Kathleen Edwards at the Dakota Tavern
Kathleen Edwards occasionally announces a show in Toronto last minute, not advertising far beyond her Facebook page, and sometimes without any advance tickets. So I was surprised to find a pretty short line-up when I got to the Dakota last night for one of these shows, figuring that my bad transit luck on the way would prevent me from getting in. Yay for Sunday night shows.
But even if I had waited three hours to get in, it would have been worth it. The Dakota is a nice bar to begin with: intimate, good sound, generally polite crowds, but with a kick-ass songwriter with two accomplished guitarists, what more could you ask for? Edwards hasn’t been touring much lately, since she’s been recording her new album with fellow singer-songwriter (and beau) Bon Iver, so the show was casual and fun, without the pressure to play the crowd pleasers. It seemed like the room was full of die-hard fans who appreciated the band’s loose approach.
Loose does not imply sloppy, though. With longtime sideman and past producer Jim Bryson at her side and Gord Tough on guitar, the trio has some solid skill and musical chemistry. They were clearly connected to each other, smiling at their colleagues’ musical gestures and watching for tiny sonic and visual cues to guide the changes. Edwards is a particularly proficient musician, shifting easily between instruments (this was the first time I’ve seen her on piano), and approaching the reinterpreted vocal melody of “Six o’clock News” with confidence.
The set was great for long time fans; a good mix of old and new material. I was happy to hear Edwards classics like “In State,” “Back to Me,” and “Mercury,” which was supplemented by a new tale of heartbreak, “Soft Place,” that she performed solo on piano. Her encore was cut short by the Dakota staff, who needed to clear the stage for the next act, but its sole song, “Asking for Flowers,” was a moving performance. The audience, which had gathered around the stage reverently and interacted with her on a level that made the concert feel like it was in her living room rather than in a bar, left in satisfied awe.
Edwards is a great set of contradictions, which makes her an intriguing performer. She’s got a voice that can be so fragile at times that you think it’s going to collapse, but she knows exactly what she’s doing with it, making it waver at precisely the right emotional moments. The foundation of her onstage banter is self-deprecation, but that obscures a confident artist with a ton of training. I’ve always liked her because she does and says everything the way I would (in public) if I could. She swears, calls men out for the shit they pull on her, creates compelling characters, leads an all-male band of great players, and tells stories with no inhibitions. She even burped last night after the first line of “I Make the Dough.” I’m not saying she’s gross (it was a pretty cute girlie burp), but she freely acts the way most of us women would like to on a regular basis.
Sounds like a new album is on the way, and she’s playing in Quebec, the US, and Europe through the fall, so go see her if you get a chance.