Kathleen Edwards @ Drake Underground

. : : April 27th, 2010 : : .

I’ve come to learn that seeing a band more than once on the same tour is risky. Seeing them play several consecutive shows is even more risky. The odds are extraordinarily good that you will largely end up hearing the same setlist, song-for-song, over the course of each night. I’ve come to appreciate the small differences — the same songs in a different order, perhaps. Or that one or two different songs thrown in around the middle, maybe. So, when Kathleen Edwards announced that she would be performing a weekly residency gig at the Drake Underground to preview some new material, I was a little apprehensive. After all, when I think of residency gigs, I think of varied set lists from night-to-night, performing different materials to the patrons who “reside” at that location. However, I know bands don’t necessarily subscribe to the same sentiment, and this can be especially true when they are working on new material. At any album preview show, you’ll hear the same four or six new songs ready to be road tested, and then the handful of established favourites played so frequently they need little-to-no rehearsal. And that’s pretty much what defined the first of the residency shows.

So I was tickled when Kathleen showed up with a whole new bag of tricks on the second of three shows. On top of the established favourites you know you’re going to hear at any Kathleen Edwards show and the fresh material previewed last week, Kathleen pulled out a couple more new tracks, a handful of unexpected older ones, a cover, and two special guests. Now, THAT’S how you top an already great show with an even better one.

I’m not familiar with Damhnait Doyle‘s work — although, from what I’ve gathered, she’s fairly prolific for her young age. Singing back-ups on the new song House Full of Empty Rooms, her voice beautifully complimented Kathleen’s; their harmonies soared and inspired rapt silence from the 200 plus patrons filling the Drake. It was the sudden appearance of Blue Rodeo‘s Jim Cuddy, though, that really escalated the night to something special. The hometown hero took the stage with Kathleen and the two stumbled through, stopped, and then restarted a beautiful take on Jim’s Blue Rodeo tune Falling Down Blue. The audience was quick to forgive the two for the misstep as the teasing, friendly banter between the two old friends reminded us all that we were lucky to be witnessing what virtually amounts to a special, intimate band practice, or a moment between friends where a guitar is picked up and old favourites strummed laughingly over drinks in the quiet of a late-night living room.

There were a couple of low moments for the evening: the Jim Cuddy appearance inspired exasperating disquiet among a handful of Blue Rodeo fans who decided that they would voice their excitement loudly and continuously throughout the singer’s on-stage tenure, prompting several cut-eyed looks as sharp as daggers and at least twice as many rolled eyes and signs of discontent from those around them. Also worth noting is the rare flaw in the otherwise spectacular sound of the Drake Underground. During an otherwise phenomenal performance of Asking For Flowers‘ highlight Goodnight CaliforniaJim Bryson‘s microphone started popping and hissing angry bursts of static. The evening’s sound engineer was prompt in isolating the problem and replacing the cable while the band put on their professional face and powered through, but the song was already marred by the technical snafu.

The inspired song selection and unparalleled performance of the big picture out-wrestled these small sins, however. It was worth noting that, in the four times I have seen Kathleen perform previously, I have never seen her so emotive, so noticeably invested in every chord strum, ever word sung. The fire in her eyes almost single-handedly lit the stage during the angrier, upbeat numbers, and I would bet my bottom dollar that those were tears I saw welling in her eyes during the beautiful, solo rendition of Scared At Night. It was clear from the get-go that Kathleen meant business – the onslaught of material was so fast and furious that it was twenty minutes before Kathleen even acknowledged the audience – and by the end, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who could argue that she didn’t deliver.

01. Mint
02. 6 O’Clock News
03. Asking For Flowers
04. Empty Threat
05. [banter]
06. In State
07. [banter]
08. Pink Champagne
09. [banter]
10. House Full Of Empty Rooms^
11. Going To Hell
12. Goodnight California
13. The Cheapest Key
14. Change
15. [banter] > Falling Down Blue [abandoned]
16. Falling Down Blue [Blue Rodeo]*
17. I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory
18. 12 Bellevue
19. [encore] > [banter]
20. Scared At Night
21. [banter] > Help Me Through The Night [abandoned]
22. Help Me Make It Through The Night [Kirstofferson]*
23. Chameleon
24. Back To Me
^ with Damhnait Doyle
* with Jim Cuddy

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12 Bellevue (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

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