Crash Test Dummies @ Great Hall

. : : October 14th, 2010 : : .

I had no intention to see the Crash Test Dummies.

After all, their biggest hits were all on the Adult Alternative charts when I was barely 10-years old. In fact, I was more familiar with Weird Al’s (errrr…) weird cover of what might arguably be their most well-known hit, Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.

But the Crash Test Dummies, or rather what’s left of them, share a manager with one Ms. Colleen Brown. If this isn’t your first time on the blog, odds are fairly good you’ve at least seen her name posted around these parts once or twice. If this is your first visit to the blog, let’s just say I discovered Colleen Brown’s music this past summer, and have fallen in love with her music — especially her live performances. I’ve since been blessed with ample opportunity to see Colleen play, but after a lengthy stay in Toronto over the summer that allowed me to catch her perform four or five times, she returned to Edmonton for some ten-weeks. So when her manager, Jeff Rogers lined her up with her other clients (Crash Test Dummies — aren’t you paying attention?!) for a cross-Canada tour, I wasn’t about to miss a triumphant return to Toronto, even though I already had purchased tickets for The Dears on the same evening.

I mulled over the possibility of catching Colleen’s set and then jetting over to catch The Dears, but a last minute venue change put the Crash Test Dummies set on the other side of the downtown core. The likelihood of that working out well was next to nil, so I opted to check give the Crash Test Dummies the benefit of the doubt and stay for their set.

Before Collen’s set, the stage had several instruments set up — a stand-up bass on the left, Colleen’s Yamaha keyboard in the centre, an electric guitar to the right, and Colleen’s gold Epiphone in the back. I found it a bit weird, then, that after leaving the stage, the band took all their instruments with them, leaving the stage completely barren. When a young gentleman took the stage some twenty-minutes later with an acoustic guitar, I mistook him for a stagehand, bringing out the Crash Test Dummies and doing a quick soundcheck. Embarrassing, really, as that young gentleman turned out to be Stuart Cameron, guitarist for The Heartbroken — a band I saw do a drunken improvisational set after a Kathleen Edwards headlining gig at the Dakota Tavern. I had really enjoyed Stuart’s playing, and had no idea he was now touring with Crash Test Dummies.

Luckily, once Stuart starting playing, the spotlight turned on him and I was quick to snap on my recorder. I missed the first four bars or so, but was completely set up by the time Brad Roberts, lead frontman for the group, took the stage. Immediately striking was the sparseness of this internationally renowned group: one member on an acoustic guitar, and a man and a striking lady, Ellen Reid, sharing vocal duties. That’s it. No second guitar, no bass, no drums, no keyboards — not even a kazoo.

But anyone who’s a fan of the Crash Test Dummies knows that it’s Brad Robert’s trademark bellowing baritone voice that is the real star of the show, with Ellen’s feminine harmonies providing a great counterpoint. I was pulled in immediately, almost hypnotized by that voice and stage presence that commanded the room of mostly middle-aged couples. One thing that I’m an absolute sucker for is a frontman whose banter is as good as his songs. Brad nailed this one: there wasn’t a moment left for my mind to wander or my attention to wane. He was witty, intelligent and genuine with stories, anecdotes and yes, even merchandise sales tactics.

This was almost marred by a somewhat racist joke pointed towards First Nations people nearing the end of the set that started off as a relatively harmless pun that quickly turned into a somewhat bigoted series of remarks that downplayed the difficulties of the First Nations people by claiming he is “over it,” and that he isn’t going to apologize for something his great grandparents did to someone else’s great grandparents. Only problem with that, Brad? We’re still treating them like second-rate citizens when we should really be continuing to make restitution. But I’m not going to get too political, here.

If one doesn’t allow themselves to get too caught up in this controversial and comparatively minute section of the show, there is little left to complain about. Even being unfamiliar with all but that one song, I enjoyed each and every performance from start to finish. One of the many pleasant surprises was the talent of Ellen Reid, who was allowed full vocal reins on two tracks — one cover, and one from her solo album, Cinerellen. In my estimation, she was otherwise criminally underused throughout the set, but again, that is likely due to the sparse set-up (a quick Wikipedia look up indicates that she is generally the band’s keyboardist). Stuart played amazingly, and was the topic of much of the overheard post-show conversation of many patrons mulling around the merchandise tables. But, again, it was Brad’s trademark low singing voice, bringing to mind another Canadian legend, Leonard Cohen, that won everyone over.

As mentioned in the Colleen Brown blog post, my mics are MIA and my seat’s position was less than ideal, but the recording turned out surprisingly well, regardless. There may be a few audible bits of light static as the mic rubs against the inside of my shirt pocket, and the first 10 seconds or so are cut — but otherwise, a nice sounding recording that will make Crash Test Dummmies fans new and old quite happy.

  1. God Shuffled His Feet
  2. [banter]
  3. And It’s Beautiful
  4. [banter]
  5. Swimming In Your Ocean
  6. [banter]
  7. The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead [XTC]
  8. [banter]
  9. Songbird
  10. Just Shoot Me, Baby
  11. [banter]
  12. Put A Face
  13. [banter]
  14. Not Today Baby
  15. [banter]
  16. Two Knights and Maidens
  17. [banter]
  18. Playing Dead
  19. [banter]
  20. Afternoons and Coffeespoons
  21. [banter]
  22. You Said You’d Meet Me (In California)
  23. [banter]
  24. Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
  25. [encore / banter]
  26. Androgynous [The Replacements]
  27. [banter]
  28. What I’m Famous For
  29. You’re Early [Ellen Reid]
  30. [banter]
  31. Superman’s Song

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Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to the Crash Test Dummies and The Great Hall.

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