DANIEL LANOIS at the El Mocambo, March 1. Tickets: $25. Attendance: 400 (sold out). Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Midway through his intimate El Mocambo showcase Saturday, Daniel Lanois told a story about how, at age 10, he was given the choice of learning the accordion or pedal steel guitar. He chose the guitar, but you get the impression that had he taken up the squeezebox the effect would have been the same. Lanois straddles an unusual musical divide. On the one hand, the Hamilton producer's work behind the board for U2 and Peter Gabriel has resulted in some of the most popular music on the planet. On the other is Lanois's beguiling solo work, which comes from vaguely the same place but could hardly be called pop. Saturday's 60-minute set, largely drawn from his forthcoming Shine disc and performed with pals like Robbie Robertson looking on, drew the two sides together but kept the emphasis on raw experimentation.
With jazz percussionist Brian Blade providing sparse, forceful shading, Lanois kicked up a band-sized racket, wrestling a massive tone from his single guitar. There was a harsh, almost brutal quality to his tangled solos, with Blade and Lanois at times verging on free-form jazz before returning to more song-based music. Even more impressive were Lanois's turns on the aforementioned pedal steel, sketching out hypnotic, disembodied slide instrumentals that were more film music than country.
Some casual name-dropping ("My buddy Bono", "My pal Brian Eno") kept things light, as did Lanois's three tries at getting the words right to one particular new song. Any real attempts at a hushed environment, though, were shattered by uninterested Canadian Music Week geezers, laminates swinging from around their necks.
Surely those actual Lanois fans who had lined up outside the club for two hours before the show began would have been more attentive than the chattering music-industry yahoos around the bar.