the dawn of a q era

It was, CBC Radio never tired of telling us in recent weeks, a landmark moment.

Monday, the network’s troubled program Q was reborn. As q.

It’s a subtle distinction, but suffice it to say this version of the network’s money-maker is less violent and more respectful towards women. Not respectful enough to hire one as host. But damn if that Shad isn’t likable. And, it turns out, a decent interviewer. I suggested in a previous post that the show should have died with the its former host’s career. However, Shad’s debut suggests there may be life left in the humbled hipster haven.

(Incidentally, I recently contacted the show formerly known as Q to ask, innocently of course, whether as creator — sorry, co-creator — the show’s disgraced former host still receives money from the network. No one was available to provide an answer. Or, at least, no answer was forthcoming. Over to you, Canadaland.)

And based on Monday’s return, the small-letter program is remarkably similar to the capitalized program listeners dare not speak of. Elvira Kurt is still there, and still not funny. The sports panel was on hand as per usual, to celebrate the NHL playoffs by discussing basketball and football. (Edgy, doncha know. Also, a reminder that with the Leafs not in the playoffs, no one in Toronto wants to talk hockey.) Damian Abraham, frontman for the band known to Q/q listeners as F’ed Up (though in fact called Fucked Up), was also back, to misremember the name of a Neil Young classic before talking (with Shad’s help) over another.

(Abraham’s segment showed potential. Perhaps the televised version of the show can feature the pair presenting a vintage film while standing in front of the screen.)

The decision to keep the show that will forever be linked to its violent past, remains a curious one. After all, how hard would it be to replace Q/q with a new show that features interviews, discussions and live performances? In the spirit of the show that took its name from a UK music magazine, they could call it The Face, or Melody Maker, or something.

But hey, we’ll settle for lowering the case. And raising the tone.

With a new theme, no less.

No longer will we be treated to that bastardized version of Spanish Bombs at the show’s outset. The new q theme is by no less an artist than Bahamas, which ain’t nothing. Small wonder, then, that the first few minutes of Monday’s show concentrated on a discussion about the show’s first few minutes… if you follow me.

It was, despite itself, a promising introduction to what was, overall, an excellent show.

It was also a regular laughfest, based on the live studio audience’s response. They laughed at a comment that the NFL “has so many problems right now.” They laughed at guest Marc Maron‘s story of learning what empathy means. they laughed at the term “Venn diagram.” They laughed at Chopin. They laughed at the word “pianist.” (Okay, that one I get.) And if no one present was laughing during Tanya Tagaq’s extraordinary improvised 15-minute performance, it was merely out of complete confusion over what the heck was going on. Or, perhaps a sense that, whatever it was, it was not ironic.

“Wow!” Shad exclaimed during Tagaq’s piece, which chanelled aboriginal elders even as it echoed the early recordings of Yoko Ono. (That is a compliment. Yoko’s first solo album is a contender for the greatest punk record ever made.)

“Wow!” Shad again said after the piece had ended, adding apologetically, “I wasn’t supposed to say ‘Wow’ the first time when I said ‘Wow!'” First morning jitters, perhaps. Or a missed cue.

But back to the laughter. “Everything’s funny with a microphone,” Shad noted after wondering aloud why the audience had guffawed over an attempted segue. (Everything? See Elvira Kurt comment, above.)

So the show was not without its highlights. Tagaq further gave the show an edge by uttering the phrase, “Oh shit, that’s intense!” She apologized, but Shad assured her and the audience profanity is “totally fine by me.” Unless, that is, it’s in the name of Damian Abraham’s band.

The always interesting Chilly Gonzales provided another high point, as he spoke of musical melanges and the place of the string quartet in pop music (illustrated for listeners via a few bars of Eleanor Rigby — a song which, Beatles fans will tell you, features not a quartet but an octet). Shad noted he’d never heard pop-culture references in a pop song prior to Miley Cyrus’s Party in the U.S.A. That, in itself, raised a few questions. But, again, it was his first day.

And it was exciting. But then, we’d been assured it would be. Like, oh I don’t know, remember when the CFL expanded to include American cities? It was that sort of excitement. May the semi-disgraced show fare at least as well as those teams. (One of which won the Grey Cup, doncha know.)

A more engaging and less smarmy host. A disarming musical performance or two. Some lively discussion. For radio, it’s hardly a new concept. But for q, it is genuinely refreshing.

Heck, we even learned something: it’s all over for hockey in Canada. And let’s face it, if anyone knows about falling out of favour, it is the cast and crew of Q, er, q.

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