Friday, July 20, 2012

Gig: Doug Paisley

Doug Paisley

Rivoli. Saturday, June 4, 2011.

Unusually for me, I totally missed opener Lindi Ortega, partially because, equally unusual, this gig was actually running on time. That would be one of several signs that there was more of a grown-up vibe at hand for this show. Also noteworthy: this one was put on by Massey Hall's ticketing arm, and not one of the usual rock'n'roll promoters.1

This was another part of the PR effort concomitant with the domestic reissue of his second album, and it brought out an older sort of crowd than the one that filled up Soundscapes a few days earlier. Now, we're not supposed to let the audience (or perceived audience) affect how we feel about an artist, but let's face it — we do. It naturally comes to mind: if an artist is chasing an older, more middle-of-the-road audience, what does that imply for their work and how they present themselves? I'm not one to criticize if a musician wants to play to forty-year-olds instead of twenty-year-olds — the "old" cadre are willing to pay a higher ticket price and are way more likely to buy an album. But at the same time, there's always the lingering worry that the outcome will be the musician attempting to "write down" to the broader audience, diluting their talent to appeal to the lowest common denominator.2

Pointing to the empty zone in front of the stage, Paisley commented, "in case anyone's not standing where they want to be standing, there's the invariable V.I.P. space up here that you can come and fill." Several people howled "no", not wanting their comfortably-seated views interfered with, another subtle sign of the different sort of audience at hand. Looking all this over, I was thinking about the fine, fine line between "rootsy singer-songwriter" and "adult contemporary". And as Paisley began to play, I was admittedly wishing his band still had a honky-tonkin' pedal steel. But at least the solid backing trio had room for a bit more gear, including a Rhodes electric piano which filled out the sound some more.

Although celebrating Constant Companion, Paisley wasn't reluctant to dip back to '08's self-titled album, playing "Broken in Two" and "Digging In The Ground" early on. But he did have access to some of the voices that graced the new one, with Julie Faught joining the group to add harmonies to "Always Say Goodbye" and "I Stand Alone".

As always, Paisley was an engaging banterer, telling the story behind the then-unreleased "Bats"3, played in a stripped-down solo version. That led off a mid-set solo stretch, and Paisley commented how the songs he picked for this part of the show were the saddest ones he had, even asking the audience to choose the next song: "one's about certain death, and the other's about the apocalypse."

The solo spotlight ended with a guest appearance from Justin Rutledge, Paisley's friend and neighbour, who did a solo acoustic version of one of his own new songs. It's probably that perception thing again, but I'd always thought of Rutledge as the sort of competently bland AAA artist that I was hoping Paisley wasn't getting melded into.4

In the last segment of the show, Jennifer Castle reprised her role on the album by adding her voice for a trio of tunes, including the appropriately set-ending "End of the Day". The encore brought a beautiful rendition of Neil Young's "It's a Dream", and, all told, it was enough to (mostly) remember that it's the singer that matters, not the crowd. With his pure voice and honest songs, Paisley certainly deserves an audience.5


1 Paisley would later confess, "I grew up in Toronto, and I probably snuck into Massey Hall over fifty or sixty times since I was a kid. So I consider this as the first step towards payback. [beat, then sotto voce] That's gonna be a lotta shows, though."

2 I think we can label this "Ron Sexsmith syndrome".

3 This song is now out on the new Golden Embers EP.

4 At this point, I can't not mention the fascinating/distracting trainwreck of the presumably-drunk woman, who started the show sitting on the floor underneath a table against the stage. As the music picked up, she got increasingly emotionally involved, wiping away tears during "Bluebird" and eventually shouting "you're all good!" at Rutledge. During "O Heart", she went from power-pumping her balled-up fists to full-on interpretive dancing, and would break into a solo slow-clap to the lyrics "everyone is wounded/ everyone is scarred" during "Come Here My Love".

5 Paisley will be opening for Bry Webb as part of the SummerWorks Music Series on Saturday, August 18, 2012. This show in particular (and the entirety of the well-curated concert series) is well-recommended.

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