Brendan Canning the Band, at Zaphod Beeblebrox

January 13th, 2014 by  |  Published in Concerts

Brendan Canning - promo by Norman Wong

Photo credit: Norman Wong

From time to time, a live show will catch me off guard. These occasions are fewer with age, but nevertheless they do persist. Sometimes pleasantly, even. When I walked into Zaphods on Friday night, I had a vague idea that Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning would jump up onto the Beeblebrox stage, and sit down on a stool with his acoustic guitar to share some of his new songs with us. Such has been the trend with solo acts in the last half-decade when successful groups (like Social Scene) disband. The few songs that I had heard from his rightfully named new record “You Gots 2 Chill” supported this preconception.

Boy, was I wrong.

Canning was joined onstage by a who’s who of emerging Toronto artists. Steve Singh, a producer on “You Gots 2 Chill,” rocked the material on guitar. Also on guitar was enchanting Vonelle guitarist/vocalist Julia Crawford, while actor Greg Calderone manned the keys. Last year, Calderone starred in indie-flick This Movie is Broken. Crawford and Calderone played revolving instruments and traded up often, though on some songs Crawford abandoned the guitar for a tambourine and increased vocal duties. Canning’s talented cast threatened to steal the show away from him, though never completely—they radiated with obvious respect and admiration for Brendan and his tunes.

Brendan played an acoustic all night, which he finger picked with ease, looking like he has been playing these songs for years, (which he very well may have). His long syllables and held notes worked well with his finger-picking style and the tight beats of the rhythm section. It added up to create a spacey, unique vibe that I can only compare to his former bands and vaguely to the work of William Fitzsimmons. Canning also knew when to step back and let his band shine; he was just as impressed with his band as we, in the crowd, were.

The set was fantastic. Versions of songs like Bullied Days and Plugged In are very different live than they are on the record. Not necessarily better, but different in the way that they needed to be for a rock concert. Canning’s live show takes the quiet, thoughtful echoes of his solo record, and mutates them into a sort of psychedelic indie-rock dance-hall wall of sound. At the end of the show, I realized the challenge it would be to write about it—I’m still not quite sure what I heard that night. It was refreshing. And endlessly entertaining.

If you get the chance to see this tour, do so, and know this: For all touring intents, Brendan Canning is a not a man, or a solo project. Brendan Canning is a band. A very, very good band. And when they jumped onstage and let their instruments ring harmonics in our face for a solid five minutes to begin their set, I knew I was in for a treat. I was there to review the show, but midway through the first song, (one I didn’t recognize to name anyway) the line between work and pleasure melted away, vacating the premises for the evening. These are the shows that make me want to write about rock music.

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