. : : July 16th, 2011 : : .
I hate outdoor concerts.
Outside of the fact that I’m fair-skinned and go from pale to burnt in under 60 seconds, the sound is always horrible, the sight-lines atrocious, the sets too short, and the crowd either wildly aggressive or disappointingly ambivalent. Needless to say, it takes a special performer to drag me out to one of these types of things.
This goes double when the festival is held not in some big park in the middle of nowhere, but rather smack-dab in the middle of the heart of Toronto. This was just such a case when the city of Toronto and a plethora of corporate sponsors put on a festival of shops and showcases at Yonge and Dundas Square promoting a greener, environmentally friendly living. For those who don’t know, Toronto is trying desperately to make this little block of land directly outside of the Eaton Centre shopping mall Canada’s answer to New York’s Times Square (Yes, Canada is known for its huge inferiority complex that leads to a whole lot of “US TOO!”s).
Meaghan Smith, who you may have heard me gush about half a dozen times before in the last 12-months, was the performer who drew me out. The girl is as sweet as she is talented, which is to say cavity-inducing. Her retro-nostalgic amalgamation of big band and jazz with modern day pop SHOULDN’T work on paper, but is absolutely breath-taking to experience. The girl has a voice the size of an elephant, and performs with the flair of an early-20th century showgirl, donning vintage-inspired outfits that complete the illusion.
Her guitar player husBAND, Jason Mingo, is no slouch either. The guy throws out crazy interesting jazz chords like they’ve gone out of style, and improvises loosely structured, seemingly partially improvisational solos that fit like puzzle pieces. But the real draw of this particular show was this was the first time I’d have a chance to see the band perform not as a duo, but as a quartet.
Announced only the night before the show as being FULL BAND, I can’t help but to wonder where and when they found time to get a whole set together. I didn’t expect they would have to rehearse MANY songs, seeing as the next performer was scheduled a mere half-hour after Meaghan. Accounting for her perchance to introduce songs for endearing life stories that inspired them, I didn’t see how more than three or four songs could be showcased.
If nothing else, though, Meaghan is full of surprises. She managed to keep the between-song banter to a scant, almost non-existent minimum and let the songs speak for themselves. As such, her 23-minute set was crammed with SEVEN tracks — more than half of her recent hour-long set at The Rivoli.
Having a 2:45pm afternoon slot guarantees you’re not going to be performing to the largest of crowds, and this was just such a case. When I arrived some 40-minutes before her performance, the square was full of pre-teens and trying-to-be-cool moms for Canada’s latest teeny-bopping, lip-synching, choreographed, would-be pop sensation/prepubescent sex symbol. It’s too bad they all but dissipated immediately following the kid’s act, because they would have been treated to some real music. As such, what was left was maybe a couple of dozen fans and the occasional group of people who wandered over just to see what was going on.
Those who didn’t stick around, lost out. This was far-and-away the best sounding of any outdoor show I have ever been to. The mix was clear and balanced, and traffic was shut off in the area. The volume was just loud enough to cut out the sounds of passerbys — but unfortunately not loud enough to mute the gaggle of young women who camped right up against the railing beside me and continued to squeak and squeal like their kind is wont to do.
Their fairly infrequent outbursts, and a short drop-out when the microphone jack slipped out of the Edirol recorder while I was clapping between songs, are the only flaws in an otherwise great recording that sounds way better than it has any right to.
It was a treat to see Meaghan again, even more so to see her perform with a more conventional backing band (well, as conventional as a stand-up bass player is these days). Meaghan has promised she will return in the Winter to perform some special, non-annoying Christmas songs for us. I, for one, will certainly be there with (sleigh) bells on.
- If You Asked Me
- A Little Love
- Take Me Dancing
- I Know
- You Got Out
A special thanks to the city of Toronto and the LiveGreenToronto initiative, Meaghan Smith, Jason Mingo, and the 10 O’Clock band.