Maria Taylor @ Drake Underground

. : : November 13th, 2011 : : .

Maria Taylor has unquestionably always treated Toronto very well. I’ve been following her career intently since discovering her shortly after the release of her sophomore solo album, Lynn Teeter Flower. Since then, she has made a habit of visiting Toronto twice per year, every other year, on her promotional tours or just for fun.

Being north of the border, it’s not unusual for bands (especially ones so deeply entrenched in the southern hemisphere) to skip the cold and the hassle of customs, and come no closer to Toronto than New York. It’s wonderful to have an artist show such commitment to our city, and I’d like to think I’ve returned said commitment. After all, I own all her albums on CD and/or vinyl (and/or digital), and have attended all six of her Toronto performances since 2007. More importantly, perhaps, is that I spread the good word with every given opportunity.

Let it be said: her new album, Overlook, is wonderful. Although fans will be comfortably familiar with the quiet, introspective, atmospheric tracks that make up the majority of her previous work, Overlook also has brilliant moments that show a whole new side of Maria. From the bluesy In A Bad Way to the Spanish-influenced Matador, there’s plenty of pleasant surprises to be had.

I was excited to hear Maria bring these songs (and a handful of old favourites) to the live stage, and although she’s played at several of the best venues Toronto has to offer, she has never played what this reviewer considers Toronto’s holy grail: the Drake Underground. Could it get any better? Maybe a little…

Maria has played to packed houses at the Horseshoe TavernLee’s Palace, and the El Mocambo. Why is it, then, that the number of attendees for this show could be counted without using more than one’s fingers and toes? In what seems to be the Curse of the Sunday at the Drake Underground, following in the footsteps of 5 criminally under-attended Rebekah Higgs Sunday residencies in October, Maria was unable to successfully turn the venue’s luck around.

Is it lack of promotion? Has her fan base all moved out of the city? Does Toronto just prefer to hibernate on Sundays in anticipation of a new work week? I wish I had better insight, but whatever the reason, I was ashamed for my city. After everything Maria has given us, she deserved better. Especially on the back of the knowledge that, some three and a half months pregnant, this may be the last time Maria is able to make the northern trek for the foreseeable future.

Regardless, Maria and her extended family (literally! Her current live band features her sister and new brother in law, Kate Taylor and Taylor Hollingsworth of Dead Finger) made the best of it. There’s no denying they spent more time entertaining themselves between songs than they did trying to win over an already enraptured crowd, but after the first chord of each number, all their energy was focused on giving the twenty or so audience members the best bang for their buck.

The crowd was respectfully quiet for the set, saving their appreciation for hearty applause between songs — but when the main set came to a close at a generous 55-minutes, the audience offered a brief smattering of applause and then gave up before any serious effort for an encore call. A shame, as Maria often saves some of the older gems, such as Leap Year from her debut album 11:11, for a solo acoustic curtain call. I was embarrassed, but resigned. Perhaps disenchanted with the whole charade of it all, this seems to be a haunting familiarity in Toronto — a similar occurrence occurred for Emm Gryner‘s recent set at the Dakota Tavern, as evidenced elsewhere on this blog.

Luckily, before the sparse audience collectively shrugged Maria off-stage, she was able to touch upon all the predictable essentials, including the always jaw-dropped Xanax, and a couple of surprises, such as Overlook‘s heavily produced opener, Masterplan, that translates surprisingly well to the live performance, and My Favourite Love, an understated (and underappreciated) highlight from her previous disc, LadyLuck.

Maria and co. put the final flourish on the set with the poignant Happenstance, a song featuring the lyrics, “Thinking of the west coast / On this cold night in Alabama.” It was a cold night in Toronto, too; just terribly unfortunate that it was colder inside the Drake Underground than it was outside. Hopefully this recording will instead bring some warmth to you, dear listener. It’s a fine specimen that’s worth a listen to Maria Taylor and Azure Ray fans in any hemisphere.

01. [introduction]
02. Masterplan
03. [banter]
04. Orchids
05. My Favourite Love
06. Song Beneath The Song
07. [banter]
08. In A Bad Way
09. [banter]
10. Cartoons and Forever Plans
11. Ladyluck
12. Clean Getaway
13. [banter]
14. Xanax
15. Matador
16. [banter]
17. Birmingham 1982
18. [banter]
19. Bad Idea?
20. Happenstance

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In A Bad Way (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Much thanks and best wishes to Maria Taylor, her band, and the beautiful Drake Underground. Cheers.

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