1130 pm April 7 NB! I just realized i forgot to credit the little mouse, which of course i meant to. He’s from Poorly Drawn Lines, and is a fierce but tiny compulsive scrapper.
Old Man Just Wants to Rock
A week ago, I accompanied my big brother to see a musician he’s gotten into, at a little bar on the Danforth. The place was an uber-typical Toronto venue, long and thin, bar on the side, open in the back. Weird old articles - instruments, lightbulbs, candles, a piano – in every nook. Washroom down a steep staircase in a basement long ago hewn out of rock. We walked in and although I’d never been there, I was comfortable. I was also real happy to be going to hear live music at 7 pm, knowing I’d be home by 10 pm.
The singer/songwriter Blair Packham, accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar with a violinist partner (at this gig), is a lifer, a working musician since the early 1980s. He was eminently comfortable performing his extensive catalogue of songs for about ten people. He was great with banter and crowd work/charm. Jim had told me he’d fronted a band called The Jitters, whom I couldn’t really place until he played a song I recognized, “Last of the Red Hot Fools,” from 1987.
His bio threads through Toronto venues (Larry’s Hideaway, the Gasworks) and artists of the 80s (Lisa Dalbello, Jane Siberry), of an era just before I got to the city. More recently he’s done well composing for soundtracks, in addition to being a lifelong troubadour.
It was a fun, excellent evening. My brother sat in on a song he digs called “Proof” (Jim’s a professional himself, a jazz pianist and singer), and listening to them talk shop was vicarious fun. The other audience members met and chatted during the set-break.
For comparison, I went to see Rheostatics, a long-time favourite band who perhaps bumped into The Jitters on the road at some point, back in December. The show was at my longtime favourite venue (the legendary Horseshoe Tavern), on a weekend, with a good old friend, and I’d had a nap. And I still surprised myself by just not wanting to be there. I felt tired and crowded, couldn’t bother to push through the giant men to find the spot I always head to, a spot where one is not jostled constantly. So I just left! I was standing there doing the math, and realized I would enjoy a nice long sleep about as much as seeing a favourite band. It felt weird, but correct.
I wondered what would become of me: I’m 53, I still love live music, but I’d turned some dark corner in the direction of becoming that Richard bastard Joni Mitchell sang about, staying home, drinking “most nights with the TV on and all the house lights left up bright.” Terrible. Inevitable?
So when two months later my brother wrote to tell me about a great local show, asked if I wanna go next time, and said it starts at 7 pm, I leapt, and had the low-key and excellent experience I’ve described. As we left I began to wonder: how many shows like this – professional but casual, early and local – are happening across Toronto? And how can I find them??
I haven’t figured it out yet. I might ask Jim to ask Blair Packham - he must know everybody. I want to know. I want to go out. I want to rock, AND I want a good, full night’s sleep.
Hope you’re great.