Super Mario's Banjo
Five Winnipeg musicians blend Tom Waits and Nintendo
by Emmet Matheson
Even though the F-Holes' second album, Angel in the Corner, won't be released until four days before the Winnipeg five-piece's Regina gig, the material is already road-weathered and the band is highly tuned after a three-week tour of Eastern Canada earlier this summer.
Regina is the first stop on the band's Western Canadian tour, which will take the rootsy Dixieland combo to some places a lot of bands overlook, like Enderby, BC and Twin Butte, AB. Chalk that up to the long drives between major centres in the west.
"If you're going to be out there, you might as well be playing," says F-Holes singer and bassist Patrick Alexandre. "We've been out west quite a few times, so we know which places work for us. Sometimes it's just a little bookstore that fits 18 people and other times it's a very large venue that fits 300.
"We probably won't get 300 people in a town that's not Winnipeg, but we're working on it."
Since their beginnings in 2004, the F-Holes have built a following for their raucous but well-honed live show. The band launched during a year-long residency at the Winnipeg club Hooligans (now The Standard) which allowed the group to develop and refine their sound in front of an audience week by week.
"It's not like we sat and said, 'Wouldn't it be cool to have a banjo and a trumpet in the same band?' Not that that's weird in any way," says Alexandre. "It was just that Eric [Lemoine] started playing the banjo, so now we have that in the band. We've got James McKee, who was a really close friend of everybody in the band and he plays trumpet, so I guess we've got a trumpet in the band now."
Rounding out the F-Holes' lineup is Blake Thompson on guitar and saxophone and Evan Friesen on drums.
During their residency and subsequent touring, the band has mastered the art of working an audience. They've built up a repertoire beyond their original compositions that ranges from the Tom Waits number "Jockey Full of Bourbon" to the theme from Nintendo video game Super Mario Brothers 2.
"If you scare somebody off with the Tom Waits song, and they're getting ready to pack it in and go, and then you start off with a very happy sounding Mario 2 song that even the most jaded hipster can't help but like," says Alexandre, "It's like fishing a little bit; you gotta let it go a bit and then pull it in. We try to craft our sets that way. In small-town Alberta we might follow up a more Dixieland song that they're not really used to with a Johnny Cash song or something."