. : : July 2nd, 2011 : : .
Ian Kelly is primarily based out of the largely french-speaking province of Quebec. As an anglophone performer, that has to be a bit of an uphill battle to begin with. Especially since the heart of his show — or at least the recent one at the Rivoli, opening for Meaghan Smith — was less the songs and more the personality that shone through in the between-song banter.
At one such point, he apologizes preemptively for an experiment that transcribes a “piano song” to guitar, reminding the audience that he was “the opening act [and] this part of the show is free.” I suppose he may be bilingual and just as charming en français, but I think the lingual pendulum swing between song and stand-up would be jarring.
I don’t mean to imply Ian’s not a great performer; on the contrary, the chorus to I Would Have You has been stuck in my head all week. Rather, the problem is his inability to consistently overcome the overwhelming weakness any singer/songwriter who takes the stage in front of a largely unfamiliar audience with only an acoustic guitar faces.
As an instrument, the acoustic guitar is generally a rhythm instrument. When used in a solo setting, creative usage of the instrument is needed to entice a musical hook. If this is not possible, the performer must rely on a vocal hook. If neither can be appropriately achieved, songs end up falling into the “generic acoustic singer-songwriter fare” category. Ian straddled this fence, ending up on both sides from song-to-song.
Luckily, the dude is as suave as they come, and managed to ensnare and captivate the entire audience by charisma alone. Any residual resistance was thwarted when, for a finale, Ian unplugged his guitar, stepped off the stage, and coaxed the crowd to join him in a sing-along of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
A cursory listen to samples of each of his album tracks provided on his website shows the songs are fleshed out with a full backing band on disc — and they are stronger and catchier for it. I would definitely be intrigued to see Ian come back to Toronto with a full backing band.
I taped this one from an unusual spot — seated, toward the back of the room by the bar. As such, you may pick up on such bonus features as glasses clinking, drunks chatting, and busboys stomping through the room. But seriously, it’s not that bad. The Rivoli is so intimate, the stage itself is virtually at the back of the room by the bar.
The recording, though, has two important notes; namely, the Edirol recorder didn’t seem to “take” the switch back to 24-bit/96khz after the Dark Mean snafu, so this one is also accidentally recorded at 16/44.1. Also, it was erroneously recorded needlessly quiet, and had to be pumped up several levels for the unmic’ed set closer. As usual with the recorder, there are a handful of dropouts while the volume is being adjusted, but nothing that affects the song itself.
Listen to the sample below, and get a feel for Ian’s style. The set is worth downloading for I Would Have You and Hallelujah alone, but you may just be able to mine some other gems in here.
01. Wiser Man
05. Made Up My Mind
07. I Would Have You
11. Take Me Home
13. Hallelujah [Leonard Cohen]
Thanks to Ian Kelly and the Rivoli for a great set.