Thursday, April 12, 2007

Maria Muldaur
Naughty, Bawdy and Blue Tour
Hugh's Room Toronto ON
May 8-9, 2007

Maria Muldaur was a shooting star in the paradise that was Top 40 Radio back in the early '70s. Her cross-over hit, Midnight At The Oasis, was an infectious jazz-infused, aural treat every time it came across the airwaves.

You're 15 minutes are up, thank you very much.

But, wait, there's more. Over the years she's kept producing music, with long pauses between incarnations.

More recently she's been visible through a couple of Bob Dylan projects. Her interview in Scorcese's No Direction Home was second only to Joan Baez' for being interesting and informative without being exclusionary. In 2006 she released an album of Dylan songs, called Heart of Mine.

This year she's touring a blues romp as she continues to interpret her roots and the roots of rock. The new album Naughty, Bawdy and Blue, is a tribute to classic female blues singers of the 1920's - 1940's, including Victoria Spivey, Ma Rainey and the incomparable Bessie Smith.

Come back next week for a full concert review.

Maria's myspace Page

Anjani Thomas
in a Leonard Cohen Presents
2 Night Stand at The Drake
April 25-26,2007

Anjani Thomas was in Toronto this past week for two shows at the cozy Drake Hotel. She's touring the recently released Leonard Cohen collaboration, Blue Alert.

This showcase launched in Europe back in March with some radio promos and live showcases. I was more than pleased to see Leonard sit in on a couple songs with her at a Warsaw record release promo and thought that was reason enough to get tickets for both nights in Toronto. He introduced her at a couple club shows. It's since been reported that Leonard, who usually sits in a 'Zen-like trance'when she sings, will not be in Toronto. I'm taking them on their word there but will keep a keen eye on the crowd.

The North American leg of this tour consists of only 8 shows so far, I'm betting it will be as sweet as it is short.

Anjani also has the distinction of launching a month of Toronto shows that will feature some classy and talented torch singers, from Maria Muldaur to Amy Winehouse and closing with Joan Armatrading. If fortune smiles they will be joined by a June date featuring Marianne Faithfull. All these women have talent and an edge. I think I'm going to enjoy this.

On the surface, Anjani is the least adventurous of those acts but she has one unique advantage...Cohen's words. Blue Alert is a collaborative effort, something more than Leonard-by-proxy but something less than Leonard. And to say that besmirches no one, you gotta climb a lot of steps in the Tower of Song to reach him, even if he's still looking up at Hank. She plays these songs pretty straight. A little jazzy-scat riff once in awhile, a bit of a diva reach for the high notes on occassion, but nothing that overwhelms the words. She really respects the emotion of the lyrics and you can tell by watching her that she pours all her energy into conveying them

Anjani has been an integral part of Cohen's act since she first signed on to do the backing vocals on Hallelujah in 1984. She's been an even more integral part of his life for most of the past decade as she and Cohen are...well, at the very least, friends-with-benefits. It's said that when Anjani sings Leonard sits front-and-center, enthralled. Well Leonard may have been born at night but it wasn't last night. I mean, how long can anybody sing in a given day? If I was 73 I'd sit enthralled in front of this 48 year old songstress and think it was a small price to pay for her company. Even if she couldn't sing. But she can.

The Drake Hotel is an upscale establishment on the western outskirts of Toronto's alt-club mecca, the Queen St West Strip. On his end of the neighbourhood there's a whole slew of less dangerous lounge-type bars for the more chronologically-challenged. Prime among those, the Gladstone, a Rolling Stones themed bar and the Cadillac Lounge. In the same league, The Drake. If it weren't for gentrification we boomers would have nowhere to drink.

The Underground Room holds about 200 people. Bench seats and fold out chairs provide a comfortable environment for an hour of soothing jazz stylings. Too bad we had to sit for an hour and a half before the start of the show. It'll be better tomorrow, I'll drink more, sit less. Wine glasses out numbered beer and liqour glasses combined. Broken wine glasses tied broken beer bottles, 1-1. Maybe I won't drink more, there's people here who have that under control.

So we await the arrival of the engenue, Anjani. Oh right, forgot to mention. The emphasis in on the last syllable. Read that sentence again and see how it sounds now.
That kind of pretentiousness is just perfect for this chandeliered basement room. There was a day it would have been a smoky, hazy, hole-in-the-wall but we're past that now. The disco ball looks a little out of place.

Any sense that we're putting on airs is immediately quelled when the very personable performer lights on stage with a 'girl-next-door-aw-shucks' appreciation for all the attention. Most photo's we see of her online are glamour shots. The moving version of Anjani is much more accessible, more magnetic, doesn't look like she'll break if you touch her.

She's backed by a four-man band and a female backup singer. Every one of them has their damper on. The music is soft, the vocals are soft, almost whispered, most every song. And no one is in a hurry to get to the end of the tune, each one drifts. Her voice is the vehicle that transports you along this emotive river of life. Or at least, that's how it's supposed to come off. As Blue Alert is a 'mood' record, this atmosphere works very well. It would have been nice to see more of the pace displayed in the lone non-album cover this evening, The Gypsy's Wife, but it's not my show to arrange, just to watch.

The show opens with a vow, No One After You. A story about how love can be revealed to even the most experienced practioner well after you think you've mastered all the gadgets.

That vow is juxtaposed with a peek through the Innermost Door to view final moment of another relationship. One where memory is the last tangible asset, where the starting comes after the parting.

Anjani, who has been standing center stage with a hand mic for the opening numbers, moves to the piano to deliver a Blue Alert, a sensory assault on the mind. A vivid word-picture of the power of passion and how wanting something can be an emotional minefield. There's perfume burning, shrapnel flying, soldiers hitting the dirt, bits of beauty everywhere, a woman telling you no and somebody bleeding from the lip.

And that's only the first verse.
It's woman as supreme being. Be careful what you wish for, you may not be able to handle it.

The Golden Gate is a travelogue of sorts, a descriptive narrative of the streets of San Francisco. A little lighter fare to ease the angst.

On the Leonard front she said he'd been with her in Europe and in New York on Tuesday but had grown tired and decided to go home to Montreal rather than come to Toronto. A shame, it would have been cool just to have him do the introduction

Half the Perfect World sounds like it could be a biographical account of the beginning of Leonard and Anjani's relationship. The woman in question was in her 30's when they met, already self-sufficient, already experienced. It's like a gender-mirror of Suzanne as the author finds himself serving her tea. It's really about two perfect worlds, equal halfs, finding themselves at the right time. Neither has a need that would weigh down the coupling, having found themselves at a time when they are weightless and transparent. At a time when 'no counting had begun'. There's a lot packed into a very few words and there's no mistaking the joy Anjani gets from singing this song with images of sex under mosquito netting where the giving and getting is shameless and reciprocal.

That is one raunchy song and even the 'blouse all undone' in Crazy To Love You, doesn't come close to the same heat level.

Band introduction to let the audience cool down. It's getting steamy in here. Actually we're past steamy to sweaty hot. The chlorine dripping from the ceiling pipes kind of gives the room an overall locker-room scent. Tomorrow I'm sitting on the left side.

The Gypsy's Wife is about as close to 'rocking' as we're going to get tonight as we take a brief break from the performance of the complete Blue Alert album.

Never Got To Love You is a song about the regret left behind when opportunity knocks and you're busy elsewhere. It's about pining for the time you could have put to better use. The moments you could have told her the things that would make sure she'd never leave. What I can't tell is if that time covered an entire relationship or a single night at a sky resort in Quebec. Having done a name-check during this song for the town of St Jovite, she tells us that Leonard warned her never to go there, she wouldn't like it. Of course she'd already asked the audience if any one had been there and a half dozen excited fans pumped their hands. She counted only two of them. When asked why Leonard would say that she found herself back-tracking and mumbled something about him not being 'that kind of bar guy', or something to that effect.

The lilting Thanks for the Dance, somewhat reminiscent of Take This Waltz, swings back and forth in a call-and-response kind of way, presenting words and lines as a counter-weight to each other. It's a throwaway song about throwaway emotions. The nonchalance of the brush-off is the antithesis of the sentiment found in the song that preceeded it tonight.

For her first encore Anjani covers a second Cohen original, As the Mist Leaves No Scar then closes the show with a 'fare the well' solo piano version of Nightingale.
Before As The Mist Leaves No Scar she talked about Leonard having written that when he was 17. She compared it to the stuff she was writing at that age and was humbled.

All in all a very enjoyable and successful Canadian debut.

Visit Anjani's MySpace Page

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hank Pine & Lily Fawn
in the Hootenanny Revue
Starlight Lounge Waterloo ON

So ten of us pull up to a table at the Starlight Lounge for an evenings worth of well priced entertainment with the Hootenanny Review, a travelling minstrel show with some fine Canadian talent. It's the last night of the Revue, so it's too late for me to convince you to go out and see it. But it's not too late to catch the hightlight of the evening: Hank & Lily. More on that in a bit.

The Hootenanny is a roots based revue filled with mostly orignal material from a cast of, well if not thousands, 8. At least tonight. It seems the group morphs. Taking MC duties tonight, and this tour I believe, is the enticing babe in a sundress and docs, Carolyn Mark. Cute and edgy, how can you not like that? She also carried a heavy load in the show, closing the main set with a wonderfully sardonic song, Two Kinds of Women.

Luther Wright joined Carolyn on a handful of songs and presented a strong mini-set of his own throughout the night, covering Steve Goodman's If She Were You and blowing the house away with a raucous request rendition of I Got A Broken Fucking Heart.

Cape Breton star Jim Bryson had some moments, when the lethargy caused by the racoon ribs he had for dinner wasn't dragging him down. He played a bunch of instruments and did some leads, as did all performers. By the second set he seemed in a groove and delivered a crowd-pleasing I Wanna Go Home.

We had a song or two from other support artists, Joey Wright, a regular, and Andrew Vincent, a guest. Dan Whitely provided excellent mandolin support throughtout the evening and even took a turn on drums.

Glowing-diva-of-the-night award goes to the 'banging for two', effervescent, pleasantly plump, cute as a button, Jenny Whitely. This whole piece should have been about her, and would have been if it wasn't for the chances we have in the next week to track down Hank & Lily live. Jenny's gonna take a breather soon. Hope she comes back with a vengance 'cause she's got a voice that can't be beat and some great songs as well. Though I liked them all I'd sure like a reprise of Banjo Girl and When It Rains I Pour.

All this was absolutely worth the price of admission.

But we got substantially more.

Hank Pine & Lily Fawn are an interesting duo, to say the least. He's got a face like a mask, welding goggles, leather body suit with shark fins and metal gauntlets, with shit-stomping boots. OK, he dresses like my son. She's a pixie. OK, a pixie on acid. Little antlers and tats on the arms. All 'katebushy' with the vocals in an endearing way. It's an act that must be seen...but listening don't hurt either.

They got 5 songs between the two sets and displayed a capacity to enthrall that was due to a combination of elements from interesting lyrics, funky instruments (a gas can guitar and a saw), tap dancing skills, roboticized vocals reminiscent of the sound Jack White got from his copper mic this past year and chutzpah up the wazoo.

They open with something that feels like a post-apocalyptic walk through the forest where Red Riding Hood found her troubles. A spooky otherworldy feel to the song is peeled back to unveil a most hypnotic and unforgettable hook... "don't be afraid /(don't be afraid)/ until I tell you why you ought to be afraid." How something can be so soothing and ominous at once is beyond me.

The second song sees the fairy tale theme continue with an appearance by the 3 Little Pigs going to market. It might be called Pushed & Pulled. I don't quite get this one yet but I'll keep listening and watching until it sinks in.

Last song of the first mini-set is called North America, a place where it's in the soil, it's not in the blood. Another spooky tale of... (see above).

Lily opens the second mini-set with a love song, her first, and it's The thing, and what it does. It starts as a lament and explodes into a 'can-can' complete with a tap-dance break. Lily squeaks out some salacious lyrics during what might be called Love You Don't Know Me: "love has come out me / like sap down a tree..." and "though i have been warned of the birds and the bees/ i still want you when you sting me."

The set closes with a song that may be called Prison Song, an Orwellian cautionary tale about a NWO where everything is a crime and everyone is watching you. One slip and you'll be in the big grey building up on the hill. And not in a good way. The song comes complete with a new-age chain-gang audience-participation jungle-chant. (That's more hyphenated words than you'll see anywhere outside of a Quebec phone book.)

Look around their website for dates, more music and more info. I'm not sure yet what they are, but I'm pretty sure they're worth deciphering.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Dr Hook feat. Ray Sawyer
Johnny B Club Whitby ON

Johnny B's is a roadhouse bar just off Highway 401 a few miles east of Toronto. The only thing missing is the cage around the stage. It's in downtown Whitby, one of the bedroom communities that contain Toronto's urban sprawl. Everyone with a good union job or middle-management position in the '70's and '80's thought they were movin' on up as they left the big-bad-city for the 'burbs. Didn't quite work out that way as union jobs and middle-management positions are on the endangered species list. Whitby, if it ain't the place the mullet was born it is the place it went to die in the guise of a skullet.

Secondarily, if we're ever in need of a large supply of bleach to fight an offensive in a chemical war...I'm sure there are gallons of it in Whitby. More faux-blondes-per-capita than Hollywood. I would have asked one of the ladies why someone with lovely blonde hair like hers would die her roots black, but I thought better. In Whitby, when you insult a girl she calls her boyfriend he can hold her smokes and beer while she kicks your ass. Think of them as urban-hicks.

Which is why it's the perfect place for the likes of Dr Hook.

In an attempt not to be early for an event (a symptom of my OCD) we don't even leave home until 20 minutes after doors. Inside the cozy bar (capacity probably 200) I'm smilin' hard as I only have 20 minutes before show time...not to gruelling. Time for a quick Jack and coke...only to have them announce we have an opening act, ironically named Roadhouse. Eh, how bad can it be? A 45 minute set then the Dr will be on at 9 pm. Or so I thought. Sometime around 10:20 the band was wrapping up it's extensive 'opening' set. (FTR, it was only 10 minutes shorter than the main set.) Not bad for a garage cover band. Good song selection for this crowd of boomers. I remember The Letter, Stuck in the Middle With You, and a more than passable version of Billy Idol's White Wedding.

I'm standing at the soundboard for tonight's show, hoping I'm not too obvious with my rig. I did move into the crowd for a couple songs but the 'room noise' was pretty much the same drone no matter where you stood. With a crowd like this, out for a raucous good time on a Friday night, what you usually get is a lot of talking during the lesser known songs and sing-a-longs on the hits. By 11 pm, when the band takes the stage, many of the patrons are walking a couple step sideways for every one step forward. We got us a power-drinking crowd. But a well behaved one as there was no trouble to be seen...just a lot of happy, pudgy, dancers.

And it's no wonder because Ray Sawyer and his buddies deliver the goods. Everything from the raunciest to the sweetest that the late, great, Shel Silverstein could write up.

The show gets off with a swaying good start as the band opens with Walk Right In, an invitation to all to join in the fun. You Make My Pants Wanna Get Up and Dance ups the ante, escalating the movement from walking to dancing, and the crowd loosens their vocal chords for the first of many singalongs for the evening.

From the back, near the soundboard, the vocal mic seems a little too low in the mix. I recognized the chords to A Couple More Years before I could pick up the lyrics. First highlight of the evening, actually made the trip out here worthwhile all on it's own. This song was the only highlight of Dylan's Hearts of Fire movie in the late '80's. A terrific song, among the best Silverstein left us. Unfortunately this crowd is waiting for only one (1) ballad tonight so the conversation level remains at a steady hum. The song is not served well by the environment.

Unlike Freaker's Ball, which fits in just fine, thx. Dr Hook continues to balance the raucous with the melodic as the band blasts through the party song and counters with the sweet, if creepy, Only Sixteen.

The pattern continues as the salacious Get My Rocks Off is juxtaposed against the angst of When You're Love With A Beautiful Woman.

One more kick at the can with the humourous I Got Stoned And I Missed It (source of Afroman's hit, And Then I Got High) and the sweet thoughts of Sharing the Night Together.

The good Dr and the band then swing into the heart of the set as they punch through
The Millionaire, Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk and Queen of the Silver Dollar. The main set closes with more great comic-music in Everybody's Getting Big But Me and the anti-thesis to that complaint, fan favorite, Cover of the Rolling Stone

Well, that's almost all of what I came for. The night's late, a couple less familiar songs lead the encore and I'm happy to hear the smash hit Sylvia's Mother before I find the door.

Would have liked to have heard Ballad of Lucy Jordan, Makin' Natural and True Love...but that's a testament to how much this band has to bring. It ain't like it was before time ravaged all, and it wasn't just time ravaging the Dr, but it was an entertaining trip down memory lane and a celebration for the survivors.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Night At The Ren
Part 2
Mike Ford (formerly
of Moxy Fruvous)

The second set at the Ren featured the musical, and comedy, stylings of Mike Ford. This guy has grown from street-busking legend to the 21st Century's Gordon Lightfoot.

The first time I had a chance to talk to Mike he was just wrapping up his sixth song onstage at Massey Hall, back in 1992. Moxy Fruvous were opening for Bob Dylan during his two night stand. Fortunately I'd clued into the burgeoning new music scene in Toronto (Canada really) that featured artists like The Barenaked Ladies, The Waltons, The Rheostatics (they are still out and about) and the aforementioned, Moxy Fruvous. The thing about Canadian rock/pop that's different from American pop/pulp is...the artists up here are way too smart for their own good. Take a look at The Hip. I mean they are made for the American market...until they decifer the lyrics...what'd'ya mean? debunk an American myth? (This assessment does not apply to the Americans I have met personally, who are all liberals...well, liberals to me, in their own country they are considered commie-scum.) But I digress. Where were we? Right, talking to Mike Ford. Anyway, those radical Dylan fans were growing tired of having their notions challenged and were three songs into chanting "we want Bob", "we want Bob". Privately, in my section of Massey Hall, I was telling those around me those hecklers were nuts...they were missing what was going to be the best part of the evening. So after song 6 some open-minded-60's-type-Aquarius-7th Sun/Son-radical yells "Get off the stage!" From my seat in the balcony I yell back: "Nevermind that, sing another song." (I knew full well they were only 6/7ths through their massive repertoire and we were going to get the hilariously acerbic Gulf War Song next.) Someone from the Fru-crew; it mighta been the other guitar player who leads on King of Spain, it might have been the long-haired guy with the French name, it definitely wasn't the silent bass playing Murray Foster, but for purposes of this story and because the statutes of limitations on my memory have long run out, we're gonna say it was Mike Ford, shot back, "Thanks Dad." So it was I came to be introduced to him some 15 years as he's at The Ren in support of a couple New York friends.

Mike opens with the traditional barn-burner, Ain't No More Cane. Though I've heard him do this once before I must have been more impaired that evening because tonight, at the age of 50, I learned something new...another place Bob Dylan stole another song. This rendition includes the line "Said, Alberta why don't you let your hair hang down/ You let it hand right down until it touches the ground." Terrific chain gang song with plaintive wail and indignant, ney bombastic, proclamations. It's not a lament for a nation, but it's a decent lament.

The Seaway tells the story of miles on the interior seaway of the Great Lakes and the ports of call along the way. It honours those who take those jobs no one knows exists and are repaid by discovering a world few get to see.

Well warmed up and into his third Chocolate beer, Mike figures it's time to stretch it out a little and we get the manically fast chorus of Huge on the Luge. Think John Prine if he'd grown up north of the 49th. Try this, really fast: "He was huge on the luge/when his cheeks went rouge/no fluke with a touque/subzero subterfuge/look at grandpa cruise/like a demon on the booze/not a stooge like scrooge/really huge on the luge." Admit it, it feels good. That, my friends is Mike at only quarter-speed.

Playing to the Dylan-fans he knows are always in attendance when his friends Mike Skliar and Ken Ficara venture north from the 5 boroughs, the next tune we get tries to f*ck with our heads. As the opening chords ring you think, "alright, spanish harlem incident! Bob don't play this much nowadays." Then the words to I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine (Spanish Harlem Incident dub) pour out. Neat trick. I've seen Bob play one song and sing another. Just not on purpose.

Now when I said Mike is a 21st century Gordon Lightfoot that might have been a disservice...and not to Gordon Lightfoot. I speak only of the very Canadian, topical or historical, nature of the songs, I'm not speaking to anyone's talents, for that, I'm not qualified. The next four songs lead us on a wild ride through Canadian history, from the excellent Louis & Gabriel, to a song about American-born urbanist Jane Jacobs, on to the mythical Voyageurs and closing with an homage to the rebel, D'Arcy McGee...where I learned another thing!

Louis Riel pissed off a lot of people in Ontario. There's a lesson in there for the PQ somewhere. Mike places him squarely where he belongs in our pantheon: a man before his times...or at least a man out of time. I remember being conflicted about Riel in grade school. Seems he should be a hero...but he did some bad things. A tough call for those who write the text books. (For you Americans think of John Brown.) Riel, and his friend Gabriel Dumont, were complex men in a complex land. The story, as told here, is more interesting than anything i got outa school.

Jane Jacobs. What can I say? Bet she knew Scarborough was gonna suck long before they renovated the Town Center.

Les Voyageurs is a campfire song that would have fit well in an aquatic Blazing Saddles. Except I would do that to the horses.

The final song in this segment, really a showcase for Mike's Canada Needs You Vol. 1, is D'Arcy McGee, a tale of a rebel who sought to find his way in Canada when our nation was forming, and met his end on Sparks St. and the hands of some even more whacked-out rebels, allegedly, the Fenians (think Siin Fein in diapers). Now that's a little ironic as they once were friends. What I learned here was that D'Arcy was a poet and songwriter, a la Joe Hill. No wonder our students think Canadian history is boring...we're missing the chance to make it exciting.

The next portion takes us into Mike's Stars Shone On Toronto album...more or less.

The Great Hall gives props to the majestic Union Station from where you can board a train to all-points-Canada. As long as you're not going to Sault-Ste-Marie.

Saskatchewan, a minor song from the soon to be released Satellite Hot Stove album, gives about all the due owing to that flat piece of land. You can tell which songs you write for the wife and which ones you write for the boys.

Eco-song Tank is reminiscent of the zany energy of Moxy Fruvous, a gentle, or not so gentle, shot at those who need an SUV (tank) to take Brittany to braces and little Brandon to the bank."

And it's back to the Fruvous catalogue for Heat-Seeker Boy, a cautionary tale about the fickle finger of fame.

Next is the title song from Stars Shone on Toronto, a song about the Great Blackout of 2003. I do remember that night...but not like Mike relates it. I was scheduled to leave at 4:00 am in the morning to drive south to Pennsylvania for a Dylan concert at Bushkill. Leaving work that fateful afternoon I knew I needed gas and was not at all upset that power was temporarily out and the stations weren't pumping. We spent the night eating melting icecream, not unlike the song, but could not relax enough to get the 'back to the earth' feeling this song evokes. We should have one day each year where all the power, around the world, is shut off so we can see the firmament, turn of the Playstations " and live a little more like people way back when." Except for the hospitals.

From "Canada Needs You Volume 2" we get a song about the slaughter that was Vimy Ridge, the third largest gathering of Canadians on that fateful Easter weekend. Not sure of the title but I'll go with "Creeping Barrage".
Man, how many more of these songs are we gonna need to write if we haven't learned in almost a hundred years? I'm glad Phil Ochs ain't alive today...he couldn't take this state of affairs. A bit of the John Brown feel to this song...Dylan's John Brown, not the abolitionist one.

Next, a WORLD DEBUT, from the forthcoming Satellite Hot Stove, Open For Business (how I learned to love Thomas Daquino and Allan Gregg of Decima Research and stop worrying) (Macadorian Homesick Blues). Now I'm not an industry guy but I'd shorten that just a tad. This shit is too good. I can't post it here because this is gonna pay for Mike's grandkids university. It's another nimble word dance that Mike almost nails, then recovers nicely by repeating a verse he stumbled into at machine-gun speed. Do not miss this when it's released this summer.

Mike dives into the catalogue of the Arrogant Worms, Kingston comedy/song legends, for the hilarious We're Not Americans(?best guess). Well, hilarious if you're not an American. But what is an American? Aye, there's the rub.

Another song from the unreleased record, and it's nice of Mike to try them out on us because they sound great, Maurice, pays homage to the Rocket. I'm not big on hockey songs, not counting The Hockey Song and maybe Clear Track, Here Comes Shack and, ok, 50 Mission Cap...hey, do Canadians write songs about anything BUT hockey?

Mike takes one more run at vocal gymnastics with the meth-fueled I've Been Everywhere (Canadian Dub). OK, maybe meth has nothing to do with it but it's still a toe-tapping romp.

Show closes with another unreleased song, The Easter Gap, a song for Torontonians who stare out into the lake.

Great show. A ton of songs, a handful of debuts and more entertainment for the buck than we deserve.

Thanks to Randy at the Ren, Mike and Ken, Mike Ford and Mr MikeL Productions.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Night At The Renaissance
March 31, 2007
Part 1
Mike Skliar &
Ken Ficara

The Ren plays host to many local artists, keeping alive the spirit of the Greenwich Village coffeehouses of the late sixties...a spirit that is sorely missed these days. On occassion the owner, Randy, let's our friends from the fine city of New York take over the stage. Mike Skliar and Ken Ficara represent two of the five boroughs with grace and humour. They are a different breed, New Yorkers, but not to be feared. Mike dabbles in law during the sunlight hours and counters that dark-side by creating liberal-humourist pop songs in the vein of Ray Stevens. I'm not sure what Ken does for a 'day job', it's likely something between the Peace Corps and Greenpeace.

They are joined this evening by Mike Ford a founding member of Toronto's busking-legends, Moxy Fruvous. This guy oozes maple syrup. His first toy wasn't a teddy bear, it was a polar bear. Not a stuffed one either. Canadiana at it's most irreverant and entertaining.

Tonight's festivities are being captured by Mr MikeL Productions and we're hoping for a tight, energetic, one-hour DVD.

But first, three hours of song.

Mike Skliar opens with a rendition of a song Frank Sinatra put on the airwaves, The Coffee Song. And yes, they do have an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. And bio-fuels. It's the bio-fuels that's gonna get them in trouble.

Mike steps up to the mic to deliver The Mike Song, always a welcome inclusion. Besides Skliar and Ford, we have Mr MikeL, my son, and at least one other Mike in the audience. A light poke at parents' inclination to pick popular names for their children.

Ken Ficara's composition, Preserved Fish, a tale of a young Colonial-American child blessed with not-so-popular a name, gives us the other side of the child-naming dilemma. Straight from the hills of West Virginia...or some such hokey abode. For the names, I vote for Mike.

The Future laments the fact science hasn't quite kept up with science-fiction...and when it did, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. No jet-packs. No Jetsons. For all the things we have that save us time we still wonder where the time went. Still not sure if Ken's a cynic or a realist.

The next portion of the opening set has Mike doing a cover (Bob Dylan's Tryin' To Get To Heaven), a parody (the wonderful If You See Bob, Say Hello) and two original tunes, The Birthday Song and Orange is the New,Whatever. The latter song may be the only one written about the Christo Gates. If memory serves there have been plenty of 'birthday' songs, more than a few Dylan covers and one or two parody songs.

Mike invites his nephew, the young Eric Miller, to the stage to deliver a version of Neil Young's Heart of Gold. Eric has been slowly getting his stage legs, having played back-up guitar on previous outings. Tonight he's solo and taking a big step forward in his development. The audience at the Ren is always 'performer friendly' and they listen attentively and applaud appreciatively.

Mike closes his portion of the opening set with a Rev. Gary Davis tune, Death Don't Have No Mercy. A fitting segue into Ken's mini-set of roots music.

Ken's a bit of an aficiando of harmonica's of one sort and another. I couldn't tell you what kind they were but every toy brought a new sound. He opens with an original tune, a poke in the eye of carbon pigs, called Hummer. And while hummers may suck, it's not in a good way. It's a dystopia, he says. If I wasn't into my 4th Jack'nCoke of the night I'd give you a hyperlink to a definition of 'dystopia'. A topical tune with some nice turns of phrases and an uncomfortable observation: as you're filling your tank, it's the terrorists that are laughing all the way to the bank.

Ken closes his set with an harmonica based Sh'e Big Sh'e Mor, and if that title's correct it's absolutely a fluke, and an American fiddle-tune, Stephen Foster's Angelina Baker.

Mike Skliar is back to open the second set with a couple originals. The toe-tapping cautionary tale, Mothers Advice, becomes a vehicle for some down-home harp playing from Ken. After opening with a cover of a Sintra song Mike unveils his homage to Frank called...Frank, a picture postcard trip through the career of a renaissance man of a different era.

Whiskey for Breakfast sees Ken really kicking it up. Ken's harp serves the bluegrass repetoire well and Mike plays the sidekick support with an aplomb that attests to his comic timing.

Mike invites his niece, Emma Carlin, onstage to help him through a rendition of With A Little Help From My Friends, a mellow break before Mike and Ken launch into the close of their set.

First a rollicking cover of Dylan's Down in the Flood followed by a few originals. Charlie Brown's Nightmare delves into the post-Schultz world of our favorite Peanuts characters. What I Meant To Say, shows us what happens when your mind and your mouth work independently of each other. Then Mike delivers his 'parallel universe' hit, 12 to 20, a crowd-pleasing raunchy tale of unrequited love.

Everyone is back onstage to share verses of Dylan's You Ain't Goin' Nowhere in an ensemble close to the first half of tonights entertainment.

Big thanks go out to Mike and Ken for thinkin' about us when they head North. Got to see lots of friends as the Canadians came out from the winter.

Up Next: A Night At The Ren: Part 2 Mike Ford's set

Upcoming Shows:

Friday April 6 Dr Hook
Saturday April 7 The Hootenany
Wednesday April 25 Anjani
Thursday April 26 Anjani
Tuesday May 8 Maria Muldaur
Wednesday May 9 Maria Muldaur
Friday May 11 Arctic Monkeys
Saturday May 12 Amy Winehouse
Sunday May 13 Amy Winehouse
Tuesday May 29 Joan Armatrading