Petunia Invokes Another Time
“I’m fully buying into his thing,” I texted my friend while seeing Petunia at the Dakota Tavern on April 15. Truth is, I bought into him ages ago, but this was my first chance to see him live and it sealed the deal. Petunia seems to be visiting several different eras concurrently, but no matter what decade he travels to, it all works together.
A Quebec native, Petunia visits Eastern Canada regularly on his frequent travels across the country. He’s moved away from earlier explorations of Jimmie Rodgers into later country, swing, and rockabilly, also injecting his own compositions with complicated chord changes and challenging structures. I was reminded of Ray Condo when I first heard him, and he does occasionally cover the late rockabilly singer’s material. Still, the fluidity with which he navigates disparate styles is remarkable. Perhaps what sews it all together is his ability to reduce full arrangements into simple textures that highlight the sweetest of guitar turns or his plaintive yodel.
Even though it was a late night, I was compelled to stay until the end of his set, drinking in every word. My favourite is “Inside of You”, a song that does all of the above. Make no mistake, though, when Petunia is fully backed by his Vipers, he’s just as gripping. Opening for him was Mike Tod, a new performer on the Toronto scene who is digging deep for old Western Canadian folksongs. True to his repertoire, Tod got the whole bar singing, Seeger-style, to tunes that revisit an earlier generation of Canadian folksingers like Stanley Triggs. With only a fiddler accompanying him, Tod proved that it just takes a great performance to win over a noisy, crowded tavern.