Don Cash with City Folk at Sneaky Dee's, September 19. Attendance:75. Tickets: pwyc. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
There was a pleasant feeling at Wavelength on this night during To ronto's mildly extended summer, and it was bolstered by two things. One was the Mobilivre-Bookmobile Project, a literary RV parked on Bathurst just steps away from Sneaky Dee's , jam-packed with zines, exotic pamphlets and people crocheting to pass the time. The other was one-half of that night's bill - City Folk , a six-piece band that featured a percussionist and backup singers.
The set started with a strong reggae sound, their first song featuring a guest vocal spot by the dreadlocked Progressive Negus, which suffered from the lack of a sound check but still sounded good.
After the initial dose of vibes, the band broadened its approach though it stayed strong and with a funky backbone, making forays into pop rock and Gil Scott-Heron territory. By the end of their set, the initially docile crowd was right with them.
Then Don Cash greeted the audience. Performances in New York City a few years ago netted the one-time music writer and spiritual guru to 90s-edition Grasshopper an article in The Fader proclaiming him a visionary for his self-produced multi-instrumental tunes running the gamut from prog hiphop to straightforward rock, and led to further exposure there.
But in Toronto his appearances are sporadic, and when he plays alongside other acts Cash tends to alienate parts of the audience. Tonight was no different, as evidenced by the thinner crowd than for City Folk. Many listened, and a few watched intently from the front, but at one point Cash was forced to ask that the stage volume be raised to drown out the hubbub of the crowd.
What is it that confounds audiences when they see the Don? It could be a couple of things, but the main impediment seems to be that he sings without backing musicians over recordings of his own songs, and his calm vocals tend not to hold a crowd's attention.
He does have presence, pacing back and forth in a sports blazer and nondescript pants, but the songs tend to blend together, making it easy to miss out on the obvious craft that went into each composition.
Occasionally, a song would stand out and the crowd's attention would pick up, but the lengthy set lost all but a few. Still, much shoddier acts than he have been paid much more serious attention than Cash was by Sunday's crowd. Why is that?
Could it be... Satan? Maybe he just needs to buy and wear the world's biggest white belt.