SARAH HARMER , ANDREW WHITEMAN , BOB WISEMAN , JASON COLLETT , ANDRE ETHIER , MAGALI MEAGHER and GENTLEMAN REG as part of the TORONTO PUBLIC SPACE COMMITTEE benefit at the Bloor Cinema, February 18. Tickets: $14. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Community is a word too often invoked in a totally meaningless way.
You get industry wolves whining about how downloading is killing the community when they're really griping about profit margins. Or trendspotters trying to lump disparate artists together to justify cracked hypotheses (as in the New York Times on why Montreal is, uh, the new Seattle).
So it was a pleasant surprise to be floored by the surge of mutual love and respect between musicians, activists and audience members at last week's show to raise funds and awareness for the grassroots Toronto Public Space Committee .
What could've been a dippy and terribly earnest Kumbaya-singing songwriters' circle was most definitely not. The stage was rigged like a groovy thrifter's living room, complete with shabby-chic sofa and lava lamp. In between engaging mini-lectures about public space, garbage can invasions and chain-link fences by organizer Dave "Mez" Meslin , each artist made the parlour his or her own.
While Gentleman Reg and Andre Ethier went for fairly straight-up singer/songwriter sets, a slightly nervous Magali Meagher surprised the attentive crowd by ending her four-song run of radical indie pop with accordion-bearers (Reg and bandmate Liz Forsberg ) in either aisle.
Jason Collett delivered the strongest set I've ever seen from him, filling in the cracks around his soulfully rootsy ballads with awesome anecdotes about growing up in the wilds of suburban Bramalea.
Fellow Broken Socialite Andrew Whiteman , taking a pseudo-break between his own Apostle of Hustle sets at the Drake, added to the group-hug vibe by giving his own Latin-inflected twist to covers of songs by pals like Stars and Metric.
Although Sarah Harmer 's intimate closing set, in which the Kingston queen gave herself over to fan requests, was great, the highlight by far was Bob Wiseman .
The quirky local icon almost, er, missed his spot because he'd been arrested for postering - or so we learned from the hysterical video clip featuring a bound and blindfolded Wiseman that introduced his set. He took full advantage of the unconventional venue, using his songs as soundtracks for visual aids - a silent film starring sock puppets, overheads about "distant relative" David Geffen - that were as heartfelt as they were imaginative.
The coolest part of the evening, besides the fact that the performers actually knew and cared about the cause they were promoting, was realizing the potential in putting together new and different shows in underused venues. Rock-loving parents should be able to bring their tots to gigs more often, concerts should be able to educate at least as often as they entertain, and nobody should underestimate the greatness of being able to sit and eat popcorn while watching music.