Monday, December 12, 2011

C R Avery
Subtitles For A Foreign Film
The Making of...

Now available online at filmbaby

CR Avery Subtitles For A Foreign Film

It was a cold and windy June day in 2008 and when Cece and I settled into our seats at the Sirius Soundstage located on the Harbourfront grounds. We were there to see Billy Bragg. Didn't know there was going to be an opening act when a young man approached the center stage mic and tore into a harmonica-laden version of Leadbelly's Sylvie. OK, that warmed me up a bit. The tapes are rolling, so to speak, it's actually a digital thing beyond my comprehension. The artist settles into a position behind his piano and introduces the next song as a tune by Blind Boy Grunt. I'm thinking to myself, awright, we're getting some blues music...even as my brain was trying to tell me that was an early '60's Dylan alter-ego...almost simultaneously, we get a beat-box version of the Oscar winning song Things Have Changed. He followed with an excellent spoken word piece, an homage to pugalistic poet Charles Bukowski, called The Boxer Who Just Returned From London, and I was hooked.

Putting my limited interweb skills to work I found his website, Facebook page, mySpace page, twitter hash tag, medical history, porn preferences and Family Tree at Turns out he's an active road warrior who traverses the big country a few times a year. When I saw the Rivoli hosting a February show I dropped him a line to see if my son, a fledgling indie film producer, could bring a camera to his show...mostly so I'd have a record beyond my normal audio. He responded that he had a few boxes full of single camera samples and it's really difficult to get enough good material without a few cameras.

So we brought 4.

The shoot was virtually gonzo. No control over the lights, the audience or the stage blocking. No real idea of what CR was going to do. No plans whatsoever except to push REC and see what happens. Add to that the limitations of not being Martin Scorcese; we had two high-end cameras and a couple not so high end. Michael (my son), directed his camera assistants, set up a remote long shot camera and captured a SBD and audience audio feed. The result is pretty impressive...about 4 hours of raw tape to turn into a movie.

The editing was the time consuming part. Michael is meticulous and hard to please. A few late night sessions with CR, when he was in town, resulted in the final play list and an artistic agreement on how the show would look and feel.  It also coincided with another Rivoli date, more filming and more material, on September 6,2009.  The result is a look into a couple of CR Avery's varied persona; solo artist and band leader.

The first act opens with a staple of CR's set; a little something to make you claw your face off.  It's always interesting watching a crowd adjust to the sonic assault from the stage. The songs are at once vaguely familiar yet drastically altered. Whether it's Leadbelly's Sylvie, (as it is tonight), Dylan's Maggies Farm, Tom Waits' Big in Japan, or Springsteen's 57 Channels, it gets a beat-box, harmonica make over.  The audience reaction progresses from "WTF!?!?!?", to "Hey, I think I know this song," to "Man, he's doing a good job."

We get the superior slow version of Door By The River, a better piano-ballad than a rock song. One of the best opening couplets of the decade... "I take my orders/from a seagull perched at a busy intersection..." This usually comes near the end of the set, but CR is looking to get the patrons involved early with the sing-a-long chorus and wading into the crowd schtick. He's aided by local songstress Coco Love Alcorn who finds her way to the front of the stage to lend her soulful voice to the piece. An exercise in working the audience.

Birdcage is a powerful, hypnotic spoken-word tome. The stand-up bass licks provided by Michael Liston evoke a post-modern Beat feel. The poem is packed with strong visuals and surreal imagery. It's like you're sitting in a living room with this young couple as they dance the dance of the developing relationship; establishing the parameters, learning about each other, surrounded by their animated furnishings. Yup, you got it, I have no idea what it's about except it's an aural treat. Superbly captured, passionately delivered, a tour-de-force.

CR was headlining what had been a multi-artist evening and he is joined onstage by the other singers who had performed earlier for a hootenany-type sing-a-long on the aptly titled ballad, When I'm Gone. An impromptu, unrehearsed performance enhanced by the subtle guitar work of The Undesireables Sean Cotton.

The second act of the night features the Legal Tender String Quartet. Two violins,(Serena Eades, Meredith Bates) a bass,(Evan Bates) drums (Matthew Rogers), guitar (Noah Walker)and CR's piano-harmonica. A little high-end music for the streets. The arrangements for the songs in this show were done by the talented Matthew Rogers...and that had to be mentioned because this stuff is the bomb.

Letter From A Foot Soldier is another spoken-word epic, faster paced, a bit of the F-bomb potty mouth on this one. "I need a shrink or a drink or a quiet place to think..." CR takes us through the process of the indie artist. Clubs in the red light district, the search for a muse, walking a tightrope in the spotlight. It's bombastic but not narcissitic. Machine gun rhymes and a couple hints of the Zimmy.

The Boxer Who Just Returned From London,is a long-time regular in CR's set. Another spoken word piece, well paced,humourous, highlighted by some great beat-box/boxing interludes...and it never fails to captivate the audience. "I had to kill, stab, the myth, that beauty is only skin deep..."

The most orchestrally lush arrangement of the night is saved for a song about two monster stars. The Ballad of Charlie Parker and Patsy Cline, takes us to a far-away speak-easy, perhaps in the smokey, needle-strewn stairwell, hours after the music has died, where a god of jazz finds respite in the voice of a country queen. Another visually beautiful capture and stunning performance. I'm seen it 50 times and it still gives me goosebumps.

The night closes with a song that should have been in The Wrestler. Tragic Figure, done country style. I'm glad this song made the cut, it's such a life-affirming way to end a show. CR wades deep into the crowd for this one, far from the SBD mic. The day was saved by sound engineer Dwight Ivany who kept this from the dustbin with some deft sound editing of the camera audio tracks.

The Rivoli is a great place to see a show but it has a tendency to have a chatty backroom, near the entrance and the bar. CR had come into the audience a couple times already, trying to shift the center of balance so the whole hall was paying attention. He met with some fleeting success. To close the night he just figured, not tragically though, that he might as well bring the show to the talkers rather than try to shout them down from the stage. It all results in a special moment as CR croons out his tale of self-redemption, surrounded by the band and the audience.

This isn't all CR Avery has to offer but it's an intimate look at his talents and respect for the art of the show. Michael Levesque has done a wonderful job of capturing the passion of the performance and the subtle interplay of the artists. Whether it's the head shot of CR, sweat pouring down his cheeks, pushing the envelope, or the sweet crying fills of Meredith Bates' violin dancing around the lyrics; fades and cuts that add another dimension to the listening/viewing experience.

Here is the original, pre-release trailer.

The DVD also comes with a load of extras, a retrospective look at CR over the past decade and the irreverant "Olympic" video of the fast version of Folk Singer.

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