CR Avery passed through town for a quick hit at The Rivoli last week. He's on his way to France for a tour-by-train in the month of March before he graces Toronto with his prescence again on April 25th, appearing at Hugh's Room.
He was joined onstage by a gaggle of friends, some poets, others musical acts, all artistes.
The show opens with a couple poems from the host of the Toronto Poetry Slam United Brotherhood of Kiwanis B'rith. Or maybe just the moderator of the Thin Book Club; Dave Silverberg. In his 'break the ice' role he left us with a haiku. Gotta respect the haiku as an art form. Less is more.
(Let me digress here and insert my favorite haiku, penned by the Bard of Salford his'self, John Cooper Clarke:
"TO-CON-VEY ONE'S MOOD
IN SEV-EN-TEEN SYLL-ABLE-S
IS VE-RY DIF-FIC " )
The sweet sounds and slinky red dress of Christina Maria followed. Paired down to just the two girls they dropped three well-received songs on the crowd and made way for Gypsy Eyes, who threw down a beauty that might have been called 'Lost & Unshed Tears', hard to tell, both readings were virgin.
The Undesirables have a more extensive opening set. These road warriors put back an outgoing flight for the pleasure of sharing a bill with CR. For his part CR sat in the first row, fully involved, and didn't miss a minute of their set. It seems the respect is mutual. Nice roots sound to this two-man ensemble. Highlight of their set was a lively version of an original tune, "The Credit River."
White Noise Machine (Mike Smith) closes the first set with a couple new poems...and he only stumbled once.
After a short break Tomy Bewick takes the stage to welcome the crowd to Set 2. The Diseased Disciple his'elf brings a new piece to the mic; the introspective, reflective, Broken Mirrors.
After a brief call out for water he's into his second poem, dedicated to his newborn daughter...or more precisely, the two minutes it took her to come into the world; trepidation, panic, and relief. He nails the moment; "purple, limp..." a roller-coaster ride to purpose.
Soon enough, CR Avery is onstage and warming up with what seems to be a traditional opener, Leadbelly's harmonica driven "Sylvie". A little water indeed.
He follows quickly with a melodious song that might have been called "Like A Train in the Snow."
All worthwhile artists try to push you a little. The interesting one's jerk your chain a bit by calling you in close before they rattle your walls. Jack White's great at this...he'll have you marvelling at his 'by the book' rendition of an old blues tune then take his guitar on a face-clawing solo. CR Avery pulls this off with a soulful version of Lucinda Williams' "Bus To Baton Rouge". It moves effortlessly between a sombre, nostalgic musing and a primal-scream about getting back home.
The sonic level subsides for a spoken-word piece about the coolest cat you'd ever want to meet. No, not Gene Vincent. A smokin' pussy cat.
Still having fun with the audience, CR relates a tale about Anne Murray's lost years, caught in a sapphic fog in East Van, recording a lost album that contained the acerbic "Folk Singer." This song plays like Dylan's "Desolation Row" did the first few times it was heard live. Each verse has you waiting for the closing rhyme, each rhyme leads to laughter. By songs end a good portion of the audience are echoing the chorus.
Toronto rhymestress, Truth Is, steps to the mic for a couple funky, beat driven poems, accompanied on one by CR's street-beat.
The second 'set' opens with a song that would fit into Corky and the Juice Pigs repertoire; it could have been called "Small Town", a tale of growing up in an alternative-lifestyle universe where there is no underground where you can fly your freak-flag.
Tonight's version of "Door By the River" is a 9 minute, audience driven, gospel sing-a-long as CR leaves the stage to whip up the gathered multitude. He's aided by an unknown friend who wails away on the chorus like a Baptist preacher at a New Orleans funeral. CR takes a moment to give a tip of the hat to one of the openers as he drops in this impromptu lyric change: "I'm just a guy in the front row/smilin' ear to ear/ listenin' to the undesirables".
"The Birdcage" is stripped down raw, not what I expected, which, by this point, is what I expected.
The show closes with an ensemble collaboration on "When I'm Gone."
Coulda used another 10 songs but that's just the greedy-ass fan in me talking.
Don't miss this guy when he comes your way.
He respects the art of the show.
Here's the complete set list from the evening...with a few guesses at song/poem titles and some mp3 samples.
T02 CPR (poem by Derek Brown)
T03 talk - haiku - band intro
T04 Travel Back In Time
T05 She Will Melt Your Heart(?)
T07 Loss & Unshed Tears(?)
T08 That Journey? (Lateef? covered by FatBoy Slim)
T10 A Rain Song(?)
T11 The Night Train
T12 talk - jealous rivers
T13 Credit River (fade,edit)
T14 (fade in, incomplete) 2 Days on the 2 Lane(?) (fade,edit)
T15 The Bus Stop Walk
T17 This Town
White Noise Machine
T19 What If
T20 Job Interview(?)
T21 Broken Mirrors
T22 The Longest 2 Minutes/CR Avery Intro
T01 Sylvie (Leadbelly)
T02 Like A Train in the Snow(?)
T03 Bus to Baton Rouge (Lucinda Williams)
T04 We Look Like Our Pets(?)
T05 Folk Singer
T06 Unwritten Love Poem(?)
T08 Small Town(?)
T10 Door By The River
T11 The Birdcage
T12 talk-heckle East Van Kills
T13 When I'm Gone