MISHA BOWER, BRUCE PENINSULA, DOUG PAISELY, SIMONE SCHMIDT and SEAN DONALD at the Great Hall Front Room, Thursday, October 11. Rating: NNN
Book launches focus so little on books these days, it's as if we've come to a collective understanding that readings alone are boring and won't draw enough of a crowd. Instead, writers often draw on their musician friends to make a launch more of an event. That's even easier to do when the author in question is a musician herself, as in the case of Misha Bower, founding member of Bruce Peninsula, who launched her debut collection of short stories, Music For Uninvited Guests (Cringles Publishing), Thursday night at the Great Hall.
The night did focus on storytelling - the narratives were just predominantly set to music. After a brief and animated near-recitation by Bower of a story about a man who'd lost at cards, banjo player/guitarist Sean Donald delivered a set of grim folk songs that achieved uplift from his lively banjo-picking and strong, clear voice. Simone Schmidt of One Hundred Dollars and Fiver fame added her own dose of sobriety with a number of low and moody incarceration tales.
Doug Paisley was terribly sick, but that didn't stop him from stealing the show with his nimble guitar work and subtle songwriting. He played tunes that didn't require him to use the top end of his impaired vocal range, including ones by Al Tuck and Bob Dylan, and offered up hilarious and vivid banter. "I'm going home to take NeoCitran Cold & Flu. If you've never taken that before, just imagine what it would feel like to be a prehistoric petrified log."
Bower's own Bruce Peninsula, a sprawling multi-singer band that, above all else, celebrates the power and beauty of the human voice, took the stage just before midnight, playing toned-down, drum-less versions of gospel-folk tunes that prominently featured Bower, it being her night and all. But just before she traded in her author card for singer, she gave us one more story, about two brothers who send postcards of bombshell babes back and forth to one another, until one brother mysteriously stops.
Bower is an admirably unselfconscious performer, and her writing is engrossing enough to have held our attention for much more of the night. Still, a memorable launch, to be sure.