It’s fitting that Old Man Luedecke (recording name of Chris Luedecke of Chester, N.S.) is going to be playing the Civic Theatre this coming March. Both performer and venue are hip, snappy throwbacks, entities more interested in community than flash. Both are loyal fans of their art forms, yet aren’t afraid to update, innovate, and push the boundaries of what they’re expected do.
It’s also probably fitting that I’m coming to write this review more than a year after Old Man Luedecke’s latest album, Tender is the Night, even came out. It’s easy to see the craft that Luedecke puts into his work, so maybe it would be imprudent to crank out kneejerk opinions without letting his banjotastic tunes really have time plant their roots.
Old Man Luedecke – Tender is the Night
I expect that Chris Luedecke gave himself his recording moniker to avoid growing out of an embarrassing name. Like, Lil’ Bow Wow (now known as strictly Bow Wow), Young Jeezy (now, um, arrested for child abuse) or Boy George (ok, still killin’ it). Because he’s not old, yet he completely inhabits the name. This is old-hearted music played youthfully, by a youthful man disguised as old.
One of the most fascinating elements of Tender is the Night, and all of Luedecke’s output in general, is the way that he is able to create completely anachronistic music. These are songs without a distinct place in time, that weave together traditional forms, contemporary allusions, modern living, and classic metaphors. Yet for all their time jumping, they seem always relevant. “A&W Song” is a rootsy, field-folk ditty, with an instrumental track that you might expect the villagers in Nic Cage’s The Wicker Man to be dancing to (before they pour bees on his face, of course). But Luedecke sets the tune to a story of sitting in a fast food drive-thru too tipsy to enter in the correct PIN to pay for his hamburger.
He sets this next to songs that recreate biblical fables (in “Jonah and the Whale” Jonah is a labourer, the whale is Fort McMurray), pull lines from classic Lead Belly tunes (“Can’t Count Tears”) and reframe the classic homesick wanderer as a frustrated dude sitting in an airport (“Tender is the Night”). There’s even the earnest, dusted-off country tune, “Song for Ian Tyson” that pays tribute to one of Canada’s greats.
Where Luedecke once sang about these things mostly solo, just himself and his trusty banjo, Tender is the Night was recorded with a bigger backing band, giving the space around his banjo and voice a little bit of extra depth. He’s also going to, “be touring with a fuller sound that [he’s] quite excited about.”
If you haven’t seen him play live, for a man with a banjo and a stompin’ foot, he puts on one hell of a show. He’s charming, funny (mocking both Jack Johnson and Monsanto in one breath the last time I saw him at The Royal) and immensely gracious to his crowd. As I once heard somebody say, going to an Old Man Luedecke show is like seeing the Foo Fighters: there are so many songs that you know, but you didn’t know that you knew them.
Old Man Luedecke plays the Civic Theatre on Wednesday, March 12. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15, available in advance at The Music Store and online here.