Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Levon Helm
w/ special guest John Hiatt
Massey Hall
Toronto ON

Levon Helm brought 'Ramble Light' through his old stomping grounds...or close by anyway. While the Yonge St taverns he played in the early '60's are long gone, Levon is still plying his trade as he skips by 70 years of age.

He's overcome a fair bit of adversity, from business quarrels and bankruptcy to severe health issues, yet to see him smilin' from behind the drums, singing those songs, you'd never guess it.

Coming full circle, from Arkansas to Toronto to Woodstock and back, of all things lost along the way, the love of music wasn't among them. I've had the pleasure of seeing the Midnight Ramble in the confines of Levon's barn in Woodstock on couple of occasions. It's a "must do" event for all fans, can't be beat as an experience. He's brought along his crack house-band, led by Larry Campbell, who once starred in the best band Bob Dylan's ever had...that wasn't called The Band. Levon's daughter, Amy, is on the road lending vocal support and completing the familial circle.

Evening opened with a set from John Hiatt, who has made a career out of being almost famous. A bit of a shape-shifter early in his career, moving between New Wave, rock and roots, his more mature years prove that you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy.

Hiatt's set list

Drive South (Slow Turning, 1988)
Lift Up Every Stone (Crossing Muddy Waters, 2000)
Crossing Muddy Waters (Crossing Muddy Waters, 2000)
The Open Road (Open Road, 2010)
The Tiki Bar Is Open (The Tiki Bar Is Open, 2001)
My Baby (Open Road, 2010)
Cry Love (Walk On, 1995)
Feels Like Rain (Slow Turning, 1998)
Perfectly Good Guitar (Perfectly Good Guitar, 1993)
Tennessee Plates (Slow Turning, 1988)
Have A Little Faith (Bring the Family, 1987)
Riding With the King (Y'all Caught, 1989)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Karen Elson
Live at the ElMo
June 16,2010

Let's get these two things out of the way :
This music is a bit too slow and soft for my liking.
Karen Elson is real easy on the eyes.

Neither of those things have to do with the art of the show.
They speak only to my personal preferences.

Great voice. A cross between a mature Joan Baez and Kate Bush. Interestingly enough she seems to borrow a little from both those artists when composing songs. Karen's writing is from another time, if not another dimension. She owes a lot to traditional English folk songs; melodically, thematically and for the ethereal, haunting moods.

Her road band consists of Jackson Smith (Patti’s son and the husband of Meg White) on guitar and virtuoso Rachelle Garniez(who has previously collaborated with Karen in Citizen’s Band and garnered some co—writing credits on this record) on accordion and organ. The rhythm section is made up of drummer Marc Fellis and bassist Olivia Jean. Further support is provided by Mark Watrous on fiddle and pedal steel.

This band has mastered the art of understatement, which keeps the focus squarely on the stage-shy Karen.
At times they threaten to rock, other times they hint at rolling, but overall they waltz.

The lyrics are filled with deliciously descriptive scenes. From the cold-blooded murder-by-embrace in the title song ("She looked at him with pleading eyes / he softly spoke,"my dear the love has died" / and then he muffled her desperate cries under the moonlight", to the melodramtic "the only rain...are these tears" in the dust-bowl ballad Mouths to Feed.

A juxtaposition of an alt-country lounge act and stories from the Romantic era.

The hour long set included an almost complete run-through of the album and closed with a great cover of Donovan's Season of the Witch. Ironically, it was with the cover that Karen seemed most at ease, like she was able to just perform for the fun of it, without the pressure of laying out her own compositions for acceptance or ridicule. She's had almost universally good reviews of the studio work. Her short tour has elicited some excited typing on the interweb. It's still early, she's gotta find her mojo, then she's gotta show it to us.

Set List:
The Birds They Circle
Pretty Babies
Cruel Summer
Stolen Roses

The Truth is In the Dirt on the Ground (incomplete)
Milk & Honey (Jackson C French)
100 Years From Now
I'm In Trouble with the Lord
Save the Last Laugh
The Ghost Who Walks (solo)
Thief At the Door
Season of the Witch (D Leitch)

PS:I spent the early part of the evening down the road at The Smiling Buddha where I missed CR Avery's set in support of Toronto poet, Dave Silverberg's Toronto Poetry Slam. Time well wasted there. Unfortunately, a little too much as I misjudged Karen's starting time by about 20 minutes. Oh well.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Featuring Amanda Palmer
and Jason Webley
The Great Hall

Ecstatic about being out from under the clutches of Roadrunner records Amanda Palmer is taking her cabaret stylings on the road with a circus twist. Evelyn/Evelyn promises to be interesting, if nothing else.

Amanda's a peculiar niche artist, a combination of performance art and music. Purveyors of this genre of entertainment take a chance, everytime they step onstage, that the gathered few will just not get it. It takes a little moxy to get out on the end of the limb. (Similar artists, Vermillion Lies and Hank and Lily.)

The Great Hall is a vintage venue located on the vibrant Queen St West strip. Been standing since 1889 and now it serves as a magnet for the avante-guarde. A great marriage of artist and locale.

After the cacaphony of a short opening set by Sxip Shirey he stays on board to play the evenings MC and the oppressive overseer of the twins, The Great Scaphisto.

The girls are shy, and you can't really blame them, they've had a difficult life. They sing songs of passage, which in their case involves love and loathing. Yet underneath the seething animosity you can feel the emotional bond that keeps these sisters together.

I won't review their set because it's really a visual thing. You have to see this to truly appreciate the art. There are some excellent reviews of this show online, just go to googleblogs and search the girls. Check out this youtube documentary.

In what was a huge surprise we were treated to a couple extra sets after the girls had finished as both Jason Webley and Amanda Fucking Palmer had some time to spare after their afternoon tryst at The Drake Hotel.

Webley comes out strong; a big voice on this foot-stomping-accordionist. Lots of audience participation required for his set. First time in Toronto for Jason and I'm happy to report the enthusiastic crowd made him welcome.

Amanda Palmer is well loved by her circle of friends. This tour, if successful, may allow her to buy outer-clothes. It will be our loss. She seemed particularly excited about the upcoming release of her ukelele covers of Radiohead songs.

Here's a list of the songs they played:

w/ Sxip Sherey
Jason Webley
Amanda Palmer
The Great Hall
Toronto ON

Sxip Sherey

I Live In New York City
Rain on the Roses

Evelyn and Evelyn Neville

Happy Birthday Evelyn
MC Intro
Evelyn Evelyn
Have You Seen My Sister, Evelyn?

MC Rap
The Tragic Events of September - Part 1
MC Rap
Chicken Man
You Only Want Me 'Cause You Want My Sister
The Chalice of Knowledge
Elephant Elephant
MC Rap/Interlude
Lean On Me
MC Rap
My Space
MC Rap/Encore Call
Love Will Tear Us Apart

Jason Webley

Dance While the Sky Crashes Down
There's Not A Step We Can Take That Does Not Bring Us Closer
Pork Goulash
? (new song or another song)

Amanda Palmer

Missed Me
Amanda talks
High and Dry (Radiohead)
Amanda talks
Do You Swear
Amanda and Jason talk
Electric Blanket
Runs In the Family
Drinking Song