Queer Love in Rae Spoonfuls

Rae Spoon

If you’ve seen Chelsea McMullan’s 2013 documentary My Prairie Home, you’ve heard Calgary musician and author Rae Spoon describe coming of age as queer in an evangelical Christian family. Now, having found acceptance within himself and from those around him as transgender, he aims to spread understanding, acceptance and love of and between queer individuals across the world. Spoon’s latest tour took him all over Canada, from the Maritimes to Quebec to Whitehorse and now all the way to his final destination, Vancouver, where he met transgender people for the first time.

The heavily ad-libbed country singalong “A Message from the Queer Trans Prairie Tourism Code” was just one of many polemics against the conservative government’s – specifically Alberta’s – anti-queer policies. “His name is Rob Anders,” Spoon said, referencing Calgary West’s MP when introducing “A Message”. Anders’ name alone drew one particularly pained, ireful “UGH!” from somewhere in the audience.

Although Spoon performed mostly solo or with a drummer, omitting many of the brass, string and wind instruments that appear on his records, he soon got experimental with what he jokingly called his “German electronic” songs. “Are You Jealous of the Dead” demonstrated just how much he had programmed on his laptop: a sputtering “budda bup-bup, budda bup-bup” drumbeat, bass and other misty digitized effects.

Usually, it takes more than one person to start a dance party – but sometimes, not much more. When the electronics peaked on “Shame On Us”, several people dashed into the front row and let loose. Although most people had been sitting on the floor up until that point (for the first time I ever saw at The Rickshaw), the fun was too much for them to just watch; they had to rise to their feet and join the jamboree – or they were tired of having asses shaken in their faces. “Ocean Blue” was such confectionary indie pop that Spoon effortlessly encouraged the entire audience to fist-pump (however, “I Will Be a Wall” was still my favourite of his pop songs).

About his “grunge” song (possibly “Snake in the Water”), Spoon jokingly said, “I’m very angry, as you can tell. I have a lot of unchecked emotions.” This was just a morsel of Spoon’s humorous asides that kept the mood communal all night.

Even lovers of post-punk and raw guitars could find something to enjoy in Rae Spoon. “London Destroyer” hydroplaned over hyper-danceable synth-pop filled with splats of electronic percussion and veered towards toothy guitars and vocals plunged into a depth that could have swallowed the entire theatre. “Love Is a Hunter” best displayed his single-guitar overlaying that I loved so much, with drummer Joy Mullen’s sticks (possibly toms, too, though I couldn’t tell from my seat) having tapped and lightly rolled over her skins and cymbals – just enough punch for indie folk-pop.

As 11 p.m. unfortunately rolled around, The Kingsgate Chorus, one of the night’s openers, joined Spoon to perform “Come On Forest Fire Burn the Disco Down”. After their indie-rockified version (the first time they’d played the song together), the fleet of singers left Spoon to perform his only encore, “Crash Landing”.

Stripping down already quite bare songs and then dressing back up with a full choir, jumping between several styles from start to finish, there was an element of identity play to Rae’s performance. But his sexual identity doesn’t just play, it challenges; unfortunately, there is bigotry left to challenge. “It’s like you’re gambling, so I’m going to gamble an eternity of Hell,” Spoon says about coming out in My Prairie Home. I never try speaking for someone else, but I will say, if I was Spoon, a reception like the one he received at The Rickshaw would make all the gambling worth the risks.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu