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.

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