042122 Kim Mitchell/Still Winter Hills, Ottawa, ON

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In the Spring of 2022 I found myself back in Ottawa for my first visit since the beginning of stupid covid.  I had finally given up waiting for the NAC to restart concerts and hire me to fly back to Ottawa for occasional video work so I booked myself a week of leisure to coincide with a couple of live music events.  I immediately contacted everyone I knew and started reserving couch space and whattya know, three days later the NAC called me out of the blue and contracted me to come to Ottawa (all expenses paid) just eight days after I was scheduled to return to Newfoundland.  Sure, I could have cancelled this leisure trip but I (and several of my friends) had already purchased show tickets.

I wasn’t at all surprised that a bunch of my friends jumped on Drive-By Truckers tickets but when it came to the Kim Mitchell concert on April 21st I was virtually on my own.  No worries, I would definitely go anyway but luckily my friend Jason agreed to join me.

This was only my second time seeing a show at the Bronson Centre and in a bout of coincidence the first time had been a puppet show (yeah, a puppet show) exactly seventeen years earlier, to the day.  Fortunately there had been a lot of renovations in that time for when I walked in I was pleased to find that the Bronson Centre had been transformed into a proper venue.  They had two speaker columns hanging on either side of the stage, they had a couple of friendly and convenient bars set up in the back corners, and (for this show but not for the Truckers’) they had row after row of wide, comfortable soft seats set up covering the entire floor area.  I figure they could seat maybe 600-800 down there with a couple or three hundred more up in the balcony (which looked wide and deep from below, but I never did get up there).

But before I saw any of this I had a long perusal at the merch table out in the lobby, where I pre-decided to pick up a Max Webster t-shirt(!) and a show poster at the end of the night.  Then I entered the venue proper, marvelled at the reno, grabbed a beer and took my seat.

(I kept my mask on pretty much throughout the show and a lot of other people did too, though not all, by any stretch.)

In no time the opening band came out, a local conglomeration called Still Winter Hills that featured three guitarists, one of whom had a pedal steel set up as well.  As soon as they started I wished they had been booked to share the bill with the Drive-By Truckers.  They had a rootsy, country-ish sound with solid vocals and good playing that would have blended well with DBT, though I found their songwriting seriously lacking.  I mean they nailed the sound but wow, such unmemorable songs.  When they introduced the band members at the end of the set I was surprised that I hadn’t recognized my former Ottawa Folklore Centre colleague Tom Thompson as the guitarist with the pedal steel (that he only played for one song) nor did I recognize drummer Peter Von Althen, whom I believe I went to university with; we certainly played on a lot of bills together back in the day.

And then it was time for The Mitchell.

Kim and his three sidemen came out to a standing ovation and I tell you, from my seat on the far end of the fifth row I could see that the band was surprised by such a warm welcome.  They opened with That’s the Hold and man, Kim Mitchell was on fire!  The song is a bit of a shredder and he was nailing it out of the gate, slinking glistening modal lines up and down the neck with the greatest of ease – no question he had done some serious warming up before the show.  Shortly after the song began I knew I couldn’t sit down and I jumped out of my seat.  So did one other person, far to my right.  At the end of the song came another standing ovation (not just from the two of us) and once again the band appeared shocked and pleased as punches at the reception.  From then on the four of them played like giddy teenagers and it was amazing!

Rocklandwonderland, Rock & Roll Duty, I Am a Wild Party, Best I Never Had and it was all performed with such oomph…I just could not sit down!  I’d like to say I got the rest of the room up but no…it was just me – mercifully with a wall beside my aisle-ending seat so I wasn’t impeding anyone’s sight-lines – and two girls near the centre; the rest of the crowd somehow remained seated.  I stayed up for the entire rest of the concert.

After three or four songs the guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder; I was shocked.  I couldn’t believe someone was going to ask me to sit down, not at such a great show, and especially considering there was no way I was actually interupting anyone’s view.  But no, he was just trying to give me a fist-bump.  My surprise and confusion led to a late reaction and I missed his fist by several inches – he tried again and I missed again by an even wider margin.  Then he gave me a look and a mimicked stagger and pretended to drunkenly try and fist-bump the air with a laugh.  I turned back around and continued rockin’.

Halfway through the show some dolt came to the front between songs and engaged Kim in a conversation that went something like, “I’m here with a friend who owns a clothing store near your house.  He says you walk by his store all the time,” pointing to her clearly-embarrassed friend who was busy trying to crawl under his plush seat.  Sheesh.  Go to concerts much, lady?  I broke the tension by yelling as loud as I could, “Play Easy to Tame again!” (which they had just played.  They didn’t).

Later in the concert Kim started playing several flourishing fingerstyle figures and I leaned into Jason predicting, “Patio Lanterns.”  And you know, it was!  Not only that, Kim’s reworking turned the overplayed hit into quite possibly the best song of the evening.

Oh but wait, I have to mention Peter Fredette.  Yes, Peter was on the gig and he was killing it.  He sang That’s a Man early on and wow, it had never occurred to me that the song is basically a straight-ahead blues that harkens directly back to Muddy Waters.  It was great.  But man, the duet All We Are was stunning…like, downright beautiful.  I was continually on my feet, continually slack-jawed, and continually breathless.  

Mid-show Kim played the sole new song of the night – he was touring a new album after all – and he introduced it with benevolence: “Don’t worry, this will be the only new one.  I know people want to hear the hits.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the keyboard player/multi-instrumentalist on the gig.  He was super-solid and when Kim introduced him as recently migrating over from Roger Hodgson’s band I knew why.  When I had seen Roger at the NAC his keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist had stolen the show red-handed.  How Kim got him I don’t know, but I hope he keeps him.  And please don’t think that giving the drummer such little ink is a criticism.  It isn’t; he was fantastic too.

Kim ended the set with Go For a Soda – epic – and encored with one of the most rockin’ songs in the history of Canrock, Lager and Ale.  So, so good.

So good in fact that I’m going to go ahead and call this the best Kim Mitchell concert I’ve seen* – at least the most fun I’ve had seeing him** – even though he only did two Max Webster songs: Check and Paradise Skies.  Sure, at encore time I was screaming for High Class in Borrowed Shoes but in truth, I was sated.

At the end of the concert Kim Mitchell rather genuinely thanked us all for being there and apologized for a bit of a rough show.  “…There were a couple of train wrecks but I guess it all worked out…”  No way.  Not a chance.  Train wrecks?  Uh-uh.  I know the music pretty damn well – I can play probably half the material – and sure, he might have hit a stinker or two but I sure didn’t hear them.  And there were definitely no train wrecks.

Bottom line: wow, what a concert.  I may just find myself springing for tickets (and gas and hotel) for his St. John’s play in June.

(I felt I was in pretty good shape when I left but I had to rethink my position when I walked into the same venue two nights later and stepped up to the bar wearing a mask and different clothes.  “Oh hi,” said the bartender, “I remember you from Kim Mitchell the other night.”  Oof.

*Eight shows, going back to 1986.

**Aside from the sole Max Webster concert I was blessed to witness.  This might have been a better show but c’mon, I’m going to say it was better than a Max Webster concert?  Riiiiight.

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