This was a pleasant surprise. There was no big announcement for this show – at least not one that I saw. Instead, I heard about it on Twitter – really, just offhandedly retweeted – a unique one-off concert with a favourite singer joining forces with the Art of Time Ensemble to perform an evening of covers of one of their biggest inspirations. I didn’t seriously think I could go – I mean, I’d have to hop on a plane for it – but I checked the ticket availability just to satisfy my own curiosity and dang if there wasn’t one seat still available in the very front row. It was a sign from a god that I don’t believe in except for when I need justification for doing something extravagant.
So yeah, I got on a plane and spent a week in Toronto, which should not surprise you if you read the other reviews I’ve been posting this week. And if you didn’t, you’re probably not reading this one either, so I don’t know why I’m addressing you. At any rate, after a week of touristy stuff and hanging out and the Hydraulic Press Channel and record shopping and food, it was time for the show that set this whole week in motion.
Steve and I took the subway and then the other subway and then failed to take a streetcar to the show. We waited in line at the stop for about 20 minutes while the sign told us that the next streetcar was 7 minutes away, then 6, then 5, then 7 again, then 5, then 12 somehow? Steve checked the transit tracking app thing and it looked like there was something stopping up all the streetcars – presumably an accident. Hopefully nothing serious. By this point, there was a pretty significant number of people waiting for the streetcar, so we abandoned our transit plans and set out on foot.
The good news is that this took us past the beaver tail stand. The bad news is that I was still so full from supper that I just couldn’t do it. Steve seemed a little disappointed. I was disappointed in myself. It would be closed by the time the show was over, and we would not be able to return. Godspeed, fried dough.
The Harbourfront Centre is a lovely place and I arrived feeling underdressed for the occasion, despite wearing one of my very limited number of shirts with “buttons” and a “collar.” Could have at least tucked it in, I guess, but if I’m going to bother with that, it’s only out of fear of fire, and I figured that my scare from the night before would keep me alert. And I didn’t catch fire even once so this worked out swimmingly.
Steve got us tasty sodas and we hung out in the lobby until it was time to go our separate ways. I got my front row seat on the day tickets went on sale, but having procrastinated when it came to getting Steve’s ticket, he wound up with an “obstructed view” seat in the balcony. At least it was cheap. And also, they don’t know what “obstructed” means, as he was at a bit of a weird angle – basically viewing the stage from the side – but could see quite well. And while I was closer to the stage, I was far right and Hawksley was far left, so I spent most of the show looking off to the side. No matter. I persevered.
It was clearly a special night for Hawksley. I believe his wife was in attendance (more on that later) and he mentioned that his brother was there too. I’ve heard him say before that Cockburn was a major inspiration in his decision to become a musician. He talked about how that all started for him, talked about meeting him, reading his memoir, and recently interviewing him for the Globe and Mail. Hawksley always tends to go off on delightful tangents and this night was no exception. The tangents just had a theme.
I am familiar with Bruce Cockburn singles, and not so much the back catalogue. There wound up being four songs I knew: Call it Democracy, If a Tree Falls, If I Had a Rocket Launcher, and Waiting for a Miracle. There are a few obvious exclusions there (Wondering Where the Lions Are, Tokyo, Lovers in a Dangerous Time) but this was meant to be a night of protest songs and not so much a greatest hits collection. The rest of the songs – I know this because they listed them in the program – were Beautiful Creatures, Burn, Gavin’s Woodpile, Going Down Slow, Red Brother Red Sister, Rose Above the Sky, Stolen Land, and The Trouble with Normal.
Of all of them, the only one I’d heard Hawksley sing before was Call It Democracy, which he played on the Strombo Show last year. You can see the video here – this is all you get, sorry. The Art of Time shows have a “no photography” rule and while I don’t know how seriously they take it, sitting front row left me too exposed to take chances. Though it would be hilarious to fly three hours to go to a show and get thrown out for an illicit 15-second smartphone video clip. I took a picture of what the stage looked like before everyone came out and that’s it.
That video doesn’t give you the full experience, though. The Art of Time Ensemble consisted of six musicians, including Artistic Director Andrew Burashko on piano – he was there in Calgary for the Sgt. Pepper show a few months back. I can’t speak to the songs I was hearing for the first time, but the singles, at least, had been creatively arranged. Of the four, I only picked up on If A Tree Falls from the very first notes; for the rest, I needed to get to the lyrics. The musicians were incredibly talented and it was a really interesting way to hear (or discover) these songs. Great stuff and I really hope they recorded the show. I have some other Art of Time CDs with folks like Steven Page and Sarah Slean and would love to add this one to the collection.
There were a few extra tunes as well. There were two sets with an intermission, and at the start of each, the Art of Time performed an instrumental piece based off an old chain gang song. And Hawksley is not known for protest songs, but for the encore, they played his take on the genre with We’re Not Broken Yet, his own song from last year’s Old Cheetah album.
We stuck around after the show so that I could chat with Hawksley for a bit. Waiting, I picked up a vinyl copy of For Him And The Girls, Hawksley’s first album and my leading contender for all-time favourite album. I already have it on vinyl; this was for Steve and Audrey. I gave them strict instructions that they had to listen to it twice because once doesn’t work. It won’t click for you the first time. It takes two times. This was true for me and that, of course, means it is true for everyone.
Of course, if they like it straight away, they can stop listening to it after the first time.
Hawksley came out after a little while and wound up entering near where we were standing. I’ve talked to him after shows a few times, though I usually don’t bother because what could I say that anyone would care about? But the guy and his music means a lot to me after so long, and it’s good to say that sometimes, you know? I mean, and I said this much to him, what Cockburn was to him, he is to me. I don’t fly across the country for shows by just anyone. I mentioned coming in from Regina for this and Hawksley gave me a big hug.
Then I brought up titty-fucking cakes.
Did I explain this after the last Hawksley show? I can’t remember and I can’t be bothered to go look right now. Here’s the thing. On his newest album, Hawksley has a song (I Just So Happen to Believe) with the line “you’ll gorge upon the starters, you’ll titty-fuck the cake” and I was not expecting that on first listen! Then I started wondering how this would work. I mean, you need two cakes for this, right? Can’t do it with one cake. Then I pestered Hawksley (and Deserée) about this on Twitter for the better part of a day. Strangers got involved. Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat and Mounties was liking tweets. I discovered that I was devoutly committed to opinions that I had never considered. I don’t want to hear about novelty cake pans. We’re talking about normal cakes here. Several people suggested you could titty-fuck the layers of a layer cake. No. You cannot. Then you’re just fucking a cake. There are STANDARDS.
note to self: bookmark this review for the next time I apply for a job that requires a writing sample
Anyway, I mentioned how much I enjoyed our time discussing titty-fucking cake logistics and he doubled over laughing. That day made an impression on both of us, it seems. I was greatly amused. He called a lady over.
Hawksley: “This guy came in from Regina for this, and one time, he had a tweet about titty-f-”
the aforementioned lady: “Titty-fucking cakes!”
SO greatly amused.
I am assuming this was Hawksley’s wife, because really, who else do you talk about titty-fucking cake tweets with? At any rate, we chatted for a bit and she was a delight.
Steve and I left shortly thereafter – I didn’t want to take up a ton of their time and I said all I wanted to (and probably more than I should have – the next time I go to a Hawksley show, I expect to see my picture at the door on a sign reading “DO NOT LET THIS MAN IN (RE: CAKE)”). I think I told that joke in the last Hawksley review too, and also, that punctuation got real wonky. I think it is time I hit “save” and go to bed.