. : : November 5th, 2011 : : .
A few weeks ago, Emm Gryner sent out a Twitter message saying (and I might be paraphrasing), “If you don’t like laptops on stage, you’re too old.”
Now, for those of you whom read my review / download of her last show in Toronto at the Drake Underground, you’ll likely recall she performed with the SHVRS brothers, a duo that spent the majority of the evening pushing buttons and turning knobs. Not to take anything away from the team; they were very clearly talented and great at what they do, but it was this reviewers opinion that what they do isn’t very interesting, especially in terms of visual engagement.
At 28 years old, I’d hardly classify myself as “too old” for any type of music on this side of Justin Beiber, but maybe this is how it starts? “When I was a kid, we didn’t even have computers in our houses, let alone on a stage in concert hall!” Whatever. That aspect of the show wasn’t for me, and I figured the duo would be accompanying Emm for her first Toronto show following the release of her latest album, Northern Gospel, at the Dakota Tavern. As such, I didn’t plan on going.
But Emm is nothing if not crafty, and roped me back in with the announcement that HaterHigh favourite Colleen Brown would be performing as the opening act. I’m pretty sure she did it just to spite me. It worked.
If you’ve read my Colleen Brown blog, you already know the story of how that day went down (and if you didn’t, what are you waiting for?!), so I’m going to skip ahead to the point where Colleen and band leave the stage.
The modestly sized crowd that had made there way to the Dakota filled the room in an unusally awkward sort of way. The entire perimeter of the room was shoulder-to-shoulder people; hardly an inch of wall was left uncovered. But the centre of the room? Empty. Well, that is, except for me, who was leaning comfortably against a pillar that’s right at the left hand side of the stage, in between the bar area and the dance floor. Except for me, and the three taller gentlemen who figured the best place for them to stand in the empty centre of the room would be directly in front of me, that is.
But I’m pretty non-confrontational, and can hardly blame them for standing there. So I spun around the pillar to the other side, more in line with the left speakers, but closer to the bar. The view was still great. I figured this would be just as good a place as any to tape. And there I stood, waiting for the set to begin.
It wasn’t long before Emm took the stage, by herself, and sat on the piano bench. The audience collectively didn’t even bat an eyelash. When the first chords of North rang out over the sound system, the majority of the room shut up and turned their attention towards the stage, but those at the bars carried on their merriment and voluminous conversation without hesitation. I decided to take the plunge, and take the spot of front in the middle, where a couple of photographers were snapping quick pictures.
I was hoping that, with the three of us up front, the wallflowers would leave their posts and gather at the stage. Isn’t that what happens at a concert? Isn’t that how an audience shows interest, attention, enjoyment of and respect for an artist?
Hmm. I must have been doing it wrong all these years. After the final chords of a beautiful version of North, I was asked by not one, but TWO people to move because I was blocking their view. I would have thought the politer response to that would be to stand up and join me, but whatever. Again, I’m non-confrontational. So again, I move.
This time, I moved to the far right of the room. The wall is covered with single chairs facing the north wall, where the bar is situated. The stage is on the east wall, so you sort of have to twist uncomfortably in your seat for a good view of the stage. I definitely wasn’t feeling it, so I put my bag down in the seats closest to the speaker, and pushed myself against that chair so hard, I was almost standing on a 45-degree angle. After all, I didn’t want to be a further inconvenience to the crabby, stubborn wallflowers.
By this point, Emm has grabbed an acoustic guitar, and has played a phenomenal solo version of another of my favourite songs, Summerlong. THIS was the Emm Gryner I fell in love with at the JunoFest show earlier this year, and my love of her was quickly revitalized. I was wrapped in my enthrallment, until a finger jabbed my back. I turned, wondering if it was a friend or acquaintance, who had just joined the festivities. Nope. It was the person behind me. “CAN YOU SIT DOWN.” Notice the punctuation: it wasn’t a question. I answered as politely as I could, with minimal disruption of the show going on six feet in front of me, or the tape rolling in my pocket, “I’d rather not.”
I didn’t mean to be rude; really, I didn’t. I wanted to be up front, actively soaking in the energy from (and perhaps returning a bit to) the stage. I was having a great time, and absolutely adoring the set thus far, and sitting seems… I don’t know? So passive, cold, distant, and disinterested. It’s a rock’n’roll show, not an opera. I felt bad for the person behind me, but I felt worse for Emm, who was performing the most intimate performance I’d seen yet to quiet wallflowers and exuberant bar-talkers.
That finger poked into my back once or twice more (and went ignored), and the lady tried to “see how [I’d] like it” by standing directly in front of me for a song — but the joke was on her. I loved it. I was HAPPY to have someone up front with me, enjoying the music. She got bored when she got no reaction out of me, and eventually returned to her seat and gave up. Too bad: instead of being nasty to each other, we could’ve partied and had some fun. Oh, well. I guess you can’t please them all.
Emm was joined by bassist Steve Clark, who I’d not only seen perform with her at the Great Hall show that won me over, but also with Colleen Brown last year in the opening slot for the Crash Test Dummies. His stand-up bass is distinctive, gorgeous. The pair tore through a fantatic rendition of Gold Soul (seriously, were they going to play ALL my favourites?!) only marred by a temporary microphone malfunction in the middle. Peter Hendrickson, Colleen’s drummer, was invited onto the stage for the next couple of songs, reuniting three-quarters of the band that I saw at JunoFest. It wasn’t long before even the sound guy was on stage, contributing piano. The night couldn’t be going better, the experience was a full 180 from the last. The set wasn’t even half over, and I fell in love with Emm’s music all over again.
The set was full of memorable moments. Song after song was another favourite, performed beautifully. The cherry on top was the set closer: Emm invited Colleen Brown back onto the stage, where the duo shared the piano bench and performed Tell My Sister by French-Canadian sisters and folk artists Kate & Anna McGarrigle. The two left the stage, and after about fifteen or twenty seconds of polite and only marginally enthusiastic clapping, the audience gave up on the curtain call, and went right back to drinking and socializing. Their indifference was repaid in kind, and Emm did not return to the stage. Unfortunate. She deserved a lot better from the crowd that night.
Beginning to end, the set was short but sweet, a served as a gentle reminder not to give up on Gryner, even if I’m too old for her music.
Other than a bit of distant bar chatter and my scuffle with other audience members, this recording sounds brilliant. The Dakota has never sounded better, and that’s a large compliment. Worth at least a quick listen, this is a great tape.
05. Gold Soul
07. Ciao Monday
08. Hello Aquarius
12. Top Speed
14. Tell My Sister [Kate & Anna McGarrigle]*
*performed with Colleen Brown
A big special thanks to Emm Gryner, Steve Clark, Peter Hendrickson, Colleen Brown and everyone the Dakota Tavern. Apologies to anyone whose view I blocked or feelings I hurt.