|Reviewer: Nathan Atnikov|
John K. Samson has got to be one of the most low maintenance rock stars in Canadian history. In jeans and sneakers, he milled about the stage of the Palomino for about 10 minutes before his set started—staring at the ground, pacing, casually plucking at a guitar. When it was time to start, he sauntered to the front and greeted the audience with a meek, “Hello”. And then from the first note until the end of the show, he was in complete control. Opening with the heart-wrenching Winnipeg love song “One Great City!”, Samson never lets up on his Canadian-ness, including songs about Highway 1 and hockey players Gump Worsley and Reggie Leach.
Samson has long been praised as one of Canada’s finest lyricists, and a low-key backing band helps that aspect of his songwriting shine through. Not only are the songs smart and sophisticated, they’re also catchy and relatable—a tough trick to pull off. He can take songs about curling or driving a bus and transform them into ideas that feel much bigger. His intelligence would make a lesser performer difficult to connect with, but Samson’s presence has a warmth to it.
The Palomino crowd hung on every note, including almost the entirety of this year’s solo effort, Provincial. And any time you can get an entire audience to sing along to a song called “Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure,” you know you’re doing something right.