Concert Review: Joel Plaskett, Massey Hall, Toronto, Saturday, May 23, 2009
Massey Hall is arguably the most famous stage in Toronto. The acoustics are spectacular, and the majority of the seats have excellent site lines. Opened in 1894, and designated as a Heritage Property in 1975, Massey Hall has hosted such venerable performers and dignitaries such as King George V and his wife Queen Mary, Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama, Luciano Pavarotti, George Gershwin, Oscar Peterson, and Bob Dylan among many, many others. Many famous live albums have been recorded there, including Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie Jazz at Massey Hall (1953), Rush’s 1976 live album All the World’s a Stage, and more recently Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall 1971 release in 2007. Massey Hall is also where Jeff Tweedy of Wilco infamously called the staid Toronto crowd “motherfuckers” for not dancing during their rock show. In the crowd’s defense (I was at that Wilco show too) Massey Hall isn’t exactly conducive to rockin’ out, but that didn’t stop Joel Plaskett from bringing the house down on Saturday, May 23.
Horseshoe Tavern owner/president “JC” introduced Plaskett and called him a musical “genius” and his “favorite singer and songwriter in the whole world.” Having never seen Plaskett perform before, I could only think, “Whoa. The owner of the Horseshoe, who has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing musicians, is calling Joel Plaskett a ‘genius.’ I am in for a treat.”
Plaskett performed his first set mostly acoustically. He was joined on stage with his father Bill, and fellow musicians Ana Egge and Rose Cousins, all three of whom back him on his outstanding new triple album Three. Bill Plaskett and Cousins played acoustic guitar, while Egge rocked the mandolin, and Joel Plaskett flipped between acoustic and electric guitars, his “$7 Value Village” mini keyboard, and even percussion instruments. Joel backed each of the ladies as they performed original solo pieces. The vocal harmonies were spectacular, especially between Bill and Joel in the song “Nothing More to Say.” Joel Plaskett assured the crowd that the lyrics of this song had nothing to do with his relationship with his father while on the road, and the entire time I was thinking, “Wow. What an amazing relationship. If I traveled or worked with either of my parents, blood would be shed.”
Joel Plaskett in person comes off as such a normal nerdy dude, but at the same time cool as hell. He frequently showed off his slick dancing moves, and played to and with the crowd. A recurring joke through the night came at the expense of his father. While Bill was taking a while to tune his guitar, Joel quipped, “This is my secret B-side called ‘Tuning, Tuning, Tuning.’” And later on he joked that he registered “Tuning, Tuning, Tuning” with SOCAN so that he “gets paid every time someone tunes on stage.” Can you imagine the poor bastard in a bar trying to tune a 12-string and having to pay Plaskett for the privilege of “Tuning, Tuning, Tuning.” Hysterical!
For the second set Plaskett brought out his band The Emergency, drummer Dave Marsh, bassist player Chris Pennell, with Peter Elkas joining in on backup guitar and keyboards. They blasted Massey Hall into next week opening with “Work Out Fine,” and kept the rock intensity soaring for the rest of the show. Egge and Cousins soon joined in for backup vocals. And, unlike the aforementioned Wilco show, fans were freaking out in their seats, dancing in the aisles, and charging the stage. Fans ages 7 to 70 were having an awesome time, and it was great to see entire families together at the show. From my seat in the upper right gallery I could see Horseshoe owner “JC” freaking out backstage, dancing and clapping up a storm.
Plaskett cooled it down just slightly for the solo acoustic track “Spinning for You,” available as a password-protected download on his website (you probably can guess the password). Then he lead the audience with his 12-string in a sing-along to his hit “Nowhere.” The Emergency and the other musicians rejoined Plaskett for a rousing version of “A Million Dollars” and “Wishful Thinking.” The crowd went crazy. For the encore, Plaskett surprised the audience with the old Thrush Hermit song, “Before You Leave,” then rocked the crowd with the fan-favorites “Love This Town” and “Fashionable People.”
Plaskett started Thrush Hermit in 1992, and has been playing solo and with The Emergency since 1999. Seventeen years is huge longevity in the music business. At one point in the show Plaskett said, “I still can’t believe I’m in this room!” in reference to the legendary Massey Hall. After 17 years, you earned it buddy. Such a great performance. I can’t believe I waited this long to see Plaskett live.
1. Happen Now - La De Da (2005)
2. Deny, Deny, Deny - Three (2009)
3. Pine, Pine, Pine - Three
4. In the Blue Moonlight - Three
5. Farmer's Daughter, Ana Egge solo - Road to My Love (2009)
6. Nothing More to Say - Ashtray Rock (2007)
7. Heartless, Heartless, Heartless - Three
8. Rewind, Rewind, Rewind - Three
9. Lost in the Valley, Rose Cousins solo- If You Were Me (2006)
10. Rollin', Rollin', Rollin' - Three
1. Work Out Fine - Truthfully Truthfully (2003)
2. Extraordinary - Truthfully Truthfully
3. Through & Through & Through - Three
4. Gone, Gone, Gone - Three
5. Sailors Eyes - Three
6. You Let Me Down - Three
7. Precious, Precious, Precious - Three
8. Ashtray Rock - Ashtray Rock
9. Run, Run, Run - Three
10. True Patriot Love - Down at the Khyber (2001)
11. Spinning for You - website download
12. Nowhere With You - Make A Little Noise EP (2006)
13. Lazy Bones - Three
14. A Million Dollars - Make A Little Noise EP
15. Wishful Thinking - Three
16. Before You Leave, Thrush Hermit - Clayton Park (1999)
17. Love This Town - La De Da
18. Fashionable People - Ashtray Rock
19. On and On and On - Three
Joel Plaksett - Deny, Deny, Deny.mp3
Buy (Amazon MP3 only): Three (2009)
Buy CD from Maple Music.
Joel Plaskett Emergency - Fashionable People.mp3
Buy (Amazon MP3 only): Ashtray Rock (2007)
Buy CD from Maple Music.
See also interviews with Joel Plaskett in the Toronto Star and Now Magazine. Plus, CBC Radio 3 has a Joel Plaskett show from Moncton available for download as a podcast. Click on Podcasts/Show and scroll down to CBC Radio 3 Sessions.