bemused by a punk aesthetic. The Weakerthans turned up the volume on Graffin’s otherwise tiresome collection of heavy-handed, stripped-down songs -- the kind that try and fail to outdo Neil Young. Perhaps this is a form of rebellion for Graffin, Epitaph’s big papi now looking like a suburban father complete with a receding hairline and a forehead furrowed by family living. It’s only a little odd watching the quintessential punk daddy raise a harmonica to his lips to play melodies that evoke a whole summer of Boy Scout campfires. Still, he seemed truly comfortable just sitting on his stool, content in the conviction that nobody will be forming a slam pit to anything he sings on this tour. There’s enough excess noise in the crowd to make up for what’s lost in Marshall stacks and populist speed-punk, though neither Graffin nor the Weakerthans bother to compete for the attentions of the herd. Who needs the masses when you can lure the micro-audience of insecure brains, those quick-witted cynics who chant your lyrics louder than you do, secretly wishing they’d written them themselves? A recipe for hate might win over the pissed kids on the fringes, but it takes is a clever turn of phrase to keep them interested for good.
: Live Reviews
, Neil Young, Boy Scouts of America, Greg Graffin, More