Sunday, June 28, 2015

Send Lawyers, Guns & Money: A Live Concert Tribute to Warren Zevon at Hugh's Room (June 19)

As always, the night begins with a quick trip home, jump in the car and head for the huge traffic jam that is the QEW. Tonight it’s not so bad, and I have my old friend Wayne to keep me entertained with tales of his recent trip to Nashville. Wayne’s a songwriter and he makes a regular pilgrimage to Tennessee to sell songs. He meets all sorts of interesting people down there. This time my favourite is the Vince Gill story! But enough about the car ride. We arrive at Hugh’s Room for a concert tribute to Warren Zevon (curated by A Man Called Wrycraft) and are led to our table. The menu hasn’t changed although they disappoint me by telling me that they’re not serving the chicken pan pesto tonight. OK, the penne with rapini then. There are no bad seats in Hugh’s Room (well…the cafĂ© tables are not comfortable, but you can still see and hear everything) and we’re up close to the stage in front of the PA board. Perfect. Michael Wrycraft is not in the house tonight. It’s been over a year since he went in to hospital for a foot infection and has been recovering. Hopefully he’ll be back hosting his shows in September. The shows lose something without Michael’s presence, his passion and his stories about the songwriter being celebrated. Tonight Bob Reid is hosting. He reads from a biography of Mr. Zevon written by his ex-wife. He chooses segments which relate to the songs about to be performed. Interesting and sometimes quite funny.

The first performers are The Small Glories (J.D.Edwards and Cara Luft) who start the night off with a rousing “Werewolves of London” and then settle things down with a Linda Ronstadt inspired “Hasten Down The Wind.” Right off the bat we see the two sides of Warren Zevon’s genius. The weird and the tender. I like Ms Luft’s banjo highlighting Edwards’ guitar. Things move fast and Jason Fowler takes the stage, offering yet another side of Zevon’s songwriting, his awareness of time and tide, with moving renditions of “Life’ll Kill Ya,” and “Don’t Let Us Get Sick.” Both songs come from Zevon’s 10th studio album (Life'll Kill Ya), released 2 years before he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Fowler does a fine job of bringing us to the verge of tears. Blues harpist Paul Reddick seems a natural to cover Zevon, but offers a fairly loose “Carmelita” and a trainwreck version of “Keep Me In Your Heart.” It seemed to me he couldn’t remember the melody to get himself started, and after pleading with others in the room to help out, he finally launched in to a raggedy rendition that likely won’t be played on one of Wrycraft’s on-line radio shows any time soon. Reddick apologized later, telling me he was having trouble remembering things these days. Aren’t we all? It’s unfortunate since this tune could have been a highlight of the whole evening.

Blair Packham

Blair Packham came up next with beautiful versions of “Desperadoes Under the Eaves” and “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me.” He was accompanied on piano by Lawrie Ingles. Then it’s intermission. It came fast. I buy one of Wrycraft’s posters, designed especially for this event. Beautiful. He makes the music look the way it sounds. Bob Reid comes back to the stage and calls the audience to assemble. It’s time for chapter two. He introduces the next act…and sits down at the piano to perform a note-for-note take on Zevon’s “Johnny Strikes Up the Band.” It’s a surprise, but a powerfully good one. Then it’s Montreal’s Roxanne Potvin with “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” on Fender Telecaster (turned up loud) accompanied by Lawrie Ingles on piano. Roxanne takes Ingles’ place at the piano and declares “I don’t play the piano, but this song…well…” and then she does a sincere version of “The Heartache” maybe the most obscure song choice of the night.

Jon Brooks takes the stage, or rather takes over the stage, providing percussion on the top of his jumbo guitar kicking off the most powerful set of the night. This is the guy who made my friend Wayne sit up and take notice. He is an “Excitable Boy” and he was perfect. But the best was yet to come as he took the piano bench for an amazing “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” Wow! As is often the case with Wrycraft’s tribute shows…they just get better the further into them you go. Mississippi Bends (from my hometown of Hamilton) come up to close the show with a rollicking “A Certain Girl.” Sure it’s not a Zevon composition, but it was a powerful enough cover to warrant a spot on his greatest hits album. The Allen Toussaint song gets full treatment with audience participation. They follow it with “Mohammed’s Radio” another highlight. After all this, it’s time for the closer when all the performers (save Mr. Brooks who stayed at the bar) gather on stage and reprise “Werewolves of London”. With Mississippi Bends providing able support, lead vocals are shared around, there is space for guitar, piano, and harp soloes, and the audience is left howling at the night.

Jon Brooks

There were gaps, indeed. Forgotten lyrics, sloppy chord changes, a missed harmony or two, but it all seemed in keeping with the man of the hour. It was about the music of Warren Zevon, and if you don’t know who that is, or what he did, run (don’t walk) to your closest music shop and pickup one of his CDs. Start with one of the “Best of” albums, the one called “Genius” is well named. And if you’re looking for a good night out, Michael Wrycraft promises to be back in the saddle for his next show, celebrating The Guess Who on September 18th. See you there!

– 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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