Concert Review: Hogtown goes hogwild over Ray Wylie Hubbard
Ray Wylie Hubbard
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Hugh’s Room, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Not many performers can guarantee standing-room only on a Sunday night. Kris Kristofferson once famously sang of “Sunday morning coming down,” but what about Sunday night revving up? Ray Wylie Hubbard– Texas’ elder statesman of song, by way of Oklahoma, – is part of this elite club; At least he was in Toronto this past weekend when the seasoned songwriter played an energetic, sold-out show on the day of rest.
Dustin Welch – son of Kevin – opened the night with a short tight set. Wearing a sport coat, jeans, and a white button-down dress shirt, Welch showed that his whiskey-soaked voice is mature beyond his years. Like all musicians that bear a famed songwriting dad (think Justin Townes Earle), it takes a few records before you fully emerge from your pop’s shadow. The Austin-based Welch showed in Toronto, even with his limited stage time, that he is nearly there. Welch powered through many of the fine songs from his most recent release – Tijuana Bible – that came out this past February, along with giving the audience a handful of tunes from his 2010 debut Whiskey Priest.
Highlights included “Jolly Johnny Junker,” and “Lafayette Street” that he sent out to “all the defense attorneys in the audience.” Chatting with the wide-eyed musician afterwards, he revealed how great it’s been to tour with Hubbard and learn from this Texas songwriting legend.
Beer-swilling patrons and gossiping girls at the bar tapped their feet in anticipation of Hubbard’s arrival. Those lucky to have a reserved seat at one of the tables, hooted and hollered, shouting requests, while enjoying their dessert and an after-dinner drink.
From the moment he took the stage, shortly after 9:30 p.m., Hubbard was in a good mood. The sixty-six-year old told many stories in between songs; his wit was on full display. He certainly gave the Hogtown faithful what they paid to see on this Sunday eve. “Mother Blues,” “Train Yard,” and “Count My Blessings,” were a trio of bluesy, storied numbers from his most recent record, The Grifter’s Hymnal (2012) that caught this listener’s ear the most.
“Snake Farm”– a fan favorite, was the tune that received the most audience participation. Hubbard coaxed the crowd (not that the male-dominated audience needed much coaxing) to join in. “It’s a sing-a-long, but it ain’t exactly ‘Kumbaya,’ ” he deadpanned. Joined by only a drummer, Hubbard showed that it’s not how many people are in the band. Rather, it’s the passion of the players and the stories behind the songs that make the difference.
Hubbard also played a couple of tunes (“Drunken Poet’s Dream,” and “Chickens”) that he co-wrote with fellow Texas troubadour Hayes Carll. He prefaced the former tune with a rambling story about the first time he met Hayes in Galveston, Texas -a tale that prompted one fan to lament, “poor Hayes.”
One of the final memorable moments was a request for a rarely-played, but popular Hubbard creation (“Up Against the Wall Redneck Mothers,”) that someone dining during his sound check earlier in the evening asked him to play. This song prompted yet another “Kumbaya” session with the crowd singing the final verse on its own. After Hubbard joked, “Please take the money you would have spent on one of my CDs after the show and buy yourself a pitch pipe and a metronome!”
Channeling the blues of legendary guitar players such as Lightin’ Hopkins, along with the words of 18th century Romantic poets like William Blake, Hubbard did not disappoint with this spirited 90-minute set. He left the stage to a standing ovation from the standing-room only crowd. Hubbard thanked these Canadian concertgoers, saying: “I love being up here … I used to drink a lot of your whiskey!”
Following the show and a quick change into a Toronto Maple Leafs t-shirt in honor of Toronto’s beloved and beleaguered National Hockey League team, Hubbard hung around to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
For this music lover, it was the perfect bookend to the week and a baptism by fire to the man that is Ray Wylie Hubbard. The sexagenarian proved he can still “shake that thang.” Here’s hoping this complex character makes a return to Hogtown sooner, rather than later.