It was another hugely enjoyable night. the venue was The Horseshoe Tavern in the heart of downtown Toronto, and its basically a long bar with a separate performing space slightly upstairs at the back. The capacity was hard to determine, but a couple of hundred would be my guess, although the stage was a substantial size.
Doors opened at 10pm and the first act came on at around an hour later - a solo artist who sang and played keyboards. Kind of looked like Laura Veirs.
Now, I hugely admire anyone who gets up on stage to do a show like that. A venue that is at best maybe one-quarter full of which a dozen or so will be genuinely interested at the outset. It takes real courage...and a fair bit of confidence.
The fact that I'm unable to tell you the name of the act is evidence that I was bored throughout the 40 minute set and had no desire to find out more. I'm not saying she wasn't talented, but the songs, all her own compositions bar one, did nothing for me. The cover was You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman, which got a few whoops and hollers. I thought she butchered it, turning something the original soulful and heartfelt rendition into something humdrum and MOR.
Next up was an another support act. Now I knew this was Scout Niblet as it said so on the ticket.
A fair crowd gathered to watch in anticipation of her stage entrance. I joined in at the front but had no idea what to expect. I was guessing at this stage it was another slightly-better known member of the local Toronto community, a view that gained momentum in my mind when a female, dressed in an outfit akin to that of the the local Toronto FC soccer side took to the stage with only a guitar for company.
What followed astounded me. What I learned afterwards showed how little I know of music in the 21st Century.
The opening couple of songs saw me instantly think PJ Harvey of the Rid Of Me/Mansize era. So I was hooked. This girl could sing and growl like the best of them, and she could also play her guitar.
On the third song, she was joined by a male drummer. So now my brain was telling me that I was watching a reverse White Stripes. The songs as a duet were even better. The crowd responded with huge enthusiasm and I noticed that a few folk around me were singing along obviously knowing the stuff.
Again, this set featured a cover version. But this was unlike any other cover versions I've heard in a long while.
I'm not sure if any readers outwith the UK would be familiar with the TV ads of the 70s and 80s for Cadbury's Flake. They were either completely Freudian or a pastiche of porn movies. Or maybe both.
They inevitably featured a gorgeous model, often scantily clad (or perhaps in a bubble bath). The model would be wearing the reddest of lipstick and there was always a close-up shot of the flake going between the lips and being bitten as the theme song reached its (ahem) climax and catchphrase of 'Only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate tastes like chocolate never tasted before'. If you want an idea, I've tracked down a few of the ads on You Tube and posted them here at The Video Villain.
Anyway.....it was this theme tune that was given the full treatment by Scout Niblet and her drummer. And it was magnificently entertaining.
All too soon the 50 minute set came to an end. As good a time as I've ever had with a support act. I made a mental note to find out more and go see again in whatever downtown bar in Toronto the duo would next appear.
It was over the weekend when doing a google search that I learned Scout Niblet is someone who has been on the go for a few years now - and far from being a Torontonian, she hails from Robin Hood country - Nottingham, England.
There's been a handful of singles, EPs and LPs - some of which have been on the Too Pure label, which is where the afore-mentioned PJ Harvey started off.
Why had no-one has brought Scout Niblet's existence to my attention before now is a total mystery. Maybe there was a bundle of blog activity a while back before I started surfing the net, or maybe I've been looking in the wrong places. But now I'm on a mission to go out to some of the many indie record stores in this great city to track down the recordings.
And so to our main act of the evening.
It was Tacim over at 8/1 who first alerted me quite a while back to Annie Clark aka St Vincent with his posting of a song called Now Now. I thought it was such great tune worth sharing with the world, that I also posted it as an mp3.
I bought the debut album two weeks back from a great store called Streetscape Sounds. And as I mentioned in the last post, it's a CD on heavy rotation right now.
It's a lush piece of work - full of gorgeous, melodic and harmonious sounds. There are loads of different instruments thrown into the mix, most of which are played by the highly-talented Ms Clark. And so I reckoned it was always going to be really difficult for a four-piece band playing instruments consisting of guitar/bass/keyboards/violin/drums to faithfully reproduce on stage what you get through the speakers in your sitting-room.
And so it proved.
This was a concert that was full of energy. The four-piece band were tight and highly skilled on each instrument. It was a show in which Annie spent most of the time on lead guitar and vocals, during which she demonstrated that in addition to being a great composer and instrumentalist, she is a natural leader on stage.
It's a while since I've been at a gig where many of the songs were radically different from the way they've been recorded onto CD or vinyl, and the truth of the matter is that not all of the songs survived the transformation to the live setting - probably because they ate just too complex and detailed to become straightforward rock songs. But I don't think anyone came away feeling disappointed or short-changed. Certainly I didn't. And it was an enjoyable enough gig that I put my hand in my pocket at the end to purchase a t-shirts and a 7" single.
It would have been very easy for Annie Clark to determine that her songs are best left in the studio environment and not to go out on the road. I'm pleased she didn't, and I would thoroughly recommend that if you see St Vincent coming to a town or city near your way in the coming weeks or months, you should get out and see them.
Now instead of mp3s tonight, I want to direct you to some clips.
Scout Niblet has allowed some footage of the Toronto gig to be posted on her myspace site. Just click here and see why I enjoyed it so much.
And click here to get some St Vincent footage.