Bonus fall show from CR Avery, who I enjoyed the hell out of back in July (check the blog for samples and reviews). I know I should have stuck around for Irma Thomas but I've overbooked my little lady this month and we were well satiated after CR's set.
I have an affinity for Harbourfront. Not because it's comfortable; it's usually cold and windy. Not because it's accessible; the traffic down here is a bitch. Not because it's conducive to a good concert; too many people, here for disparate reasons. No, it's because Harbourfront won Trudeau an election...and man, I miss THAT guy.
We caught an International Iron Chef competition in the afternoon. This concert is part of a "Hot and Spicy Food Festival" that features Louisiana cuisine and culture. Appropriately Chef Ben Thibodeaux of New Orleans won the contest. The Rebirth Brass Band, also from the Crescent City, played an early evening set and the aforementioned Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas, closed out the evening. Sandwiched in between was a myriad of food expositions. A sensory feast.
So what's a pale-skinned, hip-hop-beat-boxing-spoken-word artist doing here?
Well, providing contrast and context.
He's definitely a little "outside the box", as he said, but he's got the heart of New Orleans buried in his music. It can be heard in the improvisation, the transformation of familiar tunes and in that wailing harp, which never failed to get the audience on it's feet tonight. It can be seen in the sweat dripping out of every pore as he mines the piano keys for that mercurial tinkle that will send a chill down your spine at the end of a line. It can be felt if you let yourself ride the aural wave of the ballads that move from 'rolling river' smooth to 'shooting rapids' rough.
Now I'm gonna mention this again, in case you don't get around to the other reviews; calling CR Avery a 'hip-hop-beat-boxing-spoken-word artist' doesn't do him justice. First off, I think it scares people off. It sounds like 'niche' music...for the very few and the very young. It's a label that applies a too narrow definition. It's like saying water is wet. It may well be, but it's much more.
Unfortunately the music industry needs tags. You can't raise a lot of interest by describing yourself as a challenging and ever-changing entertainer. Last night, like every night I've seen this guy, there were people who didn't know what they were in for when the evening started who were lined up for cd's, autographs and a chat post-show. All of them amazed they liked it. The fact this guy's ticket hasn't been punched is a shame and an indictment of the current state of the industry. We should sue those motherfuckers for not finding the talent available and get extra money for having to endure the shit they hoist upon us.
Contrast and context, eh?
I love CR's opening songs 'cause they set the audience right back on their heels. It's usually a harp blow-out of a familiar tune with some challenging beat-box effects; Leadbelly's 'Sylvie' and Tom Waits' 'Big In Japan' usually do the trick. Tonight we get a cover of one of the premier blues artists of our generation, Bob Dylan.
WFT? Dylan a blues artist? Isn't he that hillbilly-folkie-religious-mumbling guy? Does anyone know if he's still alive? The answer to all is yes.
CR does to 'Maggies Farm' what Bob does to all his songs...he deconstructs it. Upon reassembly it's both hardly recognizable and faintly familiar. Each night the opening song gets the same result; it grabs your attention.
He follows with something more palatable. Taking a seat behind the piano he drops the volume and intensity, sucking the still head-shaking and gasping listeners in. Tinkle-tinkle-tonk on the keyboards, then a ballad. In the past it's been 'Things Have Changed' or 'Rain Falls' or 'Like A Train In the Snow'. Tonight we get a song that fits the theme, Lucinda Williams' 'Bus To Baton Rouge'. Lots of empty spaces in this song, it takes some nerve to leave them hanging, hoping they won't get spoiled by obnoxious drunks, but he's got everyone leaning forward, listening.
Up to the mic for a spoken word piece, an homage to Charles Bukowski, a showcase for his beat-boxing (he,he) skills, 'The Boxer Who Just Returned From London'. This poem has a tipping point and he nails it every time. "I found myself in a little room."
Now into the centre of his show, with the audience right where he wants them, he indulges himself for a couple songs. Two slow and low piano pieces wrapped around a bluesy romp. CR finds a space inside these songs that's not always accessible to the audience but you can tell it's a creative space as he forces the tempo to a crawl while trying to squeeze out that elusive chord.
First up is a Willie Nelson cover, Home Motel. Goin To Be Hungry Blues is downright raunchy. I'm not sure what CR's eating habits are but between the way he introduced Lemon Meringue Pie this summer ("This song is called 'Eating Pussy on a Hot August Night') and this tune, I'm guessing; vagitarian. Chainsmoking Blues closes out the moody portion of the show.
He's joined onstage by local bass-player Michael Liston for the remainder of the set that starts with a spoken word piece about a young Jimi Hendrix trying to get a Bob Dylan record played in a black club. A song about fusion and not closing your mind by shutting off your ears. Like I said, context.
Set closes with a lovely ballad, 'When I'm Gone' and CR's called back for an encore and true to his style, chooses not to make it easy as he ends with a key-tar and harp driven, 'Love Song', which is a litany of things you hate wrapped in an epileptic fit inducing syncopation.
Here are the songs and samples:
Track 01 Maggies Farm (B Dylan)
Track 02 Bus To Baton Rouge (L Williams)
Track 03 Boxer Who Just Returned From London
Track 04 ??Home Motel??
Track 05 ??Goin' To Bed Hungry
Track 06 Chainsmoking Blues
Track 07 ??Black Hippie
Track 08 talk
Track 09 When I'm Gone
Track 10 Love Song