Jesse Winchester at Hugh's Room, April 21. Tickets: $18. Attendance: 200. Rating: NNNN
the complete silence of the 200-
strong crowd at the newly opened Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West, below Bloor) could only mean one thing: there was a folk show coming.
By the planned 8:30 pm showtime, the entire audience were quietly seated at their candlelit tables sipping white wine and microbrewed draft and wondering what was the darn holdup.
Three minutes later, bearded faces could be seen looking longingly at the open door, hoping, praying that Jesse Winchester hadn't been caught in traffic. When he finally trotted forth at 8:37 pm with acoustic guitar raised overhead, the enthusiastic applause came mixed with puffing sighs of relief.
Mumbling a quick but cordial greeting, Winchester -- looking like a high-school English lit teacher in a dress shirt and grey sweater vest -- went straight to work finger-picking his nylon strings and singing in the strained falsetto of a shower-stall blues growler with doo-wop aspirations.
He may be called a folk singer for lack of a better term, but Winchester's metre, phrasing and inflections have more in common with southern soul stylists. Similarly, his subject matter touches on personal affairs of the heart, which he confronts with an open-bedroom-door directness.
What he lacks in range and power he makes up for with a deftly bent note and well-placed moan. People hung on Winchester's every gasp. At times, folks were listening so hard you could pinpoint who still had ice in their glass from clear across the room.
As he got up from his chair to leave, the sight of the whole gathering getting up with him, applauding, obviously moved Winchester. He immediately launched into You Can't Stand Up Alone a cappella, while dancing a rubber-legged variation of the shing-a-ling. Very impressive.