YouTube Cash rules everything around Fat Joe, Wiz Khalifa and Teyana Taylor in…
- Posted on Dec 30th 2009 9:00AM by Tabassum Siddiqui
Collett, now an established artist in his own right (and sometime member of BSS), has drawn on his deep connections within the local scene to curate and host the series, which has become rabidly popular with local live-music fans thanks to its laid-back vibe and unpredictable lineup: previous years have seen Collett's former backing musician Michael P. Clive, now a working chef, whipping up elaborate desserts on a hotplate on the Dakota's tiny stage; another night, Metric's Jimmy Shaw and Stars' Torquil Campbell revived their little-known '90s-era duo.
That eclecticism, and the potential chance to see some favourite artists in an intimate, casual setting, has fuelled word of mouth about the series to the point that nearly all five of this year's Basement Revue shows were sold out well in advance, despite the fact that the performers aren't even announced ahead of time.
But while it's heartening to see crowds supporting what's ostensibly supposed to be a showcase of homegrown talent, both new and old, it's worth noting there was some grumbling over this year's slate of largely lesser-known names. Using the series to shine the spotlight on skilled artists who might otherwise go largely overlooked is certainly a canny move, given that the sold-out shows guarantee a captive audience, but given the fairly high cost of tickets and anticipation built by the buzz over past headliner guests, this year's slate of shows didn't quite live up to the hype of the series' previous years.
An additional literary component featuring local writers and poets reading from their work (curated by Toronto poets Kevin Connolly and Damian Rogers) also didn't really work in the barroom setting – while the audience remained uncannily polite throughout each week's painfully earnest recitations, very few of the scribes managed to make any sort of impact over the din of clinking bottles and bored murmurs.
Also slightly disappointing was the lack of any full-band sets by Collett himself, usually a highlight of the Revue shows, though the host did open, and sometimes close, all the shows with a solo acoustic preview of tracks from his forthcoming album (due in March).
Any criticisms aside, the series remains a bright spot in the city's concert calendar, particularly during the slow stretch of December when things get quieter on the live-music front. The Basement Revue shows may have been sold out, but Spinner was at all five to report back on what you may have missed.
Dec. 1: Beatlejuice, Beatlejuice, Beatlejuice
The series' rootsy bent was established early with guitar-heavy sets by Bahamas (Feist guitarist Afie Juvarnen's solo project), Neil Quin and Danielle Duval. Each artist was thankfully kept to a strict three-song limit throughout the series, so things moved along nicely.
Collett's regular backing band Zeus joined forces with the Golden Dogs as "Beatlejuice," playing all-Beatles covers to cap the three-hour show. Given that both bands proudly wear their Beatles influences on their sleeves, this was not an altogether surprising move.
Dec. 8: Buck 65 and a Taste of Weakerthans
It's always an interesting evening when oddball hip-hopper and CBC Radio host Buck 65 is in the house, and he didn't disappoint, spinning his usual tales and rapping about zombies. Singer-songwriters Andrew Cash, Kate Boothman and Doug Paisley offered up straightforward acoustic sets while fangirls hung on Weakerthans' frontman John K. Samson's every note before Broken Social Scene frontman Kevin Drew popped in for a late-night guest turn on drums.
The lineup was similarly balanced on the lit front, with strong readings by poet Damian Rogers and author and former Rheostatics frontman Dave Bidini. However, the less said about writer Claudia Dey's segment from her forthcoming, supposedly "erotic" book, the better.
Dec. 15: Mini Broken Social Scene
The strongest installment of this year's series was also its most eclectic, featuring emerging locals Snowblink, Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman's new side project with wife Ariel Engle, the left-field indie-rock stylings of Sebastien Grainger, the baby-BSS melodies of Arts & Crafts' Still Life Still, and the broken-doll folk whisperings of indie heroine Julie Doiron. The crowd was also treated to a mini-Broken Social Scene jam -- with special guest Feist -- that felt like being back at the late, lamented club Ted's Wrecking Yard when the band was first forming.
The impromptu BSS jam underscored everything great about the Basement Revue series -- the artists get a chance to get up onstage and play in a loose, low-pressure way, while the audience reaps the benefits of the magic that can result. As a very-bearded Kevin Drew gamely attempted to play drums left-handed, his now-beardless comrade Brendan Canning pounded the hell out of the Dakota's poor old piano, and Feist pulled down a mic stand to croon backup vocals while figuring out the chords on guitar. Just as the entire thing seemed it might fall apart, the tune erupted into an epic crescendo, in typical BSS-style.
It seemed fitting that the evening's writerly segment came courtesy of veteran musician Joe Pernice, now living in Toronto. He turned in a wry, biting reading from his recent novel 'It Feels So Good When I Stop,' which he noted was penned largely at a local coffee shop also frequented by Collett.
Dec. 22: Gentleman Reg Saves the Day
While it's always nice to have a chance to see Alex Lukashevsky, it must be noted the underappreciated songwriter suffers from what one might call "Ron Sexsmith Syndrome" -- that is, his beautifully crafted tunes always sound better sung by someone else (he's been nicely covered by Owen Pallett, among others). Similarly, Laura Barrett may be a local indie icon for her kalimba prowess, but there's only so many times one can hear "Robot Ponies" before it gets irritating. Thank goodness for her Hidden Cameras cohort Gentleman Reg, who injected the proceedings with a much-needed dose of giddy power-pop, backed by his excellent tour-honed band.
CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence, who happened to be in the crowd for the evening, was pulled onstage to spin a hilarious yarn involving a giant octopus -- whether it was true or not, he had the entire room hanging on his every word.
Dec. 29: New Faces and Holiday Cheer
The series wrapped with a decidedly local focus, featuring the retro-twangy stylings of William Delray (the stage name of Orillia's Matt Miller), acoustic singer-songwriter fare by Feist sideman Jay Baird, the jazz duo of Christine Bougie and Dafydd Hughes, the sunny folk-pop of Colleen and Paul (the songwriting duo of former By Divine Right member Colleen Hixenbaugh and musician Paul Linklater), and $100's Simone Schmidt singing some melancholy tunes backed by her brother on guitar.
With Ron Sexsmith swaying along to his partner Hixenbaugh's Amy Millan-esque melodies and Collett perpetually perched sidestage beaming at each act like a proud father, the final chapter of this year's Basement Revue seemed sufficiently suffused with holiday cheer to make up for a lack of any household names. After all, there's always next year.