I'm not a big fan of Hugh's Room. The sightlines and sound are great. The artists are first rate supper club acts. The thing is, it's a supper club. I suspect they make more money from the tables, prior to the band coming on, than they do from the door proceeds. They do ask you to be seated early enough that you're done before the show begins but it's a business, they serve you when you want to be served. That's usually throughout the performance. It doesn't help that the type of artists, roots, folk, folk-rock on a raucous night, need a little quiet and attention to present their works. Anjani, Maria Muldaur and Mike Ford were challenged by clanging dishes and clinking glasses at the most inopportune time. Even Steve Forbert has his gentler moments rudely interrupted.
Tonight's show has an advantage. It's rock n roll. You'd have to break a glass to call attention away from the stage.
This is the BIG TIME for Sean Cotton's Last Waltz project. It's come a long way in the few weeks since I witnessed the dress rehearsal at The Hollywood on Queensway. That night showed the promise of this evening. A few performances over the past couple weeks has smoothed out the rough edges nicely. Every facet of the show was better. The guest artists not only settled into their parts, they raised everyone's game with excellent performances. The Sean Cotton Band, already tight, have reached a pinnacle, becoming the ultimate Toronto indie houseband, complementing the leads. Sean, who is to be lauded for coming up with the concept, playing the role of director, choreographer and casting agent, provides some musical highlights, most notably in Up On Cripple Creek, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and Chest Fever. His support for Corin on Mystery Train turns that song into a Foo Fighters concert if Dave Grohl had an evil twin.
Sean's father, Neil Cotton, formerly biology teacher extraordinaire, now the leader of some kind of AARP Counter Culture Club, pays homage to the transcendant Ronnie Hawkins with a growling bayou version of Who Do You Love? It was many years ago when Neil took Sean to his first concert in Toronto, one where Ronnie Hawkins was playing onstage with his son. Some 30 or so years later, the circle is closed.
Brad Hart turns in two strong songs, his voice wonderfully evocative of both Neil Young's high-pitched whine and Rick Danko's plaintive wail as he provides the lead vocals on Helpless and It Makes No Difference.
David Baxter, a senior member of the Parkdale Artists Commune, laid down some blistering solo's all evening. He warmed up quick in his lead guitar spotlight, Clapton's Further On Up the Road, and absolutely burned up the stage with instrumental breaks through most of the songs in the second set.
Toronto's Troubadour, Corin Raymond, was doing his maiden voyage with these tunes at the dress rehearsal; in retrospect it seems he was a little tentative that night. Sounds like his cherry is well busted now and he steals the show with a howling rendition of Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy.
Treasa Levasseur reprised her dangerously sexy version of Joni Mitchell's opus, Coyote. You gotta see this one to believe it. She's a little bit Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, a bit of Bette Midler in The Rose and only a hint of the girl next door. I don't want to be too forward but if Joni had performed this song, in this manner, those inmates at Clinton Prison in NJ wouldn't have booed her off the stage.
Kristin Cavoukian has found her sweet spot in Evangeline. Her and Sean really nailed it tonight. Her support, either backing or full verses, in The Weight and I Shall Be Released added an important layer of sound to this aural painting.
Steve Klodt added some southern flavour with his peon to Dr. John's, Such A Night.
Marshall Dane, who admits he's new to the Last Waltz community, has obviously immersed himself in the movie and does a punchy version of Van Morrison's Caravan before taking a respectable stab at Levon's Ophelia.
Daniel Skye, a founding-father of the current Parkdale artist scene, takes the spotlight for the two Dylan tunes. A hint of the Dylan twang in Forever Young, just enough to make it familiar and not so much that it was a caricature, resulted in a decent version of a tough song to do well. Trust me, I've seen Bob try it 15 times and decent was seldom reached.
This is more than a concert. It's a large white stallion and a flame-juggling midget away from being performance art. The musical arrangements perfectly capture the sound of that evening at Winterland. The between song banter is replicated, making you feel like your behind one of Scorcese's malfunctioning cameras. The shot that didn't make it into the film.
Enjoy the samples, visit their websites, go to their concerts.
If folks like this weren't singing songs for folks like us, what would we do with our spare time?
Sean Cotton Band and the Hogtown All-Stars
Sean Cotton - guitar, vocals (as Band members)
Graham Howes - keyboards, vocals (as Pop Staples)
Steve Klodt - piano, vocals (as Dr. John)
Mike Churchill - drums
Steve Skingley - bass, backing vocals
Neil Cotton (as Ronnie Hawkins)
Brad Hart (as Neil Young, Rick Danko)
Treasa Levasseur (as Joni Mitchell, Mavis Staples) accordion
Kristin Cavoukian (as female Staples, Emmy Lou Harris)
David Baxter (as Eric Clapton, Levon Helm) guitar, mandolin
Corin Raymond (as Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield)
Marshall Dane (as Van Morrison, Levon Helm)
Daniel Sky (as Bob Dylan)
T02 Up On Cripple Creek (Sean Cotton (and the) Band)
T03 talk - no Neil Diamond
T04 Don't Do It
T05 talk - Stratocaster and Dad
T06 Who Do You Love? (Neil Cotton)
T08 Shape I'm In (Sean, Neil)
T10 Such A Night (Steve Klodt)
T12 Helpless (Brad Hart)
T13 It Makes No Difference (Brad)
T15 Stage Fright (Sean)
T17 Coyote (Treasa Levasseur)
T19 The Weight (Sean, Kristin Cavoukian,Graham Howes, Treasa)
T21 Evangeline (Kristin, David Baxter, mandolin, Treasa, accordion)
T01 Further On Up The Road (David Baxter)
T02 Rag Mama Rag (David)
T04 Mannish Boy (Corin Raymond)
T06 Mystery Train (Corin, Sean)
T07 The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Sean)
T09 Caravan (Marshall Dane)
T11 Ophelia (Marshall)
T13 Genetic Method/Chest Fever (Sean)
T15 Forever Young (Daniel Sky)
T16 Baby Let Me Follow You Down (Daniel)
T17 I Shall Be Released (ensemble)
T18 Band Intro
T19 Smokin' in the Alley (non Last Waltz, ensemble)