Meaghan Smith @ Rivoli

      . : : July 2nd, 2011 : : .

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (or worse, following me on Twitter), you probably know that I pretty much adore Juno Best New Artist (2011) winner Meaghan Smith to pieces. Her debut album, The Cricket’s Orchestra, was one of my favourites of 2010 — and is certainly my most often lent to friends, whose arms I have to twist to eventually get it back.

I’ll be seeing her for a fourth time in a little less than a year next week, and although I’ve since learned the endearing between-song banter is rehearsed, and just as much a part of the show as the songs are (I can recite the stories back almost as well as she can!), they still seem just as genuine and charming as that first time I saw her last summer. Indeed, sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone has been following her as long or as intently as I have, and every show is someone’s first. It’s undoubtedly disarming, and allows even the casual fan to feel like an old friend.

I have a strong feeling that there were a lot of such first-timers at Meaghan’s first Toronto show post-Juno, where she performed a low-key set at the crazy-intimate and under-attended Rivoli, a venue usually used for sketch and stand-up comedy or local acts just starting up, not an artist officially recognized as one of the best performers in the nation. As you might expect from such a venue description, the room is scattered with small, two-or-three seat tables, and a few rows of extra chairs at the back to accommodate a couple of dozen others — but it was far from the standing room only I expected. The only logical conclusion was everyone with the slightest musical taste was out of town for the long weekend.

The atmosphere actually ended up contributing to the vintage, early-jazz club vibe that allows Meaghan to really shine. Never has the theatrically powerful ending (let alone the scat breakdown) to songs such as You Got Out seemed more natural and at home.

If I had any fears that Meaghan had nothing new to surprise an old fan, they were quickly put to rest when she performed a fresh, astonishing version of Gershwin‘s oft-covered classic, Summertime. We were also treated to her most thorough set I’d seen yet, touching on all but one of the songs from the aforementioned album. She opened the show, as usual, performing one of my back-pocket favourites, the live only (so far, anyway) track cribbing heavily from The Wizard of Oz, If You Only Had A Heart.

I was a bit perturbed that, at the end of the set, rather than rooting for a well-deserved encore, the room finished a polite round of applause and then bolted for the bathrooms as one big mob. But, recounting the setlist, there wasn’t much more that Meaghan would have left to perform even if the crowd had broken out in a thunderous, ground-shaking roar. The set was pretty close to perfect top-to-bottom, and a true testament to the lady’s unquestionable talents not only as a singer/songwriter, but as a performer who can grasp the crowd’s attention and hold onto it unflinchingly until the last note of the evening dies down.

A truly grateful performer who personally communicates with her fans daily through various social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and FanBridge, Meaghan also came out after the show and talked with each and every person whom stood in line to meet her, signed t-shirts and album covers, and posed for photographs. This note is made more fantastic with the additional knowledge that the evening’s performance fell upon her 6th-year wedding anniversary with her husband and bandmate, Jason Mingo!

All said, it was a great performance in a nice, small venue in the heart of Toronto. The sound was quiet — so quiet that you can actually hear the venue’s air conditioning turn on and blow through a part in the middle of the recording — but pristine. It was a treat to return to the Rivoli after being absent for the better part of a decade, and a greater treat to see one of Canada’s greatest talent do what she does best.

01. If You Only Had A Heart
02. [banter]
03. If You Asked Me
04. [banter]
05. A Little Love
06. [banter]
07. Poor
08. [banter]
09. Soft Touch
10. Heartbroken
11. [banter]
12. I Know
13. [banter]
14. Drifted Apart
15. Take Me Dancing
16. [banter]
17. Summertime [Gershwin]
18. [banter]
19. You Got Out
20. [banter]
21. Five More Minutes

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Take Me Dancing (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to Meaghan Smith, Jason Mingo, and the Rivoli for an unforgettable night.

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