SARAH SLEAN at the Rivoli, March 9. Tickets: $10. Attendance: 120. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
small wonder toronto singer/ songwriter and pianist Sarah Slean hit it off so well with Hawksley Workman when he produced her upcoming Atlantic debut. Catching them during separate Rivoli shows last week, it was clear Slean and Workman share more than an ability to spin a good tale and give the impression they're purging a whack of emotion with every lyric.
The bodacious and consistently well-turned-out twosome share a love of theatrics that transforms their gigs into shows even as they parade their most intimate material.
Slean hasn't quite achieved Workman's bravado, but that could be a function of her instrument -- it's hard to play carnival barker when you're seated behind a keyboard. Nevertheless, during her first of her two performances, Slean made it clear that while comparisons to Tori Amos may fit comfortably on the surface, there's more than pixie dust at the root of her repertoire.
A fantastic band -- one that opener Howie Beck good-naturedly grumbled was rightly his -- shaded Slean's sometimes bawdy, sometimes fragile compositions with electric violin (Karen Graves), bass and drums (Julian Brown and Dean Stone), sound effects and samples (Todor Kobakov in a particularly pleasing twist), and backing voice (Mia Sheard). Yet it was Slean herself, up front and facing the crowd almost conversationally, who created an impact.
During one long set held together by an emotive solo centrepiece, Slean was by turns barroom belter, confident bandleader and heartbroken little girl.
Girl can sing, girl can play, girl looks pretty, girl dazzles crowd. What is it about chicks named Sarah?