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- Posted on Dec 8th 2009 12:45PM by Karen Bliss
It's tough to write the words "Haydain Neale tribute concert," but the star lineup of musicians who assembled at Toronto's Phoenix Concert Theatre last night made sure the event was infused with the warmth and interconnectedness that was at the core of the late Jacksoul frontman's being.
Everyone from Nelly Furtado to Dan Hill, k-os, Chantal Kreviazuk and Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy came together to say a beautiful goodbye to the soul singer -- who died late last month from lung cancer -- with "Can't Stop Loving You: A Celebration of the Life and Music of Haydain Neale."
"Haydain wasn't a downer guy," Neale's bandmate Ron Lopata told Spinner before the concert. "He wanted to spread good vibes. He would have thought, 'Wow, I guess all my years of trying to spread love and this message of how music can heal the soul, maybe I actually did something and people listened to me.' This is a huge testament that he achieved his goal."
The man with the rich, soulful voice and gigantic smile lost his battle with cancer on November 22nd after a remarkable slow-but-sure recovery from a 2007 moped accident that initially left him in a coma. He was just 39 and leaves behind his wife, Michaela, and daughter, Yasmin. All proceeds from the tribute concert went to the Haydain Neale Family Trust.
Kreviazuk kicked off the night with 'Not One Drop,' a poignant song she wrote after hearing of two untimely deaths, including Neale's, and recalled how she, too, was in a moped accident 15 years ago. "For some reason I'm still here. I thought Haydain would be here longer. I feel like a big cheat tonight. But, anyway, this is for him, his family and it's a song to be sad to with no regrets."
It was a tear-invoking beginning but the two-hour show was mainly a celebration of Neale's music with most of the artists covering Jacksoul songs. Often the pale renditions revealed just how good a vocalist Neale was, or perhaps how he embodied the song and the message of the lyrics, and no one could deliver them quite like he did.
Backed by the remaining members of Jacksoul -- drummer Davide DiRenzo, keyboardist Lopata, bassist John "JK" Kanakis, and guitarist Justin Abedin -- Divine Brown covered 'Can't Stop,' Tomi Swick sang 'Someday' and Keshia Chante took on 'Think You Should Know.' But when it was Wade O. Brown's turn, he gave Jacksoul's 'The River' a stunning, booming vocal that roused the crowd with its lyrics: "Take me to the river / Accompany me to Heaven / Everyone will know that you're my one and only."
Ivana Santilli recalled how she first heard Neale's "classic, classic soul" when she was given the vinyl and took it home to play on her parents' turntable. "I discovered gold," she said, before singing the soft jazzy soul of 'Unconditional.' Justin Nozuka, on acoustic guitar with DiRenzo on hand drums, sang 'After Tonight,' a song he co-wrote with Neale for his own album, and k-os came out with his band to play two of his own songs, including 'Sunday Morning.'
Perhaps the most touching moment came next when Yasmin came onstage with her neighbour, Dan Hill (best known for the classic '70s ballad 'Sometimes When We Touch'). She sat beside the legendary singer-songwriter as he told a story of his own father and sang 'Daddy's Song.' Luke McMaster followed with a spirited version of 'Still Believe In Love,' as Yasmin stayed onstage at the far back and danced to the inspirational hit.
Jim Cuddy took the stage next and recalled the last time he saw Neale, in Vancouver, where he invited him onstage for Blue Rodeo's 'Try,' a song Jacksoul recorded for 2006's 'mySOUL' covers album. "That guy could sing like a motherf----er," he laughed. "We had a sing off, and we oversang the sh-- out of it." Cuddy then said what those who knew him already knew: "When you ran into Haydain, you felt better having talked with him."
His wife and daughter then took the mic to read moving, heartfelt letters to Neale. The whole room fell silent out of respect, sadness and understanding for these two people whom Neale loved so greatly and spoke of almost anytime you saw him. It was a strong, important moment in a night that celebrated a musician, but also a loving husband and father who put family first.
The evening closed with Nelly Furtado, backed by a small band, including James Bryan of the Philosopher Kings on guitar. "Last time I played the Phoenix was 2000. I opened for Jacksoul right here," she said between performances of 'Broken Strings' and 'Like a Bird.'
The musicians then returned to the stage to join together on 'oneSONG,' the only original from 'mySOUL,' which includes the lyric: "Last night I dreamt of a choir full of soprano, alto, tenor and bass / and it stretched across the planet now, every woman, man, religion and race."
That's what Neale got last night in this little microcosm at the Phoenix -- and that's what he would've loved.