On December 29th, 2018 my brother and I went to a concert together for the first time ever. This was by design; his ticket was a Christmas present from m’lady whilst my ticket was a birthday present to myself, so he had to go. I made it pretty easy for him too. The show was booked into the Molson Canadian Centre, which is what they are calling the makeshift theatre that provides entertainment inside and adjacent to Casino New Brunswick, which is itself nearly adjacent to my brother’s house (my brother was there first).
Also, the featured act was eastern Canada’s long-time rock and roll hero (and alt-country star before it was “alt”) Matt Minglewood. I knew that I wanted to see Matt Minglewood because I had owned his Movin’ record for as long as I can remember, from all the way back when I didn’t take care of my records at all, and his big hit off the record (Dorchester) now skips so bad that I have to start the album at track two. And I knew that Alan wanted to see him because on our recent trip to Europe together (another first) he told me about the time he almost saw Matt Minglewood when he was a younger man, but he got too drunk too soon and passed out before the concert.
And so we went, after a couple of pre-drinks at my brother’s place. So many in fact that we only caught the last minute of opening act Mike Biggar, who sounded a lot like Warren Haynes (in a good way). Those sixty seconds were certainly good enough for me to wish I had seen the whole set, but pre-drinks are pre-drinks I suppose.
Backing up a bit, my first impressions of the venue were mixed, with a skew towards not liking the place very much. I was happily surprised that one entered the venue without having to walk through the casino itself; so very un-Vegas but I liked it. That said, it was pretty difficult for me to ascertain that we were, in fact, in the venue. Being late I expected the foyer to be busy with people milling around but nay, walking through the outer doors I discovered just two thinly staffed portable bars and four unmarked doors. The place was obviously super-soundproof because I couldn’t hear a note from Mike Biggar, who was onstage while I was lined up for my first round.
There was no visible signage indicating which door my ticket should lead me through so I walked to the closest one and found a polite doorman at my disposal. As he opened the door I had to request for him to scan my ticket (“Oh, you’re not inside already?”) and when I asked where my seat was he told me an usher inside would take me there.
Inside I found the place packed; every seat was taken. I thought that was pretty impressive and it said a lot about the Moncton crowd. On my left was a row of chairs taken up by five similarly-dressed ladies. I turned to face them and held up my ticket. None of them moved an inch. The lady in the middle looked up at me and said nothing. Eventually I asked, “Are you guys ushers?” and the one in the middle stood up, looked at my ticket, and escorted me to the completely wrong seat.
(I actually had a good idea where we were supposed to be seated – on the aisle directly in front of the soundboard – so I was able to auto-correct our situation without any further “help”.)
“Good seats” my brother said as we sat down, and I agreed.
It was a fabricated, elastic venue, with aluminum bleachers in the back, moveable walls on either side, and a scalloped office-building ceiling. No character whatsoever, but the drinks were cheap ($8 for a Crown & Coke, $7 for a Caesar), the seats were large and comfy, and the sound was really good. So: inattentive staff, poor signage, and no atmosphere in a comfortable space with good sound and an easy, cheap bar. Overall, I have to say that I liked it.
Biggar ended, I checked out the meagre merch table and back to our seats I went, shunning the huge drink lineups. As soon as I sat back down my brother asked if I wanted a drink. I shrugged, said “Sure!” and off he went to wait in the lineups. I chatted with the couple next to me and was interested to hear that they were big Minglewood fans and had driven down from Bathurst for the concert.
The promotor came out for what proved to be the longest and most uncomfortable introduction ever. All of his jokes bombed, his very-interesting story about booking Minglewood back in the early ’70’s was told in the most boring fashion ever, and he capped his introduction thusly:
“Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, Mr. Matt Minglewood! Oh, wait, wait…I forgot to mention…also backstage with Matt is his gorgeous, gorgeous wife. I’ve never met her before but man, she’s even more gorgeous in person than she is in pictures. Man, I tell you, she’s one beautiful lady. Anyway, Matt Minglewood everyone!”
Dude was awkward.
Matt started the show with a trio of acoustic songs before being joined by his drummer. I gotta say, when he came out with a quiet little “Hullo everybody” and sat down to start the show I was surprised that he didn’t come off as a more seasoned entertainer. No booming stage voice, no low-timbre “How you all doing TO-night!” Nothing wrong with that at all, I was just surprised.
I was also surprised when Alan returned to the seats with a handful of Crown & Cokes. “Wow,” I remarked. “I figured you’d only be able to buy two at a time.”
“Yeah, you’re supposed to only get two, but…” Alrighty then!
What else surprised me is how downright fantastic the concert was; I mean this was a really, really good show. I had seen Matt just once before, a zillion years before at a bar in Moncton called the Urban Corral. I don’t know if I was even old enough to get in but a friend of mine was touring as Minglewood’s soundman so I was all set, but either way I was much too young to appreciate how good that set must have been, because here I was seeing seventy-something Matt Minglewood and he was off the charts.
Sometimes he sounded like The Allman Brothers, sometimes like Bob Dylan, with a healthy dash of Lynyrd Skynyrd in there too. And boy, can the guy sing! Early on he did a cover of a Rita MacNeil song and I mean Matt belted it out. He could really play too, easily holding his own against the nineteen year-old upstart on lead guitar.
Speaking of his band, I thought the young bass player was the best musician on the stage, and the piano player was great too. The only weak link was the drummer, who was just skilled enough to be able to hide from almost everyone the fact that it was him and him alone that was keeping the band from sounding 100% full-on unstoppably amazing. Every musician knows that a good drummer can make a lame band sound good and a lame drummer makes a good band sound mediocre at best, and I wondered for the whole show how this guy got the gig.
When Matt introduced the band the answer revealed itself: he was the guitarist’s dad.
(And the entire band was from Nova Scotia too, which was pretty admirable. Also admirable was how often Matt’s lyrics mention Nova Scotia. Not that the songs were necessarily about Nova Scotia, but instead of a “New York” here or a “Dallas, Texas” there, he’d mention his home province. It made me wonder why more Canadian artists don’t do that.)
Further bucking the habits of the seasoned professional, Minglewood played Dorchester pretty early in the show, and completely tipped his hand by giving the song a long introduction, revealing what had just occurred to me earlier that day: that the song wasn’t about a prisoner doing time in Dorchester Penitentiary, rather, the song was about the inmate’s wife.
When Matt finally closed the show he announced that “this is the encore, but I can’t be bothered walking off the stage and waiting for thirty seconds, so here you go,” and played his very, very biggest hit, his famous version of The Marshall Tucker Band’s Can’t You See, replete with east coast references galore.
What a great show. My standing ovation was genuine and extensive.
And just like that it was over. Al jumped from his seat and made for the parking lot while I staggered along drunkenly behind him (it was my birthday, after all). My last surprise of the evening would be us skipping the casino altogether and heading straight back to his place. I had had pre-visions of us doing really well at some post-concert blackjack but I was just barely undrunk enough to realize that my pre-vision was based way more on hope than reality or odds, so I didn’t say a word as we…okay, I…stumbled right past the tables.