Shows I’ll Never Forget: Burton Cummings, August 10, 2013

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Saskatoon Exhibition Grandstand: No doubt about it — we’re well into the 21st Century now, in our post-9/11 politically, socially and economically uncertain world. In times when there are few things guaranteed, it’s easy to get caught up in nostalgia and remember the days when the world didn’t turn everything into some kind of moral or ethical dilemma.

Even something that should be so simple as one’s personal taste in music comes into question: if rock ‘n’ roll is a young person’s game, can a generation brought up on ’50s rock and roll, ’60s psychedelia or ’70s classic rock still claim rock ‘n’ roll as their very own without looking or sounding ridiculous? Furthermore, what about the artists themselves? Can those young gods who seemed visually perfect and musically brilliant in their early 20s be quite so immortal as they pass through their 60s and 70s?

Or, more simply stated, can old guys still rock?

And that brings us to the Burton Cummings concert at the Saskatoon Exhibition main stage in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan last night. He opened with the “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” 2-for-1 hit from the glory days of his time with the Guess Who, followed by “Albert Flasher” and “Clap for the Wolfman,” all great singles, making for a great start. He told the audience that he just spent 28 hours in reroutes and bad connections coming up from his home in Los Angeles on a flight that shouldn’t have taken more than a few hours. “But it’s great to be here,” he said, and actually sounded like he meant it.

He played a couple of more hits from his solo albums, and then the band launched into “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon” which most people might have figured for an opener. Interestingly enough, he got up from his piano to play some blues harp, and that cut through the perfect summer evening, and then Burton and the band seemed to turn it up a notch or two with that skranky harmonica riff. Suddenly, I realized that they had already started out a little harder and faster than I remember those hits being in their studio versions, and even the solo album stuff which I’m not really into sounded like great classic rock songs.

Which they are: In fact, if Burton Cummings has any problems at the point in his career, it’s that he has so many great songs he can’t play them all in one night, and probably doesn’t need to write anymore either. Last night, he didn’t even bother to play any obscurities or new material – he went in for the kill, each song a certified cherry bomb, and nothing phoned in for lack of interest.

Finally, the aces got (literally) played; “American Woman” (with an interpolation of the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”) and “No Time,” and the band went into take no prisoners mode. So, how do you answer the original question, “Can old guys still rock?” Yes, indeed: If they can still play with the passion that got them there in the first place. Heck – when they’re in that head space, they don’t even qualify as old guys anymore.

As good as that concert was, the story wasn’t even yet over. A couple of times through the night, there were some problems with the electric piano (a story in itself), but upon returning to the stage, Cummings said, “I wanted to play this earlier, really, but the piano had a ‘ghost in the machine.’ But I think we fixed it, and I didn’t want you think I’m being cheesy, but I’ll play it now.” Wow – “These Eyes,” maybe the biggest hit of them all. And then … “Well, they’re not kicking us off the stage yet. So, for fun let’s play ‘Louie Louie!’” Yes indeed — a nearly note perfect rendition of the Kingsmen’s magical mid-sixties garage band mystery hit. It’s not in regular rotation on the Cummings’ repertoire, but frankly, if you’re gonna turn the amps up to 11, you’re allowed to pretty much assault this trash masterpiece. And finally, “Share the Land,” and it was thank you, goodnight.

Yep, he’s getting up there, but Burton Cummings still has it. Maybe there’s something about entering your 5th decade in the business that lets you revert back to your younger days when you just played music for the sake of playing music, and all that “hope I die before I get old” stuff gets tucked away in the attics with your memorabilia – after all, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

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JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at
JC Mosquito
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