Donovan Woods & Matt Andersen in Vancouver
For an artist who was born and still lives in Ontario, it might seem an odd choice for Donovan Woods to start his set at Vancouver, British Columbia’s Vogue Theatre with a song called “Saskatchewan.” It’s sort of an inspired one though—if you ever choose to drive from Vancouver to Toronto, after all, Saskatchewan is where you’ll be when you’re roughly half way there. Of course with spring in full effect out here there may have been a different logic at play: “I was planning to go somewhere warm with the money,” Woods repeats twice in one refrain. With most of the country still in winter mode, Woods seemed happy to be kicking off his cross country tour opening for Matt Andersen in the warmest place in the country.
Woods’s reputation as a songwriter has been on a serious upswing lately—you may have heard Tim McGraw’s cover of his Portland, Maine or any number of songs that have been featured in TV shows and films. He also worked with Andersen to co-write a couple of songs on the soon to be released Honest Man album. The fact that Woods also has a new album in the pipeline made for a perfect opportunity for the two friends to launch this tour with Woods in the opening slot.
Taking the stage in front of a not-quite-but-close sold out crowd Woods had the crowd’s attention thanks, in part, to a fairly charming sense of humour that gives him a solid stage presence. “You’ve already done your jobs for the day,” he joked, “This is mine. I work for 45 minutes.”
With only those 45 minutes to play, Woods quickly got to work on a set that displayed his considerable talents. Woods’ songwriting style draws on a rich series of influences, and often eschews the conventional verse/chorus/verse/chorus cadence that audiences can be accustomed too. Songs like The First Time and On the Nights You Stay Home showcased the young songwriters talents nicely.
One of the highlights of the too short set was Let Go Lightly which saw Woods playing harmonica along with guitar. “If I went into a bar and saw a who looked like me wearing one of these harmonica things I’d be the first to say ‘Let’s get the hell out of here’” he joked as he prepped for the song. “But this isn’t a bar, and I’m better than that.”
The mixture of laughter and applause that followed demonstrated pretty clearly that the audience agreed with the musician as did the long line up of people hoping to chat with him in the break between before the Matt Andersen’s headlining set. Woods’ new album Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled is slated for release on February 26th and looks set to start a great year for the artist.
The “quiet singer/songwriter” gig can be a tough one as an opening slot, especially in larger venues. With 1,500 seats the Vogue can swallow lesser acts at times, especially if they don’t catch the audience. It’s a testament to Woods’ talent that this didn’t happen—his sense of humour and a solid set of songs give him a stage presence much larger than the average man with a single guitar. By the end of his set nearly every seat in the house was full, and the line up at the merch tables suggests that more than few new fans were won over.
After the break New Brunswick’s Matt Andersen took the stage with a slightly bigger stage presence that Woods: he’s touring with a new band and he’s given it a name—the Bona Fides. “This is our first tour with a tour bus” Andersen commented before introducing the band, “We had to lay down some rules. Rule Two: everybody wears pyjamas on the tour bus.” The first rule, let’s just say, is best left to the imagination.
With formalities out of the way, Andersen quickly launched into a career spanning 90 minute set that did a nice job of showing off his powerful voice and solid guitar skills. “Stepping outside into the night / walking for hours looking for the light” the singer boomed as the set started with I Love My Way from 2014’s Weightless album before digging back to 2011 for Fired Up.
These upbeat openers were quickly followed by a stirring rendition of Coal Mining Blues, which Andersen introduced with by describing a performance he’d given in front of a choir of Cape Breton coal miners that brought tears to his eyes. Coal mining has a long history in Andersen’s Cape Breton home, and the impact of the hazardous profession has been devastating on families in the area. “Spend All my days going down to the mine…breaking my back / I’ll put heat in your house /got the roar of a lion / the breath of a mouse” Andersen sang in the night’s most moving moment, a clear reference to the chronic lung problems decades of hard work can cause.
A nice demonstration of Andersen’s finger picking guitar skills followed this, and the night took a turn to the upbeat that included I’m Giving In and Have You Got the Blues from the soon to be released Honest Man album.
As the clock ticked towards a curfew for the evening, Andersen delivered an extended version of the always crowd pleasing pleasing Devil’s Bride. The song builds on classic blues riffs and delivers a solid crescendo from the night.
Eschewing the need to leave the stage (“We don’t have time, so we can all just pretend this is an encore”) Andersen closed the show with the title track from his upcoming album, leaving a happy audience pouring to pour out into the cold, clear Vancouver night on Granville Street.Woods and Andersen touring together delivers a solid one two punch: the pair make a nice team on stage, and one of the best touring combos I’ve seen in a while. Make sure not to miss the band when it visits a town near you and don’t show up late because you’ll regret missing Woods’ opening set and that would be a shame.