A special day in the middle of CR's cross Canada full-band tour. Words Aloud
has invited him in for a weekend of concerts and workshops. We caught two unique sets; an afternoon bookstore set and an evening art gallery show.
Four members of the Toronto Youth Slam Team open the afternoon at the Great Books & Cafe at The Mill in Williamsford, a 20 minute drive north of Durham. The kids are alright, perhaps a little old for their age, but that's ok, there's plenty of time left to be younger. My favorite artist ended up 4th out of 4 today, so it shows you there is no accounting for taste, or I know nothing about poetry. All the kids performed well but I was drawn to the rough-edged urban poetry of Skummilk, he took some risks with his material.
What the venue bio doesn't tell you is this bookstore/cafe was a major grow-op in it's previous incarnation, which explains the 4 year renovation. Just a little local history.
This is a 'pay what you can' event for no more than 50 people, counting the one's standing in back and seated on the massive staircase. A very good turnout in this rural community a couple hours away from Toronto.
After an entertaining 3-round slam from the youngun's CR Avery takes the stage for what is one of the best sets I've seen him deliver, and I've seen more than a few good ones. He really takes to these intimate rooms. Using the house piano, one mic and his harmonicas he's got all the tools he needs to win the crowd. And win them over, he does.
You gotta give props to these local arts-community sponsored events. They make it possible for performers like CR to travel across the country and build a mini-tour around the event. People at Cicada Fest, Perth Folk Festival and this Words Aloud program are keeping the spirit of music alive in the face of the crushing mediocrity the major labels and distributors are hoisting on us. Search them out, be a patron, if only by showing up.
CR absolutely nails every song this afternoon. He starts at the piano, quiety, slowly, letting the audience settle into their chairs, atune their ears and focus their attention. When I'm Gone usually closes a set but CR is wasting no time warming up the audience. He's hot, they gotta catch up.
The sign that he really had his mojo working comes in the spoken word Hendrix/Dylan piece that follows. As he's moving through the story at his usual machine-gun pace he stumbles on a single opening word to a line and deftly drops into his 'hip-hop-beat-box-syllable-popping' vocal style and covers up the flub...I'm sure no one noticed. No one else that is. I believe he used it to the same effect in the PET poem that ended the set, the only two times he missed a step.
The audience is enlisted to play the part of orchestra on the lovely piano ballad, Like A Train In The Snow. It's only a mini-set so we can't be waiting until the encore break to reel them in. CR has a handful of terrific ballads (When I'm Gone, Bus To Baton Rouge,Rain Falls On Eternity)and though his press-kit says little about his ability to deliver these songs, they may represent the height of his combined playing,singing and performance skills. 'Course I only think that 'till he rips off a burning blues number like Motel 50 Miles Out of Town.
It's been a long wait, maybe close to 20 shows and a few thousand miles, but CR finally pulls out Down at the Cafe. Perhaps we had to be in a cafe. Perhaps we required the poetry slam to be part of the show...don't know, don't care, just happy to hear it.
Most of the songs are getting a little introduction tonight and CR invokes the spirit of Tom Waits' to shrug off the pressure of selling a million records Stateside in Big In Japan. The audience, once again, takes to his harmonica-beat-box riffs, resonding enthusiastically as sweat begins to pour off our boy on stage.
Come February we'll be watching the next song as part of a Hockey Night In Canada presentation, his homage to Wayne Gretzky and bitch-slap to the American sense of self-importance with Already the Great One.
38 Bar Blues is the new book of poetry, just released and now available online. We get a brief reading of Old Love The Gambler.
In December CR will be in the city of angels to record with a full orchestra. One of the 6 songs on the sked is the story of his outdoor friend, The Kind Man of Alexander Street. Inner city music, save your city music.
A spoken word piece, Pierre Elliott Trudeau closes out the set. This poem continues to morph. CR has injected a line about Diefenbaker's stand on the Bay of Pigs which makes his other claims about Trudeau's willingness to stand up to the US more historically correct. My guess is someone in Alberta made the case for Dief. While CR does use the "just watch me" quote he should add a couple lines about how PET handled the FLQ terror without terrorizing the people, as a leader should.
Here are some sound samples from the afternoon set.
When I'm Gone
The Grey Armpit of Rock n Roll
Like A Train in the Snow
Down at the Cafe
Big In Japan
Already the Great One
Old Love The Gambler (poem recital)
The Kind Man of Alexander Street
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
The evening set is at the roomier main hall of the Durham Art Gallery and CR has his band, The Special Interest Group, along for the unplugged session. Road veterans Noah Walker (guitar) and Evan Bates (bass) are joined by two newcomers Adam Farnsworth on keys and Kevin Romain on drums. Hope the boys are enjoying their initiation to life on the road with a circus.
Only one song repeated in the evening set, PET, and it was by request of the organizers. It got a slightly different treatment with jazz accompianament(sp?)to spice it up a touch. Gave it a finger-snapping beat-edge.
Two classic covers to open, both changed almost beyond recognition, updating the words of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.
He follows with a great version of Ice Rinks that builds in intensity and explodes at the end, complete with a little Salt n Peppa.
Blackbird gets the CR treatment then we get some new songs.
Sound samples below.
Is This What You Wanted?
Make It Count On Election Day
I Know I'm On to Something (I Just Don't Know What)
A Few Thousand Words
I'm Gonna Eat You Out
Pierre Eliot Trudeau
My Own Road To Go