Too Many Sisters – El Mocambo

. : : April 17th, 2009 : : .

Local openers can be troubling. All too often, they’re dredged out for just the one show and placed on the bill more because they’re friends of the promoter rather than their being musically compatible with the touring line-up, let alone their ability to create local interest in a foreign headliner.

It shouldn’t be so difficult. Especially in a market as large as Toronto, where the sea of local musical talent is deep and long, and the breadth of choices is nothing short of astounding. Perhaps that’s the problem? Maybe if the promoter can’t (or won’t) choose from a list of favourites, the selection is overwhelming and leads to drawing from a hat or closing their eyes and placing their finger down on a lengthy list of usual suspects. Whatever the reason, there’s always a bit of pleasant surprise that crosses my face when they get it serendipitously right.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how much fun I had with Maria Taylor‘s touring curtain jerkers, The Whispertown 2000. There was a third slot at that show, however, that was certainly worth more than a passing acknowledgment.

I guess Stephen Stanley is somewhat of a big deal. He sang and played guitar for popular Canadian act Lowest of the Low, whose initial success was before I was ten years old, and second success was when I was living in a dorm room and wrapped up in The Beatles (What?! Doesn’t everyone have that phase?). Needless to say, I’m oblivious to the group’s output. But Stanley is now front-man singer/songwriter for Too Many Sisters, which only officially boasts only one other member: Carla MacNeil. Their album, Non-Barking Dog, is another story. Keyboards, drummed, layered guitars and up front vocals are found aplenty on the record, but on this night at the El Mocambo, the duo shared the stage with only an acoustic guitar and a violin. The songs were stripped down to their very essence — indeed, they were written not only to accommodate a violin, but Stephen and Carla’s specific vocal harmonies, as well. And it showed.

The instrumentation was sparse, but the music was powerful. The voices carried across the room, inviting — nae! demanding — every pair of ears lend themselves toward the stage. The sound was crystal clear, and I remember being able to hear every syllable of lyric and falling in love with every word. I remember specifically the band promoting another show for down the street later that week, but it ended up being rainy that evening and I thought another opportunity would arise shortly thereafter. Alas, the band has seemingly fallen off the face of the Earth since then, updating neither their website nor MySpace page, and their Facebook site has fallen off the proverbial map. I hope this radio silence doesn’t prove to be as bad as it bodes, but if the band has called it quits, I will always remember this set for its beautiful slice of fleeting moments amongst the many that occurred on this April evening.

01. [introduction]
02. The Things I Wish I’d Never Seen
03. Downtime
04. The Same Old Joint
05. When I Get My Confidence Back
06. Useless Desires [Patti Griffin]
07. Your Birthday Party
08. Skyscrapers
09. V

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When I Get My Confidence Back (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to Too Many Sisters, Whispertown 2000, Maria Taylor, and the staff at the El Mocambo who did their part to make the night so memorable. Please download and distribute this recording freely, and support the bands by buying their albums, merchandise and concert tickets when they perform in your town.

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