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A look at the best of Canadian Music Week from the opening night.
JOEL PLASKETT EMERGENCY at the CN Tower, Wednesday, March 21. Rating: NNNN
Despite all the obnoxious photographers hogging sightlines, spirits were high at CMW's industry-only CN Tower gala launch. How could they not be, 351 feet above the city on a beautiful day? (You could spot boats, ferries and planes simultaneously in motion.)
Add in joyful rocker Joel Plaskett's infectious songs - a mix of oldies and newbies from his about-to-drop Scrappy Happiness album - that beg to be sung along to, and, well, nice start, CMW.
Of the new tunes, Lightning Bolt was the standout, thanks to its lengthy, epic guitar leads. These days Plaskett rarely showcases his guitar-soloing skills the way he used to in Thrush Hermit, but on this song he stepped on a bunch of pedals and let his fingers fly. Also notable was Harbour Boys, which brings a new Irish influence into his songwriting. (The recorded version even includes what sounds like a bodhran.)
BLACKIE AND THE RODEO KINGS with HARLAN PEPPER at Massey Hall, Wednesday, March 21. Rating: NNN
Veteran crowd pleasers and co-bandleaders Colin Lindon, Tom Wilson and Stephen Fearing of Ontario roots rockers Blackie and the Rodeo Kings looked sharp in their matching jackets.
The band focused on material off last year's Kings and Queens, which featured duets with a number of famous women in country, jazz, and folk. The singers couldn't all be at the show, but Mary Margaret O'Hara, Amy Helm, Holly Cole and Serena Ryder were there and Ron Sexsmith and Murray McLaughlan stepped in as "honorary Queens" (Sexsmith co-wrote one of the songs).
Cole's appearance was brief and professional, while O'Hara, Helm and Ryder took on a few songs each. Ryder was filling in some very big shoes (Lucinda Williams'!) on If I Can't Have You and sounded oddly quiet at first before finding her normal belt. Helm took care of the more funky/soulful and gospel material like I'm Still Loving You and Shelter Me Lord (Patti Scialfa on the record). With her wild unpredictability and weird scatting, O'Hara made the stage come alive every time she appeared.
Though Fearing's fast rhythm guitar on Fred Eaglesmith cover 49 Tons was pretty mean, and fans responded to earlier material like Let's Frolic, it seemed like BARK are still missing something after all these years. When they played brilliant White Line by their namesake Willie P. Bennett, the difference between vulnerable originality and easygoing entertainment became palpable.
Openers Harlan Pepper proved that they have the chops to play in a number of genres, ending their set with a long instrumental that sounded like a Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet cover. They said that they'd been looking forward to playing Massey Hall for a long time; which is funny, considering their average age is probably less than the number of years that the guys in BARK have been hanging out together.