Show Review: Hawksley Workman @ Massey Hall

“It Was an Acoustic Razor,

It Wasn’t Even Electric”

A Night of Silliness and Sheer Brilliance with Hawksley Workman

Apr 24 2010

If there’s anyone who represents the talent, humour and hardworking nature of Canadian musicians, Hawksley Workman is the, uh, man.  As he strolls onto the iconic stage of Toronto’s Massey Hall, he seems completely at ease.  His arrival is prefaced by a spectacular piano arrangement of his hits, courtesy of keyboardist Mr. Lonely.
Maniacs’, from 1999’s For Him and the Girls, opens the set.  This song rarely gets played live, for no good reason.  How can you not get into the show when you’re being pummeled with pounding drums and yodeling?  “It’s the last night of the tour!” he gloats in a singsong way afterwards.  He’s glad to be home, even though performing for the people he flips off whilst biking downtown makes him a little nervous.
Early on in the set, it becomes clear that Hawksley has a cold when he loses his voice during ‘(The Happiest Day I Know is a) Tokyo Bicycle’.  Will he end the concert early? Cancel it altogether?  Of course not!  He plays through it, downing entire bottles of water between songs and sampling from the array of cough candies, pills and cups of liquid on the makeshift table beside his mic stand.  “I’ve tried to get every variety of cold this year” he quips, “I go to the airport and lick the door handles, I take my boarding pass and touch it to my eye…” an expert segue way into ‘Common Cold’ from 2001’s Almost a Full Moon.
Since he’s promoting his two new albums; the dark and brooding Meat and the lighter, digital-only Milk, we hear a lot of new material.  Meat’s ‘The Ground We Stand On’ is one of the first new tracks and its low, humming sadness brings tears to my eyes.  He offsets this with happier tracks like ‘We Dance to Yesterday’ and ‘Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky’.  It’s his older hits however, like ‘Your Beauty Must Be Rubbing Off’ that really get the crowd going.
There’s no denying that Hawksley is an artistic genius; he even creates an impromptu rhythm on his giant water bottle between songs.  His band is just as talented. There’s a sense of teamwork about them, like they’re a collective of artists rather than Hawksley’s backup band.  All blazered and bespectacled, these guys look more like professors or an IT department than rock stars.
One expected element of the night is Hawksley’s sense of humour.  His silly, erratic and tongue-in-cheek anecdotes are reminiscent of the comedy director/brilliant live storyteller, Kevin Smith.  “I’m a hunter-gatherer,” he says,  “I built a platform for it in my backyard. I caught this one out there”, holding up his Flying V guitar.  “It came through my backyard, eating my blueberries…There’s gonna be a triangle of dirt on my body when I die because I shower with this thing on.” Seemingly ego-less, Hawksley treats the concert as if it were a casual performance in his living room.  “And you thought this was going to be a professional show!” he laughs after stopping mid-song to hack up a lung.  He seems to enjoy chatting back and forth with the crowd.  He even indulges the mentally unstable woman who jumps on stage during the encore to profess her love.
Despite playing for well over two and a half hours, the crowd isn’t ready to let Hawksley off the hook.  They pull him back onstage for not one, but two encores.  ‘Smoke Baby’ from 2003’s Lover/Fighter is the highlight of the first encore.  During the rap breakdown (which isn’t performed), Hawksley and drummer Brad Kilpatrick switch instruments.  Unfortunately, his cold makes an encore appearance as well, coming back with a vengeance. “I have never felt, quite this close to hell” he sings/croaks with an ironic shake of the head.  He returns to the stage once again to do an acoustic version of ‘Ilfracombe’.  Not prepared for this second encore, he gets the audience to help him with a few of the lyrics.  The fans let him end the show after this as he’s really struggling with his voice and deserves a rest.  After all, he just spent the last three hours giving us everything he has.
(Original publication: Bring Back the Boom Box Magazine- May 11 2010)


About J2

What happens when you're a wordsy music aficionado who works for NXNE, CMW, HPX, Olio Music Festival, The JUNOs and Polaris Music Prize? You spend all of your free time blogging about it... Follow on Twitter if you're so inclined: @HearPlugged

Posted on March 7, 2011, in Show Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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