Amelia Curran @ Winter Garden Theatre

. : : February 24th, 2012 : : .

Last time I was at the Winter Garden Theatre, it was to see comedian Louis CK. Actually, I think that was the only time I’d ever been to the Winter Garden — in the past, I’d frequented its much closer-to-sea-level downstairs cousin, the Elgin Theatre, when it was the popular choice for musicals in the city. The Winter Garden theatre is stunningly decorated, but an unusual place to hold a concert. The support beams are decorated to look like tree stumps, and “leaves” hang from the ceilings. Painted vines crawl up the walls and doors. To look at it, you’d think it would be a picture perfect Shakesperian venue, and you’d probably be right. Still, an odd choice for a concert.

Being a lush theatre, you pay the premium on the ticket price. It’s that very premium that kept me from buying a ticket earlier than I did. A growing Whitehorse fan, I certainly desired to go. But at $50? A hard financial pill to swallow for a band with only one album, let alone a band with one album that barely clocks in at over half-an-hour. I was on the fence for months — tickets went on sale in September for the February date — and it wasn’t until Juno aware winning songwriter Amelia Curran was added as the support that I took the plunge.

I lucked out with a front row box seat that, although well off to the side, offered a good view and relative proximity to the speakers. Unluckily, especially during Amelia’s set, anytime anyone would take or leave their seats in the box, they would have to push aside the curtain separating the boxes from the aisle, creating a loud, annoying rattle that carried throughout the theatre.

In fact, throughout Amelia’s entire set, the venue mixed the sound terribly quiet, so EVERY sounds carried throughout the venue. Every cough, creek and rattle seemed cacophonous, and although I’ve always said I preferred clarity over volume, the size of the theatre definitely demanded a little less discretion in the volume department.

Luckily, Amelia more than compensated for the venue’s short-comings with a lengthy forty-plus minute set that mixed older favourites with sneak previews of songs being worked on for her next album. Although Amelia didn’t display the cool, calm courage I saw at her show at Glenn Gould Studio a little over a year ago, she wasn’t quite as nervous as she was on stage at the NXNE showcase that served as my introduction to her. Falling somewhere in the middle, this time Amelia’s nervous bantering consistently came across as more endearing than grating.

A favourite moment was when, after accidentally knocking over a bottle of water but impressively catching it before it hit the floor, Amelia joked about how friend and fellow East Coaster Jenn Grant is known for knocking over water glasses on stage, which in turn segued into a humourous story about how the duo always seem to get mistaken for each other. I’ll leave the punchline for the audio recording, but it’s sure to elicit a chuckle.

But, as always, it was the songs that were the real superstars on the evening. Amelia is often referred to as the female Leonard Cohen for a new generation, and it’s with good reason. Her songs are wordy stories, often told in lengthy verses and almost indiscernible choruses that have a rhythmical quality to that that harkens beat poetry that informed so much of Cohen’s work.

Amelia’s solo performance left me in want of accompaniment of multi-instrumentalist Phil Sedore, whom joined her on her aforementioned show at the CBC, to round out the sparse arrangements, but the solo show put a greater emphasis on the singer-songwriter aspect of her performance, allowing the attention to fall mostly upon her carefully crafted lyrics and the crystal clear imagery they invoke.

The recording, as I hinted at above, is a far cry from what I’d hoped. As perhaps expected from a theatre show, it’s a bit echo-y, on top of the already somewhat heavy reverb afforded the vocals. In spite of the sound mix being so low, I still had to record at an extremely low volume to counteract the loud applause between songs. I tried to compensate for the difference by drastically compressing the applause in post-production, but it ended up making a weird, distorted flange during the worst offenders. The volume increase also introduced a bit of tape hiss. I opted to leave these flaws in the recording rather than to revert to the original dynamic of quiet song followed by DEAFENING CLAPPING. Although it may be truer to the experience of the show, it does not make for a great listening experience at home.

That being said, this is not by any means a BAD recording. I truly believe Amelia Curran fans old and new alike will find plenty to enjoy here, but sound sticklers would be better served hunting the archives for my brilliant Glenn Gould Studio recording elsewhere on the site.

01. [introduction]
02. Bye Bye Montreal
03. [banter]
04. The Wrecking Ball
05. [banter]
06. The Modern Man
07. [banter]
08. The Mistress
09. [new song]
10. Scattered and Small
11. Hands on a Grain of Sand
12. Black Bird on Fire
13. [banter]
14. 200 Days
15. [banter] [tease]
16. Years

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The Mistress (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thank you to Amelia Curran, whom I look forward to seeing again in the spring!

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