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Punk Rock, Cancer and Comedy: A strange but great night with Kathleen McGee and Chixdiggit

By Chris Vasseur

Photos by Tracy Creighton (Copperblue Photography & Design)

We had followed the band around all day. They were doing the first of many pub crawls. We had forgotten to buy tickets so we just followed along from pub to pub, ending our night at the legendary Night Gallery, one of Calgary’s best bars for punk rock. But that was 1997.

Here I am at another legendary club in the making, The Capitol, and Chixdiggit is again going to take the stage. Different city, different era. Equally excited. It's November 25th and I've been looking forward to this show for a long time now.

First on the bill though is Kathleen McGee, an Alberta based comedian that has had a pretty successful career so far. She’s been on CBC’s The Debaters among other prestigious stages and events. The last few years have been a bit rougher though as she is currently in the midst of a battle with stage four colon cancer. Tonight’s show is called “The Bucket List” tour. McGee is crossing things off her list and tonight’s list item is playing a show with a legendary punk band: the one and only Chixdiggit.

I’m fairly excited for this one and it’s my last piece before a break till new year so I’m going to try something a bit different. I'm going to rely on my terrible memory and Tracy Creighton's amazing pictures to tell the tale of tonight. Usually I try to take you, the reader, along for the ride as it’s happening. Tonight, I’m creating a personal memory. This night, I’m going to put the phone down and enjoy the show. I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.

It's now Monday morning and I'm still a bit hazy. Though I'm sure I had a great time?

Well, other than consuming one or two more delicious beers than I needed, it was a pretty great show with very high emotional content.

The evening's performance started with the very funny Dakota Ray Hebert who has been absolutely killing it in comedy lately. Blue comedy was the name of the game tonight and Hebert's set was no different. Performing material from her recent release, I'll Give You An Indian Act, Hebert had the crowd in stitches shortly after beginning.

In this past year, she has also starred in the CBC sitcom Shelved, hosted an art show of original artwork and performed across the country for Just For Laughs. She was on Q with the great Tom Power recently too. Pretty great year for this self described Dene “Trailer Treasure” from English River First Nation on Treaty 10 territory (though she currently resides in Treaty Six).

Next up was headliner and champion of this very special night, Kathleen McGee. McGee is no slouch to the comedy scene in this country either. Her 2019 Winnipeg Comedy Festival Set was nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award. She has been on Just For Laughs , released the very funny comedy record, Deliciously Vulgar and, in 2017, she was a finalist in the SiriusXM competition, Canada's Top Comic. She's also appeared on CBC’s The Debaters and has hosted a number of podcasts. Impressive resume to be sure.

It's strange for a music guy to cover a comedy show. I can't really comment on the performance, though it was great… there were no instruments to critique. I don't want to retell her jokes as I think you need to hear her high pitched voice and adorable demeanor for yourself. Let me say that it was slightly offensive but terribly funny. She worked the crowd expertly and had the entire room completely engaged even when her set drifted to the giant elephant in the room, her stage four colon cancer diagnosis. Did she let that bum us out? Hell no, this amazing person owned it and laughed in its face. Later in the night she came back out and did something so damned cool, I will be thinking about it for the rest of my days. But, I'll tell you more about that later.

After she inspired the crowd with dark and ridiculous observations, including a cocaine snorting turtle, she welcomed the last act of the evening to the stage. The greatest punk band of all time from Calgary, Chixdiggit.

I have loved this band since I first heard them in the nineties. Back in high school, we used to pile into an old VW van and head up the number four from Swift Current for all ages punk rock shows at the university.

We got to see such legendary groups as SNFU, The Smalls and, of course, Chixdiggit. Alberta had a really great scene in the 1990's if you were a punk fan and they were happy to share with their Eastern cousins.

This time though, tonight, I drove down in my minivan; a bit less punk rock but still enthusiastic. Part of me wonders if there will be a mosh pit or if my fellow Gen Xers are even capable of that without throwing our backs out. There wasn't. We aren't.

KJ Jansen and crew come on stage and jump right into it. “Dolphins Love Kids” is a great tune that starts off their 1996 self-titled SUB POP album - the first of five studio albums they released over their tenure. The band has got to be in their 50’s now but you wouldn't be able to tell from their adolescent soaked lyrics. This is and always has been, a very fun band to see live.

KJ Jansen tells the packed room that the next one is a love song. Something I remember him saying often back in the day before they jumped into another headbanging rocker.

They play fan favourite “I Wanna Hump You “ next. The show is a greatest hits masterclass of a band that never hit it too huge but I'm very glad they are still making music and playing together even though the line-up has shifted over the years a bit.

I recognise (and scream along) to almost every single damn tune they play. I'm in a time trance and my mind keeps travelling back to the nineties. It's a happy place.

Before the show, I walk up to the merch booth where Jansen (he founded these Chix) is setting up and say hello and introduce myself. He thanked me for the promo piece that NSMZ published last week and I’m pretty blown away that they read it. Goes to show our little zine is getting attention across our borders. I buy a tee shirt with the famous logo sketched across the chest and I'm floating back to my seat.

They close the show out by playing requests from the audience. I yell out “Hemp Hemp Hooray”, though I'm pretty sure they already played it.

During their last song, Kathleen McGee comes out and has one of the band members shave her head as she is about to start chemo treatments next week. But it's not sad, it's a power move.

Freshly shorn, McGee takes a microphone and sings and dances her heart out on stage with her favourite band. It's an amazing show of bravery and humanity. I'm inspired as hell by this powerful woman and I'm very thankful she brought her friends and her show to our small city.

I love Chixdiggit and now I love Kathleen McGee too. It's almost impossible not to. She has a wonderful vibe and is truly a Canadian inspiration.

Near the end of the show, Jansen does his trademark “Let's hear it for….” line, another thing I remember from the nineties shows. This band always goes out of their way to make you feel good and often calls out crowd members in this manner. “Let's hear it for the guy in the red shirt”, and so on.

He asks if anyone was at their last show here at Amigos. A single hand goes up and Jansen says “Let's hear it for Tracy!!” As in, Tracy Creighton….. the super talented picture taking NSMZ cohort for the evening.

Yup, we're all music nerds around these parts. Just like your Mom. That's a Chixdiggit joke for all those in the know. See you next year.

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