Hawksley Workman @ Drake Underground

      . : : February 20th, 2011 : : .

I had some vacation time left over from 2010 (you know, from my REAL job. That one that pays the bills for this site.), and opted to take it, quite randomly, this particular week in February. Little did I know at the time that it was going to be THIS week that CBC Radio 2 was going to broadcast concerts from (at least) two excellent Canadian artists? Or that The Dears were going to play a free record release party? That the Jenn Grant concert I’d been anticipating was only the tip of the iceberg in the crazy vacation week of non-stop blog updates? Except, as it turns out, it wasn’t the tip.

In the middle of the week, the Drake Hotel announced via Twitter that they were putting on a free concert from a note-worthy Canadian artist to celebrate their 7th birthday, and it piqued my interest. After all, after the remarkable residency Kathleen Edwards performed at the Drake last spring, she’d be a prime candidate to bring back. So I kept my ear to the ground — or, rather, eye on the Drake’s Twitter feed — in hopes of an artist who would live up to the hype. So, when on Friday they gave a pretty clear hint (The artist once wrote a book of love poems to a Mermaid) that Hawksley Workman was the performer in question, I abandoned my plans to spend the last few hours of my vacation doing as little as possible.

After all, I’d loved Hawksley’s short set, performed with legendary Jim Cuddy and the remarkable Colleen Brown, at last spring’s NXNE festival Six Shooter Records showcase, and was interested to see if he performed as well without such phenomenal crutches. His adoring cult following is stuff legends are made out of, so my expectations weren’t particularly low. In fact, I continued to live up my increasingly laughable reputation for showing up to concert venues ridiculously early; with such a large, devoted local following and such a small confined room, I preferred to err on the side of caution. So when I showed up shortly after 6pm for the scheduled 8pm door time, I may have received a few confused looks from Hotel workers. But luckily the Drake has a welcoming couch at the back of the lobby, so I made myself comfortable, pulled out my handy netbook and did some reading. When, around 7:30, the doors to the Underground were opened, I scouted my usual spot, planted roots and took to my Blackberry, where, over the next hour and a half, I drafted my blog reviews for the previous night’s Rae Spoon and Jenn Grant concerts. Sometimes being ridiculously early has its benefits: namely, in this case, increased productivity.

Hawksley showed up promptly at 9pm, taking the stage with a single electric guitar and a partner, endearingly called Mr. Lonely, who performed backing vocals and keyboard. It was apparent right off the bat that this was going to be a fun, casual and completely informal affair once Hawksley took to the mic and promptly chatted amicably about the weather, the odd placement of the Drake’s disco ball, and the wonders of airplane travel, all before committing to the first song. His chattiness was a motif that was returned to throughout the night, and in stark contrast to previous performers’ banter, Hawkley jaws with such suave, confident ease that it actually made the Drake Underground feel even more intimate and special. It felt less like a performance, and more like old friends hanging out, catching up. It was a warm atmosphere that no recording could hope to capture accurately.

But, as disarming as the banter was, it was hard to long forget the REAL reason we were there: the music. And it was brought in spades. Being more or less unfamiliar with the music was never a hindrance: each song was played loosely, casually but without obscuring the well-crafted melodies and versed lyrics. But the experience of the evening far surpassed the sum of its parts. To fully appreciate Hawksley, I honestly believe you have to be there, and as close as possible. At that angle it’s so easy to slip away and forget there’s anyone else in the room. And that’s the REAL Hawksley Workman experience.

The evening did not go off without a hitch, however. The flaw of the free concert set-up is that they let anyone in. There’s no incentive NOT to go. And a gaggle of youthful looking women at the front acted quite selfishly when, at about the hour mark, they suddenly became a lot more concerned with the sound of their own voices and less with the one being broadcast through the large speakers. You know, so everyone can hear THAT voice. The one people congregated to see and hear. No amount of increasingly aggressive cut-eye went noticed. At the Drake, there’s no WAY the performers don’t see and hear you, especially in the first two rows. The room is just TOO small. So I couldn’t rightfully blame Hawksley when a solid five minutes of pleas for an encore went unacknowledged. Their behavior was rude and inexcusable. Not only to the fans inconvenienced by your inane prattle, but to the artist giving his time and energy at no cost to your wallet. I was embarrassed for Hawksley, and for the fans new and old who attentively hung on ever note and syllable. It was a shame, marring an otherwise impeccable night.

The recording, as all from the Drake, turned out beautifully. There was some technical snafu that causes some light diginoise (mostly a low hum) on and off through the latter part of the recording. I’m hoping it has more to do with proximity to speakers or cellphones than malfunctioning equipment, but I will have to perform further tests to evaluate. It’s really quite minor and only barely detracts from an otherwise spectacular download.

01. [banter]
02. Don’t Be Crushed
03. You Me And The Weather
04. [banter]
05. Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off
06. [banter]
07. We Will Still Need A Song
08. Smoke Baby
09. [banter]
10. You And The Candles
11. [banter]
12. Oh You Delicate Heart
13. Piano Blink
14. [banter]
15. The City Is A Drag
16. Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzkey
      > Our House [Madness] [tease]
      > Come On Eileen [Dexy’s Midnight Runners] [tease]
      > It’s A Mistake [Men At Work] [tease]
17. [banter]
18. No Beginning No End

[info.txt // flac fingerprint ]
[ Request FLAC or MP3 Download ]

We Still Need A Song (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to Hawksley Workman, the wonderful Drake Hotel and staff, and the lovely Katie for both the photograph and the company.

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