I’ve spent a reasonably large chunk of the last week shuttling myself to New York City to see one of my favorite bands, the Weakerthans, play all four of their studio albums on four successive nights. This may not mean much to you because most of you haven’t been introduced to the Weakerthans, but you can play along at home by imagining one of your top five active bands playing all their albums in consecutive nights live, plus a smattering of other songs at each show. In fact tonight, the first in the last five to be devoid of such a show, feels a little empty.

It’s hard enough to sum up the emotional import of any one show without trying to string together four, especially when each had their own distinct feel, ranging from the foreboding drunkenness over-present at the second (Left and Leaving) show to the unbelievable happenstance of running into four former APDA friends at the third (Reconstruction Site) show, four of the maybe 25 people I know in the eight-million-strong metropolis of New York City. The fourth (Reunion Tour) may have been my favorite, if only for the somber reverence of the crowd and the true appreciation of realizing that one is watching a band for the fourth straight night and desperately craves a fifth.

John K. Samson spent a small part of each show referencing Occupy Wall Street and encouraging people to participate, even evoking some excitement for the somewhat faded jaded revolutionary spirit from some earlier Weakerthans tunes and no doubt his prior stint with the band Propagandhi. Playing “Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist” each of the first three nights, including one impromptu in the encore seemed a clear reference to the growing fervor of a generation disappointed to miss out on the sixties but still desperate to change an order that has only consolidated its grip on power in the ensuing four decades. The Weakerthans used their platform at the Bowery Ballroom the way they have used their entire fifteen years in the limelight of the Canadian independent music scene – to live their values as they envision them, shunning overt fame, the chance to make it big, overcharging for tickets, etc., in favor of selling political books alongside their CD’s and T-shirts while selling out small clubs that fervently sing along.

I used the weekend to discover a couple other things too, like how surprisingly drivable lower Manhattan is from my current residence, taking just forty minutes to get to the venue from New Brunswick after I gave up on the subway after a miserably cold rainy night running under awnings to get from Penn Station to the BD line in its circuitous far-from-everything-but-still-getting-vaguely-where-you-want routing. (See also Tournaments, Fordham.) And it also occurred to me just how expensive New York really is relative to the rest of the world. People may complain a bit about the cost of living in the Bay Area, but the bridge across there cost, what, $4 and had a carpool opt-out for free? And BART would usually run you about $3-5 a pop to get pretty close to where you wanted to go? All the entrances to NYC now cost $12 by bridge or tunnel and the roundtrip train is $26 from New Brunswick, subway fare not included. I know that New Brunswick is significantly further out than Berkeley, but it’s not much further out than, say, Dublin or Pleasanton, and that gets you up to maybe $8 on BART. New York City is just a giant financial funnel and while I see its worth in occasional cultural access points, regular entry starts to feel like a life tax.

You may have to put a small X where I lost my way on this post. It wasn’t really supposed to be small-minded whinging about the cost of living, although one could argue that’s the only source of the angst and discontent abroad in the land, that that’s what it takes to knock Americans out of their complacency and into action is having to pay more than they can for things. Certainly the crass commercialism of traditional wealthy USA seems alive and thriving in NYC as compared to other parts of the world, though the Best Buy in New Jersey seemed full and bustling, even if the actual lines for items were pretty short. It is the great paradox of whatever this economic situation is that most people appear to be hurting and yet most everyone seems to have essentially the same quality of life as before, give or take some stress. There are exceptions and people who’ve been knocked from their pedestal, but for the most part the magic wheel of debt has kept spinning its web of lies to obfuscate the true nature of what’s broken about our system.

So you can forgive John K. and I and the other upbeat believers for getting excited about the present circumstances and the awakening possibility that we won’t have this same tired unjust system to kick around for the entire remainder of our lifetimes. And yet, it’s the personal poignance, as it seems to be with most every important band (Ani DiFranco certainly comes to mind) that overrides the political upheaval and potential tumult at the end of the day. We can raise our fists to “Futon Revolutionist”, but people probably relate more closely to the bipolar maturation of “Aside”. We can hum along to “Pamphleteer”, but there’s a reason “Left and Leaving” gets played every night and that one only once. The compelling nature of internal emotional struggle has got to be at the heart of why the two songs ghostwritten by Virtute the Cat get the loudest cheers, why “None of the Above” resonates so deeply, why we all feel heartened by “Reconstruction Site”.

This review is probably meaningless to anyone who doesn’t know the Weakerthans, but that’s probably true of every concert review and doubly important because you should get to know the Weakerthans. John K. batted away catcalled questions about the next album date and even concert date and his upcoming solo release next month portends the possible demise of an indy set that’s only released four albums in a decade and a half and sort of missed their every-three-years pacing deadline in the year before the one about to die shortly. John K. looks forever young, like the man who introduced him to me, but his supporting cast wears their facial hair a little hangdog and seems like the comforts of Canadian homefires might start to outweigh New York nights, no matter how much the bassist sweats while he rocks out.

John K. admonished us to go to bookstores. It’s the only place we’d be able to find him if he hadn’t somehow tried to teach himself to sing. I’m not sure my catchphrase “All the Poets Became Rock Stars” applies better to anyone else.

7 December – Fallow Show
Illustrated Bible Stories for Children
Diagnosis
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
None of the Above
Letter of Resignation
Leash
Wellington’s Wednesdays
The Last Last One
Greatest Hits Collection
Sounds Familiar
Anchorless
Fallow
Tournament of Hearts
Sun in an Empty Room
[Anne of Green Gables song]
Reconstruction Site
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
Aside
Left and Leaving

One Great City!
Bigfoot!
The Reasons
Watermark

8 December – Left and Leaving Show
Everything Must Go!
Aside
Watermark
Pamphleteer
This is a Fire Door Never Leave Open
Without Mythologies
Left and Leaving
Elegy for Elsabet
History to the Defeated
Exiles Among You
My Favourite Chords
Slips and Tangles
One Great City!
Our Retired Explorer
Civil Twilight
Letter of Resignation
None of the Above

Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute

9 December – Reconstruction Site Show
Manifest
The Reasons
Reconstruction Site
Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
Our Retired Explorer
Time’s Arrow
Hospital Vespers
Uncorrected Proofs
A New Name for Everything
One Great City!
Benediction
The Prescience of Dawn
Past Due
Everything Must Go!
Aside
[Anne of Green Gables song]
Greatest Hits Collection
Tournament of Hearts
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure

Left and Leaving
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
Night Windows

10 December – Reunion Tour Show
Civil Twilight
Hymn of the Medical Oddity
Relative Surplus Value
Tournament of Hearts
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure
Elegy for Gump Worsley
Sun in an Empty Room
Night Windows
Bigfoot!
Reunion Tour
Utilities
One Great City!
Watermark
Reconstruction Site
Our Retired Explorer
Wellington’s Wednesdays
Left and Leaving
Without Mythologies

Aside
None of the Above
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
Manifest