Billed as the “Four & More” tour, Winnipeg’s The Weakerthans set up residency at the Independent for a sold-out four-night stretch of dates, each a celebration of a different full length from their modestly-sized but venerable discography. The album show, if it is common enough to be known as such, is a peculiar kind of palimpsest. Original, recorded material is inevitably written over with individual experience and sentiment. At a typical show, however, songs range across the entire breadth of an artist’s catalogue, usually with an emphasis on the more recent, and the listener’s connections to the music range similarly. By playing material from a single album – particularly an older, much beloved one – an album show evokes a more cohesive set of associations, saturating the listener in a specific and concentrated nostalgia made only more intense by the urgency and immediacy of the live setting.
For their part, The Weakerthans seemed to understand the crowd’s reverence for their sophomore effort, 2000’s Left and Leaving, and largely recreated it. They hardly spoke between songs and remained faithful to the original arrangements save a few minor exceptions: the rarely performed “Without Mythologies” had a new, buzzing warmth; the title track was slower and more deliberate; and the end of “Pamphleteer” featured a lovely pedal steel, a change incorporated years ago. When someone from the crowd let out a yell at the mention of Slayer in the quiet wreckage of “History to the Defeated,” John K. Samson’s eyes remained closed, but he couldn’t help a smile in acknowledgement as he pressed on with the rest of the verse. The only time the band truly broke the spell of the album experience was when Samson stumbled on the words to “Exiles Among You,” the crowd rolling along in unison without him until he stopped the song to try again. Afterward, he bashfully handed someone in the front row five Canadian dollars “for forgetting the words.” For a moment, the show felt like a dialogue between artist and audience rather than a liturgy received by the faithful.
After bringing Left and Leaving to its close, The Weakerthans performed another handful of songs, the “More” of “Four & More,” that drew from all three of their other full lengths. And though this part of the night restored an element of spontaneity and surprise, the songs were still familiar. The band’s output, never wild and incessant to begin with, has gradually slowed from a stream to a trickle. They haven’t released any new material since 2007, and this engagement didn’t feature any. Instead, the Weakerthans closed their encore with their unlikeliest hit, “A Plea From a Cat Named Virtue.” Sung from the point of view of a cat urging its owner out of complacency, it builds from a chugging, pedestrian beginning to a triumphant close – perhaps a reminder that a Five & More tour still remains a possibility.