Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Rekindled memories and fun surprises at Juno Concert Series show

The Juno Award festivities begin in Ottawa at the end of the month and culminate with the April 1 televised awards show from Scotiabank Place, but I don't think any of it will be as fun as the March 3 installment of the Juno Concert Series at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern.

Three talented groups acted as house bands over the course of the evening and made excellent accomplices for the top shelf guests who joined them.

The Order of Good Cheer started the night and was soon joined by Thom Darcy of Small Sins and Serena Ryder. The best part of their time on stage was a ripping run through Andy Kim's "Rock Me Gently," one of my favourite songs as a child and one I still hold in high esteem. I wasn't disappointed.

Jason Collett with The Order of Good Cheer
Jason Collett seemed to be battling a cold, but still did a fine job of The Weakerthans' "Sun in an Empty Room" and Metric's "Gold Guns Girls."

Collett's Broken Social Scene buddy Kevin Drew then bounded on stage for what he described as a "bar mitzvah version" of Corey Hart's "Never Surrender" with ad-libbed allusions to "Boy in the Box." I'd happily take it over the original song.

Billy Talent frontman Ben Kowalewicz added a bit of a hardcore element to the Forgotten Rebels' "Surfin' on Heroin" and had me wishing that Billy Talent was that punk.

That ended The Order of Good Cheer's night and, while The Beauties set up behind him, Ron Sexsmith offered a solo acoustic interpretation of Max Webster's "Let Go The Line" that worked surprisingly well in that format.

The Beauties established their prowess from the start by opening their portion of the show by jamming out on The Guess Who's "Guns, Guns, Guns."

Ian Blurton with The Beauties
Ian Blurton maintained his guitar hero reputation by leading a blazing romp through April Wine's "Weeping Widow."

Bahamas' Afie Jurvanen was more restrained but no less impressive as he took The Beauties through a bluesy "Cortez the Killer" that had the crowd spellbound. I'm sure that Neil Young and Crazy Horse would have approved.

Former L'Etranger leader and now New Democratic Party member of parliament for Toronto's Davenport riding Andrew Cash followed and took the opportunity to campaign to the packed club, which seemed to largely share his left-leaning political views. He was joined by Ladies of the Canyon's Maia Davies on Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows," but they should have left that one alone.

The Skydiggers' Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson put a big smile on my face by singing another of my childhood favourites, Pagliaro's "What The Hell I Got." It was obvious that Maize enjoyed himself singing it as much as I did hearing it.

Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson with The Beauties
NQ Arbuckle's Neville Quinlan had the crowd singing along enthusiastically to the chorus of Blue Rodeo's "Hasn't Hit Me Yet."

Drew returned for a song called "Last Night in the City," which he said he's been doing with The Beauties at The Dakota Tavern for the past three years. I liked it.

The Beauties' night came to an end after another visit by Maize and Finlayson and a lead vocal turn by Joel Stewart on the Skydiggers' beautiful "I Will Give You Everything."

I've loved Arkells sets of Motown and other vintage covers in the past, so I was excited to see what they might come up with along with some of their musical friends. It was a surprise when Born Ruffians' Luke Lalonde joined them for Broken Social Scene's "Cause=Time." I was standing beside Drew watching the performance from the Horseshoe office window and it was obvious he appreciated it. When I asked him for a verdict afterward, he replied: "That's an unbelievable feeling."

The lovely Emm Gryner pulled off another pleasant surprise by singing Joel Plaskett Emergency's "Extraordinary." It was pretty good at first and just kept getting better.

The ever-smiling Jose Contreras reprised his band By Divine Right's "Stella Heart Ocean."

Davies took the lead while Cuff The Duke's Wayne Petti and others gang-sang the chorus of Young's "Harvest Moon" along with the audience. Great Lake Swimmers' violinist Miranda Mulholland added an impressive solo for good measure.

Petti took centre stage to sing his own band's "The Future Hangs." The harmonica-fuelled country rocker is probably my favourite Cuff The Duke song, and it sounded just as good in the hands of the Horseshoe assemblage.

Members of Tokyo Police Club and Our Lady Peace drummer Jeremy Taggart whipped more excitement out of the crowd than from me with OLP's "I Loved You All Along," but at least I didn't have to hear Raine Maida singing it.

Drew and Davies were back yet again and made a winning combination on what may be my favourite Dears song, "You and I Are a Gang of Losers."

The crowd erupted when The Tragically Hip's Gord Sinclair and Paul Langlois joined the Arkells for the Hip's "Grace, Too," but it was Arkells singer Max Kerman who stole the show. If Hip frontman Gord Downie ever becomes ill and needs an emergency fill-in, we've found the man to do it. Kerman even did a mid-song stream of consciousness spiel on working a baseball glove in and waiting for the sun to come out a la Downie. The performance had all the benefits of the Hip, but without the group's often annoying fans.

The night ended with the Arkells, The Beauties, The Order of Good Cheer and some of their guests crowding on stage to play Bryan Adams' "Run to You." It seemed like almost all the hipsters in the audience let their guards down and pumped their fists in the air and sang along to the chorus.

The show was presented by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) and North by Northeast in conjunction with the Ontario Media Development Corporation, and the $20 cover charge went to MusiCounts, CARAS' music education charity.

It was a good cause and definitely a better night than February's edition of the Juno Concert Series, and one that every person I talked to was happy to have witnessed.


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