Sunday, January 5, 2014

What I Did Last Year!: 2013 Concerts in Review

Stephen Fearing performed at The Pearl Company in Hamilton on April 19, 2013.

Do you remember the assignment you had back in school? Write an essay called ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’? I’m sure you wrote several such essays. Well, at the end of a year I like to look back over the past 12 months and just see what happened. Where did I go, what did I see, how many CDs and books did I buy? A complete list would take up more space than I have today, but I thought it might be interesting to look back at the concerts I attended.

It all started early in January at Hugh’s Room in Toronto. Graphic artist, music lover and compère Michael Wrycraft got his series of Tribute shows off with an excellent start paying tribute to the songs of James Taylor. Wrycraft books eight artists and each of them does two songs by the selected songwriter. These shows are always interesting, and usually lots of fun. Quique Escamilla offered up a funky rendition of “Gorilla”, The DoneFors, Ivy Mairi and Sam Turton all acquitted themselves brilliantly, but for me it was Hamilton guitarist Jacob Moon who won the night with a stunning rendition of “Traffic Jam”. Wrycraft also designs a limited edition poster for each evening, which serve as dandy souvenirs. 

Taj Mahal performing (Photo by David Bazemore)
On February 1st my wife and I bought last minute tickets for the Taj Mahal Trio at Burlington’s Centre for the Performing Arts. This gorgeous new theatre is intimate with comfortable seating, great sightlines and wonderful sound. It also offers the bonus of free parking! Tickets for Taj were $65 each and while the band played well, offering up some classic blues as well as a bit of rock’n’roll, they were waving goodbye after the encore only 65 minutes after the show began. I think a dollar a minute is pretty steep, even for three chords and the truth!

Two weeks later I drove to Hamilton's Copps Coliseum to catch the latest farewell from The Who. Floor seats means you stand throughout the whole show, so by the end of the night my back was giving me pain, but Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey certainly gave it their all as they played the whole of Quadrophenia, followed by a handful of well-chosen hits. Vintage Trouble opened the show playing their brand of classic soul, and ignited a fire that burned throughout the night. But it was The Who that kept the fire burning, showing that they haven’t f-f-faded away just yet.

Another 60s band appeared in Hamilton just two weeks later. The Zombies with singer Colin Blunstone and keyboard ace Rod Argent took the stage at Hamilton Place’s Molson Studio Theatre. They put on an incredible show, sounding exactly like they did on record back in the day. Backed by bassist Jim Rodford (ex-The Kinks), his son Steve on drums and guitarist Tom Toomey, the 21st Century Zombies were precise yet moving. They played songs from the 60s treasure chest (“She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No”), solo tracks (including Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up”) and tunes from 2012’s comeback album Breathe Out, Breathe In
all sounding very authentic and exciting.

March 15th it was back to Hugh’s Room for Wrycraft’s Tribute to Carole King. For Carole King, Wrycraft asks the participants to play one of Carole’s classic Brill Building songs and one from her later Tapestry catalogue. We heard songs that had originally been performed by The Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, James Taylor and others but were all written by Carole King. Paul Reddick and Colin Cripps turned a King song into a blues, Chloe Charles offered up R&B, George Koller and Carvin Winans played gospel, and Carole King wrote them all.

April turned out to be folk music month. I went to The Pearl Company in Hamilton on April 11th to see the one and only Jesse Winchester. The Pearl Company is one of the best venues you could ask for, especially for acoustic music. Located on the second floor of an old warehouse (where, at one time, they actually made pearl jewelry) The Pearl Company is a gem. Comfy seating and ambient lighting lend an intimate vibe to the whole place. And the sound is gorgeous. Jesse Winchester loved it so much that he came back a year after his first appearance there. His performance was perfect; all by himself with his nylon-string guitar he sang his own compositions from a career of writing. His homespun Southern gentleman persona is authentic; he is a Southern gentleman who happened to live in Canada for quite some time. He’s a fine finger-style guitarist with a gentle manner and a relaxed way of singing that warms the cockles of your heart. And his songs are great too.

Then it was Stephen Fearing (April 19th) again at The Pearl. He was introducing his most recent CD, Between Hurricanes, but he included songs from all three of his careers. That’s right, three careers! Solo, as part of a duet with Andy White, he’s also a member of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, and any way you get him Fearing is worth a view. His songs and his voice are fine, and his guitar playing can’t be beat.

For some reason I missed any concerts in May. I was away at a conference for a while, but did attend a celebratory night paying tribute to Canadian music legend Bruce Cockburn at McMaster University. Two thirds of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings showed up to sing a couple Cockburn songs (Tom Wilson and Colin Linden) and Wilson (who coordinated the music for the event) also featured Of Gentlemen & Cowards and a string quartet to pay tribute to Cockburn’s gift. It was a magical night.

June 1st brought a trip to Niagara Falls’ Fallsview Casino to see Sixties icon Gerry & the Pacemakers. Gerry Marsden is getting a bit long in the tooth, but with a new young band of Pacemakers he gave the crowd exactly what we were looking for: memories! 

Hugh’s Room on Dundas St. is a dandy venue too. Easy to get to, and offering free parking at the grocery store lot across the road. You don’t see free parking in Toronto very often. I took a friend of mine to see "In Cash We Trust", Michael Wrycraft’s Johnny Cash Tribute. It was one of those wonderful times that happen at events like this. Tom Wilson, Cindy Church, James Keelaghan, Paul Reddick, The Claytones: everybody was ready to celebrate the life and work of Mr. Cash. The highlight though was Tom Wilson duetting on “Jackson” with Tracy Brown (of The Family Brown) backed by The Claytones. This impromptu duet only happened because Ms Brown was in the audience to see her daughter’s band! It was extraordinary.

My wife’s birthday present to me led us back to the Fallsview Casino on August 8 to see Vince Gill. There are no bad seats in the Fallsview auditorium, but Row 3 is one of the really good ones! Vince is a consummate singer and guitarist, and his show featured a career spanning selection of songs with a brief set featuring songs from his most recent duet album with steel guitarist Paul Franklin, Bakersfield. Everybody needs a little country music in their souls from time to time, and Vince Gill is the best place to get it!

Sometime in 1966 a band was formed in New Jersey. A classically trained pianist named Felix Cavaliere, an R&B singer called Eddie Brigati and a Canadian guitar player named Gene Cornish left Joey Dee & the Starlighters and joined with Dino Danelli (a jazz drummer who had been playing R&B in New Orleans) to form The Rascals. The music they played was dubbed ‘blue-eyed soul’ even though none of them had blue eyes. But soul it was, and they had a string of Top Ten hits including “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” “Good Lovin’,” “You Better Run,” “Lonely Too Long,” and “Groovin’” among others. After a few years they called it quits. It was not a friendly breakup. They each went their own way. I saw Felix playing solo a year or two ago on a show called HIPPIEFEST! But fortunately for all of us Miami Steve Van Zandt had a vision. He designed a Broadway show that would feature the original members getting back together to play the hits. It would be part concert, part history and part video extravaganza. It played last summer in Toronto at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and from our seats in the second balcony the energy was extraordinary. It wasn’t just the hits either, they played from deep in the catalogue and apart from a bass player it was all the original Rascals. This show was a true highlight, not just of the year, but of the decade! Amazing! 

All the excitement of that show was created soon afterward back at Hugh’s Room by a motley crew of folksingers in Michael Wrycraft’s Rolling Stones’ tribute "Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out". A look at the names on the list can’t begin to give you a sense of how much fun the night was. The Stones require volume, and energy, and…volume. And a drummer, of course. You want to be able to turn to the audience at some point and say, “Charlie’s good tonight, isn’t he!?” You could say that about all the drummers on Saturday night, each one adjusted the kit for themselves, and each one provided just the right amount of boom-boom-boom combined with appropriate tshh-tshhh-tshh! 

Right off the bat things got rolling, with Samantha Martin and the Haggard’s take on “Gimme Shelter”. You’d’ve thought The Stones themselves were there as the familiar guitar riff kicked off, and then when Samantha opened her mouth…you thought, “Geez, who needs Mick?” A blues drenched “Love In Vain" finished their set. Things calmed down a bit when Wrycraft introduced Jadea Kelly accompanied by the great steel guitarist Burke Carroll. They did “Angie” and “Dead Flowers” and Jadea’s vocals were sweet, but the steel guitar was even sweeter. Aaah!

Roxanne Potvin blew the roof off with a sizzling “Ventilator Blues” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, guitarist Michael Occhipinti and saxophonist/singer Lester McLean were remarkable, O Susanna owned “Under My Thumb” and “Shine a Light”, and then Gurf Morlix slowed things down with “Wild Horses” and “Let It Bleed.” Then the night took a wild turn: after all the unexpected power and glory came Hamilton’s own Harlan Pepper. These young guys never fail to amaze. They captured the essence of the greatest rock’n’roll band with fiery versions of “Beast of Burden” and “Midnight Rambler”. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the thrill of watching and hearing these young fellas as they rocked the joint! On their last note they were awarded with a spontaneous standing ovation. Maybe the ovation was really for all that had gone before, but Harlan Pepper deserved it!


Ian Anderson performing in 2013 (Photo by Sebastian Fissore)

After that it was Hamilton Place in October to see Ian Anderson and his band play Thick As A Brick 1 & 2. Anderson can’t hit all the notes vocally so he hired a younger man to share the lead vocals, and it was marvellous. The band totally rocked. Remind me to tell you my first reaction to TAAB 40 years ago! I was not a fan, but after seeing this show I became one!

Another band I had not spent much time thinking about was The Mavericks. I had a couple of lead singer Raul Malo solo discs, and I knew that The Mavericks had a good reputation, but I was little prepared for the absolute thrill of watching these guys! They simply rocked the joint for a solid two hours. Everyone was on their feet, dancing, laughing, cheering, singing along. It was infectious.

The year ended with two cancellations (Ron Hynes because of snow and Ken Whiteley/Jacob Moon due to the ice storm) but just before December I caught the Blind Boys of Alabama in Brampton who also had the crowd on its feet. What energy! And the final Wrycraft show of the year was his eighth annual Tribute to Tom Waits. The McKenzie Blues Band and Tony Springer were the stars that night, but as always the whole evening was a blast right up to and including the whole cast singing “Ol’55” together as a finale.

That was 2013. Of course I must have done a few other things. I drove to Newfoundland and back, and while there caught a set by Guy (from the Sharecroppers) and Lloyd (the owner of the Insectarium) that was remarkable because they sat down and played for my wife and I in the middle of the business day! That’s what music does for you. There is an article in a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times titled CONCERT TICKET SALES SET RECORD, which lists the vast sums grossed by artists like Bon Jovi and Beyonce, but bear in mind that you can pay $25-$35 for admission to Hugh’s Room, and The Pearl Company has ticket prices that start as low as $15. At these venues you can usually talk to the artist, buy CDs and get autographs. Just be careful, you know what David Lasley (backup singer extraordinaire) says. “You get hooked on music…you’re fucked!”

– David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas, Ontario with his wife.

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