Steve Singh @ Drake Underground

. : : March 20th, 2011 : : .

The experience of what to watch when going to a concert has changed dramatically for me over the years.

When I was young, I did what I suspect most people do — eyes stuck unwaveringly on the face of the front man / singer. When I started learning guitar, my eyes started to gravitate downwards. I would watch the hands form chords and transition from fret to fret, and barely look at the singer’s face at all. When I took up a bit of bass and got interested in drumming, my glances became increasingly varied. I then started getting more interested in gear, and now notice guitar brands and styles, and to a lesser degree, amps and guitar pedals.

So, as a taper and thusly unhindered by distractions such as chatting or drinks (after all, who wants a tape littered in the sound if ice dancing up against the side of a glass?), my roving, interested eyes find a lot of stimuli to accompany the tunes.

For Steve Singh’s performance, I found it near impossible to remove my stare from his hands. The man is a guitarist’s guitar player. Watching his fingers work their way up the fretboard of his Gretsch, mindlessly switching from inventive chord to chord, and employing a beautiful array of slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs was a dream come true. And seriously, the tone coming out of that guitar?! Whoa.

Katie, in her glowing review of his set, pointed out that it seemed like he was chewing gum throughout his set. I was astonished when reading this — mostly because over the course of his thirty-minute set, I was too distracted from his playing to once notice, but also because you couldn’t hear it. His voice was spot on, and didn’t show a moment’s hint of rust accumulated from his break from performing to focus on producing.

He absolutely had the crowd around his finger, and was graciously appreciative of their rapt attention. A handful of people burst out in laughter when Steve thanked the audience for being one of the most quiet audiences he’s ever played for. I wonder if they knew that, for performers, a quiet room is an attentive room? Rather than a back-handed compliment about ambivalence, the praise was sincere and heart-felt. I’ve heard bootlegs of stadium-sized shows in various other countries, and Japan was one of the most amazing. You could virtually hear a pin drop while the band was playing, but the audience would break out in enthusiastic applause at the appropriate moment — ie, the end of the song. It’s an interesting dichotomy, juxtaposing the two types of audience. I wish more people were respectful of the artist (not to mention the fans) and reserve conversation for after the concert. Or at least position it appropriately — at the back of the room.

Back to the subject at hand: Steve’s songs were good, and it’s unsurprising to hear that he’s found work writing songs for TV, film and commercials. Some of the songs seemed to beg for a full band, fleshed-out treatment, but other songs such as “Dipped In Booze” and “By Trampoline” seemed to be strengthened by the stripped down, solo singer-songwriter approach.

Interestingly, especially for someone in the business of producing albums, Steve is forsaking not only the standard physical release of CDs and records, but also the format of the LP. Instead, he informed the crowd that he would be releasing two-song digital singles bi-monthly over the course of a year via iTunes [edit: Steve has contacted me to let me know this plan has changed. It will now be three four-song EPs]. I will be intrigued to follow this endeavor, an increasingly persistent symptom of the new landscape of digital music that, in theory, provides several benefits to the artists directly (especially independent ones) — including instant feedback from fans and potential listeners throughout the process of crafting what would otherwise be a standard 12-track affair.

I wish Steve much luck with his studio and his forth-coming efforts, but I’m just as interested in seeing him step outside of the studio and back on the stage, where his personality can really shine through.

01. [introduction]
02. Dipped In Booze
03. [banter]
04. I’ll Make You Want To Stay
05. [banter]
06. Fireflies
07. [banter]
08. By Trampoline
09. [banter]
10. Come Right In
11. [banter]
12. Billy’s Song
13. Ladies and Gentlemen, Here Comes The Wave

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Dipped In Booze (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to Steve Singh, The David Suzuki Foundation, everyone at the marvelous Drake Hotel, and Katie!

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