Concert Reviews

Live Performances Roundup of the 25th Folk Alliance Conference

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Story: Lenny Stoute

The 25th Folk Alliance Conference swarmed all over Toronto’s Delta Chelsea Hotel between Feb.20-24. Both Conference and Hotel survived each other and even though they stuck out like hookers at a folk festival, the working girls in the lobby in their little black dresses were ok with the sweaters ’n’ jeans crew.

Which became more rock ’n’ roll raucous as the event wore on, culminating in Saturday’s boozy finale. Which, in the anarchic spirit of the earliest folk traditions, wasn’t one large event but rather a battle of the bands conducted in separate bedroom showcases all over the joint. Doesn’t get more up close and personal than that and gave the event an intimate feel as counterbalance to the slick surroundings.

It was all cozy in Mel Brulee’s bedroom where the Cornwall ON, chanteuse/guitarist did a set of intense, deeply personal material, drawn equally from the Sucré/Salé EP and unreleased songs that quietly but firmly shut out the ruckus in the hallway.

John McDermott and Friends at Koerner Hall (Toronto)

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Submitted by Sandy Graham


When you arrive at a John McDermott show he does the unthinkable in soft seat theatre artist behaviour – he is at the door pre-show to greet his fans. As I walked in, there he was, in comfortable clothes, wrapping his arms around various people as they walked in with their tickets in hand. Warm start before he even starting singing all the classic Christmas songs with his big Irish/Scottish lungs. 


McDermott walks comfortably on stage, warmly saying hello to the audience, and giving a quick wave across the stage to his band. Right from the start, he has the audience in the palm of his hands, casually strolling the stage, leaning on a small stool, and telling great stories in between all the songs of the season.
From his rendition of Murray McLauchlan’s ‘Old Tin Star’, ‘Christmas in the Trenches’, (a memorial of the Christmas Truce of 1914) ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ all done McDermott style; with very acoustic touches made possible by his brilliant guitarist and musical director, Jason Fowler. The licks and trills are so great that McDermott quips ‘Don’t encourage him folks’. The Canadian tenor effortlessly hit the highs and the lows in his delivery of ‘Ava Maria’ as well as ‘Oh Holy Night’. All the while telling you jokes about his trials and tribulations of finding and keeping a band together.

Long Live Rock – The Who Townshend and Toronto

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Submitted by Bill Delingat
Photo Credits: Tracey Savein

It has been 30 years since Rock lost the Shining star of John Lennon.

Everyone knows where they were that night and he will live on through his music for generations to come. Lennon was not the only one that was taken from us all too soon. Many had passed before him; Jim Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix, Dennis Wilson, Kurt Cobain. Crazy Horse Guitarist Danny Whitten as well as Neil’s personal roadie Bruce Berry was also lost at a young age and that tragedy became Neil’s first dark album and a song written called “Tonight’s the Night” as Neil lamented the loss of his friends.

Jeanine Mackie Live and Then Some

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Submitted by Don Graham


Photo Credit: Ian Sinclair


To say there has been in decline in live music and live music venues would, of course, be an understatement. Gone are the days of six nights a week of live bands playing at bars and clubs yards apart and each one crowded with appreciative music lovers. It wasn’t unusual for bands to be in one spot for weeks at a time, drawing their crowd of followers and regulars with them. Lately the trend is to have recorded music, DJ’s for the most part with live entertainment once in awhile. Even the venues that have live music have pared down versions, singles, duos and trios. More cost effective.


So when we went to see the Jeanine Mackie Band at the Drake Hotel in the Drake Underground, in west end Toronto the stage set up brought a huge smile to my face. The stage was set for a six piece band, guitar, bass, keys, saxophone, drums and congas and two back up singers and Ms Mackie. There was an awesome feeling in the room that something exciting was about to happen. As the band took the stage, which by the way was a real stage complete with curtains and a real side stage or wings, the crowd was buzzing and it was like an old time Friday night.  
The band consisted of some the city’s finest; Bob McAlpine on guitar, Matt Horner on keyboards, Byron Stoehr bass, Colleen Allen sax, Steve Heathcote on drums and Art Avalos on percussion.

Joe Bonamassa - Roy Thomson Hall, November 17th, 2012 - Toronto

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Submitted by Tracey Savein

Say it ain't so, Joe...was my first thought the instant that last note was played at Roy Thomson Hall this November 17th night in Toronto... and I'm sure I wasn't the only one as Joe Bonamassa's blistering rendition of ZZ Top's "Just Got Paid", playfully riddled with Zeppelin licks, brought the house down AND blew the roof off all at once. Up or down, whichever way you chose to look, it was one hot night of stellar blues and crafty musicianship.

Decked out in dark suit and shades, with slicked back hair and matching purple kicks and tie, Joe looked the consummate bluesman backed that up while playing his rainbow of guitars.

Starting off the night with a beautiful solo acoustic mini set, intermitantly accompanied by Tal Bergman on percussions, Joe's soulful cover of Bad Company's "Seagull" was a pleasant and well received surprise.

Then came the electric blues mega set, cue band. Veteran aces Carmine Rojas (bass), Rick Melick (keyboards), and returning to the stage, Tal Bergman (drums) were individually like a groove and rhythm seminar, each showing us their proverbial prowess, but add those three seasoned pieces to Joe virtuoso, and you have one powerhouse musical pie.

Jarvis Church & Soul Station: The Hoxton

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Toronto, ON


It was hot, hot, hot, onstage and off during the Jarvis Church soul throw down in front of a near full Hoxton, Management had dutifully cranked the heat for the usual November conditions. Except last Saturday night was Memphis warm outside and sauna like inside. Even the babes in barely there camisoles were sweating up way before the dancing started. No question this was a dancing demographic, primarily made up of newish fans brought into the soul fold by such as Usher and Timberlake, salted with a small number of veteran genre fans reliving their old soul days.


All comers were pleased as Church and backing crew Soul Station set a torrid pace which put everybody on the good foot from the get go.
The former Philosopher Kings front man is on a mission to bring soul back and with the Sam Cooke catalogue as the template, he went to work with sweaty enthusiasm and impressive vocal chops.


Church is arguably the finest falsetto in the land and selections such as Cooke’s Civil Rights anthem ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ and his own current single ‘Do It Better’ showcased a painstaking and emotive approach to the material. Anyone familiar with Cooke’s work knows it’s no easy task covering all his vocal bases. Church was up for the challenging, cleverly balancing the testifyin’ with the smooth operatin’ on such as ‘Having A party’ and ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’.

Eliades Ochoa: Danforth Music Hall

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Toronto

The crowd on the sidewalk smoking was abuzz with excitement in at leas three languages. Scalpers were taking a whipping as anybody with tickets in hand were gonna use them. The Cuban community was out in force as were many Toronto fans who’d caught the Cuban music bug while vacationing on the island. Put them all together and they spell a sold out show for the Cuban guitar maestro.

Backed by a well-schooled seven-piece band dressed in various shades of grey and black, the man best known to many as the lead guitarist and singer with Buena Vista Social Club set about turning a concert hall into a churning Havana barrio dance club.

When Ochoa takes to the stage, the music that he and his band play: clattering percussion, yearning trumpets, full-blooded vocal harmonies, swinging guitars, are markers of a specific Eliades Ochoa sound. Even though he's a fierce protector and champion of Cuba’s indigenous musical forms, Elidaes live and in the moment is the guy who revolutionised son by bringing percussion and horns into the mix. The guy whose unique harmonic guitar can sound like a tres (traditional Cuban guitar) or a regular guitar.

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.

Jeanine Mackie Band: Live At The Drake

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Submitted by Don Graham


After watching the gifted Jeanine Mackie perform for a few nights at the Beaches International Jazz Festival Street Fest, what better way to listen to her at home than a live recording? And that’s exactly what I did. ‘Jeanine Mackie Live At The Drake’ is an 11 song offering of classic R&B and Soul classics. Making a live record can be a daunting undertaking but Ms. Mackie and her band of brothers pulled it off in topnotch fashion. Having just watched her performance and then listening to the live CD, I was impressed with how much the band and Jeanine sounded exactly the same on record as they do live. That is a true testament to the talent assembled for this project. The band consisting of the guitar magic of Bob McAlpine, the keyboard mastery of Matt Horner, the solid bass of Bryan Stoher, the soulful saxophone of John Johnson and held together by the driving drums of Al Cross and percussion of Arturo Avales- these are some of Toronto’s finest players. It’s the type of ensemble that a pure voice like Jeanine Mackie deserves and needs to show it’s full quality. A perfect marriage of band and vocals.


The set includes a great version of Junior Walker’s Shotgun, and a funky version of Bill Withers’ Use Me. Dionne Warwick’s Walk on By is another highlight, Aretha’s Respect and Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On shine as well.

Fraser and Friends

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Story: Don Graham

Allan Fraser (one half of the iconic folk duo Fraser & Debolt of the 70’s) appeared last night at Donald Quan’s Musideum in downtown Toronto. The folk/rock icon was accompanied by a stellar lineup of A Team sidemen, Bob Cohen on guitar, David Woodhead on bass, Joel Axler on piano and special guest, fiddler, Ian Guenther. Guenther was a big part of the Fraser & DeBolt album on Columbia Records. The reunion resulted in an amazing evening of music and memories.

Fraser & DeBolt were the springboard Fraser needed to get his music heard by the masses. After showcasing as an opening act to Tom Paxton at New York’s famed Fillmore East, the duo was signed to the giant label Columbia Records. They recorded their debut album in Toronto with Craig Allen handling the production and fiddle whiz Ian Guenther accompanying them. The album was a critical success getting rave reviews in the New York Times, Maclean’s Magazine and the Los Angeles Free Press among others.

Allan and Daisy, capitalizing on the momentum, created by the first album were soon back in the studio recording the follow up ‘With Pleasure’ album. The pair stayed busy and in 1974 they were chosen to represent North America in The International Song Festival in Sopot, Poland. Fraser & DeBolt broke up not long after that and although they never quite made it as big as predicted, forty years later there is still a buzz about them and the songs.  More importantly there is still a buzz about Allan Fraser.

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