Cold Specks:The Great Hall

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Toronto

Cold Specks return to The Great Hall was met by a hipster heavy crowd, all plaid shirts and facial hair on the boyz, blinged out sandals for the ladies and a buzz of anticipation shared by all. The occasion was a rare club date for the band, taking a time out from the lucrative festival circuit to drop one for the hometown fans.

The packed house showed its appreciation with rapt attention and appreciative applause for the many twists and turns a Cold Specks song can take. Although singer/songwriter Al Spx has described her sound as ‘doom soul’, it also has elements of a Gospel sound delivered in shades of hope and is not without dark humor.

A Cold Specks concert isn’t so much about showcasing individual songs as creating and sustaining an atmosphere on which the songs can’t help but shine. Spx and her five-piece band wasted no time getting down to polishing. She joked early on that it was extremely tough for her and the band to put together the set list, as they were looking for the best mix of older and new material but on evidence, they got it just right.

Some of this involved tweaking the material just slightly, partly as updater and partly as application of things learnt from frequent touring. The older tunes in particular came across as more vivid, especially “ Dirty Water”. With a show built around the vocals, it’s to be expected that the singer will deliver that special something you won’t hear on the recorded versions and Spx delivered large.

Hers is a voice of heart-searing passion and teeth-grinding restraint, often in the same song. She can turn on a dime and bring a phrase to a needle sharp point or let it slide off like a heartbroken ghost.

Whether as prophesying priestess with “Hector”, whose refrain of “We are many” comes across as both a comfort and a menace, or working “Lay Me Down” which acquires a simmering sexuality right before your eyes from a figure onstage looks like an 19 century country preacher’s wife and sounds like Nina Simone in heat, the evocative power of the pipes can’t be denied.

The Cold Specks band make elegant, challenging soundscapes to house Spx’s tunes and live, the orchestral dynamic inhabiting most of the arrangements come into their own, most brilliantly on “Elephant Head”.

Cold Specks responded to a standing ovation by returning for a three-song encore. Visibly pleased, Al stepped forward to fill the room with a mind-blowing display of acapella virtuosity, which left folks gasping and cheering.

The most awesome thing about this show is that it came from an artist just at the beginning of a career. Imagine the sound when she hits her stride.

Lenny Stoute