A Buffalo, N.Y., man has completed a “musical pilgrimage” to Winnipeg to take in a series of shows by local punk rock band Propagandhi and see firsthand several of the locations that inspired some of the group’s songs.
Greg Soden says the band’s music, which is heavily influenced by political and social issues, has had an enormous impact on him, and he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see them perform on home turf.
“They’re more than a band to me,” Soden says.
“They are a civics lesson, they are a history lesson, they are curriculum and pedagogy, and they contain some of the most important and remarkable life lessons that I’ve ever really been able to internalize about First Nations land reclamation rights, gender and sexuality, war, (and) genocide.”
Soden was in town to take in not one, but all three Propagandhi shows at The Park Theatre over the Thanksgiving long weekend. During the day, he left tracks across Winnipeg, visiting several sites he’s heard referenced many times but never before seen with his own eyes.
“The most powerful one for me so far has been the Truth and Reconciliation site at the Manitoba legislature, where the statue was toppled and the hand prints are all over the plinth,” Soden says.
“The Golden Boy on top of the legislature is listed in the ‘One Great City!’ song, and the legislature appears on the back of the CD version of Less Talk, More Rock, which is probably one of the most influential Propagandhi records that there is. So that was a really powerful site to see.”
His tour also took him to the Royal Albert Arms, several former jam spaces, the corner of Palmerston Avenue and Ruby Street in Wolseley, a handful of spots in the Exchange District, and the site of former murals on West Broadway.
In a meta-twist, Soden says the trip itself was inspired by a Propagandhi song called The Banger’s Embrace, which describes a “musical pilgrimage” a few of the band members took to Toronto.
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A full-time teacher, Soden has managed to carve out “20-plus hours a week” to produce a podcast, Unscripted Moments: A Podcast About Propagandhi, dedicated to unraveling the band’s lyrics.
He describes it as a “sanity project” he and his co-host from Indiana started in the early months of the pandemic.
“We knew that it would keep our brains churning. Like, we wouldn’t be bogged down by depression and sadness of the lockdowns. So it gave us a purpose to move forward with our lives each week in a creative way,” Soden says.
Dissecting the lyrics to 62 different songs over the course of a year-and-a-half is a large task in itself, but especially so when the themes involve such historic topics as the Oka Crisis or genocide in East Timor.
“We have to spend weeks researching in order to talk about it in an intelligible and coherent manner that doesn’t brush over parts of the story, and honours what the band is trying to convey,” Soden says.
“So there’s a tremendous amount of research that has to go into doing a show like this that Keith and I, my co-host, we take extremely seriously, and we don’t take for granted what we’re doing.”
Soden admits there’s considerable pressure when picking apart someone’s life work, but the reception from listeners and fans, as well as the band members themselves, has been positive.
“The fact that the band knows what we’re doing and have all appeared on the show as guests – we’ve talked to pretty much every member except one, past and present, which is pretty fantastic,” Soden says.
“I’m so grateful that they have respect for what we’re doing. They’ve said that they appreciate it, (and) that they see the hard work that we’ve put in.
“I’ve become friends with one member of the band. Sulynn and I, I would consider us actual real friends, like we hung out today and it was a great time.”
The entire experience, Soden says, has exceeded his expectations.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to come and see this fabulous city that has been such a central theme to the podcast,” Soden says.
“Now I have like … first-hand experience of walking the streets and internalizing the mood of the city and I’ve loved every second of it.”
The Park Theatre Reopens
This weekend’s Propagandhi shows marked the grand reopening of The Park Theatre, which was closed for several months for some major renovations.
The two biggest changes were removing a wall that separated the lobby from the concert area and making the whole building more wheelchair accessible.
“It’s very exciting. A bit nerve-wracking,” says Cory Thomas, a talent buyer with the venue, describing how it feels to finally be hosting shows again.
“I mean, we’re not out of the pandemic yet, so the shows are still a bit different … like the whole crowd is masked, so there’s still some different aspects to it, but it’s still amazing to be back and doing this.”