We’re just in from the last show of the 2008 Knox calendar, and oh my goodness, people, WHAT A SHOW!!! Simply stunning. Tonight featured the amazing Tyler Firestone, an excellent performer whom you’ll recall from previous (ecstatic) reviews in these pages, and Michael Pickett’s soaring blues guitar. I was spellbound! If you missed this gig, folks, it’s a crying shame, because my meager words here cannot even come close to doing the beauty of this entire night justice.
First up was Tyler Firestone, and what a tremendous show it was! As most of you are already aware, we were supposed to be treated to Tyler’s set last month, with Terry Tufts, but that show was regrettably cancelled. And yes, I am looking at YOU for not having bought tickets!! So we had to wait an interminable extra month to hear this young man’s music again. Worth the wait, though? Absolutely!
There’s an enthusiasm and a genuine generosity to Tyler’s performances that is fantastically infectious. His singing voice is clear and true, and his guitar playing is consistently excellent. There were many intricate runs between the chords that definitely caught my ear. His songs are expertly crafted, and his stage presence grows impressively with each successive show. He effortlessly switched from 6 to 12 string guitars, and even turned in a beautiful closer track on the piano, which was the title track from the new album he’s working on… get that? New album! Hooray!!
He’s playful and smart, and when he talks about world peace or ecological concerns, you know it’s not in a touchy-feely way, but rather that he really means it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: remember the name Tyler Firestone, folks. You’ll be hearing it a lot, in future, and with very good reason. This thoughtful young man and brilliant performer is going places, and we’re all the better for it. Thanks, Tyler, for a great show. We’re look forward to many, many more.
After a brief break to set the stage, during which I was happily soaking in having heard Tyler’s set, Michael Pickett stepped up and proceeded to use the blues to blow the roof off the place.
For those of you who don’t know, Michael Pickett is a Juno-nominated blues guitarist from the Toronto area whose chops are completely undeniable. Remember way back to Whiskey Howl, Wooden Teeth or the Michael Pickett Band? Of course, he’s been solo for a few years now, but it’s all the same guy, and what a stunner of a show he put on for us tonight! I was glued to my seat and rendered speechless as he whipped off song after song of passionate, searingly gorgeous blues tracks on a well-loved Gibson acoustic and, what was clearly his favourite, an original 1931 National Steel guitar. The sounds he wrung from the necks of these instruments, as well as a plethora of harmonicas, were dredged straight from the depths of the Mississippi, caked in delta mud and as harrowing as any blues songs I’ve ever heard. He played entirely unplugged (though through a PA for the house) which lent a more genuine, raw feel to the music. His fingers flew and his voice growled, cried and laughed as he expertly took us through the gamut of human emotions as only the best blues can muster them. He told stories between songs that completed the atmosphere, self-effacingly proving my point that this gentleman is a performer to revere.
One gets the sense from Michael Pickett that the blues isn’t just a form he’s mastered, it’s one that he feels in his blood and bones, in his very being. It contorts his body and his face as he plays, it makes him sweat, steam and stomp, and there were many points where it seemed he was holding onto his guitar for dear life as he played. He may well have been, which was only more fuel in the fire of what we witnessed tonight. He played many original tunes, a few covers and, no matter what came next, each song was a tour de force, a monument to the power of the universal language of the blues.
Michael Pickett is a genuinely great guy, and simultaneously he’s a one-man blues wrecking ball, a true hero in a form I love. If he is playing a gig anywhere near you house, or for that matter within a conceivable driving distance, you have to go. You can say I told you so. Don’t think, just go. You can thank me later.
Folks, tonight was AMAZING. What an ending to a fantastic year! I cannot say enough. Our huge thanks go to both Tyler and Michael for their completely brilliant performances, and to Knox and all the volunteers for making these things smoothly happen as they always do. Most importantly, our hugest thanks go to Susan and Irwin for EVERYTHING that they do to bring these gigs to life. You are the lifeblood of something special that is essential in this town, and we are all entirely grateful for what you do.
Man, I didn’t want tonight to end. I feel like I won’t sleep for a week.
Here’s to an amazing 2009 schedule!
Below are the set lists from tonight, as I gathered them. For Michael Pickett, there were some titles that he didn’t announce, so I gleaned as best I could from the choruses. If some of these aren’t the titles, I’m sorry Michael, and I’ll gladly stand corrected.
01 I Will
02 New Beginning
03 Long Haired Blues
04 Hollow Hill
05 Shadows Of Wolves
06 Mellow Road
01 Ain’t Gonna Be Here Long
02 Ammo In The Icebox
03 Daddy Where You Been So Long
04 Hitchhiking Woman [a cover, but of who?]
… started The Blues Is A Friend Of Mine, but broke a string on the National, so…
05 What Do You Think About That
06 The World’s In An Uproar
07 The First One I Love
08 I Got Fooled [cover of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee]
09 The Deportee [cover of Woody Guthrie]
11 As Close As I Have Come
12 Dust My Broom [cover of Robert Johnson]
13 The Wicked Grin
14 The Blues Is A Friend Of Mine (we knew he’d get back to this one!)
15 Can’t Find My Way Home
16 Linin’ Track [cover of a traditional and, among many others, Leadbelly]
Tyler Firestone played at the Knox Acoustic Cafe Youth Showcase a few months ago, and his set was excellent. We met again at the more recent Knox show by Dala and Hayden Stewart, at which we discovered my lovely wife and I could help him out with his Leonard Cohen tickets situation, simple assistance for which he gave us this excellent album as thanks. I’ve played the entire CD through several times now, and I love it.
The songs here are thoughtful, well-constructed, and they frankly belie the young man’s age. These songs take the best of the tradition of Dylan, Young and Lightfoot, but this is no mere attempt at emulation; this is music truly informed by those others, then taken to a different place by his own voice. Firestone has a lot to say, and each message would serve everyone well; these are attainable and sensible values. He sees the issues around us, sure, but he supports it all with the need for love and understanding.
Firestone’s acoustic guitar work is deceptive, seemingly simple strumming that actually holds each piece together with a subtle complexity that grows on you with consecutive listening sessions. It’s alternately funky (Equal Rights, You Better Run), folky (A Cup Of Guilt, and all tracks, really), loping (I Will) and achingly beautiful (the instrumental After Calm, Chasing Dreams). His harmonica adds just the right amount of colour in the right places, and his vocals are clear and true. There’s lots to like, here.
Keep your eye on this young man, folks. If he can write an album as complete as this when he’s still in high school (!), Tyler Firestone’s future is vast. The album’s called All In Good Time, but it’s apparent to me that he’s already here. If he can keep his balance of Folk’s strident messages and his genuine calls for peace, Tyler’s is a name you will be hearing for many years to come.
02 A Cup Of Guilt
03 Equal Rights
04 Be A Friend
05 For The Ones
06 Left Inside My Pocket
07 After Calm
08 New Beginning
09 What I’ve Become
10 Summer Air
11 You Better Run
12 I Will
13 Chasing Dreams
14 All In Good Time (Paul’s Song)