Amelia Curran @ Glenn Gould Studio

. : : May 15th, 2012 : : .

Amelia Curran is my constant reminder for giving second chances.

The first time I saw her perform, I gave her performance the sole negative review in a show that featured a dozen or more Canadian performers. Admittedly, I saw potential, and (although I wasn’t sure why) went to see her perform at Glenn Gould Studio in the closing weeks of 2010. I was blown away by a beautiful, engaging show.

The next time I saw her perform, opening for Whitehorse a couple of months ago at the Winter Garden Theatre, I thought the performance was good, but leaning more toward serviceable than great. Was I, then, actually enamored with Phil Sedore, the gentleman who accompanied Amelia at the last show at the CBC building?

The theory would be put to the test when I was going to revisit Amelia Curran at the very site I fell in love with her, and revoked all previous statements to the contrary. This time, the singer-songwriter was flying solo, and wouldn’t have another musician to hide behind. I was curious, intrigued, but also confident. The Glenn Gould Studio is, arguably, the best sounding room in Toronto, and with a third row seat, I wasn’t going to have too bad a view, either.

Little did I know that the third row was, for all intents and purposes, the back row. The already small venue was two-thirds empty, with only the first three (or MAYBE) four rows filled. A smattering of bodies filled centre seats here and there beyond, but not enough of them to even fill a fourth row, had they been inclined to move forward. A shame, but the show was criminally under-advertised. If I hadn’t stumbled upon it accidentally while perusing the Glenn Gould schedule some months ago, I might never have known about it.

If it affected the performance at all, the changes were lost on me. Amelia still stammered and chatted nervously between songs as if she were performing to a crowd of 100,000 instead of a crowd of less than 100. This nervous energy has grown to be more endearing than uncomfortable, as my first experience dictated, and definitely felt natural, lending an extra air of legitimacy to the intimacy of the show.

Remarkably settling in at just over 75-minutes, the set was a generous 18 songs long, spanning tracks from her last two albums, War Brides and Hunter, Hunter, and a sneak peek at her forth-coming as yet untitled disc. Unlike the echo-y mix of the aforementioned theatre show, the sound at the Studio was spot-on. Amelia’s acoustic guitar came across with more tonality and personality than any guitar run through a DI box should, and her voice carried loudly and clearly on top.

This is an important distinction, since Amelia Curran’s song place an emphasis on the “writer” portion of the singer/songwriter title. Her words are an impressively verbose poetry that draws just parallels to legendary Leonard Cohen (I’ve made the comparison here myself a number of times before, too). Take The DozensThe Mistress and The Modern Man as perfect examples; close your eyes as you listen to them, imagine Cohen’s rasp sing-speak the words, and then argue my claim. I dare you.

Of course, this is meant as kind a compliment as can be mustered, intended to speak loudly about the quality of structure and diction of these songs.

A second second chance may have not been necessary, but it was a great reminder of why Amelia Curran needs to be experienced live in a venue appropriate to the performance, and as long as she continues to perform in venues the quality of Glenn Gould Studio, she can count on me for attending. Hopefully, next time, more of you all will join me.

The tape turned out wonderful, as always when recorded at the CBC building, but features a flaw common to performances at the Studio: the sound is very quiet, so the applause tends to spike the sound waves. I used fairly heavy-handed compression to be able to bring the volume to a better, harmonious volume, but there’s some hiss created by the volume increase necessary in post production.

I over-compensated for the audience applause when recording, and adjusted the volume accordingly part way through the first song (bringing the level up some 20-points, nearly doubling it). I adjusted the quieter half in post production, but there’s still a noticeable jump. Listening back, I also came across a weird digital burst of static during Julia. I’m not sure what happened there, but hopefully it’s a one-off problem.

Listen to the sample below, especially if you’re a fan of smart songwriters, warm female voices, impressive guitar playing and great folk music. Then, buy her last two albums, and come back her for the remainder of this recording. I can’t see how you’d be disappointed.

01. [introduction]
02. The Furious Curve
03. [banter]
04. Julia
05. Bye Bye Montreal
06. Blackbird on Fire
07. The Dozens
08. [banter]
09. The Wrecking Ball
10. [banter]
11. The Mistress
12. [banter]
13. The Years
14. [banter]
15. Love’s Grave
16. The Great Escape
17. Scattered and Small
18. [banter]
19. All Hands on a Grain of Sand
20. [banter]
21. You Won’t Find Me
22. [banter]
23. The San Andreas Fault
24. [banter]
25. Soft Wooden Towers
26. [banter]
27. Everything I’ve Got To Give
28. [encore]
29. [banter]
30. The Modern Man
31. [banter]
32. Tiny Glass Houses

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The Dozens (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Big thanks to Amelia Curran and the always pleasantly wonderful staff at the CBC.

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