. : : March 20th, 2013 : : .
After a phenomenal opening set by NQ Arbuckle, and an inconsistent set by Daniel Romano, Oh Susanna and Kayla Howran following, the third set featuring Jim Cuddy, Danny Michel and Quique Escamilla fell… well, I guess somewhere in the middle.
They had an immediate advantage over their predecessors: Quique Escamilla has recently been touring with Danny Michel as both an opener, and as a part of his backing band. Furthermore, the backing band on this evening was also Danny Michel’s — so the true wild card of the night was Jim Cuddy.
Quique Escamilla is a talented and engaging performer, but how much you will enjoy his selections depend on a couple of factors: whether you understand Spanish, and whether you’re willing to listen to Mexican music if you don’t. His set was greatly enhanced by the collaboration of a stage full of musicians — the rhythm section was able to give his songs a bit more of that south-of-the-border flair that was lacking at a previous solo show I’d experienced, and allowed the melodies more room to breathe without having to carry the weight of the songs by themselves. Often featuring heavy political messages about such topics as the on-going plight of the indigenous people of Mexico, the songs are well-crafted and catchy, but (unfortunately) the message is lost upon most Canadians — whom have French as a compulsory language class throughout middle and high school, and rarely even have the option for Spanish as an elective until post-secondary.
Danny Michel was another mixed bag. I love his performances, and he’s been featured on this blog countless times — but his song selection for the performance is… well, not what I would have chosen. With his last two albums heavily influenced by his time and new-found friends in Belize, this showcase would have been an interesting opportunity to explore the meshing of Mexican, Carribean and Canadiana music, but Danny opted for a set selection of mid-tempo songs that lacked the exciting rhythms and energy that was introduced by his band mate’s.
But poor is the reviewer who reviews what he WANTS the set to be, and not what it was. So let it be known that an understated, harmony-laden version of A Cold Road was a set highlight, and Danny’s vocal and instrumental contribution to the remainder of the set could not be overstated.
Which brings us to Jim Cuddy. Oh Susanna made some comment about Jim travelling in from Africa that night to perform — and I’m not sure if she was joking or in earnest, but if it was the latter it would make a lot of sense. Jim often seemed a bit lost on stage, and his contributions seemed somewhat off. Hearing him attempt to noodle alongside Escamilla’s set underlined just how ill-prepared he was to be a large contribution to his stage mates’ performances, and unrehearsed the trio was.
To be fair, though, Michel and Escamilla had been performing together for months at this point, and were a well-oiled machine. Any additional components added to the mix were apt to be more akin to a wrench in the spokes than an integral enhancement.
Where the trio really, really shined, though, was when Jim Cuddy landed in more familiar territory as front man, and his stage mates supported him. The trio’s take on Blue Rodeo‘s One More Night is blistering, and selecting the most energetic song from Jim’s latest release, Watch Yourself Go Down from Skyscraper Soul, was an inspired choice for a finale that allowed all the talented musicians to play off each other.
The ultimate fan boy highlight, though, was Jim’s middle selection — a take on Sad Nights, a deep cut from Blue Rodeo’s The Days In Between album. The song has been a favourite of mine for years, but rarely seems to be performed live. In fact, Setlist.FM has the song performed only once previously (although I imagine it was performed more often than that on the album’s tour), so it was a real treat to have it broken out — especially in such an intimate venue and in the hands of such capable performers.
So, again, the performance was a bit of a mixed bag, and how much you’ll love this recording is completely dependent on how willing you are to overlook each performer’s perceived short-comings. I think it’s well worth a listen, if only for the Cuddy-led songs, but there’s plenty to like about Danny Michel and Quique Escamilla’s sets that make the entire recording worthy of a spot in your collection.
01. [introduction / soundcheck]
02. Un Tiro %
04. Sad and Beautiful World #
05. One More Night [Blue Rodeo] *
07. Huapango de Tequila %
09. What Colour Are You #
10. Sad Nights [Blue Rodeo] *
12. Máscara de Esperanza %
14. A Cold Road #
15. Watch Yourself Go Down *
* Jim Cuddy
# Danny Michel
% Quique Escamilla