Last Friday night was spent at the spectacular Badly Drawn Boy show at Palais Royale. Palais Royale is one of those venues I've rarely had the opportunity to visit since it doesn't book many shows. The Rolling Stones played a secret show their once, and Sloan's live album "4 Nights at Palais Royale" was recorded their. I'm sure there's been other artists that have played their but on the whole the venue's booking is pretty scarce. The change of venue for the show from the Phoenix Concert Theatre to Palais Royale was a welcome surprise. I've read about it's historical significance as a ballroom in the 1920's which showcased a number of swing greats; it has a sprung cantilever hardwood floor, supposedly the only one of its kind in Canada(although My Mean Magpie had dropped a comment my way a week or so ago informing me that The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver has a similar sort of floor). How strange that all those times I've spent bike riding down at the Waterfront Trail(near Sunnyside Beach) I had unknowningly passed Palais Royale on numerous occasions. The exterior was somewhat unassuming. The interior had an unfinished feel to it but it had a beautiful hardwood floor and a view out to the lake on one side. There was a raised stage at one end of the club and the lighting effects were decent. On the whole, it had a great atmosphere.
Up first were Domino Records artist Adem, two sort of unassuming Brit lads. Not knowing anything about them, I was fairly receptive from the get-go to their brand of pastoral folk-pop. I kept on hearing traces of Coldplay's Chris Martin in the vocals, although I'm sure that's more of a coincidence rather than imitation. I picked up a postcard at the merch table promoting Adem's CD which expressed comparisons to Nick Drake and while listening to their set, the Nick Drake comparisons really rang true, mostly in the pastoral nature of the music. Although quite mellow, a combination of beautiful melodies, emotive vocals and unique instrumentation kept the audience interested. Instrumentation was based primarily on one member playing acoustic guitar while the other member of the group on several unique instruments. Chatter at the back of the club was somewhat annoying but didn't seem to phase the band at all. Those of us near the front attentive enough to listen were rewarded with a beautiful set.
As an aside, the evening wasn't all peachy. The doors to the venue which were scheduled to open at 7 pm didn't open until around 7:30 which meant waiting outside in the cold in the lineup to get into the venue. Then, once they started letting people in, the security check at the door was excrutiatingly slow. ...And I don't want to even mention the washrooms.
But back to the show. Adem was a more than appropriate opener for Badly Drawn Boy, in some respects reflecting the folk-pop side of Badly Drawn Boy. I remember reading a review of a Badly Drawn Boy show in Toronto a couple of years back; I think it was at Lee's Palace or the Phoenix, and apparently he had played an almost gruelling two hour show. I was more than prepared for a marathon music session this time. After what seemed like an eternity, Damon and the band made their way onto stage. The band consisted of guitar, bass, drums, flute, violin, cello and keyboards. The guitarist(and also Badly Drawn Boy's tour manager) doubled on keyboards; Damon also alternated between guitar and keyboards. The drums were off to the left side of the stage[interesting location for the drums] and the string section was to the right side of the stage while the keyboards took center stage.
Damon took an interesting approach to the set; he introduced the set to be comprised of, first, the "One Plus One is One" album in its entirety, then a short intermission, and then the band coming back to play some old favourites. I haven't check out the recent album but from the show I liked what I heard. The album sounded a little more consistent than "Have You Fed The Fish?" which had its share of stinkers. Alternating between orch-pop standards, jazzy instrumentals and folky troubadour-ing, the live version of "One Plus One is One" was extremely satisfying. Damon was quite the storyteller, showing himself to be quite the sentimentalist. Damon told a story about meeting Bruce Springsteen about 5 years ago, how his song "Thunder Road" meant so much to him, how he gave his son Oscar the middle name 'Bruce', how he met up with Bruce several years later, how Bruce during one concert dedicated a song to Damon and his son Oscar, and how that moment was one of the most important points in his life. Great story, and Damon even apologized to the heckler[who Damon called a wanker or such] who had interrupted him during his story. If only, Damon had played "Thunder Road", that would have been perfect. Instead, I believe he played "Life Turned Upside Down".
When Damon and the band returned after the short intermission, they played a bunch of old favourites including "A Minor Incident", "Silent Sigh", "Have You Fed The Fish?", "The Shining", and "You Were Right", although no "All Possibilities" which I was deeply disappointed in not hearing. Towards the end of the show, Damon took on the persona of a soul singer, spewing out a series of non-sensical, stream-of-consciousness lyrics about everything and nothing, which lead into him introducing the band with the most creative(and funny) descriptions EVER. I could go on gushing about the show ad nauseum: how the lighting effects were spectacular and colourful, how wonderful the string section and flute arrangements sounded, how enjoyable Damon's stage banter and stories were, and how everyone on stage seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves. It's a night I'll remember for a long time. I didn't think anything could beat the PJ Harvey show this year at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto, but the Badly Drawn Boy show at Palais Royale comes close. At one point in the night, Damon said that Toronto was one of the best stops on the tour so far; and yes it definitely felt like it.
[photos from the show]